Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Past Prologue”

Continuing my binge-watching of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (having watched the pilot about five months ago), “Past Prologue” introduces plain, simple Garak in the opening scene

and he recruits a singularly befuddled Dr. Bashir to be his liaison. This comes in handy as the Klingon ne’er-do-wells, Lursa and Betor, are on the station and up to no good, not coincidentally when a Bajoran terrorist has escaped the Cardassians and is planning his own evil deeds. This puts Major Kira in a major bind.

She’s sporting a nice new haircut after the pilot. Her conversation with the terrorist, Los, paints her backstory as a resistance fighter in fascinatingly gray tones of complex shapes. The ideas of dependence and independence, picking your battles, loyalty (to whom and why?) are raised in thought-provoking, if heavy-handed ways. An even better conversation starts to build the Kira-Odo relationship as well as furthering the elements raised by the first talk. All the character elements and moral conflicts are intriguing and one of the reasons I prefer DS9 to all other Star Treks. That said, this episode resonates better after you’ve become more familiar with the characters and their arcs (especially Garak’s – though why he’s a “clothier” in a world of replicators is never made convincing) and the action-adventure plotting is not the strongest. To be such a tough fighter, Kira sure can’t fight and as little as she does isn’t well-choreographed to be dignified and the episode ends not with the promised bang but a whimper.

DS9 hadn’t fully hit its stride here, but this was an interesting and not-bad follow-up to a pilot in the similar ballpark.


Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-18)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Issue #247 of BCS could be called the “swords into ploughshares” issue. “Braving the Morrow Candle’s Wane” is not a fantasy but simply vaguely medieval. The story itself is of an old lady trying to distract a soldier, who is hunting for the girl she’s hiding, with a tale of her own gain and loss of one faith during a war and the different faith she replaced it with. The climax hinges on how the soldier reacts.

I’m not often privileged to read a masterpiece but, at least in the heat of the moment, I feel that “The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” is. It’s the tale of a war and the supremely devoted chef who, by being just what he was, changed the world. A very unusual take on the maxim that an army travels on its stomach. The story of that chef is told by a master chef to an apprentice in five segments which makes it both metafictional and a listory, which are often fatal things to attempt, but this story’s metafictional aspects serve the story, heightening, rather than distracting from or being snide about, its storyness. And the list is more in the way of section headers in a normal, full-bodied narrative but serve to keep the story’s proportions and pace perfect. This story’s tone is another thing that’s handled perfectly and the tale could be placed in that section of a textbook. It’s lightly told, yet with full seriousness, feeling the pains of war while softening them to bearable levels, feeling very much like the narrator is a full character but isn’t a metafictional (in a bad way) stand-in for the author. The style is generally a significant part of this and it’s amazing how beautiful the prose is, to be basically so plain and devoid of any “preciousness.” It also does a wonderful job of managing its dimensions, with a foreground story given depth and scope by casual but ominous background references to, for example, blood mages and harvests. Another of the strongest features can be described by the story itself: “From time to time one bites through one of the tiny pockets of parsley and garlic, and their unexpected flavors burst in your mouth.” This story is full of such pockets, from the soldiers being especially happy due to not having died, to artists being a little crazy, to what people often do when puzzled, to the significance of the belief in one’s insignificance, to the soldier’s collecting seasoning leaves, to the value of desire to an almost hopeless prisoner, to infinity. I don’t even think a main character’s name (Eres) is an accident (a blend of Ares and Eros?) Finally, as is often the case when I’m reading a story I’m thrilled by, I’m afraid it’ll fall on the dismount. I’ll grant that some could find a little too much of one thing or a little too much of another but, for me, this manages a perfect blend of light and shadow.

Lest this all sound like a mere technical tour de force, I’ll say that it’s a story about war and memory and food (and you don’t need to be a gourmand to appreciate it – I was eating a Hot Pocket® during part of it) which is to say, it’s about things that matter. And you will care about the characters’ fates. Wonderful. I don’t see how this won’t be in multiple year’s bests and up for awards.

Perhaps my story circuits were blown by that story because the next one I read was “Cosmic Spring” which I can’t quite fully recommend. (I don’t ordinarily cover reprints/translations but I made an exception, not least because this was “translated” by the bilingual author and originally published this year.) It’s a far-far future eschatological tale about an AI piloting Earth to the last star in the universe. It may blow some readers’ minds and it accomplishes a great deal in a short space but, perhaps by having only an AI character and only that short space, there’s something faintly clinical about it despite all its cosmic-scale concerns about consciousness and history. Still, it’s very likely worth a look for most readers.

