Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-16)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Flesh Moves” (Part 2) by Adam Rothstein and Brendan C. Byrne, Terraform, June 1 and 9, 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • Quietly Gigantic” by K. C. Mead-Brewer, Strange Horizons, June 11, 2018 (surreal short story)
  • Further Laws of Robotics” by Josh Pearce, Nature, June 13, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull, Diabolical Plots, June 15, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Worst Commute” by Aaron Gordon, Terraform, June 15, 2018 (science fiction short story)

The science fiction stories in this span were disappointing. The fantastic tales were much more interesting.

Flesh Moves” is about a murderous psychopath trying to scam the system that’s scamming everyone, using fellow drug-addled “truckers” who accompany the self-driving vehicles which ship “pax” from place to place. Its fractured, staccato, jargon-filled faux-Burroughs cyberpunk “style” makes it frankly unreadable and it’s never a good sign that the reader’s disappointed more characters don’t die. “The Worst Commute” is an initially decent take on the privatization of the subways (which is becoming a reality in Chicago) but is lacking in story as a “commie” pisses off a “subbro” and becomes a indentured servant for violating the mysterious Terms of Service. Finally, “The Further Laws of Robotics” is another piece which lacks story despite its initial, appealing, gimmick. A robot is about to blow up a particle collider and kill a lot of people, causing Detective Warren to try to stop him, resulting in an entertaining bout of number theory argument dealing with numbers other than Zero through Three.

Quietly Gigantic” is about a lunatic lesbian housesitting for ten days with a cat and a roach problem. The style is initially appealing and the calm, matter-of-fact narration sprinkled with bad craziness conveys an effect almost like an elevator steadily rising but for moments of stomach-floating drops, which threaten to grow worse. I was never sure if this was fantasy or going to become outright horror (it’s ultimately just surreal and can be rationalized as mainstream with an insane narrator). Unfortunately, I came to feel it was too long and lost confidence in its having any plot. While an end game was clearly in mind, the extent seemed made up of strung together incidents which could have been decreased or increased and the whole thing felt like an accordion stretched to arbitrary length. What turned out to be the ultimate thrust of the story, however symbolically creative, was also trite and somehow smaller than the story had led me to expect.

While still not earth-shaking (except in an apocalyptic sense), my favorite story of the week was “Withholding Judgment Day.” A weird order of monks “expects” Judgment Day in shifts due to a biblical verse that can be interpreted to mean that Judgment Day works like a watched pot. While the world at large is often enough, the monks are really set on not letting it boil, as souls still need to be saved before the big day. Unfortunately, on a day in which the most of the world is distracted by a historic World Cup match and others have other issues, even the triple-redundancy of the monks is not sufficient as they don’t really expect the world to end. Unless I’m not reading the “2:56 PM GMT” section properly, it doesn’t seem “paradoxical” like the others but actually inconsistent, and the story’s ending may be clever but is still a little flat, but it was an entertaining tale with a good narrative tone.

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-09)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

Belated Original Fiction:

  • Safe Surrender” by Meg Elison, Slate, May 29, 2018 (science fiction short story)

(I didn’t get word about the Slate story until this week, so it’s a little late. Terraform didn’t release the second part of their story until today, so that will be a little late.)

This week’s fantasy stories include a couple of tales of woe set in secondary worlds reminiscent of North Africa or Arabia from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. In the first, actually named “A Tale of Woe,” Rana is a Soother for the Goddess of Sorrows who must deal with trouble in the highest place of a great city. While loosely readable, the plotting is convenient, the psychic combat isn’t convincing, Rana is not appealing, the concept of the Goddess seems inconsistent, and the story is rife with grammatical errors, typos, or at least non-optimal expressions (“an inhale of breath,” “beggars and the infirmed,” “sold for so cheap,” “sowed” (for “sewed”), “to kidnap she and her family,” “[p]ulling her scissor,” “had Elder Awan’s voice not rang across her thoughts”). “The Weaver and the Snake” is a riff on “Ozymandias” with a Great Destroyer in the form of a giant snake which has been eating all the cities of the desert and, among many troubles, has been making the great weaver doubt her reason for being.

