Summation: February 2018

Demonstrating my usual quick wit, some time after posting the last “Summation of Online Fiction” which happily proclaimed my new coverage of print zines, I realized the title no longer applied. I could change it to “Summation of Short Fiction” but shorter’s better and I hopefully won’t ever have to change the one-word title again.

With that fixed, it’s the “February” subtitle that’s the problem this time. I’ve ironically read more March stories than February in February (47 vs. 38/171Kwds, not to mention the four late-January stories that were covered in the first “Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up” of February). I’ll hang on to the March stories until that “Summation,” so this post covers everything from January 27-February 25. This was a below-average month in the quantity of noted stories but they’re of especially high quality.

Risking a bit of lese majeste, I’ve also read and reviewed some of the stories selected for the various “year’s bests” that I’d missed or which weren’t previously available on the web and have listed the ones I liked below the usual lists.

Recommended:

Science Fiction

  • Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Clarkesworld #137, February 2018, novella

Fantasy

Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • Penitents” by Rich Larson, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018, science fantasy short story
  • The Starship and the Temple Cat” by Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #244, February 1, 2018, science fantasy short story

Fantasy

  • I Don’t Bite” by Nicole Tanquary, Grievous Angel, February 6, 2018, short story

Reviews of the Above:


Belated 2017 Recommendations:

Belated 2017 Honorable Mentions:

Reviews of the Above:

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Review: F&SF, March/April 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
March/April 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “The Satyr of Brandenburg” by Charlotte Ashley (fantasy novelette)
  • “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” by Joseph Bruchac (science fantasy short story)
  • “Likho” by Andy Stewart (science fantasy novella)
  • “The Beast from Below” by William Ledbetter (science fantasy short story)
  • “Hideous Flowerpots” by Susan Palwick (fantasy novelette)
  • “A Swim and a Crawl” by Marc Laidlaw (short story)
  • Plumage from Pegasus: “The Varley Corps Wants You” by Paul Di Filippo (time travel short story)
  • “A Dog of Wu” by Ted Rabinowitz (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” by Wole Talabi (science fantasy short story)
  • “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” by G. V. Anderson (“science fantasy” short story)

This issue of F&SF takes special delight in genre-bending. I don’t care for that in the abstract, but many do and, either way, it has some good stories.

First, there are several mostly short, mostly light, mostly minor stories. “The Varley Corps Wants You” takes as its point of departure the appalling toll 2017 took on our creative talents (and it’s disheartening to realize how many more he could have added in late 2017 and even this year). In the story, the reason for this is that people from the future have applied eugenics incautiously and bred creativity out of their gene pool, leaving their utopia rather lacking. So, akin to Varley’s Millennium (in this story, though I think the original “Air Raid” version was so much better), they’ve gone back in time to nab our artists. What the artists do when they get there concludes the story. This has a couple of practical implausibilities (even granting the time travel) but is a reasonably interesting short, light bit. “The Beast from Below” might have been science fiction had it been a 1950s movie but is some kind of fantasy about a giant irradiated mutated armadillo with a very weak “romance” between Mayor Mable and Sheriff Harry. I find the casual comment about Japan in the context of a radiation “comedy” to be odd, at best. Comic storyteller Billy tells us about another of the fixes his eccentric inventor friend Arlin Sweetwater got himself into in “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.” It doesn’t pay to mess with the Little People, even with SF tech, as Arlin will attest after calling Billy to help get him out from the inside of a tree (which is the least of Arlin’s troubles). Feels like a part of a series but apparently isn’t. “The Satyr of Brandenburg” is the second of a series (following “La Héron”) and somewhat suffers from it. It’s longer than the others of this group, and perhaps darker, but still feels fundamentally light. This is set in a sort of Sardinia in 1700 but one in which the “Otherworld” is a known thing and from which Heron comes. The story mostly addresses her relationship with ex-nun Alex while she competes in a dueling tournament under the auspices of the Marquess of Soleminis. Its ending is too quick and easy and the premise doesn’t appeal to me but some may enjoy this.

There are also a few mostly short, mostly dark, not entirely successful stories. “A Swim and a Crawl” is a surreal, rather than fantastic, tale and seems to be making a statement on the human condition with its protagonist trying to transit from the sea to the peaks, though the apparent suicidal beginning is at odds with that idea. It’s basically a writing exercise conveying the sea and a cliff, otherwise. “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” is impossible to review (or even categorize properly) without spoiling it. It’s bizarrely similar to “Ice,” which I read last month in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, in that both deal with the child of an explorer heading off to frozen lands to search for their missing father and encountering strange critters there. In this case, it’s a science fictional take on fantasy “selkies” and I can’t say much more. Suffice to say, it is also like “Ice” in that the setting is effectively evoked but I wasn’t as impressed by the rest of the tale and had logical and aesthetic issues with the ending but some may enjoy it. “A Dog of Wu” ultimately does some things pretty well but is fatally undone by initially talking about a “Way” developing as a result of a “Drift” and focuses on “Milano” who is a follower of “Wu” without defining or giving meaning to any of these people or things for at least half the story, so we have nothing to root for or against, no parameters of success or failure, nothing to connect with. Eventually, it seems we’ve had a bit of a radiation accident and a shadow government of biochemically/genetically controlled people have been produced to follow the ideology of the Way and partially control things in a dystopian fashion. It conveys the idea that the only walls you need are those in your mind (which is to say it’s all fine, if conventional, SF stuff) but it’s too little, too late.

