The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Short Story Highlight: “Call Girl” by Tang Fei (China)

Apex Magazine’s latest issue has a new short story by Chinese author Tang Fei, translated by Ken Liu: Call Girl.

Morning climbs in through the window as shadow recedes from Tang Xiaoyi’s body like a green tide imbued with the fragrance of trees. Where the tidewater used to be, now there is just Xiaoyi’s slender body, naked under the thin sunlight.

She opens her eyes, gets up, dresses, brushes her teeth, wipes away the foam at the corner of her mouth with a towel. Staring at the mirror, all serious, her face eventually breaks into a fifteen–year–old’s smile. Above her, a section of the rose–colored wallpaper applied to the ceiling droops down. This is the fourth place where this has happened.

My house is full of blooming flowers, Xiaoyi thinks.

“There must be another leak in the pipes,” her mother says. “There’s a large water stain growing on the wall.”

They sit down together to have a lavish breakfast: soy milk, eggs, pan–fried baozi, porridge. Xiaoyi eats without speaking.

When she’s ready to leave the apartment, she takes out a stack of money from her backpack and leaves it on the table. Her mother pretends not to see as she turns to do the dishes. She has turned up the faucet so that the sound of the gushing water is louder than Xiaoyi’s footsteps.

Xiaoyi walks past her mother and the money on the table and closes the door. She can no longer hear the water. It’s so quiet she doesn’t hear anything at all.

Her knees shake.

She reaches up for the silver pendant hanging from her neck, a dog whistle. – continue reading.

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt has a new story up at Tor.com: The Ink Readers of Doi Saket:

It was during a night in the twelfth lunar month of this year when two strong hands pushed young Tangmoo down into the bed of the Mae Ping River, and by doing so, ironically, fulfilled his only wish. Tangmoo flailed his arms wildly, churning up the swirling water. The whites of his eyes reflected flashes from the fireworks as his smothered cries rose in bubbles to the surface, where they burst in silence: help, help, help, help!

These filtered cries of alarm were mistaken by a pair of dragonflies fused in flight, their only wish to remain larvaless and so prolong their love dance endlessly, for the dripping of morning dew. So unsettled was the pair that their breaths caught, and for a second, just when the male ejaculated, they separated. Force of habit subsequently incited them to repeat this in all their future climaxes, making their fondest wish actually come true.

But this was a chance circumstance. The point here is that young Tangmoo screamed, and his lungs filled with water, and please, he did not want to die this way. – continue reading!

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck (Sweden)

Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, Sing, is online at tor.com:

The cold dawn light creeps onto the mountaintops; they emerge like islands in the valley’s dark sea, tendrils of steam rising up from the thickets clinging to the rock. Right now there’s no sound of birdsong or crickets, no hiss of wind in the trees. When Maderakka’s great shadow has sunk back below the horizon, twitter and chirp will return in a shocking explosion of sound. For now, we sit in complete silence.

The birds have left. Petr lies with his head in my lap, his chest rising and falling so quickly it’s almost a flutter, his pulse rushing under the skin. The bits of eggshell I couldn’t get out of his mouth, those that have already made their way into him, spread whiteness into the surrounding flesh. If only I could hear that he’s breathing properly. His eyes are rolled back into his head, his arms and legs curled up against his body like a baby’s. If he’s conscious, he must be in pain. I hope he’s not conscious.

A strangely shaped man came in the door and stepped up to the counter. He made a full turn to look at the mess in my workshop: the fabrics, the cutting table, the bits of pattern. Then he looked directly at me. He was definitely not from here—no one had told him not to do that. I almost wanted to correct him:leave, you’re not supposed to make contact like that, you’re supposed to pretend you can’t see me and tell the air what you want. But I was curious about what he might do. I was too used to avoiding eye contact, so I concentrated carefully on the rest of him: the squat body with its weirdly broad shoulders, the swelling upper arms and legs. The cropped copper on his head. I’d never seen anything like it. – continue reading.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Thailand)

Over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, yet another story by this young author from Thailand, The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate:

Before the end there would be love-songs to a passion so fierce that the offspring of my body turned into suns; tales of our courtship a wildfire that scorched the world.

