Review: Nightmare #69

Nightmare #69, June 2018

NM69
Original Fiction:

  • “Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” by Nibedita Sen (dark fantasy short story)
  • “Red Rain” by Adam-Troy Castro (absurdist gore short story)

Did you ever read a story written entirely in second person questions? Did it really annoy you? Would you read it if you didn’t have to? Because “Red Rain” is such a story and involves apparently millions of people falling out of the sky to their deaths while “you” get drenched in gore as “you” try to duck and cover. This is conveyed by some inexplicable entity asking “you” a lot of questions which are essentially declarative sentences with an interrogative stuck up front and a question mark stuck on the end. This device and the unaesthetic lack of proportion combined to completely dissociate me from any effect this story might have had. I’m sorry, but I’d rather read John Shirley’s Three-Ring Psychus or something.

(Incidentally, one gets the sense these people are falling from great heights at great speeds but one person hits a power line and bounces off before landing and getting shredded when, even in a fantasy, he ought to have just gotten cut right in half—with guts spewing in both directions, presumably. And why stop with just one line? He could have gone through several like an egg in a slicer. Maybe there was some sense of limit or proportion to the story after all?)

On the other hand, for the second issue in a row, Nightmare has a really good story. “Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” tells the tale of a captain of a whaling vessel on a world that is and is not of our world and history. On this voyage, a scientist is busy trying to create a whale communicator of sorts, using parts of whales the ship’s crew have killed. Unsurprising but hauntingly effective descents into madness follow.

While there may be a a glitch or two in the narrative voice of the captain as recorded in his plain, direct, but beautifully written log, it is generally solid and his character is well-realized and effective with initially benign aspects growing to altered effect as the story progresses. The plain description of the whaling activities, however normal they may have been, produces a natural darkness before the unnatural darkness even properly begins. The ending contains its message but is relatively subdued rather than overt and, unlike most stories of this sort, is more concerned with empathy and equity than simple vengeance. There is a problem with the narrative device and the ending which does ask for some charitable work on the part of the reader to work around but, otherwise, this story was superbly done and captivating. I’m not one to say “I wish this was a novel” about a story since I think that tends to deprecate it as a story but this was definitely the sort of story that I could settle into and my only real complaint was that it did wrap up quickly.

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Review: Lightspeed #97

Lightspeed #97, June 2018

LS97

Original Fiction:

  • “I Sing Against the Silent Sun” by A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman (science fantasy novelette)
  • “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer” by Lina Rather (science fantasy short story)
  • “The Quiltbag” by Ashok K. Banker (science fantasy short story)
  • “From the Root” by Emma Törzs (science fantasy short story)

Lightspeed‘s table of original contents would seem to present the usual two science fiction and two fantasy stories but there are arguably none of either as all four strike me as science fantasy.

In “Silent Sun,” a genderless person and a sentient spaceship are hunted by a god which demands silence of all and they recite poetry at it in defiance. It’s interesting to think of this in comparison with “Repent, Harlequin” in that the two tales of rebellion against oppressive authority figures share a certain juvenile nature but the sharp, vivid imagery, sense of whimsy, and universality of the Ellison tale contrasts strongly with this impressionistic, humorless, particular (and unconvincingly resolved) piece.

Pilgrim’s Guide” involves a person engaging in space travel to approach someone in zero-G… who is a seer and gives her a prophecy. Basically, as the prophecy was being revealed, I realized the “why” of her state (meaning not just what triggered it but why she wanted what she wanted). It’s initially evoked effectively but it’s ultimately made a little too explicit and, aside from that, would have been better as a straight fantasy (and without the second-person narrative technique).

The next tale’s protagonist, who believes racism is genetic, is judge, jury, and executioner of innumerable parallel worlds, using her “Quiltbag” to “eat” “bad” worlds. (“Bad” means irredeemable worlds who have an inhabitant who fails to meet her definition of being sufficiently accepting of the races, genders, and identities she values, or who have improper diets. “Eating” means that those worlds which are not already like the quiltbag in one way are turned into the quiltbag in another.) The undramatic structure mostly involves her waiting in a room for an interviewer to arrive and then interviewing him.

