Review: Lightspeed #106, March 2019

Lightspeed #106, March 2019

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Semi-Original Fiction:

  • “On the Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (science fiction short story)
  • “My Children’s Home” by Woody Dismukes (science fiction short story)
  • “Self-Storage Starts with the Heart” by Maria Romasco Moore (fantasy short story)
  • “A Hundred Thousand Arrows” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy novelette)

As a notice, rather than a review, “Arrows” is the fourth of at least five consecutive out-takes from a “Burnt Empire” novel and takes 40% of this issue’s “original” word count. Also, “Ligeia” is a reprint of a 2018 story originally published in a Chinese magazine, leaving just over 10,000 words of indisputably original fiction in the other two stories.

Home” has steampunk robots and adults, who were once vat-grown children, raising other vat-grown children. There are no females anywhere but D-13 is considered an attractive boy by D-6 and the adult of the house as well as a strange bureaucrat who intervenes to take D-13 away, after which the adult and D-6 react. I could find no real logic in this story and the ending, such as it is, seems like an unwarranted assertion rather than a natural result of events.

Self-Storage” starts poorly with an unappealing protagonist (James) bemoaning the loss of his only friend who’s gotten married, had a kid, and stopped wargaming with him. (The homoerotic element which is brought into the open near the end is obvious from the start.) The fantasy gimmick is that emotions can be stored so that they won’t affect those who store them but it’s expensive. With a little effort and some chewing gum and baling wire, James creates a low-cost DIY version and, with the help of a new business partner, makes the lower-cost service available to others. In this middle, the story became more interesting. But repression is bad and, after an encounter with the old friend (which leaves us wondering why James loves such a jerk, albeit a partially correct jerk) things get worse before an all-too-easy ending which is arguably worse than the beginning.

Finally, I’m not sure whether to review “Ligeia” (the reprint which was billed as an original) because it falls in the cracks in an odd way. On the one hand, it’s a reprint and from a translation and from 2018 but, on the other, this was presumably how it was originally written and it appears in English for the first time in 2019. However, I did read it and the review is simple. On a literary level, almost any propaganda so obvious (or a story so warped for publication) is a failure. In this, an American has gotten a job at the ESA and is exploring Titan via semi-AI robot. The US is scheduled to launch a manned mission to Mars. The US mission fails, the ESA robot gets stuck, and it’s Chinese drones, which have secretly made their way to Titan, to the rescue! I could also complain about how the protagonist initially “sounded like a blithering fanboy, he knew” until he encounters a sign of what may be life and then he “put on his best professional voice” or how the robot was supposedly designed to exhibit curiosity after the fashion of a human but “lurched forward, resuming its biology program, untroubled by the appearance of little flying machines where none should be” (machinery is evidence of biology!)

(As far as the propaganda, it prompted a digression which really doesn’t belong in a review, as such, so I cut it, but I should write another post devoted to the subject soon.)

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Month in Review: February 2019

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Counting a few stories from the late-breaking Tor.com Short Fiction and the last BCS and Terraform stories from January, February produced 48 stories of 210K words.* It also produced the odd results of two recommended dark fantasy/horror stories with no SF or general fantasy and five otherwise noted SF stories with no fantasy (though one could easily be considered yet another sort of dark fantasy/horror). Three of the five come from my two February Tangent reviews of Constellary Tales and InterGalactic Medicine Show, which have some oddness of their own. The former was born recently and I reviewed the second issue. The latter contained the surprising announcement of its death in the editorial. So the gods of short fiction giveth and taketh away.

* Which, between stories from next month’s printzines and some vintage stories, was the minority.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Fantasy

  • The Crying Bride” by Carrie Laben, The Dark #45, February 2019 (dark fantasy short story)
  • Quiet the Dead” by Micah Dean Hicks, Nightmare #77, February 2019 (dark fantasy/horror short story)

Also Mentioned

Science Fiction

  • “All the Things You Want” by Andrew Peery, InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February 2019 (novelette)
  • Ambassador” by Michael Adam Robson, Constellary Tales #2, February 2019 (short story)
  • Early Adopter” by Kevin Bankston, Terraform, February 14, 2019 (short story)
  • Give the Family My Love” by A. T. Greenblatt, Clarkesworld #149, February 2019 (short story)
  • “Reading Dead Lips” by Dustin Steinacker, InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February 2019 (science fantasy novelette)

