Already it’s the new magazine year, and it begins with the letter A. But first, I have Something To Say.
Apex Magazine, November 2010
Recently there has been a plague of bigoted and ignorant pronouncements about Islam and Muslims. In response, this magazine’s editor announced that this issue would be dedicated to Muslim and Arab writers.
I applaud this decision. Bigotry tends to arise out of ignorance, and part of ignorance is unfamiliarity: They are the Other. Not of us. They do not share our values.
This issue demonstrates that, on the contrary, Muslim and Arab writers are part of us. The authors featured here, and many others, have been part of our field for some time. Their values include our genre: fantasy and SF. Readers are growing familiar with their work and showing their appreciation of it with award nominations. This issue serves as a reminder of the fact, and also as an introduction to readers who have yet to recognize the growing contribution of Muslim and Arab authors to our field. It is my hope that familiarity will not only dispel ignorance and intolerance but breed respect.
“The Green Book” by Amal El-Mohtar
Dark Fantasy. The catalog entry of an ancient and sinister book imbued with powerful spells that compel the reader to write in it. The spirit of one victim was trapped within the book by the Sisterhood of Knives, and her words appear on the pages as if the ink “welled up from within the page.” The archivist Master Leuwin, coming into possession of the book, finds himself compelled to engage in dialogue with the spirit, and the record of their correspondence is preserved in the pages, annotated afterward by his student Dominic Merrowin, also touched by the spell.
You see he is mad.
I know he is looking for ways to extricate her from the book. I fear for him, in so deep with the Sisters — I fear for what he will ask them —
This is not an Islamic story. The setting is a barely glimpsed fantastic world full of mysteries and secrets not fully revealed to the reader. The book itself is the strongest presence, the darkest mystery.
“50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire” by Pamela K Taylor
The complications of being both a vampire and a good Muslim. As Sheikah Yasmin al-Binawi writes:
“It is commonly believed among the living that the Qur’an forbids all Muslims from eating blood. What the Qur’an actually says, is ‘He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; but if one is driven by necessity–neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need–no sin shall be upon him: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.’
And since a vampire is driven by necessity to consume blood, it is not forbidden. A good Muslim vampire is supposed to limit his depredations to evildoers, but as Ibrahim knows too well, the blood of the good is most sweet. When he encounters the scent of a virtuous woman in the marketplace, he faces a struggle between temptation and his conscience.
This is definitely an Islamic story, reflecting the way ordinary Muslims seek similar guidance from their religious leaders concerning everyday problems. While the subject matter is serious – a woman’s life is at stake – and Ibrahim appears quite sincere, the tone of the narrative is rather light, which seems incongruous. I was intrigued by the situation, but unfortunately the author breaks off the story abruptly before really resolving it. Which is to say, Ibrahim may think the matter is resolved, but it is clearly not the case for Lina.
“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed
Dystopian SF. In the aftermath of the Global Credit Crusade, former soldier Ali is desperate to save his beloved wife Lubna, whose life can only be saved by a serum that is prohibitively expensive. Then he receives a strange OS prompt on his incompletely deactivated retina screen, which normally displays such messages as: God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will report for uniform inspection at 0500 hours. This one is different, and it keeps repeating: God willing, Faithful Soldier, you will go to the charity-yard of the Western Mosque in Old Cairo. She will live. Ali has no choice but to believe; it is his only hope to save Lubna. But the journey from Beirut on the Old Cairo Road is hazardous and the reception he receives at the Western Mosque is not what he had hoped for. Ali’s new-found faith is tested.
He made his voice as strong as he could, and he held his head high as he uttered words that would seal his fate with these men. “In the name of God, who needs no credit rating, Shaykh-Captain, do what you must. But I am not lying.”
This one is an Islamic story, but an Islam greatly altered by future ideology. The world and people, while different in a number of ways, are still quite recognizable. Ali is a sympathetic character whose real faith is the love he has for his wife. It’s not quite clear whether someone is screwing with him for their own purposes, or some greater force is actually communicating with him, but for Ali it makes no difference, as long as the promise is kept. The author telegraphs one secret rather too often, but otherwise this is an engaging story.
Analog, January/February 2011
Big double issue featuring stories of planetary discovery and exploration. The mid-length stories are best.
