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Short-short-stories-by-email

by Bruce Holland Rogers

(www.shortshortshort.com; March-April 2005; $5 annual subscription.)

Review by Keith Brooke

The deal is this: you go to www.shortshortshort.com, hand over your $5 and for the next year you'll receive three short-short stories a month by Nebula and World Fantasy award-winning author Bruce Holland Rogers. The stories come with a brief intro to give us any interesting context (we may have encountered the characters before, or the story may be related to something else Rogers is working on); for fuller background on the process of producing these stories, there's a blog at www.livejournal.com/users/bruce_h_r

I'm not aware of anyone else working in quite this way -- there have been novels serialised by e-mail or on websites, there have been various models for subscription-based fiction websites, but a single author producing 36 stories a year for a subscription list? Not many authors would dare, and very few combine the mastery of the form with an ability to produce in such a varied range of style and subject -- Bruce Holland Rogers is really several writers in a single package.

It's hard to write short-shorts with the impact of something longer. Or perhaps that's just my experience as a reader of the form. They tend to be fleeting, here and then gone, the mayflies of fiction -- and who remembers an individual mayfly when it's gone? Rogers' miniatures are meticulously crafted, and every sentence, every word, is loaded with significance. These pieces are still fleeting, but some of the shards stick long after the reading, and you can't ask for much more than that.

Taking the six stories from March and April 2005, we have a fantastical, philosophical crime story, a parable, a linguist's fantasy, a chilling character piece and a couple that are unclassifiable. "My Crimes" is nominally an account of a series of crimes, but soon takes us into the preposterously fantastic. "Look, There He Is!" is a clever story told in dialogue between the storyteller and his/her questioner, embedding a parable of a man who just wants to be admired into a subtle teasing out of the two speakers' understanding. "Some Nights It's Romanian" is a fine example of a story built up inside its own flawless logic. "The Perturbing Case of Doctor Anapest" is a fun story of the battle in the library stacks between order and disorder, Dewey Decimal versus the unexpected.

The two highlights for me are "We Stand Up" and "Aerodynamics for Girls". "We Stand Up" is the shortest of these six pieces, and it packs the mightiest punch. Perhaps a prose poem, perhaps not, it tallies up the strengths of ordinary people -- or more specifically, the extraordinary people we all have the potential to be. A tour-de-force. "Aerodynamics for Girls" is something else altogether, a tale of obsessiveness, a poignant character study, intensely chilling in its relentless detailing of the day-to-day minutiae of a girl's home life. Quite simply superb.

So: 36 stories for $5. Always interesting, regularly scaling the heights. Highly recommended.

(Incidentally, I don't think I've ever finished a review with those two words.)

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