Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-17)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

This week’s stories were a weird bunch with little, if anything, that could be taken seriously as science fiction and little, if anything, that was pure fantasy.

The least unsuccessful stories were science fiction satires. “Vegan” was a clever bit of ironic propaganda in which McFleshy’s tells us the truth (the McFacts!) about the vegan/Vegan conspiracy and how the company took over what was left of the world for the sake of humanity. As a guy whose “food pyramid” practically has meat as the base, this naturally doesn’t resonate with me, but it was smart and funny. Unfortunately, aside from the comico-historical infodump there was no plot and, aside from the Voice of the Narrator, there were no characters and it’s all just a bit silly. Less silly, but still going for humor, “The Preprint” tells us about the “machine at the centre of the Universe, the sole function of which is to create more time.” When the protagonist’s colleagues don’t believe him, he invents a space machine to travel to the time machine but the time machine is an AI and doesn’t like this, so sends him back to the past, where he’ll just be considered (even more of) a crackpot. It’s a little too contrived and the machine moves conveniently nearer or further from omniscience as needed but it’s an amusing gimmick. Finally, “The Treatment” is not amusing at all, but perhaps should have aimed for it, as it comes off as “Reefer Madness for the Opioid Age” with the only “SF” elements being a fictionalized drug and an extrapolation into bathetic dystopia with a nakedly emotionally manipulative ending.

Moving to fantasy, it’s possible “Tsunami” was intended as SF, dealing as it does with climate change (specifically sea level rise) but has people spontaneously sprouting gills and webbing and becoming vampiric merfolk who sometimes stick straws into people’s necks to feed. The conflicted protagonist meets a boy but her friends’ urge to make her feed complicates the relationship, turns things toward horror, and makes everyone repellent. In “Flight,” Earth’s climate has been ravaged even further and magic animals educate the last surviving human, a young girl, before flying in their shadowship to heaven. The novelette-length sermon could have easily been boiled down to flash.

The science-fantasy-like BCS stories open with another novelette, “Wyvern,” which does have more than a short’s worth of milieu but this milieu is not gracefully exposed. An unclearly articulated entity usually has four souls in one except that one has been stolen by the machaenists (mechanists or machinists, obviously) who uphold the remnant tech of the Ancients. Then there’s the girl and her dragon who are similarly symbiotic and similarly entangled with the machaenists. It all ends in a big fight. The story is violently technophobic and the ending action sequence is pure hand-waving authorial fiat. The milieu is more complicated than it needs to be but it won’t be wasted as this story doesn’t end but clearly leads to a sequel. I will give the story the one credit of having a good cinematic scene of a steampunk airships, old mechanical metallic plane-like vehicles, and a dragon all engaged in combat. Finally, “Shattered” also deals with symbiotic characters in combat when a large beetle-like creature (the narrator) and a woman fight the Evil Overlord. Again, this one had a scene of what must have been one heck of a fight but the action was hard to follow and the motivations were too generic to produce much interest.

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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)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-10)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

  • Copy Cat” by Alex Shvartsman & K. A. Teryna, Strange Horizons, August 6, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Home Cygnus” by S. R. Algernon, Nature, August 8, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Redlining at the End of the World” by Blake Montgomery, Terraform, August 10, 2018 (science fiction short story)

This week produced only three pieces, each of only one to two thousand words.

Copy Cat” bizarrely insists on all the things its cat protagonist can’t do (because it’s a real cat) in this fantasy about an impossibly intelligent cat doing impossible things. The significance of this contradiction, if it has any beyond a failed attempt at humor, escapes me. It also bizarrely suggests that we should enjoy a protagonist and his Leningrad cop friend singing “old Soviet songs” which goes beyond the bizarre and into bad taste at this time. “Home Cygnus” is a sequel to “In Cygnus and in Hell” which again stars Dorothy and carries the narrative to her choosing what to take with her on her interstellar voyage and deciding that some of the best things are not material. Unobjectionable, but unremarkable. “Redlining” is a very dull piece written as either an overlong news article from 2190 or an essay which lacks depth. It promotes the mistaken and divisive narratives which assume there are no poor white people (or rich black ones) and that racism is only a Southern issue. In this unimaginative piece, almost two hundred years from now, authorities in Texas, after Georgia’s example, will discriminate in favor of “wealthy white neighborhoods” and against “poor black ones” when it comes to protecting them from rising sea levels.

Review of Solarpunk for Tangent

Solarpunk is composed of Brazilian stories from 2012 which aim to deal with green energy and ecology. The preface cites Le Guin, Callenbach, and Robinson as exemplars but notes that Brazilian green energy is not necessarily seen as an issue of the Left or as a good thing. It also notes that these stories are not as utopian as many on similar topics. My reading confirms this, as only a couple touch on things which are obviously political to this American and are often quite dark.

Full “Special Double Review” (Chuck Rothman and I both review this) at Tangent: Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, ed. by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro.

