One new zine reviewed for the first time this month—
Again, I have to give my best-of-the-month award to Interzone, which has reached the awe-inspiring age of 222.
- Asimov's, July 2009
- Analog, July-August 2009
- Interzone 222, June 2009
- Clarkesworld, May 2009 (Online)
- Fantasy Magazine, May 2009 (Online)
- Apex Magazine, April 2009 (Online)
- Strange Horizons, April 2009 (Online)
- Abyss & Apex 30, Second Quarter 2009 (Online)
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2009 (Online)
- Heliotrope 5 (Online)
- The New Yorker May 4 2009 (Online)
Asimov's, July, '09
Asimov's, July 2009
I jumped into this issue eagerly, seeing Stephen Baxter's byline and recalling the breathtaking scope of his earlier space operas. But this novella is something different and not my favorite.
Earth II by Stephen Baxter
Four hundred years ago, a small group of humans fled a dying Earth and founded a new homeworld on dangerously unstable 82 Eridani, since devolved into warring states. Zeeland is currently the dominant nation, ruled by co-Speakers: belligerent Xaia and her more prudent husband Thom, who remains at home building a library to preserve the relics of the Founders while she roams the seas, killing and exploring, searching for relics of the world's long-extinct indigenous race.
For the most part, this is a journey of exploration in which the author reveals the wonders of his setting. It is a vast setting, on which the author has clearly done a lot of work and wants us to admire it. On her journey, Xaia and her crew are brutal and arrogant; she stubbornly rejects the wise advice of her older companion. The sections of the story at home in Zeeland tend to be tedious, as academic bureaucrats instruct the young heir about the world in lengthy passages of infodump. The whole comes together at the end in a climactic resolution by Xaia that I suspect the author wishes us to consider admirable, but I don't. A future based on war and conquest is not a very promising one.
SinBad the Sand Sailor by R. Garcia y Robertson
Future fantasy. SinBad is doing OK running drugs for a local crime syndicate on Barsoom, which seems to be a place short on legal activities, when he comes across an air hostess from a floating brothel who has been tossed overboard onto the dunes. A chivalrous impulse to rescue her leads to all kinds of adventures involving robbery, kidnapping, the flying Massingale brothers, various police forces, and battles with the slavers who live on one of the moons.
Presently, his ride appeared, the Massingale airship, poking over the dunes to the west. Cobbled together from stolen parts, the airship was a semi-rigid gas bag, married to an old silverskinned lander with a lifting body hull. Heat shield, gravity drive, and life-support system had been sold off long ago. The former spaceship was crammed with loot, crawling with cats, and patrolled by pit bulls.
Lots of fun.
The Last Apostle by Michael Cassutt
Alternate astronauts. Sensationalizing accounts called them the Twelve Apostles; now Joe is the last survivor at age 94, reminiscing from the moon about the secret they kept all that time – the discovery of coral from Earth's primordial past, hidden in a lunar cave.
Why had he kept the secret for so long? Because Chuck—
the Alpha Apostle— wanted it that way. Because the man who had charged through life, playing the game at a higher level than anyone Joe knew, had said so. Period. Because men who possessed the skills to brave a lunar landing shared a unique ability to make the right decisions. But now the Alpha was gone. The stone had rolled away. Death had released Joe.
This one is about the personnel, not the discovery, and I can't say that I find these alternate astronauts particularly interesting. We don't really know how long Joe has been on the moon and why he decided to return at his advanced age, just in time for the coincidence of Chuck's death. There is a darkly ironic tone to the conclusion, which belongs to a much more interesting story about these events.
Camp Nowhere by Kit Reed
Chazz Ferguson's dysfunctional Hollywood parents take him to a family therapy camp with a sinister agenda.
Every shred in me is shrinking, like I can fit my whole humiliated self back inside my testicles and roll away. Fat chance. The spotlight nails me right in the bushes and at that exact same moment, two camp staffers grab me from behind. Polly, the psychiatric axe murderer, hits the path waving her hand mike, bringing me on like a gameshow host: "Chazz Ferguson, come on down!"
