Summation: March 2018

The fifteen noted stories (nine recommended) come from the 112 (of about 560,000 words) that I’ve read with a publication date between February 26 and March 31. The printzines were decent, with Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF and Interzone (the latter reviewed for Tangent) being represented by more than one story from their bi-monthly issues. On the web, Lightspeed has two from just this month while Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Flash Fiction Online, and Nature also make appearances.

Recommended:

Science Fiction

  • “The Camel’s Tail” by Tom Jolly, Analog, March/April 2018 (novelette)
  • “In Event of Moon Disaster” by Rich Larson , Asimov’s, March/April 2018 (short story)
  • The Independence Patch” by Bryan Camp, Lightspeed #94, March 2018 (short story)
  • “Likho” by Andy Stewart, F&SF, March/April 2018 (science fantasy novella)
  • “Never the Twain” by Michael Reid, Interzone #274, March/April 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • This Big” by John Cooper Hamilton, Nature, March 21, 2018 (“science fiction” short story)

Fantasy

Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • “Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson, Asimov’s, March/April 2018 (novella)
  • Cosmic Spring” by Ken Liu, Lightspeed #94, March, 2018 (short story)
  • “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” by Wole Talabi, F&SF, March/April 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • “Physics Tomorrow” by Gregory Benford, Analog, March/April 2018 (fictional science article)
  • “Sicko” by Jerry Oltion, Analog, March/April 2018 (non-SF/F short story)

Fantasy

  • “baleen, baleen” by Alexandra Renwick, Interzone #274, March/April 2018 (short story)

Reviews of the Above:

 

Advertisements

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-30)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

Since this week contains the fourth Monday and fifth Thursday of the month, there are no Strange Horizons or Lightspeed stories, which leaves us with five from four other zines. Even there, I wouldn’t ordinarily have reviewed the Tor.com story as it’s a translation, but did so for Tangent: Tor.com, March 2018.

Of the remaining four, none impressed me favorably. Of the non-BCS pair, “Starless Night” seems to briefly argue against human exploration of space (perhaps in favor of robotic) through the weighted means of a mission to a rogue object which fails without ever explaining how the ridiculous mission was so poorly planned or exactly how it failed, while “Music for the Underworld” is a techno-dystopian retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, noteworthy only for the degree of its bathos which has soul-crushing tragedy piled upon soul-crushing tragedy until it becomes almost comical and certainly ludicrous. It is similar in both mood and dated subject matter to “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue” (Charlie Jane Anders, October 30, 2017 Boston Review) in that the latter deals with homosexuals being reprogrammed 50s-style (and horror-style) while the former involves a woman making accusations of sexual harassment and having her life destroyed along with that of her boyfriend. The latter received some accolades from more distinguished readers than I, so perhaps this will have its fans, too.

Of the BCS pair there is, alas, no “The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” for me like there was in the last issue. “She Who Hungers, She Who Waits” is a mid-length short story which is more of a horror story than a fantasy and has its own underworld motifs, dealing with a woman who vivisects people to somehow help them choose a better death than was their lot but which fails horribly and, um, viscerally in this case, which is only a step in a larger intrigue which makes the case against immortality. The prose style is full of nubivagant effulgences except when the protagonist is speaking of “your cum that warmed my womb.” The mid-length novelette (which feels much longer), “Cry of Desire in a Shrouded Land, ” is a similarly French story for the bulk of its style except when it becomes Anglo-Saxon in its erotic, even pornographic passages. It involves Lukas, a tired old man who sells “miracle tea,” Vidita, a scheming slave woman, and a similarly scheming unnamed spider executioner in a “city of angels” which is seasonally overrun by large spiders. The tea grants wishes in the manner of all those myths which tell you to be careful what you wish for.  This is a story which is very pleased with itself and either doesn’t care or is convinced we’ll be on board, so never notices if anyone hasn’t gotten on or falls off. Presumably some readers will actually be entranced and, for them, it would obviously be a winner, but this would seem to be a happenstance connection rather than a generally applicable result of sound craft.

