Review of Black Static #64 for Tangent

If you’re not picky about genre, this issue of Black Static is a good one. A third of it is non-fantastic horror dealing with insanity. Oddly, the fantastic stories, while generally very readable, aren’t as good except for the last (fourth overall), which is superb and the best of the issue.

Full review at Tangent: Black Static #64, July/August 2018.

Recommended:

  • “The Blockage” by Jack Westlake (non-speculative horror short story)
  • “The Monstrosity in Love” by Sam Thompson (dark fantasy short story)

Honorable mention:

  • “Why We Don’t Go Back” by Simon Avery (non-speculative horror novelette)
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Review of Solarpunk for Tangent

Solarpunk is composed of Brazilian stories from 2012 which aim to deal with green energy and ecology. The preface cites Le Guin, Callenbach, and Robinson as exemplars but notes that Brazilian green energy is not necessarily seen as an issue of the Left or as a good thing. It also notes that these stories are not as utopian as many on similar topics. My reading confirms this, as only a couple touch on things which are obviously political to this American and are often quite dark.

Full “Special Double Review” (Chuck Rothman and I both review this) at Tangent: Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, ed. by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro.

Summation: July 2018

Here are the fifteen noted stories (four recommended) from the 92 stories of 503 Kwds I read from the July issues along with links to all their reviews and the other July posts on Featured Futures. This month’s wombat was a remarkable number of mostly print SF honorable mentions while all the few other items (except an excellent F&SF dark fantasy) came from the web.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Chasing the Start” by Evan Marcroft, Strange Horizons, July 9, 2018 (novelette)
  • The Nearest” by Greg Egan, Tor.com, July 19, 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms, F&SF, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon, Lightspeed #98, July 2018 (short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Broken Wings” by William Ledbetter, F&SF, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Resigned” by Floris M. Kleijne, Galaxy’s Edge #33, July/August 2018 (short story)
  • “Starship Mountain” by Allen M. Steele, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novella)
  • “True Jing” by Zack Be, Asimov’s, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu, Analog, July/August 2018 (novelette)
  • Your Face” by Grace Tang, Nature, July 11, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

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Magazines

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Review: Analog, July/August 2018

Analog, July/August 2018

Analog_2018-07_08
Original Fiction:

  • “A Stab of the Knife” by Adam-Troy Castro (novella)
  • “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed” by Frank Wu (novelette)
  • “Generations Lost and Found” by Evan Dicken (short story)
  • “A Simple Question” by Kris Dikeman (short story)
  • “The People v. Craig Morrison” by Alex Shvartsman & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (short story)
  • “Potosi” by Joe Pitkin (novelette)
  • “Eulogy for an Immortal” by James Robert Herndon (short story)
  • “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” by Mary E. Lowd (short story)
  • Probability Zero: “Preface to the Handbook of Social Treatments for Conceptual Allergies” by Daniel James Peterson (short story)
  • “New Frontiers of the Mind” by Andy Duncan (novelette)
  • “Here’s Looking at You, Cud” by M. Bennardo (short story)
  • “Extracts from the Captain’s Notes” by Mary Soon Lee (short story)
  • “Open Source Space” by C. Stuart Hardwick (novelette)
  • “Priorities” by Jacob A. Boyd (short story)
  • “A Crystal Dipped in Dreams” by Auston Habershaw (novelette)
  • “Left to Take the Lead” by Marissa Lingen (novelette)

Except for the Probability Zero and the self-referential alternate history of “New Frontiers,” all stories are some species of (sometimes squishy) science fiction. As with the Asimov’s, apologies for the lateness (and hurried nature) of this review.

A table of contents with sixteen stories (plus a translated story) is quite impressive and looks like a lot of bang for your buck but one of the stories is about 2800 words and six more range from about 2100 words down to (I kid you not) 258. Many of the more substantial tales and some of the lesser ones range from readable to notable so there’s plenty of decent reading but there’s also a lot of chaff.