Of the better stories, two are quite similar in a way. “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” and “Hideous Flowerpots” both deal with humans in pain and the outpouring of love and/or understanding of the “other” that can heal this. “Resonance” takes a young girl as the focal point but applies her, and her find of a magic alien gizmo in Nigeria, to a social story of her father and others protesting at an oil company that is damaging their environment. Through experimenting with the gizmo with her friend, she has learned that their consciousnesses can fuse while in contact with the device and each other. The climax comes when government troops at the protest turn violent. “Flowerpots” takes a middle-aged art gallery owner as its focal point and delves into her self-loathing, despite all her measures of success, which causes her to lash out at others. She meets a woman who leads a sort of support group which possesses a similar, unrationalized device, to the one in “Resonance.” The crisis here is more personal, dealing with the pains of love and hate and, while not expressed this way, of being born again. Similar to Palwick’s recent “Remote Presence,” this is an ecumenical tale which doesn’t address any particular religious or spiritual label and doesn’t use words like “charity” but conveys a general power of love and understanding. The primary running symbol of the “hideous flowerpots” is good and plays into the story’s substantial humor which never undercuts its serious intent and I much prefer its ending which is physically as easy but psychically more ambiguous, harder earned, and indicative of hard things to come compared to the easier one of “Resonance” (though “Resonance” has elements (opening segment, temporal setting) which may show that it knows it’s an idealistic tale). So I honorably mention “Resonance” and highly recommend “Flowerpots” but both are good and some might reverse the two.

Finally, perhaps an even stronger story is “Likho” (sequel to, or at least kindred story of, “Wormwood Is Also a Star”) which is another story that is very hard to pin down. It’s basically a very tense and compelling tale of Sonya and her guide sneaking into the sealed off regions around Chernobyl so that she can investigate a mural that has generated urban myths of its magical properties, related to the tale of some children who were left behind in the disaster and magically protected, only to meet tragic fates anyway. So it opens with a pretty thorough blend of SF & F and things only get fuzzier as Sonya follows her guide in taking “Yaga” and tripping though some of the rest of the story which particularly features the troubling apparition of the title figure (who runs ambiguously throughout the story). In more literal terms, it involves getting caught up in a tiny subset of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and encountering the scientific labs where the children did much of their suffering. “Likho” basically does everything right that “Wu” did wrong and was absolutely captivating and intense. I had my arms clenched together, with the “real world” falling away as the story took over, especially when the protagonist was with the Ukrainian freedom fighters and the Russian-sympathizing captive. It has a conventional plot element or two and an odd word choice or two but was very good and is also strongly recommended.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-02-25)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

This week I’m covering two robot stories, two horror stories, and a fantasy.

Rossum” is a short-short which, rather than being about a girl and her robot, is about a robot and its girl. The robots think having a biological sort of playmate is good for a growing robot but they think the budding poet has imprinted a bit too thoroughly. One of several stories that addresses the nice idea of robot learning and maturation but this example was underwhelming. “Tangibles” (2K) should maybe have been called “Botnip” and shows many signs of ESL and a lack of editing but is about a couple trying not to fall out of love, using a robot companion to spice things up (or something) but, when it doesn’t really work and they try adding a second robot who turns out to be a kudzu junkie, the story shifts to the robots’ intangibles. Also underwhelming.

Steps” is about an ugly girl going to a witch to become pretty enough to snare a nobleman and make herself special but she learns other things from the witch. I doubt anyone will be surprised. The longest story of the week, “Story” (7K) is also the most frustrating. It’s too conscious of its own mechanics and has too many unnecessary parts to work cleanly. It’s too prosaic, yet bizarre, so the logical centers are engaged and it makes the brain puzzled more than scared. Most importantly, the protagonist, with his “deets” and his not wanting “to come across as out-and-out superficial” is a simple, brightly colored cartoon. All this serves as a complete antidote to what are a lot of genuinely dark and creepy elements, images, and ideas in a tale of a hitchhiker being picked up by a dead woman with an affinity for telling bizarre stories of rot and death before crashing cars. Readers who aren’t bothered by the things that bothered me may find this an effective spooky tale.

(“Story” is internally self-conscious of its “storyness” by talking about it itself. “Tangibles” is externally self-conscious by being done by the numbers.  “Steps” is both.)

Finally, while not especially noteworthy beyond being more surely and effectively executed than the rest of this week’s tales, “Service” is a good story of a magic church lady whose powers are on the wane and a dapper man who enjoys this, with both being more than they seem. The “charging of spiritual powers” isn’t new, but this is an interesting version.

