Review: Lightspeed #103

Lightspeed #103, December 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “Mouths” by Lizz Huerta (fantasy short story)
  • “Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire (fantasy short story)
  • “A Love Story Written on Water” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy novelette)
  • “Grandma Novak’s Famous Nut Roll” by Shaenon K. Garrity (fantasy short story)

I suspect people are tired of my comments on genre (I’m tired of making them) but I feel like people ought to know what they’re getting. This isn’t a special “all fantasy” issue of Lightspeed, in that the first two are billed as SF, but it’s difficult for me to call the first SF and impossible to call the second one that. Also, while the fourth is trying to be funny and thus leaves the horror deeply backgrounded and washed out, it’s actually more of a horror story than the second Nightmare story of this month which, despite its werewolves, was more of a fantasy story.

As I said, it’s difficult to call “Mouths” even “science fantasy.” It’s really a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which the apocalypse is not clearly described and the “post-” makes little sense. A woman hurts her mouth and goes to a sort of dentist who takes her on as an apprentice until the woman’s lover shows up for her. Having fallen in love with the first woman, the dentist wavers between suicide and subjugating himself to them.

Under” is a fantasy about a woman leading a 19th century expedition into a dangerous and bizarre river (which really exists, though not quite as described). The woman’s grandfather had met a strange woman there, produced our heroine’s mother with her, and vowed to explore the river but died without completing his task. Taking the baton, the granddaughter discovers things she was Not Meant to Know. Despite having a weakness for subterranean aquatic tales such as Edmond Hamilton’s “Serpent Princess” (1948) and some Lankhmar stories and so on, this didn’t really grab me (in part due to the problems of the choice of protagonist and time-period in which the woman is an anachronistic and overly gender-conscious leader but overly Victorian otherwise) but it may work for some.

Love Story” (also the Cover Story) is an elaborately contrived Hindu-flavored fairy tale about a river goddess, her mortal lover, and the strange conditions under which she must destroy their children. A couple of aspects seem unintentionally contradictory and it takes a long, though colorful, time to get to an ending which is obvious except for its low cost. The didactic romance seems to have dual themes on the proper way to love along with an element of “accept that mother knows best and that she works in mysterious ways.”

Finally, “Nut Roll” is a patented “Lightmare” combination of letter and list with the contents being a bunch of recipes (each presented in its entirety). The people sharing these recipes are not normal and the food is more than just filling. However, the story is less.

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Review: Nightmare #75

Nightmare #75, December 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” by Adam-Troy Castro (horror short story)
  • “The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy short story)

Ten Things” is yet another “listory” from “Nightspeed.” In this, a scientist seeking to open a portal for interstellar travel has instead opened a portal in his chest for a Lovecraftian monster-god to burst through—a monster god which makes Alien chestbursters look like fluffy bunnies. His assistant is mortally wounded in her boss’ explosion and she faces a fate worse than a fate worse than death, conditional on the monster’s explication and evaluation of her ten dying utterances, one by one. While this actually has entertaining aspects, the main problem is that the monster is a little too complacently self-satisfied, forgetting that the reader will be judging it as it judges her, and the structure leads to a stilted, essentially static, pace and distanced events.

A female werewolf refuses to accept her supposed place in the world, so is exiled to “The Island of Beasts.” There, she seems to find herself in a situation just like the one she left, except with fewer choices and less room to roam, but still she persists. Werewolves or not, this isn’t even “dark fantasy,” much less horror, but is readable despite having little plot and less climax.

Summation: November 2018

The issues of Clarkesworld and F&SF were especially strong and Galaxy’s Edge had a couple of nice tales. I also began belated coverage of the resurrected Amazing‘s August “Fall” issue this November. On the other hand, in general, non-prozine news, Shimmer ceased publication and I noticed that the long-dormant SQ Mag had finally acknowledged its death in September. Speaking of death, this month’s wombat was at least three excellent stories in which the deaths of mothers and a sister played significant parts.

