Reading some of the strange stuff that people send me. As often is the case these days, the best stories come from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
Interzone #243, Nov-Dec 2012
A variety of imaginative futures, near and far. No overt fantasy this time.
“Moon Drome” by Jon Wallace
Fear racing, space-Roman style. After the alien fleet called the Fear withdraws to the Black Tortoise.
Black Tortoise was the site of the Moon Drome. At first people thought the chariot races would have to be cancelled. Then some bright spark realised the presence of the Fear might actually sell more tickets. Now we run the same course as ever, around Black Tortoise’s two large moons, Bacos and Libor. And every turn we make around the inner moon, Bacos, the Fear come out to play. They kill at least half the racers every time.
Since the racers are slaves, the deaths are only part of the entertainment. Scorp is a Fear racing champion, due to be freed after his next win, but he suspects that his master is betting against him.
Recreating the decadence of the Roman Games, the author isn’t subtle about it. But there’s too much background missing. We don’t know anything about the aliens called the Fear, who they are, what their motives are, and this proves significant in the end, even though the significance is lost to readers.
“The Flower of Shazui” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu
In urbanizing China, the nameless narrator is hiding out in Shazui after stealing a valuable prototype from the electronics factory where he worked. He had an accomplice, who agreed to help him to pay for the education of his child. “For the Chinese, what reason could be more compelling than ‘for my child’?” But in Shazui, he falls in love with a prostitute named Snow Lotus, who fears that her husband and pimp won’t want his unborn child.
A depressing tale of a society unmoored from its values. While there are science-fictional elements present, this is definitely a story of China today.
“The Philosophy of Ships” by Caroline M Yoachim
Life among the posthumans. Kaimu loves Michelle, but she doesn’t accept the way he’s attached to his organics, his physical body. So much of it has been replaced over the centuries.
“If you have a ship,” he says, “and you replace it, one board at a time, and all the while it sails – is it still the same ship?”
Michelle thinks the question is meaningless, as bodies are, but to Kaimu, it’s not. They are too different. It’s not going to work out. Then, while skiing, Kaimu strikes a primitive Earther, and Michelle, a surgeon, tries to save her.
The philosophical question here is that of identity. The story is both thought-provoking and poignant.
“Lady Dragon and the Netsuke Carver” by Priya Sharma
In a future when the Japanese Empire rules the world, Chiyuko is a Samurai, otherwise Lady Dragon, powerful and ruthless.
I’d planned their dispatch, along with their spouses and progeny. I wanted Lady Dragon to be fabled. For the fear to breed. Samurai might not ride into battle anymore but we still wielded our power like a knife.
Lady Dragon worships Death, but she has found a new lover who offers life.
A highly mannered piece of palace intrigue. The imagery is finely done, the psychology rather simple.
“Mirrorblink” by Jason Sanford
Information entities operate like viruses – spreading themselves across the universe. The consequence is madness, the result of too much knowledge. The only cure for the madness is to burn it away. But in an attempt to prevent its spread to Earth, the planet has been shifted away from its sun and reduced to a subsistence state in which towns are constantly vigilant against ideas. Yet the madness infects them nonetheless, and the entities known as Observers then cauterize them with plasma strikes. Through this world, the girl named Ein is on her pilgrimage to record whatever there is to record, but eventually knowledge catches her.
Thought-provoking, a hellish sort of dystopia with strong biblical overtones as well as more modern informational concepts such as DNA. It’s impossible not to hear, “In the beginning was the Word,” as well as the myth of the Tree of Knowledge: Knowledge as Sin. Which is all very well, but what’s not clear is the madness. That is, what knowledge is madness, and what distinguishes it, if anything, from benign knowledge. In other words, what’s mad about it? Sanford describes Ein’s encounter:
Madness jumped between the sun’s remaining planets. It pulsed between the remnants of space ships and cities, moons and comets. The madness was alive. It was sentient. It caressed the dots and blips of its information into Ein, tasting her. Forcing her to consume it. Filling her mind and soul with truths which should only be whispered in solitude and forgotten in crowds.
