Review: Amazing, Fall 2018

Amazing, Fall 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “Captain Future in Love (Part One)” by Allen Steele (serialized science fiction novella)
  • “Harry’s Toaster” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (science fiction short story)
  • “Beyond Human Measure” by Dave Creek (science fiction short story)
  • “Flight of an Arrow” by Shirley Meier (short story)
  • “Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” by Kameron Hurley (science fiction short story)
  • “Foster Earth” by Julie Czerneda (science fiction novelette)
  • “Slipping Time” by Paul Levinson (fantasy short story)
  • “When Angels Come Knocking” by Drew Hayden Taylor (fantasy short story)

The Fall 2018 issue of Amazing (which came out in August) marks yet another resurrection of the venerable title. As such, I’ll spend some time on general and non-fictional aspects of the magazine before moving on to its fiction.


The new Amazing is attractively presented, with interior illustrations and cartoons (the first is especially funny) enlivening its three-column layout which packs in a lot of wordage relative to its 104 pages. An interesting bit of style is the use of the first column of each story for a drawing of the author set above the biographical blurb. A problem (though less of one than for many other magazines) is that there are several typos or misspellings, poor word breaks, and uncorrected grammatical lapses. Its common in other magazines of this sort to present a fraction of an item followed by a “continued on Page N” and I appreciate that they don’t do this, but have complete non-fiction articles bookending the complete run of stories.

Speaking of that non-fiction, it opens with a presumably irregular “Publisher’s Note” from Steve Davidson which thanks everyone, living or not, who contributed to this revival and makes a good point about Amazing being not just a magazine, but a symbol of science fiction and “the genre’s birth place.” The rest of the non-fiction columns are presumably regular. Raconteur Robert Silverberg, the current Memory of the Field, relates his history with Amazing in an engaging piece. In the last piece before the fiction, NASA man Jack Clemons brings us a regular column on space exploration.

Moving to the back, there’s a “European Author Profile” (interview) from Gary Dalkin on Tade Thompson. While Wells and Verne were major early Europeans drafted by Amazing, I’m not sure what the real connection is and if simply profiling one of the authors published in the issue, like Analog and many other magazines do, wouldn’t have been better. Then there’s a movie review column from Steve Fahnestalk rather than a book review column (shades of some of Amazing‘s more multimedia periods) and, lastly, an editorial from Ira Nayman on the uses and abuses of stories, amazing or otherwise.


The fiction reminds me most of Galaxy’s Edge, overall. There’s science fiction and fantasy, the former is usually far from hard, and both include humor. There may also be some comparison to On Spec in that there’s a strong Canadian (specifically Ontarian) presence which includes the editor and a third of the authors.

It begins with a two-part serial of Allen Steele’s “Captain Future in Love” which, if the parts are at all equal, will be a novella. There is also a reprint of Rudy Rucker’s 2013 tale “Apricot Lane” which is typical of the author.

The original fiction opens with “Harry’s Toaster.” In the award-winning “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” (IAsfm, July 1987), Harry runs a diner which serves as a nexus for travelers of parallel worlds and sometimes receives strange payments from them but the story primarily concerns his assistant. In this short, humorous (but lesser) follow-up, the focus is on Harry as he’s paid with a “toaster” which doesn’t have anything to do with bread.

Beyond Human Measure” is also a sequel, this time to “Stealing Adriana” (Analog, October 2008), and related to others. Carrie Molina is guarding Vicari, the evil nut who tortured and killed Carrie’s sister Adriana. They are on a mission to try to save a sick Jupiter whale who is the only one who can broker a peace deal between other whales. Because of Vicari’s modifications, he’s the only one who can heal it. When Vicari falls ill himself and needs to take an extraordinary step to accomplish the mission, Carrie must choose between her hatred of him and her desire to, um, save the whale. Leaving aside Jupiter whales, Vicari’s uniqueness is implausible, the emotions aren’t convincing, there are repeated minor contradictions (such as Carrie saying she’d never turn her back on Vicari when she’s done just that immediately prior and will again later) and much “as you know, Bob” and telling rather than showing (such as Vacari saying, “I’ll walk all of you through this so it’s clear what I’m doing”). Finally, the story veers sharply from a sort of science fiction towards a sort of fantasy.

