Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-November

A miscellaneous column this time, with a number of smaller and less-regular publications, one being the debut issue of a new e-magazine, Uncanny.

 

Publications Reviewed

 

Uncanny Magazine #1, November/December 2014

Lynne M Thomas was previously editor of Apex Magazine. Now she and Michael Damian Thomas have started their own bimonthly ezine. The intended subject matter is described broadly as “fantastic”, which means that readers will have to wait and see what a typical story mix will turn out to be; this one is broadly fantastic/SF.

Reviewing a debut issue is always problematic. Often, the editors make an effort to compile the strongest opening possible, putting heavy hitters into the initial lineup. Then quality can fall off in later issues. Other new zines begin weakly, then gather strength with experience. Here we find six stories with a pretty strong author lineup, although a couple are quite short. It’s a debut that will probably have readers tuning in for the next issue.

“If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley

This one is based on historical fact. Jungleland was a real animal park in the earlier years of Hollywood, where animals used in films and, later, TV were kept. The place was quite an attraction in its day, but the story is set in its fading years. A journalist is assigned to cover the place, reconceived as a retirement home, and interview its principal inhabitant, Leo the MGM lion – the Forever Roar. There has been a persistent rumor of a long-ago affair with Garbo, but Leo’s not talking.

Today, the lion was feeling his age. He’d been famous too long. He hadn’t been to Manhattan in years and Hollywood, formerly his stomping ground, was less friendly to lions than it had been. Animal shows were waning and the only place the lion truly felt himself these days was Vegas, where he strolled between the tables, pinching and purring, performing occasionally. Even Vegas was less than heaven for lions, and the new acts had his kind performing like trained bears. Leo had no desire to dance. He was the Forever Roar, not a meow sideshow.

The story reminds me of the Duncan/Klages collaboration “Wakulla Springs”, both being actual locations associated with Hollywood films, both faded, and also involving talking animals. But what was there an ambiguous hint is here the story’s center, creating a setting of absurdity that’s played for poignancy and nostalgia, not laughs. Although there’s a neat final, positive moment, the overall tone is depressing, combining the natural and inevitable aging of a population [including humans] seeing their careers turned to dust, becoming obsolete and forgotten, with the callous treatment of animals by the film and other industries. The author has married the Leo story with the historical figure of the big cat tamer Mabel Stark, which is the reference of the trendy title. Not sure how well that works, but it provides additional perspective on the Leo story.

“Presence” by Ken Liu

A son has immigrated to America, leaving behind his mother, who didn’t want to go with him to a foreign place. Now she has had a stroke, is dying, and he pays for a caretaker and the use of a telepresence robot.

These robots are built for the guilty, for those too far away and with too many excuses. Despite your awareness of the illusory nature of your presence, of the lie technology helps you to tell yourself, you do feel better.

A confession of guilt. I think there are many of us that it will touch deeply, with self-recognition.

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane” by Max Gladstone

Supervillains have a hard time at work: “Why shouldn’t we win once in a while?” Doc Sinister learns the reason why. Because it’s only a game. “And when our thing turns real, it turns ugly.”

Which is why I don’t usually care for superhero stories. They’re not real. They’re contrived, set up. I prefer real, even when the game is cleverly done, as it is here.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” by Amelia Beamer

Time travel paradoxes. Celia finds the plans for a time machine on a page in one of her late grandfather’s old galoshes.

Nobody would believe me, but the page I found is part of a novel. The novel is about me, Celia, going back in time to save my Grandpa’s novel. I can tell it’s his because it has my real name, Celia, and a bunch of math. I seem to only have part of the equation. But I get chills when I read it. I want to know how the story ends. Also, the science fair is less than two weeks away.

A comedy of recursive errors ensues.

It would be unproductive to debate whether this piece, with its adolescent-girl narrator, should be considered YA or faux-YA. Essentially, it’s an amusing time travel tale in which poor grandpa is the one caught in the loop.

“Migration” by Kat Howard

A fascinating premise: a world in which the dead are reincarnated, being carried to their resurrection by a flock of birds. But the narrator wants out of the cycle.