Reviews

Magazines

Books/Other

News

Selected Stories: 2019-02-26

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

Noted Original Fiction:

  • Early Adopter” by Kevin Bankston, Terraform, February 14, 2019 (science fiction short story)

The weekly stories through February were not very strong and, even with “Early Adopter,” I was not thinking I’d be noting it through the bulk of my reading of it. I’m still kind of astonished that I am. This is a Valentine’s Day romance story which involves a relationship experienced almost completely by gizmo with the implication that possibly giving away all your privacy and information to the Corporate Powers That Be might be a good thing. Also, it has a “Her:/Him:” narrative approach which should get old fast and one can argue that the ending is a hallucinatory nothing. That said, it is a positive high-tech vision of the future with some literary quality. This tale of two people who, through very thick and very thin, can nevertheless not really do without one another for long, achieves a cumulative impact over its large scope, somewhat in the way of Charles Sheffield’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow. So, definitely a mixed bag, but hard to ignore.

Finally, while not quite something I’d generally note, I still want to mention that Tor.com has published a story in January and now one in February which is not in the January/February Tor.com Short Fiction. Erinn Kemper’s “The Song” deals with the people involved in a future whaling industry which provides food for the rich. It’s a powerful expression of misery and horror but only offers nihilism. It also makes me think of Nibedita Sen’s “Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” (Nightmare #69, June 2018) except that the latter tale was a fantasy, was even more effectively written except for one flaw, had more interesting characters, and had similar or more interesting ideas. Still, anyone who was struck by either one might want to take a look at the other.

Edit (2019-02-27): Deleted comment about noted stories from Tangent reviews as that’s not relevant here (because I don’t ordinarily review CT and IGMS on Featured Futures). I confused myself with last month’s note about a DP story I’d reviewed for Tangent which was relevant (because I do ordinarily review that for Featured Futures).

Silverberg’s Stories: 1966-1968

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Contents

  • “Halfway House” (If, November 1966)
  • “By the Seawall” (If, January 1967)
  • “Hawksbill Station” (Galaxy, August 1967)
  • “Bride Ninety-One” (If, September 1967)
  • “Flies” (Dangerous Visions, October 1967)
  • “The King of the Golden River” (Galaxy, December 1967)
  • “Passengers” (Orbit 4, 1968)
  • “Going Down Smooth” (Galaxy, August 1968)
  • “To the Dark Star” (The Farthest Reaches, August 1968)
  • “As Is” (Worlds of Fantasy, September 1968)

The first post in this series began with the first story Silverberg sold to Pohl under their special arrangement and jumped ahead to cover “Hawksbill Station” from this post’s period. The second briefly mentions the next five independent stories but focuses on the series of five stories which make up the book, To Open the Sky. This post will cover the stories between those and the series of three stories which make up Nightwings, except for the already-covered “Hawksbill Station” and “As Is,” which has never been collected. (This period also includes the one serial sold to Pohl from the many novels Silverberg was publishing: The Man in the Maze (Galaxy, April and May 1968). That is a good science fictionalization of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, using a human protagonist made intolerable to other humans by an alien-imposed psychic taint.)

Halfway House” and “Flies” are two very different takes on a “cruel martyr” theme. In the former, a terminally ill man goes through a “singularity” to try to make a deal with the aliens on the other side which will save his life. What he ends up having to do is take the place of the guy interviewing him and deciding the fates of other petitioners. The existential reality of this is not what he expected. In the latter, a spaceship accident kills everyone on board but aliens rebuild one man from fragments and “improve” him. What follows is a brutal reunion with his three wives while the main character meditates, with flat affect, on the Shakespeare line which gives the story its title. This was published in Dangerous Visions and there’s overreach for effect. Given that the terminally ill man sought his destiny while it was thrust upon the dead man, one might think the conclusions would be different but they’re not, much.