Flight of an Arrow” conveys its grimdarkness well but is too sadomasochistic for me. It’s also categorically odd because, despite a practically impossible ending, I couldn’t find any fantasy (not to mention SF) in it. A small man who is poor with a sword but a superb archer attracts the animosity of an extremely ignoble noble and, after his wife is insulted and the men fight a duel with swords, the archer loses and is blinded, put into a miserable, filthy cell, and abused for a long period until the noble drunkenly offers him one chance at freedom.

Sister Solveig and Mr. Denial” is a profanity-filled tale which is fixated on smells, so I might mention the musty odor of decayed cyberpunk this gives off. A wimp of a man and a super-warrior of a woman are “gene-freaks” who hunt down other gene-freaks, perhaps as victims of divide-and-rule. No changes are rung on the dystopian cli-fi scenario and the characters don’t come alive but some may find the pace and smart-aleck narration from the wimp give it energy.

Slipping Time” is actually a pun on “timeslipping.” Sometimes, when the protagonist accidentally slips and falls, he travels backwards in time a few hours, days, or weeks. This gives him a do-over after a fight with his girlfriend. The ending doesn’t punch and, because it’s not mechanical or rationalized in any way, I call it a fantasy, but it’s a decent read.

A woman is trying to bead “When Angels Come Knocking” (or an angel, anyway). Gabriel’s come to tell her she’s been picked to be the next mother of the son of God but times have changed and she’s got her own opinions about that honor. This is much like “Slipping Time,” both in terms of its ending and overall readability, but did have an early line that hit me sideways and made me laugh out loud.

Saving the best for last, in “Foster Earth,” humanity is part of a six species “Hub” when aliens, who come to be called “The Silent,” go around dropping off some of their babies to each of those species. This does not generally go well. This story concerns two main threads: one of official investigations, with most of those scenes featuring scientist Zeynep Qadri, and a more personal experiment in which Ernest and Julia (Gallo?), who have recently lost a son, become foster parents of one alien infant. They all work to unravel the mystery of the aliens and establish meaningful contact. It all seems biologically implausible, the movement between scenes feels choppy, and, again, this is a little shaky on the dismount with the last line seeming overly forced and sentimental but it was engaging and read quickly. The Hub feels a bit like Isaac’s Universe (a shared universe created by Asimov in 1990) and that and the general story has a dash of Cherryh. The sense of a lively universe, median society, and real individuals being involved in intellectually and emotionally stimulating things was strongly conveyed and welcome.


Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-11-18)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

The sole SF story in this batch, “Mastodons,” is a cute short-short (perhaps better published in February) about a geneticist in love. It’s also a not-so-cute short-short about diseases arising from climate change and wiping out current herd animals.

The fantasies also include a couple with romance among their themes, “Missed Connections” is a story in which we watch a wallflower play with her phone. She spoofs ads on a website pretending to be looking for someone even though she’s really looking for someone. There’s a gratuitous ghost in this mainstream story. “Word” is about a female student of a professor of an ancient magic occult language studying outside the box with her autistic girlfriend as they fight the Man. Despite some effort at distinguishing them, the “old men” keeping the women down are fairly cardboard. The language and its effects on the “flesh and soul” has a bit of the fantasy version of handwavium to it but also has some Lovecraftian niftiness and, while the climactic scene before the review board of metamorphosed men isn’t very climactic, it is effectively creepy.

The best story of the batch is notable and I was tempted to fully recommend it. “Coal” is the first-person story of a very old woman as given to an inquisitive neighbor or reporter. The main point revolves around her complaint that everyone asks about her dead coalminer father when she’d rather talk about her mother but both figure in the tale of a fantastic coal mine disaster in an otherwise realistic England. The fantasy element is imaginatively conceived, though it’s preceded by a slow start and is followed by a relatively weaker denouement. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dialect which is strong but readable. The vigorous voice and personality of the narrator is as effective as the central fantasy element.

