Morgan & Elisa Dish: Three Sci Fi Side Dishes

Just in time for the holidays, the RT web team is doing something a bit different for this week’s Dish. Instead of digging into one full length novel, Morgan and Elisa are sampling three short stories as Side Dishes. So what’s on the menu? First up is Cherie Priest’s “Wishbones”, a horrifying, monstrous tale. Then they move into Cassandra Clare’s tale of unrequited love in the steampunk short “Some Fortunate Future Day”. And finally is “Hello, Moto” by the incredible science fiction/fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor. After joining Morgan and Elisa on a trip through these otherworldly tales, you can give each a try since all three short stories are FREE online reads.

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Morgan: I found Cherie Priest’s “Wishbones” to be a nod to classic horror stories. I mean, we’ve got a rural setting with unsuspecting victims and a giant monster.

Elisa: While the text did have a lot in common with a horror story, I thought that what set Priest's work apart from others was the multiple narratives. “Wishbones” takes place during two eras, present day and the 1860s during the Civil War.

Morgan: The two narratives are linked because both parts of the story take place in the same small town. And, oh yeah, the same monster is hunting up food (i.e. people) in both time periods. It first takes out Union soldiers that are prisoners of war and then, hundreds of years later, it stalks the unassuming employees at a local pizza joint.

Elisa: The fact that the reader gets a first hand account of dead POWs being devoured by this unidentified monster makes the present day situation that much worse. The horror lies in Scott, Dean and Lisa being unaware that there is even a threat, but we know what is out there.

Morgan: See, now I felt the whole thing was a little disjointed. Instead of building suspense, the jumping between time periods kind of took me out of the story. However, I have to applaud the modern day parts of the story. The interplay between Dean and Scott, two young, aimless guys that don’t have a lot going on was entertaining and the dialogue is spot on.

Elisa: Scott giving Pete’s Pizza Palace a different goofy name every time he answered the phone (like Pete’s Porno Palace) was a fun touch. Every modern-day horror story featuring teens/youth needs some comic relief. I’m surprised he wasn’t the first to go.

Morgan: No, instead the monster selects young waitress Lisa as its victim.

Elisa: And she is a victim in more ways that just one. She suffers from an eating disorder that is making her sick, which is the main reason why the monster targets her.

Morgan: It is more than just a bit ironic that the “hungry” monster only goes after the starving. First the POWs who are literally dying from hunger get its attention, then the small town pretty girl who is making herself sick in order to be thin.

Elisa: This is certainly one reading of it, however, I think that while there are larger social implications to the tale, readers looking for a quick horror read will be entertained by the unexplained monster lurking in the woods.

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Morgan: Question - When are talking dolls scary? Answer - ALWAYS. Talking dolls are always scary. Which I would think is the main reason that Cassandra Clare uses these “characters” in her short story “Some Fortunate Future Day”.

Elisa: It kind of reminds me of my first time seeing Child’s Play when I was a kid, but these dolls are no Chucky. Although they’re completely functional with their own personalities and reactions to outside stimulus, they’re more like companions than possessed psychopaths.

Morgan: They were created for Rose by her father, an inventor.

Elisa: These dolls are like pets. Except slightly more annoying.

Morgan: Ellen is my favorite of the two. She's the "sassy" one meaning she doesn't act all ladylike. She shows her ankles and arranges sugar cubes to spell rude words.

Elisa: Cordelia is also pretty great. Even though she is shy, she still tells it like it is. Take for instance, when her owner, Rose, explains love to her:

“Love means someone wants to be with you all the time. All they want is to make you happy and give you things. And if you go away from them, they will be miserable forever and ever.”

Cordelia immediately says that this kind of love sounds terrible. Very sensible of her.

Morgan: It would be nice if Rose could somehow acquire some of her doll’s levelheadedness. Instead this girl, who is quickly approaching womanhood, has completely disconnected with reality.

Elisa: Rose’s mother has been dead for a long time and after her father leaves to join the war effort, Rose becomes a bit of a social recluse. For a while she had connections to the outside town, but after an airship destroys the small village, Rose is just left with her dolls.

Morgan: But even before she lives alone, Rose was never quite right. Throughout the story, the reader gets bits and pieces of her life pre-war and, trust me, her past is no better than her present. 

Elisa: You mean like when Rose killed her pet rabbit because it bit her? After the incident, Rose’s father showed her a time machine he invented so she could go back in time and not hurt her pet. But when she gets the second chance, Rose squeezes the rabbit to death because she’s so thrilled to have something to love again.

Morgan: No wonder her father leaves only inanimate objects for her companions. No one is safe around Rose.

Elisa: Enter the wounded airship solider who lands in her back yard...

Morgan: Rose immediately creates sickeningly unrealistic expectations about their relationship. She assumes that Jonah is so grateful that she saved his life, that he will fall madly in love with her.

Elisa: Yeah, I kind of expected her to go psycho, but the ending ends up being kind of depressing. All of her efforts to make Jonah love her fail so she tries to use the time machine to fix an unfixable situation. A mix of sad and slightly romantic.

Morgan: Romantic if you’re an obsessive maniac!

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Morgan: “Hello, Moto” by Nnedi Okorafor was hands down my favorite story in this group. There is just so much crammed into just a few short pages. By using three women living in Nigeria, the author is able to relate the struggles that all of Africa faces.

Elisa: Wow! I’m not sure I got all of that, but go ahead. Make your pitch.

Morgan: Okay, there are three friends, Philo, Rain and Coco who work with magic and technology in order to create something to improve the lives of other Africans.

Elisa: Yes, it is actually Rain that comes up with the wigs that these ladies wear which give them power.

Morgan: Right! Rain uses neurotransmitters, mobile phones, incantations, and hypnosis to create wigs that give the wearer the ability to control others. Rain meant for this to be a way to offer peace and hope to her people, but instead the power has corrupted her friends.

Elisa: This can be seen in the scene when Philo is walking through the market and taking money and goods from the poor.

Morgan: Exactly. She is worshiped like a goddess.

Elisa: I hate to say this, but it kind of made me wish I had a magical wig, as ugly and uncomfortable as they sounded, that kind of power would be hard to pass up.

Morgan: This idea of power corrupting is not a new one, however, I feel like it was the author’s main purpose for writing the story. There are many African leaders who started out trying to do what was right, but then ultimately got caught up in material offerings and now take from the disadvantaged just because they can.

Elisa: Okay, you have sold me. This is a story with an underlying political message, but lets not forget another theme in the story - that of the mixing of superstition and technology.

Morgan: Just another reason why I loved “Hello, Moto” so much! When we think of rural areas in Africa, many of us don’t assume that the people living their have much in the way of technology, however, this is untrue. Almost half the population on the continent has a mobile phone. The mixing of traditional cultures with 21st century technology is here.

Elisa: Which has Rain thinking that there is "witchcraft in science and a science to witchcraft.”

Morgan: Well, Rain's story sure has both witchcraft and science and also a great mix of vanity and power. A fantastic read! 

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You can read each short story for free:

"Wishbones" by Cherie Priest
"Some Fortunate Future Day" by Cassandra Clare
"Hello Moto" by Nnedi Okorafor

Hungry for more? Join us next week when Morgan and Whitney will be Dishing up some goodness on Nora Roberts’ newest contemporary tale.