But really, that’s not good enough. Readers want to know more.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #107-#109, November 2012
A three-Thursday month. # 107 show us individuals withstanding evil, #108 flirts with magic, #109 visits places wondrous strange.
“After Compline, Silence Falls” by M Bennardo
About a century ago, strange events occur at a Trappist abbey in Canada where the harsh abbot, Dom Cristophe, keeps the brothers on short rations and punishes the entire community for the infractions of one – often the nameless narrator, who was once caught with a handful of barley from the brewhouse.
It is hard to plumb his mind when he always keeps his own counsel—he seems only to know how to reprove, not to guide or mediate, and I would wish for another brother to be chosen abbot if it were my place to have an opinion about the matter.
But the real trouble begins when a former brother is found starving at the gate and taken in to be fed as an act of charity.
A bare sketch of the plot would make this one seem like so many other horror-in-the- monastery tales. But at its heart it’s a story of what it means to live in a community of brothers. The convincing setting is enhanced by its strong connections to actual history. I’m seeing good things from this author here and there; this is one of them.
“They Make of You a Monster” by Damien Walters Grintalis
In a kingdom where people are sometimes born with magic, an Evile King has taken the throne and forbidden all magic that isn’t perverted to serve him. Anyone detected in using it, such as Isabel, is arrested and tortured until she agrees to submit to the king’s will.
Dull and unoriginal, tedious scene after scene of torture, crude moral absolutes.
“Liaisons Galantes: A Scientific Romance” by David D Levine
An interesting fantasy version of fin de siècle France, where lovers have gallantry creatures representing the other. Zéphine envies the well-matched galanteries of happy lovers.
Her own last romantic liaison had produced an ill-starred pair of galanteries—her galanterie for her beau had been sleek and black with pointed ears like a fox, while his for her was a mangy gray thing resembling a cross between a wildcat and a basset hound. Upon meeting, the two galanteries had circled each other warily before merging into an awkward, lopsided creature that seemed ill at ease with itself. Perhaps it should not have been a surprise when the relationship ended after only four months.
But when she and Henri fall in love, while the situation does wonders for her career as a playwright, no galanteries for each other seem to materialize.
Quite charming. The galanteries are a happy creation, very French, as is the solution.
“Seeking the Great Raymundo” by Jamie Lackey
Felicity is tired of being the drunken magician’s assistant.
I wanted the tux, the hat, and the wand.
I wanted to cry. I was tired of being a joke.
“You mustn’t do magic,” Freddy slurred, his hand still heavy on my shoulder. “Women are assistants. It’s the way things are. You know that.”
But Felicity knows that she can have what she wants if she can gain the support of the Great Raymundo, who, although long deceased, has incorporated his essence into a magical tome. She goes to seek it out, but the Great One seeks her out, instead.
A fairly predictable conclusion and lesson.
“The Telling” by Gregory Norman Bossert
The Lord has died. There are rituals that must be observed. One of them – the bees must be told of his passing by the youngest boy in the household, lest they swarm and fly away. This, the butler decrees, must be Mel.
The hive was on a wide stone plinth set in a hollow in the rock; it was a great skep, an overturned basket fully twice Mel’s height, straw loops whipped with briarwood and bramble and plastered with ochre dung. A dark round entrance gaped at the bottom, bees clustered there like yellowed teeth. Ralph’s father, or perhaps his grandfather, had added frames to simplify the wax harvest, and the straw had been replaced over the years, but Mel thought the hive itself was as old as the flint, as old as the House itself.
But the bees don’t seem satisfied, and neither is Mel.
Myth seeps through the seams of this tale. Readers will recognize Mel’s tie to the bees, the heart of the estate, “since these hills first rose from the sea”, and apian metaphors abound. But other secrets need to be answered. Why does Mel sometimes appear to be a boy and sometimes a girl? Who were Mel’s parents, and what is Mel’s place on the estate? The telling is rewarding.