In every life I can remember, which is not all of them, not any more, I have longed to fly. To feel the air slide through my feathers, to cast myself away from earth, from everything that binds me here.

I still want to fly. I no longer wish to land.

For this, she [?] needs a phoenix to carry her soul to death, but her request has been rejected. On the other hand, we have Lara, a phoenix reborn as human after her last trip to death, becoming weary of her existence. In the ashes of her last fire is the egg holding her soul, but there is a crack in its shell.

With such very neat idea, I’m sorry that the conclusion came as so very predictable, when I had been hoping for something rare and profound. It’s also not at all clear why the phoenix is reborn in a human woman’s form and how she takes the form of a bird when required. But the quality of the prose keeps the story from being a real disappointment. “Tiny feathers of flame sparked through the air in her wake, burning to ash before reaching the ground.”

“The Boy Who Grew Up” by Christopher Barzak

Peter Pan. Not the Disney version, but the one in Kensington Gardens, now grown older, perhaps because the narrator Colin is a teenaged boy full of rage since his mother deserted the family after calling him a “poof”.

This one definitely is YA, complete with concluding lesson-learned. I like the many references to J M Barrie’s original work, the first in which the Peter Pan character appeared, as a very young child who, like all children, was once a bird. The current story makes some references to this.

“I know what it means to want to go home,” said Peter. “I flew out of my mother’s window when I was seven days old and when I tried to go back she’d already had another child.”

However, this is essentially Colin’s story, not Peter’s, and it seems that Peter is really only there to serve as Colin’s guide into adult responsibility, which is disappointing because Colin’s character isn’t particularly well developed. In a way, this is a retelling of the story of Maimie Mannering, from Barrie’s original.

 

Interzone, November/December 2014

Seven shorter stories, mostly science fiction of some sort, which I’m glad to see.

“Must Supply Own Work Boots” by Malcolm Devlin

Work boot and exoskeleton rigs, which cost a lot more. Trip used to work on the docks, but he’s washed up now at thirty-one, with his old Mark III augmentation implants. No work now for Mark IIIs, except at the junkyard, and Trip is too proud to consider work at the junkyard. His idea is to upgrade to Mark IV, but he’s still in debt from his previous implant surgery. He needs work. He has a child now, and he can’t let his wife keep supporting both of them.

Depressing science-fictional social commentary. Trip is a skilled and willing worker trapped in a system of debt slavery in which labor is disposable. The author doesn’t dwell on it, but we know the outcome already; Trip will surrender pride to necessity, and in all likelihood, his child will become a cog in the same system, because that’s what the world comes to.

“Bullman and the Wiredling Mutha” by R M Graves

Gang warfare in a post-apocalypse world in which degraded humanity is almost superseded by the creations of the wireworms, of whom we know little. Normally peaceful Bullman is a genetic construct, but he is capable of being sent into a Rage.

Sex-Murda-Gang in Camden Town need Bullman fight Westminster. Westminster taken by Da Muthas. They take many place, but not take Camden Town from Sex-Murda-Gang. Bullman love Sex-Murda-Gang. Love bony McDonna with the big-belly more.

Pretty fragmentary, affording a glimpse into this unhappy future and one of its denizens, but little more.

“The Calling of Night’s Ocean” by Thana Niveau

Tripping with dolphins. A researcher in 1969 attempts to communicate with a particularly receptive cetacean, but is frustrated by her inability to perceive the images she is convinced the dolphin is sending. Ill-advisedly, she agrees to share injections of LSD with the dolphin, who suffers from a bad and revealing trip.

It is too much devastation to imagine, too much agony to contain. My mind and all my senses ache with the knowledge. I was never meant to see this. All I ever wanted was to swim and splash and sing and dive in and out of the sky. But everything is different now that I know, now that I see.

Somehow the worst truth of all is this: you were never my friend.

This one makes of the dolphin a creature more of the human anthropomorphic imagination than nature.

