Summation: July 2018

Here are the fifteen noted stories (four recommended) from the 92 stories of 503 Kwds I read from the July issues along with links to all their reviews and the other July posts on Featured Futures. This month’s wombat was a remarkable number of mostly print SF honorable mentions while all the few other items (except an excellent F&SF dark fantasy) came from the web.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Chasing the Start” by Evan Marcroft, Strange Horizons, July 9, 2018 (novelette)
  • The Nearest” by Greg Egan, Tor.com, July 19, 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms, F&SF, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon, Lightspeed #98, July 2018 (short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Broken Wings” by William Ledbetter, F&SF, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Resigned” by Floris M. Kleijne, Galaxy’s Edge #33, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • “Starship Mountain” by Allen M. Steele, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novella)
  • “True Jing” by Zack Be, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Your Face” by Grace Tang, Nature, July 11, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

News

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Tunesday: Favorite Albums of 2017 (Mohs Scale 6-7)

Details about these posts are in the intro to  “Tunesday: Favorite Albums of 2017 (Mohs Scale 2-3)” but, briefly, here’s another alpha-by-artist list of favorite albums of 2017 with a sample song each, this time composed of what might be called “thrash” at the core or “crossover/hardcore punk” or the like at the edges. This one, appropriately enough, goes to 11 and those samples have a total time of 45:29. Continue reading

Review: Analog, July/August 2018

Analog, July/August 2018

Analog_2018-07_08
Original Fiction:

  • “A Stab of the Knife” by Adam-Troy Castro (novella)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu (novelette)
  • “Generations Lost and Found” by Evan Dicken (short story)
  • “A Simple Question” by Kris Dikeman (short story)
  • “The People v. Craig Morrison” by Alex Shvartsman & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (short story)
  • “Potosi” by Joe Pitkin (novelette)
  • “Eulogy for an Immortal” by James Robert Herndon (short story)
  • “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” by Mary E. Lowd (short story)
  • Probability Zero: “Preface to the Handbook of Social Treatments for Conceptual Allergies” by Daniel James Peterson (short story)
  • “New Frontiers of the Mind” by Andy Duncan (novelette)
  • “Here’s Looking at You, Cud” by M. Bennardo (short story)
  • “Extracts from the Captain’s Notes” by Mary Soon Lee (short story)
  • “Open Source Space” by C. Stuart Hardwick (novelette)
  • “Priorities” by Jacob A. Boyd (short story)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen (novelette)

Except for the Probability Zero and the self-referential alternate history of “New Frontiers,” all stories are some species of (sometimes squishy) science fiction. As with the Asimov’s, apologies for the lateness (and hurried nature) of this review.

A table of contents with sixteen stories (plus a translated story) is quite impressive and looks like a lot of bang for your buck but one of the stories is about 2800 words and six more range from about 2100 words down to (I kid you not) 258. Many of the more substantial tales and some of the lesser ones range from readable to notable so there’s plenty of decent reading but there’s also a lot of chaff.

Eulogy” is the longest of the notably short tales and also very serious, describing a man (who has recently lost his mother) finding his father dead and constructing a strange and lasting monument according to his father’s wishes. Part of this was quite effective but it stresses that everyone grieves in their own way and this way, however poetically apt in an intellectual sense, was ultimately hard to connect with for me. It was interesting though, and it may work for some readers. “Extracts” is the shortest and there’s no story here: a captain devotes a few sentences to trivializing a journey to Saturn’s moons.

Between those lengths, “Generations” is about people adapting, in both plausible and ridiculous ways, to life on a generation starship. Ironically, it’s too long at about 1700 words and its semi-serious tone doesn’t work, though a purely comic 1000-word piece might have. “A Simple Question” is a remarkably unjust, sexist, passive-aggressive piece disguised as a semi-comic tale of “The Attack of the Mold Monsters.” “Arboretum” is a c. 500-word sketch of a robot finding processing heaven in an arboretum but if there’s a story here, I’m missing it. “Preface” semi-comically considers what happens “if trigger warnings and echo chambers go on…” Alas, while in the right area to be satirically hilarious, it seems a bit scattershot and its parody (?) of dry, academic style makes it… dry and academic. “Priorities” is a bifurcated story that does a good job of describing a harrowing accident in space and the extreme measures taken to try to save the protagonist but all in the service of a rather weak punchline. The main section was pretty good, though.

