Review of Interzone #274 for Tangent

This issue of Interzone could be subtitled “The Philip K. Dick Issue.” In most of these stories, you will find yourself looking for the ontological floor and wondering who your friends and enemies are and what constitutes success or failure. While most stories of this kind are not great and those of this issue are no exception, there are a couple of good ones, including one superb one.

Full review at Tangent: Interzone #274, March/April 2018.


  • “Never the Twain” by Michael Reid

Honorable Mention:

  • “baleen, baleen” by Alexandra Renwick

Review of Trope-ing the Light Fantastic for Tangent

Trope-ing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction is a collection of sixteen articles by science and science fiction writer Edward M. Lerner. They were originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact from 2011 to 2016 and have been “integrated, expanded…, and updated” for this book….

Full review at Tangent: Trope-ing the Light Fantastic.

(I reviewed this a month and a half ago but it’s just being published now.)

Summation: February 2018

Demonstrating my usual quick wit, some time after posting the last “Summation of Online Fiction” which happily proclaimed my new coverage of print zines, I realized the title no longer applied. I could change it to “Summation of Short Fiction” but shorter’s better and I hopefully won’t ever have to change the one-word title again.

With that fixed, it’s the “February” subtitle that’s the problem this time. I’ve ironically read more March stories than February in February (47 vs. 38/171Kwds, not to mention the four late-January stories that were covered in the first “Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up” of February). I’ll hang on to the March stories until that “Summation,” so this post covers everything from January 27-February 25. This was a below-average month in the quantity of noted stories but they’re of especially high quality.

Risking a bit of lese majeste, I’ve also read and reviewed some of the stories selected for the various “year’s bests” that I’d missed or which weren’t previously available on the web and have listed the ones I liked below the usual lists.


Science Fiction

  • Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Clarkesworld #137, February 2018, novella


Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • Penitents” by Rich Larson, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018, science fantasy short story
  • The Starship and the Temple Cat” by Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #244, February 1, 2018, science fantasy short story


  • I Don’t Bite” by Nicole Tanquary, Grievous Angel, February 6, 2018, short story

Reviews of the Above:

Belated 2017 Recommendations:

Belated 2017 Honorable Mentions:

Reviews of the Above:

Review: F&SF, March/April 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
March/April 2018

“The Satyr of Brandenburg” by Charlotte Ashley (fantasy novelette)
“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” by Joseph Bruchac (science fantasy short story)
“Likho” by Andy Stewart (science fantasy novella)
“The Beast from Below” by William Ledbetter (science fantasy short story)
“Hideous Flowerpots” by Susan Palwick (fantasy novelette)
“A Swim and a Crawl” by Marc Laidlaw (short story)
Plumage from Pegasus: “The Varley Corps Wants You” by Paul Di Filippo (time travel short story)
“A Dog of Wu” by Ted Rabinowitz (science fiction novelette)
“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” by Wole Talabi (science fantasy short story)
“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” by G. V. Anderson (“science fantasy” short story)

This issue of F&SF takes special delight in genre-bending. I don’t care for that in the abstract, but many do and, either way, it has some good stories.

First, there are several mostly short, mostly light, mostly minor stories. “The Varley Corps Wants You” takes as its point of departure the appalling toll 2017 took on our creative talents (and it’s disheartening to realize how many more he could have added in late 2017 and even this year). In the story, the reason for this is that people from the future have applied eugenics incautiously and bred creativity out of their gene pool, leaving their utopia rather lacking. So, akin to Varley’s Millennium (in this story, though I think the original “Air Raid” version was so much better), they’ve gone back in time to nab our artists. What the artists do when they get there concludes the story. This has a couple of practical implausibilities (even granting the time travel) but is a reasonably interesting short, light bit. “The Beast from Below” might have been science fiction had it been a 1950s movie but is some kind of fantasy about a giant irradiated mutated armadillo with a very weak “romance” between Mayor Mable and Sheriff Harry. I find the casual comment about Japan in the context of a radiation “comedy” to be odd, at best. Comic storyteller Billy tells us about another of the fixes his eccentric inventor friend Arlin Sweetwater got himself into in “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.” It doesn’t pay to mess with the Little People, even with SF tech, as Arlin will attest after calling Billy to help get him out from the inside of a tree (which is the least of Arlin’s troubles). Feels like a part of a series but apparently isn’t. “The Satyr of Brandenburg” is the second of a series (following “La Héron”) and somewhat suffers from it. It’s longer than the others of this group, and perhaps darker, but still feels fundamentally light. This is set in a sort of Sardinia in 1700 but one in which the “Otherworld” is a known thing and from which Heron comes. The story mostly addresses her relationship with ex-nun Alex while she competes in a dueling tournament under the auspices of the Marquess of Soleminis. Its ending is too quick and easy and the premise doesn’t appeal to me but some may enjoy this.

