- “Pig Guts” by Troy Farah, Terraform, September 23, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Last Contact” by Graham Robert Scott, Nature, September 26, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Shadowdrop” by Chris Willrich, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261, September 27, 2018 (fantasy novella)
- “Ruby, Singing” by Fran Wilde, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261, September 27, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Lions and Gazelles” by Hannu Rajaniemi, Slate, September 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
We have quite the menagerie in the science fiction offerings: natural gorillas, modified pigs, and metaphorical lions and gazelles. “Pig Guts” is a satire of a sybaritic solipsistic slob living in a future made possible by bioengineered pigs used for parts combined with modern medicine and a demotivational government. Some may find it striking but I suspect most will find it heavy-handed and off-putting. The cli-fi flash of “Last Contact” puts us on a speck of land in a risen ocean and involves a gorilla entering an AI-controlled city for a reason that eventually becomes clear and is touching but the exact thematic thrust I was supposed to get from it all never came clear to me. Finally, “Lions and Gazelles” tells the tale of a race in which bioengineered corporate leaders literally embody their product and demonstrate it in a race to catch some robotic prey. The protagonist finds his motivation for racing shifting as he deals with an ex-partner who had betrayed him years ago and as he learns more about the race he’s in. While the setup is a bit contrived and I’d have liked more focus on the science fictional aspects of the engineering and what it was subjectively like, I thought this was a workmanlike and reasonably involving tale.
The redesigned website of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I liked the old look much better) brings us a couple of long tales (featuring more siblings, as in the last issue) as the first part of the double issues celebrating its tenth anniversary. The near-novelette of “Ruby, Singing” is told by Mira, a girl who can hear gems sing and is defined by others as a sort of bad girl, while her twin is the good one. Mira goes off with the bad man who uses her to find treasure and also gets her pregnant. It’s an avowed litany of her mistakes though it notices a couple of his, as well. It’s a little overwritten and heavy-handed and not real surprising or involving for me (partly by being yet another Evil Man/Oppressed Woman tale), but might appeal to some. Much more interesting and successful is the wonderful “Shadowdrop,” which is narrated by the titular black cat who lives in the deeply and complexly imagined Archaeopolis, which turns out to be under threat from a couple of deranged and/or misguided people but also from the selfishness, lack of empathy, and other vices which plague much of any society. Joined by her brother, many other black cats, a talking scratching post, and others, Shadowdrop tries vigorously and stylishly to save the city. This cat tale is full of brilliant oddities like Foottown and told in a light and witty way with arresting phrases and was a fun and funny read. I’ll admit I’m a black cat kind of guy and that I could conceive of someone finding this a little too long or a little too cute or the theme a little too blunt (the last is almost a minor problem even for me) but, for those who don’t, they’ve got quite a treat in store. As Shadowdrop says in a crucial exchange, “we have always been, and always will be, cats. We will not be dismissed. We will not let our city be destroyed without a fight. And we will do all these things while looking magnificent.”