Review: Asimov’s, November/December 2018

Asimov’s, November/December 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “Water and Diamond” by Derek Künsken (science fiction novelette)
  • “Stormdiver” by Nick Wolven (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Gift” by Julie Novakova (science fiction novelette)
  • “Incident at San Juan Bautista” by Ray Nayler (fantasy short story)
  • “Joyride” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (space opera novella)
  • “Pregnancy as a Location in Space-time” by David Ebenbach (science fiction short story)
  • “Theories of Flight” by Linda Nagata (science fiction short story)
  • “Parallel Military Cultural Evolution in a Non-human Society” by Tom Purdom (science fiction novelette)
  • “What I Am” by William Ledbetter (science fiction short story)
  • “Girl with a Curl” by R. Garcia y Roberston (space opera novella)

Unlike the companion issue of Analog, this issue of Asimov’s has a perfect mix of four short stories, four novelettes, and two novellas. The quality of the stories in those categories is very odd, though. There’s almost no story without some interest and the average is, well, very much above average compared to other venues, but there’s also a complete lack of completely satisfying tales.

There are a few stories set in the relatively near future on a relatively small scale. “Water and Diamond,” apparently related to the “Quantum Magician” universe, isn’t exactly a reprint or a translation but is close to both. It was originally published in a Chinese magazine and shows every sign of it, but makes its first English appearance here. The Chinese have discovered a wormhole and built a socialist habitat in the system on the other side. Though her husband is a lazy gamer, our protagonist is a cop devoted to maintaining order who stumbles across a mystery in the data the AIs collect. There wouldn’t be a story if the habitat’s computer systems and policing weren’t looser than one would expect and the bulk of the tale is fairly dull but the mystery, itself, is initially intriguing. Unfortunately, while the solution turns out to be bigger than anyone expected, the clues, themselves, were disappointingly literal and insignificant. “Stormdiver” is even closer to home, involving a publicity-hound sister and a more straight-laced brother taking separate machines into Jupiter’s clouds to find out why several probes have disappeared. It’s a reasonably exciting and interesting tale but, if a convincing reason for manned missions  in Jupiter’s radiation bath and clouds was given, I missed it, the big climactic scene between brother and sister made little sense, and the revelation isn’t especially surprising given the foreshadowing. Closer still, in “Pregnancy,”  the first pregnant woman on Mars jots down seemingly random and somewhat repetitive notes about pregnancy on Mars vs. Earth and worries about the baby relative to her bipolar suicide sister. There’s a line or two of humor or interesting observations but this is not a story and, as sometimes happens, references an actual event (regarding Vesna Vulovic) which was far more interesting.

Two of this issue’s stories deal, at least nominally, with post-humans. “Cultural Evolution” contains long-lived and pacifist humans who refer to us, their ancestors, as “pre-humans” but otherwise seem perfectly human to me. The protagonist is a specialist in military history who is with a large team of people studying some aliens. He uses camouflaged drones to especially follow the events involving an alien general and her possible transgressions of her culture’s norms of warfare and how that may shed light on “pre-humans,” while the rest of the story is about coping with scarce academic resources. The scholarly mystery held my attention for a time but I must have missed something because I don’t know what this story was really about and it seemed to end with some sort of academic joke. “The Gift” also deals with very, very long-lived humans and handles the psychology of such beings much more impressively than “Empress of Starlight” but it clunks to an ending with a didactic speech. In the meantime, the two interleaved temporal strands (about an alien probe arriving in the Solar System and giving us the “gift” of immortality and the much later events of immortals hunting each other down for their accumulated misdeeds) were good.

Incident” was a bit of an outlier. The Man of a Trio of Names meets up with the Woman of a Village’s Worth of Bodies and they get existential in this story of a sort of time travel which makes no effort to rationalize it.