Eulogy” is the longest of the notably short tales and also very serious, describing a man (who has recently lost his mother) finding his father dead and constructing a strange and lasting monument according to his father’s wishes. Part of this was quite effective but it stresses that everyone grieves in their own way and this way, however poetically apt in an intellectual sense, was ultimately hard to connect with for me. It was interesting though, and it may work for some readers. “Extracts” is the shortest and there’s no story here: a captain devotes a few sentences to trivializing a journey to Saturn’s moons.

Between those lengths, “Generations” is about people adapting, in both plausible and ridiculous ways, to life on a generation starship. Ironically, it’s too long at about 1700 words and its semi-serious tone doesn’t work, though a purely comic 1000-word piece might have. “A Simple Question” is a remarkably unjust, sexist, passive-aggressive piece disguised as a semi-comic tale of “The Attack of the Mold Monsters.” “Arboretum” is a c. 500-word sketch of a robot finding processing heaven in an arboretum but if there’s a story here, I’m missing it. “Preface” semi-comically considers what happens “if trigger warnings and echo chambers go on…” Alas, while in the right area to be satirically hilarious, it seems a bit scattershot and its parody (?) of dry, academic style makes it… dry and academic. “Priorities” is a bifurcated story that does a good job of describing a harrowing accident in space and the extreme measures taken to try to save the protagonist but all in the service of a rather weak punchline. The main section was pretty good, though.

That leaves nine tales which are full stories and most of them deal with loss in one way or another. In the rather bizarre “Here’s Looking at You, Cud,” water shortages have resulted in a law being passed which outlaws the sale of real beef and a Fed (who reminds me of Dale Gribble in being so proud of his paranoid insight yet who is really naive) is involved in a sting operation aiming to take down an old flame. In “The People v. Craig Morrison” (which ought to be “Craig Morrison v. Vermont” or some such), the state has banned manual driving and a war veteran who has lost his legs is suing for the right to keep driving. He drives a Camaro his war vet dad had owned since Craig’s childhood and which, despite terminal cancer, he’d handed down to Craig after modifying it so that Craig could drive it. In the flood of “self-driving car” stories lately, this is probably the most salient dramatization and it is emotionally effective in ways but the arguments for the law and many of the dynamics of the tale and its conclusion are not persuasive or apt. “Potosi” presumably has Rebel scum motivated by their feelings of loss but we’ll never know because of the cardboard nature of the evil white supremacist. She’s from Arkansas so what else could she be? So the African protagonist fights the Southern villain over the Land of Riches (an asteroid of platinum) in this subtle tale that’s all about the science.

Open Source Space” conveys its somewhat paradoxically globalist message through a tale about a couple of people crowdsourcing a mission to recover Apollo 10’s lander (called Snoopy) which has been in orbit around the sun. The fact that they thought they’d failed and that the inhabitants of the Chinese moonbase thinks they’re being attacked complicates matters. Something about the tone of the story removes any doubt about the conclusion which removes much suspense. “New Frontiers” is a specifically Analog-centric tale of a sort of alternate history in which John W. Campbell, Jr. participates in Rhine’s Zener card experiments and is initially very good at it but loses the knack. This obviously took quite a bit of historical work and is reasonably evocative of the time and place but is also lacking in plot and drama. “A Stab of the Knife” is another of the many Draiken tales and Cort tales, here combined with plenty of plot and drama which is entertaining enough but replete with unbelievable dialog and poor proofreading. In this one, Draiken is pursuing Cort based on intel from a previous tale and it turns out that many factions, plots, and counter-plots make it difficult for anyone in the story to know who’s fighting on whose side or why. Eventually, after a suitably violent climax, the way is paved for further adventures.