There are also a few mostly short, mostly dark, not entirely successful stories. “A Swim and a Crawl” is a surreal, rather than fantastic, tale and seems to be making a statement on the human condition with its protagonist trying to transit from the sea to the peaks, though the apparent suicidal beginning is at odds with that idea. It’s basically a writing exercise conveying the sea and a cliff, otherwise. “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” is impossible to review (or even categorize properly) without spoiling it. It’s bizarrely similar to “Ice,” which I read last month in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, in that both deal with the child of an explorer heading off to frozen lands to search for their missing father and encountering strange critters there. In this case, it’s a science fictional take on fantasy “selkies” and I can’t say much more. Suffice to say, it is also like “Ice” in that the setting is effectively evoked but I wasn’t as impressed by the rest of the tale and had logical and aesthetic issues with the ending but some may enjoy it. “A Dog of Wu” ultimately does some things pretty well but is fatally undone by initially talking about a “Way” developing as a result of a “Drift” and focuses on “Milano” who is a follower of “Wu” without defining or giving meaning to any of these people or things for at least half the story, so we have nothing to root for or against, no parameters of success or failure, nothing to connect with. Eventually, it seems we’ve had a bit of a radiation accident and a shadow government of biochemically/genetically controlled people have been produced to follow the ideology of the Way and partially control things in a dystopian fashion. It conveys the idea that the only walls you need are those in your mind (which is to say it’s all fine, if conventional, SF stuff) but it’s too little, too late.

Of the better stories, two are quite similar in a way. “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” and “Hideous Flowerpots” both deal with humans in pain and the outpouring of love and/or understanding of the “other” that can heal this. “Resonance” takes a young girl as the focal point but applies her, and her find of a magic alien gizmo in Nigeria, to a social story of her father and others protesting at an oil company that is damaging their environment. Through experimenting with the gizmo with her friend, she has learned that their consciousnesses can fuse while in contact with the device and each other. The climax comes when government troops at the protest turn violent. “Flowerpots” takes a middle-aged art gallery owner as its focal point and delves into her self-loathing, despite all her measures of success, which causes her to lash out at others. She meets a woman who leads a sort of support group which possesses a similar, unrationalized device, to the one in “Resonance.” The crisis here is more personal, dealing with the pains of love and hate and, while not expressed this way, of being born again. Similar to Palwick’s recent “Remote Presence,” this is an ecumenical tale which doesn’t address any particular religious or spiritual label and doesn’t use words like “charity” but conveys a general power of love and understanding. The primary running symbol of the “hideous flowerpots” is good and plays into the story’s substantial humor which never undercuts its serious intent and I much prefer its ending which is physically as easy but psychically more ambiguous, harder earned, and indicative of hard things to come compared to the easier one of “Resonance” (though “Resonance” has elements (opening segment, temporal setting) which may show that it knows it’s an idealistic tale). So I honorably mention “Resonance” and highly recommend “Flowerpots” but both are good and some might reverse the two.

Finally, perhaps an even stronger story is “Likho” (sequel to, or at least kindred story of, “Wormwood Is Also a Star”) which is another story that is very hard to pin down. It’s basically a very tense and compelling tale of Sonya and her guide sneaking into the sealed off regions around Chernobyl so that she can investigate a mural that has generated urban myths of its magical properties, related to the tale of some children who were left behind in the disaster and magically protected, only to meet tragic fates anyway. So it opens with a pretty thorough blend of SF & F and things only get fuzzier as Sonya follows her guide in taking “Yaga” and tripping though some of the rest of the story which particularly features the troubling apparition of the title figure (who runs ambiguously throughout the story). In more literal terms, it involves getting caught up in a tiny subset of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and encountering the scientific labs where the children did much of their suffering. “Likho” basically does everything right that “Wu” did wrong and was absolutely captivating and intense. I had my arms clenched together, with the “real world” falling away as the story took over, especially when the protagonist was with the Ukrainian freedom fighters and the Russian-sympathizing captive. It has a conventional plot element or two and an odd word choice or two but was very good and is also strongly recommended.

