Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-23)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • The Metal Eater of Luminous Smoke” by Minsoo Kang, Strange Horizons, June 18, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Going Back for Hitler” by George Nikolopoulos, Nature, June 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Recoveries” by Susan Palwick, Tor.com, June 20, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” by A. Merc Rustad, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254, June 21, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • Three Dandelion Stars” by Jordan Kurella, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254, June 21, 2018 (fantasy novelette)
  • VRtual” by Rose Eveleth, Terraform, June 22, 2018 (science fiction short story)

The Sweetness of Honey and Rot, ” much like its title, is an unappealing mix of fantasy and horror elements. This is yet another present tense story of a heroine battling the evil empire, the latter of which is, in this case, a human-eating tree attended by sloths and other humans. The horrible fates that befall all who so much as think of going against the grain make the protagonist’s experiences utterly unbelievable. “Three Dandelion Stars” is trite in both relatively recent and old-fashioned ways: it’s another tale of the difficulties of lesbian weddings and is a “(swamp) fairy offers a wish” story. Like the previous story, this has horror elements and evil systems and, like many more, it’s a revenge fantasy/wish-fulfillment (and an uncommonly preposterous one). Since one character is nothing at all and the other is merely stupid, there are only “Eight Deadly Words” for this. The week’s other pure fantasy, “The Metal Eater,” is a readable tale with some metafiction (and interesting literary criticism) in it but mostly deals with a magical semi-Socratic character puttering about in a myth who must deliver yet more blows against the empire (in  this case, a wastrel of a new king). The main problem here is a lack of drama.

The three science fiction tales aren’t very. “Hitler” is a time travel flash piece which, yet again, has a time traveler wanting to kill Hitler. It contains an interesting idea but is delivered in a fairly predictable way in terms of the big picture and completely implausibly in terms of the details. “VRtual” has a woman working as a motion-capture body at a VR firm who meets an aggressive guy at a bar. It seems to argue the VR both really traumatizes her, yet doesn’t prepare her for reality. As a story, especially an SF one, it doesn’t do much at all. The week’s best tale is easily “Recoveries,” which handles its SF motif in a fantastic fashion (with a dash of horror) and takes awhile to overcome the off-putting nature of the protagonists, one of whom (Vanessa) is a court-mandated dry drunk about to complete her year’s sentence of sobriety and go on a binge and the other of whom (Kat) is her eating-disordered best (only) friend and the story’s narrator. As you get to know Vanessa, whose parents believed they were abducted by aliens and who did eventually permanently disappear, and Kat, who never even knew her parents, and how these and other issues play into the troubles of their lives, it becomes more intriguing. Vanessa’s reactions at the end aren’t entirely plausible but I feel like at least noting this tale. I enjoyed Dennis Danver’s somewhat recent “Adult Children of Alien Beings” and this, while different, has some similarity of appeal.

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-16)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Flesh Moves” (Part 2) by Adam Rothstein and Brendan C. Byrne, Terraform, June 1 and 9, 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • Quietly Gigantic” by K. C. Mead-Brewer, Strange Horizons, June 11, 2018 (surreal short story)
  • Further Laws of Robotics” by Josh Pearce, Nature, June 13, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull, Diabolical Plots, June 15, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Worst Commute” by Aaron Gordon, Terraform, June 15, 2018 (science fiction short story)

The science fiction stories in this span were disappointing. The fantastic tales were much more interesting.

Flesh Moves” is about a murderous psychopath trying to scam the system that’s scamming everyone, using fellow drug-addled “truckers” who accompany the self-driving vehicles which ship “pax” from place to place. Its fractured, staccato, jargon-filled faux-Burroughs cyberpunk “style” makes it frankly unreadable and it’s never a good sign that the reader’s disappointed more characters don’t die. “The Worst Commute” is an initially decent take on the privatization of the subways (which is becoming a reality in Chicago) but is lacking in story as a “commie” pisses off a “subbro” and becomes a indentured servant for violating the mysterious Terms of Service. Finally, “The Further Laws of Robotics” is another piece which lacks story despite its initial, appealing, gimmick. A robot is about to blow up a particle collider and kill a lot of people, causing Detective Warren to try to stop him, resulting in an entertaining bout of number theory argument dealing with numbers other than Zero through Three.