Finally, “From the Root” takes place in an alternate eighteenth century in which “regenitrices” are known to exist in the background of the world. These are otherwise human women who regenerate from wounds and would only die from old age except that childbirth is always fatal. The protagonist is one and she’s fallen for a doctor who knows her secret and who’s trained her in midwifery. Marya is another regenitrix who, though a lesbian, has become pregnant by force. He wishes to examine her corpse when she dies and the midwife wishes to save her with another in her line of theories about why pregnancy kills regenitrices. Marya just wishes to be left alone. They each try to encourage the others to share their desires without knowing who can be trusted, with the fate of the midwife’s love, Marya’s life, and the lives of innumerable others in suspense.

This is very well-written with an ample, but unpretentious style, a tangible setting, sufficiently realized women and an appropriately vague doctor, and a set of compatible and contrary desires which produces real tension. Thematically, it speaks to gender disparity in the medical establishment but is wider-ranging and deeper than that. My only problem is that I have a hard time accepting the “science” of the regenitrices and of part of the resolution. I can’t get into the last (which is arguably more serious) but, for the first, if regenitrices can only produce one offspring and not all do, they should go extinct unless their numbers are replenished by spontaneous mutation but this is never questioned or answered. The general quality makes this a story I’d recommend but the background problems of this completely non-supernatural story focused on the science of medicine make me hesitate. I recommend it in the sense that it’s generally good and I may be mistaken about the problems or they may not bother some readers.

Summation: May 2018

This month’s baker’s dozen of noted stories (four recommended) comes from the pool of ninety (of 440 Kwds) published between April 30 and May 28. The print zines were individually strongest with Analog and F&SF each contributing multiple tales but the web combined to contribute seven.

While not applicable to the monthly recommendations, I did review a collection this month which had eight reprints (three recommended) that I especially liked.

Two bits of site news: I’ve once again updated Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links), this time with The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 4, and I’m modifying what’s included in these “Summations.” Previously, I’d linked only to those reviews which discussed the noted stories but I’ve decided to link to all reviews of magazines (and books, if any), as well as various “news” articles, making this serve as an essentially complete retroactive “table of contents” of the activity for the month.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Fleeing Oslyge” by Sally Gwylan, Clarkesworld #140, May 2018 (novelette)
  • Grace’s Family” by James Patrick Kelly, Tor.com, May 16, 2018 (novelette)
  • “The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy, Analog, May/June 2018 (novella)

Fantasy

  • Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris, Nightmare #68, May 2018 (horror short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Crash-Site” by Brian Trent, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us” by Marina J. Lostetter, Uncanny #22, May/June 2018 (short story)
  • “Inquisitive” by Pip Coen, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke, Asimov’s, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” by Buzz Dixon, Analog, May/June 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

Book

News

Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)

Gardner Dozois (1947-2018) – Locus Online. It felt like the blood drained from my head when I read this.

I don’t want to get into it too much, but, leaving aside Gernsback’s creation, I would rank Dozois a close second only to Campbell in terms of his impact on the field through his writing, his editing of Asimov’s (though Shawna McCarthy’s tremendous editorial reign should never be overlooked), his editing of forty years of year’s bests (between Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year and The Year’s Best Science Fiction), and numerous other anthologies. He’s been a constant literary companion to me, as well as someone I greatly enjoyed interacting with on the old Asimov’s posting board. As fellow alumnus Alex the Great and Terrible said, ” I never actually met the man; but I still feel like I’ve lost a personal friend.”

My condolences to his friends, family, and our field.

Edit (2018-05-28): Added File 770 link.
Edit (2018-05-29): Added second Locus link.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-05-27)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Salt Lines” by Ian Muneshwar, Strange Horizons, May 21, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Guile” by Ian McDonald, Tor.com, May 22, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Yiwu” by Lavie Tidhar, Tor.com, May 23, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • DNA Exchange” by D. A. Xiaolin Spires, Nature, May 23, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars” by A.J. Fitzwater, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #252, May 24, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Ghostpotion Games” by Christian K. Martinez, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #252, May 24, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Posey Girl” by Julianna Baggott, Terraform, May 25, 2018 (science fiction short story)

Let the games begin! As usual, BCS presents us with two stories and, as unusual, Tor.com also presents us with two. All four relate to games/gambling/competition. Oddly, the other three of this week’s stories could be construed as being about cooperating.

