Summation: June 2018

This month produced nine noted stories (four recommended) from a total of forty-five (215 Kwds). Compelling made a strong and welcome return on its new semi-annual schedule. “Nightspeed” also contributed a couple of powerful tales.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Redaction” by Adam R. Shannon, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)
  • Targeted Behavior” by J.D. Moyer, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • Driving Force” by Tom Jolly, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)
  • Recoveries” by Susan Palwick, Tor.com, June 20, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

Other

News

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-29)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Report Any Suspicious Activity” by Pat Tompkins, Grievous Angel, June 24, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Hima” by Sam Muller, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, June 25, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Traumahead” by Jeremy Szal, Nature, June 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • A Brief and Fearful Star” by Carmen Maria Machado, Slate, June 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • The Need for Air” by Lettie Prell, Tor.com, June 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Preemptive Strike” by Jessica Maison, Terraform, June 29, 2018 (science fiction short story)

The fiction from the weekly/one-shot webzines wasn’t very appealing to me this week, unfortunately.

Report” is one of three flash or near-flash pieces to cover. Its bulk is a nicely described but trivial scene of a woman using pen and paper on an airplane and then delivers the climax almost like a punchline but there’s no humor and the two parts, while the former hints at the latter, don’t mesh well. The other is related to Slate‘s quarterly theme of “memory” despite appearing in Nature. “Traumahead” describes an alien gathering up the memories of fallen comrades on a battlefield while looking for his daughter so he can merge her and not have to rely on his own fallible memories. The unmotivated and irrelevant misanthropy of having it be humans committing xenocide is distracting and the whole is so stylized and mannered that the surface action can’t be taken seriously. “Preemptive Strike” is almost two thousand words about what might happen if the mental healthcare system could be changed and gun laws couldn’t. It’s not a very sophisticated story.

Hima” is a retelling of Snow White and delivers a sensory overload of birthday parties and the like as the titular character refuses to play by fairy tale rules. “Fearful Star” is supposedly attempting to be science fiction but feels little different from “Hima” except that it’s even more overwritten. Both stories feature essentially only a mother and daughter and are set in the past. In the latter, I couldn’t find any science at all but the companion article talks about “a nascent, uneven, and controversial scientific field known as epigenetic inheritance” of memories, which I have heard of (and am not impressed by) but, even if you make the generous concession that that’s science, the story doesn’t make clear that this is its subject or do anything interesting with it, at least as far as I was concerned. Others may find it more appealing. “The Need for Air” actually includes a son to go with the mother in another two character story involving maternal conflicts or related problems. Its milieu is even fuzzier than that of “Fearful Star,” but involves a mother who is interested in living in and translating to a VR while doing some tests for some AIs. She incidentally (very incidentally) raises a son who doesn’t want to be in a VR or uploaded. Things eventually get worked out (for broad values of “worked out”).

Review: F&SF, July/August 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
July/August 2018

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2018, cover by Bob EggletonOriginal Fiction:

  • “The Phobos Experience” by Mary Robinette Kowal (alternate history short story)
  • “The Prevaricator” by Matthew Hughes (fantasy short story)
  • “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time” by Corey Flintoff (fantasy short story)
  • “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” by L. X. Beckett (science fiction novella)
  • “The Adjunct” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (fantasy short story)
  • “Visible Cities” by Rachel Pollack (fantasy novelette)
  • “Bedtime Story” by James Sallis (science fiction short story)
  • “Morbier” by R. S. Benedict (time travelish short story)
  • “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms (fantasy short story)
  • “Broken Wings” by William Ledbetter (science fiction novelette)

The July/August F&SF features Martian cover art with related opening and closing stories. This might lead one to expect a very science fictional issue but  half the issue is pure fantasy while only a couple of the SF tales are thoroughly SF. Whatever the genre, while this lacks many great stories, it’s full of good ones and makes for a good read.

The Phobos Experience” takes us back in time to an alternate 1970s with a Martian colony and features a heroine with vertigo who accompanies two other soldiers to explore the cave system in Phobos which has been the object of disinformation and is now being used as a piece in a game between civilian and military authorities. “Broken Wings” takes us more traditionally to an inhabited Deimos of the future and features a paraplegic heroine and her obese love interest who has discovered an alien artifact which is sought after by an inspector and pirates. (“Phobos” had a whiff of space pirates, too.) This latter tale is unabashedly neo-pulp and rather fun.

