Review: Tor.com, May/June 2019

Tor.com, May/June 2019

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Original Fiction:

  • “Murder in the Spook House” by Michael Swanwick (fantasy short story)
  • “Any Way the Wind Blows” by Seanan McGuire (fantasy short story)
  • “Skinner Box” by Carole Johnstone (science fiction novelette)
  • “The New Prometheus” by Michael Swanwick (fantasy short story)
  • “A Forest, or A Tree” by Tegan Moore (horror novelette)

Tor.com doesn’t seem to have been able to produce the May/June issue of Tor.com Short Fiction but five stories (plus a shared-world story) appeared on the site in those months. This “issue” is not as good as the last, but does have some interesting stories or elements within them.

Apparently, Tor.com is changing its physical corporate HQ. “Any Way the Wind Blows” is a vanity piece published to mark this event, borrowing aspects of Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast (in the sense of being set in a ship traveling through a metafictional omniverse) but replaces the four bantering geniuses with a cranky timeserving captain.

A Forest, or A Tree” probably has some symbolic sense that I’m missing. As is, half the short novelette involves four women hiking in the woods and talking… a lot… and it’s not exactly Tarantino-esque dialog. Then the horror finally kicks in as one of the hikers gets sick, another starts seeing things, and so on.

Skinner Box” is a tale that purports to be about a spaceship crew made up of an abusive husband, his wife, and the other crewman (who is the wife’s lover) and the plans of the latter two to kill the former. Readers will not be surprised that this isn’t entirely what’s going on. Examples of the several problems are that there are too many infodumps, neither the surface nor deeper premises make much sense, and the protagonist (the woman) is not an appealing lead character. (Reflecting on the many locked doors of the ship, she says, “I’ve never tried them more than once. I’ve never wondered what’s behind them more than once. Which, if I cared, is probably the most palpable metaphor for my entire life. Sad and bad and indifferent.”) There is some effectively portrayed claustrophobia and desperation, though.

Michael Swanwick contributes the best stuff with two tales in his “Mongolian Wizard” series. I’m barely familiar with the series but found a nice write-up to help me find my bearings in a world of combined magic and technology in which a sort of Napoleonic War is on the verge of turning into a sort of WWII via higgledy-piggledy timeline-mingling. “Murder in the Spook House” involves the main character, Ritter, investigating the murder of a major character. It doesn’t seem to be an especially weighty murder mystery, but it moves the war along and was brief, clever, and entertaining. “The New Prometheus,” as the title indicates, is a variation on Frankenstein, involving a superbeing created by the Mongolian Wizard. Ritter is tasked to deal with him and (despite not actually doing much, which is a problem) is treated to a strangely effective autobiography from the creature in which he describes how lonely it is to be a god.

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Review: Nightmare #81, June 2019 (at Tangent)

Neglected to include an issue-wide introduction to quote as a teaser but it’d have been something like “This month’s issue of Nightmare brings us two original stories whose possibly interesting cores are marred in part by their narrative strategies.”

Continue reading at Tangent.

(Incidentally, I promise the next review will be directly on this very blog.)

Review: Black Static #68, March/April 2019 (at Tangent)

This issue of Black Static contains two novelettes and four short stories
whose quality are almost uniformly inversely proportional to their length,
with the shortest story achieving excellence, though a few may be sufficiently
creepy to entertain.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Recommended:

  • “Totenhaus” by Amanda J. Bermudez (horror short story)

Selected Stories: 2019-02-06

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

Noted Original Fiction:

  • The Crying Bride” by Carrie Laben, The Dark #45, February 2019 (recommended dark fantasy short story)
  • Quiet the Dead” by Micah Dean Hicks, Nightmare #77, February 2019 (recommended dark fantasy/horror short story)

Oddly, I’ve been more impressed by Nightmare than Lightspeed so far this year and Nightmare here racks up its second recommendation in as many issues. Even more oddly, I’ve been more impressed in general by February’s dark fantasy/horror than other fantasy or even science fiction and a story from The Dark is my only other recommendation so far this month.

