Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-18)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Issue #247 of BCS could be called the “swords into ploughshares” issue. “Braving the Morrow Candle’s Wane” is not a fantasy but simply vaguely medieval. The story itself is of an old lady trying to distract a soldier, who is hunting for the girl she’s hiding, with a tale of her own gain and loss of one faith during a war and the different faith she replaced it with. The climax hinges on how the soldier reacts.

I’m not often privileged to read a masterpiece but, at least in the heat of the moment, I feel that “The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” is. It’s the tale of a war and the supremely devoted chef who, by being just what he was, changed the world. A very unusual take on the maxim that an army travels on its stomach. The story of that chef is told by a master chef to an apprentice in five segments which makes it both metafictional and a listory, which are often fatal things to attempt, but this story’s metafictional aspects serve the story, heightening, rather than distracting from or being snide about, its storyness. And the list is more in the way of section headers in a normal, full-bodied narrative but serve to keep the story’s proportions and pace perfect. This story’s tone is another thing that’s handled perfectly and the tale could be placed in that section of a textbook. It’s lightly told, yet with full seriousness, feeling the pains of war while softening them to bearable levels, feeling very much like the narrator is a full character but isn’t a metafictional (in a bad way) stand-in for the author. The style is generally a significant part of this and it’s amazing how beautiful the prose is, to be basically so plain and devoid of any “preciousness.” It also does a wonderful job of managing its dimensions, with a foreground story given depth and scope by casual but ominous background references to, for example, blood mages and harvests. Another of the strongest features can be described by the story itself: “From time to time one bites through one of the tiny pockets of parsley and garlic, and their unexpected flavors burst in your mouth.” This story is full of such pockets, from the soldiers being especially happy due to not having died, to artists being a little crazy, to what people often do when puzzled, to the significance of the belief in one’s insignificance, to the soldier’s collecting seasoning leaves, to the value of desire to an almost hopeless prisoner, to infinity. I don’t even think a main character’s name (Eres) is an accident (a blend of Ares and Eros?) Finally, as is often the case when I’m reading a story I’m thrilled by, I’m afraid it’ll fall on the dismount. I’ll grant that some could find a little too much of one thing or a little too much of another but, for me, this manages a perfect blend of light and shadow.

Lest this all sound like a mere technical tour de force, I’ll say that it’s a story about war and memory and food (and you don’t need to be a gourmand to appreciate it – I was eating a Hot Pocket® during part of it) which is to say, it’s about things that matter. And you will care about the characters’ fates. Wonderful. I don’t see how this won’t be in multiple year’s bests and up for awards.

Perhaps my story circuits were blown by that story because the next one I read was “Cosmic Spring” which I can’t quite fully recommend. (I don’t ordinarily cover reprints/translations but I made an exception, not least because this was “translated” by the bilingual author and originally published this year.) It’s a far-far future eschatological tale about an AI piloting Earth to the last star in the universe. It may blow some readers’ minds and it accomplishes a great deal in a short space but, perhaps by having only an AI character and only that short space, there’s something faintly clinical about it despite all its cosmic-scale concerns about consciousness and history. Still, it’s very likely worth a look for most readers.

All stories this week aside from “War of Light and Shadow” were three thousand words or less (most significantly less) and, aside from it and “Cosmic Spring,” were much less striking. “Data” involves a guy being confronted by his BDSM (Big Data Special Manager) for not behaving as his statistics say he should but has no story. That problem similarly afflicts “A Very Large Number of Moons” which is an otherwise appealing and surreal tale of a collector of moons in conversation with someone who tracked the former down wanting a particular moon of importance to the latter. Ditto the also oddly passionless “The Last Rites of Quotient Lorenzo-Lochbaum” in which a mother, who is about to benefit from her daughter’s self-sacrifice in a “cap and trade” system of (im)mortality), answers her child’s dying question about whether she would do anything differently if she had her life to live over. The mother’s answer tells us about their current society and the personalities of both women, painting an odd picture which does not flatter anyone, especially not the mother herself, or her society. Or ours. Finally, “Soft Clay” is yet another underplotted story which is mostly a fantasy and which involves a shapeshifter, who had been created by a mad (from grief) scientist, drifting from person to person and being defined by them. This has disturbingly incestuous and infantilizing elements that don’t seem entirely intentional or addressed. Aside from that, it’s reminiscent of things like van Vogt’s “Vault of the Beast” and, especially, Spinrad’s “Child of Mind” but from the object’s POV.