“The Scorn of the Peregrinator” by John E O Stevens
Kes lives in a village that has migrated to a sun-blasted waste where the people can live relatively free of oppression by the Kings. But a messenger of the Kings has now found them with an edict of conscription. The Peregrinator has powerful magics that strike down resistance.
He ruffled his cloak and a flurry of feathers burst from it, flying towards them. The feathers cut them like blades, slicing through tunics and tahori to rip open arms and legs and cheeks, and the screaming of eagles came from their mouths, and they clawed at their wounds and tore them open further in agony.
The setting is the wonder here, a place that isn’t our own world, with people who might be more bird than human – although probably not quite either. The center of the world is the Furnace, as they call their sun, both curse and blessing. This is a strong, original vision, although perhaps a bit overwrought in places.
Tor.com, November 2012
A couple of original, singular stories, one from a new author.
“How to Make a Triffid” by Kelly Lagor
Joe and Andy are a mutually dysfunctional pair, formerly friends, now resentfully codependent. Joe is the better scientist, but he’s dropped out of the academic world to pursue an independent project in honor of his late father: creating a functional triffid. However, he still needs Andy’s access to lab materials, which leads to a breakdown in their relationship.
“Do you really expect to get this job without my help, Andy? Do you really expect to get any job? You and I both know you don’t have the head for this sort of thing, so if you want to stand a chance, you’d better stop pretending to ignore me and give me what I want.”
Promising work from this first-time author. The author makes good use of the science in the story and effectively shows the deterioration in both the relationship and the scientist’s mind.
“Heads Will Roll” by Trish McBride
In a world where fantasy creatures are forced to do battle for bloodthirsty crowds, Lena and her unicorn partner Steve are gladiators for freedom.
Unicorns have been regarded as symbols of purity, innocence, and good for so long that it’s hard to shake it from your mind. As I pulled Steve in front of the judge, those were the words that came to mind. Steve is eighteen hands of purity, just not the kind they’re thinking of. Justice can be pure, too.
Lena makes an entertainingly smartass narrator, but this doesn’t make up for the relentless self-righteousness in this YA piece.
Journal of Unlikely Entomology 4, November 2012
The bugzine begins its second year not auspiciously. There are five short pieces, of which four are original. The Bennardo is entertaining, the other three are unoriginal bug-monster horror.
“The Famous Fabre Fly Caper” by M Bennardo
A pair of French tree frogs – Claud and Denis – attempt a raid on the naturalist Fabre’s large stash of flies. All does not go according to plan. A charming narrative voice makes this froggish tale, in which the flies don’t play a central role.
After all, it is not merely a matter of the difference in species that the name of Claud the tree frog is not often mentioned in the company of others such as James Moriarty, A.J. Raffles, or Arsene Lupin. The truth is that it is difficult to imagine any of those great criminals allowing one of their projects to be engulfed by such a whirlwind of chaos as that in which Claud and Denis were soon to find themselves.
“The Candy Aisle” by Joanne Merriam
In a world under siege by mosquitoes, Harriet meets an old acquaintance and an old trauma. The mosquitoes are incidental.
“In Your Own Backyard” by Michael D Winkle
A strange insectoid thing kills Wendell’s dog, then comes through the pet door for him. Monster horror mixed with yardwork.
“Invasives” by Sunny Moraine
Cassie isn’t enthralled with her experience of off-world camping. There are all those caterpillar things in the trees.
“I just… there’s a lot of them, and I don’t like them, is all. The butterflies were nice, but these are…” She trails off, knowing she won’t be able to get it into words. The fat, gray, jelly-like ugliness of them. Their bristling fur. The way they seem to be making a sound that hovers just outside the edges of what she can hear.
More monster horror.
Stupefying Stories 2.1, November 2012
There really is a Stupefying Stories! The publisher insists that it’s an anthology series, with this edition edited by M David Blake, but it looks to me more like an irregular periodical. The title and cover yell PULP! There are fifteen mostly shortish stories divided evenly into five sections subtitled: Beauty & Loss, Lore and Speculation, Folk and Superstition, Loss and Beauty, Angels & Demons. Whereby readers might suppose correctly that these are generally fantasy. There are some promising stories here, but they don’t always deliver. The Tobler and Young pieces do.