Review: Asimov’s, March/April 2018

Asimov’s, March/April 2018

ASF_Mar_Apr_2018
Original Fiction:

  • “Dix” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (scifi novella)
  • “Artisanal Trucking, LLC” by Mary Robinette Kowal (science fiction short story)
  • “Queen of the River: the Harbor Hope” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
  • “Emojis” by Rudy Rucker (science fiction short story)
  • “A Threnody for Hazan” by Ray Nayler (science fantasy novelette)
  • “Love Songs for the Very Awful” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
  • “Seven Months Out and Two to Go” by Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie (science fantasy novelette)
  • “The Billows of Sarto” by Sean Monaghan (science fiction short story)
  • “The Waiting Room: the Pedia’s Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
  • “Attack on Terminal: the Pilgrims’ Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
  • “In Event of Moon Disaster” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
  • “Because Reasons” by Alexandra Renwick (science fiction short story)
  • “Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson (science fiction novella)

This issue of Asimov’s is the second consecutive one with stories by Rusch and Rucker and the second with a double-barrelled shot of Gunn (sixth with at least one Gunn). The average quality is reasonable and there’s one or two notable stories but little sticks out significantly either way. One thing that does stick out is that, while there’s nothing here that’s strictly fantasy, there’s quite a bit that isn’t strictly SF in one sense or another.

Two stories are essentially fantasy. “Seven Months Out” features a woman who’s lost her husband, is expecting a baby, and works on a ranch where some of her cows are also expecting. Almost half the story is her hallucination, vaguely rationalized by maybe-aliens. Some few may respond to its thick (indulgent) emotional content. “A Threnody for Hazan” spends much more (too much) effort reinventing the wheel of a surreal spiritual time machine which lets a protagonist become a wall or road in WWII (which turns out to have more resonance than might be expected) but what it really wants to do is describe the relationship between an interesting and strange couple and to address all the awful things that make up history and humanity. It’s not bad but probably would have have been better if it had been a straight fantasy.

Four are essentially mainstream and come in light and heavy flavors. Of the two lightly science fictionalized ones, “Artisanal Trucking, LLC” doesn’t need to take place in a very near future of self-driving vehicles, while making noises about authenticity and self-determination, in order to tell a story about running over a dog and dealing with its orphaned puppies. “Because Reasons” doesn’t need to send a person to Mars in order to have the other talk about her feelings about that friend abandoning her: another country would do. Despite being yet another relationship “listory,” the list elements convey a voice and backstory that make for a reasonably engaging read. For the heavy ones, if a starship captain crashes her improbably designed vessel onto a colony world full of weird alien critters which orbits a temperamental star and becomes pilot of the  “Queen of the River,” it has to be SF, right? Well, yes, but it’s also all contrived to produce an underplotted tale of a Mark Twainish paddleboat trip. It feels like a piece of something bigger but the critters were fun. There are similar, lesser critters in “The Billows of Sarto” which is almost identical to the author’s earlier “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles.” We have diseased characters wandering to strange planets to deal with death and experience the magical phenomenon of alien lifeforms. Just replace “crimson birds” with “billows” but either could be replaced by a bunch of parrots just as the alien world could be replaced by a tropical island. Aside from that, the improbable relationship of the two characters is especially flawed, despite a failed attempt at a preemptive strike: “He barely knew a thing about her, but…”

Two more pieces are arguably thickly cloaked medieval bits but the “pieces” and “bits” are more significant. “The Waiting Room” is a fragment of a prologue to “Attack on Terminal” which is, itself, a fragment of a prologue to the Transcendental books. Riley, his AI implant, and some fellow pilgrims are trying to travel to the Transcendental Machine. A brief attack by alien barbarians punctuates what is otherwise just Riley’s looking at and thinking about his fellow travelers.

Dix” is indubitably an SF novella but of a TV sci-fi sort where technobabble problems and solutions fail to provide tension and the reader spends most of the tale waiting for the other shoe to drop but there’s only one shoe. A ship was stuck in foldspace for 5,000 objective years and has recently emerged. The protagonist and her captain find the first officer dead of an apparent suicide and have to deal with the threat this may pose.

Next are a pair of actual SF stories featuring bent brains. “Love Songs for the Very Awful” is one of Reed’s recent run of dyspeptic tales with anticlimactic endings but has elements of interest. A scientist has escaped from her small town and is running an experiment which models personalities by permanently implanted brain meshes. A sociopathic sort of a person is among the first test subjects which means that, when the tech has advanced and people are modifying their personalities, he can’t modify his. The tale deals with those two characters’ relationship with each other and his with another woman later. In the other tale, Scott’s “Emojis” don’t just go viral, they are viral. At the behest of his boss, he infects himself without knowing he’ll be contagious. So the whole world gets little empathy-based icons floating in their visual field and they can be used for advertising, too. So Scott decides to take it a step further. Entertaining enough but not as momentous as it seems like it should be.

Fans of Simak and/or anthropology might be most likely to enjoy “Bury Me in the Rainbow” which is a “stand-alone sequel” to “We Will Drink a Fish Together” (which I have read and recall enjoying but can’t recall otherwise). In this one, Tony takes over for the recently deceased Sam and is in a power struggle with a calculating and aggressive woman who thinks Tony is too trusting of the aliens who are offering some of Tony’s tribe passage on their ship. The off-the-cuff, incidental characterizations and observations are probably the best part of this. The story’s not overwritten or exactly padded and there are a lot of details and complicated parts but the basic story doesn’t seem to require this very long (34K) novella which resolves fairly predictably and clearly indicates another installment is coming. It’s done well enough and of enough substance to merit some attention, though.