As the preceding deal with martyrs of sorts, so “To the Dark Star” deals with scapegoats. A human man, a modified human woman, and an alien go to witness the birth of a black hole. None of the crew can stand each other and one of them must experience a mind-shattering mental union with the black hole (or something like that). Each human vigorously tries to force the other to do it until something gives. The narrative voice doesn’t contradict the internal rationale given, which reflects poorly on humanity. However, as the story actually plays out, I think it’s rather a “psychic physics” problem, so to speak. Either way, it’s not a bad story but the science feels like fantasy and, even so, that background is more interesting than the foreground of unpleasant characters.

Bride Ninety-One,” which Pohl bought, has a vibe like “Day Million,” which Pohl sold a year and a half earlier so I assume that’s no accident. In this strange and somewhat humorous tale, contract marriages are the norm and a human and a Suvornese contract a six-month marriage with both going through some odd changes given that they are so different, especially since the Suvornese is intent on having a human-style marriage. It doesn’t stop there, though.

While all four of the preceding have their points and are more interesting than most of what I read today, I’d put them in the back half. Moving to the better tales, “Going Down Smooth” is a sort of black comedy (with binary/ASCII profanity) which is presented as the stream of consciousness of an AI that’s gone mad, perhaps due to having the job of dealing with insane humans. (The title comes from its commentary on humans losing their adverbs (which also bugs me) and has to do with “garbage in, garbage out.” Everything going down smooth… they mean smoothly.) There comes a point in the story where it gets some counseling of its own and it’s feeling much better now.

Passengers” isn’t much interested in declaring its genre but powerfully presents what may be an alien invasion in terms of demonic possession. Humans are taken for rides which are somewhat like blackouts in which they are essentially absent and generally amnesiac but from which vague traces may remain. Society has come to ignore people when they are being ridden and continues to muddle along. One of the conventions is that what happens while being ridden stays there but, when a man realizes he’s in love with a woman after both were possessed and had sex together, he seeks to break that taboo. The ending might be read differently today than then but I think the general blackly ironic intent persists. The description of the social and individual madness, topped off with the paranoia involved with not even being sure whether you’re possessed or not, is very effective.

In “By the Seawall,” Micah-IV is an artificial person guarding a vast structure which, along with a poison zone and an electrified zone in the waters, fends off seamonsters. While a couple of sectors of the wall have become famous for having threatening assaults from monsters, his section hasn’t and he wishes something exciting would happen. That’s granted when a person circumvents safety protocols and commits suicide by leaping off the wall and using a “gravity chute” to propel himself beyond the barriers to be eaten by the monsters. This is the first in a wave of suicides which perplexes Micah-IV so much that he goes to extreme lengths to understand it. As with “Passengers,” it’s unfortunate that it’s so overtly New Wavy with its refusal to explain the seamonsters and its downer (literally) core of the story, but the description of the wall, monsters, and suicides are extremely effective and the existential plight of everyone down to the protagonist has its resonance. I was impressed by the milieu and the story produced an effective feeling of weirdness. (Incidentally, this may have inspired a couple of recent (2017, 2018) stories in Clarkesworld by Finbarr O’Reilly.)

The King of the Golden River” could be called “Wife of the King of the Volcano People” because the King isn’t the main character and the Golden River is less impressive and relevant to the story than the volcanoes. It actually did have a variant title in its original magazine publication but that was “King of the Golden World” which makes even less sense. Be that as it may, it involves Elena’s search for meaning. She ends up on an alien world where the native inhabitants are close enough to human for non-reproductive sex and becomes the wife of a king. His people live on a double-peaked volcanic island and she worries about getting everyone evacuated when the time of eruption nears. What ensues leads to the defining moment of her existence. I like that we can think whatever we like about Elena and even she isn’t sure what to think of herself. The setting is a bit contrived but is as vividly drawn as the one in “By the Seawall” and the atmosphere of tension and the eventual action of the relatively basic plot is effective.

