- “The Hammer’s Prayer” by Benjamin C. Kinney, Diabolical Plots, December 3, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Mammoth Steps” by Andrew Dana Hudson, Terraform, December 3, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Space Travel and Seafood” by Steven Fischer, Nature, December 5, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Forest Spirits” by Michael J. DeLuca, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266, December 6, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Frozen Meadow, Shining Sun” by Emily McCosh, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266, December 6, 2018 (fantasy short story)
In this sub-par week, the three single-story zines brought us two science fiction stories of under two thousand words and one fantasy of just over three. “Beginner’s Guide” takes the familiar idea of colony ships being leapfrogged by later, faster colony ships and puts it into a familiar cyclical/ironic monologue structure. The only unfamiliar thing is a reference to us as “carbon breathers.” “Mammoth Steps” is a sort of sentimental and undramatic cli-fi tale of an engineered mammoth and his human friend trekking south to meet up with some elephants. It’s nice enough in its way, but makes me think of a significantly lesser “Jackie’s-Boy” (Steven Popkes, April/May 2010 Asimov’s). Like several Diabolical Plots stories recently, “Prayer” is a religious story, this time involving a golem and a woman the golem describes as “wearing a black suit so rumpled and careworn it wanted to slide off on its own in search of a sewing machine” whose “bittersweet smile gripped [him] with the certainty of prayer” and whose “eyes resisted, as sharp as a dream’s leading edge.” She represents “some scientist’s career” and his boss represents those who want others “to serve our country” and they fight over him before he decides to trump them both.
BCS #266 is the “animal women in the woods” issue (with fawns and foxes), the “familiar BCS motifs” issue (with artistic revolutions and kitsune (Ainu/Japanese shapeshifting fox-people)) and the “‘creative’ English” issue (with phrases like, “[o]ne Forester must have stayed on the ridge to fool Cole that his ruse had worked” in one and “she laughed the once I asked” and “[t]he full of the storm is upon us” in the other).
After supposedly interesting things have happened and before more supposedly interesting things will happen, we have the actual content of “Forest Spirits,” in which nothing happens. Our two artistic revolutionaries are in a forest and we’re told that technology (here called “magic” and, like the action, little in evidence in this generally mundane, medieval forest) is bad, has ruined nature, and must be done away with. Two defenders of the status quo and their boars chase them in a remarkably lackadaisical way as they have time to wring out wet clothes, sleep, hug (making me think of “Escape now, hug later!”), and so on. Finally, when they are about to be caught, we see that the climactic moment will be the girl dancing, dancing with Mr. Deer, but that doesn’t actually occur in this story’s frame. Like many “art is revolution” pieces, this isn’t convincing.
“Frozen” deals with a sister who’s gone away and a fox who’s arrived in a storm. The girl learns something about her mother and sibling and follows the fox into the woods where she learns more about her sister and makes a decision about her own life. The conflict here is between the cost of secrecy, the reaction of society (the village) if some of them come out of the closet, and familial desires to stay bonded. When in English, this is the stylistically superior of the two tales, though it seems too familiar and the ending is somewhat implausible (which is minimized by suspending the story before too many difficulties can be played out).