This month has been doubly strange. Despite reading 42 stories of about 201K words from the August magazines, I’m in the unprecedented and unpleasant position of only being able to note one story (and that’s not even fully recommended). Counting a late July story and things for a couple of Tangent reviews, I read 59 stories of about 324K words this month and can at least add two recs and another honorable mention, all from the July/August Black Static, but only one of those is even speculative with the other two being straight horror.
- “The Monstrosity in Love” by Sam Thompson, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (dark fantasy short story)
- “The Blockage” by Jack Westlake, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (non-speculative short story)
- “Why We Don’t Go Back” by Simon Avery, Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (non-speculative novelette)
- Apex #111, August 2018
- Black Static #64, July/August 2018 (at Tangent)
- Clarkesworld #143, August 2018
- Flash Fiction Online, August 2018 (notice of reprint issue, only)
- Lightspeed #99, August 2018
- Nightmare #71, August 2018
- Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-04) (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Diabolical Plots, Nature, Terraform, Tor.com)
- Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-10) (Nature, Strange Horizons, Terraform)
- Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-17) (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Diabolical Plots, Nature, Strange Horizons, Terraform, Tor.com)
- Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-25) (Nature, Strange Horizons, Terraform)
- Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-31) (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Nature, Slate, Terraform, Tor.com)
- “When We Were Patched” by Deji Bryce Olukotun, Slate, August 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Unreal” by Judy Helfrich, Nature, August 29, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
- “The Kite Maker” by Brenda Peynado, Tor.com, August 29, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Cold Ink” by Dean Wells, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #259, August 30, 2018 (science fantasy novelette)
- “Periling Hand” by Justin Howe, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #259, August 30, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
- “Rapunzel: A Re-Winding” by Joan Stewart, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, August 30, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Across the Border” by Sahil Lavingia, Terraform, August 31, 2018 (science fiction short story)
The stories covered were generally readable though none stuck out. While very few were science fiction, only one was actually fantasy, either. “Rapunzel” was, as the title indicates, a fairy tale retelling which corrected the “evil” witch and the male “rescue” and it may appeal to people who like such things but I have to admit that I’m rarely interested in fairy tales whether new or old.
Despite this not being “science fantasy month,” BCS produced a pair of science fantasy tales. The long novelette “Cold Ink” takes a variant of The X-Files‘ “black oil” into a very English turn of a millennium and it may be a feature or a bug for the given reader that it’s hard to tell if it’s an alternate 1997 or a futuristic 2997 though, in ways, it feels only like the turn of a century such as an alternate steampunkish 1897. It’s action-packed and graphically violent but I’m not sure what it’s saying. I doubt it’s “broken people who mass-murder indiscriminately are bad but self-appointed moral arbiters of revolution who mass-murder are good” but that’s sort of what it seems like. “The Periling Hand” seems like it will deal with an amputee coming to terms with his changed circumstances but the inert protagonist is actually pulled into a political upheaval, much like in the other story and it, too, deals with body invasion. (Those last two aspects are similar to aspects of the “grains” stories of Sanford’s which have been published in the same magazine.) Of the two stories in this issue, this one is much more on the fantasy side of the spectrum with only some “screens” and vague, almost off-stage handwaving to make it clearly “science fantasy”-ish but it did read like that kind of SF that tries to seem like fantasy from the start.
Moving to what being published in Nature signals ought to be science fiction, “Unreal” is another “it has the word ‘quantum’ in it so it’s science fiction and not fantasy” stories. This particular flash piece focuses on an unreal universe in which the sisters Bertha and Mabel are at Iris’ place, complaining about filberts and other nuts as heads pop out of walls and bats fly out of announcers ears. “The Kite Maker” is a longer, lightly science fictional piece which deals with skinheads not treating immigrants well (the immigrants again being literal aliens, of course). The aliens’ home was rendered uninhabitable by their sun so they hit on the, um, odd idea of creating interstellar vessels which would disintegrate upon encountering an atmosphere which would not be fatal to them or burn them up or result in their deaths from falling or anything else. Fortunately, this works. Unfortunately, they are also bug-like and passive, so humans killed a bunch of them before being sated and trying to make the best of the situation. The protagonist is a kite maker and the aliens like kites, having lost their ability to fly due to our higher gravity and thicker atmosphere. (While higher gravity should make it harder and may suffice, a thicker atmosphere should make it easier.)
