(While no acknowledgement was required, thanks to comfreak for the great art.)
So far in December, Grievous Angel, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com have produced no original fiction in English. The rest of the (semi-)weekly venues I cover were active and here are (mostly) brief reviews of their stories.
“Low Bridge! or, The Dark Obstructions” by M. Bennardo, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #240, December 7, 2017 (novelette)
A newly married couple take a boat ride on their honeymoon where they are annoyed by a boorish author of ghost stories. This opens (and, indeed, closes) with nothing necessarily fantastic, is narrated in a mannered, Victorian way, and has unappealing characters, so is hard to get into. There is a dinner scene of somewhat spirited conversation and an exciting moment of a low bridge but a prophecy is given which leads to expectations which are disappointed. The culmination is trivial.
“The Wind’s Departure” by Stephen Case, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #240, December 7, 2017 (fantasy novelette)
Not having read any Patrick Rothfuss, I don’t know if or how this is related but, when the protagonist is reading The Book of the Names of the Winds, even I couldn’t help but think of the title The Name of the Wind.
What this is related to is at least three other stories about a new god in the world and the wizard(s) who resist it. I’ve only read half of them and I recommended an earlier one (“The Wizard’s House“) in 2015. This one seems to suffer more from sequelitis, being more of a middle and relying more on past stories. These references can add to a larger, numinous effect from ominous vagueness or, being robbed of their context, can simply fall flat. I suspect this could be read in isolation but wouldn’t be a good starting place.
In this installment, Diogenes, the new wizard, is trying to honor his promise to restore the persistent wind, Sylva, to her body, which had been unmade by the previous wizard’s brother. He realizes that the only way to do this is to risk re-awakening the quiescent god. Adding to the difficulties is that there’s an Emperor waiting to be served. The ending wraps up only the most interior thread and sets the stage for further adventures.
This is a slow tale, with little happening in the first half, and never really becoming all that thrilling, but certainly becoming interesting in places due to wonderfully imaginative fantastic elements. Early on, there is another nice depiction of “the wizard’s house” and the second half, with encounters with gods, ascents to the top of the house, and various other things (along with references to the amazing flying jellyfish (that you need to have read a previous installment to appreciate)) keeps things spellbinding. The prose is clean and effective and the cross-bindings of the various characters and their promises and the costs of same is well-handled. If you’ve enjoyed any of the other tales in the series, don’t miss this one and, if not, try one of the earlier tales.
“Hakim vs. The Sweater Curse” by Rachael K. Jones, Diabolical Plots #34A, December 1, 2017 (fantasy flash)
A guy cries a lot and vomits Lovecraftian sweaters for his boyfriend. Words fail me.
“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” by Rachael K. Jones, Lightspeed #91, December , 2017 (science fiction short story)
This peculiar tale involves escaped cyborgs finding themselves having to run a restaurant in order to hide in plain sight, with little material to work with and less knowledge of what their fully biological human customers like to eat. When one of them becomes fixated on getting more “stars” in reviews, things go off the rails.
The premise doesn’t grab me, much of the story is extremely unpleasant (with traces of bizarre humor to compensate), and the ending would have been much more effective if the main character had actually been appealing.
“Please Consider My Science-Fiction Story” by David G. Blake, Nature, December 6, 2017 (science fiction flash)
This is a meta-story about an author having a meta-conversation with his imaginary/real AI writing assistant. It’s inconsiderable.
“Which Super Little Dead Girl™ Are You? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!” by Nino Cipri, Nightmare #63, December , 2017 (horror short story)
This very short (c.2,000 word) piece is just what it says: a quiz. Given that, it does a remarkable job sketching the lives and deaths of four murdered girls but still doesn’t result in much of a story.
“SWARM” by Sean Patrick Hazlett, Terraform, December 8, 2017 (science fiction flash)
An American/NATO soldier (who’s lost his daughter) is fighting, among others, a mobile minefield in the Russo-Ukrainian war (with children in the area). This is a little too caught up in its acronyms and tech and a little too conventional in its character/emotional efforts to make for successful fiction but it does paint an interesting picture of near-future combat and it’s good to see a story that recognizes the fact of Cold War II (even if it calls it the “Neo-Cold War”).