This is sort of horror, if you can credit it, as I can not. Although there is no really unambiguous fantasy element, only a literalized metaphor, the scenario is still too improbable to be taken seriously.
Sleepless in the House of Ye by Ian McHugh
Aliens. The pregnant dams of the House of Ye are facing a winter crisis when their house begins to collapse just as they go into hibernation.
Worms always got into a wintering House, eventually. Under normal circumstances, it was only those tiny enough to slither through the wire grates on the drain holes in the walls, high and low, that let in the spring melt and, later, let the water out again with its cargo of wriggling spawn. That was a different matter to the risk they faced now: that the breach would let in worms of sufficient size and in enough numbers to consume the sleeping dams in entirety, along with all the spawn inside them.
Some of the dams will need to remain awake to protect the others, even if they lose their spawn. Poe volunteers.
This is a harrowing tale of survival and self-sacrifice, and the author succeeds in making it possible to sympathize with these aliens. Their lifecycle is creatively imagined, but I can not help thinking that all this wouldn't be necessary if the males would only stay home through the winter to protect the dams from the worms.
Shoes-To-Run by Sara Genge
The world has changed drastically. A dome covers Paris to protect it from the radiation, but the tribes, probably nano-engineered, survive outside as hunters. But such matters as radiation don't concern Shai-Shai today, when she has discovered that, despite all her efforts, she seems to have become a woman.
No, she couldn't be a woman. Not after all she'd gone through, not after all she'd prayed. Girl she could live with—
it was temporary anyway. Woman was permanent.
The story of Shai-Shai's hunt could have been told of just about any tribal hunter in Earth's history. The well-told tale of the hunter's bond with the prey may or may not have been the product of nano-engineering, but I could easily accept it without. This leaves Shai-Shai's story only tenuously connected to the SFnal matters of dome and nano and the fact that there are kudu herds just outside Paris. I wonder where the tribes are going to find their shoes, now.
Analog, July-August, '09
Analog, July-August 2009
The highlight of this double issue seems to be the first installment of a serial by Barry B. Longyear.
Seed of Revolution by Daniel Hatch
Humans have come to the planet Chamal and put an end to the habitual wars waged by the native species. The Chamalians have since taken up the economic equivalent: capitalism, with the admirals in charge of the Exchange. But Pog, who is the houseboy of Dr. David Wu as well as many other things, possibly including the legendary Red Starflower, has been learning a great deal from his human mentor. While the human authorities have been at great pains to prevent technology transfer, they have left their ideas unguarded. When Dr. Wu is assassinated by persons unknown, Pog triggers the seeds of a revolution that he has been sowing for some time.
Pog felt a rush of pride mixed with guilt. He hadn't told the machinists about Rosa Luxemburg or her ideas—they'd derived that theory on their own from what he'd taught them. But he felt guilt over the same fact—
that what he had taught them had turned into a physical struggle over theory.
"Well, the machinists were right," Pog said. "If the admiralty doesn't find someone else to buy their goods—
if all the admirals of Meshkar don't find someone else to buy their goods— then the exchange doesn't expand. They'd just be trading their own products. And that would lead to a crisis of overproduction, falling profits, and another turn of the Great Wheel."
This is entertaining Lite SF, which we can tell from the fact that the characters feature a possum named Pog, whose confederates are named Albrett, Kurch'll and Porkle'pi. Thus it doesn't seem necessary to object to the fact that Chamalian evolution seems to have somehow resulted in a population of terrestrial animals, as it would if we were expected to take this setting more seriously. The author has a great deal to say about Chamalian evolution, more than is really relevant to this particular plot, where what really matters are memes, not genes. There are also interesting glimpses at Chamalian society and, of course, a murder mystery. In addition to the numerous Walt Kelly allusions, there are many others salted throughout the text for the enjoyment of readers who like that kind of literary game. Entertaining when not being too didactic.
Failure to Obey by John G. Hemry
Military SF. Lieutenant Jen Shen [???] was wrongly convicted by court-martial in a previous story in this series. Now she has just been rewarded for her heroism during an attack on the naval space station Franklin when she learns that a friend, Chief Petty Officer Ivan Sharpe, is now facing a court-martial of his own for his actions during the attack.
