Month in Review: March 2019, 2nd Ed.

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Since the update to the March Summation was so delayed, I’m not revising that post, but instead posting this “second edition” which adds the coverage of the selectively reviewed magazines (plus Tor.com) and their four additional notable stories. This brings the total March readings up to 107 stories of almost 423K words.

I hope the April Summation will follow in a few days and I’ll catch up completely before too long but technical difficulties may slow me down. My laptop (which I treat as a small desktop – I shudder to think what condition it would be in if I used it like an actual laptop) is just six and a half years old but the USB ports are glitchy, the battery is dead, the speakers don’t work (though earphones do – go figure), the hard drive (which is already a replacement for the original) has been making the click of death for quite awhile, there’s now a desktop keyboard plugged into it because almost all of the keys of the built-in have quit working, and the CD “door” broke off while I was giving it some percussive therapy because of said keyboard. So I’m going to be messing around with a new laptop and, depending on how it goes, I may not be very productive for awhile.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • “Better” by Tom Greene, Analog, March/April 2019 (novelette)
  • “Contagion’s Eve at the House Noctambulous” by Rich Larson, F&SF, March/April 2019 (novelette)
  • “Instantiation” by Greg Egan, Asimov’s, March/April 2019 (novella)
  • “Second Quarter and Counting” by James Van Pelt, Analog, March/April 2019 (short story)

Fantasy

  • “Totenhaus” by Amanda J. Bermudez, Black Static #68, March/April 2019 (horror short story)

Also Mentioned

Science Fiction

  • Before the World Crumbles Away” by A. T. Greenblatt, Uncanny #27, March/April 2019 (short story)
  • “The End of Lunar Hens” by M.K. Hutchins, Analog, March/April 2019 (short story)

Fantasy (all range from dark to horror)

  • All the Hidden Places” by Cadwell Turnbull, Nightmare #78, March 2019 (short story)
  • Hellhold” by Sean Patrick Hazlett, Galaxy’s Edge #37, March/April 2019 (short story)
  • Knowledgeable Creatures” by Christopher Rowe, Tor.com, March 6, 2019 (short story)
  • “The Mark of Cain” by John Kessel, F&SF, March/April 2019 (short story)
  • “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach” by Jack Dann, Asimov’s, March/April 2019 (short story)
  • The Skinwalkers Ball” by Hammond Diehl, Strange Horizons, March 4, 2019 (short story)

Reviews

Magazines

Books/Other

News

 

Edit (2019-08-16): Since Apex is dead now, it had left my mind (and lists) but it printed issues through May. I realized I’d skipped it after I initially posted this and have now corrected that and updated the story/word counts (no other changes).

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Review: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #41, Aug. 2019 (at Tangent)

This issue of HFQ runs the gamut in three stories, with a bad one, a mixed-but-adequate one, and a good one. It also covers a broad spectrum of fantasy in those three stories, with weird west spellslingers, weird horror pirates, and pseudo-medieval knights and squires.

Continue reading at Tangent.

Recommended:

  • “Then, Stars” by Michael Meyerhofer (fantasy short story)

Review: Analog, May/June 2019

Analog,
May/June 2019

Original Fiction:

Novelettes

  • “Bonehunters” by Harry Turtledove
  • “Forgetfulness” by J.T. Sharrah
  • “The Dominant Heart Begins to Race” by Dave Creek
  • “Leave Your Iron at the Door” by Josh Pearce
  • “At the Fall” by Alec Nevala-Lee

Short Stories

  • “The Methuselah Generation” by Stanley Schmidt
  • “Galena” by Liam Hogan
  • “Cactus Season” by Frank Smith
  • “12:20 Bus from the Basics” by Wendy Nikel
  • “A Former Planetary Ruler Speaks” by Bruce McAllister
  • “Full Metal Mother” by Joe M. McDermott
  • “The Three Laws of Social Robotics” by Mary E. Lowd
  • “Mulligan” by Bud Sparhawk
  • “The Gates of Paradise” by Edward M. Lerner
  • “Midway on the Waves” by Phoebe Barton (actually another novelette)
  • “The Orca Queen” by Joshua Cole
  • “Paradigm Shift” by Eric Cline
  • “On Stony Ground” by Cynthia Ward
  • “Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator” by Alex Shvartsman (reprint)
  • “Welcome to your Machines” by David Ebenbach
  • “Painting the Massive Planet” by Marissa Lingen
  • Probability Zero: “Robotic Space Killers; Autonomous. Broke.” by Guy Stewart

There are quite a few stories in this issue that aren’t science fiction by my definition and some that aren’t by anyone’s. There are also quite a few sub-par stories and not many notable ones, but there are also several adequately entertaining or interesting ones.

