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

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Review: The Golem of Deneb Seven by Alex Shvartsman

The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories
by Alex Shvartsman

Golem_Cover

Date: 2018-03-16 (Amazon)/2018-04-03 (ISFDB)
Format: Trade paperback
ISBN: 978-1986220613
Pages: 266
Price: $15.99 (Amazon)
Publisher: UFO Publishing

Contents:

  • “The Golem of Deneb Seven”
  • “A Perfect Medium for Unrequited Love”
  • “Burying Treasure”
  • “Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic”
  • “Whom He May Devour”
  • “Letting Go”
  • “The Fiddle Game”
  • “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters”
  • “Islands in the Sargasso”
  • “Catalogue of Items in the Chess Exhibition at the Humanities Museum, Pre-Enlightenment Wing”
  • “Fifteen Minutes”
  • “Masquerade Night”
  • “The Poet-Kings and the Word Plague”
  • “Golf to the Death”
  • “Staff Meeting, as Seen by the Spam Filter”
  • “Invasive Species”
  • “One in a Million”
  • “Grains of Wheat”
  • “The Ganthu Eggs”
  • “The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis”
  • “Dante’s Unfinished Business”
  • “Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare”
  • “How Gaia and the Guardian Saved the World”
  • “He Who Watches”
  • “Recall Notice”
  • “Dreidel of Dread: The Very Cthulhu Chanukah”
  • “Die, Miles Cornbloom”
  • “A Man in an Angel Costume”
  • “Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long”
  • “Parametrization of Complex Weather Patterns for Two Variables”
  • “The Race for Arcadia”

Depending on your inclination, the table of contents may not be so exciting or forbidding as it appears. Seventeen of the thirty-one stories are inarguably flash (less than one thousand words) and four more are less than two thousand. About a third of all lengths are clearly intended to be humorous, albeit sometimes darkly so, while the more serious nature of the other two thirds ranges from light to dark. Almost three-fifths are science fiction of one sort or another and the rest are fantasy except for one non-speculative story. Most of the stories were published in Galaxy’s Edge (those tending to be longer and better), IGMS (longer, lesser), Nature (shorter, better), and Daily SF (shorter, lesser).

The humorous fantasy flash or near-flash includes tales of metafictional satire (“Noun of Nouns,” “Seven Habits”) and Lovecraftian spoofs (“Cthulhu Chanukah.” “Recall Notice”), while the more serious ones include a magical con job (“Fiddle Game”), a non-magical con job crossed with a divinatory love story (“Future Fragments”), a biter-bit (“Forty-Seven Dictums”), a sort of demonic inverted “It’s a Terrible Life” (“Angel Costume”), and a surreal fantastic fable (“Poet-Kings”). I have problems with several of these, such as “Seven Habits” reading like a weak echo of “The Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord,” but most simply may or may not appeal to a given reader. My favorite was “Recall Notice,” in which letters from librarians of Miskatonic University tell the tale of Lovecraft the Third using Grandpa’s library card to check out things like “Preparing an Occult Ritual in Ten Easy Steps, Sports Illustrated: The Swimsuit Issue, Properly Pronouncing Your Invocations: Audio book on CD” and others to raise hell on earth.

Oddly, the shorter SF stories are more serious. They deal with alien invasions of varying sorts (“Catalogue of Items,” “Invasive Species”), nuclear apocalypse (“He Who Watches”), an omniverse quantum magic story (“One in a Million”), various sorts of love stories (mixed with weather control hacktivists in “Parametrization;” with time travel in “Letting Go”; with AIs in “Perfect Medium”). Three more AI pieces involve a couple of AIs in a depopulated solar system trying to figure out how to save Earth from a natural disaster (“Gaia and the Guardian”), a spam filter “becoming” sentient in a story which seems like it ought to be funny but unsuccessfully goes dark (“Staff Meeting”) and a person who feels tormented by an AI in a story which seems dark but very successfully goes for black comedy (“Fifteen Minutes”). The two science fictional revenge fantasies include another time travel listory (“Practical Guide”), while the much better one (“Grains of Wheat”) is a thoughtful look at business and medicine. The average quality of the SF may edge the fantasy though “Letting Go” is so contrived (and second person, present tense) and “Practical Guide” is so insufficiently transmuted by art that they don’t help the average. On the other hand, “Grains of Wheat” is transmuted by art and “Fifteen Minutes” is superb. Even some of the more middling pieces have some really nice elements such as the depictions of the Europans in “Gaia and the Guardian” and the clever methods of encoding messages in “Perfect Medium.”