Review of Interzone #274 for Tangent

This issue of Interzone could be subtitled “The Philip K. Dick Issue.” In most of these stories, you will find yourself looking for the ontological floor and wondering who your friends and enemies are and what constitutes success or failure. While most stories of this kind are not great and those of this issue are no exception, there are a couple of good ones, including one superb one.

Full review at Tangent: Interzone #274, March/April 2018.


  • “Never the Twain” by Michael Reid

Honorable Mention:

  • “baleen, baleen” by Alexandra Renwick

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-10)

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  • Of Warps and Wefts” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo, Strange Horizons, March 5, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Writing for the End of the World” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez, Nature, March 7, 2018 (short story)
  • Mr. Try Again” by A. Merc Rustad, Nightmare #66, March [7], 2018 (horror short story)
  • Al-Kahf” by Beesan Odeh, Lightspeed #94, March [8], 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • The Inventor” by Arif Anwar, Terraform, March 9, 2018 (science fictional short story)

I added the delayed coverage of BCS #246 to the previous Wrap-Up on the 9th. This light week produced five mostly unrelated, mostly unremarkable stories and, returning to usual practice, they are all covered here.

Of Warps and Wefts” is about Chime who is married to her husband Ping except at night when he becomes Ding who is the wife of a dragon poacher and she becomes Dime who is the husband of a hippie. Because of Ding’s new marriage, he’s been neglecting Chime. Some may find the random babble of “tomato sauce and unicorn pee” entertaining but, since there are no actual dragons or unicorns, they may find it annoying and pointless.

Writing for the End of the World” is another pseudo-apocalyptic metafictional piece from Nature which takes an old joke as a serious reason for writing apocalypses.

Mr. Try Again“: Welcome to Swamp Woebegone, where all the women are victims, all the men evil killers, and all the children are half-dead. Yet another revenge fantasy, though it does a reasonable job of creating a brief monster mythos.

Al-Kahf” is a modern fairy tale about a man plucking a sea-jinn from the sea to heal his sick boy. The jinn isn’t pleased. This tale would be fine but the ending is simple and rather pointless. Which is kind of the point, so to speak, but isn’t satisfying.

The Inventor” shows the reality distortion field is immortal, as it seems to idolize either someone like a certain Apple exec or actually translates him to modern Syria in a kind of alternate reality. It aims to underscore the hidden costs of war but I think most people  realize this and won’t get anything new from it.

Review: Galaxy’s Edge #31

Galaxy’s Edge #31, March 2018

  • “Death Rides Shotgun” by Michael Haynes (fantasy short story)
  • “The Stars So Black, the Space So White” by Robert Jeschonek (science fantasy short story)
  • “Things Said to Me in the Anxari 12 Station Bar When I Said I Wasn’t a Xenosexual (and the Things I Wish I’d Had the Courage to Say in Reply)” by Matt Dovey (science fictional short story)
  • “You Get Hit and Your Moose Goes Ping” by Brennan Harvey (science fiction short story)
  • “The Gift” by Regina Kanyu Wang (science fantasy short story)
  • “The Electrifying Aftermath of a Demon Thrice Summoned” by Larry Hodges (fantasy short story)
  • “The Sin of Envy” by George Nikolopoulos (science fiction short story)
  • “Perfect Little Boy” by Jon Lasser (science fiction short story)
  • “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” by Steven H Silver (science fiction short story)

As with the last issue of Galaxy’s Edge, this issue’s original offerings are all short stories or shorter. Unlike the last issue, not everything is fantasy but, like many things lately, most of the things that aren’t straight fantasy only loosely qualify as SF.

(Two odd notes: I  like the cover; three of the authors (Dovey, Harvey, and Lasser) are introduced as various sorts of winners of the “Writers of the Future” contests.)

