Monday 27 July 2020

A Quiet Afternoon anthology (and food pairings!)

Guest post: Laura DeHaan from our friends at Grace & Victory.

Hello! This is Laura DeHaan, slush goblin for Grace&Victory’s A Quiet Afternoon anthology of Low-Fi speculative fiction.

Low-Fi stories are comfort reads, slices of life with low stakes and reasonable expectations for what the characters in the story can accomplish, preferably (though not always) with a speculative slant. I’ve spoken elsewhere about wanting a feeling of instant nostalgia when I’m reading Low-Fi, so here I thought I’d delve a little deeper into why each of these stories caught my attention as being specifically (and wonderfully!) Low-Fi. As a bonus, I’ll be offering up my ideal comfort food pairings to enjoy with these stories.

“The Baker’s Cat” by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom: Fittingly, our first story is all about comfort food! How could I resist the loving descriptions of the bread and desserts? And who wouldn’t want a helpful trio of charming talking animals to teach them how to knead dough? There is a wealth of kindness and gentleness in this story, and it was perfect for A Quiet Afternoon.

Food pairing: Vanilla creamhorns and a steamy chai latte.

“An Inconvenient Quest” by Rebecca Gomez Farrell: From taste to smell, we get another sensory overload in “An Inconvenient Quest.” While on paper it appears to be the standard high-fantasy tale of a dangerous quest to save a fairy queen, there’s so much whimsy in the telling—and such an improbable cure!—that it stays a very comfortable read.

Food pairing: Deep fried delights! Shrimp tempura, arancini, mashed potato croquettes!

“Rising Tides” by Mary Alexandra Agner: I’m a sucker for stories about magical robots, but I always thought their magic would be treated like another programming language, or maybe involve fireballs instead of laser beams. I certainly wasn’t expecting a robot to perform stage magic! The unexpected pairing of sentient tech with such benign magic (especially in a moody seaside setting) made it an instant win.

Food pairing: Sourdough with melty peanut butter and cold ginger beer.

“After Bots” by Rachael Maltbie: The second of our magical robots stories, though here it’s more like hauntings and sculptures. I was happy to see a story with an older protagonist, especially a LADY (gasp!) being a MECHANIC (double gasp!) but also (is it allowed??) having FEELINGS (the most gasps!). Plus it’s a blue-collar setting with ghosts! There’s so much here that should be more mainstream.

Food pairing: Grilled cheese with pickles on the side, along with a chocolate milkshake thick enough to stand a spoon in.

“It’s All in the Sauce by Elizabeth Hirst: I love the idea of solving one problem with a different problem. It’s a very relatable real-life scenario. And as “The Baker’s Cat” has proven, food descriptions are always welcome in Low-Fi.

Food pairing: Once a year my brother will have a backyard barbecue, and his ribs paired with a rye and Coke (heavy on the rye, light on the Coke… or whiskey instead, whatever’s on the shelf) leave me as satiated as reading “It’s All In The Sauce.”

“Sarah, Spare Some Change by Ziggy Schutz: I was immediately drawn to the dreamlike narrative. What’s happened to the world where students slip their bodies during school? How do you gamble on clouds? I don’t know, and I do not care. I love being thrown into a world and not having the rules explained. I love not having fifty pages of backstory and ten of glossary. Let me enjoy what’s right here.

Food pairing: A creamy seafood chowder, where you can’t identify all the bits until you put them in your mouth.

“Ink Stains by Tamoha Sengupta: Remember when every protagonist of spec fic was a male writer? I think it was so he could have a lot of free time to just fart around and not worry about whether his adventures could fit into a 9-5 job. So how pleased was I to see this trope subverted and follow instead the writer’s son—and then have the ink itself become the hero of the story?

VERY. I was VERY pleased.

Food pairing: Being from Toronto, I already knew about Indian rotis—butter chicken, saag paneer, all great. Then I went to Ottawa and learned about Sri Lankan kottu roti from a VERY enthusiastic patron at a one-man hole-in-the-wall take-out place. “You’ve had roti before? Oh no, not like THESE!” she said. I have never met anyone so delighted to share her favourite restaurant’s menu before. Anyway, kottu roti. Great stuff.

“Salt Tears and Sweet Honey by Aimee Ogden: So often when mythological sea creatures forsake the waves to live on land, we see only the start of it: stolen selkie skins, or a desire for legs. In this story of a life well lived, we see what might keep a mermaid from wanting to return to her former home. Like the ocean, there’s a lot beneath the surface in this story, and it raises a lot of questions about the culture the protagonist left behind.

Food pairing: Chocolate mead and lemon-custard scones.

“12 Attempts at Telling about the Flower Shop man (New York New York) by Stephanie Barbé Hammer: Sometimes you want to create a new genre and you set yourself rules (not even a lot of rules!) and then a story comes along and you say, “Well, whatever, I’m buying it.” It’s remarkably satisfying. We’d been a bit hesitant to buy this one because we wanted this anthology to be all about that speculative fiction and “12 Attempts” simply wasn’t. It was, however, charming AF, and what’s the point of making a new genre-breaking genre if you can’t do exactly as you please?

Food pairing: Fresh Rice Krispies squares, still gooey and hot from the pot.

“The Dragon Peddler by Maria Cook: Just because we wanted to publish speculative fiction didn’t mean we wanted to be inundated with dragons. ONE dragon, that was IT. And like “Ink Stains”, where the male writer doesn’t take up the protagonist mantle, in “The Dragon Peddler,” the dragon doesn’t take centre stage, either. It’s the motivating factor and a reward, but its loss or gain isn’t the defining characteristic for the protagonist. It’s a bonus.

Food pairing: Mac’n’cheese with cut-up hot dogs.

“Tomorrow’s Friend by Dantzel Cherry: It’s a simple little tale, and it’s cute, and it’s nice. It’s reassuring without being patronizing and even when the protagonist is shown that what she wants is attainable, she still has to put the work in to get it. That’s low stakes and reasonable expectations, right there.

Food pairing: Fairground waffle ice cream sandwiches.

“Hollow by Melissa DeHaan: Full disclosure, Melissa’s my sister and I asked her to write a story for A Quiet Afternoon. Though she’s never tried writing short stories professionally, she’s been writing fanfic for ages as well as running a few webcomics (her current one being Harbourmaster and I am absolutely plugging it because it is entirely Low-Fi), so I knew she’d come up with something. That something is our third magical robots story. Our protagonists don’t like each other. They never end up really liking each other. But they can work as a team to get a job done and after that they need never see each other again. And for those of us raised as girls, where we’re taught we must befriend everyone and heaven help you if you aren’t instant besties and caretakers and therapists for all you meet, it’s real refreshing reading a story that says NOPE to that idea.

Food pairing: Boba—matcha milk tea, 20% sugar, regular ice, with tapioca. A little bitter, earthy, filling, and unashamed. LOOK THOU WHAT BOBA MAY BE.

“Of Buckwheat and Garlic Braids by Adriana C. Grigore: This is exactly what we wanted Low-Fi to be. A protagonist from an underrepresented group (trans men), whose transness is shown succinctly and sympathetically, who Uses His Words to solve a problem. And! The potentially dangerous monster ALSO uses her words! LET’S EVERYONE USE OUR WORDS!

Food pairing: The cheesy garlic bread absolutely drenched with butter from the Italian joint near my old highschool. Utterly satisfying.

You can find out more about or buy the A Quiet Afternoon anthology from Grace&Victory publications or Payhip.

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