“Border” is a very short and partly more science fictional story which also deals with immigration. It depicts a wall having been built and criticizes it and Americans but doesn’t belabor that point as it primarily advocates for the advantages of old tech in keeping people in touch in a private and personal manner. Finally, “Patched” describes a novel game of superconductive tennis refereed by a human and an oddly subjective AI but, by telling it from the AI’s POV, it’s unclear if the AI is a pathological liar or, regardless of the AI’s attitude, one of the human contestants really was viciously unsportsmanlike.
- “House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse (novelette)
- “True Crime” by M. Rickert (short story)
“True Crime” is a single, 971-word, non-speculative block of short sentences babbling about how a Women is killed by a Men.
Much more interesting (and therefore, ultimately, disappointing) is “House of Small Spiders.” Susan’s cutting herself in her closet as the story opens and we find out its related to the fact that her mother’s recently stabbed herself to death on top of the washing machine. We later find out that that odd detail is connected to more tragedy. Meanwhile, dad vividly attacks a couple of religious proselytizers and we learn about blood, ideas, and houses with souls and spiders. The bursts of horrific violence were quite effective and there are some nice observations and ambiguities or paradoxes but the villain ultimately comes off as clownish with incongruously pedestrian motives, the “morality” of the “heroine” is hard to take, and the resolution is far too talky.
(There’s another, arguably smaller, problem with the end which is hard to articulate without spoilers. And, while I’m at it, Craftsman was a Sears brand which is now sold at Lowe’s via Stanley Black & Decker, not Home Depot (as far as I know), “condemning them that it is their fault” isn’t good English, and the extra word after the final sentence in my copy isn’t good proof-reading.)
- “What Man Knoweth” by Russell Nichols, Strange Horizons, August 20, 2018 (sf/f novelette)
- “Breakthrough” by John Gilbey, Nature, August 22, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Robot Story II” by Sheaquan M. Datts, Terraform, August 24, 2018 (science fiction short story)
The two science fiction short-shorts are remarkably similar in the key way of lacking plot, drama, and a climax, even in flash scale. “Breakthrough” is an initially pleasant tale of a retired academic returning to his old haunts to help some people who have discovered an anomaly in old data which may indicate evidence of a parallel universe but the “big reveal” seems insufficient for the conceptual background. “Robot Story II,” which has a man meet a robot family at a beach as an allegory of prejudice, is similarly fictionally underwhelming and, message aside, has a less appealing protagonist and fewer interesting science fictional grace notes.
“What Man Knoweth” is difficult to categorize because its speculative element of telepathy is not presented in a convincing or rationalized way nor, despite the story’s strong religious elements, in a supernatural way and, aside from this single element, is thoroughly mainstream. A reporter has many personal issues including a failed romance and a preacher father who’s killed himself after being seen as insane. The reporter blames another preacher and operates more as a P.I. in an effort to ironically clear that preacher, a man he hates, of being an accessory to murder (due to supposedly being an “evangelepath” who should have known the murder in the perpetrator’s heart and prevented it) so that, somehow, his own father will be “vindicated” in some way. The story is very character-based, has a lot of dramatic material, and the irony of the first sentence never stops but the characters feel a little “templated” or composed of “armchair psychology,” the drama, especially towards the end, could be said to veer into melodrama, and the irony never quite irons the creases into smoothness, leaving the story feeling a bit incoherent.
This doesn’t contain any information not already in “Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links)” but, because that list might look dauntingly large and a little busy, here’s a list of the twenty-six stories which appear in two or more of the nine “Year’s Bests.” (Twenty of these stories are available online.) For clarity, they’re just alphabetized by title with no distinction beyond an asterisk which indicates I’ve noted them to one degree or another on this blog.