The five listed novelettes in this issue of Analog contain very few humans and very little straightforward prose. “Forgetfulness” is really the only one that has both. Interstellar explorers return to Earth to underwhelming response, as an immortality drug, with significant side-effects, has been developed while they were gone and changed perspectives. The reversal of the usual young explorers and old homebodies is clever and interesting, though the exploration of the pros and cons of an immortality drug is more conventional. My main problem with the story is that the drug causes amnesia at each monthly dose and I don’t see why people would want to live forever if they couldn’t remember it – it seems more like committing suicide each month. Also, most readers will have seen the conclusion almost from the start.

Of the stories which lack both humans and straightforward prose, “Bonehunters” involves a Wild Westerner talking in dialect about how he and his adopted native son became guides to a bunch of bonehunters (archaeologists) in native lands and helped a scientist in his rivalry with another unscrupulous fellow. The thing is, all these people aren’t human, but are sentient dinosaurs apparently descended from raptors. Despite featuring the science of archaeology, this has no science fiction as its just an unexplained counterfactual with impossible parallelism. As a Wild West adventure, however, it’s at least competently structured. “Leave Your Iron” is a science fantasy space opera in which entire universes shrink in comparison to a post-woman’s violent attempts to rescue her post-woman love from the clutches of a post-man whether the other woman wants it or not. It’s written in a sort of beat-poet style and is full of cute names like the heroine’s “Minerva Mirv” (MIRVs being Multiple Independently-targeted Re-entry Vehicles) and the villain’s “Satyr Meinhoff” (riffing off the Baader-Meinhof gang). This reads overwhelmingly like someone inserted a lesser Lightspeed story into Analog.

Returning to straightforward prose but sticking with non-human protagonists, “Dominant Heart” involves the last survivors of an alien species whose homeworld has been destroyed. They are looking for a new world which can support them and encounter a particularly interesting solar system which they explore in detail. The reader may have an initial suspicion but will likely be surprised at some aspects of the story and some places the plot does (and doesn’t) go. There are problems with the contrived order of exploration, how the sensors are conveniently non-optimal, and so on, but it is an interesting exploration of a planetary system with a decent “inhuman interest” angle.

While some may both expect and be put off by the ending, “At the Fall” is the most successful of the novelettes. It details a sort of AI soft robot, which is almost more of an artificial organism and which has an ideal range of 30 kilometers per charge, attempting a 4,000 kilometer journey home. It was designed to explore oceanic hydrothermal vents and periodically rendezvous with a ship to transfer its information but, when that ship fails to appear for a long period, the creature’s journey begins. It hops from deep ocean floor micro-ecologies centered around whale carcasses when it can’t find a hydrothermal vent within its recharging range (which is almost always). The lifeforms and the undersea world are described with action and reasonably judicious infodumps and hold interest.

There is also a piece billed as a short story which is actually a novelette (I get a count of 8145 words). “Midway on the Waves” takes place about a quarter-century after a war which resulted in a city on Titan being destroyed. The story focuses on how the event affected a couple of women from each side. This feels like wind-up figures are put through motions for thematic ends rather than having thematic elements arise from characters in action and there is a reversal at the end which undercuts much of the story, dovetailing with a simplistic resolution.

The giant roster of short (often very short) stories includes several stories which range from adequate to bad: aliens paralleled with butterflies, an improbably designed mission to search for life on an alien world, a father and daughter trying to get by in the desert with the help of crashing satellites, yet another anti-basic income story, an anti-colonial piece, one about a woman dying of cancer which is not truly SF, an AI fooling its creator, an alternate history where you get Jesus even in a Macedonian empire of lesbian locomotive builders, a voluntary scapegoat helping to avoid a space elevator disaster, a “story” in the form of a manual just like some other I read not long ago, and a gimmick about people arguing over whether a thing is an interstellar vessel or not.

