Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-04-22)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • 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 [18], 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 [19], 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.


Review: F&SF, May/June 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
May/June 2018

Cover of May/June 2018 F&SF

Original Fiction:

  • “Tender Loving Plastics” by Amman Sabet (science fiction short story)
  • “The Barrens” by Stephanie Feldman (horror novelette)
  • “Inquisitive” by Pip Coen (science fiction novelette)
  • Plumage from Pegasus: “Live by the Word, Die by the Word” by Paul Di Filippo (science fiction short story)
  • “Argent and Sable” by Matthew Hughes (fantasy novelette)
  • “The Bicycle Whisperer” by Lisa Mason (science fiction short story)
  • “Unstoppable” by Gardner Dozois (fantasy short story)
  • “Crash-Site” by Brian Trent (science fiction novelette)
  • “What You Pass For” by Melanie West (fantasy short story)
  • “Ku’gbo” by Dare Segun Falowo (fantasy short story)
  • “Behold the Child” by Albert E. Cowdrey (fantasy novelette)
  • “The Properties of Shadow” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (science fantasy short story)

This issue of F&SF is about half science fiction/science fantasy and half fantasy/horror. Di Filippo has another Plumage from Pegasus piece, of course, and, after taking an issue off, Hughes, Mason, and Dozois return (in a block) from the January/February issue. Long-time prolific contributor Cowdrey also returns. It’s a strange issue in that almost everything is at least pretty good though I didn’t feel that any story was especially remarkable. Aside from “Crash-Site,” which was a nice science fictional treasure hunt, the two that stuck out most for me both dealt with driven main characters summed up in a word: “Inquisitive” (SF) and “Unstoppable” (fantasy).

Tender Loving Plastics” is a time-lapse journey through Issa’s life from baby to young nurse, focusing on her time at The Dewey Home for Foster Children (specifically Dewey Foster Home #12) where she’s raised by “Mom,” a somewhat, but not especially, sophisticated robot. It focuses on what this does to Issa and children like her.

This basically tackles a human version of the Harlow experiments. It’s well-written, with precise language full of sensory details without being preciously styled and is constantly on the verge of tugging at the heartstrings but ultimately seems a little underdeveloped and is certainly lacking in dramatic plot, though some may appreciate its quiet presentation.

The Barrens,” as a place, has lakes, mountains, woods, and deserts and, as a story, is a teen horror movie in which five kids gather to search for a mysterious radio station’s “Spring Equinox Party” and end up being hunted all night through all these places by hungry monsters.

These characters have a stereotype or two thrown over them and a primal force or two exudes from them but are not otherwise very well-developed or distinguishable. The murders are very well-depicted in the sense that they are initially almost discreet but the casual gory horrific references to them later give them an odd creepiness twice over. How the reader reacts to this probably depends on whether they like stories of this kind and are excited by the danger these figures are in or are bored by the sequence of violence.

Saffi Kenyon is the sort of genius who can be stupid because she disdains some things most people value which can cause her to overlook sometimes important things. This and her poverty don’t stop her from being “Inquisitive,” though, which takes on a double meaning because she lives in a society which has long been ruled by a cabal of scientifically advanced torturers. Since access to information is what drives her and they have it, she’s determined to become an Inquisitor, despite their exclusion of females. The story details her troubled relationship with her mother, her first break when a psychiatrist gives her an old digiPad, and her subsequent struggles to achieve her goal, along with her breakthrough invention (which I very much want).

Everything occurs in an ambiguous light because this society, which is taken for granted by most of the characters, is repugnant and Saffi, herself, is not always sympathetic, but both she and her world are at least unusual. The plot generally moves too easily (way too easily in that the final contest is even possible) so that the story lacks true drama, but the narrative moves briskly and maintains interest anyway. The whole struck me as being above average.

A strange comment in Time about the social perquisites of writers forms the epigraph of this issue’s Plumage from Pegasus installment, “Live by the Word, Die by the Word.” Literalizing the quote, this scene hearkens back to the rise, and describes the fall, of the “fabulocracy” in which storytellers rule the world.

In a confusedly remembered past, the wizard Ederwold created “the Gantlets of Enduring Grasp”: a pair of magic gloves. He used them to reach into another plane and grab a demon, which wasn’t wise, as the demon ripped him apart. And that wasn’t wise, either, as the demon got stuck between planes, with most of him back where he wanted to be but part of him stuck in Ederwold’s plane due to the gloves. Enter Baldemar, the wizard Thelerion’s henchman, who goes on a quest to test his new configuration and luck (implemented in the previous story in this series) and to try to acquire these gloves at the place where “Argent and Sable” meet.