Far superior to these, though initially oblique and still a bit lacking dramatically, is “Like Smoke, Like Light,” (possibly a fable of female agency). In it, a woman who has “betrayed” her family becomes enmeshed in a familial offshoot’s similar web of bondage, bringing meals to the head of that family, who has interred himself in a magic maze guarded by monsters and ghosts in order to remain undisturbed while he repeatedly visits with the ghosts of his wife and child. When an accident occurs during her navigation of the maze, one of the ghosts becomes a bit more dynamic, followed by further change.

Of the week’s four science fiction tales, two are very short. “Gift for His Beloved,” at about 270 words, is very short. It describes a husband getting anniversary gifts for his wife after the apocalypse and is quite clever and would be very effective but the discontinuity between parts makes the climax seem to happen too abruptly. “Mirror” takes the notion that doctors make the worst patients and adds that they can make pretty bad doctors, too, and that this could have profound effects in the future for one post-cryogenically thawed doctor/patient.

The two longer tales deal with protagonists caught between worlds who are seeking a sort of home.

In “Safe Surrender,” the unnamed protagonist is a “hybrid” or “hemi” of human and alien “Pinner.” Like many hybrids, she was given up for adoption—in her case, on the day of the first assassination of a Pinner by a human. She spends the story trying to find out about that night, her parents, and who she is. Maybe I’m not doing my part and working hard enough but the Pinners seemed under-explained (both in themselves and regarding the SF, if any, of the hybridization) and the terrestrial milieu seemed sketchy. The conclusion didn’t really resonate with me either. Otherwise, the line by line writing, protagonist, and mood seemed well done.

Meat and Salt and Sparks” deals with Cu, an ape who was illegally uplifted in a torturous way and, after being emancipated, has become a detective, partnered with the human, Huxley. When an “echogirl” (someone who basically rents out their bodies for other peoples’ vicarious experiences) commits a murder, she and Huxley investigate. The case becomes more complicated and personal than she expected and it eventually both traumatizes her but changes her in other ways as well.

This is almost a masterpiece of writing in the sense that it nearly disguises how little sense it makes. Huxley is unappealing and, aside from a natural sympathetic response to her experiences, Cu isn’t made to be especially intrinsically compelling, either. While I have to talk around things to avoid spoilers, the nature of the perpetrator is immediately obvious despite the motive for the murder seeming very stupid. Nevertheless, the murder doesn’t thwart its objective, yet is completely unnecessary to it. The protagonist doesn’t actually do anything; it’s the perpetrator who does. How the perpetrator ever came to have its perspective on things is inexplicable and, while there could be a reason it thinks its actions will be effective, it’s never given in the story and makes the perpetrator seem possibly quite stupid (again) and quixotic. This aims for an emotional effect akin to “Rachel in Love” (Pat Murphy, Asimov’s,  April 1987) and, in an odd and restricted way, is a fine read but all its problems prevented it from hitting that high mark.

Review: Apex #109

Apex #109, June 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Three Meetings of the Pregnant Man Support Group” by James Beamon (science fiction short story)
  • “Suzie Q” by Jacqueline Carey (fantasy short story)

This could be seen as the “sex is bayud, m’kay” issue.

Suzie Q” is another puritanical story and another revenge fantasy in which a woman goes insane from sex and, eventually, people make the mistake of pissing her off one too many times. Very basically and easily plotted with a puerile and repressive attitude (towards bad sex, anyway, if not good violence). Bizarrely, the markedly superior story between the two is “Three Meetings,” which drops elements of Aliens, Butler’s “Bloodchild,” Barnes’ “Fifty Shades of Grays,” maybe Varley’s “Manikins,” and other similar “weird alien sex” stuff into a blender, though it leaves the lid off so that all the action, energy, and plot fly out, leaving just a really weird and creepy residue. The “skoick” have arrived on Earth and want our… men? Turns out Earthmen are easy, when the gender-incomparable aliens are capable of delivering “mind-blowing interspecies sex” (along with dribbles of tech), even when it results in becoming a gestating device for a mind-controlling alien parasite. Aspects of this are remarkable and, obviously, it has all sorts of gender/orientation/etc. resonances but it falls short of its predecessors, particularly regarding the heavy approach to theme and the previously mentioned plotting. Despite a couple of semi-random, semi-forced efforts to ramp up the tension, it lacks a real driving plot and is just the three scenes.

Review of Compelling #11 for Tangent

On its new schedule as a semi-annual, this is Compelling‘s first issue after a six month break and it was worth the wait. In terms of quantity, with the help of a reprint, it has one more story than its ever had before, though the word count is not appreciably longer but, in terms of quality, I recommend two tales (almost three) and, while not quite on those levels, personally enjoyed a couple more.