“Finding Waltzer-Three” by Tim Major

Waltzer-Three is a derelict spacecraft found drifting by the protagonists. Against all orders, advice and pleas from her crewmember husband, Meryl bops over there to explore. At which point, readers will be flashing to every horror B-movie ever made, where the audience always cries out, “No, don’t open that door!”

“Oubliette” by E Catherine Tobler

This one is obscure, and I’ll admit I may not be parsing it. It seems there was once a great space station that suffered a catastrophic event, and a woman [female alien?] died there, becoming mummified in the ruined depths. She seems to remain also as a ghost. Much later, the remains of the station have been revived and repurposed, travelers coming and going, servitors catering to them. A young boy exploring the ruins has found the remains of the woman . . . maybe.

. . . perhaps what he saw was not a body at all. Perhaps it was only the old station ruins, bent into a manner that suggested woman, mother, lady. Stair steps of lichen covered with dust made her skirts and clouds of sulfur made her hair.

He treats her either as a secret or a tourist attraction, which is contradictory. A human woman comes to the station and engages the attention of the ghost; later she seeks out the mummified corpse, if that’s what it is. Also there are apparently aliens, or ghosts of them.

The problem with a piece this obscure is that it’s hard to tell what makes sense and what doesn’t. Why, for example, does a young boy contemplate selling the vast field of metallic ruin in the station’s lower levels – a task that would surely take heavy machinery – as if no one else had ever noticed its existence; yet the text claims that metal is in short supply on the station. Is this just not-making-sense? Generally, this seems to be a story of loss, but the unclarity of the story minimizes its emotional impact.

“Mind the Gap” by Jennifer Dormand-Fish

When a blind person gains sight, their brain has no idea how to sort the jumble of visual information. Their depth perception is off, they have no hand-eye coordination, the world looks like a cubist painting, just blocks of color and texture representing reality.

So it is with the AI called Sparky by its teacher, Jo. Moving from self-awareness to the awareness of humanity and its fatal flaws.

A story about emotional attachment in artificial minds, bridging the differences with the human. A certain tone of poignancy in the conclusion – based in part on fatalism.

“Monoculture” by Tom Greene

It seems there was a worldwide epidemic that killed almost all humanity except for a few survivors with a natural immunity, including one man who happened to be running a clone experiment. Now almost all humanity consists of these clones, plus a very small number of randoms [politely, predemic people], who are subject to discrimination by the dominants. Wendy and Carlos are members of a small, isolated community of randoms, the last survivors. When they find themselves alone, they make their way to what is now civilization, which considers them feral. But a trendy group among the clones finds some art projects that Carlos has done, and he becomes a fad.

The story considers the interaction between the randoms and the clones, whom the randoms call “Daves” after their original. The arrival of Wendy and Carlos offers a new perspective.

I greeted the older man, and also the artist and his wife. I always forget how short most predemics are, JoeJohn being the exception. I put their coats in the bedroom and then led the four
of them into the living room. When we stepped in, conversations died away.

It’s clear that some of the clones mean well to the predemic humans, but these seem to be in a minority, albeit an influential one. The degree of prejudice among the general population seems strong. We can only wonder what it will be if Wendy and Carlos are able, with the aid of advanced medicine, to have immune children, to bring up a new generation of a population that might complete with the clones.

The story takes a fresh look at cloning and post-apocalypse. I do wonder about the virus not dying out after decades. What population reservoir was it inhabiting?

 

Shimmer, November 2014

A powerful issue with four stories this time, all with accompanying author interviews. A theme of ghosts and hauntings.

“A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E Harrow

Isa is a strong woman – strong of body, of will, and strong in her love for her family. This doesn’t change once she is killed by the blast furnace, doing war work.

All ghosts operate under the same set of laws: They have a short time to exist, a voice that can’t be heard, and an uncompromising terminus. Much the same as the living. But laws last precisely as long as people follow them, and not a second longer. Every now and then, out of desperation or desire or pure mule-headedness, somebody stops following them. So Isa Bell didn’t go down into the clay and minerals beneath her feet. She became a steel mill.

Isa acts to save her children, particularly her eldest daughter, who has taken her place at the mill to provide for her younger sister, to keep them together. I’m not quite sure how this plays out; while it takes her daughter out of the mill, it would seem to leave them vulnerable to eviction from worker housing.