The tally for November was 79 stories of 482K words (plus five October stories of 19K in November’s first review of the weeklies) with thirteen noted and six of those recommended. In more general site news, I’ve decided on Featured Futures‘ 2019 coverage. The link to that is in the “News” section at the end of this post.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • “Empress of Starlight” by G. David Nordley, Analog, November/December 2018 (novelette)
  • “Foster Earth” by Julie Czerneda, Amazing, Fall 2018 (short story)
  • The Gift of Angels: an introduction” by Nina Allan, Clarkesworld #146, November 2018 (novelette)
  • Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, Clarkesworld #146, November 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

  • “The Lady of Butterflies” by Y. M. Pang, F&SF, November/December 2018 (novelette)
  • The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer, Uncanny #25, November/December 2018 (novelette)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Joyride” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Asimov’s, November/December 2018 (novella)
  • A Waltz in Eternity” by Gregory Benford, Galaxy’s Edge #35, November/December 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • “The Baron and His Floating Daughter” by Nick DiChario, F&SF, November/December 2018  (short story)
  • Cat Lady” by Susan Taitel, Galaxy’s Edge #35, November/December 2018 (short story)
  • The Coal Remembers What It Was” by Paul R. Hardy, Diabolical Plots #45B, November 16, 2018 (short story)
  • Godzilla vs. Buster Keaton or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck, Apex #114, November 2018 (novelette)
  • “Thanksgiving” by Jeffrey Ford, F&SF, November/December 2018 (short story)

Reviews

Magazines

News

Links (2018-11-28)

Science Fiction

Birthdays

The data in this section is from the ISFDB. ISFDB entries usually have SFE and/or Wikipedia links for biographies. For free works of older authors online, try sites like FreeSFOnline, Archive.org, Gutenberg, or PoemHunter.com.

  • 1757-11-28 William Blake
  • 1951-11-30 Lucy Taylor
  • 1875-12-04 Rainer Maria Rilke
  • 1957-12-04 Eric S. Raymond

Science

  • HR 8799c: Water Detection Moves Spectroscopy Forward.
  • Complex systems help explain how democracy is destabilised. 50,000,000 Facebook Users Can’t Be Wrong. Why, that would be 5% of the user base and 0.7% of the world’s population. (This “science” article is interesting even though it mixes fact and opinion freely and ignores the destabilizing effects of direct attacks on democracy (which should be considered acts of war and responded to appropriately but, for some reason, are considered acts of “cybercrime” and “meddling” instead).)

Other

History

Humor

A Calvin and Hobbes Bananas Bonanza!

Music

The stealth DIY “alternative” compilation album continues…

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-11-25)

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Original Fiction:

There are two flashes of SF this week. “Black Hole” is a mostly static description of a crew in a black hole which ignores tidal forces. “Last Stand” seems like a scene ripped from the headlines (but the author’s notes, which are almost as long as the fiction, say it’s been smoldering for awhile). It describes a couple of firefighters trying to save the redwoods as a climate-change-powered fire encroaches. Active enough and carries its message, but little more.

Moving to the fantasies, the nicely illustrated and very short “Toothsome Things” is a feminist revision of “Little Red Riding Hood” and other lupine fairy tales and fables. It may appeal to the choir but will probably gain few adherents.

Finally, BCS presents a pair of short stories on the sacrifices of parenting. In “Feral Attachments,” a couple studying troll pair-bonding (or a lack thereof) has lost their child (literally misplaced him in the woods) and then find a feral troll-like boy who may or may not be that son. When trolls attack and another professor gets high-handed, matters come to a head. I may be misreading the tone but, despite the serious and depressed subject matter, there seems to be the driest of humor to this as well. “Mighty” is an odd tale which suffers from something more common in “SF”: it’s not fantasy at all. A father takes his kid to the fights where the boy can watch his hero go against a young challenger. This can sometimes be a fight to the death and has battle axes but so can some fights we do not talk about. It’s exciting enough but unlikely to satisfy fantasy fans.

Links (2018-11-21)

Science Fiction

  • Black Gate » Old School: The Iliad. The Iliad is one of my favorite works and this is a great review because it makes it sound as awesome as it is and not like some stuffy bit of academia.

