Recommended: None. (Both stories were quite readable, though.)
This May there were even more reprints and translations than usual in fewer issues than usual (and I did skip one story which is not included in the total) which may explain why I get only 33 stories (one unfinished) of 146K words from eleven prozines, but it still seems a little light. I can’t find anything I missed, though. If there’s a coincidental streak or theme to this month’s fiction it’s not necessarily general but resides in my SF recs all being forms of horror. That’s not the kind of SF I like to recommend in the abstract, but I have to play the hand I’m dealt.
- “Let Me Sleep When I Die” by Wendy Nikel, Nature 2017-05-24, short story (rec)
- “Sweetlings” by Lucy Taylor, Tor.com 2017-05-03, novelette (rec)
- “This Is for You” by Bruce McAllister, Lightspeed May 2017, short story (rec)
I’d said in an earlier post that I had “several honorable mentions” but my own notes on most of them waffle on whether I was “grading on a curve” because I’d read so many stories I intensely disliked that simply not disliking some made merely decent, publishable work seem artificially special. I’ve decided against curves and will only note the couple that I didn’t quibble much about on the “honorable mention” level.
- “Sanctuary” by Allen Steele, Tor.com 2017-05-17, short story
- “The Stars That Fall” by Samantha Murray, Flash Fiction Online May 2017, short story
Even there, Murray’s story about asteroids with names on them (like large-scale cosmic bullets) was billed as SF when it’s not remotely and, among other issues, has an opening sentence of mixed tense, but I liked its core.
I don’t ordinarily give more than a line or two to HMs but Steele’s tale of a pair of colony starships encountering a crisis upon reaching their new world was particularly important but frustrating. This was a good old-fashioned science fiction story which makes up about 2% (or less) of the “science fiction” web market these days but it went beyond being “old school” and was just downright derivative. The hubris dynamics have been handled by Theodore Sturgeon and others, including Clifford D. Simak. Indeed, his 1951 story “Beachhead” is almost exactly like this one bio/tech-wise except for the specific type of the point of failure. For another point that I can’t comment on much without spoiling, a minor victory snatched from major jaws of defeat was snatched from out of nowhere – it’s a perfectly plausible and reasonable device if prepped, but it felt like a deus ex. It also posited what I hope will turn out to be odd technological lags such as some members of a starship crew in the year 2266 having dental bridgework. It also does something odd with the completeness of the incomplete log. Finally, while it does have a sort of ending, it makes the piece feel more like a novel excerpt than a story. So all this thoroughly precluded it from being a recommendation. But if you haven’t read all its predecessors it should seem fresh and good and if you’re just really hankering for a starship-is-actually-a-starship tale then this certainly can’t go completely unnoticed. Alas, it still won’t fully satisfy some due to [spoiler], but it’s worth looking into if you’re in its general target audience.
 Edit (2017-06-15): I actually did miss a second story from Diabolical Plots, which I’ve now read and brings the total up to 34 stories of 149K words.
I thought ralan.com might have been hasty in declaring Terraform dead but I’m calling it, too. Leaving aside comic strips, after four stories in January, there’ve only been two in each of February and March and none in April. The remaining dozen prozines brought us forty-two stories of 199K words.
In one of Dozois’ Annuals (I forget which) he says something about the industry going in streaks with some years producing no anthologies about wombats and others producing ten of them. The same is true of webzines on a monthly basis. As March was Horror and Tor/Nightmare Month, so April was Fantasy, BCS/Lightspeed, and Novella Month.
Taking the last first, Clarkesworld and Uncanny brought us the rare treat of webzine novellas, for which they are to be commended. Alas, both novellas were quite flawed and, ironically, one of the flaws was that neither had a novella’s worth of material but would have easily fit into novelettes. Still, I hope the novella trend continues. For the other two monthly statistical anomalies, almost all my recommendations were fantasy and almost all from two venues. Only one SF story really stuck out and not in an especially sfnal way (though, conversely, a couple of the fantasies had sfnal elements). Two honorable mentions were both SF, though, and both from Compelling. Deborah L. Davitt’s “Demeter’s Regard” is a tale of a human/AI romance onboard a multi-generational starship and Karl K. Gallagher’s “Samaritan” is a pretty upbeat tale of a Neo-Amish Boy in the Big Lunar City.
- “The Black Clover Equation” by Zach Shephard, Flash Fiction Online, short story (rec)
- “I Have Been Drowned in Rain” by Carrie Vaughn, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, short story (rec)
- “Remote Presence” by Susan Palwick, Lightspeed, novelette (rec)
- “When We Go” by Evan Dicken, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, short story (rec)
Compelling was off this month and the other twelve prozines produced forty-nine stories of 168K words. Only three of those struck me as especially noteworthy but that was partly offset by several honorable mentions. Tor.com came alive (mostly thanks to Ellen Datlow) when most other zines were below their average. Like Tor, Nightmare was also a little more impressive than usual – and in a month when it had a lot of competition, as many zines seemed to want to include some horror in this spooky month of March.