Of the remaining not-entirely-fantasy tales, “Morbier” is a tale which tries to toe the line between mainstream and time travel with a skeptical narrator and her girlfriend who claims to be a time traveler. This tale uses a very uncommon cheese metaphor in this slight extension of a very common time travel motif. “Bedtime Story” is another one of those New Wavy “make a comment on the human condition… hm, let’s throw in inscrutable offstage aliens as the metaphorical gimmick” apocalyptic short-shorts. “Freezing Rain” is initially so choked with “future lingo” that it is off-putting but becomes more readable as it goes on. A journalist who wants to be a musician has had all his “social credit” destroyed* due to an unfortunate incident and falls into the clutches of an obscenely wealthy old woman who is an artist of a very peculiar sort as he tries to make a deal to get an illegal brain-enhancing drug in exchange for undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy at a corrupt clinic as both part of his journalism and her “art.” While the woman may be a symbol of the rapacious wealthy and there are such people, she’s still hard to believe as a character and the journalist is unengaging even though he’s the focal point. Despite these problems, the story becomes quite powerful and even horrifying until it reaches its somewhat muddled, improbable end.

Turning to the fantasies, “Visible Cities” is connected to other stories and may appeal more to fans of those but, taken by itself, is a fairly dull tale with no discernible connection between its scenes which depict a woman training to be a sort of sorceress and then losing track of and seeking to reconnect with her teacher. “The Prevaricator” is a much lighter and more entertaining tale about a scam artist figuring out what he thinks is an easier way to get his riches and joining forces with a wizard to scare the people into paying money to avoid having a wizard for a neighbor. Naturally, things don’t go entirely as planned. “The Adjunct” is also a light tale (for one set at Miskatonic University, anyway) and as cheese metaphors are uncommon, so are tales about citation systems from hell. A professor has to deal with “CFSR” when she just wants to be able to tell her students to use MLA. When she learns more about CFSR, things only get worse. “Queen of the Peri” is more serious but still breezy, as a race car driver seeks help for his problem with an angry peri (Persian winged spirit) first from an old man known for having had a similar problem and, ultimately, from a djinn. “Hainted” isn’t light at all and is probably the most impressive tale of the issue. Young Dallas is a coal-miner’s daughter and has noticed problems with her dad and his relation to both mother and daughter. Turns out that an important piece of him has been broken off down in the mines and she needs to get that haint to rejoin him. She gets her best friend’s dad to guide her down the mines to where the haints work but must do the hard part herself and it turns out to be much harder than she imagined. The haints are vividly conceived and are indeed, quite haunting. The journey below is powerful and painful and may resonate on personal, familial, and social levels.


* The editorial blurb says, “Creative people, like writers, have some of the most experience with this awkward collision of social capital and the new gig economy, but the novella that follows is the first across our transom that fully imagines a near future where this trend is pushed to its potential extreme.” While he’s speaking only of F&SF and may also set a high bar for “fully,” all I can say is that I’ve read a lot of stories a lot like it in this regard. Some examples from just the past six months:

  • “Black Friday” by Alex Irvine (Tor.com)
  • “#CivilWarVintage” by Nan Craig (Terraform)
  • “Confessions of a Con Girl” by Nick Wolven (Asimov’s)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke (Asimov’s)
  • “Logistics” by A.J. Fitzwater (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Narcissus of Titan” by Tyler Wells Lynch (Terraform)
  • “Razzibot” by Rich Larson (Analog)
  • “The Streaming Man” by Suzanne Palmer (Analog)
  • “Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett (Uncanny)
  • “Top of Show” by James Rowland (Compelling)

Links (2018-06-27)

Instead of my previous practice of putting off posting these for as long as I could, which resulted in massive, partly out-of-date links posts, I’m going to try posting smaller ones (ironically, this one is not much, if any, smaller) more frequently, aiming for every Wednesday. This may not last, but we’ll see how it goes. (Tempted to rename this the Hump Day Link Dump or the Hump Dump. No? How about Week Links?)

Humor?