The remainder of the tales all have YA aspects and one has a bit of a science fantasy feel like “Incident,” though it’s more clearly rationalized (presumably, especially if you’ve read Memory which I unfortunately haven’t). A young man with “Theories” is being Daedalus-like in trying to learn to fly despite the Bad Things which such efforts can cause, his cousin is sick, and the two come together in this tale of Gray Goo. This is a very effective commercial for the older novel, and for what I assume will be its forthcoming sequel, but it’s not a satisfying story, reading more like a chapter. “What I Am” is a flash piece about an AI sweater being converted into a submarine metal detector by its owner, a boy who threw his dead mother’s ring into a pond in a fit of stage two grief. It seems to be aiming at a great deal of sentiment, but it left me nonplussed.

The other two YA tales are both novellas and both space operas. “Girl” comes with a synopsis of at least two of its prequels and involves a girl taking over a starship and, together with her cousins, a princess, and various other odd people, including one named Sleepy Booty, fighting to free Callisto and nearby parts from evil slavers and a supercomputer. Some may find this very long novella (or book segment) hugely entertaining and some may find it too silly to bear. I’m going to call “Joyride” the best story in the issue, just because its bulk was so exciting and gripping but it comes with extreme reservations. A boy (who wants to be a ship captain some day) and a girl (that he’s somewhat infatuated with) are engaged in a series of competitions. The latest is a race to steal shuttles of sorts to go outside the main ship to see the “Scrapheap” where innumerable decommissioned ships float within a forcefield. They both hope to get away with it and assume they’ll have their ingenuity recognized even if they’re caught. However, things unsurprisingly go disastrously wrong and to say this is about “Learning Better” is an understatement. This is a TV-style space opera which, especially in the end, is replete with handwavium. It also simultaneously partially misappropriates blame, is unconvincing regarding the key element of its protagonist’s supposed brilliance, and is problematically intellectually elitist. Still, it was easily the most exciting story in a rather sedate issue.

Review: Analog, November/December 2018

Analog, November/December 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “Empress of Starlight” by G. David Nordley (science fiction novelette)
  • “Pandora’s Pantry” by Stephen L. Burns (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Gleaners” by Sarina Dorie (science fiction short story)
  • “Smear Job” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
  • “A Measure of Love” by C. Stuart Hardwick (science fiction short story)
  • “Learning the Ropes” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)
  • “Hubstitute Creatures” by Christopher L. Bennett (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Light Fantastic” by J.T. Sharrah (science fiction short story)
  • “The Jagged Bones of Sea-Saw Town” by Marissa Lingen (science fiction short story)
  • “Sandy” by Bruce McAllister (science fiction short story)
  • “Dad’s War” by Filip Wiltgren (science fiction short story)
  • “Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust” by Christopher McKitterick (science fiction novelette)
  • “The 7 Most Massive Historical Mistakes in The Gunmaster of the Carlords” by Eric James Stone (science fiction short story)
  • “The Ascension” by Jerry Oltion (science fiction short story)
  • “Left Turn” by Jay Parks (science fiction short story)
  • “Body Drift” by Cynthia Ward (science fiction short story)
  • “Mixipoxi Learns to Drive” by Joyce and Stanley Schmidt (science fiction novelette)

While, in one sense, the world of SF is one big happy family (heh), in another,  magazines still have to compete with each other. The print magazines are in trouble with higher overhead and other problems but one place where they have a decisive advantage over the webzines is in their ability to publish novellas which are rare on the web. So, naturally, Analog presents us with twelve(!) short stories (some basically flash, though the Probability Zero item is shockingly omitted – “Historical Mistakes” or others could have served), five novelettes (one of which is barely longer than a short story), and zero novellas. Conversely, some of the novelettes fall just 150 words or a little more short of being novellas. So even though some meaty reads are present, the ToC gives no indication of them.

None of the shorts are especially noteworthy though almost all are at least okay and little separates them. Deficiencies of plot and climax, as well as flat themes, are the most common problems. Perhaps the best are “Smear Job” and “Learning the Ropes.” The former is an overly telegraphed tale about an eighteen-year-old statutory rapist suffering Draconian justice, which is possibly even worse than intended, when he receives a court-ordered mod to his implant which blurs his perception of younger people and makes him uncomfortable around them. The latter asks us to believe that numerous pairs of asteroids of specific types can be found within a few klicks of each other and a pair of people can bond without much description in a tale of a person using one corporation against another to achieve her desire of terraforming Mars, with cli-fi motivating elements. If those aren’t problems or you can overlook them, it’s a pretty clever old-school tale.