Moving to the longer short stories, “Die, Miles Cornbloom” is an oddity in that it’s so weird it feels almost fantastic but isn’t. Miles and his pal are living their humdrum lives except that Miles has somehow acquired a stalker who has moved up to death threats. As the story progresses, so does the danger and then a twist occurs. It’s not a perfect story but it was effectively tense while managing a bit of lightness and worked for me.

The actual fantasies include another metafictional satire which takes issue with the economics of fantasy in “Burying Treasure” and the posthumous fantasy and unconvincing anti-pot diatribe, “Dante’s Unfinished Business.” Much more successful is “Masquerade Night” which uses the familiar motif of gods whose powers have waned along with their followers but creates a very powerful, creepy, and weird feel. It tells of a cat-god encountering a beautiful woman in the masquerades which allow the worlds of the humans and gods to barely, dangerously touch through the mediums of their disguises. The story is set in the 1920s and, indeed, feels like one of the good old-fashioned Weird Tales.

The longer science fiction pieces include the collection’s only novelette, “Islands in the Sargasso,” which is an installment in the shared-world series of “The Sargasso Containment” that Galaxy’s Edge ran from 2014-2016. Readers might benefit from being familiar with some of the other stories but I think this stands alone fairly well and is a pretty solid space opera which handles its drugs (a science fictional “Rust”) more convincingly and ambiguously than “Unfinished Business.” A recovering addict is fleeing from pursuers and must enter the barrier which surrounds the solar system and has previously meant certain death. He awakens on the other side two hundred years later and the scale of the tale broadens significantly. The other short stories include the title story about courage in invasions which isn’t provided by mechanized armor and “Whom He May Devour,” about a young woman dealing with technologically advanced humans encroaching on her religious and backwards world whose sole technology is devoted to preserving their uploaded ancestors. The worst of the short SF is “The Ganthu Eggs” which uses the poor device of a letter from a “mass-murderer” to a warden on behalf of another “mass-murderer” prisoner which depends on an anti-abortion viewpoint and trivializes the issue either way with the letter’s main concern. Along with “Sargasso,” two other tales compensate for that. “The Race for Arcadia” is a pretty good tale about a terminally ill man trying to win a second space race as a Russian competing against Americans and Indians to get to an earth-like world first, with a twist. “Golf to the Death” uses the “champion of the species” framework. In it, a man witnesses a human fight an alien in the aliens’ chosen sport and then must compete in the humans’ chosen sport, but with alien stakes, as they “golf to the death.” Just saying that makes me laugh and the story handles the premise reasonably well.

This is a collection with directly written stories full of familiar elements which for some readers will be a feature and for some a bug. Similarly, some may appreciate the mix of SF & F and of humor and seriousness while some might prefer just peanut butter or just chocolate. However it shakes out for the given reader, I do recommend several (the science fiction of “Fifteen Minutes,” the fantasy of “Masquerade Night,” and the mild suspense of “Die, Miles Cornbloom”) and think several more are notable (“Islands in the Sargasso,” “Golf to the Death,” “Grains of Wheat,” “Recall Notice,” and “The Race for Arcadia”).

Book Haul!

Awhile ago, I went to the library book sale. This year’s selection of speculative fiction was not as good as last year’s and, again, I ended up getting proportionally more fantasy and horror than I’d ideally aim for (though it is hard to find science fiction I do want and don’t have—in several cases, in both SF/F/H and other categories, I got replacement copies rather than outright new books). The lack of SF did allow me to devote a little more time to looking through some other subjects. On a general note, there was a good crowd which put a few drops into the county’s bucket.

As I did last year, I’m posting some pics. Click to embiggen (and if your browser auto-resizes and you want to see it full-size you may need to click again or do something else). Continue reading

Review: Asimov’s, May/June 2018

Asimov’s, May/June 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “The Wandering Warriors” by Rick Wilber & Alan Smale (fantasy novella)
  • “When the Rains Come Back” by Cadwell Turnbull (science fiction short story)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke (science fiction novelette)
  • “Creative Nonfiction” by Paul Park (slipstream short story)
  • “Riverboats, Robots, and Ransom in the Regular Way” by Peter Wood (sci-fi short story)
  • “Cost of Doing Business” by Nancy Kress (science fiction novelette)
  • “A Mammoth, So-Called” by Marc Laidlaw (fantasy short story)
  • “Unexpected Flowers” by Jane Lindskold (short story)
  • “Time Enough to Say Goodbye” by Sandra McDonald & Stephen D. Covey (time travel short story)
  • “Bubble and Squeak” by David Gerrold & Ctein (disaster novella)

While this issue doesn’t have many stories with overt magic and they all have something at least slightly askew, there’s little straight science fiction. Leaving genre aside, there were few that were chores to read and the longer ones were generally the more interesting ones, but there was also nothing really unambiguously excellent.