“Queen of Sheba” by Samuel M Johnston
A fresh look at an old legend. Bakaril’s mother succumbed to the lechery of the South Wind while she was in the womb, yet she became a wise ruler. When she came on a visit of state to the kingdom of Solomon, she was first impressed by his wisdom but later came to see his weakness, and the flaw in the seal that held the demons he believed himself to control.
The sealmaker’s artifice had made the arms appear rigid as rods of iron, but they twisted and yielded like the sash of silk that encircled her waist. Whether through Solomon’s oversight, or some intrigue of his God, the demons he held were not truly bound by this imperfect seal, and their influence would slowly diffuse, almost imperceptibly, so that any who would make use of demons might be misled, and similarly seek to constrain them within imperfections, and thus be undone.
There’s an ambiguity in the conclusion, a sort of teaser that the author declines to illuminate. Thus, despite the freshness of the scenario and description, there’s a lack of closure that disappoints, the sort of ending that causes readers to scroll down the page, saying “Well? Well?”
“Wednesday’s Child” by Damien Walters Grintalis
In a classical setting, a woman performs a rite of grief. I like the use of myth and its symbols here, but the initial scenes are misleading in way that gives the reader false information, not just ambiguous direction.
“Snatching Baby Delilah” by Daniel Travis Bow
Mark is a Coin Mage who has stopped with baby Delilah at a mall fountain when a woman throws a bag full of live coins into the deadly chlorinated water.
Like sinking candles he saw them, guttering out, dying before his eyes. He dashed his free hand into the water to save one, but its light winked out before he could get it off the hard marble.
Too late, he realizes that this has been a distraction while the woman stole the baby.
Nicely twisting plot here, and the Coin Mage, the live coins, is a neat invention.
“Nonsense 101” by Gary Cuba
Upon arrival at college, Sam heads for the irregular class, which “Professor Johnny” declares “we will explore how you can change from undifferentiated blobs of protoplasm into thinking human beings.” What the course ought to be called, of course, is “Bullshit”. Which is what euphemistically calling it “Nonsense” would seem to be. This exercise in subversion resides at the intersection of the scientific and the magical, but it’s essentially absurdity, in the mode of silliness.
“Lucky” by Bill Ferris
When Alan mentions that he’s seen more than one case of people losing an eye recently, a guy in the bar insists this is a manifestation of bad luck that could be contagious. “Think of luck as a form of magnetism. It pulls you toward a certain outcome based on the positive or negative charge of certain particles.” Alan, it seems, is a powerful negative luck attractor.
More absurdity science, this time more interesting and more genuinely funny.
“The Ants Go Marching” by Sarah Pinsker
Moving to San Antonio, Kay discovers her backyard infested with fire ants. She and her brother play inside, inventing the game of looking for a secret portal in the back of the closet, which is fun until Kent disappears and is replaced by ants.
A weird dark fantasy that works out in a kind of surreal way.
“Lover’s Knot” by Ada Milenkovic Brown
A country pre-nuptial test. If Jake and Jillian can find the Lover’s Knot pattern square in Granny Gloryday’s quilt, their love will be certified as true. But this search becomes quite a quest.
What’s neat here is the use of the quilt patterns as milestones in the couple’s lives.
Jillian laughed. “Why I know it sure. A lover’s knot is X’s, like kisses I send you in a note. X’s twisted in the middle like lovers’ arms a’twined, linked together like sweethearts dancing. X’s with hearts in the spaces in between.”
What’s not so neat is the frequent hokeyness of the prose and the overuse of alliteration.
“Girl Without a Name” by Courtney Valdes
The girl who has forgotten her name lives with her five identical sisters in an idyllic palace, but she begins to realize it is all an illusion.