Politics

Science

Science Fiction

General

  • Uncanny #18, September/October 2017 | SF MAGAZINES. A “fine wine” review, I suppose. Not prompt, but of high quality. It particularly notes the Prasad and Cooney stories on the positive side of the ledger (as I did individually, without writing up the entire issue) and the counter-productive ideological excesses on the negative side.
  • Tyrannosaurus Ranch: In Praise of Form Rejection Letters. Some may appreciate this generally, but I was particularly struck by one element: “Now, some personal rejections can, in fact, help you revise the story into something more publishable. However, in order to give advice of that caliber and with that great detail, an editor is going to have to do some thinking–and thinking takes time. Time that editor could spend on reading more stories.” We certainly wouldn’t want editors thinking would we? What if John Campbell had spent time composing multi-page letters to authors? What if diamonds in the rough were polished rather than just being rejected (or, worse, accepted)? Why, we might have a Golden Age! I think Afsharirad is confusing editors with anthologists. Not every thing in this fast-paced world is better with speed and editors should take time to make authors and stories better. And there should be good proofreaders, too!
  • Gardner Dozois Reviews Short Fiction: Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and F&SF – Locus Online. Speaking of a guy who was both an anthologist and an editor. (Joe Haldeman has a great comment (seen at File 770) on what a real editor can do. Speaking of  “The Hemingway Hoax,” he said Dozois “cut [the novel version] to shreds so he could run it as a novella in Asimov’s. He did so much damage to it that it won both the Hugo and Nebula.”) And Dozois was a reviewer, too! I’m not sure what the backlog on these is like, so don’t know if this is the first posthumous one or also the last ever, but reading it produces a weird feeling, either way. We certainly didn’t have the same taste but he just as certainly influenced me and it’s interesting to see that, in this particular review, he recommends a Clarkesworld story I was less impressed by but thought was clearly the most significant tale of the issue, the two stories he notes in Lightspeed were the ones I gave a recommendation and an honorable mention to, and my favorite story in the F&SF is the one he names the best. It all differs by degree and he’s much more positive about much more than I was but the point is that he influenced me (and a generation or two of readers) in many pervasive, indefinable ways.
  • Black Gate » Black Gate Book Club, Downbelow Station, Fourth Discussion. The Union/Alliance conflict is growing and the panel is getting more excited.

Birthdays

  • 1957-06-21 Berkeley Breathed
  • 1977-06-21 Maria Dahvana Headley
  • 1947-06-22 Octavia E. Butler
  • 1936-06-23 Richard Bach
  • 1964-06-23 Joss Whedon
  • 1916-06-24 John Ciardi
  • 1903-06-25 George Orwell
  • 1935-06-25 Charles Sheffield
  • 1954-06-26 James Van Pelt

Charles Sheffield wrote one of my favorite SF novels with Between the Strokes of Night. I know it’s been revised, but I only know the original version. He also wrote one of my favorite connected collections with The Compleat McAndrew. You can get started with “Killing Vector” and “Moment of Inertia” along with many other fine stories listed in the link. Butler is famous for her many novels and didn’t actually like to write stories much but she was extraordinarily good at it. Bloodchild and Other Stories is a masterpiece. Van Pelt has also written scads of  noteworthy stories, including “Of Late I Dreamt of Venus.” I haven’t loved everything I’ve read by Headley, but, among those I have, “The Scavenger’s Nursery” made the biggest impression.

This is the week for stretches, too. Whedon is more visual but has created some of the best SF/F shows (and movies) around. Breathed‘s also a stretch, but Bloom County‘s among my top three comic strips. While Ciardi was a poet who wasn’t above writing limericks with Isaac Asimov and pseudonymously contributed two stories to F&SF, I appreciate him most as translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is  a giant medieval poem of epic fantasy. Bach is another who doesn’t seem “part of the club” but gets a mention anyway. He’s probably most famous for the talking animal fable Jonathan Livingston Seagull but Illusions was also a fantasy of interest. And, of course, Orwell‘s Orwell.

Music

Former Pantera Drummer Vinnie Paul Dead At 54 – Blabbermouth.net. Sympathies to the Abbott family, again. Continue reading

Review: Nightmare #70

Nightmare #70, July 2018

NM70
Original Fiction:

  • “Ways to Wake” by Alison Littlewood (short story)
  • “Kylie Land” by Caspian Gray (fantasy short story)

This Nightmare‘s original fiction features two stories which have strong elements but start better than they finish and don’t seem to fully fit in a speculative dark/horror magazine.

Ways to Wake” presents us with an old man in a retirement home who is disturbed by the resident cat who knows “whenever anyone’s going.” The man starts feeling like the cat may be a killer or a witch’s familiar or any number of other things and contemplates harming it and fellow residents including a Nurse Ratched character. While initially interesting and effectively creepy and insane-feeling, it then wanders around and has one of those “non-endings.” There’s actually nothing necessarily speculative to it, either.

Kylie Land” describes the meeting between Kyle Eland, a strange outcast, and the new outcast to the school, Ramage, who is a semi-retired mind reader. Not daunted by the fact that Ramage warns him it will be painful and by the fact that Ramage has previously “erased” a guy, Kyle insists on being read in an effort to find out what’s wrong with him. Turns out there’s nothing really wrong with him… his father, on the other hand… The story ends too easily and, despite Kyle’s long-standing trauma, doesn’t really meet the definition of “horror” or even especially “dark fantasy” to me but I thought both protagonists were well-crafted oddballs and the quirky style was appealing. While not entirely satisfying, it was an enjoyable read.