The two novellas are remarkable for how good and bad they are. “The Wandering Warriors” is a superb failure. From an alternate 1946, a barnstorming baseball team finds itself magicked back to the Rome of 212 by the Empress Julia Domna as part of her effort to get her sons, Geta and Caracalla, to play nicer with each other. Luckily for the ball club, the player/manager is a Latin scholar (if not a Poe scholar, as he refers to “the glory that’s Rome”) and Julia takes a liking to him. A love for baseball and Roman history shines through this story and, if you have similar interests and can accept the premise, you likely have a treat in store. I simply could not accept it, finding the image of Julia Domna (and Geta and Caracalla) playing baseball only slightly more ludicrous than a 1946 baseball team being full of Latin scholars and feminists, not to mention never understanding why or how this team was chosen or why they come from an alternate WWII since nothing is done with it in either alternate or temporal senses. The other novella, “Bubble and Squeak,” is named after the protagonists’ nicknames. Squeak is an Asian man who is small, smart, and practices karate and other martial arts. He’s also gay and practices modern dance and returns to his residence by shouting, “Honey, I’m homo!” “Bubble” is a scuba diver/stuntman. Both are soon to be married amidst a “mega-tsunami” which destroys Los Angeles when Hawaii goes haywire. (Given the current events with the Hawaiian volcano, I hope this isn’t prescient. ) The opening is poor and the denouement is that and overlong. The story’s third-person limited narration would have benefited from more than the single viewpoint (or pair of them) and, indeed, shows the strain by inconsistently breaking from our protagonists to have a scene with a subway driver for a moment. There’s a relatively unimportant oversized portion involving “Pearl” who was never properly introduced. Like the Latin-speaking ballplayer, there are no points for guessing how handy Bubble’s scuba skills will turn out to be. And there’s no real SF here beyond positing a tsunami in L.A. a few years from now rather than in India a few years ago. All that said, the vast bulk of the story is dramatic with some well-realized and vivid scenes of disaster and struggles to survive (and a nice shout-out to Asimov). If you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, it won’t be perfect but should suit and, even if you aren’t, it may sweep you away for the middle 80% or so.

Of the two novelettes, “Cost of Doing Business” is (1) yet another cli-fi tale and (2) yet another “force them to be free/destroy the village to save it” story. A reporter is recruited by a zillionaire (“a native West Virginian” who was “born in Florida”) to write a book about his efforts to get the US off of fossil fuels and onto renewables. He’s sort of like a Pepsi brother – a mirror image reversal of the Koch brothers, basically. While the story illustrates the cost this should have, the reporter, at least, seems strangely okay with what it describes overall. It’s a thoughtful story (and one of the few clearly SF stories in the issue, extrapolating things like an SF variant of the Zika virus in addition to its cli-fi and future politics) but gets kind of caught in the weeds towards the end, turning info-dumpy and even preachy and losing the narrative until the end. Better, and my favorite story of the issue (in “honorable mention” territory), is “Life from the Sky.” While never completely freed from ambiguity, it’s possible this story depicts some New Wave-like mute crystalline alien lifeforms supposedly falling into the ocean like meteorites and washing up on shore. While getting some fresh air, Audrey (a young meeting planner still living with her increasingly crazy mom) finds one and takes it over to some scientists who have more, getting a little net-famous, and good and very bad things follow from there. The aliens are symbols in a tale that’s really about “media intoxication,” perceptions of threats, rage, and identity. and how to deal with the internet since “we can’t make it go away or ignore it.” Like “Cost,” it starts to ramble a bit and the plot ends up being handled in a rather lazy way but the protagonist and her plight were interesting.