The annals of heavens may not always be trusted. They were texts carefully edited, passed to chosen scholars; it did well to remind the warlords—and once empire dreams had come true, the monarchs calling themselves heaven’s sons—that above them reigned paradise, and above paradise an everlasting emperor.

Much was elided and confused. But in the beginning, it was mostly that I was young.

The Huang He was new, freshly disgorged from a dragon’s gullet, brimming with stomach-lizards and fish with scales thick as lamellar. The heat drew me, as it too must have drawn him. And so I found Dijun by the banks with knees drawn up like a boy, gazing into the waters. In his palms flame detonated into monsters that cavorted to the edge of his nails and spilled onto the grass, turning green to black-brown.

I measured and watched him through the frame of my hands. What did I know of him then? That he was an oddity, not unlike me; that he was without a place at court, without sworn brothers earned through blood and fire. A lack that left him wifeless, for all that women gazed upon him as they would on rare silverwork. They would glance at him, and sigh a little, and look away. Untitled and unpositioned, what husband could he make?

I did not think of positions or titles.

He noticed my approach, and his smile intrigued me, for aesthetically it was most pleasing. Being young I mistook this for something else; being young I thought beauty was all there was.

“Would you like to try?” He held out his hand, where many-eyed beasts spun through their deaths and rebirths, purer each time, finer with each cycle.

“How did you know?”

“Your shadow moves on its own even when heaven’s light stands still. Like calls to like.” Dijun hesitated. “And I find I cannot look away from your radiance.”

I inclined my head. Men offered flattery; women accepted with poise. That was the way of things. – continue reading!

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “Annex” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Thailand)

The latest issue of Clarkesworld Magazine is headlined by new Thai author Benjanun Sriduangkaew, with “Annex”:

On the eve of Samutthewi’s entry into the Costeya Hegemony, Esithu was sloughing off the shell of their birth-body. There would be speculation afterward what Esithu was born as—someone’s son, someone’s daughter? To that Esithu would always say, “I was born as I am now,” which became a stretch after Esithu obtained a second then a third body. A hardware upgrade, they liked to say. You can never have too many.

That was much later.


Esithu was a creature of solitude but, afflicted with being so new in a world so old, they found themselves craving company.

This close to the heels of conquest, sedition was a rife, busy game, and it drew Esithu as war drew soldiers. They came to it—or it came to them—in a little club on the outskirts of Vithansuthi, the city in which everything happened.

On the walls, flowers fought and devoured each other, mouth-tipped stamens tessellating in choral fury. Onstage a dancer moved in simpatico, mercury limbs shimmering silver, a body of animated liquid.

“It is said,” Esithu’s table companion began, a non-sequitur to follow a conversation they never started, “that the universe was sung into being by a divine androgyne.”

At that point Esithu was not yet acquainted with quantum theories, though even further along in life they would find said theories little more than superstition. Blunt, they asked, “Are you some sort of evangelist?”

The woman’s eyes glittered. Her sclera and irises were hidden behind compound lenses, all ruby facets. “Truth is always in need of evangelizing. Now more than ever, and I’m not talking about creation myths.”

“This is a bad climate for demagogues.”

“Indeed no; it’s never been better.”

“We lost, you realize.” Their government bent so quickly to surrender there’d hardly been casualties. Esithu had bet on that, and reaped a tidy profit against friends more patriotic.

“Our defeat is opportune. It is now that we can subvert them from within.”

Esithu snorted. Newly assimilated border planets subverted nothing except their own sense of self. Samutthewi would lap and swallow until it was as Hegemonic as the rest.

“But now is the time,” the woman insisted. “Not five years from now when we’ve grown comfortable; not ten years from now when we think back and say, ah, it used to be untidy and now that we’ve the Hegemony breathing on our neck everything is better—faster—more beautiful. Then it will be nearly impossible.”

They laughed in her face. “It is impossible now.”

A second dancer vaulted over the first, feet and fingers full of fire. – continue reading!

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “A to Z Theory” By Toh EnJoe (Japan)

Strange Horizons have published A to Z Theory by Japanese author Toh EnJoe, Translated from the Japanese by Terry Gallagher. The story is part of the book is Self-Reference ENGINE by EnJoe, published by Haikasoru.