"By all appearances no one really planned for this to turn into a general court-martial. Someone insisted on pressing charges, they seemed plausible, and by the time anyone realized the seriousness of the charges would mandate a general court-martial instead of just a summary or a special the ball had rolled far enough downhill and gained enough momentum that no one could stop it."
Shen pulls some strings to get him the best legal help she knows – the prosecutor from her own trial.
For the most part, this is a courtroom drama, military-style. Events of the attack on the station are gradually revealed through testimony. Both the scenes of combat and trial are done with considerable authority. But courtroom scenes offer an author the opportunity to declaim at length, and while Hemry mostly resists this temptation, he is clearly making a case about the nature of military command; while the outcome of the trial may not be entirely predictable, there is no doubt about his agenda.
The Bear Who Sang Opera by Scott William Carter
Not actually a bear. A biological-robot hybrid named Karvo, who used to have an act in the Mortagai Galactic Circus.
If there was one circus where you might find a bear who sang opera, it would be Mortagai. I once dated a girl on Realta who took me to a show when they were in town—fire-breathing penguins, tap-dancing cyborgs, shapeshifting clowns, they had it all.
Karvo has come to PI Dexter Duff because he believes MGC stole his voice module when he left the circus for a solo career.
A light SFnal mystery, with the identity of the thief perhaps a bit too obvious for mystery fans.
Payback by Tom Ligon
It seems that the emperor of the Eta Cassiopia system claims the galaxy as his own yard, and he doesn't like it that humans have trespassed. He launches a weapon aimed at exploding Earth's sun, which the humans are fortunately able to deflect. Debate then ensues about the appropriate response.
"When they realize they missed," Tuekakas continued, "if we do not tell them we are not launching retaliation, they most certainly will assume we are."
"And if we tell them we are not launching, they will probably laugh and launch another attack anyway."
A talky one, with a lot of rehashing history. We begin with an omniscient narrator, flitting like a bee from one point of view to the next as the initial events come together. After the salvation of Earth, the viewpoint eventually settles into a single character, but he is still little more than a talking head, exchanging views with other heads. We can tell who the wrong guys are, as we are told they are "cocky, obnoxious, pushy, and had no sense of decorum," and of course they sneer, whereas the thoughtful people are "distinguished-looking." Negligible storyness.
Duck and Cover by Don D'Ammassa
Kramer is reminiscing about his days in Nam, where he got on the bad side of a thug named Elmer Colby. As Kramer worked as a clerk and had access to S2 files, he decided to do some work on Colby's, in case of trouble to come.
I also looked at his personnel jacket and noted his hometown, Walnut Falls, West Virginia. We had a form letter we used to request background information from civilian authorities and I ran one into the typewriter and filled in Colby's name. It wouldn't hurt to have something genuine in the file and Colby made no secret of the fact that he'd enlisted to avoid jail.
But what Kramer discovers is that there is no Elmer Colby. And that there is also more than one of him.
Well-told and engaging tale, with an unsettling suggestion about why things might be the way they are.
The Calculus Plague by Marissa K. Lingen
The viral memory transfer experiments have escaped into the wild, and Leslie Baxter is pissed.
"Don't take this wrong, but you don't even like it when people drop by your house without calling first. But somehow it'd be better if it was your head?"
"It's not like they can read your thoughts, Les."
"No, they can make my thoughts. And that's worse."
Here's a good setup, a potentially harrowing idea, but the author seems at a loss for how to turn it into a story, so she punts it away into the endzone.
Interzone 222, June, '09
Interzone 222, June 2009
A fantasy story in this issue and only one gloomy future dystopia, if you don't count the fantasy.
Johnny and Emmie-Lou Get Married by Kim Lakin-Smith
SF drag racing. Like the Jets and the Sharks, the Flies and the Rocketeers are born to enmity, but Johnny has fallen in love with Emmie-Lou, now pregnant with his baby. To survive, they have to win the race to the church to be married. It is a contest not only of the best driver, but the best car.