Quietly Gigantic” is about a lunatic lesbian housesitting for ten days with a cat and a roach problem. The style is initially appealing and the calm, matter-of-fact narration sprinkled with bad craziness conveys an effect almost like an elevator steadily rising but for moments of stomach-floating drops, which threaten to grow worse. I was never sure if this was fantasy or going to become outright horror (it’s ultimately just surreal and can be rationalized as mainstream with an insane narrator). Unfortunately, I came to feel it was too long and lost confidence in its having any plot. While an end game was clearly in mind, the extent seemed made up of strung together incidents which could have been decreased or increased and the whole thing felt like an accordion stretched to arbitrary length. What turned out to be the ultimate thrust of the story, however symbolically creative, was also trite and somehow smaller than the story had led me to expect.

While still not earth-shaking (except in an apocalyptic sense), my favorite story of the week was “Withholding Judgment Day.” A weird order of monks “expects” Judgment Day in shifts due to a biblical verse that can be interpreted to mean that Judgment Day works like a watched pot. While the world at large is often enough, the monks are really set on not letting it boil, as souls still need to be saved before the big day. Unfortunately, on a day in which the most of the world is distracted by a historic World Cup match and others have other issues, even the triple-redundancy of the monks is not sufficient as they don’t really expect the world to end. Unless I’m not reading the “2:56 PM GMT” section properly, it doesn’t seem “paradoxical” like the others but actually inconsistent, and the story’s ending may be clever but is still a little flat, but it was an entertaining tale with a good narrative tone.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-06-09)

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Original Fiction:

Belated Original Fiction:

  • Safe Surrender” by Meg Elison, Slate, May 29, 2018 (science fiction short story)

(I didn’t get word about the Slate story until this week, so it’s a little late. Terraform didn’t release the second part of their story until today, so that will be a little late.)

This week’s fantasy stories include a couple of tales of woe set in secondary worlds reminiscent of North Africa or Arabia from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. In the first, actually named “A Tale of Woe,” Rana is a Soother for the Goddess of Sorrows who must deal with trouble in the highest place of a great city. While loosely readable, the plotting is convenient, the psychic combat isn’t convincing, Rana is not appealing, the concept of the Goddess seems inconsistent, and the story is rife with grammatical errors, typos, or at least non-optimal expressions (“an inhale of breath,” “beggars and the infirmed,” “sold for so cheap,” “sowed” (for “sewed”), “to kidnap she and her family,” “[p]ulling her scissor,” “had Elder Awan’s voice not rang across her thoughts”). “The Weaver and the Snake” is a riff on “Ozymandias” with a Great Destroyer in the form of a giant snake which has been eating all the cities of the desert and, among many troubles, has been making the great weaver doubt her reason for being.

Far superior to these, though initially oblique and still a bit lacking dramatically, is “Like Smoke, Like Light,” (possibly a fable of female agency). In it, a woman who has “betrayed” her family becomes enmeshed in a familial offshoot’s similar web of bondage, bringing meals to the head of that family, who has interred himself in a magic maze guarded by monsters and ghosts in order to remain undisturbed while he repeatedly visits with the ghosts of his wife and child. When an accident occurs during her navigation of the maze, one of the ghosts becomes a bit more dynamic, followed by further change.

Of the week’s four science fiction tales, two are very short. “Gift for His Beloved,” at about 270 words, is very short. It describes a husband getting anniversary gifts for his wife after the apocalypse and is quite clever and would be very effective but the discontinuity between parts makes the climax seem to happen too abruptly. “Mirror” takes the notion that doctors make the worst patients and adds that they can make pretty bad doctors, too, and that this could have profound effects in the future for one post-cryogenically thawed doctor/patient.

