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.


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)

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  • 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.

Review: Galaxy’s Edge #31

Galaxy’s Edge #31, March 2018

  • “Death Rides Shotgun” by Michael Haynes (fantasy short story)
  • “The Stars So Black, the Space So White” by Robert Jeschonek (science fantasy short story)
  • “Things Said to Me in the Anxari 12 Station Bar When I Said I Wasn’t a Xenosexual (and the Things I Wish I’d Had the Courage to Say in Reply)” by Matt Dovey (science fictional short story)
  • “You Get Hit and Your Moose Goes Ping” by Brennan Harvey (science fiction short story)
  • “The Gift” by Regina Kanyu Wang (science fantasy short story)
  • “The Electrifying Aftermath of a Demon Thrice Summoned” by Larry Hodges (fantasy short story)
  • “The Sin of Envy” by George Nikolopoulos (science fiction short story)
  • “Perfect Little Boy” by Jon Lasser (science fiction short story)
  • “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” by Steven H Silver (science fiction short story)

As with the last issue of Galaxy’s Edge, this issue’s original offerings are all short stories or shorter. Unlike the last issue, not everything is fantasy but, like many things lately, most of the things that aren’t straight fantasy only loosely qualify as SF.

(Two odd notes: I  like the cover; three of the authors (Dovey, Harvey, and Lasser) are introduced as various sorts of winners of the “Writers of the Future” contests.)

Perhaps the most interesting and most science fictional of the flash pieces is “The Sin of Envy” which involves a human confronting a robot over its signs of supposed envy but learning that humanity may not be so appealing to a robot. Despite a good thought in here that could have been pushed further, it instead goes for a conventional “twist” ending. The purest fantasy flash is “Death Rides Shotgun,” which is a flip tale of Joseph going to his car to visit his estranged daughter and her new child but finding Death inside. Joseph gets in anyway, because family is important. The other two stories seem to aim for feminist statements which are arrived at awkwardly at best. “The Gift” is a science-free “galactic empire” story about an emperor demanding gifts with which he aims to win back his estranged wife before he Learns Better. “Things Said to Me” is scarcely longer than its title and is a list of nine sexual innuendos from “aliens” followed by repugnantly abrasive insults from our “hero/ine” with a final, variant call and response which makes its mundane point.

The Stars So Black” is a kind of comic book science fantasy about a Georgia bartender having been abducted by aliens and loving it. Initially, rather than describing things which blow our minds, he doesn’t describe things and tells us that, if he did, our minds would be blown. Eventually, he goes on a mission to another universe to try to save ours from  destruction at the hands of its natives. It’s possible some, especially newer or younger readers, would enjoy aspects of this. The space operatic “Emporium” is much like “The Great Culling Emporium” in this Spring’s Cirsova but this deals with a drug dealer trying to sell brussel sprouts to the aliens of the Fifth Zone, who find it a narcotic, when he encounters an old business associate (with ally), gets beat up, and has to deal with their efforts to steal his ship. (And, just as in “Galactic Gamble” from that same issue of Cirsova, he loses the literal “keys” to his spaceship.)

Demon” would be a pure fantasy except that it’s really all in the service of a satire on the American public and our politics—specifically of Donald and Hillary, portraying both as stupid, deceitful, malignant summoners of a demon. The story is narrated by the demon who, when the Senate summons him and botches it, “fixes” things his own way. The humor in this wore thin almost immediately and there’s little depth to the satire, though it is an appealing concept.

Of the more science fictional tales, “Moose” is a time travel story but also gets into a little detail regarding cloning as it tells the tale of an environmentalist from the future getting into a moosemobile while the biological moose is whisked off to the future for a sperm sample. Meanwhile, the protagonist has to deal with an incredibly accurate and persistent hunter and the usual timeline change problems that almost all time travelers have, with an ironic ending. Finally, “Perfect Little Boy” takes the fairly preposterous approach of having a judge’s baby switched with a robot after three days and, every time it goes to the “doctor” (which is apparently very often) it gets sideloaded into a new body and sometimes gets software updates, all in the context of a similarly unconvincing conspiracy of similar child-replacements and surveillance of key people by them. It opens with the naive boy narrator and switches gears into the voice of the sophisticated but conflicted older AI, somewhat in the fashion of Charlie from “Flowers for Algernon” and, had it just been described as a machine brain in an organic humanoid with a convincing conspiracy and similar improvements, might have more successfully targeted similar emotional power and/or phildickian paranoia. This is probably the most substantial story of the issue but fell short for me.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-04)

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[Edit (2018-03-09): Okay, I’m updating this with the BCS stories (see end of post) Friday instead of “Wednesday or Thursday” but it is before the next Wrap-Up.]

