Review: Compelling #13, Summer 2019

Compelling #13, Summer 2019


Original Fiction:

  • “Steps in the Other Room” by LA Staley
  • “Sasha Red” by Tyler A. Young
  • “Bodybit” by Mark Parlette-Cariño
  • “What We Remember” by Mark Salzwedel
  • “Love and Brooding” by M. J. Pettit
  • “Steadies” by Robert Dawson

This issue marks the beginning of Compelling‘s incarnation as a purchase-only e-zine after having been a freely available webzine for its first twelve issues.

All six of its offerings are science fiction short stories. Three of them are fairly adventurous. “Sasha Red” is set in a solar system where refugees fleeing Mars are desperate to reach Earth. The title comes from a background element which is paid off later: Sasha Red was a “pirate” who aided refugees by “attacking” their ships, forcing their rescues. In the foreground, we follow a rescue team made up of Tom the Right-Winger, Becca the Left, and Alex the Centrist Narrator. I was initially put off by the idea of another “refugee in space” story but the ideological spread of the characters and the action-plot, involving the effort to rescue forty children before their vessel explodes, engaged me. The only real problems are that some foreshadowing regarding Tom doesn’t seem to pan out and the climax is a little too early with too much “where are they now?” in the ending.

What We Remember” is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Adam Robson’s “The Ambassador” (from Constellary Tales #2, Feb. 2019) and others in that humans make contact with a sentient fungus and some go crazy. I liked the sort of “Darmok at Tanagra” communication by means of triggered or sent memories but the tale doesn’t seem long enough or fleshed out enough and part of the ending comes off like a joke which is out of place.

Finally, “Love and Brooding” describes the life cycle of fish-like creatures who are raised by paternal mouthbrooders from the point of view of one of the fry. Like other tales of this sort, the cognitive dissonance and generalized weirdness are good, while the largely predetermined plot and difficulty of connecting with the characters are less so. I was also confused by the background milieu. It would seem that the land was once, but is no longer, habitable and that these creatures were engineered to survive in the water (perhaps these are ex-humans on a future Earth?) but, if so, I’d have to wonder why they were engineered this way.

While I prefer “far-out” stories in the abstract and that group wasn’t bad, this issue’s most interesting group of stories are the focused, near-future extrapolations which make up the other half of the issue. “Steps in the Other Room” is set in a 2064 of smart houses and more, and involves a woman calling the cops, represented by one man and one Autonomous Car named Ace, to report that her husband’s ghost has gone missing. This is a minor but decent tale in which things aren’t as they seem and ends up touching on family and loss.

Steadies” has a very interesting idea which is insufficiently explored though it has a good framework to do so. A doctor who has some expertise in statistics is shown a paper under a non-disclosure agreement which shows, via deep data-mining, that a cholesterol drug has the bizarre side-effect of reducing divorce, especially if both partners take it. Becoming jealous at a party, she guiltily decides to get her husband on it and starts taking it herself. Some of her internal conflict is shown and these conflicts broaden when the paper is released, the drug becomes very popular, and it produces some social and familial side-effects. My immediate question was the mechanism – is this some slave drug which makes people satisfied with unpleasant conditions or a love drug which heightens interpersonal relations or what? One character eventually asks, “I don’t even know how it’s supposed to work. Have you read the article?” and the narrator replies, “They don’t say. Maybe it causes an irresistible compulsion to put the toilet seat down?” So I would have liked to have seen much more serious development of this intriguing idea.

The story which most impressed me in this issue, despite being as philosophically opposed to it as can be, was “Bodybit,” which also addresses coupling and effectively takes us through a large chunk of the protagonist’s life. It takes the notion of people putting all kinds of private information online (for example, “fitbits” and dating apps) and takes it one small/huge step further: what if a device monitored your sexual performance and statistics and put that online? The story gives us a protagonist who doesn’t do so well the first time and suffers shame but perseveres until things get better for him (and his partners). It takes him through his satiety with this new dating scene before focusing on a lasting relationship he develops. The “add-ons” to the bodybit keep surprising and keep the story moving and the dramatic lines of the tale generally work. The only thing that stops me from giving it a full recommendation (and it may be my own bias against social media) is that I can’t persuade myself that this story seriously addresses the consequences in a complete way, considering the possible negatives anywhere near as thoroughly as the positives. Regardless, it is definitely, at the least, a “compelling” and notable tale.


Review: BCS #275-276

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #275-276
Apr. 11, 2019/Apr. 25, 2019


Original Fiction:

  • “Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo
  • “The Red Honey Witch” by Jessica Paddock
  • “Fury at the Crossroads” by Troy L. Wiggins
  • “Hangdog” by Dayna K. Smith

All April BCS stories are fantasy shorts. The first two are simplistic vengeance tales. “Boiled Bones” is a vengeance-of-the-dead story which, aside from being contrived and playing to base sensibilities, was adequately written but reminds me strongly of some earlier BCS tale – perhaps “Old No-Eyes” from the August 2, 2018 issue or some other story about sitting around in a sort of Asian restaurant until violence breaks out. “Witch” is about a girl blessed/cursed by magical bees and is worse because the protagonist is a confused girl who, by all rights, should be the villain, but is treated as the heroine. The bees “knew her goodness too, the parts she could not see for herself.” The bees are alone in this, because the reader can’t see them either. Nevertheless, we are supposed to exult in the fate visited on the evil men who are not misunderstood and do not have hidden good parts. The only good parts in this story I could see were the portrayal of the girl’s confusion and the depiction of a catastrophe near the end.