Billy revved his Daimler Dart, and, yeah, it had a dirty throat but that machine was wired. It might have been dark, but the gas lamps that lined the street lit up every inch. The engine had been cranked proud of the bonnet like a sprawling heart of chrome. Four silver pendulum arms rotated, appearing to drive a colossal tick tock movement connected to the drive shaft. Pipework wormed in amongst the gristle of the engine, or beanstalked over the roof. The boiler squatted up back in its studded metal jacket. Now and then, a rack of variegated piston valves let off bursts of steam.
The tone is that of the 1950s gang culture, although the Dragsville setting is SFnally alternate, with language suggesting a US/Euro hybrid. It is the language that stars here, the lovingly obsessive depiction of the armed and augmented street rods at the center of this tale.
Unexpected Outcomes by Tim Pratt
What do you do when you learn that the entire world has been nothing but a computer simulation designed by aliens? When the aliens announce that their experiment is now over and you are on your own? Dawson thinks the aliens are lying—
Interesting thought experiment: what does the rat think about the maze? What can it do from inside?
Lady of the White-Spired City by Sarah L. Edwards
After centuries of time dilation, Evriel returns to the isolated colony world of Kander, where she was sent early in her training as an emissary of the regent. Then, she married a young man of the village and had a child, but after his death she returned to her mission. Now, she has returned full of regrets for that now long-dead child, needing to discover what became of her. She finds that she has become a legend.
"But you lived here, didn't you? The 'shining star of the regent king, shot to Kander to speak his words"—
that's you, isn't it?"
"Is it a song? I don't..."
"'Married a son of Kander's earth, a shepherd rough but warm of eye'—
don't know you it? But I suppose they didn't write it until you'd gone back to the regent."
Fine characterization in this tale of past regret and present self-discovery.
Microcosmos by Nina Allan
On a hot day, Melodie is driving with her parents to visit a relative she has never seen, a man she vaguely understands to be the object of her mother's dislike. But Melodie and Ballantine are drawn to each other, and Melodie learns a little of the secret that ties them.
"Will you do something for me?" he said. He leaned forward slightly, putting his face close to hers. "Will you give this to your aunt when you next see her? It doesn't matter when that is. It doesn't matter if it's years from now. Just give her this and tell her it came from me."
A tantalizing vignette, hinting of past tragedy without explanation. The setting is dominated even more by the controlled rage of Melodie's mother than the oppressive heat; and by Melodie's efforts to know, to understand, pushing parental boundaries. The secret at the story's heart, the strained relationships within the family, doesn't seem to be essentially connected to the SFnality of the setting, in which climate change has altered and heated the world.
Ys by Aliette de Bodard
Fantasy. Françoise has been chosen by the goddess of the drowned city Ys to bear a child for her, an heir to the city beneath the waves.
An heir to nothing. An heir to rotten wood, to algae-crusted panels, to a city of fish and octopi and bleached skeletons. An heir with no heart.
For the fetus has a heart defect. Françoise knows it will not survive, but the goddess will not allow her to speak, to reveal the truth.
I'm a sucker for legends like Ys, and the setting and the premise of this tale have a numinous attraction. Françoise is a strong character, but the resolution of her conflict with the goddess seems to attribute powers to her that I don't see how she acquired, and I'm not convinced of the necessity of the confrontation in the first place, or what it could have been expected to solve.
Mother of Champions by Sean McMullen
Somebody has been messing around with the genome of the cheetahs in Africa, with the best of intentions, of course, trying to save the inbred species. But the alterations, giving the cats the pack-behavior of wolves, are proving to be all too successful. And the cheetahs themselves don't approve.
But we are superior because we are perfect —
You have made many Champions in Africa flawed — They are no longer part of us — You soiled their perfection because you are flawed also.
An amusing look into the superior mind of cats.
Clarkesworld 32, May, '09
Clarkesworld, May 2009
Two very different settings – in stories where the setting is the thing.
From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7 by Nnedi Okorafor
How the Greeny Jungle became the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. On a far-future world, TreeFrog7 and her husband Morituri36 are explorers. Their task is to update the entries in the Greeny Jungle Field Guide, but they are in particular search of a mature specimen of the wild CPU plant, which BushBaby42 had reported in this location before she disappeared, several years ago. But something is stalking them.
