Sisters Odd: Curious Bedtime Stories by E.J. Mc Fall is not your parents’ Brothers Grimm tales. It is a collection of eclectic short stories that would indeed make very curious “bedtime stories” to read to one’s children. The author, who sometimes has feminist themes in her stories, meets with varied degrees of success in the seventeen tales that make up this volume. All of them feature a female as the main character. I lean towards liking some of the longer ones the most, such as “Rock 418,” “Mist Wood,” “Mea Culpa,” “Families and Other Tragedies,” and “The Rockville Enigma.”
In general, as with any short story, the endings tend to be more abrupt the shorter the story is. Conversely, the longer they are, the more time can be spent in working toward the conclusion, and more space can be devoted to such things as character development. Stories that are five pages or less just don’t have as great of an impact on me, in general, due to their brevity. However, McFall’s longer tales are well-crafted gems, and make the book one to add to your reading list if you like quirky, intelligently written short stories.
First, a brief overview of the stories in this collection: many of them are sci-fi/fantasy flavored. They might not technically be fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm sense, but they offer certain - as the back of the book puts it - “helpful warnings” for the reader to heed, similar to the warnings and morals the Grimm Boys spout. As the back of the book states, some of the warnings in Sisters Odd are:
Beware of strangers, especially when you’re on the run in uncharted territory.
These four particular warnings refer to the stories “Rock 418,” “The Killing Flu,” “Mea Culpa,” and “The Rockville Enigma.”
Always read the bottom line when dealing with supernatural beings. Twice.
When you hear things that go bump in the night, it’s time to start packing.
Don’t believe all the tourist information you read. Not all small towns are quaint.
In “Rock 418,” a smuggler crash-lands her spaceship on a rocky planetoid that appears to be devoid of human life after having been attacked and devastated by “MacAdams and his zealots”. Exactly who these people are is not gone into much, other than that he seems to have worked for the Feds and went after rebel groups, but it this somewhat incidental to the story, serving mainly to explain why there seems to be no life there. But Luna, the smuggler, soon meets the robot Evan, who believes he is the human son of a scientist who lived there and was killed by MacAdams or his zealots. He befriends her and saves her when the Feds come looking for her.
In “The Killing Flu,” Rayna, whose family has a “killing flu” but can’t find relief in death since Death has taken a sabbatical, is convinced by a banshee to temporarily take over Death’s role. She learns it’s wise to read the small print and final lines of any contract before you sign it. The warning about the “things that go bump in the night,” refers to a hobgoblin that infests the house of the narrator. She believes some small animal must have gotten into the basement of her house, and sets a trap for it. Much to her surprise and chagrin, she finds not an animal but a mangled and dead male hobgoblin. It’s enough to make one want to place the house on the market before the body gets stiff.
“The Rockville Enigma” asks the question, “What’s the best gimmick to lure more tourists to your town and increase your bottom line?” Rigged crop circles? Roaming packs of vampire squirrels, perhaps? Two businesswomen, the restaurant-owner Dylan and her friend, Sarah, who runs a bed-and-breakfast, try to come up with ideas to bring in more cash to their businesses and the small town of Rockville. Their efforts at crop circles fail but attract the attention of real aliens.
My favorite story in Sisters Odd is “Families and Other Tragedies.” Lizzie Borden relates her story about the infamous murders of her parents by axe to a reporter when Lizzie is old and close to the end of her life. McFall manages to tie in the career of Jack the Ripper with the death of Borden’s stepmother and father, and it’s a fascinating look at both Borden and the Ripper. If you’re a fan of the offbeat and sf/f, you’ll enjoy Sisters Odd a lot.