That leaves nine tales which are full stories and most of them deal with loss in one way or another. In the rather bizarre “Here’s Looking at You, Cud,” water shortages have resulted in a law being passed which outlaws the sale of real beef and a Fed (who reminds me of Dale Gribble in being so proud of his paranoid insight yet who is really naive) is involved in a sting operation aiming to take down an old flame. In “The People v. Craig Morrison” (which ought to be “Craig Morrison v. Vermont” or some such), the state has banned manual driving and a war veteran who has lost his legs is suing for the right to keep driving. He drives a Camaro his war vet dad had owned since Craig’s childhood and which, despite terminal cancer, he’d handed down to Craig after modifying it so that Craig could drive it. In the flood of “self-driving car” stories lately, this is probably the most salient dramatization and it is emotionally effective in ways but the arguments for the law and many of the dynamics of the tale and its conclusion are not persuasive or apt. “Potosi” presumably has Rebel scum motivated by their feelings of loss but we’ll never know because of the cardboard nature of the evil white supremacist. She’s from Arkansas so what else could she be? So the African protagonist fights the Southern villain over the Land of Riches (an asteroid of platinum) in this subtle tale that’s all about the science.

Open Source Space” conveys its somewhat paradoxically globalist message through a tale about a couple of people crowdsourcing a mission to recover Apollo 10’s lander (called Snoopy) which has been in orbit around the sun. The fact that they thought they’d failed and that the inhabitants of the Chinese moonbase thinks they’re being attacked complicates matters. Something about the tone of the story removes any doubt about the conclusion which removes much suspense. “New Frontiers” is a specifically Analog-centric tale of a sort of alternate history in which John W. Campbell, Jr. participates in Rhine’s Zener card experiments and is initially very good at it but loses the knack. This obviously took quite a bit of historical work and is reasonably evocative of the time and place but is also lacking in plot and drama. “A Stab of the Knife” is another of the many Draiken tales and Cort tales, here combined with plenty of plot and drama which is entertaining enough but replete with unbelievable dialog and poor proofreading. In this one, Draiken is pursuing Cort based on intel from a previous tale and it turns out that many factions, plots, and counter-plots make it difficult for anyone in the story to know who’s fighting on whose side or why. Eventually, after a suitably violent climax, the way is paved for further adventures.

Left to Take the Lead” is yet another story lacking a real driving plot (being a shorter story might have helped with this, making it feel tighter) and hammering some of its points too heavily (being a longer story might have helped with this, giving it room to breathe), but the protagonist and her narrative voice work very well and make this a notable story. Holly was an inhabitant of the Oort Cloud before an economic collapse which resulted in her being sold into indentured servitude, which is a popular thing on an ecologically ravaged Earth. Her culture shock (indeed, planet shock) is extreme and she spends much of the story dealing with that and waiting for her uncles to save the Family (which has a special social significance to Oorters) but a catastrophe shakes her into a new viewpoint and a new life plan. Also notable is “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed.” Its style involves a lot of “As you know, O victor priest!” and the whole tale rests on a rather inexplicable way to go about designing AI and terraforming but is substantially, if not qualitatively, almost like Hal Clement and Lester del Rey collaborated on a story, with giant centipede-like aliens in a strange planetary environment dealing with religious ideas and vengeance. Finally, “Crystal” reads a little bit too much like a geekish wish-fulfillment of sorts and brought to mind, without matching, things as diverse as Leiber’s “Night of the Long Knives” (1960) to Kornher-Stace’s “Last Chance” (2017). In terms of prose, plot, and character, at least, this was about the smoothest, best tale in the issue. A physically impaired dreamer is out in the apocalyptic wasteland looking for the ancient treasure which will save him from misery when he meets an armed woman who not only gets the drop on him but gets the treasure he missed. Still, they become uneasy companions until they get to the trading station and the alpha male trader changes the equation. He sees the treasure as a weapon and honey-trap while the protagonist sees a greater value in the dreams and knowledge the VR crystal can convey. If only the trader weren’t a giant cannibal and hadn’t taken the woman as well.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-07-28)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