- “Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
- “Death on Mars“, Madeline Ashby (Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities)*
- “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue”, Charlie Jane Anders (Boston Review)
- “An Evening with Severyn Grimes”, Rich Larson (Asimov’s Science Fiction)*
- “Extracurricular Activities”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com)
- “The Hermit of Houston”, Samuel R. Delany (F&SF)
- “The Lamentation of their Women”, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com)
- “The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon“, Finbarr O’Reilly (Clarkesworld)
- “The Martian Obelisk”, Linda Nagata (Tor.com)*
- “The Moon is Not a Battlefield”, Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars)
- “My English Name”, R. S. Benedict (F&SF)
- “Red Bark and Ambergris“, Kate Marshall (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
- “The Secret Life of Bots”, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld)
- “A Series of Steaks”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld)*
- “Sidewalks”, Maureen McHugh (Omni)
- “Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango“, Ian Muneshwar (The Dark)
- “Starlight Express”, Michael Swanwick (F&SF)*
- “The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse”, Kathleen Ann Goonan (Extrasolar)
- “Though She Be But Little”, C.S.E. Cooney (Uncanny)*
- “Uncanny Valley“, Greg Egan (Tor.com)*
- “We Who Live in the Heart“, Kelly Robson (Clarkesworld)
- “Winter Timeshare”, Ray Nayler (Asimov’s Science Fiction)
- “The Worldless“, Indrapramit Das (Lightspeed)
- “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych“, Kathleen Kayembe (Nightmare)*
- “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance”, Tobias Buckell (Cosmic Powers)*
- “ZeroS”, Peter Watts (Infinity Wars)*
- Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links). This has been updated and is now almost completely complete (allowing for the possibility of additional stories acquiring links) with the addition of the last of the “Year’s Bests,” Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, Jemisin, ed.
- “Links” posts. Shortly after I posted last week’s, I edited it, moving the “Science Fiction” and “Science” sections to the top and putting the others with “Music” at the bottom under “Other.” This one also reflects that order (allowing for occasional “Site News” exceptions) and future ones presumably will also.
- Northwest Smith: Some of the sturdiest pillars of Golden Age science fiction. This article has strange notions of when the Golden Age was and what hard SF is but I’ll take any promotion of CLM & NWS.
- 100 Best Horror Novels And Stories : NPR. Not SF, of course, and some are not even fantastic but it still seems like an interesting list, especially for including short fiction. (Thanks to Tor.com for the link.)
- Introduction – Classics of Science Fiction. As foreshadowed in “Links (2018-08-08)” (Science Fiction #1), Piet Nel and James Wallace Harris present their “Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories.” As excellent as “Bloodchild” and other stories cited more often are, any list that has “Nightfall” tied for third place has something off about its citation list and I say this not as an Asimov fan but simply as a guy who has a zillion anthologies and a zillion copies of “Nightfall.” That said, I’d strongly recommend ten of the eleven stories in the top three ranks and don’t notice a significant deviation from that ratio until the stories with six or seven citations and there are still numerous superb stories all the way down. A great reading list and great service to the field.
- Interview: Ashley Blooms on “Hainted” : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The author of the best story in the latest issue of F&SF talks a little about it and its neglected background.
Linked names above go to bios. Linked names below go to free works online.
I’m not as big a fan of Bradbury as many, but I enjoyed Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and a few other stories. Tiptree (Alice Sheldon) is one of the greatest story writers of all time but her first novel, Up the Walls of the World, shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Otto Binder is one half (the greater half, so to speak) of one of my favorite pseudonyms, Eando Binder, (with his brother, Earl=E-and-O Binder) and who wrote some interesting things, including the Adam Link stories, the first of which gave its name to the much more famous I, Robot of Isaac Asimov. Vance wrote a million things, including The Languages of Pao, The Dying Earth, and numerous other stories such as those collected in The Best of Jack Vance. McIntyre is best known for various award-winning things like Dreamsnake (which I didn’t like) and Star Trek ties (which I haven’t read) but I note her for writing the extraordinary novella, “Aztecs,” which she expanded into Superluminal. While the story worked perfectly well as a story, I was curious enough to buy the book (though it’s suffered the fate of so many and has gone years without being read).
Goethe‘s a bit of an outlier but, hey, Faust! (Much like Dante’s masterpiece, few people (and publishers) seem to realize that this has more than one part). Freas had an incredibly long and prolific career and his work has already been featured on this blog in “Review: The Trouble with You Earth People by Katherine MacLean.” And Burton has been involved in an extraordinary number of movies I’ve enjoyed a great deal. The six films he wrote and/or directed from 1988’s Beetlejuice to 1994’s Ed Wood (including Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the ’89 and ’92 Batman movies) are all good and some later ones are, too.
- Concerns Grow About Space Force Diverting Funds from Other Military Priorities. Fitting in with the Psoviet desire to have us abuse, and become estranged from, our NATO allies, they’d also love to have us waste money and bureaucratic overhead on a “Space Force” which would not increase our capabilities in space and would degrade our capabilities on Earth. As big a fan of all things “space” as I am, this obviously has no benefits for America.
This came out a few days ago…