Review: Lightspeed #98

Lightspeed #98, July 2018

LS98
Original Fiction:

  • “Waterbirds” by G. V. Anderson (science fiction short story)
  • “Greetings, Humanity! Welcome To Your Choice Of Species!” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction short story)
  • “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon (fantasy short story)
  • “Wild Bill’s Last Stand” by Kyle Muntz (fantasy short story)

Reprint note: this issue includes Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Right Place to Start a Family,” which I recommended when I reviewed Humanity 2.0 in 2016.

Waterbirds” deals with two women who keep each other company for years as they decay until one of them meets a third woman and those two break free from their submission to evil men by finding love with each other. Oh, and one of them is a robot. If “Greetings” were to be done at all, it should have been 40% its length. It’s an ejection of misanthropic bile, intended to be humorous, in which some smug and self-righteous aliens decide to exterminate the human race for being too vicious to live, though the populace will not be killed but allowed to choose from eight lovely species to turn into. This is basically like karma causing us to come back as slugs except faster. “Wild Bill” is a Weird Western with gay cowboys, two of whom fight a duel and few if any readers will care what happens because there’s no one to like.

As I gather “Wild Bill” is an example of one microgenre, so I gather Lightspeed‘s well-chosen cover story, “Song of Home,” is of another. It’s an “alternate history with weird combat mechanisms”; in this case, a Crimean War with steam-powered air (and sea) ships. Our air ship is most significantly crewed by an artificer of metal prostheses, an organ grinder, his homeless street urchin protagonist assistant, and an army of vampire attack monkeys. If I’d read more of the stuff like this that’s out there to read, I might not have been so impressed but it certainly struck me as fresh and was vividly, brilliantly told. The milieu and combat was complex and exciting, the protagonist sympathetic, and the conflicts and emotions powerful, the latter without being mawkish or manipulative. The theme, assuming I’m reading it right, is perhaps not as original as the rest felt, but was brought home aesthetically and believably, somewhat akin to “Last Night at the Café Renaissance” by D. Thomas Minton in the July/August 2015 IGMS, which had its own powerful imagery. This one’s images of bloodsucking cyborg capuchins and the like will linger. Recommended.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-23)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • The Metal Eater of Luminous Smoke” by Minsoo Kang, Strange Horizons, June 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Going Back for Hitler” by George Nikolopoulos, Nature, June 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Recoveries” by Susan Palwick, Tor.com, June 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” by A. Merc Rustad, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254, June 21, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • Three Dandelion Stars” by Jordan Kurella, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254, June 21, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • VRtual” by Rose Eveleth, Terraform, June 22, 2018 (science fiction short story)

The Sweetness of Honey and Rot, ” much like its title, is an unappealing mix of fantasy and horror elements. This is yet another present tense story of a heroine battling the evil empire, the latter of which is, in this case, a human-eating tree attended by sloths and other humans. The horrible fates that befall all who so much as think of going against the grain make the protagonist’s experiences utterly unbelievable. “Three Dandelion Stars” is trite in both relatively recent and old-fashioned ways: it’s another tale of the difficulties of lesbian weddings and is a “(swamp) fairy offers a wish” story. Like the previous story, this has horror elements and evil systems and, like many more, it’s a revenge fantasy/wish-fulfillment (and an uncommonly preposterous one). Since one character is nothing at all and the other is merely foolish, there are only “Eight Deadly Words” for this. The week’s other pure fantasy, “The Metal Eater,” is a readable tale with some metafiction (and interesting literary criticism) in it but mostly deals with a magical semi-Socratic character puttering about in a myth who must deliver yet more blows against the empire (in  this case, a wastrel of a new king). The main problem here is a lack of drama.

The three science fiction tales aren’t very. “Hitler” is a time travel flash piece which, yet again, has a time traveler wanting to kill Hitler. It contains an interesting idea but is delivered in a fairly predictable way in terms of the big picture and completely implausibly in terms of the details. “VRtual” has a woman working as a motion-capture body at a VR firm who meets an aggressive guy at a bar. It seems to argue the VR both really traumatizes her, yet doesn’t prepare her for reality. As a story, especially an SF one, it doesn’t do much at all. The week’s best tale is easily “Recoveries,” which handles its SF motif in a fantastic fashion (with a dash of horror) and takes awhile to overcome the off-putting nature of the protagonists, one of whom (Vanessa) is a court-mandated dry drunk about to complete her year’s sentence of sobriety and go on a binge and the other of whom (Kat) is her eating-disordered best (only) friend and the story’s narrator. As you get to know Vanessa, whose parents believed they were abducted by aliens and who did eventually permanently disappear, and Kat, who never even knew her parents, and how these and other issues play into the troubles of their lives, it becomes more intriguing. Vanessa’s reactions at the end aren’t entirely plausible but I feel like at least noting this tale. I enjoyed Dennis Danver’s somewhat recent “Adult Children of Alien Beings” and this, while different, has some similarity of appeal.