- “To the Beautiful Shining Twilight” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy short story)
- “The Province of Saints” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
- “The City of Lost Desire” by Phyllis Eisenstein (fantasy novella)
- “The Right Number of Cats” by Jenn Reese (fantasy short story)
- “Survey” by Adam-Troy Castro (short story)
- “Blue as Blood” by Leah Cypess (science fictional novelette)
- “The Washer from the Ford” by Sean McMullen (fantasy short story)
- Plumage From Pegasus: “A Walk on the Mild Side” by Paul Di Filippo (science fiction short story)
- “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees” by Marie Vibbert (science fiction short story)
- “Fifteen Minutes from Now” by Erin Cashier (science fictional short story)
- “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” by Pip Coen (fantasy short story)
This issue also includes a reprint of “Joe Diabo’s Farewell” from Andy Duncan’s November 2018 collection, An Agent of Utopia. In terms of original fiction, this 2019 issue wasn’t up to 2018’s standards but had enough in it to be okay, overall.
The titles are split pretty evenly between fantasy and things that might be considered science fiction but the science fiction is fairly weak, especially considered as science fiction. “Blue as Blood” was particularly hard to swallow, as a girl was born on an alien world where they sometimes apply their great medical skills to random humans and have a reputedly sometimes fatal aversion to the color blue which the girl somehow acquires. It’s a story which would seem to be about social tolerance but its theme, as presented, is probably less compelling than even its science fictional clothing. “Infantry Bot” is a fairly flat riff on Dickian “autofac” endless-war sorts of stories, with a “female”(?) bot spouting verse while her companions say “ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die” until the “god into the bot” ending. “Fifteen Minutes” is a nearly 3,000 word monologue in which a time-traveling torturer (and I’m not sure how the time travel is supposed to accomplish anything) threatens an alleged terrorist. Somewhat similarly, “Survey” is a 5,000 word dialog and thought-experiment on sadism rather than science fiction or even fiction. The flash of “Mild Side” takes the real Kate Hamill’s frenetic adaptations of classic novels and simply extends it (“if this goes on”) and then contemplates the backlash to that. Finally, the most interesting of the SF pieces is “The Province of Saints,” another sort of “love song for the very awful,” in which a family is destroyed and a cop is called in to figure out how by interviewing a surviving family member with strange powers. It’s a riff on better killing through brain chemistry which burns the motherhood statement regarding empathy.
The fantasy pieces are both more interesting and more fantastic except for “Cats” which is not so much a fantasy as a surrealist piece in which a woman with a dying or dead girlfriend must embrace the pain to come out the other side, with a razor-bladed spiky cat as a sleeping companion and symbol. Turning to more straightforwardly fantastic pieces, a thief confesses her “Fall” after being coerced by a dandy and a cop into stealing something for them, though nothing turns out to be as it seemed. Either the narrator is a pathological liar in addition to being a thief (in which case nothing in the story can mean much) or it’s all a case of misfortune more than her fault (in which case the story’s kind of pointless) and the tone was off-putting but some may appreciate the reversals. “Twilight” has a lot of backstory (which stories can have without being sequels but this feels like it is and apparently isn’t) but little plot or action as it presents a woman with another visitation from fairyland which forces her to decide between it and the life she’s made for herself in Mundania. Despite its simplicity, it’s pleasant enough. “Washer” is a very strange story based on a real myth (so you can’t fault the author for that part) in which an ominous woman washes clothes for the dead. A man sees a murder and later sees that weird woman before finding that they and he are connected. He learns he has a curse and a power and has to skirmish with the washerwoman in an effort to maintain his power and do something with it. The theme is not burning any motherhood statements but the tale was interesting and some might find the modernization of the myth especially so.
I’m not sure why “City” needed to be a novella but it reads quickly and is probably the best of the issue. Extending the “Alaric the Minstrel” series, this is a sumptuous tale about a trading caravan arriving in a decayed city after a strange, magical interlude in the desert. It seems to be about a lot of things (including, especially, “drugs are bayud, m’kay?”) but turns out to be about the unraveling of a romantic knot (along with the revelation of some backstory). It’s well-constructed and effectively evokes an exotic “Arabian Nights” feeling.