Finally, I recommend “In Event of Moon Disaster.” Laurie and Sol are alone in a region of the moon after something has struck the surface. Laurie had gone out to investigate and has now returned. Sol lets her in and she goes to sleep. Then there’s a knock at the airlock. Laurie’s banging on the ship and wants to come in. This story riffs on all sorts of things from “The Brain Stealers of Mars” to “Knock” to “The Cold Equations” and “Think Like a Dinosaur” and more but you don’t need to be familiar with any of that to be weirded out by and interested in this story which also displays a grasp of twists and scale. Since this is set in one continuum, I don’t know if it also means to be addressing one of my biggest gripes with the “many worlds” conjecture but, if so, I like that, too.

Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links)

By request, this is an expanded edition of Collated Contents of the Big Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, with Links!). That post collates and links to the stories selected by Clarke, Dozois, Horton, and Strahan. This will add at least Afsharirad, Best American SF&F, Datlow, and Guran. (As in the other list, I’ve also noted whether I’ve read them and, if so, whether they got an honorable mention, a recommendation, or were recommendations which made my Web’s Best Science Fiction or Web’s Best Fantasy.)

This post will be updated as more editors make their announcements and will continue to be updated if I find links to more stories or wonderful people tell me about them. (See the end of the post for the full ChangeLog/Credits.)

Latest changes: 2018-05-20: Added Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume Five. Thanks to File 770 for the titles; 2018-05-22: Added source for the Pereira story. Thanks to Roger Silverstein.

Four Annuals: Clarke, Dozois, Horton, Strahan

Three Annuals: Clarke, Dozois, Strahan

Three Annuals: Clarke, Horton, Strahan

Three Annuals: Dozois, Horton,  Strahan

  • Sidewalks”, Maureen McHugh (Omni) [read late]

Two Annuals: Clarke, Dozois

Two Annuals: Clarke, Horton

  • “The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse”, Kathleen Ann Goonan (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • Extracurricular Activities”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com) [read]
  • ZeroS”, Peter Watts (Infinity Wars) [recommended]

Two Annuals: Dozois, Horton

  • “Winter Timeshare”, Ray Nayler (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read]
  • “Starlight Express”, Michael Swanwick (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [recommended]

Two Annuals: Dozois, Strahan

  • “My English Name”, R. S. Benedict (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Moon is Not a Battlefield”, Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars) [read]

Two Annuals: Horton, Strahan

One Annual: The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 3, Clarke, ed.

  • “Shadows of Eternity”, Gregory Benford (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “In Everlasting Wisdom”, Aliette de Bodard (Infinity Wars) [recommended]
  • “Belly Up”, Maggie Clark (Analog) [unread]
  • “Every Hour of Light and Dark”, Nancy Kress (Omni) [unread]
  • The Last Novelist, or a Dead Lizard in the Yard”, Matthew Kressel (Tor.com) [recommended]
  • “Meridian”, Karin Lowachee (Where the Stars Rise) [unread]
  • Regarding the Robot Raccoons Attached to the Hull of My Ship”, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Diabolical Plots) [read]
  • Wind Will Rove”, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read late]
  • The Speed of Belief”, Robert Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [recommended]
  • “Holdfast”, Alastair Reynolds (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • Focus”, Gord Sellar (Analog) [unread]
  • Shikasta”, Vandana Singh (Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities) [read late]
  • “A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World”, A.C. Wise (Sunvault) [unread]

One Annual: The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Ten, Datlow, ed. [unread unless otherwise noted]

  • “Liquid Air”, Inna Effress (Nightscript III)
  • “The Starry Crown”, Marc E. Fitch (Horror Library: Volume 6)
  • “Fail-Safe”, Philip Fracassi (Behold the Void)
  • “Shepherd’s Business”, Stephen Gallagher (New Fears)
  • “You Can Stay All Day”, Mira Grant (Nights of the Living Dead)
  • “The Granfalloon”, Orrin Grey (Darker Companions)
  • “West of Matamoros, North of Hell”, Brian Hodge (Dark Screams: Volume Seven)
  • “Better You Believe”, Carole Johnstone (Horror Library: Volume 6)
  • “Lost in the Dark”, John Langan (Haunted Nights)
  • Dark Warm Heart“, Rich Larson (Tor.com) [read]
  • “Where’s the Harm?”, Rebecca Lloyd (Seven Strange Stories)
  • “There and Back Again”, Carmen Maria Machado (Mixed Up)
  • “Eqalussuaq”, Tim Major (Not One of Us)
  • “Alligator Point”, S. P. Miskowski (Looming Low: Volume I)
  • “Holiday Romance”, Mark Morris (Black Static)
  • “Whatever Comes After Calcutta”, David Erik Nelson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Endoskeletal”, Sarah Read (Black Static)
  • A Human Stain“, Kelly Robson (Tor.com) [honorable mention]
  • “Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams: Volume Seven)
  • Harvest Song, Gathering Song“, A. C. Wise (The Dark)
  • “The Stories We Tell about Ghosts”, A. C. Wise (Looming Low: Volume I)

One Annual: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: ThirtyFifth Annual Collection, Dozois, ed.