Seven Book Series by Living Authors

I was organizing and cleaning out bookmarks and came across “8 Books Series I Never Finished.” Despite being dismayed at the excess of series in the current market (especially debut “novels” that are already “in series”) and pining desperately for singletons, I thought I’d do a variant of that here: whether I’ve finished it or not, if the author is alive and I’ve read more than three volumes in a strict series (must have recurring characters and/or a continuing plot, not just be set in a particular universe), I’d discuss it.

In turns out that, while I read plenty of milieu books and singletons, and some duos and trios, it’s rare for me to go over three strictly related novels, usually because more volumes drive the series into the ground. With those meeting the criteria, though, I tend to “finish” them. (Though I’m unlikely to stay “finished” if more volumes do come out.)

Agent Cormac by Neal Asher (5/6 vols.)

I’ve got most, though not all, of the Polity universe books. Central to those are the five “Dragon” books featuring Agent Cormac (and there’s a prequel, which isn’t my favorite, that also features Cormac). It’s not so much Cormac that led me to read all five volumes, but the overarching story of the awakenings and incursions of bizarre things into a widescreen universe with lots of thoughtful violence. You’ve got ancient races and superscience technology and AIs and cyborg soldiers and most anything else you could ask for. While I’m willing to continue with more milieu books, I’m not clamoring specifically for more Dragon/Cormac. And, while I’ve been less high on Asher’s non-Polity stuff, I’d still like to see him keep trying to create things outside of it.

Lost Fleet 1&2/Lost Stars by Jack Campbell (15 vols. (6+5+4))

Some people misunderstand me when I say these are “popcorn” books but I mean it in a good way. They’re fairly light, yes, but tasty and easy to continue eating quickly and I like them and it’s all good. There are some tics and flaws to the writing but I like what these military space operas have to say about democracy, corporations, and infinite war. They’re very moderate, reasonable works in an age of immoderate unreason. So a bit of depth and a lot fun! I really enjoyed the first set of six which was the “anabasis” of Captain Geary’s fleet. I also really enjoyed the variant set of four “Lost Stars” books about a splinter world of the broken Syndicate trying to rebuild after the war. In terms of galacto-politics, this could almost be background story to one of the “rebuilding” phases of Asimov’s universe, such as Trantor’s rise or something (though it’s very different in most every other way). I was less thrilled with the second, five volume, set of Admiral Geary books but they still had some good aspects. While I may be wrong and it’ll be the best set yet, I have no interest in the prequel series (or prequels, generally) and, after so many volumes, have had plenty of the universe, generally.

Morgaine by C. J. Cherryh (4 vols.)
Chanur by C. J. Cherryh (5 vols.)

I have essentially all the Union/Alliance books and, indeed, essentially all Cherryh’s books up through the early 90s or so. While she has a reputation of being a series person, until the Foreigner universe, she’d really written several singletons and only written a duo here or a trilogy there and, of course, the huge sprawling, very loosely connected U/A books containing most all of them, but few extended series. The Morgaine saga began as a trilogy of science fantasy books about the galactic gate traveler, Morgaine, and her trusty “mortal” sidekick, Vanye, and only received the fourth book years later. I enjoyed the grittiness and intensity of the first three but still had lingering questions and naturally couldn’t stop there. The fourth book didn’t wrap everything up in a bow, but did resolve things sufficiently that I was finally satisfied. The Chanur saga began as a book, got a trilogy (akin to the Faded Sun’s “one big book split into three”), and then got a belated “next generation” add-on. I enjoyed the multi-species hustle and bustle with another of Cherryh’s “human fish out of water” characters and, being a sort of subset completist regarding Cherryh, I carried on with the “Legacy” volume which wasn’t bad but, unlike the fourth Morgaine book, turned out to be unnecessary.

Alex Benedict by Jack McDevitt (7 vols.)

The first of these is A Talent for War and, like most or all of McDevitt’s series, began as a singleton. It focuses on Alex Benedict as he solves an old mystery regarding humanity and the one other sentient species in the galaxy. It became a series fifteen years later and switched to being narrated by Benedict’s assistant/business partner, Chase Kolpath. These got to be a sort of cozy, comforting thing for me, despite the archaeological mysteries often resulting in clear and present dangers to the protagonists and people around them (and all too often resulted in sabotaged skimmers) but Coming Home (#7) was, on the one hand, less satisfying yet, on the other, sort of brought things back to the beginning and could be seen as wrapping things up. I don’t know if there will be another or if I’d get it. I think the series could likely use at least a rest.