While this tale’s plotting is aided by Baldemar’s new “luck” in place of the “instincts” used in the previous installment, it’s a much tighter tale with much more direct action. This may make it less appealing to some, but was more appealing to me. I also liked some of the humor. (A friend lends Baldemar a coat, prompting him to say, “I’ll try to bring it back in one piece,” to which the other replies, “That’s all right, it’s not my best coat.”) This tale should appeal to people who like its “demons and wizards” sort of fantasy.

The Bicycle Whisperer” is a parable of about 1500 words which describes a woman repairing a sentient bicycle who’s become a “runaway” (shouldn’t that be a “rollaway”?) from her abusive owner.

While it’s not revealed until a quarter into “Unstoppable,” Prince Kalgrin (several siblings and a father away from becoming king) wants to become the greatest warrior of all time and knows he’s not physically cut out for it; he decides to remove the obstructions blocking him from the throne and its treasury so that he can hire a wizard to change that. Wars naturally ensue.

Kalgrin makes me think of several parts Caligula with one part Trajan which makes for a very bad combination; the ending makes me think of something I can’t put my finger on. The nicely crafted elements of the story weave together well and the quietly ironic fairy tale style, with its purposeful occasional dissonance, works well, both helping to make the story above average.

After a human native of a planet finds a “sporegun” and uses it on an enemy, a pair of corporate hunters from one corporation track him while a pair from another track them, both pairs trying to get to the “Crash-Site” of the old interstellar vessel that brought the gun and which may produce riches for their masters.

This is a sequel to an earlier story (“A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone”) and feels like it but seems to mostly stand on its own. I had nitpicky problems throughout, some of which were actually resolved, but it was a generally exciting and entertaining tale, though the ending was ultimately unsatisfactory. Overall, this may be yet another slightly above average story.

In the heavy-handed “What You Pass For,” a black man can paint black people white or even paint white people whiter which he regrets as helping them to commit the evil of assimilation.

While not a direct sequel to “We Are Born,” “Ku’gbo” is another lyrical tale set in the same Nigerian village. What some take to be invisible rams are eating the village’s food and one of the villagers is attempting to take advantage of a nearby owl to transcend in wisdom. As the story goes on, there are more changes in store than he knows, if perhaps no more than he feels.

Behold the Child” feels like it could be part of a series, too. It opens with someone who turns out to be a second banana before shifting to the main focus of a couple of lawyers and a couple of ex-spouses going at each other with a telekinetic homicidal child mixed in with all of it. After the odd opening, there’s an internally inexplicable dinner date between a client and a lawyer who’s already been hired. The client tells the long version of his story (which one lawyer must already know) to another lawyer (who should have already been told by the first lawyer) and there is no other apparent purpose to the dinner/conversation. Then a sequence of running around, punctuated by a few deaths, occurs and then a simple, but insufficient, moral is reached.

I still don’t understand what “The Properties of Shadow” are, as it seems like it wants to turn dark matter/energy into a trope but it’s possibly pure fantasy about literal shadow. However, the rest of the tale is science fiction, dealing with an artist visiting one of many inhabited worlds, this one by descendants of humans. She and her shadow assistant are working on their next art project when a stalker arrives and quickly becomes invasive and dangerous. The resolution to this is too curt and bald and the story is one of those which feels like not all of it made it to the page. However, its oddity was interesting during the actual course of reading.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-04-14)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • All of Us Told, All of It Real” by Evan Dicken, Strange Horizons, April 9, 2018 (fantasy/horror or insanity short story)
  • e-PLURIBUS” by S. R. Algernon, Nature, April 11, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • The Heart of Owl Abbas” by Kathleen Jennings, Tor.com, April 11, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Fireskin” by Joanne Rixon, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #249, April 12, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Weft” by Rahul Kanakia, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #249, April 12, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • A Place Without Portals” by Adam-Troy Castro, Lightspeed #95, April [12], 2018 (anti- or non-fantasy short story)

I suspected last week would be hard to match. Most all of this week’s offerings will likely appeal to someone but nothing really lit me up and I don’t know that any would appeal strongly to legions of readers.

The only example of either flash or science fiction is “e-PLURIBUS” which is written in the form of an executive summons. You are notified that you are to briefly form part of the AI-augmented Presidential collective with many of your fellow citizens. Some of this is seriously extrapolated, and some is humorously extrapolated, but it’s thought out and more than just a simple joke. It’s not quite mind-expanding or funny enough to specially note, but it’s a solid little piece.