All stories are SF and all are short (one or two being flash, depending on your definition) in this very light week. All are also adequate but none are compelling reads.

Surrogate” starts as a rationalized seance with the dead through the magic of technology but actually focuses on the “medium” and her relationship with life and death. “Actionable Intelligence” has interesting thoughts on total war and a military command interested in perpetuating it vs. the soldiers in training who are interested in perpetuating other things, but it relies on a remarkably loose training process and isn’t so much a story as a fleshed out note on part of one. “The Starfish Girl” is a very near-future tale which is essentially mainstream and has no driving plot – just a couple of gymnasts waiting around for an IOC ruling about whether they can compete in the 2024 Olympics. The sole speculative element is that one has had starfish DNA CRISPR’ed in to help her recover from a paralyzing spinal break and the other has had her own DNA modified to help her recover from a blown-out knee. But whether prosthetic blades or DNA, society has already been confronted with these issues in both fiction and fact. Except for being fairly dull, it’s perfectly adequate but is easily skipped if you’re so inclined.

SF Miscellany: Magazines/Books, WorldCon Kerfuffle, Grand Masters

Over the past month or so, I was struck by the discrepancy between magazine and book content, aspects of book marketing, the latest in the interminable line of WorldCon fights, and the deaths of great and honored SF luminaries which prompted thoughts on who remains to be honored. I thought these might become detailed and considered posts but, as usual, I just went with a hodge-podge. I am sure about the last section, though.

Where the Readers Aren’t

With “How Do You Buy Your Science Fiction in 2018?Auxiliary Memory brought us another fascinating post, this time about the science fiction market. I was also most struck by slide 35, though for my own reasons.

Slide35-1024x768

(Before I even start, I have to note that there are several problems with the slide. First, I have no idea how temporal/qualitative descriptions like “Classics,” subject genres like “Military,” source categories like “TV… Adaptations,” structural categories like “Anthologies,” and formal genres like “Short Stories” are treated as equivalent. Second, I have no idea why “Anthologies” and “Short Stories” appear twice, the second time combined with each other. I also have no idea what the difference between “Alternate History” and “Alternative History” could be. So the slide has to be taken with a grain of salt but I still think it demonstrates some general truth.)

Here’s the question prompted by the slide which should occur to all SF magazine editors and lovers of short fiction: if LGBT, Alternate History, Steampunk, “Metaphysical & Visionary” and Time Travel sell so little and Military, Adventure, Space Opera, First Contact, Genetic Engineering, Galactic Empire, Hard Science Fiction, Colonization, and Space Exploration sell more, why does the vast majority of magazine (especially webzine) science fiction I read deal with the former categories (or similar) more than the latter and might this be a contributing factor in the increasing irrelevance of short fiction? (The sole reach for a wide readership I see in magazine SF is the negative and probably incidental one of Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian.)

There are probably many answers of various kinds but one that occurs to me is that, in these days of low overhead and a market of dozens and dozens of magazines, all that’s needed is a fanatically loyal niche readership, much like a cable TV show vs. the shared culture of the pre-cable era. But if people want short SF to compete in the general marketplace and get it something like the honor it had and deserves (which is admittedly tough for several reasons), it might be better to go where the general SF reader’s hearts and minds are.

