- “The Hammer’s Prayer” by Benjamin C. Kinney, Diabolical Plots, December 3, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Mammoth Steps” by Andrew Dana Hudson, Terraform, December 3, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Space Travel and Seafood” by Steven Fischer, Nature, December 5, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Forest Spirits” by Michael J. DeLuca, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266, December 6, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “Frozen Meadow, Shining Sun” by Emily McCosh, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #266, December 6, 2018 (fantasy short story)
In this sub-par week, the three single-story zines brought us two science fiction stories of under two thousand words and one fantasy of just over three. “Beginner’s Guide” takes the familiar idea of colony ships being leapfrogged by later, faster colony ships and puts it into a familiar cyclical/ironic monologue structure. The only unfamiliar thing is a reference to us as “carbon breathers.” “Mammoth Steps” is a sort of sentimental and undramatic cli-fi tale of an engineered mammoth and his human friend trekking south to meet up with some elephants. It’s nice enough in its way, but makes me think of a significantly lesser “Jackie’s-Boy” (Steven Popkes, April/May 2010 Asimov’s). Like several Diabolical Plots stories recently, “Prayer” is a religious story, this time involving a golem and a woman the golem describes as “wearing a black suit so rumpled and careworn it wanted to slide off on its own in search of a sewing machine” whose “bittersweet smile gripped [him] with the certainty of prayer” and whose “eyes resisted, as sharp as a dream’s leading edge.” She represents “some scientist’s career” and his boss represents those who want others “to serve our country” and they fight over him before he decides to trump them both.
BCS #266 is the “animal women in the woods” issue (with fawns and foxes), the “familiar BCS motifs” issue (with artistic revolutions and kitsune (Ainu/Japanese shapeshifting fox-people)) and the “‘creative’ English” issue (with phrases like, “[o]ne Forester must have stayed on the ridge to fool Cole that his ruse had worked” in one and “she laughed the once I asked” and “[t]he full of the storm is upon us” in the other).
After supposedly interesting things have happened and before more supposedly interesting things will happen, we have the actual content of “Forest Spirits,” in which nothing happens. Our two artistic revolutionaries are in a forest and we’re told that technology (here called “magic” and, like the action, little in evidence in this generally mundane, medieval forest) is bad, has ruined nature, and must be done away with. Two defenders of the status quo and their boars chase them in a remarkably lackadaisical way as they have time to wring out wet clothes, sleep, hug (making me think of “Escape now, hug later!”), and so on. Finally, when they are about to be caught, we see that the climactic moment will be the girl dancing, dancing with Mr. Deer, but that doesn’t actually occur in this story’s frame. Like many “art is revolution” pieces, this isn’t convincing.
“Frozen” deals with a sister who’s gone away and a fox who’s arrived in a storm. The girl learns something about her mother and sibling and follows the fox into the woods where she learns more about her sister and makes a decision about her own life. The conflict here is between the cost of secrecy, the reaction of society (the village) if some of them come out of the closet, and familial desires to stay bonded. When in English, this is the stylistically superior of the two tales, though it seems too familiar and the ending is somewhat implausible (which is minimized by suspending the story before too many difficulties can be played out).
- “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog” by Adam R. Shannon
- “Girls Who Do Not Drown” by A.C. Buchanan
- “Captain Midrise” by Jim Marino
All three stories in this issue of Apex are short (4/3/5K) and might as well be called fantasy. The metaphorical intent of the time travel motif in “Dog” overwhelms any scientific or even fantastic effect it might have. A man adopts a dog who’s been hit by a car but, three years later, has to put it to sleep, so keeps cycling through those years until something is revealed to us and something else comes clear to him. As with many cyclical stories, too little is done with too many cycles, straining the reader’s patience. (In other words, this did not hit me like Where the Red Fern Grows or J. T.) “Girls” uses a faintly pompous tone to tell us about Alice, who “looks every bit the boy she isn’t” and her inversion of a fairy tale (ironically, from the Isle of Man) involving a glashtyn (sea-creature which drowns girls). This wish-fulfillment lacks grit and drama.