Birthdays

The data in this section is selected from the ISFDB. ISFDB entries usually have SFE and/or Wikipedia links for biographies. For works online, try sites like FreeSFOnline, Archive.org, Gutenberg, or PoemHunter.com.

  • 1694-11-21 Voltaire
  • 1835-11-21 W. W. Skeat
  • 1944-11-21 Harold Ramis
  • 1953-11-21 Lisa Goldstein
  • 1834-11-23 James Thomson
  • 1887-11-23 Boris Karloff
  • 1851-11-24 T. O’Conor Sloane, Ph.D.
  • 1916-11-24 Forrest J. Ackerman
  • 1925-11-24 William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • 1948-11-24 Spider Robinson
  • 1926-11-25 Poul Anderson
  • 1941-11-25 Sandra Miesel
  • 1963-11-25 Tony Daniel
  • 1974-11-25 Sarah Monette
  • 1894-11-26 Norbert Wiener
  • 1919-11-26 Frederik Pohl
  • 1956-11-26 Al von Ruff
  • 1907-11-27 L. Sprague de Camp

(Obviously not much else to do in the cold, dark days of late February.)

Science

Earth

Space: ‘Oumuamua

Space: Other

Other

History

Humor

Music

Here are a couple more tunes…

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Review: Amazing, Fall 2018

Amazing, Fall 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “Captain Future in Love (Part One)” by Allen Steele (serialized science fiction novella)
  • “Harry’s Toaster” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (science fiction short story)
  • “Beyond Human Measure” by Dave Creek (science fiction short story)
  • “Flight of an Arrow” by Shirley Meier (short story)
  • “Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” by Kameron Hurley (science fiction short story)
  • “Foster Earth” by Julie Czerneda (science fiction novelette)
  • “Slipping Time” by Paul Levinson (fantasy short story)
  • “When Angels Come Knocking” by Drew Hayden Taylor (fantasy short story)

The Fall 2018 issue of Amazing (which came out in August) marks yet another resurrection of the venerable title. As such, I’ll spend some time on general and non-fictional aspects of the magazine before moving on to its fiction.

Non-Fiction

The new Amazing is attractively presented, with interior illustrations and cartoons (the first is especially funny) enlivening its three-column layout which packs in a lot of wordage relative to its 104 pages. An interesting bit of style is the use of the first column of each story for a drawing of the author set above the biographical blurb. A problem (though less of one than for many other magazines) is that there are several typos or misspellings, poor word breaks, and uncorrected grammatical lapses. Its common in other magazines of this sort to present a fraction of an item followed by a “continued on Page N” and I appreciate that they don’t do this, but have complete non-fiction articles bookending the complete run of stories.

Speaking of that non-fiction, it opens with a presumably irregular “Publisher’s Note” from Steve Davidson which thanks everyone, living or not, who contributed to this revival and makes a good point about Amazing being not just a magazine, but a symbol of science fiction and “the genre’s birth place.” The rest of the non-fiction columns are presumably regular. Raconteur Robert Silverberg, the current Memory of the Field, relates his history with Amazing in an engaging piece. In the last piece before the fiction, NASA man Jack Clemons brings us a regular column on space exploration.

Moving to the back, there’s a “European Author Profile” (interview) from Gary Dalkin on Tade Thompson. While Wells and Verne were major early Europeans drafted by Amazing, I’m not sure what the real connection is and if simply profiling one of the authors published in the issue, like Analog and many other magazines do, wouldn’t have been better. Then there’s a movie review column from Steve Fahnestalk rather than a book review column (shades of some of Amazing‘s more multimedia periods) and, lastly, an editorial from Ira Nayman on the uses and abuses of stories, amazing or otherwise.

Fiction

The fiction reminds me most of Galaxy’s Edge, overall. There’s science fiction and fantasy, the former is usually far from hard, and both include humor. There may also be some comparison to On Spec in that there’s a strong Canadian (specifically Ontarian) presence which includes the editor and a third of the authors.

