- “Her February Face” by Christie Yant, Diabolical Plots #38B, April 16, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Old Fighter Pilots” by Samuel Jensen, Strange Horizons, April 16, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Under the Sun” by Gavin Schmidt, Terraform, April 16, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Moonshot” by Andrew W. McCollough, Grievous Angel, April 18, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
- “Wasteland of Sand and Ice” by Tomás McMahon, Nature, April 18, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Don’t Pack Hope” by Emma Osborne, Nightmare #67, April , 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Worth Her Weight in Gold” by Sarah Gailey, Tor.com, April 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Elephants’ Crematorium” by Timothy Mudie, Lightspeed #95, April , 2018 (science fantasy short story)
- “#CivilWarVintage” by Nan Craig, Terraform, April 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)
This week’s fiction creates a theme of “short” (all stories c.750-3900 words) while fitting into the general monthly theme of “not bad; not great.” It’s odd that the more interesting tales came at the beginning of the week, though that’s not the order I read them in.
My favorite story this week is “Moonshot,” which is a fantasy about rockets to the moon with cold equations, so I label it “science fantasy.” This is a very short prose poem about a boy seeking to escape his unpleasant home life and is nicely written (in poetic terms) with great descriptions. The most serious problem with it is that, while it may be the point of the whole thing, I felt the last paragraph could have been cut without changing the substance of the tale while giving it a different and more palatable flavor. I can’t give this a full recommendation, but I did like it.
There were two other stories perhaps a cut below that. “Old Fighter Pilots” feels almost like a Ballard, or other old New Wave, story and feels like the sort of thing Strange Horizons used to publish more of. It’s set in 1997 with a woman starting and going about her day while the narration seamlessly slips back in time to a lesser or greater (sometimes geologically greater) degree. Then it also slips forward in time to an apocalyptic 2040, bringing in an older version of a previously introduced character and becoming fully subjunctive and metafictional. This would usually annoy me but is deftly handled and seems integrated rather than contrived. All that said, “quiet” (as it says of itselves) or not, it didn’t light me up. It’s worth a look if you like this sort of thing or it sounds interesting to you, though. “Her February Face” starts like a preciously written fairy tale and is full of minor issues (skies “let go” before they “drizzle…[and then]…pour,” people listen “rapt,” the expression “February face” is used as a commonplace before it is introduced as something special, the “r” is dropped from “joie de vivre,” etc.) and is too familiar in general, but becomes an otherwise well-told and strangely involving tale of a woman who’s husband has disappeared (death, divorce, other?—one of many stories with a population of females and inexplicably disappeared men) and whose heart, which used to be proudly and decoratively displayed and whose faces, which used to be light and smiling, are replaced by darkness and frowns until she meets another older woman who changes her. The misspelling of the French phrase was ironic because I was thinking of “mauvaise foi” (existential “bad faith”) as part of the story’s theme. Also, it reminded me of the generally quite different (and better) “Break the Face in the Jar by the Door,” and the connection became irresistible when the protagonist hung “her face by the door.”
The last story that interested me this week, mostly for extra-literary reasons, was “Under the Sun,” because it’s another example of “science fiction by scientists” and tries to dramatize the actual discovery of signs of a previous technological civilization on Earth, the possibility of which is part of a scientific fact paper the author of this fiction has co-authored. (Terraform published both this story and a companion article on the paper.) There’s nothing really wrong with the fiction and I’m generally especially drawn to such things, but it’s a little lacking in distinctiveness despite a seemingly realistic sketch of academia and discovery.
Terraform also unusually threw in an extra story, “#CivilWarVintage,” which is of a type that’s also part of their bread and butter, but a part I like less: the caricature of trendy things. In this, women are used to sell civil wars like they used to be used to sell car polish and people use social media to follow and donate to the the sides that appeal to them.
The other stories, from shortest to longest, are “Wasteland of Sand and Ice” which is all elaborate misdirection about a killer asteroid heading for Earth (which is described as traveling one-sixth the speed of light and which an AI somehow takes as natural!) which leads to a familiar punchline; “Don’t Pack Hope,” which is a second-person present tense tale in which you’ve had a sex change which resonates with the ongoing zombie apocalypse, which is not horror, even so; “Worth Her Weight in Gold,” brought to us by Tor.com while they sell novella chapbooks and a collection in the series, about a guy in a Weird South having problems with his hippo because his hippo has problems with her teeth; and “The Elephant’s Crematorium,” a less successful take on a core theme of “The Martian Obelisk,” which—aside from being billed as SF and depicting effects caused by a war rather than a wizard—is a sheer fantasy about everything going melty, nothing being able to reproduce, and elephants immolating themselves, told from the viewpoint of a pregnant woman.