Selected Stories: 2019-01-23

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

This is the first review in a probably semi-regular series which notes stories from the “selectively reviewed magazines” (magazines which, as of 2019, I read but don’t review in full).

Noted Original Fiction:

  • All Show, No Go” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Galaxy’s Edge #36, January/February 2019 (science fiction short story)
  • I’ve Got the World on a String” by Edward M. Lerner, Galaxy’s Edge #36, January/February 2019 (science fiction short story)
  • Skinned” by Rich Larson, Terraform, January 10, 2019 (science fiction short story)
  • VTE” by S. R. Algernon, Nature, January 23, 2019 (science fiction short story)
  • What It Sounds Like When You Fall” by Natalia Theodoridou, Nightmare #76, January 2019 (recommended dark fantasy short story)

(The recommendation for “The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman, Diabolical Plots #47, January 2019, would appear here but I reviewed it for Tangent.)

Galaxy’s Edge #36 is above average. Three of the eight original tales are between four and six thousand words and all have their interesting points. “Show” sticks out for me. In it, a first-person narrator finds out that the family robot can do a lot more than would be expected, including creating atomically (though not sub-atomically) identical copies of things. This being in an SF magazine, the plot naturally involves duplicating rare pulps for fun and profit, thanks to the robot’s hedonistic programming. Meanwhile, the narrator has to deal with her(?) antagonistic father when things go well and a bunch of irate customers and the cops when things go wrong. Aside from the pulp references, this is not an overtly “retro” tale but reads like classic SF. However, I find the quantum elements of the story as problematic as they are clever and, even aside from the duo’s main difficulty, I’m not sure how they actually got away with things to the extent they did. Otherwise, this is an unusual, fun, modern robot story with some meaningful character relations.

The five tales which are about two thousand words or significantly less are generally much less interesting but “String” has fun word play and is an excellent analysis of the foibles of string theory, though the story takes it in an opposite and fantastic direction. As short as it is, it’s still a little long and maybe the protagonist could have done something more with his breakthrough, but the tale is entertaining and has some substance.

Turning to noteworthy stories from other magazines, “Skinned” shares some thematic preoccupations with the same author’s “Smear Job” in last month’s Analog and also unsurprisingly makes me think of Rjurik Davidson’s “Skins” (Cosmos, 2015) and other stories about people wearing other bodies. This particular flash piece focuses on the “wearing,” in which the body you choose can be a fashion statement and the main character thinks she’s made a daring choice by taking a man’s body off the sex offender registry and making modifications to it for her own purposes. Neither her hopes nor her fears prepare her for the actual results.

VTE” here stands for “Vicarious Trial and Error” and simultaneously discusses and is a sort of macroscopic double-slit experiment as a scientist dines with another man. I don’t think such extrapolations are plausible and, since there’s a “get out of jail free” card involved, it seems like the plot could have been more foolproof (though pravda has been as strange as this fiction), but it’s still a fun and thought-provoking tale.

In “Fall,” it’s Uncle Pete’s funeral, so he gets dressed for it and the family accompanies him to his grave. Angels have fallen and they’re a lot like birds and vermin but sometimes bring valuable trinkets with the junk they collect for people who are nice to them. Pete’s due to die because he’s lost his job helping his younger brother, the father of our young narrator. Dad is also unemployed except for shooting angels which gets him pennies a dozen. The narrator deals with family life, talks to the buried but not-yet-dead uncle, and interacts with the angels. This is a creative and powerful (though nihilistic) tale of multiple losses (or falls).