Review: IGMS #67, February 2019 (at Tangent)

The surprising editorial of the February/March InterGalactic Medicine Show announces that the magazine will be ending with the June/July issue. So this turns out to be the antepenultimate issue and it’s a pretty good one. It includes a novelette and four short stories, three of which are fairly science fictional and two of which are more like science fantasies. The strongest part of the issue comes in its middle three stories, which include two of the more science fictional tales and one of the more fantastic ones.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Reading Dead Lips” by Dustin Steinacker (science fantasy novelette)
  • “All the Things You Want” by Andrew Peery (science fiction short story)

Links: 2019-02-22

Science Fiction

Gen Lit

  • E. E. Cummings’ “Anti-Acknowledgement” – Learn Fun Facts.
  • Gleanings from the Past #80 – Learn Fun Facts. There’s a Lovecraft quote in here but I wanted to repeat a different one. I wouldn’t have thought C. S. Lewis and I would agree on much, but this is nearly perfect: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Birthdays

  • 1925-02-22 Edward Gorey
  • 1564-02-23 Christopher Marlowe
  • 1932-02-23 Majel Barrett
  • 1786-02-24 Wilhelm Grimm
  • 1921-02-24 Richard Powers
  • 1917-02-25 Anthony Burgess
  • 1918-02-26 Theodore Sturgeon
  • 1946-02-26 Phyllis Eisenstein
  • 1533-02-28 Michel de Montaigne

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.

Science

Other

History

Humor

Music

  • Weekly Song Challenge. My contributions are below the fold. Anyone who wants to can consider themselves tagged.

Continue reading

Review: F&SF, March/April 2019

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
March/April 2019

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Original Fiction:

  • “The Unbearable Lightness of Bullets” by Gregor Hartmann (sf short story)
  • “The Plot Against Fantucco’s Armor” by Matthew Hughes (f novelette)
  • “At Your Dream’s Edge” by S. Qiouyi Lu (f short story)
  • “All of Me” by R. S. Benedict (f novella)
  • “miscellaneous notes from the time an alien came to band camp disguised as my alto sax” by Tina Connolly (sf short story)
  • “The Mark of Cain” by John Kessel (f short story)
  • “Playscape” by Diana Peterfreund (f short story)
  • “The Free Orcs of Cascadia” by Margaret Killjoy (short story)
  • “Dear Sir or Madam” by Paul Park (sf short story)
  • “Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Jerome Stueart (f novelette)
  • “Bella and the Blessed Stone” by Nick DiChario (short story)
  • “Contagion’s Eve at the House Noctambulous” by Rich Larson (sf novelette)

I enjoyed F&SF last year. It had more stories I regarded as the “best of the year” than any other magazine. Things are inexplicably different so far this year, though this issue does have two stories of note (one recommended). The remaining ten divide evenly into “okay” and “not so much.” One striking feature of this issue is how fuzzy they are in terms of science fiction vs. fantasy with some not being much of either one. Another is that GWAR and Ozzy Osbourne are referenced in separate stories. Along with alto saxes, clarinets, and Debussy.

Plot” is another novelette about the wizard Thelerion’s henchman Baldemar. He gets caught up in an elaborate plot which seems to be about the succession to the throne. Baldemar is shown to be extraordinarily slow-witted and unlucky immediately before we are reminded that he’s been changed by an entity and his “mind worked faster and with more precision now…. And he was lucky.” Luck aside, this is conveniently plotted, with amazingly thin walls plus convenient ducts and ear trumpets for overhearing things and so on. It’s also longer than it needs to be. For example, while the threat of a torture which doesn’t happen can be useful in a story, this red herring gets an entire section rather than a more effective line. Overall, though, the tale was engaging enough and fans of the series will probably be satisfied. In “Unbearable,” Inspector Philippa Song is on the case when a currency trader is murdered. There are several logical glitches such as introducing another cop as a “Pather” or religious fanatic and then describing him as “an ordinary cop,” a “pragmatic man,” and thinking “touche” when arguing with him rather than rejecting his axioms. More significantly, the story is written like a murder mystery but then is solved by action which makes the whole thing deflate like a popped balloon and, worse, ends like it’s a middle. Still, there were several moments of potential.