When she entered the dining room, the nameless girl felt that something was off. She took a seat in front of a bowl of hot porridge. It was lovely to look at, decorated with pink and blue berries, but the smell was wrong. It smelled sour.
There’s a strong fairytale tone here, but the situation, once revealed, turns rather contrived and almost science-fictional, as the setting resembles a dome on Mars, although that doesn’t actually seem to be the case.
“Toilet Gnomes at War” by Beth Cato
Grandma was hurt in an accident so she can’t take care of the house, and now her toilet gnomes are seriously acting up. If PJ doesn’t figure out what they want, they’re going to tear down Grandma’s house.
The reverberations were so bad that the empty mug on the bathroom sink almost vibrated itself onto the floor. I had to drop my purse and make a quick dive to catch the cup in time. It was one of Grandma’s old favorite coffee mugs, too, the interior perfectly stained in brown.
“Moondust” by Elizabeth Berger
Moondust. Luna’s primary export, albeit illicit. Pilots can’t function without it, as the narrator has learned.
Little cakes like pats of butter. Smooth and white. Tastes like chalk. Or like light. Moondust tastes like light traveling through your brain. You can measure time in light-years. Distances are nothing when you’re eating moondust.
Not much actual story here, once you’ve got the premise. Could arguably be called SF.
“Citizen Astronauts” by Holliann R Kim
Josie learns from the TV that her husband Danny has just blasted off to Europa. Which is to say, his consciousness has, downloaded into a robot; his body is down the street in an irreversible coma. He has also signed away most of their property to pay for his adventure. Josie is pissed.
She felt like both a widow and a cast-aside wife. Had she been so boring to him, her nose always in a book rather than following him around on his crazy adventures, that he didn’t feel like he had to tell her before leaving forever?
Definitely SF, but with a retro setting that seems to be the early 1960s, as evidenced by Josie ironing her husband’s shirts and wearing a neatly-pressed sundress of her own. There is also the then-familiar theme of overpopulation, with the government promoting this space project to mulch the excess. The plot holds out promise of vengeance, but alas, delivers it not.
“Heartbreath” by E Catherine Tobler
Beings alien to each other: the human invaders and Rozan’s people, whose memory lies in their flesh – the memory of his dead mate, cut apart by the invaders.
But she was here in his palm, and there in the layers of his legs, in the chambers of his torso, and strangely against his mouth, the fragrant sheaf of her hair, and the glimmer of her eyes so like the glimmer upon the sky.
Now a female invader lies injured, and Rozan captures her, but the female has a device that speaks in his people’s own voice, and this intrigues him. And her flesh that holds no memories, and her breath visible in the cold.
Remarkable creation of an alien way of thought, memory, perception. An unflinching look at the cruelty of mutual incomprehension and empathy arising in places most unlikely. The ending is devastating.
“Revolver” by Clarence Young
In the reincarnation processing station. The human seems to have missed his briefing.
“You’re here to be returned to a specific moment in the nowhen. Standard procedure allows for personal choice as to form, but undue delay in decision-making imposes upon me the function of arbiter. You’ll be deposited, and accumulate enough functional experiences to warrant being eventually returned here for re-use.”
This one begins on a light note but rapidly plunges into stygian shades. The processor tells the soul that heaven isn’t an operative concept in this situation, but he didn’t say anything about hell. Harrowing.
“Office Demons” by Christie Yant
Claudia is too busy with her upcoming and about-to-be-missed deadlines to worry too much about the newborn demon that just materialized on her desk. Besides, it’s kind of cute. At first.
The infant demon rolled over for the first time and squealed with delight at its own progress. Claudia found herself smiling at its accomplishment, and even cooing a little.
A kind of clever way of putting it.
“Number Station” by Alex Shvartsman
Jack is looking for a story at an old Soviet-era KGB number station, still broadcasting its coded messages. Except the code isn’t the usual one.
