Review of January 29, 2018 Strange Horizons for Tangent

Strange Horizons surprises us on the fifth Monday in January with an extra double “Trans / Nonbinary Special Issue” which includes one very dull story and one that is anything but (but not in a good way). If anyone is looking for a good “Trans / Nonbinary” story, I recommend Jose Pablo Iriarte’s “The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” (Lightspeed) or Nick Wolven’s “Galatea in Utopia” (F&SF) which are just two of the stories on the theme this month.

Full review at Tangent: Strange Horizons, January 29, 2018.

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Summation of Online Fiction: January 2018

Covering January short fiction was exciting (and busy), as Featured Futures added Analog, Ares, Asimov’s, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, F&SF, and Galaxy’s Edge to its roster, resulting in significantly more stories read than usual (86 of 455K words) and a similarly larger than usual recommended/mentioned list. In webzine news, and speaking of Galaxy’s Edge, I was going to add coverage of it as a print zine but, coincidentally, it returned to webzine status, once again making all its fiction available on the web. The categorized “List of Professional SF/F/H Magazines” (which doubles as a list of the markets Featured Futures covers as well as being a sort of index of reviews) has been updated to reflect this.

(By the way, this January summation actually covers just January 1-28 since weekly (sub-monthly/irregular) fiction is now covered in “Weekly Webzine Wrap-ups” and this week runs into February and will be covered in that month. The plan is to cover all future months/weeks the same way, without further comment.)

Recommended:

Science Fiction

  • “Galatea in Utopia” by Nick Wolven, F&SF, January/February 2018, novelette
  • The Hydraulic Emperor” by Arkady Martine, Uncanny #20, January/February 2018, short story
  • Sour Milk Girls” by Erin Roberts, Clarkesworld #136, January 2018, short story
  • “Ten and Ten” by Alan Dean Foster, Analog, January/February 2018, short story

Fantasy

Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • “Assassin in the Clouds” by Robert R. Chase, Asimov’s, January/February 2018, novelette
  • “In the Lost City of Leng” by Paul Di Filippo & Rudy Rucker, Asimov’s, January/February 2018, science fantasy novella
  • “A List of Forty-Nine Lies” by Steven Fischer, F&SF, January/February 2018, short story
  • “Margin of Error” by Paul Carlson, Analog, January/February 2018, short story
  • A Night Out at a Nice Place” Nick Mamatas, Apex #104, January 2018, short story

Fantasy

Reviews of the Above:

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-01-26)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • “Clocking Out” by Preston Grassmann, Nature, January 24, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker, Lightspeed #92, January [25], 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “Airplane Mode” by Kelsey Atherton, Terraform, January 25, 2018 (science fiction short story)

Especially compared to last week, this was a light week of three stories of less than 6500 words combined, none of which are recommended reading.

The protagonist of “Clocking Out” has left a troubled relationship to join the rat race (a company town with eight time zones related to the speed of the employees’ overclocked brains) but has now had enough. The mention of the employees’ speech reminded me of John Shirley’s Techniki and other more pertinent predecessors I can’t put a finger on but this short-short is a pretty thin tale. “The Court Magician” is another fantasy about the costs of magic when a boy expresses a burning desire to learn sleight of hand. He’s recruited by the Regent’s minions to be a real magician and ends up very slight of hand, indeed. This tale doesn’t have much of a plot, has no characterization beyond the “not cruel” boy and the bizarrely (relatively) undemanding king, and its theme is not always coherent to me which is especially important because, of course, it’s another fantasy that isn’t about any of those things at all but is a political allegory. “Airplane Mode” (or “How I Learned to Stop Loving the Bomb and Worry”) is not so much a political allegory, but literal politics “ripped from the headlines” (as Terraform tales usually are) and deals remarkably tepidly and unrealistically with a nuclear holocaust occurring in 2036 when an implausible US anti-missile test against a North Korean missile is implausibly mismanaged and mistaken by the Russians as a first strike.

Good News (Clarke), Bad News (Le Guin)

Neil Clarke has announced the contents of his “Year’s Best” and I’ve updated my Collated Contents of the Big Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, with Links!).

Le Guin was quite a bit more than a novelist and wrote less fantasy, strictly speaking, than other things but, eh, mainstream media. A major loss to the field. (Update: 6:33 PM: they’ve actually updated and substantially lengthened the article, so it’s much better, though the title’s unchanged.)