Left to Take the Lead” is yet another story lacking a real driving plot (being a shorter story might have helped with this, making it feel tighter) and hammering some of its points too heavily (being a longer story might have helped with this, giving it room to breathe), but the protagonist and her narrative voice work very well and make this a notable story. Holly was an inhabitant of the Oort Cloud before an economic collapse which resulted in her being sold into indentured servitude, which is a popular thing on an ecologically ravaged Earth. Her culture shock (indeed, planet shock) is extreme and she spends much of the story dealing with that and waiting for her uncles to save the Family (which has a special social significance to Oorters) but a catastrophe shakes her into a new viewpoint and a new life plan. Also notable is “Until We Are Utterly Destroyed.” Its style involves a lot of “As you know, O victor priest!” and the whole tale rests on a rather inexplicable way to go about designing AI and terraforming but is substantially, if not qualitatively, almost like Hal Clement and Lester del Rey collaborated on a story, with giant centipede-like aliens in a strange planetary environment dealing with religious ideas and vengeance. Finally, “Crystal” reads a little bit too much like a geekish wish-fulfillment of sorts and brought to mind, without matching, things as diverse as Leiber’s “Night of the Long Knives” (1960) to Kornher-Stace’s “Last Chance” (2017). In terms of prose, plot, and character, at least, this was about the smoothest, best tale in the issue. A physically impaired dreamer is out in the apocalyptic wasteland looking for the ancient treasure which will save him from misery when he meets an armed woman who not only gets the drop on him but gets the treasure he missed. Still, they become uneasy companions until they get to the trading station and the alpha male trader changes the equation. He sees the treasure as a weapon and honey-trap while the protagonist sees a greater value in the dreams and knowledge the VR crystal can convey. If only the trader weren’t a giant cannibal and hadn’t taken the woman as well.

Review: Asimov’s, July/August 2018

Asimov’s, July/August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Ephemera” by Ian R. MacLeod (science fiction novelette)
  • “Stones in the Water, Cottage on the Mountain” by Suzanne Palmer (fantasy short story)
  • “Lieutenant Tightass” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (sci-fi novelette)
  • “Rules of Biology” by Dale Bailey (science fantasy short story)
  • “Unter” by Michael Cassutt (science fiction novelette)
  • “True Jing” by Zack Be (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Backward Lens of Compromise” by Octavia Cade (fantasy novelette)
  • “Attachment Unavailable” by Leah Cypess (science fiction short story)
  • “Liberating Alaska” by Harry Turtledove (alternate history novelette)
  • “Straconia” by Jack Skillingstead (fantasy novelette)
  • “Starship Mountain” by Allen M. Steele (science fiction novella)

Apologies for the lateness of this review. About half the stories in this issue of Asimov’s are some species of fantasy and half are more science fictional. A couple of the fantasies and most of the SF have their interesting points with a couple of the latter being noteworthy. I’d personally prefer a much more science fictional issue and would love more stories to combine the peak of one of the two best stories and the consistency of the other to produce truly outstanding experiences, but this was a fair issue overall. I’ll tackle the less science fictional first, then the more.

Compromise” is not only stylistically but conceptually awkward as it argues for the value of science by interspersing interpretations of astronomers’ lives with… a fantasy about a woman with “the world’s worst superpower” which involves negatively distorting the world based on her reveries. “Rules of Biology” would be more aptly titled “Rules of Pseudo-Biology” with its ham-handed metaphor of what fathers give up when they split from the mother and a step-father moves in, extending it beyond custody and environment to the genes themselves. “Stones” is yet another iteration of the iterative relationship-centered “many worlds” tale except without much of a nod at even that bit of fringe science, so that it reads as fantasy and is, naturally, repetitive and uninvolving. “Liberating Alaska” is a sort of “historical minutiae porn” which has the US fighting the USSR over Alaska and its gold in 1929, apparently because the US didn’t acquire it in 1867 but during WWI. It has a lot of details but a simple, linear plot of wisecracking amidst death in an Alaskan version of Normandy. I doubt it would appeal to non-alternate history fans or even all who are, but some fans may enjoy it. “Straconia” is frustrating because it puts a character into an interesting situation that reeks of paranoia, surrealism, and Kafka, and does much successfully but also has significant problems. The whole thing is triggered by a wife who is basically immediately written out after the husband goes looking for her and magically finds himself in a hidden city; the sidekick the protagonist picks up has appealing elements but there are some odd notes in the handling of the character’s race; and, regardless of theme, it just doesn’t end particularly well in a plot-sense. Still, quite compelling through most of its middle section.