  • “Mines”, Eleanor Arnason (Infinity Wars) [read]
  • Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics“, Jessica Barber and Sara Saab (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun”, Aliette de Bodard (Cosmic Powers) [unread]
  • The Hunger After You’re Fed“, James S.A. Corey (Wired) [read late]
  • The Martian Job, Jaine Fenn [unread]
  • Nexus“, Michael F. Flynn (Analog) [unread]
  • “The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs”, Kelly Jennings (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “Whending My Way Back Home”, Bill Johnson (Analog) [honorable mention]
  • “Canoe”, Nancy Kress (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “Dear Sarah”, Nancy Kress (Infinity Wars) [read]
  • Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe“, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “There Used to Be Olive Trees”, Rich Larson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “Triceratops”, Ian McHugh (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Influence Machine”, Sean McMullen (Interzone) [unread]
  • Prime Meridian, Silvia Moreno-Garcia [unread]
  • “The Proving Ground”, Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog) [read]
  • Number Thirty-Nine Skink“, Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Residue of Fire”, Robert Reed (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “Night Passage”, Alastair Reynolds (Infinite Stars) [unread]
  • Vanguard 2.0“, Carter Scholz (Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities) [read late]
  • Assassins“, Jack Skillingstead and Burt Courtier (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “Elephant on Table”, Bruce Sterling (Chasing Shadows) [unread]
  • “The Road to the Sea”, Lavie Tidhar (Sunvault) [unread]
  • “Zigeuner”, Harry Turtledove (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]

One Annual: The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2018 Edition, Horton, ed.

One Annual: Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume Five, Shearman/Kelly, eds. [unread unless otherwise noted]

  • “Live Through This” by Nadia Bulkin (Looming Low: Volume I)
  • “Flotsam” by Daniel Carpenter (The Shadow Booth)
  • The Narrow Escape of Zipper-Girl” by Adam-Troy Castro (Nightmare) )
  • “The Unwish” by Claire Dean (The Unwish)
  • “Worship Only What She Bleeds” by Kristi DeMeester (Everything That’s Underneath)
  • “The Second Door” by Brian Evenson (Looming Low: Volume I)
  • When Words Change the Molecular Composition of Water” by Jenni Fagan (Somesuch Stories)
  • “The Convexity of Our Youth” by Kurt Fawver (Looming Low: Volume I)
  • Corzo” by Brenna Gomez (Prairie Schooner)
  • “The Mouse Queen” by Camilla Grudova (The Doll’s Alphabet)
  • You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe (Nightmare) [honorable mention]
  • The Anteater” by Joshua King (The Matador Review)
  • “Curb Day” by Rebecca Kuder (Shadows And Tall Trees 7)
  • “The Entertainment Arrives” by Alison Littlewood (Darker Companions)
  • The Rock Eater” by Ben Loory (Taste)
  • Eight Bites” by Carmen Maria Machado (Gulf Coast)
  • “The Way She Is with Strangers” by Helen Marshall (Dark Cities)
  • “The Possession” by Michael Mirolla (The Photographer in Search of Death)
  • Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango” by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark)
  • “House of Abjection” by David Peak (Nightscript III)
  • “Disappearer” by K. L. Pereira (A Dream Between Two Rivers)
  • Red Hood” by Eric Schaller (Nightmare) [read]
  • “Something About Birds” by Paul Tremblay (Black Feathers)
  • “Take the Way Home That Leads Back to Sullivan Street” by Chavisa Woods (Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country and Other Stories)

One Annual: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume 12, Strahan, ed.

  • “The Mocking Tower”, Daniel Abraham (The Book of Swords) [unread]
  • Probably Still the Chosen One”, Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed) [honorable mention]
  • The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine”, Greg Egan (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [recommended late]
  • Crispin’s Model”, Max Gladstone (Tor.com) [honorable mention]
  • Come See the Living Dryad”, Theodora Goss (Tor.com) [recommended]
  • “Bring Your Own Spoon”, Saad Z. Hossain (The Djinn Falls in Love) [unread]
  • “Babylon”, Dave Hutchison, 2084 [unread]
  • The Faerie Tree”, Kathleen Kayembe (Lightspeed) [honorable mention]
  • “Fairy Tale of Wood Street”, Caitlin R Kiernan (Sirenia Digest) [unread]
  • The Worshipful Society of Glovers”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny) [read]
  • “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, Yoon Ha Lee (Cosmic Powers) [unread]
  • “The Smoke of Gold is Glory”, Scott Lynch (The Book of Swords) [unread]
  • Concessions”, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Strange Horizons) [read]
  • “Belladonna Nights”, Alastair Reynolds (The Weight of Words) [unread]
  • “Eminence”, Karl Schroeder (Chasing Shadows) [unread]
  • The Lamentation of their Women”, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com) [read]
  • Confessions of a Con Girl”, Nick Wolven (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read late]
  • Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) [read]