Swine Hill, basically nothing more than a pork processing plant, is already well on its way to becoming a ghost town with people outnumbered by, and many possessed by, the “Dead.” Kay is possessed by rage and vengeance after her father has died and her mother’s left, leaving her to raise her two siblings. Oscar is born and dies each day and Mira is rendered unable to speak of some great mystery or trauma. After a co-worker disrespects Kay and she wreaks vengeance on him, she loses her job. The domino effect from this runs through the family and town, bringing matters to a head.

The characters are well-drawn, the dark fantasy/horror elements are powerful (especially the night in the bar and, even more especially, the morning after) and the dying town rings true. Up to that point, this is strongly recommended. After such an effective beginning with rising tension between the sisters, I personally felt the ending was too quick and incomplete and the last line was too easy. I feel like I see what it was going for and something it was trying to avoid and perhaps others will think the ending is perfect. For me, though, it results in only a mild recommendation.

The Crying Bride” is a monologue from an old woman who turns out to be the aunt of the listener. That niece is catching up on family history prior to her marriage to another woman and the tale she receives presumably shocks her. As the story opens, they’ve gotten to talking about ghosts and the aunt assures the listener that she doesn’t believe in ghosts because the family was never haunted by the one person who should have haunted them: the crying bride. What follows is a narrative of the lives and deaths on a family farm of a drunken uncle and his prematurely dead bride, a bitter mother, and a narrator who bonds with her special tree, flees to college to become “Janey Appleseed,” and returns to make even more of a difference than she already has.

While this tale’s details are often surprising, the larger pattern is fairly predictable, but in the satisfying way of the recurrent rhythm of good familiar music. It’s also yet another misandrous tale but its problematic narrator so ironically and lightly delivers its darkness that it makes for a compelling read.

Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2018 Stories, Links)

Welcome to the third annual linked collation of annuals or “year’s bests.” As the contents of the Afsharirad, Clarke, Datlow, Guran, Horton, and Strahan science fiction, fantasy, and horror annuals have been announced, they have been combined into one master list with links to the stories which are available online. (The only one not yet integrated is the BASFF, which will likely be announced late in the year.) Hopefully, you’ll enjoy some of them and that will help you decide which annual or annuals, if any, to purchase.

(There will often be information after the story’s place of publication. In the case of stories with multiple selections, the initials of the last names of the editors or editing team who selected it will be present. If a story has “read,” “HM,” “Rec,” or “YB” after it, it indicates that I’ve read it and, if so, whether it got an honorable mention or a recommendation when I reviewed it, or was a recommendation which made my virtual Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy #2 (2018 Stories). Stories in the last three categories are in bold font.)

You may also be interested in the previous posts in this series which cover 2017 stories and 2016 stories.

This 2018 edition is in remembrance of Gardner Dozois.

Latest change (see Changelog/Credits below for details): 2019-05-10.

Three Annuals

  • “Intervention”, Kelly Robson (Infinity’s End) C/H/S

Two Annuals

One Annual

The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF: Volume 5, Afsharirad, ed.

  • A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds“, James Beamon (Lightspeed) [YB]
  • Love in the Time of Interstellar War“, Brendan DuBois (Baen.com)
  • “Going Dark”, Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
  • Homunculus“, Stephen Lawson (Baen.com)
  • “Broken Wings”, William Ledbetter (F&SF) [HM]
  • Thirty-Three Percent Joe“, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “The Erkennen Job”, Chris Pourteau (Bridge Across the Stars)
  • “Not Made for Us”, Christopher Ruocchio (Star Destroyers)
  • “Once on the Blue Moon”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Infinity’s End)
  • “Scrapyard Ship”, Felix R. Savage (Bridge Across the Stars)
  • “Crash-Site”, Brian Trent (F&SF) [HM]
  • “Hate in the Darkness”, Michael Z. Williamson (Star Destroyers)

The Best Science Fiction of the Year – Volume 4, Clarke, ed.

