Escape Artists (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod)
Adele Gardner, "Fine Flying Things": An excellent flash idea stretched out to short story length: all the cats become buoyant and fly away; a man eventually lets go of his cat--which seems like a metaphor for pet death--but then he eventually starts to float away himself, which might be a metaphor for him accepting his mortality or just being more accepting in the abstract. As I said, startling image, but no real character identification to bring the reader through.
Julia Rios, "Oracle Gretel": A remixed fairy tale, where Hansel has been transformed by a cat (to protect him from being eaten by the witch) and where Gretel has to learn to give up on an impossible love (her teasing boss). I enjoyed the writing, but as a story, I don't know that I was brought into much of the plot. As identifiable as impossible love is as a character issue, the stakes here seem so low. When Gretel decides to start over elsewhere, she just puts on her magic shoes and walks far away.
K. J. Parker, "The Dragonslayer of Merebarton": A middle-aged knight gets tapped to fight a dragon. This is narrated by the knight who has a slightly arch sense of humor; the story takes place in a pretty ordinary world (as far as I can tell, it's Earth and our narrator is an ex-crusader, not a professional monster-hunter because there aren't a lot of monsters running around); and the story starts with him trying to save some coin by mending a chamberpot by himself. So even though the story is pretty ordinary (people band together to kill monster), the main character and style of telling makes it something new.
Lightspeed and Nightmare
D. Thomas Minton, "Dreams in Dust": In a post-water world (water was destroyed/stolen by Orbitals), a man with plans for a well stumbles on a family that has an oasis; of course, the family doesn't want him there even if he thinks he can save the world. A short story that is pretty simple and talky in plot (wanderer talks about his hope for water, distrustful dad remembers one of the last rains) but that packs a lot of world-building into tiny phrases: the dewatering of Earth by orbitals, the genes the wanderer has to help him survive in the desert, etc. None of it is super original, but because of that, Minton can just gesture towards it--even if they're tropes, it has a verisimilitude because it's not explained.
Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project Pulp, Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa)
Arthur J. Burks, "Flying Suitors": Here's one of those spicy air stories I've heard of (sort of): a woman is trying to decide which of two pilots to marry and has her brother vet them, but then they all get caught by natives and have to escape. The whole set-up is very funny and interesting to me--could I today get away with introducing characters by having the narrator vet them for marriage so we get little capsule descriptions of each?
Tom Thursday, "There's Hicks In All Trades": A Ring Lardner-esque story of a fight promoter/boxing trainer who has a grudge against another. The narrator's boxer seems to be winning when the enemy promoter rings the fire alarm, which causes the boxer--and volunteer firefighter--to forfeit the match by leaving the ring. It's such a minor story, but the language and POV of the narrator are so hilarious and weird that it carries the story easily. I'm going to be on the lookout for Tom Thursday stories.
Captain S. P. Meek, "When Caverns Yawned": I won't be on the lookout so much for Captain Meek stories. This is the sort of story that, I think, gives pulp a bad name. (Although the dangerous natives of "Flying Suitors" don't help.) The plot involves a dangerous Communist who has a shrinking ray that he uses to shrink ground and cause earthquakes above. Now, if you had a shrink ray and wanted to destroy a city, why not just shoot the city with the shrink ray? The characters are super broad and perfect in that Doc Savage way--brilliant, physically amazing, etc. There is a moment of comedy (intentional?) at the end when the doctor has defeated the villain and then starts to fall down. For a moment, I thought, "The strain has been too much and he's dying of a heart attack," but no--he's merely very tired from being up for four days straight. Bonus points for making the US president a paragon of nobility with no real qualities and connecting the super-scientist villain to socialist labor movements in the US--in 1931!
Tim Waggoner, "Long Way Home": Wonderfully weird in that an overprotective mom tries to get home with her son while the sky rains blood and monsters--and the blood transforms people into monsters if they get it in their mouths. It's so delightfully weird--and it takes a while for everyone to catch up with the paranoia of the mom--that for a long time I really expected the climax to be "mom is having another schizophrenic break." That I would have really loved. This story, however, doesn't really explain any of that--why is mom so nervous about the blood at first while no one else is?--and just ends with the idea that this monster invasion is real and mom "saves" the kid by changing him into a monster.