All stories this week aside from “War of Light and Shadow” were three thousand words or less (most significantly less) and, aside from it and “Cosmic Spring,” were much less striking. “Data” involves a guy being confronted by his BDSM (Big Data Special Manager) for not behaving as his statistics say he should but has no story. That problem similarly afflicts “A Very Large Number of Moons” which is an otherwise appealing and surreal tale of a collector of moons in conversation with someone who tracked the former down wanting a particular moon of importance to the latter. Ditto the also oddly passionless “The Last Rites of Quotient Lorenzo-Lochbaum” in which a mother, who is about to benefit from her daughter’s self-sacrifice in a “cap and trade” system of (im)mortality), answers her child’s dying question about whether she would do anything differently if she had her life to live over. The mother’s answer tells us about their current society and the personalities of both women, painting an odd picture which does not flatter anyone, especially not the mother herself, or her society. Or ours. Finally, “Soft Clay” is yet another underplotted story which is mostly a fantasy and which involves a shapeshifter, who had been created by a mad (from grief) scientist, drifting from person to person and being defined by them. This has disturbingly incestuous and infantilizing elements that don’t seem entirely intentional or addressed. Aside from that, it’s reminiscent of things like van Vogt’s “Vault of the Beast” and, especially, Spinrad’s “Child of Mind” but from the object’s POV.

Links (2018-03-14)

I let this one get away from me just like the last one. On the upside, there almost has to be something of interest for almost everyone reading it. (By the way, if anyone wants to send me links for these posts or comment on anything, please do.)



Definitions of dystopia.






  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Could Disappear Within 20 Years. Or not. It’d be weird if it did, though. Not even Earth’s continents are permanent features but somehow Jupiter wouldn’t seem like Jupiter without it.
  • A Plausible Path for Life on Enceladus. I’d gotten to the point where I’d usually groan when modern SF featured life in this system because it had come to seem so unlikely (and still is in most depictions) but this is an interesting argument. I still wouldn’t count on it, but it definitely seems possible.
  • Computation Between the Stars. Science fiction writers, read this. Another intriguing attempt to answer the Fermi question.


  • In sad news, I learned today that one of the giants of the 20th century science will no longer be part of the crew as we continue into the 21st century on Spaceship Earth: Stephen Hawking Biography (1942-2018).
  • In prior sad news, SF Site informed me that Peter Nicholls, founder of one of science fiction’s monuments, the Encylopedia of Science Fiction, died. SFE, itself, has a memorial piece: Peter Nicholls (1939-2018) (thanks to File 770).

 Science Fiction

Magazines and Short Fiction




  • Black Gate » Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?. An exuberant review of the good, the bad, and the ugly of an SF publishing institution.
  • In Praise of Negative Reviews | Rafia Zakaria. This is more about books than stories and may even have a different kind of “review” in mind but it still applies in part. It decries the number of trophies given out for participation these days and I agree with that much. I particularly like the points on inclusion and on the general meaninglessness of uniform praise. If I like a story, interested parties know I really like the story. (Thanks to File 770.)


Been reveling in Downside Up. Have some!

Continue reading

Review of Interzone #274 for Tangent

This issue of Interzone could be subtitled “The Philip K. Dick Issue.” In most of these stories, you will find yourself looking for the ontological floor and wondering who your friends and enemies are and what constitutes success or failure. While most stories of this kind are not great and those of this issue are no exception, there are a couple of good ones, including one superb one.

Full review at Tangent: Interzone #274, March/April 2018.


  • “Never the Twain” by Michael Reid

Honorable Mention:

  • “baleen, baleen” by Alexandra Renwick

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-10)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

  • Of Warps and Wefts” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo, Strange Horizons, March 5, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Writing for the End of the World” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez, Nature, March 7, 2018 (short story)
  • Mr. Try Again” by A. Merc Rustad, Nightmare #66, March [7], 2018 (horror short story)
  • Al-Kahf” by Beesan Odeh, Lightspeed #94, March [8], 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Inventor” by Arif Anwar, Terraform, March 9, 2018 (science fictional short story)

I added the delayed coverage of BCS #246 to the previous Wrap-Up on the 9th. This light week produced five mostly unrelated, mostly unremarkable stories and, returning to usual practice, they are all covered here.

Of Warps and Wefts” is about Chime who is married to her husband Ping except at night when he becomes Ding who is the wife of a dragon poacher and she becomes Dime who is the husband of a hippie. Because of Ding’s new marriage, he’s been neglecting Chime. Some may find the random babble of “tomato sauce and unicorn pee” entertaining but, since there are no actual dragons or unicorns, they may find it annoying and pointless.