“In 1944 Joseph Stalin struck a bargain with Hell to defeat the Germans, but even he balked at the price. This machine was built to continuously transmit the chants that keep the demons at bay. It breaks spells down into pure numbers and transmits them over the airwaves. Unlike living monks, it never makes mistakes or grows tired. But it has to be attended, because if it ever stops transmitting, there’ll be Hell to pay. Literally.”
A very neat premise, but the author throws it away on a cheap joke.
Unidentified Funny Objects, edited by Alex Shvartsman
Speaking of jokes…. I knew that this anthology of 28 original humorous stories [plus a reprint from Mike Resnick] would be a hard sell in my case. I tend to think a lot of SFnal humor is heavy, silly, or unfunny. And there’s the very subjective nature of humor, which inexplicably works for one person and falls flat for another. So I figured that if I got through the whole book, then less cranky persons might find it enjoyable.
Well, I did finish the whole thing. And, OK, some of the stories are funny. They aren’t all silly. I chuckled more than once. And most of them are a good length to hold a complete story. This is a substantial volume, over 300 pp., and 28 stories is a lot of jokes. I wouldn’t advise reading the whole lot of them all the way through. But what to say about the individual stories without revealing the punchline, besides, “this was funny”? So here’s a brief example of the funniness of each, which probably says more about the humor than commentary. My own favorites are the pieces by Tidhar, Liu, Lee, Kurland, and Belilkovsky.
“Timber!” by Scott Almes
Treants are wondrous creatures, but they, too, have to eat. People have witnessed treants devour sheep like peanuts. In Buklivia, a forest of treants ate so many sheep everyone had to wear clothes made out of wheat for a decade. Nowadays, shepherds put up scarecrows with axes in their hands.
“The Alien Invasion as Seen in the Twitter Stream of @Dweebless” by Jake Kerr
Tim Becker @dweebless
@minnyjotg I’m getting those tweets, too. It must be a viral ad campaign for a movie called Alien Overlords or something. It’s everywhere.
“Dreaming Harry” by Stephanie Burgis
“You’re the one who left that Lovecraft book where he could find it.” Elizabeth buried her face in her pillow and squeezed her eyes shut. “You deal with the results.”
“Fight Finale From the Near Future!” by James Beamon
He is accompanied by a femme fatale. This is obvious. The curves in the leather catsuit make her femme. Her willingness to shoot men for looking at her ass, even though it’s deliciously on display in a catsuit, makes her fatale.
“Temporal Shimmies” by Jennifer Pelland
Her twenty-five year old self, staring in amazement as the accelerator came to life without warning and received the message: “Nadia, this is you at forty-five. Start taking belly dance now or you’ll regret it.”
“The Day They Repossessed My Zombies” by K G Jewell
I’d have preferred the breakup wasn’t written in blood on my workshop door, but you learn to expect certain things from a witch, and I had to admit the message had flair. Her words made clear that if I ever called her again, I’d be turned into a frog.
“Moon Landing” by Lavie Tidhar
The Eagle touches the lifeless surface of the moon. Buzz is the first to step out. His feet touch the lunar surface and he whoops and jumps high into the air, tumbling like a coin, and lands again. “I never thought we’d make it this far,” he says, to Neil back in the Eagle, to the millions of viewers back on Earth.
“The Last Dragon Slayer” by Chuck Rothman
Hal stood up, holding up his work. “You see this? This is a boot.” He gestured. “That is a cobbler’s bench.” He pointed at the walls. “Those are shoes. Most people might get the impression I was a cobbler.”
“The Venus of Willendorf” by Deborah Walker
“Do you have any size thirty-twos in a dark, boot-cut style?” Boot-cut style jeans were so flattering,
“Love Thy Neighbors” by Ken Liu
Oh please! Just look at the number of panda sex tapes on YouTube. What kind of environment is this for a kid growing up in the suburbs when they can’t even walk to school without seeing pandas humping?
“The Alchemist’s Children” by Nathaniel Lee
She’d snorted and left Dad to fix the coffee table. He’d put a tablecloth over it for when company came, and otherwise they just got used to the sight of their drinks and television remotes seemingly floating in midair. Jen hadn’t realized invisible tables were anything odd until she was four or five and Mom warned her not to blab about it while on a playdate at a friend’s house.