This is a ghost story and a love story. Isa wants to embrace her children, but she’s seen how everything she touches turns to rot. While she hovers around the house, the closeness of death makes them shiver. Also strong here is the prose, with moments of real poignancy.

–RECOMMENDED

“Caretaker” by Carlie St George

The narrator used to read the story of the catcher in the rye and imagine this would be a good job to have, saving children before they could fall into the abyss. The job that does come [mysteriously] to him is a less pleasant one, burying the bodies of suicides before anyone can find them and suffer distress.

It doesn’t matter. A bathtub might be painted in blood, a razor in the sink, an apology upon the glass—but if there’s no body, then no one’s dead, not for sure, not for forever. There is always
room to hope, for those who are left behind. This is what you can do for them. This is what you can do for the world.

A very short, rather obscure piece. I imagine that the narrator’s mother committed suicide, given her description as a sort of living ghost. The other suicides all seem to be girls, though this isn’t explicit. There’s also a metaphorical description of the stars as dead, as ghosts; it seems the narrator lives entirely in a world of death.

“Cantor’s Dragon” by Craig DeLancey

Based on the life of the mathematician Georg Cantor, whose groundbreaking work in set theory and infinite sets in particular was dismissed by unenlightened colleagues, which exacerbated his tendency to depression, as did the death of his youngest son. Here we find him entering a sanitarium after a breakdown in, I believe, 1903. There, he enters into a dialogue with a dragon in his wall on such subjects as infinity, God, and the soul, as the dragon tries to mire him in despair. Cantor’s victory over it in logical argument is seen as a victory over his depression.

This is a work that can be seen as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on whether we view the dragon as a fantastic presence akin to the Tempter or a figment of Cantor’s troubled mind. The story itself is ambiguous on this point, but I prefer the science-fictional interpretation, because it seems to rest more fully on an understanding of Cantor’s concept of infinities. It’s sadly ironic that one objection made against his theory was that it challenged the unique infinity of God, because the story illustrates how important faith was in Cantor’s life.

Cantor fought his tears with all his strength. He did not want to weep in front of the boy and betray his failing hope. He managed to say, “Our bodies must die. But our minds, our minds can
touch the infinite.”

A moving story, perhaps more optimistic than reality deserves, as readers familiar with Cantor’s life will know that he returned again to depression and died apparently in its hold.

–RECOMMENDED

“The One They Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval

Kayla was abducted by the fairies but at last released back to the mundane world, where she is having a difficult adjustment. But she fears they aren’t done with her, that they want her back. She keeps finding ads on Craigslist and the newspaper classifieds:

Faerie Queen, saw you in Cal Anderson Park by the tennis courts. You wore a dress of hummingbird feathers and a crown of tiny stars. I asked for a light. I should have asked for more. Coffee?

I like the way the poeticized language supposedly proper to fairyland crops up in otherwise mundane circumstances.

 

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, December 2014

A particularly accessible issue, with five stories, all but one involving corpses and murder and mayhem.

“You Don’t Even Have a Rabbit” by Jessy Randall

A lighthearted work, segregated from the grue of the rest of the issue by an insulating barrier of verse. Our protagonist Gilder is a video re-editor who discovers that she can manipulate the software to make unplanned changes in a recording. It seems, in fact, that her edits are retroactive; when she remakes “Hake and Hurk” with an unhappy ending, no one remembers it the original way. Then she gets dumped by her boyfriend and finds a more personal use for her newfound ability.

“Never Eat Crow” by Goldie Goldbloom

Soile is a feral woman who works in summer cleaning houses on a Finnish island, augmenting her scant pay with theft. In the isolation of winter, she returns, scavenging, preying, above all surviving.

She falls in love with fat. One bite and she knows if it will be worth her while to digest. Sweet sweet fat, shining and soft and slippery, bubbles of winter joy.