At the other end, “The Heart of Owl Abbas” is the longest tale, still falling short of novelette-length. To quote Dylan, “There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.” The Nightingale, crafted by an expatriate of Owl Abbas, arrives in town and its voice rouses Excelsior, a songwriter of mediocrity, to new heights. He passes his new songs to the Nightingale via The Phantom of the Window-sash and, incidentally, sparks a revolution in the leaden populace. It all comes at a price which may yet be a greater reward. The tale is written in many paragraphs of usually few, but long, sentences and was very difficult for me to wade through and remain interested in because its style is supposed to be an example of its own transcendence of mediocre art but that’s not where I think prose art lies. For those who do, or who can slide through it more easily regardless, this may appeal.

In “Weft,” one of a pair of BCS fantasies, Thread’s a rather mercurial magic person who is initially hanging out with the almost indescribable monster, Aakash, and the almost invisible something, Rina. They are apparently charged with hunting down a cook’s daughter who has improperly become a bit of a magician herself but aren’t sure about the assignment. Rina grows tired of the argument:

“I say we do our job,” she said. “I say we roam high into the hills and find this girl, and I will stop her heart and you, Thread, will suck her brains out through her eyes, and Aakash can for a time wear her face, and the rest of her we will eat.”

It doesn’t quite go that way, though. While this story is called “Weft,” it seems to repeatedly unweave itself in its brief span and was interesting enough but didn’t seem to leave me with much.

The second BCS fantasy, the unfortunately named “Fireskin,” has Aun-ki waking up with her skin inexplicably emitting flame proportional to any contact it makes. She wanders around with her trusty sidekick Jin-ho looking for a cure and defending her town which houses her necessarily distant lover and weaver of soft clothes, Lou-ga. And that’s about it. It simply labors the point of the non-fatal but painful skin and the wanderings of the protagonist. Whatever the depths of this story, it lacks an appealing surface.

Finally, there are a pair of tales which raise genre questions.

In “All of Us Told, All of It Real,” a guy returns to his childhood home to straighten it up after his mom’s been killed resisting arrest for multiple murders. All the guy’s life, she’s been making up crazy stories and doing other artsy things. And it’s apparently made the guy just a bit crazy himself and who knows what’s really going on? The tale takes a basic but oddly unusual concept and paints a couple of interesting characters and does a very good job of portraying a kind of hallucinatory insanity but it eventually came to seem too… swirly… to hold my interest and, depending on the nature of what’s described, I’m not sure it qualifies as fantasy/horror any more than Mark Vonnegut’s Eden Express does.

Going further astray from fantasy, “A Place Without Portals” doesn’t end with the protagonist waking to find it was all a dream, but begins that way and then spends the next 2000 words deconstructing fantasy cliches by telling us what she did not do and being generally nihilistic.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-04-07)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • I Forgot to Lock the Door” by Meredith Morgenstern, Grievous Angel, March 11, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “Haircut 100” by Alan Garth, Grievous Angel, March 28, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • First Snow” by Mike Justman, Grievous Angel, March 28, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden, Diabolical Plots #38A, April 2, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Strange Waters” by Samantha Mills, Strange Horizons, April 2, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Facebook.gov” by Motherboard Staff, Terraform, April 2, 2018 (fictional tech article)
  • Requiem” by Christine Lucas, Nature, April 4, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro, Nightmare #67, April [4], 2018 (dark fantasy short story)
  • Played Your Eyes” by Jonathan Carroll, Tor.com, April 4, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh, Lightspeed #95, April [5], 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • I’ll Get Back to You” by Ryan Bloom, Terraform, April 6, 2018 (science fiction short story)

I’ve noted before that sometimes webzines move in streaks and this is an especially odd and busy week with a lot of stories about relationships and death and which play on sentiment. Given that, it’s even more bizarre that two are particularly good (one excellent) and two more are also noteworthy.

