Thursday, February 2, 2017

Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages

Find this story
(Historical Fantasy Romance) In San Francisco in 2015, an old Japanese woman spends her last days dealing with mysterious unfinished business involving the 1940 disappearance of a friend who illustrated pulp magazines. (38,685 words; Time: 2h:08m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

This story is first and foremost a romance; the fantasy element is a very small part of the story. See related articles on

"," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Obviously the greatest strength of this work is the lavishly detailed description of the hidden lesbian community of pre-World War II San Francisco. It’s a great reminder that just because they had it better than 95% of the lesbians in the country doesn’t mean they had it easy. Not until the 1970s did that sort of police persecution of gays and lesbians begin to stop.

In terms of plot, we learn why Helen had to dispose of the painting, and it’s a cool moment when we realize what it’s really about. It’s also nice that Spike and Haskell got to spend 75 years together.

Con: Only the setting is fully developed. Eighty-percent of the way through the story, you’re still waiting for something to happen, and it gets pretty dull.

None of the characters is three-dimensional, not even Spike and Haskell, who are practically interchangeable outside their occupations. Helen is critical to the framing story but hardly plays a role in the main story. Franny and Babs are visible at the start and end but that’s it.

The fantasy element is extremely minor and feels tacked on. If you dropped the framing story and just had them leave town under assumed names at the end, it would make little difference to the core story. Worse, the key fantasy element—the TundΓ©rpΓΆr—is revealed so late in the story that it feels like a deus ex machina. We had no reason to believe Haskel had any magical abilities up to that point.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I found this fascinating - and beautifully written - but as you say the SF element is very slight.

    1. I agree 100% that the writing is beautiful. I just can't bring myself to recommend a beautifully written story that has serious plotting, pacing, or character issues.

      And this one even had a strong, relevant, gay angle to it. ;-(