Not a very productive use of bandwidth. At their best, the stories are merely forgettable; the worst are out right wastes of time.
The best of the origNot a very productive use of bandwidth. At their best, the stories are merely forgettable; the worst are out right wastes of time.
The best of the originals is "The Fixer" by Paul McAuley. A seed-ship's AI watches over a planet where it's placed semi-human hominids who are barely at caveman level. An unexpected "hacker" arrives to figure out what's gone wrong with the plan. Decent enough sci-fi with variant on familiar themes. ***
I think there's been a Nick Wolven story in almost every magazine I read so far this year; a couple of his humorous satire pieces from F&SF are among my favorites of last year (2015). His "In the Midst of Life" is a lengthy story, told in terms of an after action report. Religious cultists are squatting in an empty 3rd-world building of that an evil US Corporation once emptied. Alas, his story's fantasy element is provided by a touchy/feeley New Age spiritualist bullshit. At least it was readable until it got to the soul of the universe crap. ***
In Benjanun Sriduangkaew's "That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall", a friendly AI helps a bunch of noble 3rd-worlders thwart the evil United States' imperialism. *
An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky team up for "Between Dragons and Their Wrath", and it's twice is incomprehensible as either rights separately. A modern world, plus dragon droppings. Not sure if dragons are metaphors or real, no idea what the hell is going on. *
A Kim Stanley Robinson oldie, "Mercurial". A witty Holmsian murder mystery on Mercury ("a rather subtle clue to occur to a dying man...." :) Also, noteworthy for a city on Mercury traveling along the terminator on tracks, as he used three decades later in 2312. ****
I found "Charlotte Incorporated" to be incredibly affecting. In a future where apparently "people" begin as disembodied brains and have to earn even aI found "Charlotte Incorporated" to be incredibly affecting. In a future where apparently "people" begin as disembodied brains and have to earn even a bell jar with nutrient solutions, "Charlotte" is struggling to afford a custom body she's designed into which she hopes to become "incorporated". After a chance event, she makes a couple of life-changing decisions. Ignoring the sci-fi, this was an amazing story of someone chasing a dream against the odds....more
Definitely a good issue, with a lot of enjoyable stories to tell:
I found Rachael K. Jones's "Charlotte Incorporated" to be incredibly affecting. In aDefinitely a good issue, with a lot of enjoyable stories to tell:
I found Rachael K. Jones's "Charlotte Incorporated" to be incredibly affecting. In a future where apparently "people" begin as disembodied brains and have to earn even a jar with nutrient solutions, "Charlotte" is struggling to afford a custom body she's designed into which she hopes to become "incorporated". After a chance event, she makes a couple of life-changing decisions. Ignoring the sci-fi, this was an amazing story of someone chasing a dream against the odds. *****
"Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass" by Jeremiah Tolbert turns the portal to another world trope on its head. Rabbit holes are opening everywhere, beckoning ordinary people to other worlds where they are needed. All except Our Heroine, who sadly waiting for her rabbit hole to finally appear.... Clever, humorous, and engaging. ****
"Map of Seventeen" by Christopher Barzak has an enchanting narrative voice to it, that of a 17-year-old girl about to graduate from high school, though not much of a story to tell. Her older brother is in love with a merman. ***1/2*
In some contrast, Samuel Peralta's "Hereafter" tries really hard for emotional connection but ultimately came off as manipulative treacle. These visiting time traveler in love stories might better fit in a Romance anthology. ***
I originally read Paul McAuley's "Transitional Forms" in Twelve Tomorrows. It reminded my of Nancy Kress: a story of biotechnology with an emphasis on people. The futuristic premise is bioengineering for industrial purposes gets out of hand in some areas have to be closed off. The organisms then begin to mutate, those very mutations becoming of commercial interest to biotech companies. The only criticism is that the biotech doesn't really seem to affect the characters, it's just a background for them. McAuley doesn't really seem interested in looking at the social/legal implications of the bioengineering as he is in using the title as a metaphor for his characters. ***
"Monstrous Embrace" by Rachel Swirsky is somewhere between a weird and conventional sword and sorcery story. It's the unusual point of view narrator that adds the weirdness. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any characters to become truly involved with. *** ...more
Alternate history has royal families being Royal not from some Divine Right, but because they have superpowers. But they've agreed not to take part inAlternate history has royal families being Royal not from some Divine Right, but because they have superpowers. But they've agreed not to take part in their international warfare, presumably in their own self-interest, so they don't kill each other off. Much better to let the peasants fight it out for you. So, up to the London blitz of World War II, world history is pretty much unchanged by this superpowered dynasty. Until Prince Charles gets tired of watching London burn and joins the fight.