Review: Nightmare #71

Nightmare #71, August 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “Dead Air” by Nino Cipri (novelette)
  • “Crook’s Landing, by Scaffold” by G.V. Anderson (dark fantasy short story)

Dead Air” is listed at 10,204 words, but I only get 7,643. It’s a novelette, either way. It features Miss Nosy and Miss Dark Secret (basically the extent of the characterization) and details their romantic relationship and how Nosy talks Dark Secret into returning to her hometown of Garbled and re-visiting the scene of The Accident. Naturally, horror ensues. All this is told through the narrative gimmick of audio recordings and a third character giving really elaborate stage directions.

Crook’s Landing” is much more appealing though I should disclaim that I’m a sucker for posthumous fantasies (this isn’t really a horror story or even as dark a fantasy as it might be). In this “Bill? Barry?” is hanged two days after his younger brother and, as a crook, ends up in the titular place. Most people suffer almost instantaneous amnesia but BillBarry holds fast to his brother’s memory and looks all over Crook’s Landing and other afterplaces trying to find him. Finally, the murderers from Cutthroat Cove arrive to offer a deal. It’s all a little pat and has some really sentimental murderers and some other issues, but it was a decent read.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-08-04)

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Original Fiction:

  • Where the Gods Went” by J. Drake, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, July 29, 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • Medium Matters” by R.K. Duncan, Diabolical Plots, August 1 , 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Tail of Danny Whiskers” by Fawaz Al-Matrouk, Nature, August 1 , 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Loss of Signal” by S.B. Divya, Tor.com, August 1 , 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • A Legacy of Shadows” by Christopher M. Cevasco, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #257, August 2, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Old No-Eyes” by Christopher Mahon, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #257, August 2, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • 2157” by Grant Maierhofer, Terraform, August 3 , 2018 (science fiction short story)

With seven stories, it seems like something ought to stick out but this is one of those unfortunate weeks where nothing does.

Medium Matters” is 2300-words of a brief question about exorcising ghosts and a long answer written by a deranged paranormal advice columnist with relationship issues. The theme of BCS this issue is “6000 word stories written by people named Christopher.” “A Legacy of Shadows” is a really ham-handed Message in which a guy has spent his life killing members of the species who killed his parents. He’s hired by the villagers of a half-Weird Western/half-medieval town to kill the local half-breed but, when his attempt to kill him goes awry, he realizes he’s been “stuck in a rut” and Learns Better. Nice Message; unsuccessful story. “Old No-Eyes” is not such a nice message as the simple, pseudo-Asian tale set in a room tells us that even becoming a transcended immortal ego-less person still apparently leaves room to harbor grudges and be vicious and evil. Maybe this says something about the cosmos but the story isn’t striking for anything besides brutality.

Three of the SF tales range from 2600 words down to 900. “Loss of Signal” is another Message (and quite a contrived one) about a young man with mother-issues who had a degenerative disease. This caused him to have his consciousness loaded into a spaceship which will perhaps show that disabled people can circumnavigate the Moon just as well as others have. (Last year’s “An Unexpected Boon,” from the same author, carries a similar message in a much more appealing and straightforwardly fantastic piece.) “Danny Whiskers” is another Message involving a scientist who’s modified a cat to be intelligent (which apparently comes with the ability to speak through a cat’s throat and mouth for free) despite laws to the contrary and their attempt to escape from the US to Canada. The cop who holds their fates in his hands delivers the moral of the story. You might be interested in “2157” if you enjoyed “Flesh Moves” in the same magazine or want more violent dystopian logorrhea; otherwise, you won’t.

The story that kept me the most off-balance this week was the “quarantine world” science fiction novelette, “Where the Gods Went.” It opens in a virtually incoherent way and spends its first 4900 words coming to make a little sense before the main story is covered in the last 2900 words. So it went from seeming like a bad opening to seeming like a good, in media res, no-infodump, sink-or-swim opening, to clearly being a ridiculously long prologue that could have been exchanged for an opening paragraph or for a few judicious sentences of backstory interspersed through the main story. That main story is summarized by the narrator’s “close third-person” on the Captain of the sabotaged spaceship: “All he had to do was bring back fuel from a death-trap of a planet and induce seven cut-throats to help save the captors hauling them in to judicial death while keeping an eye on a possibly insane first mate who would pilot an ancient rust-bucket of a fueler, [and] guide them through nightmare land…” That nightmare land does indeed turn the story into an SF horror tale which carries its own Message about where the gods are and what the significance of that is, delivered through the foils of the skeptical, rationalist ship’s doctor (who is a sort of Cro-Magnon for some reason) and the “possibly insane first mate.” The conclusion is also unsatisfying, as it seems to have no concern that a saboteur selfishly endangered everyone and consigned spear carriers to far more hideous deaths than they would have received in their “judicial deaths.” Still, while this tale, which hovered between TV sci-fi awfulness and van Vogtian good craziness (which some people might see as a distinction without a difference), wasn’t successful, its type of lack of success was certainly more interesting than that of the others’ this week.

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