Writing for the End of the World” is another pseudo-apocalyptic metafictional piece from Nature which takes an old joke as a serious reason for writing apocalypses.

Mr. Try Again“: Welcome to Swamp Woebegone, where all the women are victims, all the men evil killers, and all the children are half-dead. Yet another revenge fantasy, though it does a reasonable job of creating a brief monster mythos.

Al-Kahf” is a modern fairy tale about a man plucking a sea-jinn from the sea to heal his sick boy. The jinn isn’t pleased. This tale would be fine but the ending is simple and rather pointless. Which is kind of the point, so to speak, but isn’t satisfying.

The Inventor” shows the reality distortion field is immortal, as it seems to idolize either someone like a certain Apple exec or actually translates him to modern Syria in a kind of alternate reality. It aims to underscore the hidden costs of war but I think most people  realize this and won’t get anything new from it.

Review of Trope-ing the Light Fantastic for Tangent

Trope-ing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction is a collection of sixteen articles by science and science fiction writer Edward M. Lerner. They were originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact from 2011 to 2016 and have been “integrated, expanded…, and updated” for this book….

Full review at Tangent: Trope-ing the Light Fantastic.

(I reviewed this a month and a half ago but it’s just being published now.)

Review: Apex #106

Apex #106, March 2018

  • “Irregularity” by Rachel Harrison (science fiction novelette~)
  • “We Are New(s)” by Bentley A. Reese (science fiction short story)
  • “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw (fantasy short story)

Again I have to apologize for not making this review shorter, which is especially ironic with this issue where the shorter, the better.

In the recent past of “Irregularity,” aliens have invaded the system and been repulsed, Because “it was decided that computers on their own couldn’t keep humanity safe,” space stations have been manned by a crew of two who work seven days a week, twelve hours a day, jacked into a machine, monitoring the stars. The protagonist spends a lot of time thinking about his estranged girlfriend, suffers a blast of what he thinks is feedback, starts bleeding and going crazy, and things only get worse for the brief remainder of the story.

Long review, short: The actual “I’m a lonely person having a miserable time here in this terrible place doing this awful job” is apparently the main intent and is effectively conveyed. It’s just that, to me, the structure it rests on is unbelievable and the person going through it is unappealing.

Long: This “novelette” (labeled “7500 words” and in the adjustment range, though I get 7440 words) initially made me think of, and is very much like, one of George R. R. Martin’s less successful early stories, “The Second Kind of Loneliness” though it later made me think of the less appealing parts of Moon but, really, is like any number of “madness on a space station” stories. The reason it made me think of “Loneliness” goes beyond that to its implausibly contrived nature. Rather than reprogram our AIs we make humans do work AIs are much better suited for? Work of 84 hour weeks? Giving top security clearance to the deceitful protagonist who was washed out of pilot training for his lies? Giving the crew the power to impair and shut down the system’s defenses? The narrative contains some attempted explanations, one quoted in the synopsis and another which mentions that it’s cheap (which is why we don’t spend billions on defense) but they don’t work for me. Other than deceitfulness, self-pity, living in the past, and having a “pliable” brain (which is enough to make him unappealing) the protagonist isn’t characterized much but more than his girlfriend who is nothing but a rich, entitled cypher, while his coworker is just a name. Speaking of names, his is Nyle Crane. Not everyone knows Frasier, perhaps especially not those in the UK, but a large percentage of readers will be unable to get “Niles Crane” out of their heads. Also, its written in an obtrusive present tense for no discernible reason which (along with the close third-person) makes the ending (which would be dissatisfying under any circumstances) even more problematic. Those are some of the things that bothered me but may not bother you. If not and you are one of many who enjoy dark, paranoid, space station stories, you may enjoy this.

Of the two quite short pieces, the SF one, “We Are New(s),” is “A Clockwork Orange: 2092” when London comes a-walkin’ and 11,219 eyes observe a street boy and a “posh gurl” meeting. A thoroughly dystopian, misanthropic (or mis-something, anyway) piece about the media making us do it, about “interest.” A little long and a lot unappealing to me (and present tense, again) but effective enough. Very similar to, though scuzzier than, Rich Larson’s “Razzibot” in this month’s Analog. The fantasy, “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places,” completes the present tense trifecta, and puts a second-person cherry on top. That said, this is an odd tale in which you are a priest of the plane who, in psychic conversation with it, basically asks, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own home?” as a good sky pilot should. This is not plainly written, of course, but not overwritten, and is hardly sunny, but not terribly dark. A fairly interesting (if static) story that may have its fans.