“The First Day of Eternity” by Domingo Santos, trans Stanley Schmidt
Generation ship Diaspora 32 finally discovers a habitable planet after 721 years and 37 generations. The pilgrims descend to the surface. Some adapt well, some don’t. An intelligent, benevolent species of cute furry things show up. The ship’s AI wonders what to do with itself now and misses the days when it was God.
Eternity is what reading this prolonged narrative felt like, and not in a heavenly way. I kept waiting for the story to start; it never did. There is only page after page of deadly dull droning exposition. Only one character developed in any way at all, but her role turned out to be peripheral.
Now, if there were a story here, it would have belonged to the ship’s AI, which personified itself as the Caretaker.
It made the Caretaker its direct representative, its principal extension, its spokesman and permanent liaison to the pilgrims: their prophet, the Moses of the new Exodus. Communication became complete and instantaneous: it was the Caretaker and the servants, the Caretaker and the servants were it. It was the ship, and the ship was it. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the electronic mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Which was definitely not the theology of the original pilgrims. The ship feels that its original purpose has come to an end; it contemplates several alternatives; it offers a choice to the colonists. Here might have been a story, from the ship’s point of view, rather than the flat, distant, bloodless exposition. And the end of that story might have been the final line we have here, except that it would have caused a real frisson of horror in the readers. But that would have required some emotional involvement, and there is nothing to be involved with.
“At Cross Purposes” by Juliette Wade
First contact. Lynn is an engineer working on a project to terraform a barren world when unexpected aliens arrive, surprised to discover them there.
This planet was supposed to be lifeless, witnessed. It was supposed, overheard a thousand times, to be for the Purpose of others. How surprised, then, were the architects and constructors, choreographers and dancers when we discovered live creatures in our
ship’s witness! For a dead planet may serve the designs of the Form Purpose and the celebrations of the Performance Purpose, yes, but aliens properly belong to followers of the Great Tree Purpose.
To us — joy!
Unfortunately, the project is the property of the Terrafirm Corporation, and Doris, its director of security, is obsessed with sabotage and theft of corporate secrets. A series of mistakes results in the deaths of most of the human team, and the four survivors are transported to the alien ship, where the representatives of different Purposes make conflicting claims on them. The Martial Purpose believes them to be nonsentient, or at least devoid of Purpose, and thus wishes to destroy the human species as a threat to order. The scientific Purpose claims them for itself, but to do so, it has to discover the human Purpose, while Doris is opposed to revealing any information.
Here we have story – doubled. Alternating between points of view, Wade gives us a fascinating bunch of aliens, full of their own conflicts, engaging in their own various ways with the problem of understanding the alien humans. Their language patterns are particularly interesting, mirroring their culture. Among the humans, Lynn and Doris serve conflicting purposes, but their primary problem lies in understanding the aliens, figuring out what they mean, what they are asking. If there is a flaw, it’s accepting that anyone could possibly be as short-sighted and thick-headed as Doris.
“The Unfinished Man” by Dave Creek
Mike Christopher is stopping off to check on Leo, an old hermit living alone on a planet where the rapid rotation produces constant, violent storms.
Those winds pummeled the small vehicle, seemingly threatening to overturn it despite the claw-like supports dug several meters into the hard ground of the planet Keleni. Through the narrow slits in the rover’s armor, Mike saw a landscape where the only plant life huddled close to the ground, presenting as little surface area to the buffeting winds as possible. Winding rivulets of water poured down narrow, well-worn paths as dark, thick clouds rushed across a moonless sky.
Mike and Leo get along as they share a few trips into the weather, and they find themselves sharing a few secrets; each is glad to have someone he can tell these things.
This one is a sequel to at least one other story involving the character Mike, but while the author seems to think otherwise, his personal problems aren’t really very interesting here, where the real story is the exploration of a hazardous but remarkable world. Maybe he can take them up another time.
“Enigma” by Sean McMullen
The enigma is a newly-discovered world, an uninhabited planetary structure that humans at first call a city, a puzzle to be solved.
All around me the city played its music, oblivious to the fact that it now had an audience. The motion of the wind through the buildings of Enigma played a strangely tranquilizing symphony that was not music, yet not random either. Chords boomed, lingered, then faded, trills rippled out in the distance, and sometimes a background like the drones of bagpipes resonated until the winds shifted again.