Ursula K. Le Guin, Whose Novels Plucked Truth From High Fantasy, Dies At 88 : The Two-Way : NPR

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-01-20)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • “This Sword for Hire” by Gregg Chamberlain, Ares, January 12, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • “Ice” by Diana Silver, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, January 14, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “Brooklyn Fantasia” by Marcy Arlin, Diabolical Plots #35B, January 15, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” by Senaa Ahmad, Strange Horizons, January 15, 2018 (science fictional short story)
  • “Chocolate Chicken Cheesecake” by M. J. Pettit, Nature, January 17, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • “The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor” by Vincent Michael Zito, Nightmare #64, January 17, 2018 (horror short story)
  • The Ghoul Goes West” by Dale Bailey, Tor.com, January 17, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • “Benefactors of Silence” by Nin Harris, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #243, January 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “Nneamaka’s Ghost” by Walter Dinjos, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #243, January 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “The Eyes of the Flood” by Susan Jane Bigelow, Lightspeed , January 18, 2018 (science fictional short story)
  • “Dream Job” by Seamus Sullivan, Terraform,  January 18, 2018 (science fictional short story)

There aren’t a lot of wombat stories this week[1]. The only significant theme is that there aren’t really any SF stories (only horror, fantasy, and fantasy-tinged SF-ish stories) and they’re almost all negative/down stories but that’s not unique to this week. There are, however, a lot of short-shorts of less than 2000 words (or just over), so I’ll begin with those.

An AI robot makes “Chocolate Chicken Cheesecake” on a reality cooking show that’s supposed to prevent the Apocalypse. A woman with an addictive personality gets her nightmarish “Dream Job” selling her sleep to others. (I’ve read this story before but I can’t remember the author/title of the predecessor.) Lightmare and Nightspeed bring us two sub-2000 word stories written in second-person present tense, beginning with the even more nightmarish “The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor” which doesn’t help a guy dealing with the horrifically foul-smelling water coming out of the pipes in his house (the ending is clear by the middle and the story is arguably non-fantastic horror) and concluding with “The Eyes of the Flood” which is a post-apocalyptic story about someone being fantastically changed by the experience. “Benefactors of Silence” may be a leftover from BCS #242 as it also deals with music but, specifically, with two people of opposite allegiances aiding and/or tormenting each other after a war. Finally,  “Brooklyn Fantasia” cracks the 2K barrier with nearly 2300 words spent on describing a griffin, a dream-thingy, and an animate rock going apartment hunting. The first couple of hundred words seem like they might begin a charmingly eccentric story but the other two thousand don’t do anything at all. None of these appealed to me, but the horrific ones were fairly effective at specifically being horrific if not generally as stories.

For longer short stories, I reviewedThe Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” for Tangent. “Ice“[2] describes a sort of wind-spirit bonding with a boy who is looking for his father as a member of an expedition to the North Pole. Much like the horror stories, this has an effective element, here conveying the white, cold, snow-covered environment (and it was a good time to read it as we’d just gotten five or six inches of snow here which is unusual to say the least), but it’s underplotted and undermotivated. (At one point, there’s a signal from Fred when the spirit asks, “Why was I helping [the boy]?”) In “Nneamaka’s Ghost,” the narrator has been exiled after being blamed for being responsible for the princess’ death. The ghost of the princess visits him and promises him great rewards if he will return to the village and steal her body (a month dead) in order to resurrect her (and threatens him if he won’t). Despite his fears, he agrees. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned. This would have been more effective in third-person rather than first, but was reasonably effective in places.

Finally, there are two long novelettes to discuss.

Ares releases print issues and presumably will release #5 at some point but also releases some individual stories directly to the web. Last week, they published “This Sword for Hire,” which I missed. It takes place in a sort of alternate history England with horse-drawn carriages, elves, and noir-PI-flavored duelists-at-law (not to be confused with Pohl & Kornbluth’s gladiators-at-law). A beautiful blonde barmaid rushes into the protagonist’s office and pleads with him to save her fiancee, who has been maneuvered into a duel he can’t win. The story opens with a somewhat clunky feel and ultimately pulls subsections of the Code Duello out of a hat and drops into an overly easy ending but was fairly entertaining.

This week, Tor.com finally returned from its lengthy, unexplained absence and gave us “The Ghoul Goes West.” If my math is right, the narrator’s older brother, Denny, died in 1983 and, ten years later the younger, Ben, decided to pen the tale[3]. Denny and Ben both loved movies, with Denny going to Hollywood to be a script writer and Ben going south to be an academic. Things didn’t go so well for Denny and Ben heads out to puzzle out what happened. Among other things, he learns that Denny continued to share Ben’s fascination with Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, and Wood’s entourage. Where it led Ben to try a thesis on Wood, it led Denny to contact with another dimension (via a magic video rental store) in which Lugosi didn’t die in 1956 but went on to make Wood’s The Ghoul Goes West in 1957. This story tackles dreams, shattered and otherwise, and reactions, and possibilities.