The Aharonov-Bohm-Curry-Davidson-Eigen-Feigenbaum-Germann-Hamilton-Israel-Jacobson-Kauffman-Lindenbaum-Milnor-Novak-Oppenheimer-Packard-Q-Riemann-Stokes-Tirelson-Ulam-Varadhan-Watts-Xavier-Y.S.-Zurek Theorem—called the A to Z Theorem for short—was, for a brief period about three centuries ago, in some sense the most important theorem in the world.

In some sense. Or possibly in all senses.

Nowadays, this amazing theorem is held to be incorrect, in terms of even elementary mathematics. Hardly anybody ever even thinks about it anymore, because it’s just plain wrong.

At a certain instant, on a certain day, in a certain month, in a certain year, twenty-six mathematicians simultaneously thought of this simple but beautiful theorem, affirmed it would be the ultimate theorem that would make their names immortal, wrote papers to the best of their abilities, and all submitted their papers to the same academic journal at roughly the same time.

The separate submissions from writers from A to Z arrived over the course of a few days, and the editor, looking at these virtually identical manuscripts, first checked his calendar. Even allowing for a full measure of variability and a wide deductive scope, there was no way they could all have been written on April 1. And so the editor was left perplexed as to what sort of day he might be experiencing.

Had twenty-six of the world’s top mathematicians suddenly formed a conspiracy that each was now seeking to lead? Or was some strange person, with an excess of time and money, playing some prank involving these twenty-six? At any rate, the editor was sure somebody was trying to put one over on him. – continue reading!

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You” by Karin Tidbeck

Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You, is now up at Strange Horizons.

Then came that Thursday in February when I stepped into my psychiatrist’s office and was presented with a goat.

I was in treatment, but it wasn’t going well. I suffered from recursive treatment-resistant depression or, possibly, bipolar II disorder—my doctors wouldn’t settle on a diagnosis. Whatever you called it, it was hell. Over the years, I had tried every combination of the usual substances: MAOIs, tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, SSRIs and SNRIs, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication. They mostly gave me side-effects. I was bloated and sweaty and twitchy, but still depressed. The doctors were trying to get me into ECT, but I was reluctant. This is where the goat came in.

Dr. Andersson was in the office already. She took a chair in what was supposed to be the cosy corner: two armchairs, a little table with a box of tissues, a vase of flowers. On the wall hung a painting of a moose cresting a hilltop. Dr. Andersson looked like she usually did. Today, her bowl haircut and shapeless green muumuu were complemented by a necklace of wooden zebras. She was holding a leash. At the end of the leash, standing beside her chair, was the goat. It was small, reaching up to my knees, and jet black with floppy ears. It was nibbling on the armrest. I sat down in the opposite chair.

“This is your new treatment,” said Dr. Andersson. “It’s the latest in experimental therapy. I thought we might let you have a try, seeing as you’re a bit hesitant about ECT.”

“I see,” I said.

Dr. Andersson adjusted her glasses. “Do you know the origins of the word ‘scapegoat’?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Old Hebrew stuff. A goat sent out into the desert for everyone’s sins.”

“Exactly.” Dr. Andersson scratched the goat behind the ears. “This is a Sadgoat.”

I looked at the goat. It looked back at me, its horizontal pupils narrowing.

“I’m confused,” I said. – continue reading.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon”, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Thailand)

New author Benjanun Sriduangkaew, from Thailand, has a new story up at GiganotosaurusWoman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon:

It is the aftermath of the world’s end, and nine birds–nine suns–lie dead while Houyi cradles the curve of her bow, her fingers locking around the taut hardness of its string. The tenth sun, the last, has fled. Chastise them, Dijun said, a father’s plea. But there is the land and the horror and the dryness, desiccated corpses in empty dust trenches that were rivers not long ago. There are dead dragons, too, and snake women with bright eyes–and is it not right to bring down the suns, is it not what Houyi is meant to do? She is a god who protects; she is a god given a duty.

The birds are dead. They no longer burn, but the places where they have fallen will long after be black scorch marks, indelible. There will be consequences. It does not matter that her first shot meant to warn: wing clipped, the eldest sun plunged and shattered on the earth. Seeing their brother fall they attacked, and she had to defend herself.