Changelog/Credits:

  • 2017-12-15: Jonathan Strahan announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume 12. (Thanks to dolphintornsea at the F&SF forums.)
  • 2017-12-16: found and added links to the stories from Boston Review and Omni.
  • 2017-12-24 (updated the 26th): Gardner Dozois announced the contents of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: ThirtyFifth Annual Collection. Thanks to Roger Silverstein for the tip and Lavie Tidhar for posting it for the Facebook-challenged and showing up in the search engine.
  • 2018-01-23: Neil Clarke announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 3.
  • 2018-02-01: added link to Buckell’s “Zen” reprint.
  • 2018-02-07: moved this stuff to the bottom in a Changelog because it was pushing the stories down too far. 😉
  • 2018-02-07: added links to four Asimov’s stories (“Grimes,” “Wind,” “Turing,” “Confessions”). Thanks to RSR.
  • 2018-02-09: added contents of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2018 Edition. Thanks to dolphintornsea at the F&SF forums for alerting me and to Horton for posting the full contents.
  • 2018-02-10: added neglected link to Fowler’s Asimov’s story. (Thanks to Laura.)
  • 2018-02-14: added link to Watts’ “ZeroS.” (Thanks to Laura, and a belated thanks to Roger Silverstein, whose tip I missed.)
  • 2018-02-16: added link to Samatar’s “Account.” (Thanks to Laura.)
  • 2018-02-22: Added Datlow’s table of contents for The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Ten. Thanks to C. C. Finlay at the F&SF forum for linking to Datlow’s announcement.
  • 2018-02-23: Added links to “Soulmates.com,” “Number Thirty-Nine Skink,” and “The Speed of Belief” from the Asimov’s Reader’s Awards finalists, Thanks to File 770.
  • 2018-03-02: Added links to “Focus,” “Nexus,” and “Time Travel Is Only for the Poor” from the Analog Reader’s Award finalists. Thanks to Laura.

Review: Analog, March/April 2018

Analog, March/April 2018

AFF_Mar_Apr_2018
Original Fiction:

  • “The Spires” by Alec Nevala-Lee (science fantasy novelette)
  • “The Streaming Man” by Suzanne Palmer (science fiction short story)
  • “Razzibot” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
  • “The Selves We Leave Behind” by Gwendolyn Clare (science fiction short story)
  • “Beek” by Tom Ligon (science fiction short story)
  • “An Incident on Ishtar” by Brian Trent (science fiction short story)
  • “The Tailgunner’s Lament” by Brendan DuBois (science fiction short story)
  • “Sicko” by Jerry Oltion (short story)
  • “Car Talk” by Mary A. Turzillo (science fiction short story)
  • “Frog Happy” by Bruce McAllister (science fiction short story)
  • “Sun Splashed Fields and Far Blue Mountains” by Susan Forest (science fictional short story)
  • “Lab B-15” by Nick Wolven (science fiction novelette)
  • “Physics Tomorrow” by Gregory Benford (science fiction short story/article)
  • Probability Zero: “The Being” by Bill Pronzini (science fiction short story)
  • “Big Thompson” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
  • “The Camel’s Tail” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)

This issue of Analog saves the best for last, but I’m not going to. “The Camel’s Tail” is simply What It’s All About. In 2079, an alien probe enters our busy, bustling system full of off-Earth colonies and ships investigating, among other things, microbial life in the asteroids. Many ships chase after the probe for knowledge and profit and meet a variety of fates. This is told through the very human interest of the protagonist husband and his wife, who are prospecting in space, trying their best to make up for a family member’s dishonesty which damaged the family fortune back in Somalia. The tale also manages several nice cross-connections such as the Earth setting and a bit of tech (Clarke would be proud) and the story’s title and its contents. A very exciting, smart, space-based adventure with characters to care about and a future that’s enticing. Strongly recommended.

Perhaps the next best stories are, oddly, not quite science fiction or futuristic at all. “Physics Tomorrow” uses the method of Asimov’s “Thiotimoline” fictional science articles to talk about the plasma beings and gravwave communications devices of the author’s and Niven’s “Mice Among Elephants” and is really nifty if naturally a little undramatic. You probably should read “Sicko” but may regret having done so. It describes a very strange “Typhoid Marty” character who goes around purposefully spreading germs for the greater good. Ambiguous and highly disturbing but concisely and cleverly executed. “The Tailgunner’s Lament” is very close to being an honorable mention but really needed some more editing as it’s full of typos and continuity errors (beer cans turning into bottles and back) and oddities (writers “like” [d]e Camp and Doc Smith? Sure, two peas in a pod). More importantly, the ending and some things contributing to it could have been changed to make it much stronger. However, this tale of a B-29 tailgunner in 1945 developing a friendship with a professor/colonel and encountering “foo fighters” was an Allen Steele-ish historical love letter to SF, did a nice job evoking the lives and deaths of WWII bomber crews and, without at all being didactic, made an interesting implicit evaluation of the use of The Bomb.

