"Lydia’s Body,” by Vylar Kaftan
Clarkesworld Magazine is the most bare bones publication I’ve encountered. Aside from the (superb) visual art that graces the covers of the online monthly editions, science fiction, fantasy and horror are the extent of the zine’s content; and a mere two stories a month at that—limited to just four thousand words. It would appear as if publisher Neil Clarke, assisted by senior fiction editors Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace, favors a minimalist thrust of quality over quantity, punctuating the point by offering an astonishing ten cents a word to contributors. Each issue contains one story by an established writer, which is by way of invitation only, and one slush pile pick from anyone. Usually, however, even the slush submissions chosen are by writers with several literary credits. For a neophyte writer to crack the nut of this venue with his or her first effort, would indeed be counted as quite an accomplishment.
Until recently, Mr. Clarke operated a mail order bookstore from his residence, which he regretfully has had to begin to close due to personal considerations. However, he has founded a small press concern called Wyrm Publishing which will publish books as well as Clarkesworld Magazine’s monthly chapbooks which include the two stories of each monthly edition, signed by the stories’ authors in very limited press runs.
Clarkesworld recently scored a coup when one of its stories won the 2006 Million Writers Award in a very crowded field of nominated works. The story is “Urchins, While Swimming," by Catherynne M. Valente. On a link page I recently added to this website, I referred to this piece as “extremely good,” a characterization I stand by and that was based upon the undeniably exquisite, almost overpowering beauty of Ms. Valente’s writing. The story is virtually poetry as prose. Nevertheless, I shall make a confession that I doubt few of the thirty-one percent (a very impressive plurality in a ten story final field!) of the folks who voted for the piece would ever make, even at gunpoint! After having read “Urchins…” through several times, I still hadn’t a clue as to what exactly the story is about.
As the piece is prefaced by an excerpt from Pushkin—from which its title is derived—one just assumes that the story must be ponderously deep. Therefore, I had some inkling of an idea that perhaps the story was intended as an allegory, possibly with feminist overtones. However, I was later delivered from my befuddled misconceptions by the grace of one Suzanne Church, a Tangent Online reviewer, who explains in her review that the story is actually a fairy tale concerning a rusalka, a “water sprite” of Slavic mythology. (A water sprite who attends medical school? Ah, the virtues of affirmative action!) How could I have ever have been so obtuse not to have realized such on my own? Click to continue: