Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-07-14)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

The weekly/irregular publications brought us three flash pieces and two novelettes this week. They were of unusually high quality with a recommended story, two honorable mentions, and one close runner-up.

Grievous Angel put out two pieces this week but I could only find speculative elements in “Goth Robots,” which is naturally a downer about fake faux tatoos. (Ink it black.) “Congratulations” is reasonably interesting as it uses a “Smart Vac” as a naive narrator to convey something much bigger than it would seem. “Your Face” is also a mostly elliptical tale which tackles things even closer to us in a dystopian noir crime story about bots, genetics, facial recognition, and more. I get the “second person-ness” of this story though I still could have done without it but, even so, it’s worth noting.

Moving to the bigger tales, “Last Banquet” is another food fantasy listory and even has exactly five dishes. Given that, I was thinking this would have to be a heck of a good tale to stand out from all the other similar stories recently. It’s not quite good enough to do that and I was really not pleased with the ending which was both awkward in terms of a couple of pieces of dialog and yet another simplistic revenge fantasy but it was good enough to hold my interest and move well until then. In the story’s only piece of speculation, the narrative device of backstory is made fantastic by having magic pastries forcibly move people into states of memories and we thus learn about the evil usurping Duke/Regent and the pastry maker and his beloved/narrator along with all the bad things that have happened and what, if anything, can be done about it.

Finally, “Chasing the Start” could almost be a mainstream tale in that it’s about an aged runner continuing to race against the young upstarts who wish to bring her down but it ultimately relies on its main speculative element while overflowing with other, almost gratuitous, speculative imagery and even ideas. Nearing the year 2400, people race through various timelines in the multiverse while wearing powered armor and every entity from one end of the Solar System to the other (except for Pluto – not Pluto) watches and cheers. The dangling mystery the reader chases is the question of what the protagonist is chasing and why, while a cabal of unscrupulous adversaries add surges of adrenaline. Well before the end, the end is no longer a mystery, but it still concludes satisfactorily and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. This managed to both have serious points and be fun and imaginative.

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Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-04-07)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image
Original Fiction:

  • I Forgot to Lock the Door” by Meredith Morgenstern, Grievous Angel, March 11, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • “Haircut 100” by Alan Garth, Grievous Angel, March 28, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • First Snow” by Mike Justman, Grievous Angel, March 28, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden, Diabolical Plots #38A, April 2, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Strange Waters” by Samantha Mills, Strange Horizons, April 2, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • Facebook.gov” by Motherboard Staff, Terraform, April 2, 2018 (fictional tech article)
  • Requiem” by Christine Lucas, Nature, April 4, 2018 (science fiction short story)
  • Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro, Nightmare #67, April [4], 2018 (dark fantasy short story)
  • Played Your Eyes” by Jonathan Carroll, Tor.com, April 4, 2018 (fantasy short story)
  • What Is Eve?” by Will McIntosh, Lightspeed #95, April [5], 2018 (science fiction novelette)
  • I’ll Get Back to You” by Ryan Bloom, Terraform, April 6, 2018 (science fiction short story)

I’ve noted before that sometimes webzines move in streaks and this is an especially odd and busy week with a lot of stories about relationships and death and which play on sentiment. Given that, it’s even more bizarre that two are particularly good (one excellent) and two more are also noteworthy.

Grievous Angel has messed up its RSS feed, so I missed the arrival of some microfiction. In “I Forgot to Lock the Door” a woman tells us repeatedly that she forgot to lock the door until the utterly unsurprising occurs. This manages to make 500-some words feel long. In “Haircut 100” a chimp walks into a barbershop… in French. Je ne parle pas Francais. Finally, “First Snow” is confusingly about people getting eaten in that element and about art. It did have a funny(?) line, though: “The former owners [of the house] were likely dead in the basement, judging by the smell and the door nailed shut from both the outside and the inside. Paul tried for a moment to imagine the scenario that had led to that outcome…”

Of the longer stories that still qualify as flash, the Giant Robot of “Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” has been modified in an unauthorized way by a tech to recognize subtle colors and other nice things while still carrying out its military functions. Command is still displeased. Fast Robot arrives and begins the dance to establish supremacy. This story isn’t without effect but it’s a bare schematic of sentiment. “Requiem” is a tale of an alien arriving on Earth, sampling cuisine, and trying and generally failing to communicate. I don’t know why the government and military doesn’t get involved or how so many failed to understand him and the ending was somewhat “rote” but, even so, this short-short’s sentimentality was much more effective. I know I’ve cited a lot of problems but its main effect and its “storyness” within its length constraints were solid.

