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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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

Reviews

Magazines

News

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-07-21)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Jesus and Dave” by Jennifer Lee Rossman, Diabolical Plots #41B, July 16, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall” by Mimi Mondal, Strange Horizons, July 16, 2018 (slipstream short story)
  • Papa Bear” by Kurt Pankau, Nature, July 18, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Drawing the Barriers” by Tamara Vardomskaya, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #256, July 19, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Flesh and Stone” by Kathryn Yelinek, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #256, July 19, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Nearest” by Greg Egan, Tor.com, July 19, 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • Next Door” by Ryan Harris, Terraform, July 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies brings us half the week’s fantasy stories and they are about artists with cramped styles. “Drawing the Barriers” sketches an almost modern society which oppresses its magical people, resulting in a trio of rebels (the artistic mage, the lesbian mage, and the incognito mage) starting to strike their blows against it. “Flesh and Stone” is a vaguely Pygmalion-like tale about a sculptor making, falling in love with, and bringing to life, a statue for himself and one for his medieval nobility but lacking Aphrodite’s touch. For the other half, “Trees” has the oddity of tree-dwelling people but is otherwise not fantastic as it describes them having their habitats taken from them by evil white people and follows an old woman who loses and looks for her son while making her way in the city. The week’s best fantasy is the lightly amusing “Jesus and Dave” which describes how hard it is for Dave to maintain his atheism in the days after Jesus’ return but also describes how useful that might be.

The week’s science fiction is quite imbalanced, being made up of two minor flash pieces and a novelette (near-novella) that is the week’s best story. “Next Door” is about keeping up with the Joneses even in a nearly uninhabitable future of nukes and pollution while “Papa Bear” drops a confusing mainstream bit about dementia into an irrelevant dystopia. Even “The Nearest” isn’t free of a bit of “mainstreamism,” as it deals with a real condition with only a slight, but important, science fictional twist and is set in an interesting technological near-future which isn’t especially vital to the story but it’s so detailed, concrete, engrossing, and downright scary that it works. A cop is dealing with a batch of missing persons cases when she’s assigned the case of a missing mother and the woman’s murdered husband and two children. With drones, black boxes in cars, and other such mechanical aids to her investigation, she tries to figure out what happened and why. Things kick into overdrive when she wakes to find a stranger in her bed and a mechanism in place of her son. The tale becomes a neatly balanced descent into the paranoia of “The Invasion of the Soul Snatchers,” causing the reader to wonder who is crazy and who is sane. There are some acronyms (SOCO, CSF) I had to look up that should have been properly introduced and I don’t think the cop’s final approach was wise or would have worked out the way it’s depicted but these are relatively minor blemishes in an otherwise tautly executed tale that doesn’t play around with narrative or stylistic gimmicks and doesn’t need to. Good stuff.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-07-14)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

The weekly/irregular publications brought us three flash pieces and two novelettes this week. They were of unusually high quality with a recommended story, two honorable mentions, and one close runner-up.

Grievous Angel put out two pieces this week but I could only find speculative elements in “Goth Robots,” which is naturally a downer about fake faux tatoos. (Ink it black.) “Congratulations” is reasonably interesting as it uses a “Smart Vac” as a naive narrator to convey something much bigger than it would seem. “Your Face” is also a mostly elliptical tale which tackles things even closer to us in a dystopian noir crime story about bots, genetics, facial recognition, and more. I get the “second person-ness” of this story though I still could have done without it but, even so, it’s worth noting.

Moving to the bigger tales, “Last Banquet” is another food fantasy listory and even has exactly five dishes. Given that, I was thinking this would have to be a heck of a good tale to stand out from all the other similar stories recently. It’s not quite good enough to do that and I was really not pleased with the ending which was both awkward in terms of a couple of pieces of dialog and yet another simplistic revenge fantasy but it was good enough to hold my interest and move well until then. In the story’s only piece of speculation, the narrative device of backstory is made fantastic by having magic pastries forcibly move people into states of memories and we thus learn about the evil usurping Duke/Regent and the pastry maker and his beloved/narrator along with all the bad things that have happened and what, if anything, can be done about it.

Finally, “Chasing the Start” could almost be a mainstream tale in that it’s about an aged runner continuing to race against the young upstarts who wish to bring her down but it ultimately relies on its main speculative element while overflowing with other, almost gratuitous, speculative imagery and even ideas. Nearing the year 2400, people race through various timelines in the multiverse while wearing powered armor and every entity from one end of the Solar System to the other (except for Pluto – not Pluto) watches and cheers. The dangling mystery the reader chases is the question of what the protagonist is chasing and why, while a cabal of unscrupulous adversaries add surges of adrenaline. Well before the end, the end is no longer a mystery, but it still concludes satisfactorily and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. This managed to both have serious points and be fun and imaginative.

Summation: June 2018

This month produced nine noted stories (four recommended) from a total of forty-five (215 Kwds). Compelling made a strong and welcome return on its new semi-annual schedule. “Nightspeed” also contributed a couple of powerful tales.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Redaction” by Adam R. Shannon, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)
  • Targeted Behavior” by J.D. Moyer, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • Driving Force” by Tom Jolly, Compelling #11, Summer 2018 (short story)
  • Recoveries” by Susan Palwick, Tor.com, June 20, 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

Other

News

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)

Review: Lightspeed #98

Lightspeed #98, July 2018

LS98
Original Fiction:

  • “Waterbirds” by G. V. Anderson (science fiction short story)
  • “Greetings, Humanity! Welcome To Your Choice Of Species!” by Adam-Troy Castro (science fiction short story)
  • “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” by James Beamon (fantasy short story)
  • “Wild Bill’s Last Stand” by Kyle Muntz (fantasy short story)

Reprint note: this issue includes Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Right Place to Start a Family,” which I recommended when I reviewed Humanity 2.0 in 2016.

Waterbirds” deals with two women who keep each other company for years as they decay until one of them meets a third woman and those two break free from their submission to evil men by finding love with each other. Oh, and one of them is a robot. If “Greetings” were to be done at all, it should have been 40% its length. It’s an ejection of misanthropic bile, intended to be humorous, in which some smug and self-righteous aliens decide to exterminate the human race for being too vicious to live, though the populace will not be killed but allowed to choose from eight lovely species to turn into. This is basically like karma causing us to come back as slugs except faster. “Wild Bill” is a Weird Western with gay cowboys, two of whom fight a duel and few if any readers will care what happens because there’s no one to like.

As I gather “Wild Bill” is an example of one microgenre, so I gather Lightspeed‘s well-chosen cover story, “Song of Home,” is of another. It’s an “alternate history with weird combat mechanisms”; in this case, a Crimean War with steam-powered air (and sea) ships. Our air ship is most significantly crewed by an artificer of metal prostheses, an organ grinder, his homeless street urchin protagonist assistant, and an army of vampire attack monkeys. If I’d read more of the stuff like this that’s out there to read, I might not have been so impressed but it certainly struck me as fresh and was vividly, brilliantly told. The milieu and combat was complex and exciting, the protagonist sympathetic, and the conflicts and emotions powerful, the latter without being mawkish or manipulative. The theme, assuming I’m reading it right, is perhaps not as original as the rest felt, but was brought home aesthetically and believably, somewhat akin to “Last Night at the Café Renaissance” by D. Thomas Minton in the July/August 2015 IGMS, which had its own powerful imagery. This one’s images of bloodsucking cyborg capuchins and the like will linger. Recommended.