Tales in the middle of this pack include “The Gleaners” (which tells how, when the human’s away, the alien will play, with humans who want to hide from reality and uploaded aliens who want to experience it swapping places), “A Measure of Love” (a sort of rebuttal to “Tender Loving Plastic” (May/June 2018 F&SF) which talks positively of an orphan being raised by a robot and later rescuing him from the scrap heap), “The Light Fantastic” (a bad joke, wrapped in a worse pun, inside an entertaining narrative about a seeker of immortality encountering incredibly powerful aliens), “Historical Mistakes” (a one-page mildly comic version of Bester’s “The Flowered Thundermug” (1964), in which a post-Singularity entity holds forth on the things an “experiential” got wrong regarding 20th/21st Century American history), “The Ascension” (which describes how it’s an alien-eat-alien cosmos out there in an initially intriguing tale about how one species acquires aptitudes and memories and how they are faced with a leadership struggle and first contact at the same time), and “Left Turn” (a 50s-style tale where not only the car and the traffic jam, but the solution to the traffic jam and the “solution” to that “problem” is  forecast).

Bringing up the rear are “Sea-Saw Town” (another plotless cli-fi piece in which one woman is Mrs. Genetic Engineer and her wife is Mrs. Town Planner and each spontaneously figures out something about the other’s area of expertise), “Sandy” (in which “aliens” are minorities and what goes around comes around), “Dad’s War” (another 50s-style tale about a “future” which is today, with people selling their votes to corporations which control their lives as seen through the eyes of a vigorously unpleasant family), and “Body Drift” (a monologue to the reader on non-binary gender/sexuality billed as “un hommage a Frederik Pohl” but which is better described as derivative of “Day Million” (1966) with the saving grace that, unlike much fiction on the subject today, it’s aware that it’s not original).

Moving to the novelettes, “Hubstitute Creatures” is another Hub tale featuring Nashira, David, and Rynyan in which Nashira’s valuable list of Hub “vectors” (a sort of potential treasure map) is stolen by Nashira’s trainee. A “body swapping” technology appears for this occasion, allowing them to become other species (and genders), and they run off to Dosperhag territory in an effort to get the list back (and to walk a light-year in other creatures’ shoes). If you’re still interested in this series, you may enjoy this installment but, if not, not. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this isn’t the best entry point and you may find it entertaining but probably not significant. Similarly, “Mixipoxi Learns to Drive” is a sequel to “Opportunity Knocks” (Analog, October 2014) and is an amusing enough minor tale which stands alone well enough but might work better if you’ve read the prior installment. Previously, the Hunt for a supervillain resulted in observer Mixpoxi remaining on our world. In this one, his replacement finally arrives – which requires Mixipoxi to go alone to a location which requires driving to meet him – and the fate of our world hinges on his learning the skill and handling the meeting. While not yet in series to my knowledge, “Pandora’s Pantry,” about a cooking competition show, is a similarly light tale. Its only speculative element is a robot and that is only used (together with the story’s colorful cast) to make a statement about inclusiveness. Perhaps I’m biased because I don’t watch such shows or have any interest in reading about them but, while the stakes may be high regarding the protagonist’s career, they don’t seem particularly high for the reader and it’s all a little too kumbaya, though the story has decent energy which conveys the buzz of putting on a live show under adverse conditions.

Ashes of Exploding Suns,” on the other hand, is not light at all. (Though the name of the offshoot race, the Karalang, did get the “do-lang do-lang” of the Chiffons’ song “He’s So Fine” inappropriately stuck in my head.) In the far future, humanity has been modified to spread throughout the stars and one unrealistically monolithic race, perhaps Portuguese-based given that people are still called “Juan,” with a driving concept of “fidalguia” (though it seems more like Japanese Bushido or something) have turned their entire solar system into a starship. When they decide to pass near ancestral Earth to say “hi,” conflict ensues and, but for the one small ship of our story, they are wiped out. A call to other descended species and thousands of years of hibernation and a plan of genocidal retribution from the survivors all collide in the finale. This anti-colonial, pacifist, pro-youth, guilt-tripping super-science space opera has a lot of message but very little action for an interstellar war story.