I classify this one as nonfantastic horror, but the story is primarily a character study, one that it’s hard to parse. Is Soile a psychopath, as her deeds might suggest? Or is she a predator, much as a wolverine is? We might think of her as a throwback, reverted to a more fundamental level of humanity outside the influence of civilization. Except – not quite. Humans are social animals, and Soile is fundamentally isolated. She was, we learn, was sold as a young child into circumstances that the story does not reveal, except that from time to time she exhibits signs of having been educated, as opposed to native intelligence. So how did she come to be what she now is? What happened in those missing years between her infancy and her current adulthood [although her actual age isn’t clear, the narrative tells us she’s much younger than the thirty-some she appears]? We can only wonder.

“Skull and Hyssop” by Kathleen Jennings

A fantasy world in which airships carry cargo across oceans and weatherfinders assist in the navigation. Captain Moon of the Hyssop could use a weatherfinder on his upcoming voyage, although in fact he’s in the habit of cutting corners, particularly when it comes to the ownership of his vessel, which he has painted to conceal its original name and appearance. He encounters a young woman wearing a weatherfinder’s blue jacket, but she maintains it belongs to her brother, who disappeared on a ship called The Ravens. When she stows away on Moon’s ship, he insists she play the role of weatherfinder to placate his demanding passenger, whom Ivana [not her real name] considers unsavory.

“He’s got chemicals – things in his blood that embalmers use, and anesthetists. Not a sudden concentration, but little pieces, all the way through, as if he uses them all the time. Drugs that must alter the way he moves and sleeps and thinks.”

Tension builds and secrets unravel, revealing sordid and murderous practices.

Good worldbuilding. The weatherfinder’s fantastic powers are the primary interest here, although Ivana’s powers are something else again. As she always maintains, it was her brother who was the real weatherfinder. I do wonder why Moon is called to the sea, when airships should be able to travel overland just as well.

“The Curator” by Owen King

Unhappy revolutions are all alike, or so it would seem. D was supposed to work at the Occult Museum until it was burned during the uprising, but with the influence of her lover, an officer in the revolution, she managed to find another job next door to an embassy that soon became a center for torture and execution of the new regime’s enemies.

From a rear door of the embassy emerged a massive, shirtless man, a man of the revolutionary brigade by the red uniform pants that he wore. Over his shoulder he toted a body-shaped object inside a canvas bag. It was early evening, light enough to discern stains on the canvas of the bag.

As the situation deteriorates, we get successful flashbacks of D’s beloved older brother, dead at age fourteen from a fever that turns out to be related to certain nasty habits of his. And when D tells her lover that neither of them will be going to heaven, this turns out to be a likely prediction, at least in her own case; her lover appears to show repentance, or at least self-preservation. The point apparently being that some people are naturally prone to evil and flourish in certain political circumstances that call out the worst in them.

Despite the references to the occult, there are no real fantastic elements here, with the possible exception of the final scene. I rather preferred it as a case of political fiction, in which the setting is realistically portrayed in sinister tones. I’m not quite sure, however, about the case of Miss Cavendish, until it is simply showing us D’s final step over the edge.

“The Necromancer of Lynka” by Sarah Micklem

After brutality of the previous two works, this one comes as a lighter change of pace, despite the corpses and ghosts strewn about the place, being a fantasy of manners. We have another young woman placed out in service, Ferle, who discovers as the necromancer’s housemaid that she can see and speak to the shades of the dead.

Another child might have deduced all this ages ago, but then most children pay more attention to their elders than Ferle, and learn a thing or two while they are growing up.

But her grandmother Liadel, whose shade is inexplicably present in the necromancer’s house, is determined to give her guidance and good advice, beginning with the admonition never to admit what she sees and hears. But Ferle is too greatly tempted when she begins to understand that the pronouncements of the animated corpses, the necromancer’s stock in trade, are contradicted vehemently by their hovering shades. Between the corpse, its shade, and her grandmother’s, Ferle becomes mightily confused. And the necromancer, in the meanwhile, hasn’t a clue.

A nicely lighthearted fantasy, a narrative with some wit.

 

Lightspeed, November 2014

A further installment in Hughes’ Erm Kaslo serial, and some other fiction, of which I prefer the SFnal Newitz.