Review: Asimov’s, March/April 2018

Asimov’s, March/April 2018


“Dix” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (scifi novella)
“Artisanal Trucking, LLC” by Mary Robinette Kowal (science fiction short story)
“Queen of the River: the Harbor Hope” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
“Emojis” by Rudy Rucker (science fiction short story)
“A Threnody for Hazan” by Ray Nayler (science fantasy novelette)
“Love Songs for the Very Awful” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
“Seven Months Out and Two to Go” by Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie (science fantasy novelette)
“The Billows of Sarto” by Sean Monaghan (science fiction short story)
“The Waiting Room: the Pedia’s Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
“Attack on Terminal: the Pilgrims’ Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
“In Event of Moon Disaster” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
“Because Reasons” by Alexandra Renwick (science fiction short story)
“Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson (science fiction novella)

This issue of Asimov’s is the second consecutive one with stories by Rusch and Rucker and the second with a double-barrelled shot of Gunn (sixth with at least one Gunn). The average quality is reasonable and there’s one or two notable stories but little sticks out significantly either way. One thing that does stick out is that, while there’s nothing here that’s strictly fantasy, there’s quite a bit that isn’t strictly SF in one sense or another.

Two stories are essentially fantasy. “Seven Months Out” features a woman who’s lost her husband, is expecting a baby, and works on a ranch where some of her cows are also expecting. Almost half the story is her hallucination, vaguely rationalized by maybe-aliens. Some few may respond to its thick (indulgent) emotional content. “A Threnody for Hazan” spends much more (too much) effort reinventing the wheel of a surreal spiritual time machine which lets a protagonist become a wall or road in WWII (which turns out to have more resonance than might be expected) but what it really wants to do is describe the relationship between an interesting and strange couple and to address all the awful things that make up history and humanity. It’s not bad but probably would have have been better if it had been a straight fantasy.

Four are essentially mainstream and come in light and heavy flavors. Of the two lightly science fictionalized ones, “Artisanal Trucking, LLC” doesn’t need to take place in a very near future of self-driving vehicles, while making noises about authenticity and self-determination, in order to tell a story about running over a dog and dealing with its orphaned puppies. “Because Reasons” doesn’t need to send a person to Mars in order to have the other talk about her feelings about that friend abandoning her: another country would do. Despite being yet another relationship “listory,” the list elements convey a voice and backstory that make for a reasonably engaging read. For the heavy ones, if a starship captain crashes her improbably designed vessel onto a colony world full of weird alien critters which orbits a temperamental star and becomes pilot of the  “Queen of the River,” it has to be SF, right? Well, yes, but it’s also all contrived to produce an underplotted tale of a Mark Twainish paddleboat trip. It feels like a piece of something bigger but the critters were fun. There are similar, lesser critters in “The Billows of Sarto” which is almost identical to the author’s earlier “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles.” We have diseased characters wandering to strange planets to deal with death and experience the magical phenomenon of alien lifeforms. Just replace “crimson birds” with “billows” but either could be replaced by a bunch of parrots just as the alien world could be replaced by a tropical island. Aside from that, the improbable relationship of the two characters is especially flawed, despite a failed attempt at a preemptive strike: “He barely knew a thing about her, but…”

Two more pieces are arguably thickly cloaked medieval bits but the “pieces” and “bits” are more significant. “The Waiting Room” is a fragment of a prologue to “Attack on Terminal” which is, itself, a fragment of a prologue to the Transcendental books. Riley, his AI implant, and some fellow pilgrims are trying to travel to the Transcendental Machine. A brief attack by alien barbarians punctuates what is otherwise just Riley’s looking at and thinking about his fellow travelers.

Dix” is indubitably an SF novella but of a TV sci-fi sort where technobabble problems and solutions fail to provide tension and the reader spends most of the tale waiting for the other shoe to drop but there’s only one shoe. A ship was stuck in foldspace for 5,000 objective years and has recently emerged. The protagonist and her captain find the first officer dead of an apparent suicide and have to deal with the threat this may pose.

Next are a pair of actual SF stories featuring bent brains. “Love Songs for the Very Awful” is one of Reed’s recent run of dyspeptic tales with anticlimactic endings but has elements of interest. A scientist has escaped from her small town and is running an experiment which models personalities by permanently implanted brain meshes. A sociopathic sort of a person is among the first test subjects which means that, when the tech has advanced and people are modifying their personalities, he can’t modify his. The tale deals with those two characters’ relationship with each other and his with another woman later. In the other tale, Scott’s “Emojis” don’t just go viral, they are viral. At the behest of his boss, he infects himself without knowing he’ll be contagious. So the whole world gets little empathy-based icons floating in their visual field and they can be used for advertising, too. So Scott decides to take it a step further. Entertaining enough but not as momentous as it seems like it should be.