Variety Is the Spice

If all is not ideal in short fiction, there are issues at book length, too. As always, I was struck by the nature of the books listed in Locus’ “New Books” posts. Saying that I’m looking for a non-YA SF singleton doesn’t sound too restrictive. According to the last two posts from the 17th and 24th (which are very typical in these matters) this is what I have to choose from:

  • Satirical fantasy novel…series
  • Steampunk fantasy novel…third in a series
  • Epic fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, first in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, second in a series
  • Fantasy novel, third in a trilogy
  • Alternate history fantasy novel
  • Contemporary fantasy novel
  • Horror novel, first in a series
  • [YA] SF novel… first in a series
  • [YA] Short SF novel
  • [YA] SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult SF novel
  • Young adult sf novel
  • Humorous space opera novel, third in a series
  • Military SF novel, third in a series
  • SF novel, second in a series
  • SF thriller
  • Collection of [a series of] 18 stories…about a giant mountain man in the Old West
  • Collection of [a series of] five stories about a post-apocalypse ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter
  • Collection of 16 stories

If I get a little more restrictive and say I’m not interested in a “thriller” or the Old West or a post-apocalypse, I’m down to one book. If I want it to be a novel and/or in mass-market paperback, the counter hits zero. And so it goes…

WorldCondemnation

I’m not involved in fandom in any way except, y’know, being a fanatic about SF and reading and writing about it constantly. I’m sympathetic to some of the Sad Puppies’ desires for more “fun” in SF and a broader reach for it. I’m not sympathetic to some of their non-literary excesses, though (nor those of their opponents). Either way, it turns out the Sad Puppies were right about one thing, at least. Now that they’re not there to kick around any more, the Worldcon folks have turned on each other (as they used to do before the Puppies). Currently, a lot of people are complaining about the vast evil right-wing straight white male conspiracy which is keeping them from their entitlement of being on important panels and I was reminded of a video of a panel I’d seen while mourning Gardner Dozois. So I thought I’d point out how people like Dozois, George R. R. Martin, and Howard Waldrop were treated. I hope the video goes straight to 19:41 or so but, if not, you can fast forward there. The relevant segment ends at 24:55 or so. (Note that, at one place, Martin says “1985” and “1986” when he meant “1975” and “1976.”)

Grrr. Since it turns out the site owner has inexplicably disabled playback on other sites, you can either click the youtube button on the “unembed” above or this link.

Help Me, SFWA Prez, You’re My Only Hope

From one award to another.

As the last section relates to Gardner Dozois’ recent death, so this one was specifically triggered by Ellison’s (and there were a couple of Ellison anecdotes in the clip above). I got to wondering which of my favorite authors from earlier decades were still alive. I have several (overflowing) cases of SF books which contain an “era” per case. People who started in the 30s and 40s are in one case. They are all dead now. People who started in the 50s and 60s (with maybe three who started in the 40s but really started in the 50s) are in the next case. With Harlan Ellison’s death, they are now all dead except the Grand Masters Larry Niven and Robert Silverberg, the Author Emeritus Katherine MacLean, and… Ben Bova (b.1932), Carol Emshwiller (b.1921), and Norman Spinrad (b.1940). This leads me to again make a plea I’ve made several times before in various ways.

Please, SFWA prez’s, make Ben Bova and Norman Spinrad (two peas in a pod, there) Grand Masters next year and the next! Please, SF fans, pester the SFWA board to make this happen! (Carol Emshwiller may win a Nobel for Literature someday but doesn’t seem to have made quite the impact on the field that might be expected. If anyone wanted to give her a Grand Master, I’d be delighted. Surprised, but delighted.)

As a life-achievement award given to authors who must be living, seniority should be and usually is a major factor. The last time someone older than Emshwiller was given the award was Phil Farmer (b.1918) in 2001. For Bova, it was Wolfe (b.1931) in 2013. For Spinrad, it was just this year but Delany, Cherryh, Haldeman, and Willis are all younger and have already received it. Time’s a-wastin’!

Links (2018-07-25)

Humor

  • AIX SMIT Running Man – YouTube. This is both tech and humor. You only need to jump to 1:50 (if the link doesn’t take you there) and watch through 2:25 but this animation is classic. It’s better than the bouncing penguin I have on my GKrellM.
  • The Art of Darkness » Seen Online. An especially good one with a couple of literary bits (the cellar and the letter) being among my favorites.

