- “But, Still, I Smile” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (science fiction? novelette)
- “When Home, No Need to Cry” by Erin K. Wagner (science fiction short story)
- “Death of an Air Salesman” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
- “Dreams Strung Like Pearls Between War and Peace” by Nin Harris (fantasy short story)
- “Treasure Diving” by Kai Hudson (science fiction short story)
- “The Thing with the Helmets” by Emily C. Skaftun (science fantasy short story)
(I would ordinarily have had this review done awhile ago but I’ve been under the weather.)
“Smile” would seem to be matching a woman’s personal efforts to produce human life and her professional efforts to find alien life but I quit reading it a quarter of the way through. Since the author and editor are paid to produce English and failed, the review is that it doesn’t meet the minimum standards for a review.* “Cry” would seem to take place in the same hospital as the prior story with associates similarly breaking rules for the protagonist. In this, it’s not a woman’s child, but the woman herself who is dying. She’s gone into space and had an Experience, developed cancer, and is now on Earth, waiting to die, but wants to go back to space. Many readers may expect one of a couple of interesting things to happen but will be disappointed. “Death” portrays a woman meeting a great guy and having a great relationship with him. Since this takes place in a dystopia of plague, unbreathable air, and wage slavery broken only by brief rentals of tiny cubicles in which people can watch gore and porn while not sleeping, it’s clear things aren’t as they seem. “Dreams” is not SF but is a steampunk fantasy/revenge fantasy in which a plethora of ethnic-like groups revolt against oppression. “Diving” has a familiar setting and involves a critter nearly getting eaten by a giant mutant anglerfish while diving for radioactive “treasure” and somehow surviving a breach of her pressure suit. The atypically hopeful elements which arise from all this might be welcome but aren’t convincing. “Helmets” is the real outlier of the issue. It doesn’t quite work but is better than the rest, unless “Death.” It’s reminiscent of “A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning” by Beth Cato (Little Green Men–Attack!, 2017) with its bizarre juxtaposition of aliens and roller derby and other incongruities. The latter include eldritch helmets which elevate the roller derby girls to worthy adversaries of the invading aliens – but at a cost. This is the sort of thing that might be just silly enough to work for some readers but I guess I wanted it to be even sillier.
* The first two thousand words contained at least:
It was like those old nursery rhymes where one thing compiled on the next compiled on the next and became a monstrous sentence with qualifiers abound.
It was while thinking this… that the strange anomaly caught my breath.
An anomalous pattern of radio signals. It wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before.
pocketed the stickers fast like they were contraband [no “like” – they were contraband]
The nurse must have watching over me, rooting for me. She didn’t mention to anyone else about the miscarriage… She had simply logged in the necessary checkups…
“If only FTL drives were invented,” I said. “Then we course through to the outskirts of the universe and seek out more lives.”
“Just be lucky we have even enough power to get to Proxima Centauri. So much of our energy put into keeping the seas at bay and the skies barely breathable enough to live. We’re really hanging on a thread…”
While the most extreme example, it was not the only story with special English. For instance, “Dreams” has someone “wrought with fear” (barely possible but more likely “wracked”) and has a “heart beating like a caged bird” in which the figure is so dead no real effort is made to say it properly. (The usual simile is more along the lines of “my heart struggled within my ribs like a caged bird.”) And “Treasure” has “radiation that turned poison over prolonged exposure.”