Unter” is one of a spate of stories which involve humans hiring their bodies out to be controlled remotely by rich people and has inexplicable characters in an unconvincing crime mystery. “Attachment” is a brief, half-amusing/half-annoying entry in the long line of “internet joke tales” in which an online group of mothers discusses the wisdom of letting the aliens take babies for sleep-training. “Lieutenant Tightass” is a prequel to the recent “Dix” in the same magazine but is much superior to it. It doesn’t start well and is a little heavy on its “time to be a tightass and time not” theme but is otherwise entertaining enough. “Ephemera” has a spiderbot ruminating on humanity in a hollowed-out asteroid which contains a library of basically everything after humanity has finally had WWIII. The bot is an interesting character and the subject matter is naturally not without its emotional effect though the story is lacking in drama and visceral effect (and has an Earth with remarkably quickly shifting continents). “True Jing” is even more frustrating than “Straconia” and for the similar main reason of an unsatisfying ending in a plot sense. Still, this tale’s far-future super-science space whale hunt is so dramatic and imaginative through its bulk and does such a good job conveying the mind-expanding nature of an alien trying to communicate with a human, and what extraordinary steps an effective translation might require, that I can’t fail to note it. “Starship Mountain” is a sequel to “Sanctuary” (Tor.com, May 17, 2017) and, in some ways, is better. Set generations after the Lindbergh crash-landed, humans have forgotten much of their history, encouraged by the native Tau Cetians. In their enclave, things have returned to something like an 18th century European nature and the protagonist is a private eye who straps on his sword and his one-shot pistol to try to fulfill a wealthy, powerful man’s assignment to find his missing daughter. The task will lead to his finding much more though the ending makes clear it’s not over yet. Despite the protagonist being such a tough guy, the resolution turns out to be fairly easy and Scooby-Doo-like (and I don’t know why people have come to cash “cheques” at “banques” while speaking of “plastik” and so on), but it’s a fairly entertaining and noteworthy tale.

Review: F&SF, July/August 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
July/August 2018

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2018, cover by Bob EggletonOriginal Fiction:

  • “The Phobos Experience” by Mary Robinette Kowal (alternate history short story)
  • “The Prevaricator” by Matthew Hughes (fantasy short story)
  • “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time” by Corey Flintoff (fantasy short story)
  • “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” by L. X. Beckett (science fiction novella)
  • “The Adjunct” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (fantasy short story)
  • “Visible Cities” by Rachel Pollack (fantasy novelette)
  • “Bedtime Story” by James Sallis (science fiction short story)
  • “Morbier” by R. S. Benedict (time travelish short story)
  • “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms (fantasy short story)
  • “Broken Wings” by William Ledbetter (science fiction novelette)

The July/August F&SF features Martian cover art with related opening and closing stories. This might lead one to expect a very science fictional issue but  half the issue is pure fantasy while only a couple of the SF tales are thoroughly SF. Whatever the genre, while this lacks many great stories, it’s full of good ones and makes for a good read.

The Phobos Experience” takes us back in time to an alternate 1970s with a Martian colony and features a heroine with vertigo who accompanies two other soldiers to explore the cave system in Phobos which has been the object of disinformation and is now being used as a piece in a game between civilian and military authorities. “Broken Wings” takes us more traditionally to an inhabited Deimos of the future and features a paraplegic heroine and her obese love interest who has discovered an alien artifact which is sought after by an inspector and pirates. (“Phobos” had a whiff of space pirates, too.) This latter tale is unabashedly neo-pulp and rather fun.

Of the remaining not-entirely-fantasy tales, “Morbier” is a tale which tries to toe the line between mainstream and time travel with a skeptical narrator and her girlfriend who claims to be a time traveler. This tale uses a very uncommon cheese metaphor in this slight extension of a very common time travel motif. “Bedtime Story” is another one of those New Wavy “make a comment on the human condition… hm, let’s throw in inscrutable offstage aliens as the metaphorical gimmick” apocalyptic short-shorts. “Freezing Rain” is initially so choked with “future lingo” that it is off-putting but becomes more readable as it goes on. A journalist who wants to be a musician has had all his “social credit” destroyed* due to an unfortunate incident and falls into the clutches of an obscenely wealthy old woman who is an artist of a very peculiar sort as he tries to make a deal to get an illegal brain-enhancing drug in exchange for undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy at a corrupt clinic as both part of his journalism and her “art.” While the woman may be a symbol of the rapacious wealthy and there are such people, she’s still hard to believe as a character and the journalist is unengaging even though he’s the focal point. Despite these problems, the story becomes quite powerful and even horrifying until it reaches its somewhat muddled, improbable end.