“Drones Don’t Kill People” by Annalee Newitz

Near the end of the twenty-first century, the narrator is part of a team of military drones designed for surveillance and assassination. After carrying out an ordered killing of a family suspected of anti-government activity in Turkey, the drones discover a bug in their programming, which is supposed to erase all records after the data has been uploaded to the military cloud; the assassination is always retained somewhere in obscure corners of their memory. At first, the drones only want to fix the bug when they log on to a web forum dedicated to individuals who want to modify their own drones. But it’s known to the operators that some drones are modifying themselves and becoming autonomous. And once our team has rebooted with new decision-making software, they adopt ethical principles. But they are still owned and controlled by human organizations, who lack them.

Our choices were limited. If we didn’t carry out the assassination, our covers would surely be blown. The admins could install software that would wipe our minds, or they could take us apart piece-by-piece. Sure, we had backups in the cloud, but they didn’t mean much if there were no drones to run them. Still, there was no scenario where assassinating the politician was a prosocial choice.

It’s getting to the point when I see some actual science fiction, I want to say, “Yes!” just because. Happily, this piece is worthy. While the basic premise isn’t so original, it’s well-executed with credible details. I like the notion of the drones going from state-of-the-art to obsolete, sold to the Russian mafia for cheap. The title refers to the pro-gun slogan, which the drones repurpose for their own situation. If humans want to kill each other, they’ll have to do it themselves.

“What Glistens Back” by Sunny Moraine

This one starts out promisingly science-fictional, as Sean’s one-person lander breaks up and leaves him in freefall to the target planet’s surface. Alas, it immediately turns into a relationship story – in fact, a romance – as we find Sean’s husband the comm officer onboard the mothership, leading to a lot of flashback’s on Sean’s part, recalling how Eric came on the mission with him out of love. At the very end, we see that something very neat might be happening, but we don’t get to see what it is, only how it affects the relationship. Even if readers are more interested in relationships than science fiction, it fails to satisfy, taking place so much in flashbacks and not the story-present. It also serves as an illustration of the reason real space programs aren’t likely to place spouses on the same crew.

“A Flock of Grief” by Kat Howard

Another take from this author associating birds with death. Here, they are birds of grief, that appear to those who mourn and perch on their shoulder until the time of grief has passed. But at least among Sibila’s wealthy set, it isn’t appropriate to carry one’s own grief in public.

And there is no choice, not once the birds are there. One cannot mourn, unless there is a bird, and once the bird has chosen a mourner, one has no alternative but to either accept the burden, or to hire a Mourner to do so instead. Personal feelings play no role. Such a thing would be flashy, inappropriate. Vulgar.

Sibila’s bird has appeared at her unloved husband’s death, but she feels no grief, only release from an unwanted burden. When she hires her Mourner and transfers her bird to the girl, her grief is not truly named. This, perhaps, is the source of the problem. At any rate, the streets suddenly fill with birds of grief, crowded into the trees, griefs that ought to have long since dissipated. Now Sibila begins to feel, not grief but guilt.

This is a neat premise, but I’m not sure it works. Why can one not mourn, not feel grief, without a bird? And why does a bird appear to Sibila when she feels no grief? Do the birds have a central registry that reads the obituary column? Surely Sibila can’t be the first person to whom a bird comes falsely, who transfers her bird falsely. Why hasn’t the system broken before?

 

Strange Horizons, November 2014

Including a bonus story from the fundraiser.

“That’s Entertainment” by Meda Kahn

A New York story, set in a near future when policy towards “undesirables and crazies” is in flux. Gilly Caplan, manifesting behavior that struck the authorities as mentally unfit, is placed in a group home where she often entertains the staff in exchange for tips, Gilly believing that she shouldn’t give something for nothing.

Was she joking? She came out of the womb, and people laughed. Two-year-old Gilly built a tower of blocks and said it was a dinosaur fortress, and people laughed. Twenty-year-old Gilly built a tower of Legos and said it was a dinosaur fortress, and people laughed—awkwardly, the sound stifled behind their hands. Was she joking? She didn’t know anymore.