DNA Exchange” describes the fight between a mother and a daughter over the latter’s acceptance of a boy’s cloned ear onto her body which escalates when the mother discovers the return favor. “Posey Girl” features a violated yet virginal sexbot comforting a not dissimilar boy. “Salt Lines” is a not dissimilar story dealing with a gay man seeking strange solace as he’s not only isolated from his family but being followed by a “jumbie” (spirit/demon).

Both BCS stories involves two females (or characters with female names) standing out from a pack who are competing in games for the favors of a Queen or Empresses. In the light “Wild Ride,” rodents are catching and racing not-quite-falling stars for the Queen’s hand while a moon dances about. In the darker “Ghostpotion Games,” psychic witches mix ghosts to create “pieces” to use as maze runners to win a Wish. Both are quite clever with their fantastic conceptions but seem structurally and/or thematically derivative of 1974’s fractured fairy tale, “Atalanta,” earlier versions of which, of course, date back to at least Greek times. Also, the proofreading in the second is terrible, with something being “a earnest” melancholy and someone not having “flare” and something being “thrice-damn.”

All the preceding stories are under three thousand words while the two remaining are five to six thousand. The contest in “The Guile” is between a magician (prestidigitator, not sorcerer) and an AI as the former tries to perform a trick the latter can’t explain, akin to other human/AI contests such as Deep Blue with chess or Watson with Jeopardy. The English author does a good job with the distinctly American narrator and deftly acknowledges his debt to Priest’s The Prestige but I was less impressed with the rest of this referential/meta-fictional tale which, even though it’s not entirely the point, once again relies on an AI running on MS-DOS. In “Yiwu,” the contest is between anyone buying a lottery ticket and the universe in this tale which is set in China in a surreal future which reads like it was written by Philip Kafka Dick (and explicitly references PKD and van Vogt). A seller of lottery tickets is perplexed when one of his patrons wins without any of the discernible effects other winners experience (such as turning into “a black-headed ibis” and flying away). After a trip through a variant of Joseph K’s castle, the lottery seller embraces the prosaic—which is magical in its way.

Review: The Golem of Deneb Seven by Alex Shvartsman

The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories
by Alex Shvartsman

Golem_Cover

Date: 2018-03-16 (Amazon)/2018-04-03 (ISFDB)
Format: Trade paperback
ISBN: 978-1986220613
Pages: 266
Price: $15.99 (Amazon)
Publisher: UFO Publishing

Contents:

  • “The Golem of Deneb Seven”
  • “A Perfect Medium for Unrequited Love”
  • “Burying Treasure”
  • “Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic”
  • “Whom He May Devour”
  • “Letting Go”
  • “The Fiddle Game”
  • “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters”
  • “Islands in the Sargasso”
  • “Catalogue of Items in the Chess Exhibition at the Humanities Museum, Pre-Enlightenment Wing”
  • “Fifteen Minutes”
  • “Masquerade Night”
  • “The Poet-Kings and the Word Plague”
  • “Golf to the Death”
  • “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”
  • “Invasive Species”
  • “One in a Million”
  • “Grains of Wheat”
  • “The Ganthu Eggs”
  • “The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis”
  • “Dante’s Unfinished Business”
  • “Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare”
  • “How Gaia and the Guardian Saved the World”
  • “He Who Watches”
  • “Recall Notice”
  • “Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah”
  • “Die, Miles Cornbloom”
  • “A Man in an Angel Costume”
  • “Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long”
  • “Parametrization of Complex Weather Patterns for Two Variables”
  • “The Race for Arcadia”

Depending on your inclination, the table of contents may not be so exciting or forbidding as it appears. Seventeen of the thirty-one stories are inarguably flash (less than one thousand words) and four more are less than two thousand. About a third of all lengths are clearly intended to be humorous, albeit sometimes darkly so, while the more serious nature of the other two thirds ranges from light to dark. Almost three-fifths are science fiction of one sort or another and the rest are fantasy except for one non-speculative story. Most of the stories were published in Galaxy’s Edge (those tending to be longer and better), IGMS (longer, lesser), Nature (shorter, better), and Daily SF (shorter, lesser).

