After recommending a story from the March/April issue and one from May/June and two from September/October, I have at most a couple of honorable mentions for stories in the November/December, but here’s the full review:
“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Uncanny #18 September/October 2017, science fiction short story
Computron is a sentient robot who was created in 1954 in this alternate history story. Years later, he is part of a museum and sometimes answers questions from the audience to demonstrate his sentience. When one questioner asks him if he’s familiar with an anime called Hyperdimension Warp Record which features a robot similar to him, he admits he is not but, later that night, checks it out. The story discusses his entry into the world of anime and fanfic along with his collaboration with a human fanfic writer.
This is a very different story from “A Series of Steaks” from the same author, which I recommended earlier this year, but shares the same sparkling wit. There seems to be an ambiguity in the title where it’s a primer for robots on how to get into fandom but is also speaking of people’s appreciation of robots. There are in-references such as Computron’s being part of the Simak Museum (and perhaps even the Ellison and Williamson references aren’t coincidental) though, oddly, there’s no Asimov reference. The robot is characterized in an amusing way, describing how he can’t possibly be frustrated by it not being time for the show to air, yet constantly checking the time all the same. The descriptions of the quality of much of the fanfic and the chat between a couple of fans were especially funny.
I’m not sure how to interpret the story’s core, though. It obviously deals with “futures past” and how that which seems futuristic at one time becomes dated at another. It also has a elegiac feel when describing how few people seem to care about the old robots and how low-priority the information on them is. But it seems to be a celebration of those images and concepts and perhaps a call to embrace them and continue to reinvent them. There are a couple of contrary notes in the Hexode destruction incident and maybe a subtheme that humans are best suited to write humans while robots are best suited to write robots. Be that as it may, this story entertained me, evoked sympathy for the character(s), and was engagingly written. My only non-thematic quibble was that “bjornruffian” seemed to accept Computron (with the nick/screen name “RobotFan”) as human too easily and thoroughly (Computron’s not unknown and it and the museum would be easily researched, even aside from RobotFan’s remarkable commitment to its robot “role” as “RobotFan”). All in all, another good tale from a likely rising star.
“Though She Be But Little” by C. S. E. Cooney, Uncanny #18 September/October 2017, fantasy short story
One day the sky turns silver and the Earth is magically transformed. For instance, sixty-five-year-old Mrs. Santiago becomes fierce eight-year-old Emma Anne. In this story, we follow Emma Anne and her sentient stuffed animals, her pirate frenemy, and her efforts to deal with the scary, deadly, mantis-like Loping Man.
Oh, he was enormous, colossal, an armored giant, but so very terribly compactable. Yes, and maybe that was where he went all day. Not away, but down, folded into leaf and twig and compound eyes, origamied into torpor.
Yes, verbing weirds language—sometimes to great effect.
This is very much like “Gallows Girl,” which I recently recommended, in that it may reduce to a “stick it to the man/grrrl power” theme (with an ambivalent connection between two female figures) but is also wrapped in a wonderfully inventive confection of imagination climaxing in a violent confrontation. However, it is nothing like it insofar as the imaginative details are different and this story has a great deal more whimsy, exhilaration, and lightness of touch. I enjoyed both in their ways.
“Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, Uncanny May/June 2017, fantasy short story
Allpa’s dying grandmother leaves him a magic sword. When unsheathed, Sun, Moon, and Dust materialize from it and they’re all supposed to go be heroic warriors together. But Allpa is a simple, dutiful, potato farmer. The tale deals with his unenthusiastic participation in training and his varied relationships with the ill-tempered and bloodthirsty Dust, the somewhat remote Sun, and the sympathetic Moon.
This rural encomium, while thematically in Vernon’s comfort zone, is conceptually more of a BCS-style secondary-world pure-fantasy tale than the Vernon I’ve read which tends to be fairly connected to this world regardless of its fantasy elements. It’s also not her strongest, perhaps because of this. But her strongest is extremely strong and this is still pretty good. I particularly like her similes and turns of phrase, as in the scene where Moon is expressing his feelings about his own long-forsaken lands and Allpa reacts:
“You can stay here,” he said. The offer was purely instinctive, as if Moon was bleeding and he had lifted his hands to staunch the flow.
There is also humor such as when Dust is wanting to kill Allpa and be done with him, else they’ll have to wait in the sword for the next owner to unsheathe them:
“And look at him, the wretch, you know he’ll live to be ninety!”
“Rising Star” by Stephen Graham Jones, Uncanny March/April 2017, science fiction short story
If nothing else, I like this story for talking about the spatial problems with time travel but there’s much more. The synopsis is quite simple, though. A scientist – or crackpot? – or the author? writes a proposal to a grant committee with great certainty that it will be accepted and explain a (real) mystery.
The only real complaint I can see regarding this story is that, by being a letter, it isn’t the most action/adventure-oriented plot but, by being all about the concept and detailing some pretty intense stuff it’s quite exciting. Otherwise, this has clean narration and the perfect marriage of form and content that “Cease and Desist” had. Further, it’s a genuinely tight and fun concept. I’m a guy who’s a hard sell for time travel stories but I’m buying this one and hope you do, too.