“The Fifty-One Suitors of Princess Jamatpie” by Leah Cypess
She couldn’t walk out onto her balcony in the morning without having at least three of them kneeling below it, singing love songs that didn’t rhyme. She couldn’t go for a walk without at least four of them offering to accompany her, and then dueling with each other to decide who would get the honor.
“If You Act Now” by Sergey Lukyanenko, translated by Alex Shvartsman
We have a limited quantity of these in stock and can only offer you up to a dozen units, complete with instruction manuals in all major Earth languages. If you act now and buy these ships, we will also include a portable folding hangar.
“No Silver Lining” by Zach Shepard
No one could have known the yeti was going to hit his stride at the end. I mean, who sends a yeti into the 110-meter woodland hurdles anyway?
“Go Karts of the Gods” by Michael Kurland
There is a stainless steel arch in St. Louis, Missouri, six hundred and thirty feet tall, which wasn’t there a hundred years ago. Can it be a coincidence that a line drawn perpendicular to this arch through its center will leave the Earth?
“My Kingdom For a Horse” by Stephen D Rogers
This fine steed standing before you was ridden by a little old lady. The only time she left her hovel was to attend the weekly joust. Those are the original shoes.
“Cake From Mars” by Marko Kloos
The second officer looked dumbfounded—the expression seemed to come naturally to him—at the sight of an anti-grav bed with an armed centumquinquagenarian and a barely-clothed Martian whore on it.
“An Unchanted Sword” by Jeff Stehman
“Your sword,” said Fercos, “has no name,” and he laughed harder.
“The Real Thing” by Don Sakers
The Ran’chit, three meters tall and the general shape and color of a giant cockroach, loomed over Jane with its clicking mandibles a hand-span from her face. Its breath reeked of week-old garbage and rum.
“2001 Revisited Via 1969” by Bruce Golden
“Hal, have you been interfacing with hydroponics again? . . . Answer me, Hal. Did you download the cannabis program? . . . Hal?”
“First Date” by Jamie Lackey
He picked up a crossbow bolt with a pink plastic Easter egg attached where the point should be and grinned at her. He was actually pretty cute. “Garlic bomb. Knocks a werewolf out cold. I invented it myself.”
“One-Handed Tantra” by Ferrett Steinmetz
To this day, Loefwyn wished he had never become a masturbatician.
“Of Mat and Math” by Anatoly Belilkovsky
As a mass of snow might fall off a roof, revealing chimneys and gables and tiles, he saw, in a sudden flash of insight, the shape of the universe itself. He saw the great huyak from which all started, the great unified force, mat, that ruled the infant universe, and, diffusing through infinite dimensions, spawned its finite derivatives: zaenat’, naebat’, vyebat’, raz’ebat’, proebat’, pereebat’, and pod’ebat’.
“All I Want for Christmas” by Siobhan Gallagher
“Santa,” she said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, “did you get me a katana, like it says on my list?”
“The Velveteen Golem” by David Sklar
A golem on a rampage is a terrifying sight. Have you ever seen it? It is terrible, I tell you. For starters, he hopped on the cake and he got frosting all over the tablecloth.
“The Working Stiff” by Matt Mikalatos
Other vampires build up a pile of treasure over the centuries, surviving off the interest. Money drips through my fingers like water. They live in castles, I live in a cargo van with a coffin in the back, because I can’t afford a hearse.
“Worm’s Eye View” by Jody Lynn Nye
“Mr. Tiedler, you want me to investigate the murder of Professor Omar Derbayi with that thing swimming around in my peritoneum?”
“The Secret Life of Sleeping Beauty” by Charity Tahmaseb
My aunt’s gifts have a way of backfiring. Last year, she gave me an elixir that makes your lips red like cherries and your cheeks glow like apples. I refused it, but my cousins guzzled it down. At that evening’s ball, fruit flies swarmed around them the entire time.