The remaining stories are in the vicinity of five to six thousand words (except the novelette, of course, at ten). Those from “Lightmare” are a study in contrasts. “You” are walking through a house of horrors which are only pale shadows of yourself, hunting someone in “Pitcher Plant,” which is a tedious, obvious, overwritten, overlong, overwrought, unfrightening but gross tale. “What Is Eve?” asks what the razor blob in the special classroom is, when a group of 12-year-olds are brought in with spooky adults on the other ends of their earbuds telling them what to do. One of the kids (who, frankly, is a little unbelievably obedient) finally rebels and this leads to information tumbling out and things moving in directions which surprise the adults. The crisis has a whiff of “50s scifi movie” melodrama and the ending is a little too easy, really, but this is quite a good YA tale which may be suitable for some adults as well, and uses a nice idea behind it all.

The pair from Terraform is another a study in contrasts. “Facebook.gov” is written by committee, opens with a counterfactual about Facebook having been nationalized, and then proceeds as, basically, a forward-looking op-ed. Despite being billed as “speculative fiction,” this can’t be discussed in fictional terms and, unlike the recent “Physics Tomorrow” in Analog, even as an article, this is long and boring. It does draw out some of the issues involved in the crisis Facebook and our society currently find ourselves in, and some of the pros and cons of extreme regulation, so if that interests you, have a look, but I honestly faintly resent this being put in the “fiction” section. On the other hand, “I’ll Get Back to You” (the URL implies it should possibly be called “Let Me Get Back to You”) is one of the few remarkable things Terraform has published in over a year. It opens with a guy finding his young wife dead and eventually details her character and their relationship, as well as flashing back to his high school years and his experience with another girl. Despite the attempted revelatory feel of the conclusion, I suspect all readers will have figured things out long before then, despite some initial confusion, but it serves as a nice stopping place and assures the reader they have indeed followed the story. It has overwritten crescendo passages but is oddly effective generally. The SF gimmick and even the relationship and emotional themes are familiar but it doesn’t feel too much like any specific other story and I enjoyed it. Mildly recommended.

Played Your Eyes” is another relationship story involving death. A woman has had a bad breakup with her boyfriend and he’s died. Turns out he’s left her his handwriting, which she always admired, having terrible penmanship, herself. This quirky part of the story works quite well and I was enjoying it. When her writing actions have started getting weirder and the boyfriend’s lawyer reappears, the story moves to a second level involving foreknowledge which I found much less satisfying and concludes in a way that, dramatically, was less satisfying still, and was thematically rather tired, even if true. Certainly publishable and not without interest, though.

Strange Waters” picks up a similar thread regarding foreknowledge and, wow, a pixel of the story must have come off and gotten in my eye. Mika Sandrigal is lost at sea, fully oriented in everything but the year. She got caught in one of the time vortexes that are all too common to the seas around her home and she’s spent eight years (with more to come) sailing the timestreams to and fro in a desperate attempt to sail back to her time and her children. She encounters good and bad times, and even makes a great friend along the way, but keeps trying. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it’s right. You’ll feel this one. This vividly realized time/sea journey uses a generally familiar concept but gives it a very creative, unusual, and fresh flavor and makes it both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Mika comes to seem like a believable but thoroughly admirable, smart, tenacious character. What’s even more amazing about all this is that, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the author’s first sale. This story is strongly recommended and this writer seems to be one to watch.

Review of January 29, 2018 Strange Horizons for Tangent

Strange Horizons surprises us on the fifth Monday in January with an extra double “Trans / Nonbinary Special Issue” which includes one very dull story and one that is anything but (but not in a good way). If anyone is looking for a good “Trans / Nonbinary” story, I recommend Jose Pablo Iriarte’s “The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” (Lightspeed) or Nick Wolven’s “Galatea in Utopia” (F&SF) which are just two of the stories on the theme this month.

Full review at Tangent: Strange Horizons, January 29, 2018.

Review of January 15, 2018 Strange Horizons for Tangent

In the first section, “we” are “crones” and watching “Moscow burn” and one of us sets another one of our faces on fire. In the second section one of “us” is sick and “they” are wearing hazmat suits around her….

Full (single-story) review at Tangent: Strange Horizons, January 15, 2018.

Rec: “Three May Keep a Secret” by Carlie St. George

Three May Keep a Secret” by Carlie St. George, Strange Horizons 2017-11-20, fantasy (horror) short story

Scarlett had been told a ghost story by her friend, Sammy, and swore never to tell it to anyone else. When Scarlett breaks that promise and drunkenly passes it on to her new friend, Matt, both find themselves haunted in different ways. Ultimately, the story, its hauntings, and its secret become a matter of life and death (again).

There’s something “Afterschool Special” about this in the sense that it’s targeted at kids and they’re supposed to say, “I’ve learned something today,” after reading it. Also, there’s a glitch that bugs me when the protagonist breaks her phone and then, without explanation, is using a phone right after that. That said, this is a remarkably fast-paced and action-plotted story (especially for Strange Horizons) with a weighty theme and is generally effective and powerful.