There are six short stories, mostly very short. “Rains” raises expectations of being akin to The Dispossessed, with “Ath” being a “panarchy” while its Moon is mostly controlled by capitalists, but doesn’t fulfill them. The plot is slight and bifurcated. In “Creative Nonfiction,” Mike Pombo is a disturbed teacher of that subject (and an unreliable PoV) and Taylor McLeef is his disturbed student. The metafictional aspects with hints of horror (in which they threaten one another and pick scabs off of their psyches through the medium of the writing) seemed to be working (when that sort of thing usually doesn’t for me) but then it tried to ratchet up the stakes (as well as trying to better qualify as science fantasy) and that part just didn’t work for me. “Riverboats,” with its ersatz pirates led by Captain Leinster may be trying to riff on the Dean’s novel (The Pirates of Zan in book form). A corporation owns both the pirate and pirated ships which are controlled by computers with a couple of robotic placeholders while both the pirate and pirated passengers are white collar workers in various stages of dissonance with their normal jobs. This tries to be funny, I think, but didn’t work for me. “Mammoth” is a minor, but nifty enough, bar tale (without the bar) about an ill-starred Arctic expedition that had attempted to return with a “mammoth” in a giant block of ice which has an ending that is both “neat” and not (in a couple of ways). Given that there’s no explanation for the gimmick, it feels more like a fantasy to me. Secret history or the like, at best. “Flowers” is about a relationship going bad (despite or because of chocolates and flowers) and is similar to another story I read recently that I’ve already forgotten in that the “speculative” element is a bunch of “or” sorts of “choose your own adventure” pathways but which are merely rhetorical and not actual and would basically be fantasy even if they were. “Time Enough” is a time travel story in which the nature of the traveler and her connection to the people of her past and the story’s present are gradually revealed, so it’s hard to summarize without specifying all that. It deals with getting an asteroid mining company off the ground with basic R&D but is more about connections and couldawouldashoulda. Executed competently enough but not especially earthshaking.

Review of May/June 2018 Analog for Tangent

This issue of Analog has no story (unless “Hubpoint”) that you might not find in Asimov’s or some other magazine and seems oddly arranged, starting with a novella, moving to a novelette, and then to a solid wall of short stories but there’s actually a mislabeled novelette (“Base Pair”) hiding in there. Even so, there are proportionally way too many short stories and many of them are very short indeed (four are shorter than the 2500 word Probability Zero and a couple more aren’t much longer). The quality drops significantly towards the end but the issue is fair overall, with several decent tales and one superb one.

Full review at Tangent: Analog, May/June 2018

Recommended:

  • “The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy (science fiction novella)

Honorable  Mention:

  • “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” by Buzz Dixon (science fiction short story)

Review of Pulphouse #2 for Tangent

The reanimated Pulphouse is back with issue #2. The kickstarter made a point of saying that “Pulphouse has no genre restrictions” and this issue’s editorial offers an explanation regarding Pulphouse‘s unlabeled reprints. Here at Tangent, we do follow genre restrictions and label reprints [in the contents listing], which shows that, leaving aside the quality of the total fiction, there’s simply not much new fiction of genre interest in this issue….

Full review at Tangent: Pulphouse #2, April 2018.

Summation: April 2018

Ten of this month’s eleven noted stories (five recommended) come from the 58 (of about 240,000 words) that I’ve read with a publication date between April 1 and April 30. Nature and Terraform had a good month with a recommended story and an honorable mention each. Some venues appeared for just the first or second time this year (Grievous Angel, On Spec (reviewed for Tangent), and Strange Horizons (with an especially strong story)), though some of the usual suspects (BCS, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed) also pitched in. Aside from unusual venues, this month’s wombat is a relatively large number of SF (and no fantasy) honorable mentions.

The eleventh noted story is another first-time appearance. It comes from Slate‘s “Future Tense Fiction” department and coverage of that is one of three changes in Featured Futures to report. The latest “Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up” caught up on the stories already released this year and future stories will be continue to be covered there. Meanwhile, Lightspeed and Nightmare have been covered in the “Wrap-Ups” but will be covered as monthly issues beginning in May. Lastly, Featured Futures is going to the final frontier: coverage of short fiction in books. So far, there are a couple of collections and maybe an anthology I’ll see about covering in May.

Oh, and I also extended and (hopefully) improved the menus just under the banner.

Recommended:

Science Fiction

Fantasy

  • “Death and Natalie, Natalie and Death” by Jordan Taylor, On Spec #107, [April] 2018 (short story)
  • Strange Waters” by Samantha Mills, Strange Horizons, April 2, 2018 (short story)
  • The Thought That Counts” by K.J. Parker, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #250, April 26, 2018 (novelette)

Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • Carouseling” by Rich Larson, Clarkesworld #139, April 2018 (short story)
  • Domestic Violence” by Madeline Ashby, Slate, March 26, 2018 (short story)
  • Moonshot” by Andrew W. McCollough, Grievous Angel, April 18, 2018 (science fantasy short story)
  • A Most Elegant Solution” by M. Darusha Wehm, Terraform, April 27, 2018 (short story)
  • Requiem” by Christine Lucas, Nature, April 4, 2018 (short story)
  • What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh, Lightspeed #95, April 2018 (novelette)

Reviews of the Above:

Edit (2018-05-01): Updated after reviewing Pulphouse #2 for Tangent on April 30.