- “Early Morning Service” by Irette Y. Patterson, Strange Horizons, February 19, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “A Rossum’s Best Friend” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Nature, February 21, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Seven Steps to Beauty for a Girl Named Avarice” by Emily B. Cataneo, Nightmare #65, February , 2018 (dark fantasy short story)
- “You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Tor.com, February 21, 2018 (horror short story)
- “Five Tangibles and One” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, Terraform, February 23, 2018 (science fiction short story)
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.