Review: Lightspeed #107, April 2019

Lightspeed #107, April 2019

LS107

Original Fiction:

  • “The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim (science fiction novelette)
  • “Gundark Island, or, Tars Tarkas Needs Your Help” by Matthew Corradi (science fiction short story)
  • “The Seeds of War” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy short story)
  • “A Conch-Shell’s Notes” by Shweta Adhyam (fantasy short story)

After five consecutive installments, the flood of novel out-takes apparently ends with “Seeds.” The other fantasy is a short fable in which a “Conch-Shell” allows people to choose their own adventures (including a man who slays a dragon but loses a girl, another who becomes a mayor and gets a girl, and a girl who won’t speak for herself or take responsibility for her own (in)actions) with the baldly stated theme of complaint that the shell “sang of the men’s work, their sacrifices, but not of the women’s” and a selfish and simplistic ending.

The science fiction is much more interesting, but still problematic. “Archronology” is a story about romance and loss along with a dash of epistemology and stuff about a gizmo. When a colony dies, taking a woman’s beloved with it, she and others must use the gizmo (a sort of VR pseudo-time machine) and other methods to find out what went wrong. While the general concept of the gizmo is clear enough, details about it seem gratuitously nonsensical. The hyper-advanced tech is on a 1920s level, recording “light but not sound,” people can rematerialize into walls without further catastrophic effects, there’s no gravity (despite it being in a gravity field), “[t]hings you brought with you were solid, but everything else was basically a projection” and yet, despite bringing your heart and lungs with you, there is “no ambient noise, or even [your] own breathing and heartbeat.” Further, there are cases of purely logical incoherence. The main character was informed in messages that a parakeet on this colony world had died and that crops died and that more crops died and for some reason this didn’t concern her until people started dying. And it is only when reviewing the messages that she makes a connection between the non-human and human deaths. And, presumably, all the other people who have lost all their loved ones got similar messages and no one made this connection. Everyone just assumes the order of things they were told was reversed. “Yes, well, we were told a bird died and then crops failed and then more crops failed and then everyone died but we ‘assumed that the crops and animals had died because the people of the colony had gotten too sick to tend them.'” Further, it’s presented as a mystery but what happened is obvious from nearly the beginning. So, basically, things of this sort constantly took me out of the story which, despite an excess of crying, might have had a workable human-interest core and even some interesting stuff about aliens and knowledge.

Finally, “Gundark” is a sort of bildungsroman and meta-sfnal story about a strange kid’s effect on another kid’s life in the 1980s and the nature of science fiction, imagination, and life. I’m not sure how to evaluate this as a story because it punches too many buttons. It initially seemed topically interesting but fictionally weak as it wandered through a sort of slipstreamish pseudo-SF phase but it began to come together and reach a new level at the end (though I wasn’t happy with how it reassigned credit for some of our imaginative achievements). All I can say is that, for whatever reasons, it seems notable to me.

(Also, on an ideological rather than aesthetic level, I loved the ironic analysis in the section on the “college experience.” I think moving beyond this would benefit a great many people and the field.)

Advertisements

Month in Review: March 2019

85864

This post is a work-in-progress which recaps the three big printzines (plus two more which were reviewed for Tangent) and BCS, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Galaxy’s Edge which combined to produce 82 stories for 330K words. Other than Galaxy’s Edge, I’ve yet to read the March stories from any of the selectively reviewed zines (and, since Tor.com neglected to produce a second bi-monthly issue, I haven’t read the March stories from it, either), so I’ll finish reading all that in April and update this post then.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • “Better” by Tom Greene, Analog, March/April 2019 (novelette)
  • “Contagion’s Eve at the House Noctambulous” by Rich Larson, F&SF, March/April 2019 (novelette)
  • “Instantiation” by Greg Egan, Asimov’s, March/April 2019 (novella)
  • “Second Quarter and Counting” by James Van Pelt, Analog, March/April 2019 (short story)

Fantasy

  • “Totenhaus” by Amanda J. Bermudez, Black Static #68, March/April 2019 (horror short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “The End of Lunar Hens” by M.K. Hutchins, Analog, March/April 2019 (short story)

Fantasy

  • Hellhold” by Sean Patrick Hazlett, Galaxy’s Edge #37, March/April 2019 (horror short story)
  • “The Mark of Cain” by John Kessel, F&SF, March/April 2019 (short story)
  • “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach” by Jack Dann, Asimov’s, March/April 2019 (short story)

Reviews

Magazines

Books/Other

News

Review: BCS #272-274

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #272-274
Feb. 28, 2019/Mar. 14, 2019/Mar. 28, 2019

bcs274

Original Fiction:

