Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-09-30)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • 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.”

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Links (2018-09-26)

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Calvin and Hobbes (from GoComics)

Music

  • Heavy metal music is inclusive and governed by rules of etiquette. A double-double this week. It’s always… odd… when people try to get academic about un-academic things. So I’ve got a couple about the good friendly violent fun when you go into the pit. But I was also still feeling echoes from last week’s “Spider-Man” cover and have a couple more great ones of those.

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-09-22)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

The weekly-ish offerings of this week are above average, overall. Oddly, there are two food tales. While “Gourmando” is a flash piece which describes some cooking with only a perfunctory, common and, in this case, trivial “fight dystopia!” frame to “make it SF,” “Tamales” has humans and aliens living on a space station while the latter communicate with tastes and scents. There’s not much actual plot but the story does a good job of indirect exposition (neither relying on infodumps nor settling for obscurity).

In “Fisher,” a person is perhaps injured and, on recovering, sees a giant bear in an odd landscape doing odd things and has odd conversations with it. Gradually, despite amnesia, the protagonist discovers what’s really going on and that it is a matter of life and death. The desperate battle which ensues is remarkable. This fantasy is frustrating for me, beyond the obvious difficulty of summarizing it without spoiling any of its surprises. It’s second-person, present tense, which does it no favors, the style lapses with a single emotionally explicable but still jarring “fucker,” the protagonist is initially amnesiac but “you still remember your Descartes,” the beginning is essential but perhaps overlong, and the ending is complicated but not as smooth as it should be. But the story’s imagery is fresh, its revelations are effective, and its core is powerful.

The week’s (and, so far, the month’s) best story is “Nine Last Days.” A reference to the Fibonacci sequence indicates the story’s structure, the nine scenes of which follow LT through his life and familial generations as they deal with a strange alien invasion of plant-bearing pods. Though it opens with the invasion in 1975 when LT is ten and is thus a form of alternate history, it doesn’t share alternate history’s usual preoccupations or feel much like it. It does, however, carry us through past, present, and future while juxtaposing the familiar and the strange and saying something about the effects of time and change on people. The structure and pacing, characterization, and ideas are very good and the prose is enlivened with nice observations, such as LT spending time with his dad after his parents divorce: “LT and his father ate their meals in the living room, in front of the fire, wordless as Neanderthals” (which is poetically effective if scientifically controversial), and the house-building dad’s take on evolution: “Dad’s God didn’t improvise. He was a measure-twice-cut-once creator.” Firmly recommended.

Review: Apex #112

Apex #112, September 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Field Biology of the Wee Fairies” by Naomi Kritzer (fantasy short story)
  • “River Street” by S. R. Mandel (fantasy-like short story)
  • “Coyote Now Wears a Suit” by Ani Fox (fantasy-like short story)
  • “A Siren’s Cry Is a Song of Sorrow” by Stina Leicht (fantasy-like novelette)

River Street” is a metaphor of around 700 words (some of which read like accidental Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest entries) which is probably about life and death and such.

Coyote” is about how awful it is to be a closeted “gay, transgender, crossdressing… academic” in Hawaii until a trickster god “helps.” The “god” could easily be a figment of the narrator’s addled imagination. Some may find it fast-paced and amusing while some may find it slapdash and tiresome.

The other two stories are about how awful it is to be female, especially in the South of the past.

Siren,” which smashes the short story barrier by 39 words due to 2,140 words of agonizing before any movement begins, features a pair of siblings in 70s or 80s Texas trying to become mermaids (not even the word “siren” appears anywhere but the title) because being a girl is the worst conceivable thing anyone could be cursed to be. All males bully, rape, and kill all females all the time and the narrator has been upset since her parents took her to a museum “as a means of expanding [her] educational horizons” and she saw and somehow understood (in a twisted way) what skulls signified when she was “only a little over a year old”! Her life actually only gets worse from there. It’s preposterously overdone and that’s the only fantastic element in it; there are no mermaids in the frame of the narrative and possibly none at all.

A reader’s reaction to “Wee Fairies” will probably be a macrocosm of his or her reaction to the title but, either way, it’s immeasurably superior. In this one, a girl with scientific aptitude and a dislike of beauty finds 1962 Virginia (and, especially, one male teacher) uncongenial but, after interacting with her fairy (which almost every girl gets, but only the protagonist experiments on and comes to understand), she triumphs. The fairy, while definite, is an obligatory fantasy element in an essentially mainstream story, the ending, while apt, is underwhelming, and the whole thing is reminiscent of Naomi Novik’s “Blessings” (Uncanny #22, May/June 2018) but some may enjoy it.

Links (2018-09-19)

Site News

  • My area got a lot of rain, some fairly significant winds, and had constant watches and warnings and so on but, contrary to my expectations, the power only went out briefly. The worst was just the uncertainty and the length of time the storm lasted but I can’t complain. However, most of my state wasn’t so lucky and has been wrecked and some people (not just in NC) lost their lives. If you’d like to help, I came across this: How To Help Those Affected By Hurricane Florence : NPR.

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Inspired by one of last week’s tunes, here are a couple of… unusual… items.

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Review: Lightspeed #100

Lightspeed #100, September 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Her Monster, Whom She Loved” by Vylar Kaftan (science fiction short story)
  • “Harry and Marlowe and the Secret of Ahomana” by Carrie Vaughn (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Last to Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Explainer” by Ken Liu (science fiction short story)
  • “Hard Mary” by Sofia Samatar (science fiction novelette)
  • “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine (fantasy short story)
  • “Jump” by Cadwell Turnbull (fantasy short story)
  • “You Pretend Like You Never Met Me, And I’ll Pretend Like I Never Met You” by Maria Dahvana Headley (fantasy short story)
  • “Conspicuous Plumage” by Sam J. Miller (fantasy short story)
  • “A Brief Guide to the Seeking of Ghosts” by Kat Howard (fantasy short story)

Lightspeed brings us a more-than-double special issue for its 100th number with five original SF stories, five original fantasy stories, plus extra reprints and non-fiction. (The online edition swaps two of the usual reprints for two bonus originals with the Kaftan, Vaughn, Castro, Valentine, Turnbull, and Headley being made available.)