A New York City reporter introduces us to “Captain Midrise.” Part of what the tale illustrates is how the miraculous becomes commonplace and how some people really do ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Whether due to age or some psychological blockage or some other problem, The Golden Crusader can only sort of slowly tack along at a sixth-floor level these days, though he still does his best to rescue people from burning 22nd floors and so on. A problem with this tale is that it doesn’t have much plot for its 5K length or has too much wordage for its plot. With a story like this, it’s more the latter, though all the incidents are interesting. The mixed reactions of people (from continued love to contempt) are portrayed well, the semi-superhero is striking, and the skewed view and tone make it notable.
Compelling‘s second issue from its current semi-annual schedule brings us five more science fiction short stories, most of which deal with varieties of economics and/or forms of biotech and most of which have some interest, including one recommended story.
Full review at Tangent: Compelling #12, Winter 2018.
- “The Forest Eats” by Santiago Belluco (science fiction short story)
- “In the Forests of Memory” by E. Lily Yu, Terraform, November 25, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Spicer’s Modest Success” by Jared VanDyke, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, November 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Overvalued” by Mark Stasenko, Slate, November 27, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “So, One of Those Tiny Alien Spaceships Has Flown into Your House. Now What?” by Laura Pearlman, Nature, November 28, 2018 (science fiction short story)
This week’s all-SF batch of fiction includes two flash pieces and two mid-length shorts. Each pair contains a funny piece and a serious one.
In the serious flash, a poor woman is living “In the Forests of Memory,” a cemetery of the future in which the rich dead are remembered by holograms insofar as they are remembered at all. Things don’t go well for her but the story did well until it dove past the tragic mark into bathos. In the funny flash, the narrator tells you how to survive the “Tiny Alien Spaceships” in a nice blend of humor and horror. In the other comic tale, “Modest Success,” a radio personality who’s built a toaster-like robotic co-host to help him give love advice finds interesting parallels between their relationship and the relationship of a couple of aliens who arrive one night. But, when one alien is huge and angry, the advice had better be good. This could as easily be fantasy as SF and, in either case, depends a lot on whether the humor works for you.
“It puts the lotion on its skin.” The deadly serious “Overvalued” is a mild extrapolation in which, some time after 2024 (maybe 2032), a market betting on the earnings of people comes into being and one woman makes her money by finding overvalued people and shorting them. In this story, she finds that a teen prodigy is making strides towards curing cancer but is prone to depression and self-mutilation so the woman exposes her, making a killing. Literally, as the girl commits suicide and the company rakes in $32 million. The woman’s self-loathing and her husband’s disapproval cause marital problems and an attempt at a career change which may result in a bigger change than she expects.
There are a lot of little things wrong with this. A story that has a hitman and a financier should generally start with the hitman. As little time as possible should be spent on detailing what’s basically accounting. And Chekhov wouldn’t approve of this story. That said, it contains a disgusting and horrifying, but important, idea which is practically real now and likely will be completely real soon and does dig into the sordid nature of this well, not least by calling the girl an “asset” and an “it.” While I can’t fully recommend it, it’s certainly notable and, if it sounds interesting, give it a try.
- “The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” by Adam-Troy Castro (horror short story)
- “The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy short story)
“Ten Things” is yet another “listory” from “Nightspeed.” In this, a scientist seeking to open a portal for interstellar travel has instead opened a portal in his chest for a Lovecraftian monster-god to burst through—a monster god which makes Alien chestbursters look like fluffy bunnies. His assistant is mortally wounded in her boss’ explosion and she faces a fate worse than a fate worse than death, conditional on the monster’s explication and evaluation of her ten dying utterances, one by one. While this actually has entertaining aspects, the main problem is that the monster is a little too complacently self-satisfied, forgetting that the reader will be judging it as it judges her, and the structure leads to a stilted, essentially static, pace and distanced events.