In “Sirens Sing,” the Queen Mother wants Velia and her siren sisters to steal a serving dish from an arch-wizard and it turns into a minor romance story (and yet another BCS music story) with the mincing pseudo-fairy-tale style turned up to 11 (except when it collapses into bathos with “smooches”). In the other water story, “The Boy” is bought by Kal because she thinks he might make a good assistant for her profession of divination by drowning (though not actually drowning as in “baleen, baleen” (Alexandra Renwick, Interzone #274, March/April 2018) but simply playing with the magic weeds underwater for awhile). When he develops a special relationship with those weeds which she lacks, things go off the rails. While the climax is disturbing, neither (especially Kal) ever came clear as characters for me and the actual ending is underwhelming, as is the preamble that takes the first third of the story and the overly detailed and then dropped scene with Lord Westin.

Whiskey Chile” has lost his mother and is going after his bad father for a reckoning in this Weird Western which is soaked in demon alcohol. Narrated by a fire-belching bullfrog named Jeremiah, this world has no joy but some may enjoy the boisterous style which, to me, teetered out of control or the tale’s visuals, which might make an entertaining TV episode. “New Horizons” is a Disney-like sketch about waifs losing  their home to the evil empire and making another. It shares the boisterous tone, Weird Western vibe, and familial motifs (turned to different purposes) of “Chile” but reads like the other 90% of the story went missing.

Undercurrents” has an evil empire keeping the non-binary rivers down but a cell of resistance dowsers works to destroy the evil empire’s evil technology. Heavy-handed, with an oddly Pollyannish ending. In the other tale of the mighty being laid low by the oppressed, a pregnant raped maid who lives in a castle where people are jealous of her accidentally acquired magic realizes she is “Destiny” when an immensely powerful pseudo-twin conquers this domain and wants something from the maid and is willing to trade for it. The “heroine” shows herself to be really small-minded and the only interesting part of this power/revenge fantasy was the idea of magic, like money, being passed on at one’s death (which is how the maid got hers when the dying duchess decided to be whimsically spiteful to her family).

Selected Stories: 2019-03-31

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

Noted Original Fiction:

  • Hellhold” by Sean Patrick Hazlett, Galaxy’s Edge #37, March/April 2019 (horror short story)

I’m behind in this month’s reading of the selectively reviewed magazines and have only gotten to Galaxy’s Edge so far. It produced a mix of mostly okay stories, though it included a particularly bad one which shall remain nameless, and one notable story I will name.

In “Hellhold,” a middle-aged man who was born twelve years previously is being tried in Salem for witchcraft and he tells the story of how those years passed for him, beginning with pirates attacking his father’s ship and continuing on through a nightmarish and hellish journey to take a dread object to a dread place. This was obviously written with some effort at evoking the time and place but isn’t always pitch-perfect (or even grammatically correct in one instance, using “tread” for “trod”), uses perhaps overly familiar motifs, and the ending, depending on one’s reaction, may thrill or disappoint but this sea horror tale was entertaining and effective for the most part.

Review: Interzone #280, March/April 2019 (at Tangent)

The 280th number of Interzone contains two fantasies and three science fiction tales (including a novelette) which feature some religion, revenge, redemption, reconfiguration, and romance. While none appealed to me, all are substantial and some may appeal to someone.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Review: Clarkesworld #150, March 2019

Clarkesworld #150, March 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “But, Still, I Smile” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (science fiction? novelette)
  • “When Home, No Need to Cry” by Erin K. Wagner (science fiction short story)
  • “Death of an Air Salesman” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
  • “Dreams Strung Like Pearls Between War and Peace” by Nin Harris (fantasy short story)
  • “Treasure Diving” by Kai Hudson (science fiction short story)
  • “The Thing with the Helmets” by Emily C. Skaftun (science fantasy short story)

(I would ordinarily have had this review done awhile ago but I’ve been under the weather.)

Smile” would seem to be matching a woman’s personal efforts to produce human life and her professional efforts to find alien life but I quit reading it a quarter of the way through. Since the author and editor are paid to produce English and failed, the review is that it doesn’t meet the minimum standards for a review.*Cry” would seem to take place in the same hospital as the prior story with associates similarly breaking rules for the protagonist. In this, it’s not a woman’s child, but the woman herself who is dying. She’s gone into space and had an Experience, developed cancer, and is now on Earth, waiting to die, but wants to go back to space. Many readers may expect one of a couple of interesting things to happen but will be disappointed. “Death” portrays a woman meeting a great guy and having a great relationship with him. Since this takes place in a dystopia of plague, unbreathable air, and wage slavery broken only by brief rentals of tiny cubicles in which people can watch gore and porn while not sleeping, it’s clear things aren’t as they seem. “Dreams” is not SF but is a steampunk fantasy/revenge fantasy in which a plethora of ethnic-like groups revolt against oppression. “Diving” has a familiar setting and involves a critter nearly getting eaten by a giant mutant anglerfish while diving for radioactive “treasure” and somehow surviving a breach of her pressure suit. The atypically hopeful elements which arise from all this might be welcome but aren’t convincing. “Helmets” is the real outlier of the issue. It doesn’t quite work but is better than the rest, unless “Death.” It’s reminiscent of “A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning” by Beth Cato (Little Green Men–Attack!, 2017) with its bizarre juxtaposition of aliens and roller derby and other incongruities. The latter include eldritch helmets which elevate the roller derby girls to worthy adversaries of the invading aliens – but at a cost. This is the sort of thing that might be just silly enough to work for some readers but I guess I wanted it to be even sillier.