The humorous fantasy flash or near-flash includes tales of metafictional satire (“Noun of Nouns,” “Seven Habits”) and Lovecraftian spoofs (“Cthulhu Chanukah.” “Recall Notice”), while the more serious ones include a magical con job (“Fiddle Game”), a non-magical con job crossed with a divinatory love story (“Future Fragments”), a biter-bit (“Forty-Seven Dictums”), a sort of demonic inverted “It’s a Terrible Life” (“Angel Costume”), and a surreal fantastic fable (“Poet-Kings”). I have problems with several of these, such as “Seven Habits” reading like a weak echo of “The Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord,” but most simply may or may not appeal to a given reader. My favorite was “Recall Notice,” in which letters from librarians of Miskatonic University tell the tale of Lovecraft the Third using Grandpa’s library card to check out things like “Preparing an Occult Ritual in Ten Easy Steps, Sports Illustrated: The Swimsuit Issue, Properly Pronouncing Your Invocations: Audio book on CD” and others to raise hell on earth.

Oddly, the shorter SF stories are more serious. They deal with alien invasions of varying sorts (“Catalogue of Items,” “Invasive Species”), nuclear apocalypse (“He Who Watches”), an omniverse quantum magic story (“One in a Million”), various sorts of love stories (mixed with weather control hacktivists in “Parametrization;” with time travel in “Letting Go”; with AIs in “Perfect Medium”). Three more AI pieces involve a couple of AIs in a depopulated solar system trying to figure out how to save Earth from a natural disaster (“Gaia and the Guardian”), a spam filter “becoming” sentient in a story which seems like it ought to be funny but unsuccessfully goes dark (“Staff Meeting”) and a person who feels tormented by an AI in a story which seems dark but very successfully goes for black comedy (“Fifteen Minutes”). The two science fictional revenge fantasies include another time travel listory (“Practical Guide”), while the much better one (“Grains of Wheat”) is a thoughtful look at business and medicine. The average quality of the SF may edge the fantasy though “Letting Go” is so contrived (and second person, present tense) and “Practical Guide” is so insufficiently transmuted by art that they don’t help the average. On the other hand, “Grains of Wheat” is transmuted by art and “Fifteen Minutes” is superb. Even some of the more middling pieces have some really nice elements such as the depictions of the Europans in “Gaia and the Guardian” and the clever methods of encoding messages in “Perfect Medium.”

Moving to the longer short stories, “Die, Miles Cornbloom” is an oddity in that it’s so weird it feels almost fantastic but isn’t. Miles and his pal are living their humdrum lives except that Miles has somehow acquired a stalker who has moved up to death threats. As the story progresses, so does the danger and then a twist occurs. It’s not a perfect story but it was effectively tense while managing a bit of lightness and worked for me.

The actual fantasies include another metafictional satire which takes issue with the economics of fantasy in “Burying Treasure” and the posthumous fantasy and unconvincing anti-pot diatribe, “Dante’s Unfinished Business.” Much more successful is “Masquerade Night” which uses the familiar motif of gods whose powers have waned along with their followers but creates a very powerful, creepy, and weird feel. It tells of a cat-god encountering a beautiful woman in the masquerades which allow the worlds of the humans and gods to barely, dangerously touch through the mediums of their disguises. The story is set in the 1920s and, indeed, feels like one of the good old-fashioned Weird Tales.