Fans of Simak and/or anthropology might be most likely to enjoy “Bury Me in the Rainbow” which is a “stand-alone sequel” to “We Will Drink a Fish Together” (which I have read and recall enjoying but can’t recall otherwise). In this one, Tony takes over for the recently deceased Sam and is in a power struggle with a calculating and aggressive woman who thinks Tony is too trusting of the aliens who are offering some of Tony’s tribe passage on their ship. The off-the-cuff, incidental characterizations and observations are probably the best part of this. The story’s not overwritten or exactly padded and there are a lot of details and complicated parts but the basic story doesn’t seem to require this very long (34K) novella which resolves fairly predictably and clearly indicates another installment is coming. It’s done well enough and of enough substance to merit some attention, though.

Finally, I recommend “In Event of Moon Disaster.” Laurie and Sol are alone in a region of the moon after something has struck the surface. Laurie had gone out to investigate and has now returned. Sol lets her in and she goes to sleep. Then there’s a knock at the airlock. Laurie’s banging on the ship and wants to come in. This story riffs on all sorts of things from “The Brain Stealers of Mars” to “Knock” to “The Cold Equations” and “Think Like a Dinosaur” and more but you don’t need to be familiar with any of that to be weirded out by and interested in this story which also displays a grasp of twists and scale. Since this is set in one continuum, I don’t know if it also means to be addressing one of my biggest gripes with the “many worlds” conjecture but, if so, I like that, too.

Review: Analog, March/April 2018

Analog, March/April 2018


“The Spires” by Alec Nevala-Lee (science fantasy novelette)
“The Streaming Man” by Suzanne Palmer (science fiction short story)
“Razzibot” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
“The Selves We Leave Behind” by Gwendolyn Clare (science fiction short story)
“Beek” by Tom Ligon (science fiction short story)
“An Incident on Ishtar” by Brian Trent (science fiction short story)
“The Tailgunner’s Lament” by Brendan DuBois (science fiction short story)
“Sicko” by Jerry Oltion (short story)
“Car Talk” by Mary A. Turzillo (science fiction short story)
“Frog Happy” by Bruce McAllister (science fiction short story)
“Sun Splashed Fields and Far Blue Mountains” by Susan Forest (science fictional short story)
“Lab B-15” by Nick Wolven (science fiction novelette)
“Physics Tomorrow” by Gregory Benford (science fiction short story/article)
Probability Zero: “The Being” by Bill Pronzini (science fiction short story)
“Big Thompson” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
“The Camel’s Tail” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)

This issue of Analog saves the best for last, but I’m not going to. “The Camel’s Tail” is simply What It’s All About. In 2079, an alien probe enters our busy, bustling system full of off-Earth colonies and ships investigating, among other things, microbial life in the asteroids. Many ships chase after the probe for knowledge and profit and meet a variety of fates. This is told through the very human interest of the protagonist husband and his wife, who are prospecting in space, trying their best to make up for a family member’s dishonesty which damaged the family fortune back in Somalia. The tale also manages several nice cross-connections such as the Earth setting and a bit of tech (Clarke would be proud) and the story’s title and its contents. A very exciting, smart, space-based adventure with characters to care about and a future that’s enticing. Strongly recommended.

Perhaps the next best stories are, oddly, not quite science fiction or futuristic at all. “Physics Tomorrow” uses the method of Asimov’s “Thiotimoline” fictional science articles to talk about the plasma beings and gravwave communications devices of the author’s and Niven’s “Mice Among Elephants” and is really nifty if naturally a little undramatic. You probably should read “Sicko” but may regret having done so. It describes a very strange “Typhoid Marty” character who goes around purposefully spreading germs for the greater good. Ambiguous and highly disturbing but concisely and cleverly executed. “The Tailgunner’s Lament” is very close to being an honorable mention but really needed some more editing as it’s full of typos and continuity errors (beer cans turning into bottles and back) and oddities (writers “like” [d]e Camp and Doc Smith? Sure, two peas in a pod). More importantly, the ending and some things contributing to it could have been changed to make it much stronger. However, this tale of a B-29 tailgunner in 1945 developing a friendship with a professor/colonel and encountering “foo fighters” was an Allen Steele-ish historical love letter to SF, did a nice job evoking the lives and deaths of WWII bomber crews and, without at all being didactic, made an interesting implicit evaluation of the use of The Bomb.

