- “The Memorybox Vultures” by Brian Trent (science fiction short story)
- “Shooting Iron” by Cassandra Khaw and Jonathan L. Howard (fantasy novelette)
- “The Men Who Come from Flowers” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (fantasy short story)
- “Powerless” by Harry Turtledove (alternate history novelette)
- “The Gallian Revolt as Seen from the Sama-Sama Laundrobath” by Brenda Kalt (science fiction short story)
- “We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon” by Jeremiah Tolbert (science fiction short story)
- “Taste of Opal” by Yukimi Ogawa (fantasy novelette)
- “Suicide Watch” by Susan Emshwiller (science fiction short story)
- “Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven” by Gregor Hartmann (science fiction short story)
- “Impossible Male Pregnancy: Click to Read Full Story” by Sarina Dorie (science fictional short story)
- “Blessed” by Geoff Ryman (fantasy short story)
The September/October issue of F&SF includes a couple of very long novelettes and some substantial short stories (one within the fuzz factor of a novelette and written like one) but provides the same number of novellas Analog did: 0. (In fact, looking ahead, it looks like F&SF will only emit three in all of 2018.) This issue tips slightly more to the SF side of the field than usual, with six stories of a science fictional nature plus an alternate history vs. four fantasies.
My favorite was one of the two decent SF cops’n’robbers stories. “Mete” takes us into the near future when someone tries to assassinate a mayor with a drone. The interesting element is the “cop” matched up against that drone: an eagle with a bird/human/AI gestalt mind. The story, itself, is a little thin, being a “person low in the pecking order trying to make good” template but the technical idea is fun and the aerial flight and fight is well done. “Vultures” is another crime tale but not another bird story as its birds are metaphorical. Its plot is too thick. In this near-future, a woman works with quasints (AI-like entities derived from people’s online personas). Her case seems to shift from a former bookstore owner to a former woman who is trying to take down an evil politician but that politician and his vulture (pet hacker) play hardball. The premise is fine (though shaky as presented) and the initial layout of actions and issues is fine. The political skullduggery in the meat of the story is okay in the abstract except for TV-episode-like melodrama. Unfortunately, the penultimate twist undercuts the story and hurts the ultimate twist which would have been superb and could have joined up with the start perfectly if the story had had a different middle.
Moving to stories with revolutionary elements and eventually seguing into fantasy for a bit, “Powerless” is a story about a propaganda poster from the West Coast People’s Democratic Republic being the straw that breaks Charlie Simpkins’ back. He throws it away, rather than hang it in his shop window as required, and that small act, after some pushing and shoving with the Powers That Be, leads him into a life of revolution. The sole speculative element of this story is, “What if California were, say, Cold War Romania?” but there actually was a Cold War Romania. This is effectively unpleasant but rather dull and underwhelming and, though it illustrates how one need not be powerless in bad political times, I’m not sure why the story took this particular retro-form. “Gallian Revolt” moves us off-world and well into the future in another underwhelming tale of a regular person in a revolt, this time as mostly an observer with key details of participation. Also, except for the surface of made-up names and indications of multi-planet empires and some trivial “laundrobath” tech and so on, this isn’t especially science fictional either. “Emissaries” is a little different and reminds me a lot of “Inquisitive” from two issues before in the same magazine. A disadvantaged but driven girl rises from her broken home and experiences a great deal in a larger life in a theocracy in which she’s a participant, though we’re supposed to be sympathetic to her. Here, she tries to find a way to combat a heresy of a group which believes humanity must shrink to pool its godhead vs. those who believe it must be fruitful and multiply throughout the galaxy. While interesting enough, it didn’t seem to connect to much for me. Finally, the fantasy, “Blessed” is one of several stories in this issue written in second person and/or present tense. You’re a white African woman with postcolonial malaise and an acute case of dorkiness who gets lost in a cave tour, endures a nightmare, and then experiences a Change. If I’m reading this right, it may well include a profound truth about the relation of the past to the present and future but its cave nightmare, while indeed theoretically nightmarish, constitutes almost all the surface story which meant it was actually uninvolving.
Two more fantasies are not your typical Western fantasies. “Opal” involves an opal blooded woman being sold by her parents to some merchants, meeting her jet blooded twin, and realizing that the status quo (or sacrificing some things for the benefits of others or something) is a good thing and I frankly didn’t follow it well. Some people may greatly enjoy its unusual fantasy elements, however. “Shooting Iron” involves an Asian woman traveling to the West (or a portion of it which has been consigned to a sort of dimensional hell by a sort of devil) to learn the martial art of the magic six-gun and go out into the world to take on a lieutenant of that devil in what is apparently the first installment of a larger story. While different and better, this reminded me unpleasantly of “Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang” from last year’s Lightspeed and had other issues such as repeating the protagonist’s full name “Jenny Lim” 103 times, “Jenny” another 43 times, and “Cowgirl Lim” another four in this forty-page story. I’m not a fan of Weird Westerns and I don’t see this converting many but, if you are a fan, you may find something here.
The last fantasy is one of two stories which invert notions of masculinity. “Flowers” is a flash piece in which a woman exults in her sweet little flower boy but must grapple with allowing him to become a big hulking ugly cruel brute of a man who won’t do the dishes. Moving back to a vague form of SF, “Male Pregnancy” gives us the first story about male pregnancy we’ve had in, gosh, it must be three or four months now, since “Three Meetings of the Pregnant Man Support Group.” This one is much less interesting, dealing with chimeras and twin absorption rather than freaky alien sex and has a character who is presumably supposed to exemplify reproductive desires overwhelming rational thought but doesn’t have the freaky alien sex excuse and he comes off as too irrational and, frankly, stupid, to empathize with. Your mileage may vary. Other than it not happening to humans to my knowledge, this deals with scientifically factual sports of nature and isn’t particularly science fiction. Just more like “Elvis kidnapped by aliens” sort of tabloid SF, though it does deal with thematically serious things.
Because, like King Missile, I like to end on a “Happy Note” (and because empathy with this protagonist may also be difficult (at least, in this case, I hope it is)), “Suicide Watch” involves a future in which a company taking money to allow individuals to watch other people suicide is somehow acceptable and a narrator who has been sadistic since childhood and who can’t feel anything short of thrilling to people’s suicides. Naturally, he runs out of money paying for multiple such experiences (which, as he continually exults, are his and not shown in detail on the internet at large, though he gets lots of likes when he posts about them). Naturally, there is a twist in which the story takes a dark turn. Darker. Depending on how you look at it. The graphic suicides are powerfully portrayed and the reader is unpleasantly put into the position the protagonist volunteers to be in, each of which may be seen as a quality or a defect. However, leaving aside any other criticisms, given the ultimate content of the story, the narrative strategy for this tale simply does not work.