Full review at Tangent: Compelling #11, Summer 2018.

Recommended:

  • “Targeted Behavior” by J.D. Moyer (science fiction short story)
  • “Redaction” by Adam R. Shannon (science fiction short story)

Honorable mention:

  • “Driving Force” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)

Review of Clarkesworld #141 for Tangent

This issue of Clarkesworld includes three novelettes (one approaching novella length) and two short stories (one approaching flash brevity). They feature robots (with or without AI), magic aliens and post-humans, and surrealism. While this issue is not wall-to-wall depression and dystopia, only one of the stories comes close to being light on its feet. Or foot.

Full review at Tangent: Clarkesworld #141, June 2018.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-02)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Cat and Mouse” by L.C. Brown, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, May 30, 2018 (fantasy)
  • Boxes” by J. Overton, Grievous Angel, May 30, 2018 (surreal)
  • Masques” by Mike Adamson, Nature,  May 30, 2018 (science fiction)
  • Black Friday” by Alex Irvine, Tor.com, May 30, 2018 (science fiction)
  • Tank!” by John Wiswell, Diabolical Plots #40A, June 1, 2018 (fantasy)

All stories are short; the DP, GA, and Nature are flash. All are in forms of present tense, the GA least consistently so. (Terraform is doing a two-parter so that’ll be covered next week.)

Of the week’s flash, “Boxes,” is bit of surrealism about a guy who collects suggestions from The Suggestion Box, “Tank!” is about a “non-binary” tank (I’m not kidding) being awkward at a science fiction convention, and “Masques” is a tale about a victim of a doctor who’d taken kickbacks to prematurely scrap injured bodies in order to upload their consciousnesses into artificial ones. The latter has some incorrect word choices and suffers from “‘hydraulic power hidden beneath svelte, ebon arms’ on the mantelpiece” but is otherwise not bad.

Cat and Mouse” is an odd case of synchronicity in that, despite differing (favorably) in almost every detail, this very short story is a lot like this month’s “I Sing Against the Silent Sun” in some core ways. In this, the authorities are again bent on silencing everything and the protagonist is again fighting back, but this is about a woman in New Orleans who makes magic trumpet music and has some of that vivid whimsy and narrative prowess I was talking about with the Ellison story.

I ain’t proud of what I do next, because my Momma, she taught me never to raise a hand in anger. But this ain’t no hand, it’s a trumpet case, and I whack him upside the head with it hard as I can swing. He goes cross-eyed and staggers like some kinda drunk, and now he really look at home on Bourbon Street.

That quote is worth a recommendation, though the story as a whole was perhaps a notch below that.

The week’s sole long short story (so to speak) tells the tale of a future family/”team” going shopping on “Black Friday“—which means being on mass media while shopping fully armed and ready to kill or be killed. A social satire much like Robert Sheckley’s “The Prize of Peril” (1958) or other “blood sport reality show” stories, movies, etc. In this case, the primary thrust seems to be a satire against supporters of the Second Amendment (presumably due to recent events), though consumerist culture and the violence that occurs on current major shopping days is another major focus. The satirical slant may cause an overreaction to the otherwise unremarkable tale either positively or negatively but, that aside, it’s competently done in terms of characterization and plot.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, June 2018

Flash Fiction Online, June 2018


Original Fiction:

  • “The Strawberry Queen of Irapuato” by Sarah Beaudette (science fantasy short story)
  • “Place Your Bets” by David Whitaker (science fiction short story)

GMO. What could go wrong? In “Strawberry Queen,” another present tense tale, Irina’s locked up with several other people who have mutated in various ways. They’re a pretty passive bunch but she actively wishes to escape. It feels more like a not-so-superhero story than science fiction and the milieu, mood, and/or premise is reminiscent of other tales from at least “The Discarded” (1959) to “The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” (2018).

Stable empires are no good when you’re a high-risk capitalist and wish to stir up wars and economic turmoil so you can “Place Your Bets.” A financial consultant or the like travels to visit with such a man and, while disinterestedly accompanying him on a hunt, reflects on things. It might be too much to say this may have whiffs of Hemingway and Kipling but it crossed my mind. The theme was pretty overtly and simply presented, though.