Moving on to lesser, but adequate tales, Bill is forced to take a job piloting Sam and Cora on a crazy mission to see “The Spires” of a city in the sky over Alaska because it’s the 1930s and times are hard. And Cora is attractive. Sam is a follower of Charles Fort and Cora believes that we need crazy people to push the envelope. The main weaknesses of this story are that it lacks drama and Cora turns out to be a red-hairing, so to speak, as she’s just there to spell out the theme, but it’s otherwise just another competently executed tale from Nevala-Lee. While there aren’t any evil machinations of Man and cryptozoological furies putting him in his place, it is a Fortean “science” fiction logic-buster. If you like these things, you’ll probably like this but, if you don’t, you won’t.

Selves We Leave Behind” involves a first contact that doesn’t go too well when a hivemind becomes aware that humans are infiltrating its world. This is a fairly tired tale, though it has one of the best alien descriptions of humans I’ve read (including: “Its central nerve cluster resides within a hard bulb protruding from the top of its body.”) but the ending, however natural, is fictionally weak. In one of a pair of “ooh, internet!” tales, a young girl gets a “Razzibot” (which is not “razzy bot” but “paparazzi-bot”) and becomes an internet phenom after streaming her life (akin to Sterling’s 1980 The Artificial Kid). Aside from theme and regardless of her family breakup and live agony, I have a logical question as to why she’d particularly stick out. “The Streaming Man” involves a guy putting monitoring implants in his body which emit sounds for diagnostic purposes which turns him into a popular internet “music” stream to the point that he even has nutjob fans – including one who shoots him. He survives but he sort of loses his mind and the rest of the overlong story is about him trying to find his way back. I don’t buy that the sounds are “a cacophony, but not” and his later behavior didn’t make him very likeable. Aside from nods to printed organs, etc., “Sun Splashed Fields” isn’t really SF at all, but discusses a man needing a medical procedure and his wife needing to become a participant in a medical trial to pay for it. It seemed to have a chance to go for a “medical industry as vampire” theme but lacked focus and concentrated more on the ironic relationship of the couple.

Lesser tales include “An Incident on Ishtar,” in which an autistic girl tries to make up for a “Terrible Mistake” by moving to a habitat atop Venus, which suffers from implausibility and bathos and ironically appears in the same issue as part of a Kunsken serial when it reads something like an inferior version of that author’s “Persephone Descending” (which had its own political plausibility problems). “Frog Happy” is a somewhat surreal tale of strange animals appearing and being perhaps even stranger than they seem. “Big Thompson” tries to soften its SETI infodump half with a decent human interest half involving a boy, his somewhat abusive mom, and a flood, but the thing that ties them together is weak. “Beek” is all infodump, from a beekeeper to a president, except for its “let’s make it SF” twist. “The Being” has a comical alien that worries the protagonist.

All the above stories fall short more in retrospect than in the reading. The only stories that were difficult to get through were “Car Talk,” in which a woman argues with her self-driving AI car about her boyfriend’s politics, which is just a “theme dump” and is the type of story about annoyance that is annoying. Finally, “Lab B-15,” may well end up highly regarded by some folks but, for me, this looping tale about modeling people’s brains for digital upload after death uses a tiresome method and takes a looong time to cover an old subject before reaching obvious conclusions and is a lot like everything from the author’s own “No Placeholder for You My Love” to things like PKD’s 1957 Eye in the Sky.

By the way, I should point out that, while this issue includes a serial segment, it includes no novellas and only two novelettes (“The Spires,” “Lab B-15”) according to its table of contents, though “Tailgunner” seems to be a novelette based on my word count. Of the other short stories, only three are longer than about 4K (“The Streaming Man,” “Ishtar,” and “Camel’s Tail”), two of 3-4K (“Beek,” “Sun Splashed Fields”), and the other eight are less than that, going on down to about 800 words. While the short stories were stronger than the novelettes in this issue, I’ll say again that I’d really prefer to see somewhat fewer but longer, more substantial stories.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-02-17)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • On the Occasion of a Burial of Ernest Zach Ulrich” by Mary Kuryla, Strange Horizons, February 12, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Got Time?” by Lee Rutty, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, February 14, 2018 (science fictional short story)
  • Decoy” by Eric Lewis, Nature.  February 14, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Penitents” by Rich Larson, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • Red Dreams” by R. Z. Held, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • The Last Human Child” by Milo James Fowler, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018 (science fantasy novelette)
  • Such Were the Faces of the Living Creatures” by Josh Pearce, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • A Coward’s Death” by Rahul Kanakia, Lightspeed #93,  February [15], 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Artful Intelligence” by G.H. Finn, Diabolical Plots #36B,  February 16, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Dísablót” by Alice Godwin, Grievous Angel, February 16, 2018 (short story)
  • A Second Opinion” by Robert Bagnall, Terraform, February 16, 2018 (science fiction short story)

This was an unusually heavy and unappealing week (apologies for all the negativity in this review). In addition to the eleven stories reviewed here, there’s a Wild Cards yarn from the recently deceased Victor Milan up at Tor.com if you’re interested. (I don’t generally knowingly cover shared-world stories.)

