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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

shortshortshort.com, Dec. 18, 2006-Feb. 18, 2007

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“Aphasia”
“The Last Gift”
“Tertsa”
“Ramps, Railings, and Earthen Embankments”
“A Little Shortcut to Silver”
“February”
“Kisses”

Bruce Holland Rogers, mastermind of shortshortshort.com, sends out three stories a month to his subscribers—all for a mere $10 per annum. In this set, Rogers seems mostly concerned with love and other relationships. It’s an interesting and largely successful group of stories.       
 
A lonely man finds comfort in the words of the street in “Aphasia,” a story that’s as much about emotion as it is about language. Aphasia is a difficulty recalling or understanding words; in this case, it’s the protagonist’s inability to find the perfect word to describe a near-miss car accident. He’s lost, and doesn’t know it, separated from the stream of humanity, unable to come home. Rogers’s character sketch effectively captures the man’s desperation in a few short paragraphs.

“The Last Gift” is another character sketch, this one of Clyde, a fellow who gives off a vague whiff of obsessive-compulsive disorder. His quirks strain the patience of his friend, Lisa, and her husband, Toby. The story’s denouement (from which it derives its name) is not nearly as effective as the brief scenes preceding it, since it tells us nothing about Clyde that we didn’t already know. Nevertheless, “The Last Gift” effectively showcases Rogers’s terse show-don’t-tell style.

“Tertsa” baffled me. It’s the story of a Greek couple, now old and infirm, who come to live with their son and his wife. Although formerly pleasant, in their new environment they argue constantly. The final blowout is followed by peace. But, what does it all mean? I’m not sure Rogers has given all the clues necessary to decipher this one. Rather, it feels like the sort of anecdote you overhear, scratch your head, and commit to memory, hoping to understand it one day. It’s a curious tale, but I’m still in head-scratching mode.

Rogers gives us a delightful bit of speculative fiction with “Ramps, Railings, and Earthen Embankments,” a story that looks at the public’s response to a miraculous phenomenon. Corpses appear one day in the city—glowing corpses that are immovable and free from decay. Think of it as The Rapture in reverse. The community’s response to this miracle (as indicated by the title) amuses, but doesn’t smack of the truth. Rogers’s stories get much of their power from his ability to tap into something unquestionably real, something we can all relate to. This time, I could only think about what would actually happen if something like this occurred.  

“A Little Shortcut to Silver” is a previously published story, and at 2000 words, it’s the longest one (according to the author) Rogers has used for shortshortshort.com. With 2000 words to work with, you would expect someone of Rogers’s talents to deliver a story with all the trimmings, and he does indeed. This is the story of Bill Little, a would-be silver prospector and unlucky gambler who cheats another man in order to turn a quick profit. Anyone familiar with the works of Guy de Maupassant or O. Henry knows things won’t end well for Little, and Rogers doesn’t disappoint our expectations.

Another story about the terminally lonely, “February” introduces us to a man who seems doomed to remain forever single. Of course, he finally meets someone, a plain Jane riding with him in the London subway. The protagonist finds so many ways of denying himself a chance at love that it’s a wonder the woman doesn’t have to club him over the head with her purse. As it stands, their initial meeting is so painfully awkward, it’s hard to see much hope for budding love—even if Spring is in the air. As usual, Rogers paints a crisp picture with few words, and leaves us wanting more. Might there be a followup story for “February”? Because this is bound to be no ordinary courtship.

For Valentine’s Day, Rogers sent his subscribers “Kisses,” a story about a teenage boy’s first kiss. The physical description of the act is competent, but the most intriguing angle of “Kisses” is Rogers’s insight into the blurred boundaries of sex. The protagonist’s feeling of reassurance at still being able to see himself in the mirror, and the pre-sleep fantasy of his home’s dissolution, are images which capture that delicious, scary sensation. “Kisses” was my favorite of this group because it tapped into an aspect of first sexual relationships which, in my experienced, rarely receives attention.