Behind her Chang’e is inhaling and exhaling shallow scraps of air. They will not let this pass. What will you do now? Where will we go?

And the archer whispers, I saved them all.

She knows, as she has known since she notched that first of nine arrows–even in the firestorm of their rage she was a peerless shot, one arrow per bird all she needed–that for her there will be no thanks. They have transgressed enough, wife and wife, and this shall be the final insult tolerated.

So Houyi only takes Chang’e’s hand and says, I am sorry.

Night comes, and with it the first drops of rain. Somewhere a dragon king or queen serpent stirs and tastes the air with a forked tongue. The Sea Mother sifts sand out of her eyes, which have been so parched, so dry. Out of their bellies and mouths rivers will surge forth, tides will rise bright-green with brine, and the world can go on as it did before the convening of ten triple-legged suns. This is their duty, as the murder of sun-crows has been hers. – continue reading!

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “Terminós” by Dean Francis Alfar

We featured one of Dean Francis Alfar‘s stories yesterday, and here’s another! From the latest issue of Expanded Horizons: Terminós:

Mr. Henares thinks about time

From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning to the instant before he fell asleep alone at night, Mr. Henares thought only about time.

He reflected about how time slowed down when he was engaged in an unpleasant activity, such as dyeing his thinning grey hair over the broken antique basin installed by his son-in-law Alvaro in his blue-tiled bathroom; and how time went faster during the rare instances when he felt happy, such as when his brace of grandchildren came for the cold weather holidays, their hypnotic music invariably loud and invigorating.

Mr. Henares recalled days when time did not move at all: waking up one morning convinced that it was the exact same day as the day before, watching the red display of his tableside clock blinking fruitlessly. The experience of the twin miércoles was to be repeated thrice more, adding jueves, viernes and sábado to his list of repeating days. He endured the repeated conversations and graceless routines, read the same stories in the newspapers and watched the same interviews on television.

Once, when he was a much younger man, Mr. Henares went back in time. The incident caught him completely unaware – he realized he was walking backwards and thinking thoughts in reverse. This unfortunate event flustered him so much that when it was suddenly over, he broke down in tears and resolved never to travel back in time if he could help it. – continue reading!

October 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Short Story Highlight: “The New Daughter” by Dean Francis Alfar (Philippines)

Apex Book of World SF contributor Dean Francis Alfar has a new story up at Philippine Genre StoriesThe New Daughter:

When the boy inevitably grew up, married and moved away with his own growing family, the toymaker decided to make a girl.  He did it this time in secret, afraid of what his neighbors would think, fearing the potential unjust accusation of prurience when all he wanted was someone he could talk to, whose conversation would eradicate the heaviness of his solitude.

He worked at night, carving wood with his spotted hands by the feeble light of low and fat candles he favored from his youth, recalling how he watched his grandfather shape magic from wood and humming a song whose words he had long forgotten.  He worked from midnight until just before dawn for five weeks, struggling with the impatience that old men with erratic memory suffer, losing himself in the methodology of his craft, shaving wood to reveal the delicate limbs and the small torso of his waiting daughter.  Then at last he reached the part he liked best: shaping the girl’s face, determining the contour of her cheeks, the ridge of her brow, the curve of her chin, the hollow of her eyes.  For her hair he chose the color of burnished bronze, planting and pulling the strands in and out of her hard scalp.  For her eyes he selected the color of the bluest sky, fitting the glass spheres with a precision that only a master toymaker possessed.  Just before he finished, he covered her polished nakedness in muslin and lace, cutting and sewing the sleeves and the hems and the ruffs, just as the sun came up.

The toymaker straightened up and grimaced at the creak of his aching back and looked at his new daughter, reaching forward to gently put an errant lock back in place.

“Now we must be patient, you and I,” he told her.  “If my son could come to life, then certainly so can you.”

With all the gentleness his trembling hands could muster, he lifted her from his worktable and set her down on the low shelf where the boy came to life one memorable night many years ago.  He blinked once against the memory, then left to make four dainty pillows from the scraps of the materials of her dress, to arrange around her and arrest her fall should she awaken early. – continue reading.

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

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