  • Domestic Violence“, Madeline Ashby (Slate) [HM]
  • “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling”, L.X. Beckett (F&SF) [read]
  • “Quantifying Trust”, John Chu (Mother of Invention)
  • “Among the Water Buffaloes, a Tiger’s Steps”, Aliette de Bodard (Mechanical Animals)
  • Traces of Us“, Vanessa Fogg (GigaNotoSaurus)
  • The Anchorite Wakes“, R.S.A. Garcia (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • Heavy Lifting“, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny)
  • “Prophet of the Roads”, Naomi Kritzer (Infinity’s End)
  • “Entropy War”, Yoon Ha Lee (2001: An Odyssey in Words)
  • Byzantine Empathy“, Ken Liu (Twelve Tomorrows)
  • “Ten Landscapes of Nili Fossae”, Ian McDonald (2001: An Odyssey in Words)
  • “Singles’ Day”, Samantha Murray (Interzone)
  • Theories of Flight“, Linda Nagata (Asimov’s) [read]
  • Lions and Gazelles“, Hannu Rajaniemi (Slate) [HM]
  • “An Equation of State”, Robert Reed (F&SF) [read]
  • “Different Seas”, Alastair Reynolds (Twelve Tomorrows)
  • “Hard Mary”, Sofia Samatar (Lightspeed) [HM]
  • “Requiem”, Vandana Singh (Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories)
  • Lab B-15“, Nick Wolven (Analog) [read]
  • All the Time We’ve Left to Spend“, Alyssa Wong (Robots vs. Fairies)

The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eleven, Datlow, ed.

  • “Girls Without Their Faces On”, Laird Barron (Ashes and Entropy)
  • “I Remember Nothing”, Anne Billson (We Were Strangers)
  • “Haunt”, Siobhan Carroll (The Devil and the Deep)
  • Red Rain“, Adam-Troy Castro (Nightmare) [read]
  • “Painted Wolves”, Ray Cluley (In Dog We Trust)
  • “A Brief Moment of Rage”, Bill Davidson (Endless Apocalypse)
  • Milkteeth“, Kristi DeMeester (Shimmer)
  • “Golden Sun”, Kristi DeMeester, Richard Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, and Michael Wehunt (Chiral Mad 4)
  • “Thin Cold Hands”, Gemma Files (LampLight)
  • “No Exit”, Orrin Grey (Lost Highways)
  • You Know How the Story Goes“, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com) [read]
  • “Back Along the Old Track”, Sam Hicks (The Fiends in the Furrows)
  • “You Are Released”, Joe Hill (Flight or Fright)
  • “Sleep”, Carly Holmes (Figurehead)
  • “Haak”, John Langan (New Fears 2)
  • “I Love You Mary-Grace”, Amelia Mangan (In Dog We Trust)
  • “Monkeys on the Beach”, Ralph Robert Moore (Tales from The Shadow Booth: Vol. 2)
  • “White Mare”, Thana Niveau (The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories)
  • “Thumbsucker”, Robert Shearman (New Fears 2)
  • “A Tiny Mirror”, Eloise C. C. Shepherd (Supernatural Tales)
  • “Shit Happens”, Michael Marshall Smith (The Devil and the Deep)
  • “Masks”, Peter Sutton (The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors)
  • “The Jaws of Ouroboros”, Steve Toase (The Fiends in the Furrows)
  • “Split Chain Stitch”, Steve Toase (Mystery Weekly)

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2019, Guran, ed.

  • “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt”, G. V. Anderson (F&SF) [read]
  • “Hainted”, Ashley Blooms (F&SF) [YB]
  • The Empyrean Light” Gregory Norman Bossert (Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity)
  • “Raining Street” by J. S. Breukelaar (Black Static)
  • The Black God’s Drums, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate“, Anya Johanna DeNiro (Shimmer)
  • “Big Dark Hole”, Jeffrey Ford (Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity)
  • And Yet“, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny) [read]
  • “Second to the Left, and Straight On”, Jim C. Hines (Robots vs. Fairies)
  • “He Sings of Salt and Wormwood”, Brian Hodge (The Devil and the Deep)
  • “Just Another Love Song” Kat Howard (Robots vs. Fairies)
  • “Four Revelations from the Rusalka Ball”, Cassandra Khaw (The Underwater Ballroom Society)
  • Rust and Bone“, Mary Robinette Kowal (Shimmer)
  • The Thing About Ghost Stories“, Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny) [YB]
  • “A Man Walking His Dog” Tim Lebbon (Phantoms)
  • “Honey” Valya Dudycz Lupescu (A World of Horror)
  • Big Mother“, Anya Ow (Strange Horizons) [read]
  • “Fish Hooks”, Kit Power (New Fears 2)
  • “The Governor”, Tim Powers (The Book of Magic)
  • True Crime“, M. Rickert (Nightmare) [read]
  • Every Good-bye Ain’t Gone“, Eden Royce (Strange Horizons)
  • “Tom Is in The Attic”, Robert Shearman (Phantoms)
  • “When We Fall, We Forget”, Angela Slatter, (Phantoms)
  • “In This Twilight”, Simon Strantzas (Nothing Is Everything)
  • The Crow Knight“, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) [read]
  • “Thanatrauma”, Steve Rasnic Tem (New Fears 2)
  • “Sick Cats in Small Places”, Kaaron Warren (A World of Horror)
  • “Blood and Smoke, Vinegar and Ashes”, D.P. Watt (The Silent Garden, Vol. 1)
  • The Pine Arch Collection“, Michael Wehunt (The Dark)
  • In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same“, A. C. Wise (The Dark)
  • Asphalt, River, Mother, Child“, Isabel Yap (Strange Horizons) [read]
  • Music for the Underworld“, E. Lily Yu (Terraform) [read]