It begins with a two-part serial of Allen Steele’s “Captain Future in Love” which, if the parts are at all equal, will be a novella. There is also a reprint of Rudy Rucker’s 2013 tale “Apricot Lane” which is typical of the author.

The original fiction opens with “Harry’s Toaster.” In the award-winning “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” (IAsfm, July 1987), Harry runs a diner which serves as a nexus for travelers of parallel worlds and sometimes receives strange payments from them but the story primarily concerns his assistant. In this short, humorous (but lesser) follow-up, the focus is on Harry as he’s paid with a “toaster” which doesn’t have anything to do with bread.

Beyond Human Measure” is also a sequel, this time to “Stealing Adriana” (Analog, October 2008), and related to others. Carrie Molina is guarding Vicari, the evil nut who tortured and killed Carrie’s sister Adriana. They are on a mission to try to save a sick Jupiter whale who is the only one who can broker a peace deal between other whales. Because of Vicari’s modifications, he’s the only one who can heal it. When Vicari falls ill himself and needs to take an extraordinary step to accomplish the mission, Carrie must choose between her hatred of him and her desire to, um, save the whale. Leaving aside Jupiter whales, Vicari’s uniqueness is implausible, the emotions aren’t convincing, there are repeated minor contradictions (such as Carrie saying she’d never turn her back on Vicari when she’s done just that immediately prior and will again later) and much “as you know, Bob” and telling rather than showing (such as Vacari saying, “I’ll walk all of you through this so it’s clear what I’m doing”). Finally, the story veers sharply from a sort of science fiction towards a sort of fantasy.

Flight of an Arrow” conveys its grimdarkness well but is too sadomasochistic for me. It’s also categorically odd because, despite a practically impossible ending, I couldn’t find any fantasy (not to mention SF) in it. A small man who is poor with a sword but a superb archer attracts the animosity of an extremely ignoble noble and, after his wife is insulted and the men fight a duel with swords, the archer loses and is blinded, put into a miserable, filthy cell, and abused for a long period until the noble drunkenly offers him one chance at freedom.

Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” is a profanity-filled tale which is fixated on smells, so I might mention the musty odor of decayed cyberpunk this gives off. A wimp of a man and a super-warrior of a woman are “gene-freaks” who hunt down other gene-freaks, perhaps as victims of divide-and-rule. No changes are rung on the dystopian cli-fi scenario and the characters don’t come alive but some may find the pace and smart-aleck narration from the wimp give it energy.

Slipping Time” is actually a pun on “timeslipping.” Sometimes, when the protagonist accidentally slips and falls, he travels backwards in time a few hours, days, or weeks. This gives him a do-over after a fight with his girlfriend. The ending doesn’t punch and, because it’s not mechanical or rationalized in any way, I call it a fantasy, but it’s a decent read.

A woman is trying to bead “When Angels Come Knocking” (or an angel, anyway). Gabriel’s come to tell her she’s been picked to be the next mother of the son of God but times have changed and she’s got her own opinions about that honor. This is much like “Slipping Time,” both in terms of its ending and overall readability, but did have an early line that hit me sideways and made me laugh out loud.

Saving the best for last, in “Foster Earth,” humanity is part of a six species “Hub” when aliens, who come to be called “The Silent,” go around dropping off some of their babies to each of those species. This does not generally go well. This story concerns two main threads: one of official investigations, with most of those scenes featuring scientist Zeynep Qadri, and a more personal experiment in which Ernest and Julia (Gallo?), who have recently lost a son, become foster parents of one alien infant. They all work to unravel the mystery of the aliens and establish meaningful contact. It all seems biologically implausible, the movement between scenes feels choppy, and, again, this is a little shaky on the dismount with the last line seeming overly forced and sentimental but it was engaging and read quickly. The Hub feels a bit like Isaac’s Universe (a shared universe created by Asimov in 1990) and that and the general story has a dash of Cherryh. The sense of a lively universe, median society, and real individuals being involved in intellectually and emotionally stimulating things was strongly conveyed and welcome.