Leaving the first (in two senses) last, “Empress of Starlight” earns its cover by being the best story in the issue. People who are allergic to science fiction may not enjoy this and it does have its imperfections. Immortality and AI can paper over a lot of things (such as getting people across interstellar distances in a lifetime and possibly explaining the magic of easy interoperation between different species’ computer systems) but the psychology is still lacking. It’s all worth it for the physics and space adventure, however. When a star disappears, a neuroatypical (or severely socially challenged) human captain and a pair each of human and Kleth crew head out to those coordinates and find the first of several Big Dumb Objects which form a mystery regarding what they are, what they’re doing, and why. Most of the mystery is unraveled in the course of the story which provides much intellectual wonder (though rather less visceral excitement, despite great moments like the “white blood cell” robots putting the crew in a life-and-death situation). If you like stories written on huge spatial and conceptual canvasses, you’ll like this.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-11-11)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

This week’s weak science fiction from the weeklies includes two flash pieces and a long short story. “Bangs” is a scene about a woman meeting an old “internet friend” and realizing that virtual reality is more virtual than reality. “Remembrance” is a scene from a changewar in which a person charged with sending drones back in time to kill people to change history decides that killing thousands is worse than killing millions and doing either is worse than killing one. “BetterYou” is a report, written in exchange for a discount, on an artificial person, written by the woman who’s replacing herself with it. The woman is asexual and insane and, unsurprisingly, is having marital difficulties. Any point the dreary tale might have is overridden by the impression left by the extremely unpleasant main character.

Turning to the marginally stronger fantasies, “Ground” is a sort of love story, drawn from the pages of Frazer, about a woman rescuing a lowland man, who’s been injured in a mountain rock slide, and their subsequent relationship in which he sticks around even after finding out about the strange relations of mountain women, their men, and the crops. This tale uneasily straddles fiction and myth where everything’s a bit too accidental and/or inexplicable for fiction but is too literal a rendition of myths we already have. Pira goes to the “Hollow Tree” to make a deal with a fairy regarding her outwardly smiling father, who privately abuses her mother. Pira doesn’t have the best foresight in the world, makes very vague wishes, and exchanges mere tokens, leading one to expect something more than what actually results, regardless of the nature of the evil Man, but its portrayal of outward appearances and painful, claustrophobic realities has some vigor.

Review: Uncanny #25

Uncanny #25, November/December 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “How to Swallow the Moon” by Isabel Yap (fantasy novelette)
  • “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (fantasy short story)
  • “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer (fantasy novelette)
  • “My Name is Cybernetic Model XR389F, and I am Beautiful” by Monica Valentinelli (science fictional short story)
  • “Monologue by an unnamed mage, recorded at the brink of the end” by Cassandra Khaw (fantasy short story)

XR389F” is about a maid resisting the sexual harassment a boss is inciting his subordinate to commit. That the maid and subordinate are ineptly portrayed as cyborgs (robots with flesh, here, rather than humans with mechanisms) does nothing to make this science fiction but it doesn’t work as mainstream fiction, either.

Moving to the fantasies, “Monologue” is just what the long title of the flash piece says: an apostrophe to a beloved at the apocalypse. It will appeal to those who want single sentences to contain “tessellated,” “lambency,” and “blackgold kintsugi” and for them to be followed by sentences which contain “fucking door.”

Most of “Moon” is a romance about two women mooning over each other, trapped in oppressive roles by society, but eventually moves to a somewhat rote, but effective, action sequence. Derived from Filipino culture and myth, a bakunawa (gigantic sea monster) ate moons until the last moon was saved by satisfying it with a female sacrifice. While there hasn’t been a sacrifice for a long time, Anyag is raised as a binukot in case the monster comes back, which is to say that she’s kept in almost complete isolation except for her indentured tutor/guardian, “you.” (Yes, this is in second-person present tense for no discernible reason and your name is Amira.) You’re afraid to confess your feelings for Anyag to her but matters come to a head when it’s time for Anyag to get married and a suitor with pointy teeth and nails arrives.