The good news is this is a self-contained graphic novel miniseries with a definitive ending, not just the first six issues of a long-running comic book. The bad news is the ending isn't very satisfying. (view spoiler)[ It's not that history returns to its normal course because the whole cast of Royals gets killed off. It's the stupid answer to "Who is the spy in the British War Council?" and that the Japanese Emperor gets bored with the war he started and doesn't care who wins anymore. (hide spoiler)]
Nice art and readable story with interesting mix of characters; too bad it doesn't go someplace more interesting.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
An aging, devout Sister at the monastery, Elect of the gods to perform miracles, is unable to pursue her scholarly research and writing because as a sAn aging, devout Sister at the monastery, Elect of the gods to perform miracles, is unable to pursue her scholarly research and writing because as a saint-in-waiting she is in high demand from the wealthy to perform chantries (daily prayers for the souls of specific individuals, living and dead.) Then she's sent a divine inspiration in a dream for how to speed and ease the prayers of all Sisters.
A likable character in an engaging fantasy story with a supporting cast of easily recognizable traits. Nonviolent confrontations, just a whiff of magic, and some clever dwarven engineering. As with Bear's Bone and Jewel Creatures, I really delight in her portrayal of more elderly characters than the ones usually encounters in such fantasies.
A delight to read, both serious and at times amusing....more
I enjoyed the original stories a good deal more than the reprints this time around. A couple of winners I liked:
Will McIntosh's "The Savannah Liars ToI enjoyed the original stories a good deal more than the reprints this time around. A couple of winners I liked:
Will McIntosh's "The Savannah Liars Tour" takes the interesting premise that science can let the living visit with the souls of the dead in the afterlife, via a sort of temporary death brought on by cryonics. If that's the case, how do the living move on after the death of a loved one if they can still drop into visit every month? Can the dead continue to contribute to the world of the living, via proxies? Ben is having trouble moving on with his life over a decade since the death of his beloved wife Delilah, whom he visits every month. Sincerely executed thought experiment, marred a bit by a predictable ending. ****
"Secondhand Bodies" by JY Yang is set in a future where the wealthy can grow new, genetically customized bodies. Our dislikable protagonist finds body swapping easier than losing weight; her even more dislikable cousin has some black-market connections; and her potential body swapper has her own secrets. Interesting story despite the unlikable characters. ****
In "Maiden, Hunter, Beast", Kat Howard offers an interesting re-imagining of the unicorn trope, moving it to an urban setting. ***
A reprint of Peter S. Beagle's "La Lune T’attend" doesn't have a unicorn, it has a couple of senior citizen creole werewolves and a vindictive old enemy out the harm their families. Features a couple of likable old codgers in a surprisingly suspenseful story. ***
The remaining three so-called sci-fi stories are pretty much uninterested in anything actually science in their fiction:
"Pinono Deep" by Kate Bachus was a reprint from Asimov's two years ago, whale hunting in the icepack, and a bit of Jonah thrown in. Likable enough, not particularly special or big on sci-fi. **
"The Dark Age" by Jason Gurley is a story of passengers on a cryogenic interstellar journey. The opposite of hard sci-fi, so little makes sense beyond throwing a few buzzwords around. Mostly the author is interested in the psychological effect on one crewman who's sad his newborn daughter will live and die while he's asleep. Among other problems, apparently one can be sent on these journeys involuntarily. No real SF, just a lot of angst. *
"Beyond the Heliopause" by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown has at its heart a rather silly premise, though it isn't revealed until the end. But apparently the authors are more interested in a reporter reuniting with her ex than the total implausibility of their premise. *
And in the fantasy section, I wish someone would explain "Gorgonoids" to me. Written by Finnish author Leena Krohn and newly translated into English, it's not so much a story (it has no characters, no events, no time passes) as a philosophical rumination on virtual beings. What? It might as well have stayed in Finnish for all I understood it. * ...more
A fair issue, a few I liked maybe more than I should, some I didn't care for maybe as much as I should.
Adam-Troy Castro's "The Coward's Option" was aA fair issue, a few I liked maybe more than I should, some I didn't care for maybe as much as I should.