Featured Futures doesn’t get a lot of comments and this is not even strictly on topic so I don’t expect any for this but they are welcome, whether about these series or any others (or even on the topic of series in general).

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-23)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • Princess Mine” by Darby Harn, Strange Horizons, March 19, 2018 (slipstream short story)
  • This Big” by John Cooper Hamilton, Nature, March 21, 2018 (“science fiction” short story)
  • Crave” by Lilliam Rivera. Nightmare #66, March [21], 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Our King and His Court” by Rich Larson, Tor.com, March 21, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Liqeni i Zi” by Corey Mallonee, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, March 22, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • You Do Nothing But Freefall” by Cassandra Khaw and A. Maus, Lightspeed #94, March [22], 2018 (fantasy short story)

Two of this week’s stories will be reviewed at Tangent rather than here. The review of the CRES story should be up later tonight or tomorrow, and I’ll be reviewing the Tor.com story as part (or possibly all) of another review near the end of the month. This leaves a flash from Nature‘s “Futures” and a trio of c.3,000 word stories.

Escher is fun as a visual artist but doesn’t always work so well in words. If you don’t want yet another dull, meandering, reflexively navel gazing tale of a writer/reviewer/actress/princess talking about itself, then you can give “Princess Mine” a pass. The two Lightmare stories both remind me of other recent stories. “You Do Nothing But Freefall” is like “Foxfire, Foxfire” (by Yoon Ha Lee, BCS, March 3, 2016) in that it has a heart-eating fox becoming a human-shaped entity. The similarity could be seen as going further in that they’re both about carrying on missions, in a way. I found this overwritten and loosely plotted though its attempt to portray friendship between the foxman and the sentient cat statue (maneki-neko – which is the title of a Bruce Sterling story, speaking of being reminded of other stories) was a nice try. “Crave” is even more similar to “Good Girls” (by Isabelle Yap, Shimmer, May 2015) in that it’s about a sort of guts-hanging out vampire (here called a “soucouyant”) coming after a girl (and her little dog, too!) when the starving girl eats the offering meant for the capitalist oppressor symbol in a work that uneasily combines sibling rivalry, gender, and economics. Not an especially surprising plot or an especially powerful ending.

The flash piece, “This Big,” is the winner of this batch. It’s hard to discuss without blowing all the jokes but (if you share my sense of humor) it is one funny story. My only criticism is that the funniest bit comes pretty early and my stomach hurt too much to laugh very vigorously after that. A mad scientist supervillain tells us about his unusual ideas and the unusual circumstances which led him to be able to make a cool toy.

Edit (2018-03-23): Here’s the CRES review: Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, March 2018
Edit: (2018-03-28): And here’s the Tor.com review: Tor.com, March 2018

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Past Prologue”

Continuing my binge-watching of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (having watched the pilot about five months ago), “Past Prologue” introduces plain, simple Garak in the opening scene

and he recruits a singularly befuddled Dr. Bashir to be his liaison. This comes in handy as the Klingon ne’er-do-wells, Lursa and Betor, are on the station and up to no good, not coincidentally when a Bajoran terrorist has escaped the Cardassians and is planning his own evil deeds. This puts Major Kira in a major bind.

She’s sporting a nice new haircut after the pilot. Her conversation with the terrorist, Los, paints her backstory as a resistance fighter in fascinatingly gray tones of complex shapes. The ideas of dependence and independence, picking your battles, loyalty (to whom and why?) are raised in thought-provoking, if heavy-handed ways. An even better conversation starts to build the Kira-Odo relationship as well as furthering the elements raised by the first talk. All the character elements and moral conflicts are intriguing and one of the reasons I prefer DS9 to all other Star Treks. That said, this episode resonates better after you’ve become more familiar with the characters and their arcs (especially Garak’s – though why he’s a “clothier” in a world of replicators is never made convincing) and the action-adventure plotting is not the strongest. To be such a tough fighter, Kira sure can’t fight and as little as she does isn’t well-choreographed to be dignified and the episode ends not with the promised bang but a whimper.

DS9 hadn’t fully hit its stride here, but this was an interesting and not-bad follow-up to a pilot in the similar ballpark.