Few stories have balanced so precisely between a recommendation and an honorable mention. The embedded review of Dracula is dead-on. There are moments of great power, such as the “already dead” brother watching that movie for the first time and the “unfathomable dream” of the other brother years later. I even admire the avowedly problematic ending. However, the story, while always intriguing, is a bit loose in places and probably will not enthrall people who aren’t interested in Wood and Lugosi and Tinseltown, especially since the single fantastic element doesn’t appear until two-fifths in. More importantly, there is something odd in writing off a guy who is a scriptwriter (if even of a crappy sitcom) at the age of about twenty-five. He’s ahead of many others and it’s akin to writing off Tom Hanks as a failure at the time he was starring in Bosom Buddies. And this plays into the general irresponsible attitudes that “Hollywood killed him” and suchlike. The prematureness and passivity bother me. But it’s still at least a pretty good story and is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve discussed so, with those reservations, if it does sound interesting to you, I do recommend it.

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[1] “Turning to the nonseries anthologies, we are reminded once again that anthologies come in bunches—or, at least, that often a number of anthologies with similar themes seem to come out all at the same time . . . so that, say, there’ll be no anthologies about wombats, and then suddenly there will be three of them. No one knows why.” —Gardner Dozois [which I generalize to any random fictional floods]

[2] This is translated from the Dutch and I don’t ordinarily review translations but it was CRES‘ first story of the year and I wanted to go ahead and get started.

[3] My guess is that this was “written” in 1993 as the latest possible date Tim Burton’s Ed Wood wouldn’t need to be discussed in the story.

Links (2018-01-17)

Artist’s rendering of solar sail vessels in the GJ 436 system – Credit: Denis Bajram/UNIGE (via Centauri Dreams)

Humor

The Art of Darkness continues to amuse with things “Seen Online.” Particularly love the kicker of the New Year’s resolutions.

History

The History Blog tells us about an unusual used book. First edition, but with some slight dampstaining and, uh, cannon crumpling. “First book remains found in Blackbeard’s ship.”

Politics/Law/Society/etc.

CBS tells us that “Judges order redo of North Carolina’s partisan congressional districts.” Happy day! (Now if the General Assembly will actually obey and if similar measures will be applied to Maryland and all other radically unrepresentative states controlled by any party.)

Analog‘s previous editor returns for a remarkable guest editorial, “Educational Challenge.” Much like gerrymandering, reaction to this shouldn’t depend on what party you play for or any political opinions most people have. This is about assaults on the reason and reality almost all of us share. Stanley Schmidt and Ben Bova (who is name-dropped) aren’t exactly left-wing any more than Moynihan and Sagan (who are also mentioned) are right-wing.

Motherboard has an article and two follow-ups on a Constitutional assault most people don’t seem concerned about: “Congress Is About to Vote On Expanding the Warrantless Surveillance of Americans,” “The House Just Voted to Expand Warrantless Surveillance of US Citizens,” and (this is Rand Paul’s purpose in the universe) “5 Senators Are Filibustering an Attempt to Expand Warrantless Surveillance of Americans.”

Motherboard strikes again with a good “ha ha, only serious” article: “Jeff Bezos Should Give Me Some Money.”

Literature

Paris Review gives us a book review of/foreword to/advertisement for “The Reader Over Your Shoulder,” which prompted me to get the book though, so far, it doesn’t seem to be living up to its promotion. Still an interesting article which delivers a couple of key precepts which I obviously need to learn.

Black Gate continues its birthday review series, this time celebrating Algis Budrys, an author with, IMO, one of the highest actual-greatness-to-acknowledged-greatness ratios.

Science

Martian Ice Crystals and Quantum Time Crystals

Space.com has another story the like of which I’ve heard many times before and tend to disbelieve but it’d be nice if it turned out to be accurate. “Big Sheets of Water Ice Lie Just Beneath the Surface of Mars.”

Motherboard had an interesting (but ultimately redundant) article which led me to an older but even more interesting article: “OK, WTF Is a Time Crystal?” Maybe a component of a quantum computer among other things.

Centauri Dreams

I’ve been catching up on my Centauri Dreams reading. (There are so many articles that are so long that I frequently fall behind.) Here are five, of the last twenty-eight or so I’ve read, that most impressed me. The first and last are both guest articles and deal with METI and SETI, respectively. (METI/SETI aren’t areas of special interest for me—except negatively for METI—but these are exceptions.) The other three feature some odd objects.

Tunes

Thanatos doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that 2017 is over. Someday I’d like to be able to post a tune “just because” rather than as a memorial. Here are three more tunes for two more memorials:

Continue reading

Review of January 15, 2018 Strange Horizons for Tangent

In the first section, “we” are “crones” and watching “Moscow burn” and one of us sets another one of our faces on fire. In the second section one of “us” is sick and “they” are wearing hazmat suits around her….

Full (single-story) review at Tangent: Strange Horizons, January 15, 2018.