More interesting stories include “Painting the Massive Planet” which, although it isn’t exactly a story, is an entertaining short-short about effing the ineffable while trying to paint Jupiter from Ganymede; “Mulligan,” about a man trying to figure out if he’s being scammed by an old flame who wants his help finding and selling Shepard’s second golfball on the moon; and “The Gates of Paradise,” whose protagonist coincidentally shares a name with a Stargate protagonist, suffers from being a sequel to a story I didn’t care for and a prequel to some other story yet to come. The latter element impairs its ending which could have been tragic or triumphant and instead just waits on the next story. This one, taken by itself, was a compelling and heart-wrenching tale about a world that had been colonized by a spaceship which is now in a decaying orbit and facing imminent disaster while holding incalculable knowledge. The civilization below had fallen into a state worse than barbarism and has only now recovered to the point where they can mount a desperate expedition to the ship. A man with a kid on the way braves death to get to this ship and see what he can do once there. This suffers from being an improbably limited mission (much like “Galena” and countless others) and from credibility-stretching coincidence and, as I say, its (non-)ending, but the scenario was certainly gripping to me.

The Orca Queen” takes the odd approach of making a pirate its heroine and resolves a bit “out of the hat” and too easily but the tale of a royal-in-exile being a pirate queen and cyborg starship who meets a dreadnaught bearing news and great risk (and potentially death) for her had some nice color, entertaining familial galactic empire politics, and reads quickly, with verve. All that makes it the other “honorable mention” with “At the Fall.”

I’m not sure what it says that “Paradigm Shift” is the best story in the issue and my one recommendation but comes with the major caveat that it’s a sort of hardboiled crime story and not science fiction at all. In 1957, a man who served as a superb sniper in WWII finds himself under the thumb of a mobster who has ordered him to kill a woman set to testify against that mobster. The thing that gets it into Analog is that the paradigm shifts when Sputnik launches and our sniper, who is a science fiction fan, has to process what this all means to him. The character is really well-drawn, his backstory is skillfully woven in, the foreground situation is dramatic, the background situation is obviously of historic proportions, and the ending sidesteps a problem I thought might trip the story up, so it even ends well. If you don’t like hardboiled crime stories with a tincture of science/science fiction, then this probably won’t work for you but I recommend it to anyone who is open to such a story.

Edit (2019-08-09): After a comment by the author, I modified the line about the Stargate character name. After reading the Analog blog, I discovered that one story was actually a reprint and marked it as such. Corrected typo in the word count for “Midway” (had 8125 when I meant 8145).

Review: Asimov’s, May/June 2019

Asimov’s,
May/June 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “Unfinished Business” by Bill Johnson (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi” by E. Lily Yu (science fiction short story)
  • “The Memory Artist” by Ian R. MacLeod (reprint science fiction novelette)
  • “Sacrificial Iron” by Ted Kosmatka (science fiction short story)
  • “Never the Twain Shall Meet” by Peter Wood (science fiction short story)
  • “Chasing Oumuamua” by Sean Monaghan (science fiction short story)
  • “Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry” by John Richard Trtek (science fiction novelette)
  • “Not Only Who You Know” by Jay O’Connell (science fiction short story)
  • “The Intertidal Zone” by Rahul Kanakia (science fiction short story)
  • “Gremlin” by Carrie Vaughn (science fiction novella)

One story, Ian R. MacLeod’s “The Memory Artist,” which is set in his “Breathmoss” universe, is a reprint1. The other six of the first seven had me convinced I was going to write a uniformly negative review. Two of the last three (the exception being a short-short) saved the issue2.

Unfinished Business” is a “Ship” story. The Ship is a vessel containing various layers of Earth flora and fauna which has returned to acquire another layer, resulting in all sorts of sociopolitical shenanigans, both on Earth and in the Ship. In this case, two humans and a dog have witnessed signs of an alliance between two antagonistic Ship factions, making them part of the “skine” (or tableau of the event). The (re)enactment of the event is complicated by saboteurs and the humans must figure out how to thwart the latter while preserving the former. This might produce a fair story but I’ve read at least one in this series and could barely hang on. I would not recommend starting with this, especially because the opening scenes are confusingly disjointed and so much of the background is so sketchy. Also, the love-“hate” relationship and bickering of the protagonists didn’t work for me. Between the decent concepts and uneven execution, this was basically average, though it might seem better in its complete context.