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2019, Horton, ed.

The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume Thirteen, Strahan, ed.


Changelog/Credits:

Review: Nightmare #75

Nightmare #75, December 2018

Nightmare_75_1812

Original Fiction:

  • “The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” by Adam-Troy Castro (horror short story)
  • “The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy short story)

Ten Things” is yet another “listory” from “Nightspeed.” In this, a scientist seeking to open a portal for interstellar travel has instead opened a portal in his chest for a Lovecraftian monster-god to burst through—a monster god which makes Alien chestbursters look like fluffy bunnies. His assistant is mortally wounded in her boss’ explosion and she faces a fate worse than a fate worse than death, conditional on the monster’s explication and evaluation of her ten dying utterances, one by one. While this actually has entertaining aspects, the main problem is that the monster is a little too complacently self-satisfied, forgetting that the reader will be judging it as it judges her, and the structure leads to a stilted, essentially static, pace and distanced events.

A female werewolf refuses to accept her supposed place in the world, so is exiled to “The Island of Beasts.” There, she seems to find herself in a situation just like the one she left, except with fewer choices and less room to roam, but still she persists. Werewolves or not, this isn’t even “dark fantasy,” much less horror, but is readable despite having little plot and less climax.

Review: Nightmare #74

Nightmare #74, November 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung” by Usman Malik (horror novelette)

This is an unusual issue of Nightmare in that it has only a single original story (a fairly long novelette) instead of two (usually both short stories unless one is a very short novelette). In the snaky “Dead Lovers,” a Pakistani heroin addict makes his statement to a cop. He describes how he was saved from an overdose by a man who was looking for his lost wife, whom he’d bought when she was a child. With the two men’s lives now entwined, they head off to a sort of mystic religious music concert near a shrine where the husband thinks she may have gone in search of the “Cobra Stone” which fascinates her. When they arrive, the tone and nature of the story becomes much darker and graphically violent and those are only the first steps in the escalation.

The characters are interesting (and become more so in different ways) and the narrative voice, itself, works but the awkward strategy of making this be a person’s long-winded statement to a cop doesn’t help, shown most vividly when the story breaks from first-person narrative to introduce into evidence a key letter written by the missing woman. (On the other hand, one superb element of this story is that you are definitely in Pakistan and there are many unusual or outright unfamiliar words and concepts but it’s lightly done and never obstructive or isolating but invites you in with a strong sense of place and culture.)

The story does a fairly good job of somehow maintaining some interest but over 8000 of the 12000 words are prologue and mainstream prologue at that. When we finally arrive at the climactic section, the narrator’s frozen horror is initially unconvincing. Sure, we’re in an underground cavern a snake has just come out of and some creepy guy is singing weird stuff to the weird friend but either there’s not enough there or it’s not written so that it seems like enough. Then it goes from not enough to too much, jumping straight to a gross-out with a graphic description of viscerally repulsive stuff. The next phase (no spoilers) is actually well done but calls into question whether this is even fantasy at all.

Finally, this seems rich with thematic material and symbolic imagery and could tie together moths and flames, fireflies and snakes, humans and transcendence, along with the obvious intrinsic connections of heroin needles to viper fangs but instead is overly explicit about arbitrary “white queen” stuff instead. It was ultimately interesting but extremely mixed for me, though readers’ reactions will probably run the gamut.