Terrain by Genevieve Valentine
My rating: 5/5 cats
WELCOME TO DECEMBER PROJECT!
this explanation/intro will be posted before each day’s short story. scroll down to get to the story-review.
this is the FIFTH year of me doing a short story advent calendar as my december project. for those of you new to me or this endeavor, here’s the skinny: every day in december, i will be reading a short story that is 1) available free somewhere on internet, and 2) listed on goodreads as its own discrete entity. there will be links provided for those of you who like to read (or listen to) short stories for free, and also for those of you who have wildly overestimated how many books you can read in a year and are freaking out about not meeting your 2020 reading-challenge goals. i have been gathering links all year when tasty little tales have popped into my feed, but i will also accept additional suggestions, as long as they meet my aforementioned 1), 2) standards, because i have not compiled as many as usual this year.
IN ADDITION, this may be the last year i do this project since GR has already deleted the pages for several of the stories i’ve read in previous years without warning, leaving me with a bunch of missing reviews and broken links, which makes me feel shitty. because i don’t have a lot of time to waste, i’m not going to bother writing much in the way of reviews for these, in case gr decides to scrap ’em again. 2020 has left me utterly wrung out and i apologize for what’s left of me. i am doing my best.
DECEMBER 12: TERRAIN – GENEVIEVE VALENTINE
You just can’t be dead enough for some people. They want to burn your footprints right off the earth.
uuuuuuuggghhhh, this is heartpunchingly wonderful. i somehow missed this one way back in 2013—i probably skipped it because it was a long’un, comparatively, but i’m so glad i made the time to slide into it this morning.
it’s a bleak steampunk western about a man named elijah who takes in a group of individuals who have only ever received the short end of the white man’s stick and gives them a home, making of them a sort of family. frank and faye are shoshone siblings who escaped an abusive mormon school, joseph is an emancipated slave, ex-soldier and blacksmith, fa liang is a chinese mechanical engineer who had been laying railroad tracks until his brother was killed in a blast, and maria is, presumably, a mexican woman run off of her farm after her husband died. separately, none of these people are considered people by the law, but with elijah, they are given a respectable purpose, providing “a service too useful to run out of town;” running a messenger service using ‘dogs’—nimble six-legged manned mechanical contraptions designed by fa liang capable of clambering up and over places that couriers on horseback cannot.
with elijah, they are safe and reasonably tolerated by the township, although faye; fiercely protective of her brother, is always braced for the inevitable conflict that will break this tenuous homestead apart.
which—naturally—does occur, when railroad men come a-calling, offering elijah big $$ for his land, and, when he refuses, playing that shady strategy card; tempting locals with promises of what the town could become with the railroad’s prestige and spreading lies about elijah and the others.
things get bad.
then they get worse.
it is a powerhouse of a story, beautifully written and highly empathetic. the only ‘genre’ thing about it is that mechanical dogs exist, so even if you’re not into steampunk, that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating all the rich and heartbreaking humanity of it. if you’re a goddamn racist, it’s probably not for you, and fuck you anyway.
DECEMBER 1: PG – COURTNEY SUMMERS
DECEMBER 2: THE JUMPING MONKEY HILL – CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
DECEMBER 3: ORIGIN STORY – T. KINGFISHER
DECEMBER 4: THE GREAT SILENCE – TED CHIANG
DECEMBER 5: A CLEAN SWEEP WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS – JAMES ALAN GARDNER
DECEMBER 6: BORED WORLD – ANDY WEIR
DECEMBER 7: VAMPIRE – ROBERT COOVER
DECEMBER 8: A STATEMENT IN THE CASE – THEODORA GOSS
DECEMBER 9: STET – SARAH GAILEY
DECEMBER 10: MARGOT’S ROOM – EMILY CARROLL
DECEMBER 11: HORROR STORY – CARMEN MARIA MACHADO
DECEMBER 13: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY AGAIN – ZEN CHO
DECEMBER 14: GHOUL – GEORGE SAUNDERS
DECEMBER 15: DURING THE DANCE – MARK LAWRENCE
DECEMBER 16: CLEARING THE BONES – CELESTE NG
DECEMBER 17: THE WAITER’S WIFE
DECEMBER 18: DEMOLITION – FIONA MCFARLANE
DECEMBER 19: NO PERIOD – HARRY TURTLEDOVE
DECEMBER 20: DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE – GG
DECEMBER 21: RUB-A-DUB-DUB – TONY MILLIONAIRE
DECEMBER 22: HANSA AND GRETYL AND PIECE OF SHIT – REBECCA CURTIS
DECEMBER 23: BRIDESICLE – WILL MCINTOSH
DECEMBER 24: I, CTHULHU, OR, WHAT’S A TENTACLE-FACED THING LIKE ME DOING IN A SUNKEN CITY LIKE THIS (LATITUDE 47° 9′ S, LONGITUDE 126° 43′ W)? – NEIL GAIMAN
DECEMBER 25: CHRISTMAS TALE – MARK LAWRENCE
DECEMBER 26: THE MONSTERS OF HEAVEN – NATHAN BALLINGRUD
DECEMBER 27: TWO DREAMS ON TRAINS – ELIZABETH BEAR
DECEMBER 28: THE MARTIANS CLAIM CANADA – MARGARET ATWOOD
DECEMBER 29: UNDER THE WAVE – LAUREN GROFF
DECEMBER 30: MR. SALARY – SALLY ROONEY
DECEMBER 31: A/S/L – EMMA CLINE
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