There is much here to delight readers: TreeFrog7's narrative voice, the jungle setting described in evocative prose.
Everything here is disgusting. It rains constantly. The ground is always ankle-deep red-brown mud. There are a thousand types of biting and stinging insects. We have to sleep in the trees but the trees, bushes, and plants are noisy with buzzes, growls, snorts, screeches, clicks, whistles, too. Especially at night. The air reeks of moss, the syrupy scent of flowers, ripe palm nuts and rotting mangoes. And the jungle traps heat like a sealed glass tube held over a fire. The Greeny Jungle is a tough place to be while pregnant.
The journey in this case is the reward, more so than the destination. But I have to wonder, if the wingless hawkmoth is guarding the CPU plant, why it has gone so far away to follow the explorers. I wonder also at Morituri36's name, if it was meant to telegraph the ending, and why. There seem to be hyperlinks in the text to entries in the Field Guide, but they did not work on my computer—
The Devonshire Arms by Alex Dally MacFarlane
A low-key scene in the tavern where the immortals can come to relax for a while in the company of others of their kind.
Many times since, [Ambri] had seen new solid faces between the wispy, unfocused shapes of the short-lived people. She had been the woman the solid people saw at the counter, in a chair, talking at a naval-high [sic] table—
the woman they approached, saying, "This place! Are you here often? Do others like us come here?"
That's it. Nothing exciting really happens, we just meet a few of the regulars, coming and going, have a couple of drinks. The crosstime tavern is a common SFnal trope, and this is a nice addition to the list of such fictional places.
Fantasy Magazine, May 2009
Only three original stories this month, all of them highly imaginative, as this ezine usually delivers.
Voice Like a Cello by Catherine Cheek
Every since she was a child, Anne has heard the voices of ghosts, vengeful ghosts. Her home in France was full of them, and they were driving her crazy until her mother moved with her to a town in desert Arizona.
Once she had thought them angels. Dad thought that devils tormented her. He had taken her to several churches, to no avail. Thank God he hated psychiatrists, or she might have been drugged into imbecility.
In the psychic quiet of Arizona, Anne discovers the presence of another kind of voice, musical and friendly. But her manipulative father schemes to bring her back to France.
The musical voices are an intriguing notion, but the conclusion is too pat a solution, too much of a coincidence.
Revisionist History by Alison Campbell-Wise
After their third fight about whose turn it was to switch the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, and therefore whose fault it was that the clothes now smelled faintly of mold, Robert started writing on the walls. He took a magic marker he found jammed into an old soup can full of pens, went into the spare room which they never used, and closed the door.
And because he used a magic marker, his words had the power to change reality. But no matter how many changes he and Tess make in their house and in themselves, they can not create true happiness.
A clever idea, a lesson in how relationships work. But I can't help wondering how, with Robert and Tess both quitting their jobs, they have managed to pay for all the changes in the house.
Oh He Is by Karen Heuler
A sequel to the Pied Piper. For some reason, the piper left the children alone on a hillside, passively mindless. Now they sleep away their lives in storefronts, while Nina and Fleur take care of them, loving their sweet passivity.
The trick with them was to place food in their mouths, then chew. They would chew then, too. They sometimes got out, trailing behind a careless attendant who had left the door unlocked. They got out and they followed people or pets, even, drifting together in a group, like a school of fish, moving unpredictably as one of them caught sight of a bird swooping, a squirrel darting, a bumblebee speeding from a garden. Silent, dreamy and indifferent: Walter had found them standing like a group of sheep, by the cliffs.
But now the piper has returned, his glamour stronger than ever, and each person is sure: he has come back for me.
Strangely unsettling tale of enchantment and jealousy. The tone is sufficiently surreal that it doesn't seem too strange to see the enchanted children kept in storefronts, that they seem to have no parents, that there seem to be no other adults in the town but Walter, Fleur and Nina. But it's not quite enough to keep me from wondering why the piper abandoned the children in the first place, which leads to a whole lot of wondering about other matters. Are there other flocks of children on the hilltops outside other towns?
