Recommended: None. (Both stories were quite readable, though.)
“Crossing the Threshold” by Pat Murphy, Lightspeed June 2017, short story
This is billed by Lightspeed as fantasy but it’s only fantasy if you want it to be. It also discusses the scientific concept of entropy but isn’t really SF unless you really want it to be. This is sort of indicated in the story itself when, after meeting an old man stuck on a fence and helping him over, the protagonist/narrator says,
I realized that I could think about that old guy in two different ways.
Here’s option number one. He was an ordinary old man….
Then there’s option number two, an option that might occur to you in the dark of night a couple of months after your father died when you’re drinking red wine and reading an article about the devil.
I’ll grant that this story may not have the tightest structure or the most climactic of climaxes and that I’ve had a weakness for Pat Murphy stories for many moons now. Still, it’s a good, quirky, San Francisco treat and I hope folks will read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
“Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, Uncanny May/June 2017, fantasy short story
Allpa’s dying grandmother leaves him a magic sword. When unsheathed, Sun, Moon, and Dust materialize from it and they’re all supposed to go be heroic warriors together. But Allpa is a simple, dutiful, potato farmer. The tale deals with his unenthusiastic participation in training and his varied relationships with the ill-tempered and bloodthirsty Dust, the somewhat remote Sun, and the sympathetic Moon.
This rural encomium, while thematically in Vernon’s comfort zone, is conceptually more of a BCS-style secondary-world pure-fantasy tale than the Vernon I’ve read which tends to be fairly connected to this world regardless of its fantasy elements. It’s also not her strongest, perhaps because of this. But her strongest is extremely strong and this is still pretty good. I particularly like her similes and turns of phrase, as in the scene where Moon is expressing his feelings about his own long-forsaken lands and Allpa reacts:
“You can stay here,” he said. The offer was purely instinctive, as if Moon was bleeding and he had lifted his hands to staunch the flow.
There is also humor such as when Dust is wanting to kill Allpa and be done with him, else they’ll have to wait in the sword for the next owner to unsheathe them:
“And look at him, the wretch, you know he’ll live to be ninety!”
As they say. I think. I hope…
My public library had its somewhat annual booksale recently. Since it puts all its literature (including poetry!) in General Fiction, its philosophy in General Non-Fiction, and considers books about raising dogs, cats, birds, etc., to be “Science,” I came away a bit deficient in those categories – even more so than usual, for some reason. But I did manage some science. The “Biography & History” is no more granular than its description implies but I did manage some of that and some Reference, too. And there is, at least, an SF/F/H section which is actually SF/F/H. Almost everything I got came from there and, perhaps due to the selection, much more of that was fantasy and horror than usual. I also got some replacements for books I had in poor condition or even gave some books I used to have a second chance, so it wasn’t as cost-effective as it might have been if they’d all been new to me but it was still pretty good.
It was also nice, on a library/social level, to see that the sale was quite busy and that the SF section was among the busiest, even if, on a personal level, it might have resulted in stuff I’d have liked to get disappearing faster.
So: pics, or it didn’t happen! Here are a couple of spine pics followed by five of full frontal bookity.
(Click to embiggen. And sorry about the bad glare and blur and slight truncation – one of these days I may actually learn to use the camera.)
I got all this in two trips but the sum was 104 volumes with 118 titles for $115 (I got overcharged $8 on one trip). Way too many dollars spent (good thing it only happens about once a year) but a pretty good deal at $1.11 a volume/$0.98 a title.
“When We Go” by Evan Dicken, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #223 (2017-04-13), fantasy short story
My last recommendation had “rain” in the title and, when it rains, it pours. Here’s a second excellent story from the same issue.
The Bronze Faces have been killing off the protagonist’s people in general – and her family, specifically – and she believes the gods have abandoned them. In vengeance, she has been hunting the gods down and killing them with the World Serpent’s Fang, asking them a last question: “Why did you forsake us?” With no satisfactory answer, she intends to hunt down the last: Coyote, the trickster. So, naturally, things are not as they seem.
The people are being driven to the edge of the western sea and the bulk of the story takes place in their refugee camp. (The other story in this issue has a similar locale with at least one common bit of significance, but with a very different scope and mood.) One of the many strong elements of the camp sequence is the “fire singing” in which young warriors tell of what their passing will be like. “I will soar like a sparrow when I go…. My enemies but tiny specks, I shall rise until they are nothing when I go.” Both on this scale and a social and cosmic one, as the title indicates, this is a tale of death/change.
This theme and the imagery of the story is complemented by its style. As readers of this blog may know, I’m not a big “style” guy, generally favoring simple clarity. Most of what passes for “style” slows the pace or produces obfuscation or a lilting, mincing, weak feel or any number of other failings. This story has a definite style, but a style I enjoyed, being just elevated enough to avoid plainness but remaining direct and achieving power. In addition to the line above, I’d like to quote a couple of paragraphs to illustrate this but they’re too near the climax, or another bit which achieves one of several frissons of awe after the protagonist has dealt with Death but it’s too extended, so perhaps this paragraph will suffice as an example.
I’d felt neither hunger nor exhaustion since the Field of Husks, the emptiness inside me lost against the vast hollow expanse of a thousand worlds fallen to rot amid the roots of the World Tree. I’d left more than my blood upon that long crawl down to the Serpent’s lair, the jagged tangle of obsidian roots carving away whole parts of me. And yet, something tightened in my chest as I surveyed the valley. The smoke on the air, the faint calls of herders, the distant glimmer of fires—I needed no rest, I needn’t even stop, but it would be nice to ride toward the camp for a while, to pretend I was coming home.
“I Have Been Drowned in Rain” by Carrie Vaughn, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #223 (2017-04-13), fantasy short story
Jared is leader of a small group (“the magician, the knight, the thief, and the princess” and “the young woman Kat” – who is the focal point from Jared’s point of view) who are attempting to avoid the Wrath’s servants and get the princess through unfriendly lands, across the water, and back to their own lands where she can help oust the usurper. The core of the story is about them being one step from success and wondering if they’ll be caught or if they can even trust each other.
Perhaps this is a generous recommendation as I can’t quite articulate why I liked it as much as I did. At first, I wasn’t sure if it might not be intended as a parody because it seemed so extremely generic but I quickly became interested in Jared’s thoughts and Kat’s weirdness (see semi-spoiler paragraph if so inclined). The setting was made vivid and tangible. While there’s virtually no action there was enough tension to fill its wisely short length. (See semi-spoiler paragraph for a hint about one of my favorite things about the story.) In sum, it was just a gripping read that I enjoyed.
Semi-spoiler paragaph (one “reverse-spoiler,” so to speak and one only by innuendo): Regarding Kat, I found her compelling – the only tiny negative was that I was a bit disappointed that her backstory didn’t have an element I thought it should have even though I know BCS only does science fantasy as a special thing. Regarding one of my favorite things, I love it when a story reaches a fork in its road and does exactly what I think it should do. I frequently groan when characters become stupid from misguided concepts of nobility and almost always appreciate some realpolitik, at least when its not inappropriate to the story and character.