The two longer tales deal with protagonists caught between worlds who are seeking a sort of home.

In “Safe Surrender,” the unnamed protagonist is a “hybrid” or “hemi” of human and alien “Pinner.” Like many hybrids, she was given up for adoption—in her case, on the day of the first assassination of a Pinner by a human. She spends the story trying to find out about that night, her parents, and who she is. Maybe I’m not doing my part and working hard enough but the Pinners seemed under-explained (both in themselves and regarding the SF, if any, of the hybridization) and the terrestrial milieu seemed sketchy. The conclusion didn’t really resonate with me either. Otherwise, the line by line writing, protagonist, and mood seemed well done.

Meat and Salt and Sparks” deals with Cu, an ape who was illegally uplifted in a torturous way and, after being emancipated, has become a detective, partnered with the human, Huxley. When an “echogirl” (someone who basically rents out their bodies for other peoples’ vicarious experiences) commits a murder, she and Huxley investigate. The case becomes more complicated and personal than she expected and it eventually both traumatizes her but changes her in other ways as well.

This is almost a masterpiece of writing in the sense that it nearly disguises how little sense it makes. Huxley is unappealing and, aside from a natural sympathetic response to her experiences, Cu isn’t made to be especially intrinsically compelling, either. While I have to talk around things to avoid spoilers, the nature of the perpetrator is immediately obvious despite the motive for the murder seeming very stupid. Nevertheless, the murder doesn’t thwart its objective, yet is completely unnecessary to it. The protagonist doesn’t actually do anything; it’s the perpetrator who does. How the perpetrator ever came to have its perspective on things is inexplicable and, while there could be a reason it thinks its actions will be effective, it’s never given in the story and makes the perpetrator seem possibly quite stupid (again) and quixotic. This aims for an emotional effect akin to “Rachel in Love” (Pat Murphy, Asimov’s,  April 1987) and, in an odd and restricted way, is a fine read but all its problems prevented it from hitting that high mark.

Review of Compelling #11 for Tangent

On its new schedule as a semi-annual, this is Compelling‘s first issue after a six month break and it was worth the wait. In terms of quantity, with the help of a reprint, it has one more story than its ever had before, though the word count is not appreciably longer but, in terms of quality, I recommend two tales (almost three) and, while not quite on those levels, personally enjoyed a couple more.

Full review at Tangent: Compelling #11, Summer 2018.

Recommended:

  • “Targeted Behavior” by J.D. Moyer (science fiction short story)
  • “Redaction” by Adam R. Shannon (science fiction short story)

Honorable mention:

  • “Driving Force” by Tom Jolly (science fiction short story)

Review of Clarkesworld #141 for Tangent

This issue of Clarkesworld includes three novelettes (one approaching novella length) and two short stories (one approaching flash brevity). They feature robots (with or without AI), magic aliens and post-humans, and surrealism. While this issue is not wall-to-wall depression and dystopia, only one of the stories comes close to being light on its feet. Or foot.

Full review at Tangent: Clarkesworld #141, June 2018.

Review: Lightspeed #97

Lightspeed #97, June 2018

LS97

Original Fiction:

  • “I Sing Against the Silent Sun” by A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman (science fantasy novelette)
  • “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer” by Lina Rather (science fantasy short story)
  • “The Quiltbag” by Ashok K. Banker (science fantasy short story)
  • “From the Root” by Emma Törzs (science fantasy short story)

[The link to “From the Root” will be added when available.]

Lightspeed‘s table of original contents would seem to present the usual two science fiction and two fantasy stories but there are arguably none of either as all four strike me as science fantasy.

In “Silent Sun,” a genderless person and a sentient spaceship are hunted by a god which demands silence of all and they recite poetry at it in defiance. It’s interesting to think of this in comparison with “Repent, Harlequin” in that the two tales of rebellion against oppressive authority figures share a certain juvenile nature but the sharp, vivid imagery, sense of whimsy, and universality of the Ellison tale contrasts strongly with this impressionistic, humorless, particular (and unconvincingly resolved) piece.

