- “Big Mother” by Anya Ow, Strange Horizons, January 1, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel, Diabolical Plots #35A, January 1, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Universal Parking, Inc.” by James Anderson, Nature, January 3, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “A Head in a Box, or, Implications of Consciousness after Decapitation” by Lori Selke, Nightmare #64, January , 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Streets of Babel” by Adam-Troy Castro, Lightspeed #92, January , 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Suite for Accompanied Cello” by Tamara Vardomskaya, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #242, January 4, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “An Aria for the Bloodlords” by Hannah Strom-Martin, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #242, January 4, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
- “Matches” by James S. Dorr, Grievous Angel, January 5, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Open and Shut” by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, January 5, 2018 (science fiction short story)
This was another fairly heavy week due to Nightmare and BCS coinciding with each other and everyone else, and even Grievous Angel and the Gollancz website put out stories.
First, I’ll gloss over the stories which fell short of special note to varying degrees. I’m not sure if “Open and Shut” is a story or an excerpt but it takes a retrospective conversational approach to the dramatic meat of the story which blunts its effect and seems too reliant on being part of the larger Prefect/Revelation Space space opera milieu to really stand alone. I reviewed “Big Mother” for Tangent.
In one of a pair of multiverse flash stories, the protagonist of “Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” is trying to escape from an unfortunate incident in her past. The story is quite funny in places (especially universes #088 and #185) but has an anticlimactically un-funny ending. “Universal Parking, Inc.” is a tale of multiversal fraud involving parking lots which was extremely stiffly told with unnatural dialog and a weak and similarly stiff conclusion. In the third flash story of the week, “Matches” is a tale of the ordinary sibling of a vampire and a werewolf who decides to set the world on fire with really big matches which suffers most from a weak ending.
The scattershot mockery of The Beautiful Ones in “A Head in a Box, or, Implications of Consciousness after Decapitation” isn’t horror so much as initially implausible SF and finally fantasy, with intermittent bursts of disgusting elements. Not my cup of tea. Even less for me, “The Streets of Babel” is a fantasy-billed-as-SF which is not even quite metaphorical but simply homologous, taking almost seven thousand words to belabor the instantly understood concept of a tribesman being captured by a city and morphing into enslaved Modern Man, depicting his incessant torture in a way that inflicts greater torture on the reader.
By far the most interesting stories of this bunch were the duet of BCS stories which actually form a trio if “Symphony to a city under the stars” (reviewed just yesterday from another magazine) is considered. “Suite for Accompanied Cello” is a feminist tale of a fantasy world of a late-Baroque/early-Classical sensibility featuring a musician-narrator and automaton-musician and the former’s attempt to liberate the latter. The pace is a little slow and the theme (and partly the structure, particularly in the climax) is quite tired, but it is nicely written for the most part and maintains interest until a slightly flat ending. While some may prefer the “Suite,” I preferred “An Aria for the Bloodlords“ which, while slightly (and presumably pointedly) French-flavored, creates a vividly colored world of a demon aristocracy and its mixed and human subjects and the artistic and magical rebellion of the latter against the former. There are a couple of grammatical or stylistic problems but, unlike some stories recently, they are infrequent distractions rather than truly damaging (though it includes a third example of “sunk” instead of “sank“!). More significantly, I may be giving it too much credit for ambiguity and it’s just another simplistic revenge fantasy but it seemed more nuanced than that.
Edit (2018-01-06): Added the Grievous Angel story I’d missed and specified the milieu of “Open and Shut.”