The expendable exploration team sent to the surface are chimeras bred with animal DNA. Kerris the narrator is part rat. [She claims that three others are part terrier, but their names are Hound.] They are meticulous detectives and discover that Enigma had been visited long ago by several other species and has since repaired any damage they inflicted, keeping itself intact and perfect, according to its design. But the situation becomes ominous when they discover that the world is sending subtle signals to their own brains, modifying their behavior to keep them from damaging the integrity of the structure; they have been repairing it without any recollection of doing so. Kerris’s team leader comes to fear that this influence might be transmitting itself to their orbiting mothership and, from it, back to Earth, enslaving it to some inexplicable alien purpose. His solution is to break the link by destroying the entire expedition, but Kerris has another explanation of the enigma, another plan.
Enigma is a real alien wonder, well conceived and well described, an intriguing puzzle that should fully engage the minds of readers. I don’t take as much from the chimera aspect of the characters’ personalities as the author seems to intend; while it’s an exotic touch, I doubt if it would make much difference to the story if they were template sapiens. What matters is the enigma and the solving of it — the wonder of it. This is the kind of story that only science fiction can deliver.
“Stay” by Stephen L Burns
It seems that dogs have inherited the Earth, or at least the United States. But while most of the former US territory is controlled by Washington, a General Wolf has set up a totalitarian government in the Bad Lands and is spreading outwards, even while collapsing internally.
“Wolf’s operatives go into the Crumble, lie their tongues off about what their version of governing is like, spreading dissatisfaction and dissent. Or fear, when those don’t work. They say you — the government — don’t care.
Now Wolf has discovered a few surviving humans and is holding them for ransom, so Merlin, the president’s chief of staff, flies out to meet him.
When a story starts out with the characters sniffing each others’ butts, this is not a sign that it’s meant to be taken seriously. Yet the author clearly does not intend this one as farce; he is trying to make serious points. In large part, it is a political allegory with pointed comparisons to the deplorable contemporary situation; there are strong links to Animal Farm. Much of the plot depends on canine pack hierarchy and its transference to humans, but to make any sense at all, certain key elements require that it take place during the lifetime of dogs who remember being human pets — which vitiates its credibility in other ways. I find a number of points hard to take: the ease with which Merlin takes control of the situation being the main one. And the way in which Wolf’s regime takes advantage of hardships in the population, when the “proper” government is chowing down on pizza but in Wolf’s territory even the buzzards have been exterminated for food.
“The Frog Prince” by Michael F Flynn
Donovan was once a paraperceptic used as a spy, but his masters, perhaps as punishment, have split him into ten separate personalities.
The singular benefit of paraperception is that the paraperceptic can see different objects with each eye, hear independently with each ear, and quite often the right hand knows not what the left is doing. This has advantages, and would have had more had the scarred man’s masters not been ambitious or cruel.
Now he [they] find themselves kidnapped on board Confederate agent Ravn Olafsdottir’s stolen ship, on the way to being delivered to the enemy. But the ship, once owned by a smuggler, is full of dangerous secrets of its own.
A tense and complex thriller in an information-dense setting that was established in a previous story to which this one is a sequel. Nonetheless, it stands up fairly well alone, despite the numerous references to elements outside its scope; it starts off slowly with a lot of backgrounding, but after a while the action gets to cracking along nicely. In the previous story, it seems to have been established that the separate elements of Donovan’s mind were functioning as “a quarreling committee.” They have apparently integrated by this time and work quite effectively together. It is less a distracting gimmick than trying to believe in a single, supercompetent individual. The convention for this sort of multiple personality story is to assign a separate typeface to each persona, but with so many of them, some of the text becomes hard to read, which does contribute, particularly at first, to the distraction factor, but once the tension builds, it fades into the background.
“A Snitch in Time” by Donald Moffitt
Time travel. Detective Lieutenant Delehanty is determined to crack the department’s oldest unsolved case in the last ten days before he has to retire. His plan is to go back in time and witness the killing himself. The assistant DA is dubious.