Moving on to lesser, but adequate tales, Bill is forced to take a job piloting Sam and Cora on a crazy mission to see “The Spires” of a city in the sky over Alaska because it’s the 1930s and times are hard. And Cora is attractive. Sam is a follower of Charles Fort and Cora believes that we need crazy people to push the envelope. The main weaknesses of this story are that it lacks drama and Cora turns out to be a red-hairing, so to speak, as she’s just there to spell out the theme, but it’s otherwise just another competently executed tale from Nevala-Lee. While there aren’t any evil machinations of Man and cryptozoological furies putting him in his place, it is a Fortean “science” fiction logic-buster. If you like these things, you’ll probably like this but, if you don’t, you won’t.

Selves We Leave Behind” involves a first contact that doesn’t go too well when a hivemind becomes aware that humans are infiltrating its world. This is a fairly tired tale, though it has one of the best alien descriptions of humans I’ve read (including: “Its central nerve cluster resides within a hard bulb protruding from the top of its body.”) but the ending, however natural, is fictionally weak. In one of a pair of “ooh, internet!” tales, a young girl gets a “Razzibot” (which is not “razzy bot” but “paparazzi-bot”) and becomes an internet phenom after streaming her life (akin to Sterling’s 1980 The Artificial Kid). Aside from theme and regardless of her family breakup and live agony, I have a logical question as to why she’d particularly stick out. “The Streaming Man” involves a guy putting monitoring implants in his body which emit sounds for diagnostic purposes which turns him into a popular internet “music” stream to the point that he even has nutjob fans – including one who shoots him. He survives but he sort of loses his mind and the rest of the overlong story is about him trying to find his way back. I don’t buy that the sounds are “a cacophony, but not” and his later behavior didn’t make him very likeable. Aside from nods to printed organs, etc., “Sun Splashed Fields” isn’t really SF at all, but discusses a man needing a medical procedure and his wife needing to become a participant in a medical trial to pay for it. It seemed to have a chance to go for a “medical industry as vampire” theme but lacked focus and concentrated more on the ironic relationship of the couple.

Lesser tales include “An Incident on Ishtar,” in which an autistic girl tries to make up for a “Terrible Mistake” by moving to a habitat atop Venus, which suffers from implausibility and bathos and ironically appears in the same issue as part of a Kunsken serial when it reads something like an inferior version of that author’s “Persephone Descending” (which had its own political plausibility problems). “Frog Happy” is a somewhat surreal tale of strange animals appearing and being perhaps even stranger than they seem. “Big Thompson” tries to soften its SETI infodump half with a decent human interest half involving a boy, his somewhat abusive mom, and a flood, but the thing that ties them together is weak. “Beek” is all infodump, from a beekeeper to a president, except for its “let’s make it SF” twist. “The Being” has a comical alien that worries the protagonist.

All the above stories fall short more in retrospect than in the reading. The only stories that were difficult to get through were “Car Talk,” in which a woman argues with her self-driving AI car about her boyfriend’s politics, which is just a “theme dump” and is the type of story about annoyance that is annoying. Finally, “Lab B-15,” may well end up highly regarded by some folks but, for me, this looping tale about modeling people’s brains for digital upload after death uses a tiresome method and takes a looong time to cover an old subject before reaching obvious conclusions and is a lot like everything from the author’s own “No Placeholder for You My Love” to things like PKD’s 1957 Eye in the Sky.

By the way, I should point out that, while this issue includes a serial segment, it includes no novellas and only two novelettes (“The Spires,” “Lab B-15”) according to its table of contents, though “Tailgunner” seems to be a novelette based on my word count. Of the other short stories, only three are longer than about 4K (“The Streaming Man,” “Ishtar,” and “Camel’s Tail”), two of 3-4K (“Beek,” “Sun Splashed Fields”), and the other eight are less than that, going on down to about 800 words. While the short stories were stronger than the novelettes in this issue, I’ll say again that I’d really prefer to see somewhat fewer but longer, more substantial stories.

Review of Cirsova #7 for Tangent

The seventh number of Cirsova brings us a novella, five short stories, and two flash pieces of what is intended to be pulpy science fantasy, fantasy, and horror fun. Some may enjoy the energetically delivered colorful subject matter and many may be dissatisfied due to the shortcomings of craft.

Full review at Tangent: Cirsova #7, Spring 2018.