- “Blessings” by Naomi Novik (fantasy)
- “Sucks (to Be You)” by Katharine Duckett (fantasy)
- “Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us” by Marina J. Lostetter (science fiction)
- “What Gentle Women Dare” by Kelly Robson (science fiction)
- “If We Die Unjustified” by A. Merc Rustad (fantasy)
- “The Cook” by C.L. Clark (fantasy)
All stories are short with the third and sixth being short-shorts. This review will also be short.
“Blessings” involves a woman holding a bash for a half-dozen fairies, hoping one will bless her new-born daughter. Things go better than she could have hoped and worse than she probably feared. It’s a simple and abruptly ended tale of what could be feminism but reads more as misandry along with some antipathy towards beautiful women. It seems to love men in comparison to “What Gentle Women Dare.” Early on, I ironically thought this was exactly the kind of fantasy which made me love science fiction as it detailed the squalor and misery of a prostitute’s life in 18th century England but it becomes SF (I’m assuming the ghost of the protagonist’s murdered daughter is a manifestation of her insanity and not a fantasy element) when the corpse who washed up in front of the prostitute and reanimated is revealed to be, not “Satan,” but a weird parasitic alien apparently conducting a referendum on whether to kill all the men who, of course, cause all the evil in the world. And that is a loving story in comparison to “If We Die Unjustified.” In it, a little girl hates killing and is killed. When a tardy “angel” finally responds to her “prayers,” it kills and resurrects her dog and also resurrects her (more or less… actually less). The girl eventually gets around to killing practically everyone. Like Rousseau, she will force people to be free and, like the US military in Viet Nam and many stories these days, she has to destroy the world to save it. The puerility of these don’t merit further comment beyond saying that the first was perky and the latter two exuded miasmas effectively.
In “Sucks (to Be You),” a succubus of sorts meets her match when social media modifies her and her favorite. The stream-of-consciousness monologue from the narrator (who is far more impressed with herself than anyone else is likely to be) is too convincing because actual stream-of-consciousness is boring and artifice generally tries to make it less so and would also usually force it to convey some sort of plot which this doesn’t really do.
Finally, of the two flash pieces, “The Cook” is an underplotted piece about a warrior falling in love with a cook between battles. The other, “Discard the Sun, for It Has Failed Us,” was the only story of the issue that mildly appealed to me. Ken Liu’s “Cosmic Spring” (which I also honorably mentioned) was the most recent story (as far as I know) to use the idea of feeding a sun as one would tend a cosmic hearth. This story applies that idea to our very own sun, eons after we’ve outgrown it. This tale is also a little lacking in plot, basically being an argument between an unimaginative pragmatist and a more sensitive soul, but it’s quite an argument:
“The sun is the only god empirically proven to exist,” I yell. “It created life on Earth. Gave life-sustaining energy. It gave and gave and gave, and—no matter our millennia of trying—our sacrifices could not reach it.”
Now, with our hydrogen-bearing starships, they can.