“Have you thought this through, Lieutenant? You see a murder in progress. You’re a cop. Do you try to stop it? But you’re not a cop in that timeline, are you? Your lieutenant’s badge is no good there.”
Delehanty goes ahead with it anyway, defying paradox to do its worst.
There’s some neat time-travelly stuff here, with a satisfactory twist at the end. But it’s odd that, twenty years after time travel was invented, no one else seems to have thought of taking this step to solve/stop crimes. And the author seems to have overlooked the fact that the time monitor shows the crime taking place in the past, which would render all the paradoxes moot.
“Some of them Closer” by Marissa Lingen
Time dilation. Mireille has come back to Earth after a hundred Earth years working as a terraformer on one of the colonies. [I don’t know why.] Things have changed; she has no place there now. Mireille’s situation evokes sympathy, but there’s no indication what she had expected when she came back, and why.
“The First Conquest of Earth” by David W Goldman
Aliens show up and announce that they’re about to enslave Earth. But not in the way everyone assumes. Silly and short.
“Out There” by Norman Spinrad
After launching an interstellar probe, the Project Director, the Old Astronaut and the Star Science Fiction Writer meet in the bar to discuss the meaning of it all. They reach a consensus. It’s as good an answer as any.
“Non-Native Species” by Janet Freeman
It seems that a race of beings on some other world once created a self-replicating killer organism. It was more efficient than they planned; it cloned itself, rapidly wiped out their homeworld and they have not been able to find a way to defeat or kill it. They have attempted this by dropping specimens of Ki [it is not clear how they manage to capture or control these] onto other worlds in hopes that something can kill it. So far, nothing can and life on the other worlds has also been exterminated. Now Ki has been introduced to Australia, and Gen is the Observer assigned to it, in a human body. He meets a human biologist and confides in her when he begins to realize the enormity of what he is involved with.
A Message story, set on Australia where non-native species have already done so much harm. I find this scenario awfully far-fetched, and the solution gets telegraphed pretty early on.
Asimov’s, January 2011
Featuring murder mysteries.
“Killer Advice” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A second-rate passenger ship limps into a third-rate space station after a series of murders culminating in a disabling fire. The passengers and crew, including the murderer, check into the station’s only hotel, unexpected by the manager who is totally unprepared for so many [more than a dozen] guests. Where the murders continue.
This is an unusual mystery, with no detective on the scene. By default, this role is taken by the hotel manager, the de facto station doctor, and a crewmember who happens to be a professional assassin. These characters are all losers — an embezzler, a drunk, an indigent — as are most of the others. The station itself is a loser. But self-interest and self-preservation are strong motivation. It’s not the sort of mystery where readers are challenged to discover the killer; the necessary information isn’t available to us. The story is in the characters, watching them react to the situation, rising to it and failing to. But it’s enough of a mystery to intrigue, with the outcome in doubt until the end. A good read.
“Two Thieves” by Chris Beckett
In a far future, the recidivist thieves Pennyworth and Shoe are sentenced to exile on a remote island penal colony. As this is a benevolent future, there are activities provided, and the two thieves join an archeological dig at a site where ancient technology might be found. Within a few hours, they discover a portal to somewhere else, and given that anywhere else is where they want to be, they jump through.
This is one of those “advanced technology indistinguishable from magic” scenarios, and the tale has a fantastic tone that makes me think of the Arabian Nights — a humorous tale with a serious moral. The portal might well be a magic well into another world, and that world is one of fantastic mystery. An entertaining light tale.
“Dolly” by Elizabeth Bear
Another murder. Dolly is a sex robot whose owner has just been brutally killed. Given that she is covered with his blood, detectives Roz and Peter suspect Dolly was the murder weapon. Or the murderer. Because Dolly is demonstrating an unusual degree of self-awareness.
Soon the scene techs would be here with their cameras and their tweezers and their 3D scanner, turning the crime scene into a permanent virtual reality. In his capacity of soft forensics, Peter would go over Dolly’s program, and the medical examiner would most likely confirm that Steele’s cause of death was exactly what it looked like: something had punched through his abdominal wall and clawed his innards out.