The next two tales are a little better. “Fury” is a colorful tale of a guitar-wielding magician doing (rather unconvincing) battle with a dead wizard a warlord has sicced her on. This at least recognizes that “justice” isn’t always as simple as it might seem, though it doesn’t ultimately depict a very complex notion of it, either. “Hangdog” is the best of the four. It centers on werewolves in the vicinity of the Civil War who must deal with horse thieves and a storm of vengeful ghosts. More of this tale is devoted to chaotic battle than even “Fury.” I usually like action-oriented stories but the segue from the one fight to the next doesn’t connect very clearly. Still, the odd characters, their interrelations, and their sort of “light gray” mix of appealing and unappealing qualities make the tale work adequately.

Review: Grimdark #19, July 2019 (at Tangent)

(In my last post, I said, “I promise the next review will be directly on this very blog.” Sorry. I seem to have lied. Next time, for sure!)

The nineteenth issue of Grimdark would have come in April but the editor was busy getting married. Now that it’s arrived in July, it brings us a half-dozen non-fiction pieces and five stories, two of which are original. The first has a nice set-up but needs an ending with greater intensity and the second, while intense enough, needs a better set-up for it…

Continue reading at Tangent.


Review: DreamForge #2, June 2019 (at Tangent)

A new printzine isn’t something you see every day.

The second issue of DreamForge is subtitled “Tales of Indomitable Spirit” and ten of its eleven flash pieces are placed under that heading. It also contains five original stories, a reprint, a poem, a submission guide, and an editorial. The latter is a stirring call to reason which characterizes SF&F as “the literature of ideas, not the bulletins of despair” and concludes with an Asimov quote. Given that, it was disappointing that three of the longer stories were species of fantasy and the two others had minimal sfnal idea-content. However, the flash pieces tended more towards SF. Many of the stories feature young protagonists but it wasn’t until “Lightweight” that I realized that this issue would be an excellent thing to hand a young reader with its mostly straightforward plots and prose and its abundant artwork. For other readers, the biggest flaw was that the plots were often resolved too easily but the overall quality of this promising magazine was still interesting-to-good.

Continue reading at Tangent.


  • “I See Punk Elephants” by Blake Jessop (science fiction short story)
  • “Pioneer” by Mark Gallacher (science fiction short story)

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Sid” by Andrew Jensen (fantasy short story)
  • “The Weight of Mountains” by L. Deni Colter (fantasy short story)

Review: BCS #272-274

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #272-274
Feb. 28, 2019/Mar. 14, 2019/Mar. 28, 2019


Original Fiction:

In “Sirens Sing,” the Queen Mother wants Velia and her siren sisters to steal a serving dish from an arch-wizard and it turns into a minor romance story (and yet another BCS music story) with the mincing pseudo-fairy-tale style turned up to 11 (except when it collapses into bathos with “smooches”). In the other water story, “The Boy” is bought by Kal because she thinks he might make a good assistant for her profession of divination by drowning (though not actually drowning as in “baleen, baleen” (Alexandra Renwick, Interzone #274, March/April 2018) but simply playing with the magic weeds underwater for awhile). When he develops a special relationship with those weeds which she lacks, things go off the rails. While the climax is disturbing, neither (especially Kal) ever came clear as characters for me and the actual ending is underwhelming, as is the preamble that takes the first third of the story and the overly detailed and then dropped scene with Lord Westin.

Whiskey Chile” has lost his mother and is going after his bad father for a reckoning in this Weird Western which is soaked in demon alcohol. Narrated by a fire-belching bullfrog named Jeremiah, this world has no joy but some may enjoy the boisterous style which, to me, teetered out of control or the tale’s visuals, which might make an entertaining TV episode. “New Horizons” is a Disney-like sketch about waifs losing  their home to the evil empire and making another. It shares the boisterous tone, Weird Western vibe, and familial motifs (turned to different purposes) of “Chile” but reads like the other 90% of the story went missing.

Undercurrents” has an evil empire keeping the non-binary rivers down but a cell of resistance dowsers works to destroy the evil empire’s evil technology. Heavy-handed, with an oddly Pollyannish ending. In the other tale of the mighty being laid low by the oppressed, a pregnant raped maid who lives in a castle where people are jealous of her accidentally acquired magic realizes she is “Destiny” when an immensely powerful pseudo-twin conquers this domain and wants something from the maid and is willing to trade for it. The “heroine” shows herself to be really small-minded and the only interesting part of this power/revenge fantasy was the idea of magic, like money, being passed on at one’s death (which is how the maid got hers when the dying duchess decided to be whimsically spiteful to her family).

Review: Black Static #68, March/April 2019 (at Tangent)

This issue of Black Static contains two novelettes and four short stories
whose quality are almost uniformly inversely proportional to their length,
with the shortest story achieving excellence, though a few may be sufficiently
creepy to entertain.

Continue reading at Tangent.


  • “Totenhaus” by Amanda J. Bermudez (horror short story)