- “Like Smoke, Like Light” by Yukimi Ogawa, Strange Horizons, June 4, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “A Gift for His Beloved, Post-Apocalypse” by Wendy Nikel, Grievous Angel, June 6, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Mirror” by Taik Hobson, Nature, June 6, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Meat and Salt and Sparks” by Rich Larson, Tor.com, June 6, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “A Tale of Woe” by P. Djèlí Clark, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #253, June 7, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
- “The Weaver and the Snake” by Blaine Vitallo, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #253, June 7, 2018 (fantasy short story)
Belated Original Fiction:
- “Safe Surrender” by Meg Elison, Slate, May 29, 2018 (science fiction short story)
(I didn’t get word about the Slate story until this week, so it’s a little late. Terraform didn’t release the second part of their story until today, so that will be a little late.)
This week’s fantasy stories include a couple of tales of woe set in secondary worlds reminiscent of North Africa or Arabia from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. In the first, actually named “A Tale of Woe,” Rana is a Soother for the Goddess of Sorrows who must deal with trouble in the highest place of a great city. While loosely readable, the plotting is convenient, the psychic combat isn’t convincing, Rana is not appealing, the concept of the Goddess seems inconsistent, and the story is rife with grammatical errors, typos, or at least non-optimal expressions (“an inhale of breath,” “beggars and the infirmed,” “sold for so cheap,” “sowed” (for “sewed”), “to kidnap she and her family,” “[p]ulling her scissor,” “had Elder Awan’s voice not rang across her thoughts”). “The Weaver and the Snake” is a riff on “Ozymandias” with a Great Destroyer in the form of a giant snake which has been eating all the cities of the desert and, among many troubles, has been making the great weaver doubt her reason for being.
Far superior to these, though initially oblique and still a bit lacking dramatically, is “Like Smoke, Like Light,” (possibly a fable of female agency). In it, a woman who has “betrayed” her family becomes enmeshed in a familial offshoot’s similar web of bondage, bringing meals to the head of that family, who has interred himself in a magic maze guarded by monsters and ghosts in order to remain undisturbed while he repeatedly visits with the ghosts of his wife and child. When an accident occurs during her navigation of the maze, one of the ghosts becomes a bit more dynamic, followed by further change.
Of the week’s four science fiction tales, two are very short. “Gift for His Beloved,” at about 270 words, is very short. It describes a husband getting anniversary gifts for his wife after the apocalypse and is quite clever and would be very effective but the discontinuity between parts makes the climax seem to happen too abruptly. “Mirror” takes the notion that doctors make the worst patients and adds that they can make pretty bad doctors, too, and that this could have profound effects in the future for one post-cryogenically thawed doctor/patient.
The two longer tales deal with protagonists caught between worlds who are seeking a sort of home.
In “Safe Surrender,” the unnamed protagonist is a “hybrid” or “hemi” of human and alien “Pinner.” Like many hybrids, she was given up for adoption—in her case, on the day of the first assassination of a Pinner by a human. She spends the story trying to find out about that night, her parents, and who she is. Maybe I’m not doing my part and working hard enough but the Pinners seemed under-explained (both in themselves and regarding the SF, if any, of the hybridization) and the terrestrial milieu seemed sketchy. The conclusion didn’t really resonate with me either. Otherwise, the line by line writing, protagonist, and mood seemed well done.
“Meat and Salt and Sparks” deals with Cu, an ape who was illegally uplifted in a torturous way and, after being emancipated, has become a detective, partnered with the human, Huxley. When an “echogirl” (someone who basically rents out their bodies for other peoples’ vicarious experiences) commits a murder, she and Huxley investigate. The case becomes more complicated and personal than she expected and it eventually both traumatizes her but changes her in other ways as well.
This is almost a masterpiece of writing in the sense that it nearly disguises how little sense it makes. Huxley is unappealing and, aside from a natural sympathetic response to her experiences, Cu isn’t made to be especially intrinsically compelling, either. While I have to talk around things to avoid spoilers, the nature of the perpetrator is immediately obvious despite the motive for the murder seeming very stupid. Nevertheless, the murder doesn’t thwart its objective, yet is completely unnecessary to it. The protagonist doesn’t actually do anything; it’s the perpetrator who does. How the perpetrator ever came to have its perspective on things is inexplicable and, while there could be a reason it thinks its actions will be effective, it’s never given in the story and makes the perpetrator seem possibly quite stupid (again) and quixotic. This aims for an emotional effect akin to “Rachel in Love” (Pat Murphy, Asimov’s, April 1987) and, in an odd and restricted way, is a fine read but all its problems prevented it from hitting that high mark.