What we have here is not really a murder mystery, despite the corpse and the detectives. The story is not really concerned with determining whether Steele altered Dolly’s programming or she somehow did it herself or there was someone else involved. Instead, the detectives become interested in the mystery of Dolly. There is quite a bit of discussion of robotic autonomy, which reminds readers that many of the Asimovian robot classics were mysteries. But this is distracting from the real story at hand, about the potential for humans forming attachments to artificial beings. As the corporate rep says, “People become attached to dolls, to stuffed animals, to automobiles. It’s a natural aspect of the human psyche.” This is a story of the human psyche — a rather sad one, of humans whose normal attachments are too limited to fulfill their emotional needs.
“Visitors” by Steve Rasnic Tem
Marie and Walt have come to the Phoenix Sanctuary to visit their son Tommy. For most people, this is a happy occasion because their loved ones are here to be suspended, preserved and eventually healed of whatever fatal condition had afflicted them. But Tommy is a prisoner, sentenced to this place where new techniques can be practiced on him. It is hard on his parents to see him this way.
“This prison brings them more income than the rest of their operations combined — it makes all that other nonsense possible. You’d think they could spend some money on the damn visiting rooms.”
A heartbreaking story of the loving ties between family members, and of mortality, postponed yet never repealed. And of hope.
“Interloper” by Ian McHugh
Barnstable’s Traveling Mutant Freak Show and Circus on tour through postholocaust Australia. But the show is actually a front and Barnes and his troupe are really government agents in a war against the Interlopers that break through the Veil between ours and some other world. It seems that some individuals are candidates who draw the Interlopers, who use them as hosts, and the troupe’s mission is to identify and remove these candidates before it’s too late.
Once one Interloper got loose and started sending its human victims out to expand its foothold and enslave more pawns, it paved the way for others to follow. Then the only way to stop it was to nuke every person in range.
The story is about the members of the troupe, humans born and made and remade as superhumans and nonhumans made for the purpose of confronting the Interlopers. They make up a convincing freakshow, but they have true human needs and ties to others. Sometimes those ties supersede even their mission, when someone’s child turns out to be a candidate.
It is a complicated scenario, and the author doesn’t spend a lot of time in explanation, with the result that readers are likely to find it confusing. At one point, the peril is said to be so dire that an entire town might be nuked to contain it, at another point, the potential for harm is almost brushed aside out of sentiment. As mere readers, we aren’t given the necessary information to judge who is right.
“Ashes on the Water” by Gwendolyn Clare
The drought in the Punjab is so bad that when Priya dies, her sister Riti has to save up her personal water ration to wash the body. Riti feels she owes her still more: to send her ashes to the water, to the sea. But the river is inaccessible now, protected behind razor wire, and Riti’s family is no help. She will have to take Priya to the ocean by herself.
They talked about keeping the ashes, or maybe scattering them on the wind. That river took our ancestors’ ashes for centuries, until the government tightened the water regulations, and now no one knew what to do. I spoke up when Father suggested we bury the urn; I couldn’t bear the thought of Priya eternally trapped in a jar under the ground, unable to find her way back to the sea.
I have to say that my own sympathies are with the Water Commission, protecting the valuable water of the rivers from pollution by discarded corpses. Of course Riti does not mean to pollute; her motives are good, and this is essentially a Lesson story about conservation. But it only takes the good motives of millions to do irreparable harm when everyone thinks their own case should be an exception.
Clarkesworld #50, November 2010
Issue 50. Although this is not the strongest issue, this ezine has pretty consistently published fine work, even while evolving. I hope this continues after the departure of Sean Wallace as editor. I also hope for better copyediting.
“On the Banks of the River Lex” by N K Jemisin
Humanity is gone, and the immortals have no one left to worship them. Death, like many others, has incarnated in human form to fill the emptiness in the world.
He was not like many of his fellows, who were confined to the places where they had been conceived and nurtured. Where there was life, there was death, and where there was death, was his domain. He was one of the few who could, if he wished, travel the whole world. It was good to be Death.
Still, an eternity without purpose is wearying. There is still death, of course; plants and animals die. But only sentient creatures know Death.
This would be a nice but not entirely original little story, but the prose raises it a level above that. With respect to the title, I suspect that the author means something else than I mean by “Lex,” but I know not what.