History

Big Pharma Is Watching You

  • Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You —… — ProPublica. This is directly about the health insurance industry rather than the drug manufacturers, but the point is that this is a long-winded article that boils down to: every detail we put out into the infosphere, no matter how seemingly unrelated and innocuous, and every detail health insurers can find, by any means, is being used to create general and faulty statistical analyses as well as specific dossiers on individuals which is resulting in or will result in negative influences on public policy and on your lives and deaths, exacerbating stereotypes and harming those who most need good treatment. The EU has laws (how effective?) which attempt to mitigate this; the US does not. (I got this from a SciAm reprint but the above link goes to the original.)
  • Walmart patents audio surveillance technology to record customers and employees – CBS News. And Walmart is listening to you. They claim they want audio to see how quickly things are being scanned (like the scanner doesn’t tell them that) or how many bags are being used (like inventory software doesn’t tell them that) or how quickly the lines are moving (like the already existent and no less problematic video doesn’t tell them that and more). (I neglected to post this in the last “Links” post but it fits well here.)

Science

Science Fiction

  • THE SKINNER: The Battle of Forever – A E Van Vogt. Regardless of book publication date, I’ve read almost everything van Vogt wrote before 1963 and almost nothing after but Neal Asher’s encouraging me to open that second temporal front. (On the other hand, I have a very different take from Asher’s on Simak’s atypically thrilling and delightful Cosmic Engineers, which evoked a rarely felt sense of wonder I wouldn’t trade for any amount of supposed sophistication.)
  • Tyrannosaurus Ranch: Sharks, Ranked*. This isn’t science fiction but it’s not science, either. Apologies if any of the recent (or past) victims of shark attacks or those associated with them don’t appreciate this but it’s entertaining in the abstract.
  • Does That Sound Familiar? | Learn Fun Facts. LFF gets science fictional as it discusses Murray Leinster’s internet prescience. (For “logic” read “computer.”)

Birthdays

Links above go to SFE or Wikipedia biographies. Links below go to free fiction online.

Huxley, of course, brought us a Brave New World. Not everything Lingen writes does it for me, but she’s written several good things. Ditto Zinos-Amaro. Bronte wrote the powerful Wuthering Heights. (I’ve never seen any of the adaptations but I wouldn’t be surprised if none of them got it right.) Bretnor brought us many a Feghoot.

Stanley Asimov was Isaac’s brother and is in the ISFDB because he edited a collection of the Good Doctor’s letters. Klein brought us many author biographies in the pages of Analog. Wright brought us many Weird Tales.  And Adams brings us “Nightspeed” every month.

On Kubrick and Hyams, you learn something new everyday (perhaps not for the first time). I had no recollection that a major creator of 2001 and a major creator of 2010 shared the same birthday. 2001 is probably a bit overrated but superb and 2010 is a lot underrated and is also superb in its way. Nolan has been part of the creation of many films such as Memento, Insomnia, Inception, and Interstellar. (And he knows how to title a flick. But, speaking of 2001, Interstellar‘s greatest flaw is that it was a little too inspired by 2001 at the end. Still neat, though.)

Happy birthday, all!

Music

As with “Mohs Scale 2-3,” here’s a track from an album that was in the running for an appearance in “Tunesday: Favorite Albums of 2017 (Mohs Scale 4-5).” (doo-doo-doo-doom city) Continue reading

Tunesday: Favorite Albums of 2017 (Mohs Scale 4-5)

If you want details about what’s going on, check out the intro to “Tunesday: Favorite Albums of 2017 (Mohs Scale 2-3).” but, briefly, here’s another alpha-by-artist list of favorite albums of 2017 with a sample song each, this time composed mostly of what might be called “stoner rock” or “stoner metal.” This list is a little short with seven albums/tracks but the total time of 47:33 works out decently. Continue reading