BCS seems to be in a different timezone, producing yet another large “science fantasy” issue for the “science fantasy month” of February even though this came out on March 1st from my perspective [which still doesn’t explain anything as the first issue would have had to have come out on Jan.31, then]. It has three stories, including a short story, a novelette, and a longish novella. I was unable to get to those and need to try to cover some other things but I’ll get back to them and update this review, probably by Wednesday or Thursday and definitely before the next Wrap-Up, so check back soon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I’ll cover the other five stories of this week which, if you count BCS‘ science fantasy as SF, is remarkable for being all SF.

The very short stories include “WATCH: The Shocking Assassination of President Guy Fieri” which is another of Terraform‘s minor topical pieces about a “streaming” executive who deals with mystery algorithms while her fight for streaming ratings leads to rudderless shifting down to the lowest common denominator. “Lava Cake for the Apocalypse” is one of three stories of the five which deal with the humanity of earth being under threat or extinct. For the young year, this is at least the eighth of what I’ve suddenly started calling “listories” (stories written in list form, often proclaiming their listitude in their titles). This is another minor tale which has a New Worlder collecting ingredients for a recipe from Old Earth during a conflict between the two. Finally, “What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” is one of those non-human first-person tales where strange things are taken for granted and normal things seem weird. In this, humanity is gone and a sea creature has made a gizmo which enables it to explore the surface where it makes an odd friend. I want to like this and it is likeable but the odd friend could only exist like that for a brief time after an apocalypse and this seems to be a long time after. Aside from that, neither critter behaves entirely believably. A nice idea, though.

Breakwater” is the third tale of humanity in peril and the second to deal with sea critters. This is a somewhat science fantasy-ish novelette of humanity polluting the sea until Things rise from the deep to smite us. We don’t know what they are but we fight each other with hydrosonic weapons and follow the protagonist scientist through a battle on a research facility she and her husband (killed in the war) built before the military took it over and weaponized it. The last two thirds are utterly predictable in general and are only surprising in detail because of the implausibility of some things. For instance, while the protagonist is fighting for survival, exhausted, and suffering from pneumonia, the story suddenly turns into a lesbian romance. If this had been a stream of consciousness narration you might have had something reasonable like “oh crap gonna die oh crap gonna die nice ass oh crap gonna die…” but to actually construct a narrative about seeing dead bodies here and there and trying to find an escape pod while a giant structure collapses on you and to spend a large chunk of it thinking about how hot the other woman is, hitting on each other, making dates, and so on, just seems ludicrous. This isn’t “must preserve the species” irrational non-verbal sex drive or fleeting instants of thought but an actual drawn out dating game. All that aside, it’s pretty crisply written and the action moves it along briskly so it’s not a bad read. Too reminiscent of the recent, much better Tor.com story “Sweetlings” in some ways, though.

The Independence Patch” deals with a child who is one of those who are miscalled “Andys” but has actually been a cyborg since birth, with a brain and consciousness as much mechanical as biological. It does a really nice job of two difficult things at once: making this protagonist convincing as a cyborg and convincing as a teenage boy. Given that, it’s easy to be interested in the human angle and the technologically extrapolated angle. Since many people are already lobotomized without their phones, it’s a clearly relevant extrapolation but manages to feel substantial and to avoid any feeling of “trendiness.” There are only really a couple of problems with this: first, it lacks a hipbone-legbone plot that actually moves in a necessary way but is just a few scenes pasted into a scrapbook, though those scenes are important and work to convey the character; second, while the protagonist is nicely drawn, he doesn’t grow up so much as he counts down. Things happen to him and have their effects which change him but the focus is on his internal timer. Otherwise, the scenes which depict him dealing with teachers and their unwanted distaste or pity, finding and losing love, while impatiently awaiting his “independence patch,” which can free him from certain parental controls and privacy invasions (and what that actually means), is all a very enjoyable read with good voice, good phrasing, good insights, and I recommend it.

