Month in Review: March 2019, 2nd Ed.


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 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


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)


  • “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,, 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)






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).


Selected Stories: March 2019

Past Dinosaur Fantasy Future Prehistoric

Noted Original Fiction:

I’ve previously noted “Hellhold” in “Selected Stories: 2019-03-31.” This post finally covers the rest of the selectively reviewed magazines and adds the three stories listed above, all of which (like “Hellhold”) are dark.

Skinwalkers” starts out feeling like the sort of overly descriptive and somewhat precious story I don’t usually like at all but that turns out to be contributing to a delightfully decadent description of an elaborately executed and exquisitely excruciating revenge. (Sorry. Anyway…) A creature has been killing off an alchemist’s “children” (homonculi) and wearing their skins to costume balls of sorts and a sort of cat-like death creature narrates how the alchemist reacted to this. Nothing is free and easy in this tale and its fantastical nature helps it to work where a more prosaic tale wouldn’t, so I enjoyed this, despite it being a bit slow and having a bizarre drop in diction when the word “sting” is used in its “crime” sense. “Hidden Places” is told in a circumspect and circuitous way which maintains clarity but serves to make this “post-apocalyptic werewolf tale” seem less cliche than it might have. It is reasonably gripping and judiciously splattery, though I do wonder why a guy who seems to be from Michigan speaks just like his Virgin Islands daughter. The two are trudging across the white snow, with the father attempting to return to a childhood haunt after having fled their island home with the notion that it will be safer at the end of the world. He’s mistaken.

Nightmare‘s other offering (“Example”) isn’t dark fantasy/horror at all, but a dystopian SF piece whose premise is either unbelievable, or it’s part of a much larger change which needs to be told in a much larger story but is an otherwise effective tale of an innocent man on a future death row and would have been technically “noted.” The Dark also produced a tale that was near-notable and would have fit Nightmare better than “Example.” “After Life” could have been a superb Vampire-Lestat-only-with-a-mummy story had it reveled in its good imaginative concepts more and focused on the righteous murder of a prosaic cardboard villain less. Even it isn’t precisely “horror” since, from its point of view, all is as it should be but the dark magic and violence give it a horror feel.

In “World Crumbles,” even the SF is dark and apocalyptic though the romance between Miranda, the painter with cyborg vision, and Elodie, the android programmer, provides the light worth holding to in the dark. Near-constant earthquakes (from sea rise pouring into the crust, from fracking, from fantastic symbolism?) cause literal, physical collapse and society has followed. The main problem with this is that the plot seems like it’s also not up to code and wouldn’t survive a real violent test and feels a bit piled on. This issue of Uncanny has several very “romantic” and/or dark and almost successful stories. “Every Song Must End” is a tale of a menage a quatre and is probably a reasonably good mainstream romance with an extremely thin gratuitous patch of science fiction tacked on. (It’s set on Earth but one of the four is interested in moving to the Far East or something, here called Mars.) “Vis Delendi” is an almost-delightful fantasy about a magic student applying for a high rank by raising the dead but is too predictable and “on the nose,” with an overly prosaic core.

Another SF tale which I feel like mentioning for some reason, despite not mentioning “officially,” is “The Librarian” from Nature, which features Bradbury’s fiction within its fiction, thus cueing the reader for a sentimental tale. It’s about the libraries of the future, or the lack thereof. It’s too sentimental and thin to be generally appealing, I suppose, but it captures some of the sadness (if little of the anger) that I feel about the increasing loss of physical printing.

Review: Analog, May/June 2019

May/June 2019

Original Fiction:


  • “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

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” (, 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: Compelling #13, Summer 2019

Compelling #13, Summer 2019


Original Fiction:

  • “Steps in the Other Room” by LA Staley
  • “Sasha Red” by Tyler A. Young
  • “Bodybit” by Mark Parlette-Cariño
  • “What We Remember” by Mark Salzwedel
  • “Love and Brooding” by M. J. Pettit
  • “Steadies” by Robert Dawson

This issue marks the beginning of Compelling‘s incarnation as a purchase-only e-zine after having been a freely available webzine for its first twelve issues.

All six of its offerings are science fiction short stories. Three of them are fairly adventurous. “Sasha Red” is set in a solar system where refugees fleeing Mars are desperate to reach Earth. The title comes from a background element which is paid off later: Sasha Red was a “pirate” who aided refugees by “attacking” their ships, forcing their rescues. In the foreground, we follow a rescue team made up of Tom the Right-Winger, Becca the Left, and Alex the Centrist Narrator. I was initially put off by the idea of another “refugee in space” story but the ideological spread of the characters and the action-plot, involving the effort to rescue forty children before their vessel explodes, engaged me. The only real problems are that some foreshadowing regarding Tom doesn’t seem to pan out and the climax is a little too early with too much “where are they now?” in the ending.