Grievous Angel has messed up its RSS feed, so I missed the arrival of some microfiction. In “I Forgot to Lock the Door” a woman tells us repeatedly that she forgot to lock the door until the utterly unsurprising occurs. This manages to make 500-some words feel long. In “Haircut 100” a chimp walks into a barbershop… in French. Je ne parle pas Francais. Finally, “First Snow” is confusingly about people getting eaten in that element and about art. It did have a funny(?) line, though: “The former owners [of the house] were likely dead in the basement, judging by the smell and the door nailed shut from both the outside and the inside. Paul tried for a moment to imagine the scenario that had led to that outcome…”

Of the longer stories that still qualify as flash, the Giant Robot of “Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” has been modified in an unauthorized way by a tech to recognize subtle colors and other nice things while still carrying out its military functions. Command is still displeased. Fast Robot arrives and begins the dance to establish supremacy. This story isn’t without effect but it’s a bare schematic of sentiment. “Requiem” is a tale of an alien arriving on Earth, sampling cuisine, and trying and generally failing to communicate. I don’t know why the government and military doesn’t get involved or how so many failed to understand him and the ending was somewhat “rote” but, even so, this short-short’s sentimentality was much more effective. I know I’ve cited a lot of problems but its main effect and its “storyness” within its length constraints were solid.

The remaining stories are in the vicinity of five to six thousand words (except the novelette, of course, at ten). Those from “Lightmare” are a study in contrasts. “You” are walking through a house of horrors which are only pale shadows of yourself, hunting someone in “Pitcher Plant,” which is a tedious, obvious, overwritten, overlong, overwrought, unfrightening but gross tale. “What Is Eve?” asks what the razor blob in the special classroom is, when a group of 12-year-olds are brought in with spooky adults on the other ends of their earbuds telling them what to do. One of the kids (who, frankly, is a little unbelievably obedient) finally rebels and this leads to information tumbling out and things moving in directions which surprise the adults. The crisis has a whiff of “50s scifi movie” melodrama and the ending is a little too easy, really, but this is quite a good YA tale which may be suitable for some adults as well, and uses a nice idea behind it all.

The pair from Terraform is another a study in contrasts. “Facebook.gov” is written by committee, opens with a counterfactual about Facebook having been nationalized, and then proceeds as, basically, a forward-looking op-ed. Despite being billed as “speculative fiction,” this can’t be discussed in fictional terms and, unlike the recent “Physics Tomorrow” in Analog, even as an article, this is long and boring. It does draw out some of the issues involved in the crisis Facebook and our society currently find ourselves in, and some of the pros and cons of extreme regulation, so if that interests you, have a look, but I honestly faintly resent this being put in the “fiction” section. On the other hand, “I’ll Get Back to You” (the URL implies it should possibly be called “Let Me Get Back to You”) is one of the few remarkable things Terraform has published in over a year. It opens with a guy finding his young wife dead and eventually details her character and their relationship, as well as flashing back to his high school years and his experience with another girl. Despite the attempted revelatory feel of the conclusion, I suspect all readers will have figured things out long before then, despite some initial confusion, but it serves as a nice stopping place and assures the reader they have indeed followed the story. It has overwritten crescendo passages but is oddly effective generally. The SF gimmick and even the relationship and emotional themes are familiar but it doesn’t feel too much like any specific other story and I enjoyed it. Mildly recommended.

Played Your Eyes” is another relationship story involving death. A woman has had a bad breakup with her boyfriend and he’s died. Turns out he’s left her his handwriting, which she always admired, having terrible penmanship, herself. This quirky part of the story works quite well and I was enjoying it. When her writing actions have started getting weirder and the boyfriend’s lawyer reappears, the story moves to a second level involving foreknowledge which I found much less satisfying and concludes in a way that, dramatically, was less satisfying still, and was thematically rather tired, even if true. Certainly publishable and not without interest, though.

Strange Waters” picks up a similar thread regarding foreknowledge and, wow, a pixel of the story must have come off and gotten in my eye. Mika Sandrigal is lost at sea, fully oriented in everything but the year. She got caught in one of the time vortexes that are all too common to the seas around her home and she’s spent eight years (with more to come) sailing the timestreams to and fro in a desperate attempt to sail back to her time and her children. She encounters good and bad times, and even makes a great friend along the way, but keeps trying. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it’s right. You’ll feel this one. This vividly realized time/sea journey uses a generally familiar concept but gives it a very creative, unusual, and fresh flavor and makes it both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Mika comes to seem like a believable but thoroughly admirable, smart, tenacious character. What’s even more amazing about all this is that, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the author’s first sale. This story is strongly recommended and this writer seems to be one to watch.

Review: Apex #107

Apex #107, April 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Clap Your Hands” by Andrew F. Kooy
  • “The Sharp Edges of Anger” by Jamie Lackey
  • “Murders Fell from Our Wombs” by Tlotlo Tsamaase

All three pieces of original fiction are short stories (“Murders” falls a few words short of a novelette but may be counted as such) and are fantasies tinged more or less heavily with horror. The editorial opines that Apex‘s stories have lately been “a touch lighter than usual” and exults that “the dark times are back, and I think you’re going to love it!”