* The first two thousand words contained at least:

It was like those old nursery rhymes where one thing compiled on the next compiled on the next and became a monstrous sentence with qualifiers abound.

It was while thinking this… that the strange anomaly caught my breath.

An anomalous pattern of radio signals. It wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before.

pocketed the stickers fast like they were contraband [no “like” – they were contraband]

The nurse must have watching over me, rooting for me. She didn’t mention to anyone else about the miscarriage… She had simply logged in the necessary checkups…

“If only FTL drives were invented,” I said. “Then we course through to the outskirts of the universe and seek out more lives.”

“Just be lucky we have even enough power to get to Proxima Centauri. So much of our energy put into keeping the seas at bay and the skies barely breathable enough to live. We’re really hanging on a thread…”

While the most extreme example, it was not the only story with special English. For instance, “Dreams” has someone “wrought with fear” (barely possible but more likely “wracked”) and has a “heart beating like a caged bird” in which the figure is so dead no real effort is made to say it properly. (The usual simile is more along the lines of “my heart struggled within my ribs like a caged bird.”) And “Treasure” has “radiation that turned poison over prolonged exposure.”

Review: Lightspeed #106, March 2019

Lightspeed #106, March 2019

LS106

Semi-Original Fiction:

  • “On the Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (science fiction short story)
  • “My Children’s Home” by Woody Dismukes (science fiction short story)
  • “Self-Storage Starts with the Heart” by Maria Romasco Moore (fantasy short story)
  • “A Hundred Thousand Arrows” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy novelette)

As a notice, rather than a review, “Arrows” is the fourth of at least five consecutive out-takes from a “Burnt Empire” novel and takes 40% of this issue’s “original” word count. Also, “Ligeia” is a reprint of a 2018 story originally published in a Chinese magazine, leaving just over 10,000 words of indisputably original fiction in the other two stories.

Home” has steampunk robots and adults, who were once vat-grown children, raising other vat-grown children. There are no females anywhere but D-13 is considered an attractive boy by D-6 and the adult of the house as well as a strange bureaucrat who intervenes to take D-13 away, after which the adult and D-6 react. I could find no real logic in this story and the ending, such as it is, seems like an unwarranted assertion rather than a natural result of events.

Self-Storage” starts poorly with an unappealing protagonist (James) bemoaning the loss of his only friend who’s gotten married, had a kid, and stopped wargaming with him. (The homoerotic element which is brought into the open near the end is obvious from the start.) The fantasy gimmick is that emotions can be stored so that they won’t affect those who store them but it’s expensive. With a little effort and some chewing gum and baling wire, James creates a low-cost DIY version and, with the help of a new business partner, makes the lower-cost service available to others. In this middle, the story became more interesting. But repression is bad and, after an encounter with the old friend (which leaves us wondering why James loves such a jerk, albeit a partially correct jerk) things get worse before an all-too-easy ending which is arguably worse than the beginning.

Finally, I’m not sure whether to review “Ligeia” (the reprint which was billed as an original) because it falls in the cracks in an odd way. On the one hand, it’s a reprint and from a translation and from 2018 but, on the other, this was presumably how it was originally written and it appears in English for the first time in 2019. However, I did read it and the review is simple. On a literary level, almost any propaganda so obvious (or a story so warped for publication) is a failure. In this, an American has gotten a job at the ESA and is exploring Titan via semi-AI robot. The US is scheduled to launch a manned mission to Mars. The US mission fails, the ESA robot gets stuck, and it’s Chinese drones, which have secretly made their way to Titan, to the rescue! I could also complain about how the protagonist initially “sounded like a blithering fanboy, he knew” until he encounters a sign of what may be life and then he “put on his best professional voice” or how the robot was supposedly designed to exhibit curiosity after the fashion of a human but “lurched forward, resuming its biology program, untroubled by the appearance of little flying machines where none should be” (machinery is evidence of biology!)

(As far as the propaganda, it prompted a digression which really doesn’t belong in a review, as such, so I cut it, but I should write another post devoted to the subject soon.)