Perhaps the most interesting and most science fictional of the flash pieces is “The Sin of Envy” which involves a human confronting a robot over its signs of supposed envy but learning that humanity may not be so appealing to a robot. Despite a good thought in here that could have been pushed further, it instead goes for a conventional “twist” ending. The purest fantasy flash is “Death Rides Shotgun,” which is a flip tale of Joseph going to his car to visit his estranged daughter and her new child but finding Death inside. Joseph gets in anyway, because family is important. The other two stories seem to aim for feminist statements which are arrived at awkwardly at best. “The Gift” is a science-free “galactic empire” story about an emperor demanding gifts with which he aims to win back his estranged wife before he Learns Better. “Things Said to Me” is scarcely longer than its title and is a list of nine sexual innuendos from “aliens” followed by repugnantly abrasive insults from our “hero/ine” with a final, variant call and response which makes its mundane point.

The Stars So Black” is a kind of comic book science fantasy about a Georgia bartender having been abducted by aliens and loving it. Initially, rather than describing things which blow our minds, he doesn’t describe things and tells us that, if he did, our minds would be blown. Eventually, he goes on a mission to another universe to try to save ours from  destruction at the hands of its natives. It’s possible some, especially newer or younger readers, would enjoy aspects of this. The space operatic “Emporium” is much like “The Great Culling Emporium” in this Spring’s Cirsova but this deals with a drug dealer trying to sell brussel sprouts to the aliens of the Fifth Zone, who find it a narcotic, when he encounters an old business associate (with ally), gets beat up, and has to deal with their efforts to steal his ship. (And, just as in “Galactic Gamble” from that same issue of Cirsova, he loses the literal “keys” to his spaceship.)

Demon” would be a pure fantasy except that it’s really all in the service of a satire on the American public and our politics—specifically of Donald and Hillary, portraying both as stupid, deceitful, malignant summoners of a demon. The story is narrated by the demon who, when the Senate summons him and botches it, “fixes” things his own way. The humor in this wore thin almost immediately and there’s little depth to the satire, though it is an appealing concept.

Of the more science fictional tales, “Moose” is a time travel story but also gets into a little detail regarding cloning as it tells the tale of an environmentalist from the future getting into a moosemobile while the biological moose is whisked off to the future for a sperm sample. Meanwhile, the protagonist has to deal with an incredibly accurate and persistent hunter and the usual timeline change problems that almost all time travelers have, with an ironic ending. Finally, “Perfect Little Boy” takes the fairly preposterous approach of having a judge’s baby switched with a robot after three days and, every time it goes to the “doctor” (which is apparently very often) it gets sideloaded into a new body and sometimes gets software updates, all in the context of a similarly unconvincing conspiracy of similar child-replacements and surveillance of key people by them. It opens with the naive boy narrator and switches gears into the voice of the sophisticated but conflicted older AI, somewhat in the fashion of Charlie from “Flowers for Algernon” and, had it just been described as a machine brain in an organic humanoid with a convincing conspiracy and similar improvements, might have more successfully targeted similar emotional power and/or phildickian paranoia. This is probably the most substantial story of the issue but fell short for me.

Review: Uncanny #21

Uncanny #21, March/April 2018

“I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise” by Sarah Pinsker (5300 words)
“And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt (science fantasy short story)
“Like a River Loves the Sky” by Emma Törzs (fantasy short story)
“The Testimony of Dragon’s Teeth” by Sarah Monette (fantasy short story)
“Pistol Grip” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (science fiction short story)
“The Howling Detective” by Brandon O’Brien (fantasy short story)

While a couple of the pieces in this issue of Uncanny could be called SF and two feature sorts of paranormal detectives and almost all feature (usually ill-judged) odd narrative techniques, there’s really no special coherence to this issue and I didn’t particularly enjoy any of them, so I’ll just take them in order and, as Pascal said, I apologize for the length of this review but I lack the time to make it shorter.

A generous interpretation of “Heart of Noise” is that it is an exuberant explosion of name-dropping to celebrate artistry by turning Forster’s timeless room of novelists into a Hilbert hotel of all kinds of artists. However, it seemed to me a boring laundry list with no story or only a tiny bit (a fictional artist) wedged into the cracks of this abridged encyclopedia of New York kulchur. I had to laugh when I read, “We don’t need to list everyone.” No, but we’re damn sure gonna try anyway.