Monster” is a cosmic fantasy with scientific phrases sprinkled about and involves a goddess creating some children, one of whom is a monster, and follows their battle of the eons. It has a lot of the feel of June’s “Silent Sun.” “Ahomana” is a “shipwrecked on an island with a secret city” story with an additional component of alternate history in which “Harry” and Marlowe wander from their Victorian England (which has been modified with relics of alien tech) and discover the wonders of Ahomana. Even for being a part of a series and granting that this episode is finished, this is a middle and a bit long for its content but entertaining enough. “Matter” is a “jaded at the end of the worlds” story with a splash of posthumanism thrown over the New Wavy core. A man is ejected from his “orgynism” of perpetual sex to discover the City is dying and decides there are two ways to go and picks one. Some of this is repellent, the rest is common, and the end isn’t as deep as it purports to be. “Explainer” is metafiction nominally involving a repairman and a little girl, in which a broken (lying) house AI is relevant to the craft of fiction and, more generally, the drive for narrative.

The (perhaps excessively) gender-edged “Hard Mary” was much too long for its content (nearly a novella) but the oddly Simakian tale was the most interesting of the SF tales. Lyddie (narrator) and Mim (misfit genius) are effectively characterized young women living in an isolated religious village in the near future who, with some others, discover an abandoned, semi-functional robot they come to call “Hard Mary.” The (mostly mild) tension comes from multiple places including within and between the characters, between that group and the village, and between all of them and the “Profane Industries” men who created Mary.

Abandonware” involves a broken narrator talking about a sort of VR game while covering her childhood and her current situation with a dead mother and a father who has replaced both of them. There’s a symbolic deer and some things that could be called hallucinations but no real fantasy or effect. “Plumage” takes us to an alternate 1950s where everyone has a fantastic talent, though the narrator’s hasn’t manifested because she first wants to learn more about the murder of her gay brother who “danced birds,” so to speak. From the street that went on forever to its questionable rock history and odd perspective on baseball to its ending, it’s unconvincing and “drops frames” at an increasing rate through the sketchy narrative. “Brief Guide” is no story but yet another ineffectual list (eleven sections on how to avoid or attract ghosts depending on season, weather, time of day, and a tip for the ghostless).

Moving up quite a way, “Pretend” is an initially darkly delightful tale of the less magical son of a magician who has to entertain at a birthday party. Naturally, he goes to a bar and hits on what turns out to be a bereaved mother whose child was killed and husband injured in a motorcycle accident. That turns out to be the high point of his day. His life hasn’t been much better, either, as we learn about his childhood, his dad, and deals with Death and/or the Devil. The sardonic tone and comical imagery (the magician’s bright yellow “lemon” of a VW Beetle accidentally ending up in a funeral procession, for instance) keep this story involving and entertaining and the only real problem is a somewhat incongruous and pat ending.

While much more understated (but consistent), “Jump” is the issue’s best story. One fine day, in an overflow of love and joy, Mike and his girlfriend Jessie teleport home. A desire to repeat the experience comes to obsess Mike while Jessie prefers to treasure the singular experience. For a time, she accedes to Mike’s efforts and, somewhere in there, they get married but this thing that cemented their relationship also tends to tear it apart. Very concise, yet well-realized and with some humor and pathos. Good stuff.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-09-14)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Mountaineering” by Leah Bobet, Strange Horizons, September 10, 2018 (short story)
  • The Congress” by Dave Kavanaugh, Nature, September 12, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Ancestor Night” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #260, September 13, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog” by Maria Haskins, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #260, September 13, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Con Con” by Russell Nichols, Terraform, September 14, 2018 (science fiction short story)

[Still hanging on despite Florence, so here’s a quick “Wrap-Up” of this light (<12,000 words) week.]

In science fiction, it’s “satirical con” week! “The Congress” involves the sole incoming Interplanetary Congressperson showing up for work, learning an impossibly kept secret, and facing a hard choice. It’s obviously extremely contrived but, beyond that, few will approve of or even believe her choice as depicted. An arsonist can’t get a job at the “Con Con” (convict convention) as a “pop-up adman” with a “PR chip,” which means he’ll be sent back to “corporate” prison. Will an encounter with his cellmate, the identity thief, improve matters? The arsonist’s desperation and the plot’s viciousness are done well enough but the milieu is vague, the epilogue weak, and, as a literal character, the protagonist isn’t appealing.

In fantasy, it’s “inconclusive sibling stories” week! “Mountaineering” is an essentially mainstream piece which depicts a surviving sibling, who’s grown up worshiping  polar/mountain/explorer types and a deceased sibling, climbing a mountain while interacting with that sibling in a way that’s easily taken as psychological. The BCS stories are better, if not remarkable. “Ancestor Night” involves a group of siblings going to a ritual which involves interacting with their dead parents who are now located under a presumably perpetually frozen lake. The eldest sibling learns something shocking about his favorite sibling and makes a severe psychological adjustment. “Shoot” involves a sister wanting a dog and being followed by her younger brother while she searches for one. She finds a witch and makes a deal to get her dog but, when it comes time to make good on her end of the bargain, she has other plans. This has one extremely problematic protagonist along with a problematic “ending.”