“Seeing” by Genevieve Valentine
Earth is dying for unclear reasons that seem to be cosmological. There is something about a war, but it doesn’t seem to be That Sort of war. Among more serious and deadly problems, the atmospheric interference is so strong that stars and other objects in space always appear distorted. Only numbers reveal what is actually there.
Numbers are universal, Marika gets it. You have to rely on mathematics if you’re going to get anywhere, because the universe conspires against you the moment you lift your face to the sky in some warm place on a windy plain, the atmosphere sluicing across the nightscape, your meager vision blurred by tears.
Marika is a refugee who got lucky. When the numbers reveal the possibility that Gliese 581-d might be habitable, Marika is recruited [she is a liability but no one else seems to want to go, other than Konstantinova] to be one of the three-person crew sent to check the place out. Marika wants to go for unclear reasons, but it may be for the opportunity to see the undistorted stars.
This is a very fragmented narrative. It flashes back and forth from the middle, to the beginning, to the end, while leaving the reasons for just about everything unclear. Some of this doesn’t really matter to the story; some of it does. There is a lot of different stuff going on.
It is essentially the story of Marika, traumatized by the uncertainty of her refugee childhood. She fixates on an incident when an old man watches a star [which seems to be quite clearly visible] set on the ocean’s horizon and follows it down. Although Marika claims she doesn’t know the reason he did this, she seems determined to emulate his suicide; she yearns for an ocean world. People think Marika is weird.
Then there is the issue of Seeing, which goes beyond the matter of atmospheric distortion to the fundamental epistemological problem of perception: that we can not know the world as it is. “You can’t trust your eyes. You can’t trust your instruments. You can’t trust a thing, from the ground.” Except that the scientists do trust their instruments, they trust their numbers; they go into space trusting in these numbers. It’s not clear [I keep saying this] how much this distrust is peculiar to Marika, reflecting her fundamental distrust of the world.
Then there is the spaceship, about which the author fails to convince me on many points. That such a vessel [fueled by gasoline?] could not only reach the orbit of a distant world but also land [in water] and take off again to reach escape velocity. A vessel that also has a deck on which a person can stand in the open?
This piece is a mix of the poetic, the psychological, the philosophical, the astrophysical and the sciencefictional, tossed into a narrative blender. Without the lid on.
Shimmer #12, October 2010
There used to be more of these little small-press zines with a literary sensibility. The stories here are generally quite short, with a prevailing aura of strangeness. The theme of this issue is love.
“The Mike and Carly Story, Without the Gossip” by Peter M Ball
Mike’s love for Carly is unrequited, and this doesn’t change when Mike’s werewolf gene kicks in. But she’s not above wanting Mike to bite Oscar Delluna when he kisses her on a bet to make twenty bucks. The realistic narrative voice makes this one special.
“You wanted me to bite him,” Mike says. “Before, when you came over, that’s what you were going to ask me.”
“Yeah,” Carly says. “I guess.”
“I will, you know,” Mike says. “If you still want me to.”
“No,” Carly says. “It’s okay.”
“Seek Him i’the’Other Place Yourself” by Josh Storey
Parallel stories of lost love. In the mundane world, a professor’s lover was killed in a car wreck. In the fairy world, the bard Arturo’s satyr lover was chosen by the queen to pay the Tithe to Hell. In the mundane world, the professor’s class discusses the cowardice of Orpheus, who returned alone to the world when his Eurydice was pulled back to Hell. In the fairy world, Arturo has a Plan. Because if you can’t bring your lover out of Hell, you can be with him there.
You’re startled, of course, to see your face on another, but it’s our energies that draw us together. We’re brothers of a sort; you and I. We resonate.
It’s a sort of a stroboscopic experience reading this one, that flips back and forth not only in character point of view but also among all three narrative persons. Interesting, but also rather distracting from the emotional impact of the story.
“Near the Flame” by Erin Cashier
As a girl, Nygibe is recruited by the Women of Agawa and renamed Nygawa because of her skill in shaping the smoke from burning sweetgrass. The Women serve the Queen, but when she dies, her son becomes King and wants to use the power of the Women to wage war.
How can any army fight another army made of smoke? They can’t. The smoke seeps into houses and chokes people in they sleep. It covers valleys and makes brother fight against brother in the dim. Nygawa’s stories of the past come down to walk among them, and now they are real, real enough to slice a man upon they blade.