Recrossing Brooklyn Ferry” is another novelette of about the same length with far less content. Though it lacks action and is initially elliptical, genre readers will know they’re reading a time travel tale (though I suspect non-genre readers would be utterly mystified) and it eventually becomes clear that people are escaping their oppressive government in the present by leaping over the wall of time. One thread of the story occurs in its present and another occurs in 1923 America as we follow various hunters and runners. The only interest I had in the story centered around the mystery of a woman’s death which later seemed to be intentional deception rather than any actual twist (though I could have read it wrong); one character is a walking “easy button” who personifies the authorial fiat around a main character and a point is made of how boring the former is when the latter has even less personality; there’s a red herring involving metal spike fragments.

The previously mentioned short-short, “The Intertidal Zone,” lacks any genuine science fictional element: shorn of its many-legged and -eyed “aliens,” it’s just about a woman getting plastic surgery. I would have liked to have liked “Never the Twain,” which is possibly the only SF story to be set in Kinston, NC or to deal with barbecue, but just as in “Zone,” you could substitute twins for “entities split in a transporter accident” and make the “robot” worker a human and the result would be an essentially unchanged mainstream story, this one about sibling rivalry and barbecue (Eastern barbecue is the only barbecue). “Chasing Oumuamua” has little more SF: a sister has to get spaceship plans out of her mad scientist brother so NASA can catch the next interstellar object after Oumwhoozits. The siblings and the insanity are mainstream and touchingly done but there is nothing essentially science fictional in the story’s frame. It’s also full of weird things: it claims to be set in 2024 and has a character who must be at least 57 who listens to Matchbox Twenty on the oldies station and claims Star Trek was dated when he was a kid; it’s full of namedropped brands like it’s a cyberpunk story; it messes up heavy metal handsigns; and it messes up the dramatic timing of the brother’s five minutes of lucidity with an excessive spasm of descriptive writing.

Doing and Undoing” is at least more speculative but not especially science fictional: a magical spiritual awakening has happened and faded away. In the meantime, society has redistributed its wealth and the “Haves” and “Have-nots” have been replaced by the “Doers” and the “Don’ts” in yet another brick in the mystifyingly solid wall of anti-basic-income stories. The protagonist’s own spiritual awakening is just as much handwaving fantasy or author fiat as the societal one but worse for appearing “on-screen.”

Sacrificial Iron” is superficially more science fictional but has a relatively minor problem with seemingly bad science (the notion that Hawking radiation appears “out of nothing” and that cosmic inflation means the speed of light is inconstant which means we can now produce FTL stardrives). I say “relatively minor” because this is another in the surprisingly populous subgenre of Unbelievably Contrived Space Expeditions Which Go Wrong. Someone somehow thought it was a good idea to send two men into space for years and thought it was good to do so without really knowing anything about their possible destinations. It gets even better because it turns out one of the crew is crazy and the other was expelled for beating up a kid with a baseball bat in school but this somehow slipped past the psych eval team. Then the final conflict shows that the IQ evals must have been just as effective as the psych evals. This Cain and Abel story (which almost reads like a discussion of political parties) interestingly barely precedes the somewhat similar and better “The Skinner Box” (Tor.com, June 12, 2019).

Finally, turning to the better stuff, “Not Only Who You Know” would sound like it would have to be worse. The story opens with a woman having cut off the head (and hand) of her boyfriend. But he’s not dead yet and, if he plays his cards right, he may even get them re-attached. This preposterous but definitely attention-getting concept is carried out with aplomb as the backstory is gradually revealed just ahead of the reader’s impatience (barely) and portrays a sort of “Noctambulous” (Rich Larson, Mar/Apr 2019 F&SF) notion of the rich and the means people will go to get or stay in that state. The character’s behavior and their own self-images are fascinatingly strange and complex and their relationship matches. Aside from the premise (which I could understand some not being able to accept) the only real problems are that the tense and time-critical tale resolves too easily and the denouement is too extended. Aside from those issues, though, it’s an invigorating and entertaining ride.

The last and longest story of the issue is the best. The three-part “Gremlin” opens with a Russian female fighter pilot in a dogfight with a Nazi when the Messerschmidt explodes and she realizes “there’s something on the wing!” – her wing, that is. When she gets back to base, she becomes the confused and secretive ally of a strange creature which eats metal and has all manner of special abilities. Her American granddaughter takes center stage in the second part as a Warthog pilot in Gulf War II. Grandma insists she take a mysterious bag into combat with her. The third part follows an even more remote descendant into the future and out into space with the critter still with her.

