Recommended: None. (Both stories were quite readable, though.)
“Thinking Inside the Box” by Michèle Laframboise, Compelling Science Fiction June/July 2017, SF short story
It’s a familiar setup when we see two human diplomats through the cognitive estrangement of alien perception but angels (so to speak) are in the details just as much as the devil. The aliens’ love of constant, arbitrary change is interesting and they are generally nicely judged, not being “bumpy forehead” aliens nor incomprehensibly bizarre for its own sake but merely comprehensibly strange. When things go haywire and the shapeshifting ability of the alien spaceship is damaged, the psychological and mathematical elements of the tale come even more to the fore and they are quite interesting. In a way, this is a very old-school tale—one might wonder why the alien engineers haven’t foreseen this potential problem and developed some kind of “VR” solution or something—but I like the “beings and ships” sort of flesh-and-steel pre-cyberpunk sensibility. And I’m not sure it’s not a flaw for a part of the ending to be dependent on insider information but at least very few SF fans will fail to get it. I enjoyed this one.
“Fool’s Cap” by Andy Dudak, Clarkesworld June 2017, SF novelette
A woman hunting a war criminal gets stranded on a planet with nothing but her drone swarm, the planet’s strange psychoactive alien lifeform, and her prey. Nothing goes as planned and nothing survives unchanged.
While calling this a “sympathy for the devil” story may be a bit much, it is at least a remarkable “let he who is without sin” story. It is perhaps overly reminiscent of things like Alastair Reynolds’ “Turquoise Days” and even Ian McDonald’s “The Tear” except that it is less adroit than either of those tales. It’s also reminiscent of other works I’ve read by Dudak, himself, but is more adroit than those. It’s extremely interesting on both intellectual and emotional levels and feels like genuine science/speculative fiction. It’s an unsettling, uncomfortable read in a good way and I appreciate its lack of self-righteousness and its blending of the thematic focus with an actual dramatic focus and how it wrests such a large scope out of such a seemingly small structure. In sum, a piece worth a solid recommendation.
(It’s also a relief to find something noteworthy in Clarkesworld again. After a strong start to the year, it’s basically been without interest until this story. I look forward to the rest of the issue. Also, since I’ve already read the stories released by the weeklies, bi-weeklies, and other monthlies so far this month, once I finish it and Compelling I’ll be caught up.)
“Sweetlings” by Lucy Taylor, Tor.com 2017-05-03, SF novelette
I’m impressed that this science fictional horror story doesn’t have one of those annoying “trigger warnings” prefacing it. It’s an intermediate-future tale of climatic disaster which has resulted in a few weird folks clinging to an unpleasant life in what used to be the inland (now ocean-front) Southeast. Fortunately, things go downhill from there. In all seriousness, what could have been a dreary, dull “cli-fi” tale becomes a gripping, transporting tale of vivid, energetic horror, largely centered on a somewhat rubberized science of very fast evolution. Rather than preaching “Quit screwing up the environment,” this story is a story first and foremost, which leaves the reader saying, “Holy $#!^, man, let’s really quit screwing up the environment!” My only quibble with the story is that, after being quite deliberate and explicit, it has an oddly rushed and almost coy ending, at least comparatively. But even that is still fairly effective and the whole tale is quite an experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks intensely disliked this but, if it sounds intriguing at all, give it a try. (To be fair, I should note that the story doesn’t initially read too much like horror and it does create a very interesting trio of main characters, so has things that will appeal to general speculative fans… and which make the horror all the more effective.)
[I was going to post this and finish up Tor.com‘s May offerings yesterday but my ISP screwed up my internet connection for over a day. Technology willing, I will get caught up soon.]
“This Is for You” by Bruce McAllister, Lightspeed May 2017, SF short story
Another short-short (~1200 words). This one involves a boy, who has recently returned from an alien world, giving an extraordinary painting to the girl he has a crush on. Some people may grok it immediately but I don’t want to say more and risk spoiling it for others. While not the most unique tale in some ways and not exactly to my taste in every way, I thought it was very well done and I especially liked the understatement and indirection.
“Let Me Sleep When I Die” by Wendy Nikel, Nature 2017-05-24, SF short story
Sorry, I’m running just a tiny bit behind, but I have read all the May prozine stuff except Lightspeed and Tor now. I’ve come across several “honorable mentions” but I particularly liked this Nature short-short about a horror of future war and how perceptions can change for some and not others. It’s not the hardest SF or most logically airtight premise but it’s a form-fitting epistolary tale which is effectively creepy and aesthetically thoughtful, so to speak.
As they say. I think. I hope…
My public library had its somewhat annual booksale recently. Since it puts all its literature (including poetry!) in General Fiction, its philosophy in General Non-Fiction, and considers books about raising dogs, cats, birds, etc., to be “Science,” I came away a bit deficient in those categories – even more so than usual, for some reason. But I did manage some science. The “Biography & History” is no more granular than its description implies but I did manage some of that and some Reference, too. And there is, at least, an SF/F/H section which is actually SF/F/H. Almost everything I got came from there and, perhaps due to the selection, much more of that was fantasy and horror than usual. I also got some replacements for books I had in poor condition or even gave some books I used to have a second chance, so it wasn’t as cost-effective as it might have been if they’d all been new to me but it was still pretty good.
It was also nice, on a library/social level, to see that the sale was quite busy and that the SF section was among the busiest, even if, on a personal level, it might have resulted in stuff I’d have liked to get disappearing faster.
So: pics, or it didn’t happen! Here are a couple of spine pics followed by five of full frontal bookity.
(Click to embiggen. And sorry about the bad glare and blur and slight truncation – one of these days I may actually learn to use the camera.)
I got all this in two trips but the sum was 104 volumes with 118 titles for $115 (I got overcharged $8 on one trip). Way too many dollars spent (good thing it only happens about once a year) but a pretty good deal at $1.11 a volume/$0.98 a title.