A female werewolf refuses to accept her supposed place in the world, so is exiled to “The Island of Beasts.” There, she seems to find herself in a situation just like the one she left, except with fewer choices and less room to roam, but still she persists. Werewolves or not, this isn’t even “dark fantasy,” much less horror, but is readable despite having little plot and less climax.
- “Toothsome Things” by Chimedum Ohaegbu, Strange Horizons, November 19, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Last Stand” by Christoph Weber, Terraform, November 19, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “How It Feels to Be Swallowed by a Black Hole” by Gretchen Tessmer, Nature, November 21, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Feral Attachments at Kulle Bland Bergen” by T. S. McAdams, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #265, November 22, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “How the Mighty” by Dan Micklethwaite, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #265, November 22, 2018 (“fantasy” short story)
There are two flashes of SF this week. “Black Hole” is a mostly static description of a crew in a black hole which ignores tidal forces. “Last Stand” seems like a scene ripped from the headlines (but the author’s notes, which are almost as long as the fiction, say it’s been smoldering for awhile). It describes a couple of firefighters trying to save the redwoods as a climate-change-powered fire encroaches. Active enough and carries its message, but little more.
Moving to the fantasies, the nicely illustrated and very short “Toothsome Things” is a feminist revision of “Little Red Riding Hood” and other lupine fairy tales and fables. It may appeal to the choir but will probably gain few adherents.
Finally, BCS presents a pair of short stories on the sacrifices of parenting. In “Feral Attachments,” a couple studying troll pair-bonding (or a lack thereof) has lost their child (literally misplaced him in the woods) and then find a feral troll-like boy who may or may not be that son. When trolls attack and another professor gets high-handed, matters come to a head. I may be misreading the tone but, despite the serious and depressed subject matter, there seems to be the driest of humor to this as well. “Mighty” is an odd tale which suffers from something more common in “SF”: it’s not fantasy at all. A father takes his kid to the fights where the boy can watch his hero go against a young challenger. This can sometimes be a fight to the death and has battle axes but so can some fights we do not talk about. It’s exciting enough but unlikely to satisfy fantasy fans.
- “Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski, Strange Horizons, November 5, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “Remembrance” by Melanie Rees, Nature, November 7, 2018 (science fiction short story)
- “In the Ground, Before the Freeze” by Margaret Ronald, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #264, November 8, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “The Hollow Tree” by Jordan Kurella, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #264, November 8, 2018 (fantasy short story)
- “I Like Your Bangs” by Lilian Min, Terraform, November 11, 2018 (science fiction short story)
This week’s weak science fiction from the weeklies includes two flash pieces and a long short story. “Bangs” is a scene about a woman meeting an old “internet friend” and realizing that virtual reality is more virtual than reality. “Remembrance” is a scene from a changewar in which a person charged with sending drones back in time to kill people to change history decides that killing thousands is worse than killing millions and doing either is worse than killing one. “BetterYou” is a report, written in exchange for a discount, on an artificial person, written by the woman who’s replacing herself with it. The woman is asexual and insane and, unsurprisingly, is having marital difficulties. Any point the dreary tale might have is overridden by the impression left by the extremely unpleasant main character.
Turning to the marginally stronger fantasies, “Ground” is a sort of love story, drawn from the pages of Frazer, about a woman rescuing a lowland man, who’s been injured in a mountain rock slide, and their subsequent relationship in which he sticks around even after finding out about the strange relations of mountain women, their men, and the crops. This tale uneasily straddles fiction and myth where everything’s a bit too accidental and/or inexplicable for fiction but is too literal a rendition of myths we already have. Pira goes to the “Hollow Tree” to make a deal with a fairy regarding her outwardly smiling father, who privately abuses her mother. Pira doesn’t have the best foresight in the world, makes very vague wishes, and exchanges mere tokens, leading one to expect something more than what actually results, regardless of the nature of the evil Man, but its portrayal of outward appearances and painful, claustrophobic realities has some vigor.