- “The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)” by Matthew Kressel, Tor.com, short story (rec)
- “Rising Star” by Stephen Graham Jones, Uncanny, short story (rec)
Fantasy (billed that way, anyway)
- “Margot and Rosalind” by Charlie Jane Anders, Tor.com, short story
- “Mr. Singularity” by Norman Spinrad, Nature, short story
- “Things Crumble, Things Break” by Nate Southard, Nightmare, short story
- “Luminaria” by John Hornor Jacobs, Apex, novelette
- “Nightshade” by J.W. Halicks, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, short story
- “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe, Nightmare, novelette
Both stories from Nightmare and the one from Apex are horror or akin to it. “Triptych,” especially, was close to a rec but an “idiot plot” and other issues hurt it. Similarly, “Nightshade” was an offbeat, enticing, almost Burtonesque tale but ended up being too beholden to incompatible fantasy conventions. Tor.com went on a “Women’s Day” binge of mostly unremarkable mostly flash pieces but a couple stuck out more than the rest, with the “hyperbrain” story “Margot and Rosalind” being my favorite. Another AI short-short, Norman Spinrad’s “Mr. Singularity,” was a bit too much of a straw man and not entirely convincing, but was interesting and idea-centric.
The sun set, casting the world into darkness. A thick, dense darkness, so dark that it would take extended sentences full of polysyllabic opacities to fully convey its impenetrability. Of course, that was broad daylight in comparison to my mind and heart, given that my wife had just committed suicide after killing my dog after that creature had been given rabies by my enemy and had eaten my daughter. So I set out to hunt that enemy down but tripped and suffered a compound fracture in the darkness. Now I lie here, writing this tale in my blood which is probably illegible because it’s hard to write in blood and very hard to do so in such dark, dark, darkness.
Okay, boys and girls! Just a tip: I’m tired of reading stories akin to the paragraph above. Usually, for the webzine stories, I just post about what seems good and let sleeping stories lie but I read thirteen stories of forty thousand words last week and, except for a downer of a forthcoming honorable mention, I didn’t appreciate any of it. So “I Die a Little,” and an all-horror issue of FFO, and an almost all-downer issue of Clarkesworld (and especially “Crown of Thorns” and “Real Ghosts”) and a boring Terraform and an all-downer BCS (with “Suddenwall” and “Ghosts of Amarana” duking it out with “Crown of Thorns” for most suicide-inducing tale)… I’m talking to all of you. Not singling out any one – anybody can do anything they want – but singling out every one for all writing the same story. Being down and dull and depressing with molasses-like prose doesn’t of itself make a story “adult” or “literary” or “good.” It just makes it down and dull and depressing with molasses-like prose.
While I’m at it, I don’t need to read so many Weird Westerns or VR/AI/holograms used as metaphors of familial isolation or so many superhero/comic book tales or so many postmodern cynical ironic satires of cliches which are far more cliched at this point than the original cliches themselves. And now I’ll leave you with some words from the philosopher of the gay science, the joyful wisdom (and a couple of tunes from other philosophers of joy):
All good things approach their goal crookedly. Like cats, they arch their backs, they purr inwardly over their approaching happiness: all good things laugh.
A man’s stride betrays whether he has found his own way: behold me walking! But whoever approaches his goal dances. And verily, I have not become a statue: I do not yet stand there stiff, stupid, stony, a column; I love to run swiftly. And though there are swamps and thick melancholy on earth, whoever has light feet runs even over mud and dances as on swept ice.
Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And do not forget your legs either. Lift up your legs too, you good dancers; and better yet, stand on your heads!
—Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Kaufmann trans.)
And for audiovisual illustrations… Continue reading
Thirteen February pro-rate webzines (the same as last month‘s list except that a new bimonthly issue of Compelling replaced the defunct Fantastic) produced forty-three stories of 196,912 words. I most appreciated six (amounting to 14% of the whole).
- “The Perfect Porn” by Carl Franzen, Terraform, short story (rec)
- “Tav” by Dustin Kennedy, Compelling, novelette (rec)
- “The Terminator” by Laurence Suhner, Nature, short story (rec)
- “The Garbage Doll” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Nightmare, short story (rec)
- “Gravity’s Exile” by Grace Seybold, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, novelette (rec)
- “Marking the Witch” by Lina Rather, Flash Fiction Online, short story (rec)
There are several honorable mentions this month, so I’ll give them their own section. In principle, the only webzine stories I write up on this site are recs but you can read about the Lightspeed honorable mentions in my review of the whole issue at Tangent, if you wish. As far as the others, “Cupids” would appeal mostly to some women, people with an interest in postmodern mythology, or those who respond to its sense of humor (I like classical mythology and thought it was kind of funny) and “Thule” would have interest to some fans of Poe (he plays a large role in the story – perhaps larger than the author even intends, given its theme) and to those who can get through its over-engineering to enjoy its rococo prose and sneakily involving action.
- “The Last Garden” by Jack Skillingstead, Lightspeed, short story
I tried forty-three stories of 176,695 words from thirteen January 2017 pro-rate webzines (Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Diabolical Plots, the final issue of the now-defunct Fantastic, Flash Fiction Online, Lightspeed, Nature, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Terraform, Tor.com, and Uncanny). I didn’t finish four stories. Thirty-four ranged from bad to good with honorable mentions for “A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson (a horror novelette from Tor.com that at least sticks – like coagulated blood – in the mind) and “Playing for Keeps” by Judy Helfrich (a time travel short-short from Nature). I recommended five (12%). Those five, divided by genre and alphabetized by title are:
- “Cease and Desist” by Tyler Young, Nature, short story (rec)
- “The Ghost Ship Anastasia” by Rich Larson, Clarkesworld, novelette (rec)
- “A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Clarkesworld, novelette (rec)