Adam-Troy Castro's "The Coward's Option" was a very interesting scifi story in which aliens have a technology to control illegal behavior via brain implant, but the alien criminals actually preferred death to the torture of mind control. The human's lawyer has some concerns about importing the tech to human society. ****
"Unlinkage" by Eric Del Carlo has a future where tactically clever soldiers are given biological implants to let them control engineered muscular soldiers in combat. One former member of the squad who thinks her "brute" had died is experiencing familiar, in direct combat sensations. Engaging story. ****
In Thomas R. Dulski's "Drummer", a "drummer" is a traveling salesman of the interplanetary cosmos. An aging veteran meets a young rookie in a bar, and they are destined to cross paths a few more times. Seemed a bit over-long before reaching the semi-weird payoff. ***
"The Perfect Bracket" by Howard Hendrix & Art Holcomb has a self-styled investigator deciding the only way a gambler could win a perfect "March Madness" bracket to win half a billion dollars is if he was a time traveler, and puts together a team to prove it, no matter what. **
Gregory Benford's "Elderjoy" is a short warning of the inevitable, in which electronic monitoring for health eventually allows insurance companies and governments to tax anything that might be risky, including sex. Fell into that uncanny valley between funny and serious. **
Joe M. McDermott's "Snowbird" is another take on the automated/robotic care of the elderly, this time in the form of AI'd RVs driving across the land, as seen by some peach farmers who do a good business catering to the "snowbirds" (seasonal visitors to warmer climates.) Interesting take told in an interesting voice. **** ...more
"The Grocer's Wife [Enhanced Transcription]" by Michael Libling. They're eating our brains! Not zombieMore winners than duds to my taste this time....
"The Grocer's Wife [Enhanced Transcription]" by Michael Libling. They're eating our brains! Not zombies, the government! Within the wrapper of a paranoid sci-fi tale, there's a sensitive, tragic look at Alzheimer's victims and caregivers. The inner story was far more powerful than the envelope; the sci-fi in the story is almost trite and distracting compared to the human suffering described. ****
Sarah Gallien's "In Equity" takes a look at future adoption, human trafficking, and class stratification, with a compassionate story from the PoV of a tweenage orphan being considered for "placement". ****
"Exceptional Forces" by Sean McMullen is a story told by a genius astronomer who expects to be assassinated before he can present his findings to the world. He and the assassin have a very lengthy, sophisticated conversation. Strangely, this is fun to read, if the denouement is a trifle ordinary. ***1/2*
Nick Wolven's "Passion Summer" is a little slow getting started, a future where "passions" can be artificially induced by a combination of chemicals and electronic brain manipulations. You can purchase an obsession with playing the piano or Russian literature or collecting Star Wars figurines. Our teenage hero selects for his first passion something really odd, and it really messes them up. I prefer Wolven's recent humor in F&SF, but this isn't a bad story, either. ***
"Bringing Them Back" by Bruce McAllister is more a mood piece on global extinctions than a narrated story. It's quite short, and works fairly well for what it is. ***1/2*
An Owomoyela's "The Charge and the Storm" lost me early on and never recovered. An apparent human/Su hybrid is convinced to ransom an old enemy from the alien Su's death penalty. There really wasn't enough exposition on past relationships or the main character for me to give a damn about any of it, even if it was the cover story. *
"The Monster of 1928" by Sandra McDonald: I don't do horror, I don't like Lovecraft, I don't do Cthulhu. Left this unread. ...more
Robert Reed's "The Algorithms of Value" takes us to a future utopia where global planning provides for everyone's welfare. Except a few wackos who wanRobert Reed's "The Algorithms of Value" takes us to a future utopia where global planning provides for everyone's welfare. Except a few wackos who want to do weird things, like explore the solar system in person instead of via AI probes. One of the dissidents confronts one of the architects of the utopia over breakfast. (No one eats a madeleine.) Dry. **
The next two stories were strangely similar. Both are survival stories after a transportation accident on an alien planet:
"The Abduction of Europa" by E. Catherine Tobler has a surviving crewwoman trying to get injured survivor back to the home base. (Observation: "Europan" looks way too much like "European" for easy reading. :) This didn't do much to make me care about the characters. **1/2*
In Rich Larson's "Extraction Request", a military unit gets forced down in the team starts getting picked off by some alien life form, one by one. Sort of like the movie Predator, but without Schwarzenegger.Does better at character engagement. ***
The English translation of Bao Shu's "Everybody Loves Charles" takes us to a future where technology is available to let people ride along in celebrities' minds, and Charles is king of the livecasts, letting his cyber followers track him 24 hours a day, including his numerous, infamous sexual trysts. The story considers the effect of this on Charles and the people he knows, and the effect on those who choose to live life vicariously through him rather than living their own lives. ****
Robert Silverberg's "The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale" was originally published in "Tales of the Dying Earth", an homage to Vance's classic. The sun is slowly going out in a world of magic; a board, insouciant, drunken poet awaits the end in his mansion, where he's visited by three strangers. Seemed a little overly long, perhaps, as a rather simple yet quite readable tale. ***
The reprint of Megan Lindholm's "Old Paint" is the future of smart, self-driving cars, where a single mom inherits her father's "classic" 2020 woodie. Mom loves that car. Cute, captivating, and largely sentimental novelette. **** ...more
This continues the immediately preceding story (The Two of Swords: Part 11) of two craftsmen sent to steal a unique, silver deck of cards, changing thThis continues the immediately preceding story (The Two of Swords: Part 11) of two craftsmen sent to steal a unique, silver deck of cards, changing the point of view from Axeo to Musen. Musen is making his escape cross-country, from both the theft and Axeo.