Apex, May, '09
Apex Magazine, May 2009
The last issue of this now-to-be extinct zine.
Hideki and the Gnomes by Mark Lee Pearson
There were twelve moons in the night sky: one from this dimension, the others reflections of the eleven dimensions. One switched off like a computer monitor. On the blank screen, Hideki watched the Space Shuttle, Confronter, hurtling to Earth, out of control.
As the moons disappear one by one, Hideki also goes out of control.
Very short ambiguous fantasy. Either the world is coming to an end, or Hideki is loony. Or, perhaps, both.
Clockwork, Patchwork and Ravens by Peter M. Ball
Dark fantasy. In Downside, Jackson the tinkerer has always wanted to make something turn out happily ever after, but his apprentice Randal knows it won't, not this time. Jackson once patched Randal back together out of clockwork, and now they have rescued a girl from the crow gang, with her eyes and her tongue cut out. But the crow gang knows where she is and they want her back.
Outside the Corvidae gather, jangling the windows and kicking the door. Four-and-twenty skinny boys, their flesh twisted by drugs and designer mutagens, black claws ready to rend and tear until I'm nothing but blood and parts.
This is a fairly standard fantasy underworld setting, not very evocative of fairy tales, despite the numerous references. The story depends on Jackson's refusal to flee when he knows the gang is on its way, which sort of makes this an idiot plot.
Strange Horizons, May 2009
Most people would probably call the majority of this month's offerings science fiction, which is often another way of saying fantasy.
The Rising Waters by Benjamin Crowell
The US is at war with Euro, and they have unleashed engineered viruses on each other. In a top-secret project, the US is developing AIs to create a cure for the Eurovirus. Sue's job is to interact with the AIs in order to humanize them as much as possible. This leads to moral conflicts with the stringent military rules and censorship.
There's a reason they switched to using us number-crunching types for the VR interaction jobs. The human brain is a funny thing. We identify with fuzzy ducklings, brave little toasters, or even those cute twentieth-century VW bug cars. For a person who doesn't have an academic background in computer science, it's all too easy to forget that Charlie is just a code name for a project, not the name of a self.
Sue's dilemma is an artifact of the story's premise, in which a person who is not supposed to become emotionally identified with the project puts on a VR suit with virtual breasts to feed a newly-online software program. That conflicts will arise from this is inevitable; the question is whether such humanization would be necessary at all.
Baby in the Basket by Cecil Castellucci
Time Fighting is always changing things. Danielle notices them.
For example: for a while, right on red would be legal, or there would be no mailboxes on the streets and you'd have to go to the post office and wait in line, or buses would be back to taking tokens. Danielle likened the small shifts in reality to the change in the value of world currencies. She pulled out a twenty dollar bill from her wallet. As always, she checked the number carefully because she could never trust the face on the bill to tell what the value was. She could have sworn that they kept changing, as well. Often she didn't even recognize the person depicted on the sometimes green, sometimes colorful dollars.
And there is the baby that keeps appearing at her doorstep, even when she moves to a different address. The baby is always about six months old when he arrives. Danielle loves him. And there is Len, who moves in with her; she loves Len, too, but that is the same thing. Somehow Len is at the center of everything, and the changes keep accelerating the longer he is there.
Neat idea. Neatly told, neatly wrapped up.
If Wishes Were Horses by Tiffani Angus-Bodie
Short-short. The narrator was always told as a child that the dark riders would come for her if she was bad. Now that she is grown and trapped by inescapable drudgery, she uses the threat herself.
This one is a hybrid of "be careful what you wish for" and invoking the name of the devil, but as often as they seem to be invoked, the dark riders ought to be showing up a lot more than they do.
Abyss and Apex, Second Quarter '09
Abyss and Apex 30, Second Quarter 2009
A variety of fantasy and SF centering around personal relationships.
The Midnight Girls by Lisa A. Koosis
Everything about Lily suggests a loser—
The girl cupped her hands and held them below the streaming water. I grasped the prickly branches of the hedge to keep myself from running forward. I wanted to plunge into the fountain, to drink until I was sated, until I'd finally filled the emptiness.