The opening section (and the 586th was a real unit of female WWII fighter pilots) is gritty with historical realism which somehow pulls off the SF/F element at the same time. As a fan of the A-10, I was already biased towards the second section which is also vivid but it went beyond that to become emotionally effective with the inter-generational connections and (relatively) contemporary relevance. When a character dies, the main character is devastated and feels that, with her A-10, which “was at heart a cannon with wings,” she could “murder the world, given ammunition enough, and time.” She mentions how her friend would “slip quietly into a statistic” but this story achieves the opposite through the humanizing power of fiction and reminds me how few stories about our current eternal wars are written, especially compared to the Golden Age SF of WWII and how we all need to be reminded that these are not statistics. The third section went exactly where I was hoping it would go, which is to the future and space but, unfortunately, it was the most obligatory and least convincing section as the historical details gave way to futuristic vagueness. It still had an effective action sequence and ended the whole in a satisfying way. I wish the third part could have been as powerful as the first two but I still strongly recommend the tale.


1 It was originally published in Chinese after having been “inspired by” a “workshop” produced by a Chinese “financial services group” and a magazine.

2 It still needs the salvation of better proofreading/editing, though, as there are several typos and outright errors.

Review: BCS #277-278

Beneath Ceaseless Skies,#277-278
May 9, 2019/May 23, 2019

bcs278

Original Fiction:

  • “The Bone Flute Quartet” by K.J. Kabza (fantasy short story)
  • “The Thirty-Eight-Hundred Bone Coat” by R.K. Duncan (fantasy novelette)
  • “The Two-Bullet War” by Karen Osborne (fantasy short story)
  • “Abacus of Ether” by Stephen Case (fantasy novelette)

The first two tales of May are about 101 uses for human bones. “Bone Coat” is reminiscent of several other “diving” stories, especially the same author’s “The Boy Who Loved Drowning” in the same magazine just a few issues ago (#272, Feb. 28, 2019). It doesn’t seem to be an actual sequel but is too similar if not. In this one, a boy’s family gets greedy and makes a deal with a rich potentate to make him a magical coat out of all the human hands they have lying around in their community’s river. When it turns out to be essentially impossible, the boy resorts to actions which might have been aesthetically appealing (if his dad had been depicted as a jerk or if his gods weren’t depicted as being benign) but actually seemed to merit a different ending than the one we get. “Bone Flute” is reminiscent of innumerable other BCS magic music stories, and especially those that deal with instruments made of bones (such as “The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum” by Marissa Lingen, #269, Jan. 17, 2019 and, from that same January in Apex #116, “Bone Song” by Aja McCullou). This one deals with a young girl, Bretchen, trying to become a witch (which she and her grandmother want) rather than a knitter (as her mother wants). The grandmother sends her off with one bone flute and the backstory about the great Myrra Ferrinn, a famed witch who was brutally killed for her own brutal behavior, takes on more significance as the story progresses and more bone flutes are acquired before a climactic showdown and a revelatory denouement. I can’t fully recommend this because the heroine’s progress and the ending are too easy but I did enjoy it, mostly due to the whimsical and sprightly tone of the plucky heroine’s narration.

The next two tales deal with attempting to avert or minimize wars despite the opposite tendencies of the Powers That Be – in this case, royal families. “Two-Bullet” involves a “war” of succession between twin princes and their hired duelists (who have secretly married). It seemed momentarily promising but an elevated fantasy which, among other things, has its heroine accidentally bouncing a gun off a dead queen’s forehead, calling someone “a real dick,” and which pulls one of the funniest scenes from Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid to use in all seriousness just does not work. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the best story in this month of BCS was “Abacus of Ether,” which I recommend despite an ending that felt like deja vu all over again. A king’s war has been running for a long time and a large number of casualties. A blind woman is an actuary, or a seller of insurance to soldiers, who employs a “taster,” or a sort of benign vampire, to determine whether certain special cases should be insured before they go out to battle. When a general of the king shows up in the actuary’s apartment with news of the king’s plan to use his three sons in a new offensive and describes his own plan to end the war with trickery, things get complicated. Hopefully this minimal synopsis indicates some of the creativity and cleverness of this unusual concept but the masterful narration from the actuary’s point-of-sense is particularly good and difficult to demonstrate here. There are minor problems such as why the actuary doesn’t worry that the general may be up to no good or why, in a case I won’t specify, simple suicide’s not an option but, before the overall effect of the tale, these are quibbles.