And Yet” isn’t good. It isn’t even bad. A person who is supposed to be a college-educated physicist behaves stupidly for an entire second-person, present tense piece in which a “haunted” house is supposed to be a portal to alternate worlds. This is a house that “[t]ime seems to have ricocheted off” of and yet which has “[e]very dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint… exactly as you remember it” and yet in which “[n]othing… has stayed the same.” It’s a story in which “you aren’t claustrophobic until you are.” Lisa Goldstein’s Jan./Feb. 2017 Asimov’s story, “The Catastrophe of Cities,” uses a network of houses to much greater effect in her tale of two separated friends (this one partly deals with two separated brothers) and, while first-person present tense, also addresses “you” but is much better. Mari Ness just published “You Will Never Know What Opens” in the Dec. 2017 Lightspeed and has a different theme but deploys its second-person narrative of a portal house to much greater and more entertaining effect. And these are just two recent examples of I don’t know how many.

River” has one girl who imagines herself turning into apples and rivers and stones for much of the story and another girl who has turned into a boy and a taxidermist. They’re childhood friends and roommates but he’s moving away. Meanwhile, he’s keeping himself busy collecting dead dogs from the side of the road. It ends abruptly yet predictably. There’s also a bizarre part where the first-person narrator mentions “A faint, plaintive bark sounds from somewhere close, almost as if it’s beneath our feet. Speaking loudly, covering the sound, NPW says, ‘Should we go see your mom today?'” and agrees. A third-person narrator might say this but it’s bizarre for the protagonist to be unaware of the thing she’s narrating and to know what the other character is doing without knowing it.

Though ultimately mildly disappointing, “Dragon’s Teeth” represents a quantum leap in narrative prowess over the preceding stories and is the first of our two detective tales. The narrator was a sort of friend to a recently deceased poet before they had a falling out as kids and is now working in the library which has received the poet’s papers. There he discovers a “poppet” (a sort of voodoo doll) and instantly divines that this does not belong to the poet and that he has been murdered and turns into a sort of private detective, solving the case very quickly and easily. This is less about the case and more about peoples’ interrelations and their envy and misunderstandings but doesn’t really plumb those depths, either.

While not remarkable in absolute terms, “Pistol Grip” is this issue’s best story. It’s a Mutt and Jeff tale of homosexual cyborg soldiers avoiding “retirement” by retiring their creators. But it’s really just a familiar tale of finding (a sort of) love in the strangest places. The sexual elements of the opening and closing frame are extreme and will be too much for some—in a reversal of at least American standards, the violence in the middle is mostly tastefully pushed off-stage—but the story is done well enough. (I do question why no cops or others seem to be looking for them and they can freely use an “authenticator” for an “account deduction.”) Other than a speck like a robot waiter referring to “%NAMEOFPATRON%” (which is maybe also supposed to answer my previous question) there was little humor and the science fictional elements were more common and less interesting than I’d like and this was yet another second-person narrative (though, in this case, it retreated unobtrusively into the background) but it was concise and effective.

As “Dragon’s Teeth” was a paranormal detective tale featuring not a voodoo doll, but a “poppet,” so “The Howling Detective” is a paranormal detective tale featuring not a werewolf, but a “lagahoo.” In Trinidad and Tobago, a child has gone missing (presumed murdered) and a person who has no connection to the case takes it upon himself to investigate. This is also easily solved and not really about the case but, despite the police officer saying he doesn’t believe in lagahoos and will do his job, it seems to celebrate vigilantism. The main technical problems with this were what seemed like unclear exposition to me along with the minor but odd choice of the third-person omniscient sections being separated by a first-person reporter interviewing the cop.

Review: Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

“Eyes of Wood, Heart of Stone” by Rebecca Birch (fantasy short story)
“Duck, Duck, Duck” by Samantha Murray (science fiction short story)
“Dragon Meat” by Helen French (fantasy short story)
“The Ghost In Angelica’s Room” by Maria Haskins (fantasy short story)

Beelzebub 7:7: bitch and ye shall receive. Last month I complained about a lack of speculative stories to review from FFO lately so this issue produces four of four to review, though none are pure-quill, center-core SF or F and some barely touch the edges.