Romantic angst, overflowing with somewhat goopy feelings.
No Cord or Cable by Bud Sparhawk
Hamlet in space. On a world where suicide is the gravest transgression of the moral code, Hal's father takes his own life. Returning home for the funeral, Hal discovers that his mother has a lover, Carl, and his father Sergio had been under the influence of an alien, Doctor Zg, whom he called his son. Zg's morality contradicts that of Hal's human society, and he has a sinister way of influencing people's thoughts, including Hal's.
Now that the certainty of Carl's guilt had taken root I fertilized it with memories of my careful observations; the way his hands were always in nervous motion—
trying to wash them clean of father's blood, no doubt. And what about the strange way he stared at me? Was that because he suspected that I would somehow learn of his crime? The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced until, finally, I had no doubts. Carl had killed father.
There is a potentially interesting murder-by-mind-control mystery here, but the introduction of Zg's peculiar culture is awkwardly done. Still, definitely the most original piece in this issue.
Dancing for the Monsoon by Aliette de Bodard
Nanpeng was once a dancer, intended to perform the annual dance that brings on the monsoon and permits the crops to grow. But the price of this dance is crippling, and Nanpeng did not have the courage, years ago, to carry it out. Now, she has discovered and taught a young dancer, but she realizes at the last minute that Khean is not committed to the dance.
"The Dance is joy," Nanpeng said. "When you dance, it fills you until you can't think of anything else. It elevates you. People will honour you after it's over, but what matters is that you've danced.
Readers are going to see the conclusion of this one coming from the beginning. Me, I tend to wish the priests would just go ahead and forget the dance, then see if the monsoon happens regardless.
In the Middle of Nowhere with Company by Ruth Nestvold
Jordyn has come to Alaska to get away from it all after her daughter and estranged husband were killed in a freak accident. The locals say that she has brought the "birds of sorrow" with her. It turns out that a shotgun can take care of this problem.
I like the sorrow birds, but the conclusion to this one is excessively pat.
Deep Moves by William Highsmith
Email-epistolary tale. Commander Hannah Martina discovers the downside to prolonged space exploration and deepsleep. It seems there are problems at home and communication glitches with command, which occasionally seems to have forgotten about the mission.
Dear Major General Martina, congratulations on your promotion. I regret our failure to preserve your NASAtext TRDS link to the now-defunct NASA. The interim civilian government (long story) created the Near-Space Utilization/Deep Space Experimentation Administration which governs space policy, utilization and warfare matters. Transition from the military government could have been smoother.
Some amusing bits. The author manages in just a few paragraphs to sketch a very funny character in Hannah Martina.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2009
Most of the stories for this month are dark fantasy, some dark enough to be called horror. The common theme is magical bargains and they price they exact.
The Sacrifice Pit by Brian Dolton
A plague of parasites has come upon the city, fatally infesting the bowels of the victims. But the local priests insist that the infection is the consequence of sin. It must be cut out.
Sanquor's knife sliced through the belly of the sacrifice in one smooth movement. Amphyor's distended skin shrank away from the wound. Squirming thoravids burst free, in a foul tumble of violet and grey.
As I write this review, in real life public health officials are ordering the slaughter of [unclean] swine in an attempt to halt a contagion it is feared that they carry. Some things are not so different from fantasy. The author wants us to condemn the priests, but he offers no alternate explanation for the infestation, no alternate cure. And we know that Sanquor is certainly not without sin. As who among us is?
Clockwork Heart, Clockwork Soul by Kris Dikeman
The town fathers have literally made a devil's bargain.
We had thought Herr Kobalt merely a glib-tongued investor, eager, as we were, to restore the Cathedral to its former glory. Only after we accepted his terms had he shown us what he truly was.
Now the time has come to pay the price: the first man to enter the new Cathedral will belong to Kobalt. For the town elders, the Doctor with his clockwork automatons is their last, desperate hope.
Attempting to cheat the devil is never a safe course of action, and sacrificing an innocent in the place of the guilty is a sin, as the town fathers learn.