What she does know is that the videos of her performances have gone viral and there must be an opportunity in that. So she takes it.

An insightful piece, in the sense that readers should get insights from reading it into their own attitudes, into what it normal and what is funny – and not.

“A Moon for the Unborn” by Indrapramit Das

Vir and Teresa were part of a colony on Akir’s World, where all five of the settler’s children died at birth. Afterwards, the spectres of the five children, halfway grown, are seen walking through the colony – a mystery that no one can solve. The parents are traumatized, even after they return to Earth. Vir sometimes imagines he can still see them at night.

I like to imagine that the children we saw on Akir’s World were something like these phantoms conjured by the shimmer of electromagnetic radiation and projected thought on my curtains. But back then it was the ripple of alien gravities, of light and dark matter across what we’ve named reality, that made them appear to us when Akir rose on the horizon and painted the windows with its light, while below us its world turned through the inhuman dream of its long night.

A story of trauma and secrets, and how sharing them can bring a couple back together. Of course it might not. Vir and Teresa should consider themselves fortunate that they were able to say the right thing at the right moment, that the other was willing at that moment to accept it. There’s no guarantee in such circumstances. Other couples might have been torn apart permanently by the same sort of disclosures, but we don’t know about them; this is only the story of Vir and Teresa.

“Once, Upon a Lime” by E Catherine Tobler

A twist on the classic fairy tale of the princess and the frog. So charming that I quite forgive the pun.

“She Commands Me and I Obey” by Ann Leckie

Politics and intrigue. In a future where the goddess She-Who-Sprang-From-The-Lily is workshipped, the station Noage Itray is one of four parts of a polity ruled by Tetrarchs on a Council of Four. Every seven years, the Tetrarchy is contested on the ball court of the Blue Lily monastery [presumably as the previous winner is the home team]. Originally, the candidates themselves risked their lives on the outcome; now, it is the captain of the defeated team who is decapitated and becomes the model for a statue in the court below the stands – a form of immortality. It is time now for the contest to be held again, and the Tetrarch of Noage Itray is concerned about the new captain of the White Lily monastery’s team; he doesn’t like surprises and unknowns.

Several years ago, instead of disposing of a much younger brother, the Tetrarch sent him to the Blue Lily monastery to be raised as a Brother, in ignorance of his identity. But the Abbott, who is playing his own game, has instructed the boy in more than his brother would like him to know. In particular, he has learned that from the base of one of the statues, he can eavesdrop on the conversations in the monastery’s most secure council chamber, thus becoming privy to his brother’s secret plans, which don’t include losing the upcoming contest on the game court.

The custom is that when a novice enters the monastery, he or she takes a new name, related in some way to the goddess. Thus, the Tetrarch’s younger brother is now Her-Breath-Contains-The-Universe, and the statue at which he listens is named She-Commands-Me-And-I-Obey. I must admit that these names have caused me a lot of trouble in parsing this text. I suspect this is largely my own fault for being name-impaired, but sorting out who was who turned out to be vexingly difficult at first. Aside from this, the story is satisfyingly full of intrigue and action, as well as some theology.

White Lily scored their fifth point—Ultimately-Justice leaping a meter off the ground to slam the ball straight past Seven-Brilliant-Truths and his bewildered middle and back courts—and suddenly the Harime were on their feet and screaming. The Harime governor sat calmly, as though nothing had happened. He knew from the start, thought Her-Breath-Contains. She came and said she could win it and that’s how she got the position. He wouldn’t have had anything to lose, all the risk would have been Ultimately-Justice’s. Everyone had been so sure, but now Qefahl Brend might lose the seat on the Council of Four, and . . .

The worldbuilding [aside from the names] is well-done here, strongly detailed, and the plotting satisfactorily twisted, even with a conclusion that won’t surprise.

Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Editors can send electronic files of magazines and original anthologies to: loist a*t sff.net

For print materials, please query me by email for the address.

For an index of Magazine Issue reviews posted on Locus Online, including Lois Tilton’s, see Index to Magazine Reviews.

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