The longer science fiction pieces include the collection’s only novelette, “Islands in the Sargasso,” which is an installment in the shared-world series of “The Sargasso Containment” that Galaxy’s Edge ran from 2014-2016. Readers might benefit from being familiar with some of the other stories but I think this stands alone fairly well and is a pretty solid space opera which handles its drugs (a science fictional “Rust”) more convincingly and ambiguously than “Unfinished Business.” A recovering addict is fleeing from pursuers and must enter the barrier which surrounds the solar system and has previously meant certain death. He awakens on the other side two hundred years later and the scale of the tale broadens significantly. The other short stories include the title story about courage in invasions which isn’t provided by mechanized armor and “Whom He May Devour,” about a young woman dealing with technologically advanced humans encroaching on her religious and backwards world whose sole technology is devoted to preserving their uploaded ancestors. The worst of the short SF is “The Ganthu Eggs” which uses the poor device of a letter from a “mass-murderer” to a warden on behalf of another “mass-murderer” prisoner which depends on an anti-abortion viewpoint and trivializes the issue either way with the letter’s main concern. Along with “Sargasso,” two other tales compensate for that. “The Race for Arcadia” is a pretty good tale about a terminally ill man trying to win a second space race as a Russian competing against Americans and Indians to get to an earth-like world first, with a twist. “Golf to the Death” uses the “champion of the species” framework. In it, a man witnesses a human fight an alien in the aliens’ chosen sport and then must compete in the humans’ chosen sport, but with alien stakes, as they “golf to the death.” Just saying that makes me laugh and the story handles the premise reasonably well.

This is a collection with directly written stories full of familiar elements which for some readers will be a feature and for some a bug. Similarly, some may appreciate the mix of SF & F and of humor and seriousness while some might prefer just peanut butter or just chocolate. However it shakes out for the given reader, I do recommend several (the science fiction of “Fifteen Minutes,” the fantasy of “Masquerade Night,” and the mild suspense of “Die, Miles Cornbloom”) and think several more are notable (“Islands in the Sargasso,” “Golf to the Death,” “Grains of Wheat,” “Recall Notice,” and “The Race for Arcadia”).

Links (2018-05-23)

Welcome to the Bloom County edition of the “Links” post. 😉 Blog note: I’ve updated “Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links),” adding The Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume Five. Now on with the usual sorts of links.

Humor

News/Politics

History

Science/Technology

Earth Tech

Earth Sci

Exo Tech

Exo Sci

Earth Tech, Part II: Robots, Mark II

These aren’t quite ready for prime time as I don’t often think of “robot” together with “manually reset each time”/”line of sight power supply”/”towed” by “fishing rod” but the tropism and “amphibian” (air/sea) approaches of the first and third are probably good ways to go and the second is as neat as it is potentially horribly dangerous. The fourth and fifth are just incredible and, while much of this may have applications beyond robotics, those two almost certainly would. This seems like it ought to be interesting to almost everybody but if any SF writers are reading this, these need to be turned into stories soon!

Science Fiction

  • Editorial | Asimov’s Science Fiction. This wonderful guest editorial is from a teacher who created a class on the life and works of Isaac Asimov with applications to current conditions.
  • Black Gate » Birthday Reviews: Jack Williamson’s “The Cold Green Eye”. One of the most amazing and astounding careers in SF.
  • Amazing Stories Returns to Print – Locus Online. Speaking of, Amazing is the zine that will not die (for long – it’s actually probably died more than any other zine.)
  • The Reference Library | Analog Science Fiction. Dave Truesdale mentioned this because of the Mildred Clingerman review (which is interesting in its own right) but I’m linking to it here because the introductory portion of this book review column contains some historical info on small presses (which connects to contemporary conditions) which many people may not be aware of these days but might enjoy reading about. (Two clarifications: the reference to DAW and 1964 is, of course, a typo for 1984 and, in the review section, on the Lerner non-fiction book (which I reviewed favorably for Tangent), the review doesn’t make clear that some of the essays have been updated, so the book provides content the original articles don’t.)
  • Black Gate » Here They Are — The Brand New 1957 Titles from Gnome Press. Speaking of small presses, check this out. The write-up is mostly about the Conan books and the price but, much like old SFBC ads, just look at the selection! Some guys named Anderson, Blish, Dickson, Leiber, Leinster, and Merril (and occasional Kuttner-collaborator Barnes). Not a title there I wouldn’t read (and I have read the Blish, Leiber, Leinster, and other Merrils including Best of the Best which selects from those two annuals and the rest of her first five.)
  • Black Gate » Vintage Treasures: Four for Tomorrow by Roger Zelazny. This post has got the SF covered from A-Z. Two of this collection’s four stories were immediately recollected in Doors of His Face and I have no idea why the other two were never recollected but this is still worth getting just for those.

Tunes

Samples from my library sale CDs: Continue reading