Clap Your Hands” introduces us to Five, whose mother died during his birth and whose evangelical charlatan father hates him. When Five is shown a moment’s kindness from a diseased woman, he prays for her and a miracle occurs. The father claims credit and uses it to bilk more people and marry the healed woman who is turned against the boy. He eventually runs away but the climax comes when the prodigal son returns. This is a schematic of a story more than a story, itself, seeming to be gasped out pell-mell rather than structured in time-lapse or given room to breathe in gradual evolution. The denouement seems out of focus. Still, the scenario and the boy’s life were interesting.

The Sharp Edges of Anger” is a pseudo-fairy tale in which female anger is made a concrete thing and is about brutal men (and some co-opted women) angering women and repressing them and their anger until things get worse.

In case “Logistics” in this month’s Clarkesworld didn’t satisfy your need for stories about tampons and such, “Murders Fell from Our Wombs” may suffice. A woman in a backwater town in Africa menstruates for seven days at a time, has murderous dreams, and wakes to find people really have been killed. Eventually she learns some things about this and herself and makes her way to the big city. This is told in the first person so I can’t really fault the story for poor grammar—it may just be the narrator’s voice—but it’s often hard to read. That aside, it’s still told in a rambling, fractured way with a similarly random, disjointed plot and was a labor to finish.

Review: Clarkesworld #139

Clarkesworld #139, April 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Carouseling” by Rich Larson
  • “Without Exile” by Eleanna Castroianni
  • “Violets on the Tongue” by Nin Harris
  • “Logistics” by A.J. Fitzwater

Number 139 is entirely composed of short stories, all nominally SF though perhaps none actually are. It’s also the apocalyptic exile issue. We have a personal disaster followed by a national-scale disaster followed by a global disaster. Where can we go after that? Why, to a global utopian disaster.

To give the flavor (and, indeed, most of the plot) of “Logistics,” here are the opening lines: “Alls I want is a goddamn tampon. Is that so much to ask at the end of the world?¶Yo. Name’s Enfys.” We follow this single-breasted protagonist wandering across Europe and Africa after an antibiotic-resistant flesh-eating bacteria has wiped out half the population of humanity and, except for “nazholes,” people are mostly much nicer. Using drones, we’ve started delivering things (like “tampons… Tampons… TAMPONS”) in a more eco-friendly way than before. There’s really no plot or drama other than a manufactured moment hiding in a refrigerator from some of those “nazholes.”

Violets on the Tongue” is a bit of Gnostic sci phi/science fantasy crossed with Phil Farmer’s “The Lovers” and some magic dark matter. The latter is used to somehow transfer people to another world as the Earth is being destroyed. We follow Eshe, Gyasi, and the alien shapeshifter Lashav as they intermingle and question their ontology and interact with the oversoul and transcend in a surreal story which kept threatening to break through into something appealing but never really did for me. Perhaps it could for you.

You know the “space western”? “Without Exile” is a much lesser known version: the “space Syrian refugee crisis.” This refers to space stations and interstellar empires and even throws in four genders but these things don’t paper over the transparent metaphor or hide the lack of plot. Set basically in a white room, a lawyer who had once been a refugee is trying to help a woman and her child get into the “empire.” The woman does something stupid and there’s an adjustment to that. That’s it. Nothing necessarily science fictional at all.

The best story of the issue, though still highly problematic, is “Carouseling.” Ostap and Alyce are on the cusp of marriage. He’s an artist and she’s a quantum physicist about to do an experiment involving FTL. They literally keep in touch via “linkwear.” The second short section opens with news of an accident in which several, including Alyce, are feared dead. As I immediately suspected, the linkwear and quantum magic come into (inter)play. The emotional beats of this story are superb and some people may be powerfully affected by this tale. But. But it feels like it wants to be a good ol’fashioned problem-solving story and it’s decidedly not, also feeling more like a fantasy despite all its science fictional gizmos. (In other words, this is a lot like “Without Exile” except better at hiding what it really is.) And the story fills me with possibly trivial questions: why an artist? why a tardigrade? why Swahili? why all the innumerable details that may have thematic significance but just seem random? (Yes, and why not? But they seem peculiarly specific yet unrelated.) Basically, the main signal might merit a recommendation and all the seeming noise might merit a negative reaction and I come down with a wishy-washy honorable mention.