Rose” isn’t a whole lotta story, being slight and undramatic, but this sort of “double flash” piece is nicely structured and amusing and, as AC/DC would say, Rosie is a whole lotta woman. Now that she’s moved on, the various fae and other creatures she’s enjoyed pine for her.

Finally, we come to the third notable story about familial death I’ve read in as many issues. “Ghost Stories” is one of those which is difficult to write about because I don’t want to spoil anything at all, even though readers will be able to anticipate much as they make their way through the story. A folklorist who collects and writes about ghost stories has recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s. Now able to get back out in the field and solicit ghost stories from people, she learns more than she expected. The first-person protagonist is extremely believable as a person, caregiver, and folklorist in that she’s not a sainted martyr but had her bad days and does talk about her vocation in a sometimes wonky way but doesn’t overdo it. The pain, difficulty, and mixed emotions about her mother’s last years are effectively portrayed and touch the reader, avoiding bathos or mawkishness. Even the story’s “meta”-ness (of the story teller collecting, discussing, and telling stories) doesn’t come across as a cutesy “literary” effect but arises in a natural way and creates a deeper resonance. And the ending is superb. About the only thing I could quibble about is that, while I found the narrator and all she talked about fascinating and all of it was valuable, I don’t know that it was all essential. This really is a short story in terms of outline and conceptual thrust but just crosses the word count threshold of a novelette and anyone not as fascinated might find it a little too long. Still, this gets a strong recommendation from me.

Review: Apex #114

Apex #114, November 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Master Brahms” by Storm Humbert (science fiction short story)
  • “Godzilla vs. Buster Keaton or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck (fantasy novelette)
  • “Toward a New Lexicon of Augury” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (fantasy short story)

Brahms” is a murder mystery in a house which had seven identical occupants: six clones and one original. It opens with the realization that there are now six, as one of them has just been killed. This is conceptually somewhat like a contrived monoverse version of “And Then There Were (N-One)” (Sarah Pinsker, Uncanny #15) though it’s stylistically more like older SF. Unfortunately, the character isn’t appealing and the ending isn’t satisfying. “Augury” is an odd blend of wizards and witches in a near-future dystopia. (Comparisons between it and Lisa Goldstein’s 1987 novel, A Mask for the General, would likely be instructive). Evil city leaders are trying to gentrify an unwilling neighborhood which culminates in a cleverly conceived, low-key magic duel but the protagonist’s casual racism and the simple “coercion vs. coercion” conflict are also unsatisfying.

Map” has things in common with this month’s “The Gift of Angels” (Nina Allan, Clarkesworld #146) in that the protagonist deals with the death of a family member in a story steeped in reverie with minimal speculative elements. It’s different in that the death is more immediate and, rather than referencing Proust and French cinema (and Bradbury and 12 Monkeys), it references Buster Keaton, Godzilla, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and several Hollywood films. The most significant difference is hard to articulate and I’ll try after saying that this one deals with an isolated and depressed older brother dealing with his sister’s death from AIDS. She’s left him, among other things, her last painting and, in the sole speculative element, a magic computer program which basically gives him a grief counseling session designed to help him achieve a conceptual breakthrough to help change his life.

The most significant difference is that, while this actually touched on grief more effectively in a way (mostly by having it be the recent death of a close relative), it was a less satisfying story. It’s nearly as long as “Angels” but that story had what seemed like a very complex web of nuanced reflections and a sneakily interlocked plot. This also achieved a “there and back again” effect but with fewer pieces and the reveries were longer, so sometimes failed to sustain interest despite some remarkable and beautiful concepts (the painting, the balloon, and so on). Perhaps most importantly, there was something that smacks of, as mentioned, “grief counseling” and even “motivational speaking” about this in which the protagonist (and we) are pushed toward a particular result rather than the internally-driven unfolding effect of “Angels.” Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste (and perhaps an unfair comparison) and I think this is a notable story but, between them, recommend “Angels” as the better one.