What We Remember” is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Adam Robson’s “The Ambassador” (from Constellary Tales #2, Feb. 2019) and others in that humans make contact with a sentient fungus and some go crazy. I liked the sort of “Darmok at Tanagra” communication by means of triggered or sent memories but the tale doesn’t seem long enough or fleshed out enough and part of the ending comes off like a joke which is out of place.

Finally, “Love and Brooding” describes the life cycle of fish-like creatures who are raised by paternal mouthbrooders from the point of view of one of the fry. Like other tales of this sort, the cognitive dissonance and generalized weirdness are good, while the largely predetermined plot and difficulty of connecting with the characters are less so. I was also confused by the background milieu. It would seem that the land was once, but is no longer, habitable and that these creatures were engineered to survive in the water (perhaps these are ex-humans on a future Earth?) but, if so, I’d have to wonder why they were engineered this way.

While I prefer “far-out” stories in the abstract and that group wasn’t bad, this issue’s most interesting group of stories are the focused, near-future extrapolations which make up the other half of the issue. “Steps in the Other Room” is set in a 2064 of smart houses and more, and involves a woman calling the cops, represented by one man and one Autonomous Car named Ace, to report that her husband’s ghost has gone missing. This is a minor but decent tale in which things aren’t as they seem and ends up touching on family and loss.

Steadies” has a very interesting idea which is insufficiently explored though it has a good framework to do so. A doctor who has some expertise in statistics is shown a paper under a non-disclosure agreement which shows, via deep data-mining, that a cholesterol drug has the bizarre side-effect of reducing divorce, especially if both partners take it. Becoming jealous at a party, she guiltily decides to get her husband on it and starts taking it herself. Some of her internal conflict is shown and these conflicts broaden when the paper is released, the drug becomes very popular, and it produces some social and familial side-effects. My immediate question was the mechanism – is this some slave drug which makes people satisfied with unpleasant conditions or a love drug which heightens interpersonal relations or what? One character eventually asks, “I don’t even know how it’s supposed to work. Have you read the article?” and the narrator replies, “They don’t say. Maybe it causes an irresistible compulsion to put the toilet seat down?” So I would have liked to have seen much more serious development of this intriguing idea.

The story which most impressed me in this issue, despite being as philosophically opposed to it as can be, was “Bodybit,” which also addresses coupling and effectively takes us through a large chunk of the protagonist’s life. It takes the notion of people putting all kinds of private information online (for example, “fitbits” and dating apps) and takes it one small/huge step further: what if a device monitored your sexual performance and statistics and put that online? The story gives us a protagonist who doesn’t do so well the first time and suffers shame but perseveres until things get better for him (and his partners). It takes him through his satiety with this new dating scene before focusing on a lasting relationship he develops. The “add-ons” to the bodybit keep surprising and keep the story moving and the dramatic lines of the tale generally work. The only thing that stops me from giving it a full recommendation (and it may be my own bias against social media) is that I can’t persuade myself that this story seriously addresses the consequences in a complete way, considering the possible negatives anywhere near as thoroughly as the positives. Regardless, it is definitely, at the least, a “compelling” and notable tale.

Review:, May/June 2019, May/June 2019


Original Fiction:

  • “Murder in the Spook House” by Michael Swanwick (fantasy short story)
  • “Any Way the Wind Blows” by Seanan McGuire (fantasy short story)
  • “Skinner Box” by Carole Johnstone (science fiction novelette)
  • “The New Prometheus” by Michael Swanwick (fantasy short story)
  • “A Forest, or A Tree” by Tegan Moore (horror novelette) doesn’t seem to have been able to produce the May/June issue of Short Fiction but five stories (plus a shared-world story) appeared on the site in those months. This “issue” is not as good as the last, but does have some interesting stories or elements within them.

Apparently, is changing its physical corporate HQ. “Any Way the Wind Blows” is a vanity piece published to mark this event, borrowing aspects of Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast (in the sense of being set in a ship traveling through a metafictional omniverse) but replaces the four bantering geniuses with a cranky timeserving captain.

A Forest, or A Tree” probably has some symbolic sense that I’m missing. As is, half the short novelette involves four women hiking in the woods and talking… a lot… and it’s not exactly Tarantino-esque dialog. Then the horror finally kicks in as one of the hikers gets sick, another starts seeing things, and so on.