A straightforward plot with the real interest coming from the fresh narrative voice.
“Red and Grandma Inside the Wolf” by Carmen Lau
A really odd version, with every element of the original altered. The wolf wants to experience pregnancy, so Red and Grandma crawl inside [“I promise I won’t chew.”] where they find it very nice and snug. They anticipate being transformed, in a way, into wolf as they are digested; they listen to the lullabies he sings them.
Quiet staccato whimpers and full-bodied howls, the vibration of his cries traveled down to us, surrounded us, so that we were charged with it and howled ourselves.
A lot of strangeness in a very few words. Too subversive to be sentimental, despite the lullabies. “Weird” could describe it as well.
“An Organization Man in the Time Long After Legends” by Jen Volant
John Smith is an aging agent for a monster-hunting Organization whose agents may all be called some version of John. The Organization isn’t happy with John’s performance and has sent a younger man, Johann, to assist/replace him. But the monster they are hunting this time is different, it looks human, and John begins to think that it may be his own actions and that of the Organization that have leached all the color out of the world and turned it hopeless and gray.
This one is weird, with the Organization’s agents armed with icky scarves that feel like “wet, sliding viscera stretched over the grainy, thick weave of a canvas … greasy sharkskin texture, the slick, flesh-like flap that bent back on itself.” The whole scene is dim and obscure so that it isn’t possible to see clearly what the creatures they hunt are, or what harm they are supposed to be doing, or if the grin on a carnivore’s face is joyful or deadly. This is the only piece in the issue with no kind of love story, although we’re not sure what will happen between John and the monster, later.
“Crepuscular” by Ben Francisco
Jessica and her lover Roger break up when he builds a French snowman in the yard and she proposes getting out the hair dryer to melt it. Jessica’s idea of magic is a spreadsheet. But after Roger is gone, Jessica becomes fond of Monsieur Frosty and even takes up smoking to keep him company. [M Frosty “doesn’t like American cigarettes but finds Parliament Lights to be passable.”] She decides to try to win Roger back with a scheme to bring back fireflies from South America, because Frosty wants to see them and he’ll melt before they have hatched at home.
The tone is lightly surreal, but the story is sad, all about ephemeral things like snowmen and fireflies and love.
“You Had Me at Rarrrgg” by Nicky Drayden
Zombies. All Steve can say now is “Rarrrgg,” but he loves Dr. Armstrong.
There’s so much I want to tell her, and I can’t help wondering if things were different, if my skin wasn’t the color of week-old fish, if my body parts didn’t slough off whenever they pleased, if I didn’t feast on the brains of dead tabbies … could she love me?
Gross humor with an actual touch of poignancy.
“No Place Like Home, or Building the Yellow Brick Road” by Krista Hoeppner Leahy
An Oz story. There are four witches and a fairy queen. The fairy queen wants to build a road to unite the land against the witches, so she transforms her wand into a tin man to go forth and mark the road. But one of the witches enchants the tin man, now called Phil, and steals his heart. Yet every night the sea calls to him, pulling on him like a tide to finish his task and return to the queen, and Molly the witch has difficulty keeping him from rusting from the corrosion of the sea water. This is a story of love and illusions. Both Molly and the queen claim Phil’s love, but he knows they both have the deceptive power of enchantment.
This is the most straightforward love story here, and nicely done.
But the fountain had survived the witches’ attack, and as he creaked closer, he saw his Molly, his heart, curled inside the basin in a shallow pool of oil, her face haloed by moonlight. Fair, perfect, serene except for the tears feathering down her cheeks as she slept. He wanted to brush her tears away, but his arms were rusted solid.
“Five Letters from New Laverne” by Monica Byrne
Jerome is making a visit of inspection to a minor colony moon, a sort of monastery whose residents all bear stigmata; blood flows from their wounds. His letters to his lover Hiro reveal a strange attraction to the place, ending with his longing to return home. But the colonists can see what Jerome can not: his own wounds, his pain.
Miguel turned to me at just the moment I halted, and I halted because a terrible fear had come over me, a nameless apprehension that became all the more terrible for its senselessness. Miguel did not look alarmed. Instead, his face was filled with compassion, as if he knew exactly what I felt.
A moving story of love and loss.