Review: Lightspeed #109, June 2019

Lightspeed #109, June 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “Between the Dark and the Dark” by Deji Bryce Olukotun (science fiction novelette)
  • “The Harvest of a Half-Known Life” by G.V. Anderson (science fiction short story)
  • “The Weight of a Thousand Needles” by Isabel Canas (fantasy short story)
  • “Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” by Caspian Gray (fantasy short story)

The June Lightspeed shares some of the inconsistency of the June Clarkesworld but also contains a recommended story.

(“Between the Dark and the Dark” isn’t it.) Mysterious things appear which make the Earth less and less habitable. “The only solution was to leave the planet as quickly as possible.” (Easy come, easy go – bye, now.) Lots of starships of various kinds are sent out and, because the survival of the human race is at stake, they are equipped with remote destruct mechanisms which can be triggered by the folks remaining in the solar system when the crew of the ships transgress Earthly morals, such as when they commit cannibalism. One “steward” hastily decides to terminate one ship while another steward argues for more time to understand the situation.

As if this premise weren’t bad enough (and leaving aside innumerable other relatively minor problems which would be major in most other stories), what it argues for in lieu of cannibalism seems a lot like to-may-to/to-mah-to and the plot hinges on a scientific impossibility.

Harvest” takes place after we’ve wrecked the planet and people scrabble about in the “sunseared” ruins. Almost everything is put to use, including all the parts of those who die. One woman “harvests” her mother’s friend and reflects on the past before eventually setting off to complete the journey her mother and mother’s friend had begun, which provides the climax to the bildungsroman.

This second example of “waste not, want not” is a spectacularly disgusting story which reads like splatterpunk horror but it’s just the way they thriftily live so, if you can get past that and the painfully cliched post-apocalyptic ending, the tale of the Determined Girl Who Could may appeal, as she’s well-drawn and the depiction of the horrible future has its power.

Needles” is a sort of Scheherazade/Cinderella combo, in which Soraya, a crow, a jinni, and the god of night do a romantic/spiritual dance with much manipulation and deceit from some of the parties.

This is thickly written and the heroine is sweet enough but rather dull and bloodless. It may suit those looking for a sort of Scheherazade/Cinderella combo, though.

The unpromisingly titled “Unpublished Gay Cancer Survivor Memoir” is the issue’s recommended tale. Sydney is a woman who has survived colon cancer and written a book about it but doesn’t know what to do with the life’s she’s won, especially when her book fails to find a publisher. When her old flame Michaela re-establishes contact while looking for her strange boyfriend Edik, Sydney’s situation changes.

This is a tough and quirkily funny tale full of irony and ambiguity. While Sydney’s not exactly the most pro-active character and there is some unresolved darkness to it all, she’s understandable and sympathetic, the tone of the tale and its idiosyncrasies, and some of the well-delivered plot elements and fantasy elements (in a modern, largely mainstream story) all worked for me.

Review: Clarkesworld #153, June 2019

Clarkesworld #153, June 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “The Painter of Trees” by Suzanne Palmer (science fiction short story)
  • “Erdenweh” by Bo Balder (science fiction short story)
  • “Said of Angels” by Eric Del Carlo (science fiction novelette)
  • “Bonobo” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
  • “Field Mice” by Andy Dudak (science fiction short story)

It was the best of issues, it was the worst of issues. It feels like two entirely different magazines collided.

The Painter of Trees” is ideologically impeccable and is hereby stamped with the Party’s approval. An evil imperialist running dog goes out to the word-for-world-is-forest in an effort to understand the art of one of the last natives. This is done from an attitude of towering arrogance and fails. The imperialists believe they are Forward Thinking in their genocide of the pathetic natives and this succeeds. The narrative is bifurcated (with one from first person (semi-second) and another from third) which meets the required element of Narrative Deconstruction and also sets up the Big Surprise Ending. Alas, what this will be is obvious for miles but such technical imperfections are irrelevant when the message is so pure.