Skinner Box” is a tale that purports to be about a spaceship crew made up of an abusive husband, his wife, and the other crewman (who is the wife’s lover) and the plans of the latter two to kill the former. Readers will not be surprised that this isn’t entirely what’s going on. Examples of the several problems are that there are too many infodumps, neither the surface nor deeper premises make much sense, and the protagonist (the woman) is not an appealing lead character. (Reflecting on the many locked doors of the ship, she says, “I’ve never tried them more than once. I’ve never wondered what’s behind them more than once. Which, if I cared, is probably the most palpable metaphor for my entire life. Sad and bad and indifferent.”) There is some effectively portrayed claustrophobia and desperation, though.

Michael Swanwick contributes the best stuff with two tales in his “Mongolian Wizard” series. I’m barely familiar with the series but found a nice write-up to help me find my bearings in a world of combined magic and technology in which a sort of Napoleonic War is on the verge of turning into a sort of WWII via higgledy-piggledy timeline-mingling. “Murder in the Spook House” involves the main character, Ritter, investigating the murder of a major character. It doesn’t seem to be an especially weighty murder mystery, but it moves the war along and was brief, clever, and entertaining. “The New Prometheus,” as the title indicates, is a variation on Frankenstein, involving a superbeing created by the Mongolian Wizard. Ritter is tasked to deal with him and (despite not actually doing much, which is a problem) is treated to a strangely effective autobiography from the creature in which he describes how lonely it is to be a god.

Review:, March/April 2019, March/April 2019

Original Fiction:

  • “Knowledgeable Creatures” by Christopher Rowe (fantasy short story)
  • “One/Zero” by Kathleen Ann Goonan (science fictional novelette)
  • “Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell (fantasy short story)
  • “Painless” by Rich Larson (science fictional short story)
  • “Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll (horror short story)

The March/April edition of Short Fiction contains three stories which fall on the positive side of the ledger to varying degrees and two clean misses. It also contains a lot of dogs and in-laws (with one story including both and only one including neither).

One/Zero” theorizes that all the current technological invasions of the privacy of citizens by multinational corporations is good for us and will eventually enable an “SI” to save refugee children and initiate an era of whirled peas. Unless it’s intended ironically, it’s an unconvincing story of simple idealism and is handwavingly plotted, not just with a deus ex ending, but a deus ex beginning, middle, and end. At one point, one of the two focal characters says, “I can’t imagine why I have custody of [a] superintelligence, but I don’t have time to worry about it, either.” And so it all goes.

The other miss, “Mama Bruise,” involves a woman’s dad, who ruined his life via drug addiction, being reincarnated as a magical dog set on making amends until things begin going wrong. This is a real mongrel of a tale. The idea strikes me as silly and there is some humor. But darkness is also intended. And something that goes beyond dark and seems unmerited. Meanwhile, there are marital issues and in-law issues and lots of anecdotes about the dog’s antics which just don’t seem especially focused and don’t drive the tale. It’s possible to create a funny, scary, personal/public mix of a fantasy/horror (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but this just seemed incoherent and ineffective.

Blue Morphos” also deals with marital problems and in-laws, but more directly. A woman has fallen in love with and has a child with a man but refuses to marry him because doing so would make her one of the family. And that family’s members do not die but give a whole new meaning to the notion that “we shall be changed.” They turn into parts of the family home or furniture or, in the case of the story’s opening death, into butterflies. The woman has problems with the in-laws and wants to die her way, a wish given more urgency because she has a terminal disease. It’s quite possible that I’m not responding to this story properly because I’m very tired of reading about women metamorphosing (usually into sea creatures or flying things) and this led with that, though it’s not specifically about that. It does a decent job of most of what it’s aiming at and the antagonistic relation between the woman and one in-law is done very well.

On the flipside, I may be responding too favorably to “Knowledgeable Creatures” despite its underwhelming ending because I greatly enjoyed most of the tale. A private eye (who also happens to be a dog) relates the story of the woman who came to him with the belief that she’d committed a murder. Via heavy foreshadowing which builds great anticipation and generally expert revelations of milieu, we come to understand that this is an alternate fantasy world in which the alchemist Newton and his mouse uplifted many animals. Or was it the mouse and his Newton? This is the crux of the conspiracy theory in this almost theocratic milieu which resulted in the heretic historian woman and another orthodox professor having their incident. The dog has already been fired from the police force due to his interest in the issue and is drawn into it again, despite himself.

It’s probably exactly the foreshadowing which is both a virtue and a vice of this story as it inflates the expectations for the ending. There’s nothing exactly “wrong” with that ending in the sense of being discordant but it’s too quick, predictable, and underwhelming. With a little tweaking, it might be an excellent opening to a novel but it’s not an entirely satisfactory story. It’s still worth noting for its initial delight and obvious skills, though.

Finally, I’ve previously reviewed and recommended Painless” at Tangent.