Another engaging story, seemingly of two very minor players in whatever saga Parker is weaving, as Musen has a series of little mini-adventures trying to get out of the area and avoid pursuit....more
The theme for this issue seems to be Mars, with four stories taking place on the red planet.
"Number Nine Moon" by Alex Irvine provides a traditional sThe theme for this issue seems to be Mars, with four stories taking place on the red planet.
"Number Nine Moon" by Alex Irvine provides a traditional space sci-fi, a small group of loners has a near disaster and are struggling to survive. ***
"Vortex" by Gregory Benford also takes us to Mars, where complex cellular life has been discovered below ground and a multinational group of scientists try to ignore the political tensions back on earth. Solid and entertaining, ***
Mary Robinette Kowal's "Rockets Red" takes us back to her alternate future Mars (of last year's "Lady Astronaut of Mars"), and like that story this one plays for emotional stakes; doesn't work nearly as well as it feels rather contrived. **
On other worlds,...
"Smooth Stones and Empty Bones" by Bennett North is a contemporary fantasy involving a rural witch whose daughter's kindness to her best friend isn't fully appreciated until the end. Excellent read with an enchanting character. ****
"Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going to Do?" by Nick Wolven is a hilarious sendup of targeted advertising and social shaming move to a hyper digital future, in the vein of last month's "We're so Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss". ****
Matthew Hughes's "Telltale" is another tale of his or her own and her thief Raffalon, who this time has arrived at Hotel California in the woods. Decent sword & sorcery story, nothing special. ***
"Robot from the Future" by Terry Bisson: As the title says, a boy in the near future recounts his encounter with a robot from the far future. They want gasoline, and item in short supply in the near-future re-green world. A likable enough story, though at the end I couldn't really find a point to it all. ***
Loe Vladimirsky "Squidtown" offers a strange future in which there's an Islamic State of Texas. A vet returns home after the war of secession to find he doesn't fit in anymore. Readable story, but if there was a point I missed it. ***
In Betsy James's "Touch Me All Over" a woman is cursed to unravel anything. Makes life really difficult. Interesting take, nice read. ***
"The Visionaries" by Albert E. Cowdrey has a pair of paranormal investigators, who I think are supposed to be a wittily charming bantering couple like a Nick and Nora Charles of the supernatural, checking out haunted woods for a lumber company. The story's end leaves open a nonspecific threat of menace & coming disaster (though with a light touch, more tongue-in-cheek.) Not really working for me. **
E. Lily Yu's "Braid of Days and Wake of Nights" is the story of the woman being treated for cancer, dedicated to Jay Lake. How could I not like something so treacly? (Hint: I also don't like cat videos.) *
Apparently David Gerrold is writing ghost stories now for "The White Piano". Not my thing. * ...more
In another world, where people live up in the sky atop spires of bone (sort of really tall high-rise apartments), teenage Kirit is about to take her fIn another world, where people live up in the sky atop spires of bone (sort of really tall high-rise apartments), teenage Kirit is about to take her flying test to earn the right to fly about the city on artificial wings, a rite of passage akin to getting a drivers' license, I guess. She envisions a career as a trader, traveling between spires. But her curiosity, and that of her best friend Nat, get her into trouble with the aloof Singers, who run the city and protected from the predations of monstrous skymouths. Slowly, Kirit & Nat begins a think the Singers are hiding something, and they're determined to find out what, no matter how many obstacles fly in their glidepath.
Readable and generally enjoyable YA fantasy with an engaging young heroine. The plot doesn't hold many actual surprises, but it's a pleasant enough trip.
It seems living inspires is all the rage in 2015 (cf Butcher's Aeronaut's Windlass, where people travel in magical flying woden ships rather than hanggliders. (Apparently hot air balloons are out of fashion.) ...more