Turning to the fantasies, “Visible Cities” is connected to other stories and may appeal more to fans of those but, taken by itself, is a fairly dull tale with no discernible connection between its scenes which depict a woman training to be a sort of sorceress and then losing track of and seeking to reconnect with her teacher. “The Prevaricator” is a much lighter and more entertaining tale about a scam artist figuring out what he thinks is an easier way to get his riches and joining forces with a wizard to scare the people into paying money to avoid having a wizard for a neighbor. Naturally, things don’t go entirely as planned. “The Adjunct” is also a light tale (for one set at Miskatonic University, anyway) and as cheese metaphors are uncommon, so are tales about citation systems from hell. A professor has to deal with “CFSR” when she just wants to be able to tell her students to use MLA. When she learns more about CFSR, things only get worse. “Queen of the Peri” is more serious but still breezy, as a race car driver seeks help for his problem with an angry peri (Persian winged spirit) first from an old man known for having had a similar problem and, ultimately, from a djinn. “Hainted” isn’t light at all and is probably the most impressive tale of the issue. Young Dallas is a coal-miner’s daughter and has noticed problems with her dad and his relation to both mother and daughter. Turns out that an important piece of him has been broken off down in the mines and she needs to get that haint to rejoin him. She gets her best friend’s dad to guide her down the mines to where the haints work but must do the hard part herself and it turns out to be much harder than she imagined. The haints are vividly conceived and are indeed, quite haunting. The journey below is powerful and painful and may resonate on personal, familial, and social levels.


* The editorial blurb says, “Creative people, like writers, have some of the most experience with this awkward collision of social capital and the new gig economy, but the novella that follows is the first across our transom that fully imagines a near future where this trend is pushed to its potential extreme.” While he’s speaking only of F&SF and may also set a high bar for “fully,” all I can say is that I’ve read a lot of stories a lot like it in this regard. Some examples from just the past six months:

  • “Black Friday” by Alex Irvine (Tor.com)
  • “#CivilWarVintage” by Nan Craig (Terraform)
  • “Confessions of a Con Girl” by Nick Wolven (Asimov’s)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke (Asimov’s)
  • “Logistics” by A.J. Fitzwater (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Narcissus of Titan” by Tyler Wells Lynch (Terraform)
  • “Razzibot” by Rich Larson (Analog)
  • “The Streaming Man” by Suzanne Palmer (Analog)
  • “Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett (Uncanny)
  • “Top of Show” by James Rowland (Compelling)

Summation: May 2018

This month’s baker’s dozen of noted stories (four recommended) comes from the pool of ninety (of 440 Kwds) published between April 30 and May 28. The print zines were individually strongest with Analog and F&SF each contributing multiple tales but the web combined to contribute seven.

While not applicable to the monthly recommendations, I did review a collection this month which had eight reprints (three recommended) that I especially liked.

Two bits of site news: I’ve once again updated Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links), this time with The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 4, and I’m modifying what’s included in these “Summations.” Previously, I’d linked only to those reviews which discussed the noted stories but I’ve decided to link to all reviews of magazines (and books, if any), as well as various “news” articles, making this serve as an essentially complete retroactive “table of contents” of the activity for the month.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Fleeing Oslyge” by Sally Gwylan, Clarkesworld #140, May 2018 (novelette)
  • Grace’s Family” by James Patrick Kelly, Tor.com, May 16, 2018 (novelette)
  • “The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy, Analog, May/June 2018 (novella)

Fantasy

  • Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris, Nightmare #68, May 2018 (horror short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Crash-Site” by Brian Trent, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us” by Marina J. Lostetter, Uncanny #22, May/June 2018 (short story)
  • “Inquisitive” by Pip Coen, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke, Asimov’s, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” by Buzz Dixon, Analog, May/June 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

Book

News