For this week’s flash, “Dísablót” is a Grimm-like tale of a fiancee at a ceremony in the woods when things turn dark and is only implicitly and not necessarily fantastic. In “A Second Opinion,” we see a woman visit a couple of Eastern mystics and a tarot reader before visiting a different kind of not-a-doctor. This seems like it wants to draw interesting parallels and contrasts between the biological and non-biological but doesn’t actually seem to do much. Finally, with “Decoy,” Nature gives us futuristic safe crackers after last week’s futuristic grave robbers. This is about the perils of being an early adopter. Aside from excessive deception with the setting, it’s not bad but it’s not all that funny throughout and the rhythm/punchline is specifically off at the end.

There are four stories in the 2-5K range (BCS‘ are longer) and two are fairly minor. Minerva Wilde is constructing an “Artful Intelligence” or thinking machine in 1888, provoking the ire of her religious brother, Henry. He gets even more upset when, after his complaints about the thing lacking a soul, first Minerva and then the machine itself see about constructing one. This is a metafictional piece that puts the pun in steampunk but covers familiar ground (which had little cause to become familiar in the first place) and a good chunk of the wordage is taken up by repetitive MACHINE+THOUGHTS. In “Got Time?” a code monkey who’s been ripped off has a chance to strike it rich after all when an alternate version of himself shows up with news of a time machine. But it’s not that simple, of course. The story is helped by the pace of its wild string of events but not by its unoriginal core or the inexplicable appearance of a second character.

I have no idea how to say anything about “On the Occasion of a Burial of Ernest Zach Ulrich.” The first paragraph made me think it might be wonderful. That was a mistaken impression. It turns out to be an overlong, overwritten, and obfuscated slipstream confession of horrible things. Some may find this literary and significant. “A Coward’s Death” is about a dissident dissenting against a kind of Egypto-Roman fantasy empire. The emperor is building a statue to himself, so conscripts all the first-born sons, and one refuses even though it may mean deadly punishment to those around him. Events go downhill from there. The story is certainly striking and initially seems to be doing something good with a brisk, breezy, vulgar tone providing a zesty, darkly comic contrast to some very serious matters but my reaction at the end was, “What are we supposed to do with that?” The story seems like an empty exercise in sadism (or masochism, depending on your point of view) and submission, raising issues and displaying conflicts without pushing through them to any sort of breakthrough. Some may find this profound.

The first half of BCS‘ science fantasy month wasn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky trio of AI/starship/space opera tales but it was a frolic through the park compared to this double issue’s quartet of technophobic post-apocalyptic misery.

In “Faces,” we’re off to see the Hottentotsgot to cure little Annie of his/her fatal scabs in this largely senseless picaresque across a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland of mutated weirdness delivered in a tone that I think is meant to be comical and with a resolution that definitely isn’t. “The Last Human Child”  is similar, if more directed. Evil scientists spliced human and animal DNA and the Spliced rose up and smote their creators. The survivors of the apocalypse have created a killing machine of a little girl and, when she’s captured by a spliced “trollgre,” the girl kills a bunch of Spliced leaders as intended. Then she keeps killing so, with the trollgre having turned guardian, they both traverse a gengineered bad-dreamland with cartoon villains tracking them. Even for a fable (whose length unwisely breaks the novelette barrier), the characterization is poor and the bond between girl and trollgre is under-motivated. “Red Dreams” waffles between tension and dullness, the former coming from the main character having dreams which, she believes, means she’s turning into an insane killer and the latter coming from everything else, including being set in yet another post-apocalyptic world, perhaps of nanotech run amok. (This was also particularly poorly edited/proofread.)

In “Penitents,” a giant alien cube-thing has taken a girl’s friend and she’s left her protected enclave and met up with a tough po’girl who, for a price, will try to help her rescue the friend. The enclave protects the pampered folks from an utterly environmentally destroyed earth.

I thought this might be a pretty strong recommendation until it (with plenty of warning, in retrospect) tanked the ending by taking a primitive moral attitude which damns unto the Nth generation the “bad” people and gives the “good” people a bit of an undeserved pass. This could be viewed as simplistic moralism of my own but the story’s ethos damages its aesthetic integrity, making the ending (penultimate ending, but primary psychic one) ring false. At least, in my opinion. Still, I’ve read plenty of “surreal alien thingies” and “save the brainwashed friends” and “we destroyed the environment” stories and this still felt fresh and powerful and had me captivated until the end and others may be impressed throughout so: honorable mention, go check it out if so inclined.

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Administrivia: I sometimes got hits on this blog from people following pingbacks from stories I’d reviewed negatively (or at least non-positively) and I didn’t like the idea of “negative pingbacks,” so I tried to link to magazine issues or the like for those stories so I wouldn’t trigger such a pingback but people could still find the stories relatively easily if they really wanted. But that wasn’t always possible and was a pain for me even when it was and probably wasn’t any fun for some readers, either, so I’ve gone back to linking everything directly. It’s still the case that only recs (of which there are ironically none this week) are linked in the main body of the post, though.