Pilgrim’s Guide” involves a person engaging in space travel to approach someone in zero-G… who is a seer and gives her a prophecy. Basically, as the prophecy was being revealed, I realized the “why” of her state (meaning not just what triggered it but why she wanted what she wanted). It’s initially evoked effectively but it’s ultimately made a little too explicit and, aside from that, would have been better as a straight fantasy (and without the second-person narrative technique).

The next tale’s protagonist, who believes racism is genetic, is judge, jury, and executioner of innumerable parallel worlds, using her “Quiltbag” to “eat” “bad” worlds. (“Bad” means irredeemable worlds who have an inhabitant who fails to meet her definition of being sufficiently accepting of the races, genders, and identities she values, or who have improper diets. “Eating” means that those worlds which are not already like the quiltbag in one way are turned into the quiltbag in another.) The undramatic structure mostly involves her waiting in a room for an interviewer to arrive and then interviewing him.

Finally, “From the Root” takes place in an alternate eighteenth century in which “regenitrices” are known to exist in the background of the world. These are otherwise human women who regenerate from wounds and would only die from old age except that childbirth is always fatal. The protagonist is one and she’s fallen for a doctor who knows her secret and who’s trained her in midwifery. Marya is another regenitrix who, though a lesbian, has become pregnant by force. He wishes to examine her corpse when she dies and the midwife wishes to save her with another in her line of theories about why pregnancy kills regenitrices. Marya just wishes to be left alone. They each try to encourage the others to share their desires without knowing who can be trusted, with the fate of the midwife’s love, Marya’s life, and the lives of innumerable others in suspense.

This is very well-written with an ample, but unpretentious style, a tangible setting, sufficiently realized women and an appropriately vague doctor, and a set of compatible and contrary desires which produces real tension. Thematically, it speaks to gender disparity in the medical establishment but is wider-ranging and deeper than that. My only problem is that I have a hard time accepting the “science” of the regenitrices and of part of the resolution. I can’t get into the last (which is arguably more serious) but, for the first, if regenitrices can only produce one offspring and not all do, they should go extinct unless their numbers are replenished by spontaneous mutation but this is never questioned or answered. The general quality makes this a story I’d recommend but the background problems of this completely non-supernatural story focused on the science of medicine make me hesitate. I recommend it in the sense that it’s generally good and I may be mistaken about the problems or they may not bother some readers.

Summation: May 2018

This month’s baker’s dozen of noted stories (four recommended) comes from the pool of ninety (of 440 Kwds) published between April 30 and May 28. The print zines were individually strongest with Analog and F&SF each contributing multiple tales but the web combined to contribute seven.

While not applicable to the monthly recommendations, I did review a collection this month which had eight reprints (three recommended) that I especially liked.

Two bits of site news: I’ve once again updated Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links), this time with The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 4, and I’m modifying what’s included in these “Summations.” Previously, I’d linked only to those reviews which discussed the noted stories but I’ve decided to link to all reviews of magazines (and books, if any), as well as various “news” articles, making this serve as an essentially complete retroactive “table of contents” of the activity for the month.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • Fleeing Oslyge” by Sally Gwylan, Clarkesworld #140, May 2018 (novelette)
  • Grace’s Family” by James Patrick Kelly, Tor.com, May 16, 2018 (novelette)
  • “The Last Biker Gang” by Wil McCarthy, Analog, May/June 2018 (novella)

Fantasy

  • Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris, Nightmare #68, May 2018 (horror short story)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Crash-Site” by Brian Trent, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us” by Marina J. Lostetter, Uncanny #22, May/June 2018 (short story)
  • “Inquisitive” by Pip Coen, F&SF, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “Life from the Sky” by Sue Burke, Asimov’s, May/June 2018 (novelette)
  • “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” by Buzz Dixon, Analog, May/June 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

Reviews

Magazines

Book

News