The patient of a psychiatrist on a colonial world has suffered from “Erdenweh” and joined a wave of suicides, so the psychiatrist sets out to find out why. This might produce something like a heart-wrenching and/or exciting detective tale but the victim is a non-entity, the protagonist is little more, and the “plot” involves her wandering around asking questions of various experts, databases, and misnamed “AIs.” It’s frustrating because, while not original, it deals with an actual science fictional situation (what issues might be encountered when decanting test-tube babies to populate a new world?) but is fictionally deficient (and not a little off-putting). Does this sound like an adult psychiatrist who is having difficulty sleeping?

Finally, she padded to her closet and dug up her last resort, an old teddy bear from the Creche, vacuum sealed so it wouldn’t lose any of its powerful scent. She zipped the seal open and inhaled the smells rising from Teddy’s filthy fur. Sweat, snot, tears, general dirt, struck matches, maybe a hint of vomit.

In the “Bonobo” episode of Future Family, one of the three kids decides to change her species which is used as the jumping-off point to cover a little back-story and a lot of succeeding events in the lives of the family members with an ironic, almost punk “love comes in spurts” acknowledgement, if not endorsement, that things will keep on keeping on.

Said of Angels” takes us to what is likely the far future, in which a galaxy-wide Cooperation, made up of five Mights and lesser groups, has arisen. The most influential spiritual leader in the galaxy is the Arch Hierophant, Brophtoc Mmurn Dol. The crux of the story is that there is a prophecy about, and signs pointing to, the arrival of Redmarch, an apocalyptic galactic war. The key to this involves the Hierophant’s decision about whether Valduk Tyn, a prophet from a since-defunct backwater planet who preached a familiar and unsophisticated version of a common message, was divine. After meeting an ambassador from a newly contacted Earth, the Hierophant feels he has a way forward.

The color and detail of the backdrop of this tale is reminiscent of good ol’ science fiction such as the Foundation series and others (“others,” especially, with its multiplicity of aliens not found in the Foundation universe). This was delightful to me and will likely blow newer readers’ minds though it was arguably over-emphasized. The ecumenical spirituality was interesting and the character of Dol is well-drawn. The nuance and twists of the plot were also well-done. Alas, the plot and scale (both internally and in wordage) is part of why I can’t fully recommend it. A story like this feels like it ought to be a meditative tale of few words or an action-packed, elaborately-plotted long story. Instead, this is a meditative novelette with little action and, despite an elaborate back-story “plot,” little foreground plot. It’s still definitely an ambitious story with excellent elements and worth noting.

The story I do recommend, despite some reservations, is “Field Mice.” The environment has grown worse and familiar political structures have collapsed. Technology continues apace, however. Metropotamia is a Soviet-like state which believes in Discontinuity and is partly run by uploaded minds which believe that they have always been discontinuous and so, somewhat paradoxically, will be no different after having their minds destructively scanned and uploaded. In a cold war with them are the Sylvanians who have a theocratic form of population control and believe in the continuity of the soul and the irrelevance of the uploaded “copies.” The plot involves a Sylvanian spy, who has become a double agent, dealing with the capture of a true Sylvanian agent who may or may not know his secret. The sort of backwater cop in charge is threatening the agent with an “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” sort of computer hell as the tale opens and a philosophically charged, paranoia-laden spy thriller follows.

A lot of this is very familiar but it is so deftly exposed and deeply thought and felt that it seems fresh. The combination of thought and action is perfect for this reader and very, very hard to find in contemporary SF. My only problems with the tale are that yet a third spy is way too talkative in an almost “Bond-villain” sense and that the concluding sequence is perhaps too fragmented but these are basically quibbles about an exciting and engaging story.

–Almost forgot: I again wanted to note Carrie Sessarego’s non-fiction contribution. “Love at Stake” deals with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, improbably, I again dislike the penultimate paragraph and think Buffy is far more than a romance, but thought the article was stimulating. I don’t especially agree that, in later seasons, “the show becomes less obviously metaphorical and more about its own mythology” but absolutely agree that the series “is at its best when her connections to people are strongest and at its worst when she starts to actually believe that maybe she is really alone (see: Season Six).” Ugh. Season six. But, as a maniacal fan of seasons 1-3 (and even 4-5), I commend this article to everyone’s attention.