- “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)