A boy appears before the Faerie Queen and asks to receive “Eyes of Wood, Heart of Stone” so that the abuse his mother receives won’t bother him. Then his mother arrives and the two women come to an understanding.

This isn’t mainstream because of its blatant fantasy elements but can’t be enjoyed as fantasy because those elements are a thin and obvious veneer on a mainstream situation. It seems inauthentic in another way in that I have to wonder what kind of kid goes to the Faerie Queen and doesn’t say “Keep my mom from being hurt!” There’s also an asymmetry between the cost of what the Queen had to do and the apparent lack of cost for the mother. Finally, while there’s a question of “What’s gonna happen?” there’s no real drama about it and the end is underwhelming. I did like the line that followed the Queen asking if the mother would challenge her for the boy: “[The mother] looks down at the boy, and determination slides over her face like a knight’s visor.”

In “Duck, Duck, Duck,” some kids are turning into contagious aliens, so kids are playing “Duck, Duck, Alien.” This has the same “clearly (not) genre” problem and even more of the “lack of drama/underwhelming end” problems as “Wood.”

A girl’s dragon has died and, since “Dragon Meat” is valuable, the butcher shows up and makes a deal for the remains. The girl didn’t really get along with her dragon and has some conflicts. One could argue this suffers from the same problems as the others but this has a more vigorous tone, feels stranger, and is more interesting.

The Ghost In Angelica’s Room” is one where I hate to summarize it because it would trample on the unfolding of the story. Briefly: a girl is dealing with the death of her father and her relation with her problematic mother.

This is one that sort of inverts the other stories of this issue. The only fantastic element is her father’s ghost. This can be taken seriously as mainstream fiction if the ghost is rationalized as psychological, with the ghost serving as an emotionally enhancing element, or as fantasy if you choose not to rationalize it, with the ghost serving as a fantastic complement rather than a veneer. Also, this isn’t plot-driven but the emotions in this one are convincing, so take one mental places even if the succession of actual events in the story doesn’t drive the story in an action-oriented way. There’s something about the ending that doesn’t thrill me—maybe it’s too talky or becomes too intellectualized at the end of such a felt tale—but the main thrust is good. Overall, I don’t know that it’ll suit everybody, but I recommend giving it a try.

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-02-25)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

This week I’m covering two robot stories, two horror stories, and a fantasy.

Rossum” is a short-short which, rather than being about a girl and her robot, is about a robot and its girl. The robots think having a biological sort of playmate is good for a growing robot but they think the budding poet has imprinted a bit too thoroughly. One of several stories that addresses the nice idea of robot learning and maturation but this example was underwhelming. “Tangibles” (2K) should maybe have been called “Botnip” and shows many signs of ESL and a lack of editing but is about a couple trying not to fall out of love, using a robot companion to spice things up (or something) but, when it doesn’t really work and they try adding a second robot who turns out to be a kudzu junkie, the story shifts to the robots’ intangibles. Also underwhelming.

Steps” is about an ugly girl going to a witch to become pretty enough to snare a nobleman and make herself special but she learns other things from the witch. I doubt anyone will be surprised. The longest story of the week, “Story” (7K) is also the most frustrating. It’s too conscious of its own mechanics and has too many unnecessary parts to work cleanly. It’s too prosaic, yet bizarre, so the logical centers are engaged and it makes the brain puzzled more than scared. Most importantly, the protagonist, with his “deets” and his not wanting “to come across as out-and-out superficial” is a simple, brightly colored cartoon. All this serves as a complete antidote to what are a lot of genuinely dark and creepy elements, images, and ideas in a tale of a hitchhiker being picked up by a dead woman with an affinity for telling bizarre stories of rot and death before crashing cars. Readers who aren’t bothered by the things that bothered me may find this an effective spooky tale.

(“Story” is internally self-conscious of its “storyness” by talking about it itself. “Tangibles” is externally self-conscious by being done by the numbers.  “Steps” is both.)

Finally, while not especially noteworthy beyond being more surely and effectively executed than the rest of this week’s tales, “Service” is a good story of a magic church lady whose powers are on the wane and a dapper man who enjoys this, with both being more than they seem. The “charging of spiritual powers” isn’t new, but this is an interesting version.