As an odd aside, since part of this cyborg’s internet connectivity mechanism manifests as silvery tendrils amidst his hair, I can’t help but think of A. E. van Vogt’s Slan, which is also about a young person coming to terms with his world, in which he has certain (in this case, mutant) advantages over “mostpeople” and certain disadvantages from being in a new minority. In those ways, this is an almost identical story. In virtually every other way of melodrama, scope, action, writing style, etc., this is almost completely different, for better and worse.

Edit (2018-03-09): here’s the BCS stuff:

BCS #246’s short story is “Gennesaret,” which is a broken-backed tale whose first part is about a minority figure struggling desperately to preserve her life, child, and culture from those who would assimilate and those forcing them to do so and whose second part shifts abruptly into an apparent satire of patronizing liberals. Both halves are naked and simplistic and add up to less than the sum of the parts. The novella is “The Emotionless, in Love,” which is a sequel to “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories.” I didn’t like the earlier tale of eco-fascist nanotech (“grains”) being used to keep humanity socially and technologically stagnant for, so far, thousands of years. This one deals with the same milieu and an even crazier and deadlier “anchor” (nanotech-driven human enforcer of the status quo), who is also broken to the point of disrupting that status quo, and the son of the previous story’s main character whose capacity for emotion was broken by his mother. Literally. It’s marginally better in ways, though worse in others. This one’s 28,000+ words are way too many and give us the joy of reading the words “grain” or “anchor” once for every forty-eight other words. It is full of simplistic psychology, unconvincing character interactions, and comic-book ultra-violence but at least the latter gives it a little pep. If you liked the last, you may like this; if not, not; if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s safe to skip.

The most interesting story of the issue was “Do As I Do, Sing As I Sing,” which deals with “cropsingers” who go into months’ long magical trances singing to the crops, without which the plants won’t grow and the people will die. In Guerre’s village, the current cropsinger is ailing and visitors arrive to tell the villagers the replacement they were training hasn’t survived that process. Guerre is chosen as the next cropsinger, much to the outrage of her brother, Acco. Sometime after she goes off for training, he leaves for the big city and, almost immediately after her return as a successful cropsinger, he returns, with an invention to replace cropsingers. The remaining third of the story details this sibling rivalry.

The earlier part of the story which introduces Guerre and her situation is very well-written and interesting. While there is a latent problem or two, the first noticeable one is the lack of any sense of mortality in Guerre’s fairly cursorily covered training. Her predecessor died and one of the fellow trainees dies but there’s never any fear she will. Much more significantly, this is the second story in this issue with two parts strung together: seven-year-old Guerre’s childhood and training, and fourteen-year-old Guerre’s “maturity” and return. In that second half, the convenient plotting/timing rears its head and the story descends to stereotypical gender roles in which Acco is male, urban, scientific, transformative and almost evil while Guerre is female, rural, magical, traditional and supposedly good. This also raises some of the latent problems: while people can certainly behave like Acco, why he does so is under-motivated, reducing him to a prop. Further, it becomes obvious that he is fundamentally sadistic throughout but also that she is masochistic, which the story never addresses. On the plus side, there are some interesting subtleties, especially socially and holistically, in the critique of Acco’s science and Guerre perhaps muddies her virtuous waters in an arrogant and stealthily controlling way but, again, science is more a prop than something treated fairly and Guerre’s actions aren’t addressed as negative. The early strengths of this story are worth a recommendation but the whole is not. That said, many readers will have no problem with the characters and thematic issues (and may not agree with me on even the structural issues) and they will likely enjoy it.

And, now, because I can’t get it out of my head: a musical moment, because Guerre “never wanted to be no cropsinger; never wanted to write no cropsong.”