In slighter middling tales, a child has gone missing from a “Playscape” and the mother is suspected of murder. Another mother tries to suspend judgment and sympathize. This much of the “basically fantasy but SF tale if you want it to be” and its creepy traumatized atmosphere is effective enough but the story undercuts its own theme. (See comments for spoiler.) “Dear Sir” is a dead man’s letter, so to speak, which seems to be by an alien whose business in VR personality re-enactments has gotten a bit strange. “Bella” issues her first prayer when her abusive father comes after her again and he’s killed by a rock flying through the window. This is taken as Sign and she becomes a famous social media saint but the rock must have been of iron because irony is on the way. This is one which is hard to call fantasy or science fiction though its more the latter.

Of the lesser tales, “All of Me” is a tabloid-toned “abused girl’s revenge” novella which puts me in mind of stories like an upside-down “Aurelia” from the same magazine. Instead of a butterfly, we have a starfish who becomes a masochistic movie star after a vicious pretty boy falls into the water near her. We follow her wanderings through interminable murders, usually of her, as we head-and-body hop through manifestations of this regenerating, multiplying entity. With “Postlude,” F&SF matches Asimov’s by having a story which references Debussy but this one’s actually about jazz (well, it’s actually about ham-handed homosexual symbolism but it’s definitely not about classical). A clarinet teacher finds that a football-player-cum-musician has his long-lost “Shaft of Moonlight” as he calls his magic clarinet, which was taken from him by the evangelist baseball player Billy Sunday (who also crushed his legs). While I found the musical portions of the program overwritten, some may respond to it but, if you just want a satyr/musician story, try Lester del Rey’s “The Pipes of Pan.”

Miscellaneous Notes” is about a girl trying to make out with a cute guy at band camp, is written in Teen Girl Gush, and has absolutely no need for its “alien” other than to make it “science fiction.” “Dream’s Edge” is another of these stories which completely melt down any notion of “objective correlative.” A person uses a fantasy “app” to experience nightmares: “An arrow pierces your neck. An arrow pierces your eye. Stop, you want to say, but the word will not come as blood pours from your mouth. Stop, you want to say, but they will never stop.” This is for desensitivity training to make a visit to a family who will “use the wrong pronouns” relatively bearable. Finally, “Free Orcs” fails on several levels, including the basic level of believability. Just as one example, the protagonist is a self-described “good journalist” who goes to a group of pseudo-medieval counter-culturalists to interview an admitted murderer. Without checking anyone else’s story, she believes everything the murderer says, including that he killed his victim because that guy was a leader of a group of fascists while his people are matriarchal. Then the journalist implies majority voting is “dumb” and advocates behaving like the driver at Charleston. Despite the use of the word “orc” and having a made-up group, there’s also nothing more fantastic or science fictional here than what you might find at Burning Man.

Finally, turning to the stories which redeem this issue, it’s hard to call “Cain” (which is a metafictional collection of scenes which nod to alchemy and posthumous fantasy and are interspersed with commentary) a fantasy or even a story but, though a little footloose, it’s not fantasy-free and is story-like. The protagonist, whom we call Cal, narrates some of his less virtuous moments in life and some of these scenes, which all meditate on “the mark of Cain” and man’s innate goodness, badness, and ugliness, have power, especially the one which occurs while fetching the milk. I can’t exactly recommend this and could almost question its being published in this form but, at the same time, have to note the quality, nuance, and power of its parts.

Noctambulous” is a fine story which is thoroughly science fictional but feels almost like a Poe horror story as it describes the rich survivors of biological apocalypse commemorating the event with a get-together and festivities. It’s also a clinic in how to do certain things. It opens in the midst of the action of a boy or young man playing with a servant and produces a sense of the society which can contain these two people who interact the way they do. Because this is an exceedingly unpleasant society, it quickly introduces the protagonist’s brother and the main conflict. Sparked by the vicious older brother’s behavior toward the servant, the younger impulsively humiliates the elder. This makes us sympathetic to the younger without absolving him of his society’s sins. Later, the story preserves contrast by including elements of humor (with an undercurrent of darkness) such as when the father lets his eyes literally wander. The only quibble could be the speech (long-delayed infodump) which tells us about the deeper, darker background to it all. But the action immediately returns with the Doppel hunt, in which the young “kill the weak parts” of themselves by shooting their specially (mis)designed clones. Finally, the dark and twisting ending gives readers a sense of completion while simultaneously compelling them to carry the story into the future with their own imaginations.