The Tinyman and Caroline by Sarah L. Edwards
Jabey is a tinyman, once an abandoned child whose growth was leached away in infancy, then enslaved to work as a messenger in the sewers. He has escaped his cruel master and his only hope now is to find service with a more powerful one. Thus he has entered a rich man's house to steal, but his presence is discovered by the man's young daughter, who believes him to be an elf and insists on being taken to "Faerie."
He didn't want to go. Now, with the bundle heavy in his hand and the figures on the paper to direct him, he wanted to drop it all and run, below maybe, to make his home with the rats.
But Yol'd find him, even if another runner didn't turn him in. He had to come up sometime. Jabey fingered his neck, the scars there reminding him of matters more pressing than old memories—or tagalong istocrat girls.
There is too much coincidence and improbability in the setup here. I find it hard to accept that the girl would have supposed the dark quarter was Faerie or that Jabey would have taken her there—
System, Magic, Spirit by T.D. Edge
The elderly wizard Ambrose is on his final journey.
"Fifteen old wizard farts are getting together in an underground cavern, and the one who wants to live the most takes all the remaining spirit left in the others. He or she is filled with youth again and the rest die."
He is accompanied, for no good reason but the convenience of the author, by a useless prince on his way to meet his intended bride. Ambrose has little desire to live any longer, but the prince begs for his help in winning his beloved.
Contrived and moralistic.
A small webzine new to me, subtitled "The Speculative Fiction Magazine". It appears at this glance to be more of a review than a fictionzine, with an emphasis on articles, rather than original stories, which are all apparently required to be the usual standard 5 thousand words or less.
Issue 5 is a Michael Moorcock issue, in this case a tribute issue, not containing work by the master himself. There are six nonfiction pieces and two works of fiction.
One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock by Neil Gaiman
At a stereotypical British public school with creepy masters, an unpopular boy, having been disillusioned by Narnia at a younger age, now escapes instead into dreams of Elric.
Elric, proud pale prince of the Melniboneans, would never have had to stand around on a football pitch in the middle of winter, wishing the game would be over.
A tale often told, which most readers have probably often read.
The Rhondda Rendezvous by Rhys Hughes
Parody in which Jerry Cornelius shows up in Wales on the usual mysterious mission from Time Centre.
Jerry wore a dragon flag t-shirt and a woollen jacket and faded red braces held up his thick cord trousers. On his head he sported a crushed bowler hat. His feet were clamped in hobnailed boots.
He fitted in perfectly.
A bit hard to tell which is the primary target here—
The New Yorker, May 4, 2009
It seems that this august magazine has been publishing an occasional bit of skiffy stuff.
The Slows by Gail Hareven
The narrator is a researcher on Earth studying the Slows, a colony of primitive humans who have rejected the otherwise universal practice of Accelerated Offspring Growth, whereby the inconvenience of childhood is eliminated. The authorities now fear that the reactionary movement might spread to other worlds, so they have decided to close the Slows' protected Reserve, thus putting the narrator out of a job. But when he comes to pack up his office, he encounters a Slow woman, begging that they be allowed to keep their children.
Luckily, the larva was asleep. Fifteen years of work had more or less inured me, but at that hour of the morning, and in my condition, I knew that my stomach wouldn't be able to stand the sight of a squirming pinkish creature.
This is the sort of thing that typically happens when a mainstream author gets hold of a SFnal idea. The idea absorbs the narrative at the expense of the story. [Admittedly, this sad result is hardly uncommon in the case of genre authors, as well.] The premise is not without interest, though unoriginal, but it is not well thought through in this case. It seems that the acceleration process does more than speed up growth, it eliminates certain obsolete physical features such as mammary glands. Yet this process is apparently only initiated after birth, which, as far as the text suggests, is accomplished in the same primitive fashion it is now. This is hardly reasonable—
As for the story, such as it is, we have an unsubtle moral message: readers are meant to be revolted by the narrator's revulsion at the normal state of childhood, at the bonds of love between mother and dependent child. I would not quite call it a political screed advocating breast-feeding, but it serves the purpose.