Rich Horton reviews Short Fiction

Lightspeed 8/17, 9/17 8/17
Apex 7/17
Interzone 7-8/17
McSweeney’s #49

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyThere’s a good set of stories in the August Lightspeed. Ashok Banker‘s “Tongue” is an uncomfortable and rather over-the-top satire on the horrors of a traditional Indian mar­riage, set on an asteroid. The over-the-top elements are part and parcel of satire, though I also thought the portrayal of Indian culture seemed a wincing cliché, as did the corporate menace target; still, it shocks and scares. Christopher East‘s “An Inflexible Truth” is set in a near future in which the twin menaces of climate change and fake news have further poisoned our environments (physical and mental). Roland Zhang works for the Neutral News Institute, which attempts to disseminate actual news. He’s on a tour of the “citywreck” of Las Vegas, ostensibly as a tourist but actually following a fellow journalist he greatly admired, who was lost in Vegas. Zhang finds something he doesn’t expect, that challenges his ideals. “The Shining Hills” by Susan Palwick is a moving story of a teenaged girl who wants to escape our world via a rumored portal, and of the cop who tries to talk her out of it, pointing out that even if the portal is real, nobody knows what it’s like on the other side, and it could be pretty awful. But people usually are that desperate to get away for a reason – and the story turns effectively on the cop’s personal reasons for his efforts. “Ink” by Bruce McAllister is a subtly realized tale of a boy with hemophilia who collects stamps, and, while living in Italy, asks for old stamps from an old lady – and the letters she finds bring up memories of her past, and of her husband and son, lost during the War.

Ugo was the name of the old woman’s son in McAllister’s “Ink”, so I was amused to find that the September issue of Lightspeed features “Ugo“, a really nice story by Italian writer Giovanni de Feo. Cynthia is an English girl who wants to be a figure skating star. From early in her life she occasionally encounters a strange boy named Ugo, who claims to know their common future. Eventually he tells her that he experiences “Leaps” through time, when his older self goes into a sort of fugue and travels into his younger mind. The story follows their life, and their love affair, and careers – with the question always as to how it will end, for Ugo’s knowledge of the future only goes so far. There’s an obvious hint of The Time Traveler’s Wife here, but with a somewhat darker tint – and with an ambiguous ending twist. This is a very effective, moving, and thoughtful piece.

A new Greg Egan piece is always worth your time. In for August he offers “Uncanny Valley“. This is the story of Adam, who, we soon gather, is a recreated version of a famous writer, based on memory uploads and the like. Adam faces opposition from his original’s family, and from the law, which doesn’t recognize his personhood, but the emotional center of the story concerns his realization that he isn’t his original – and why – as well as his encounter with his original’s husband’s family in El Salvador.

Apex in July features another new Rich Larson story, “L’Appel du Vide“, a solid thriller in which Pau, who is working on a promising proj­ect for Ceylan Industries, is kidnapped – even though his brain is locked down in a way that nothing can be extracted from it. He eventually learns who his kidnapper is, which leads to the rather wrenching motive, predictably closely tied to the nature of the research project. By this time experienced readers can more or less plot the rest of the story – but that doesn’t matter all that much, as Larson, if indeed working familiar territory, handles things very well. There is also a very intriguing piece from Eric Schwitzgebel, “The Turing Machines of Babel“, which actualizes a notion that should have been obvious to me, a software engineer – that the Library of Babel can be seen as the substrate for a Turing Machine, if you allow for a read/write function – which Schwitzgebel presents as, of all things, rabbits. The story follows the life of a man who becomes obsessed with one rabbit, and then with the true structure of the universe, which leads eventually to a philosophically… interesting… conclusion.

Andy Dudak offers “Cryptic Female Choice” in the July August Interzone, which has an intriguing central idea – women can be altered so that they can shuffle together, more or less intentionally, genetic contributions from multiple men before fertilizing an ovum and bearing a child. This is controversial, to say the least, and the story fol­lows one such woman, a fighter for the process, on the run after a new political/religious order has mostly outlawed it. There’s desperation, and mystical near-transcendence. An involving look at a neat idea, it’s its own story, and strong, though it’s one of those ideas that seems to demand further investigation from different direction.

McSweeney’s #49, Cover Stories, features stories based on other stories. The most SFnal of the batch is “One Hour, Every Seven Years” by Alice Sola Kim, based on Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” (a personal favorite of mine). In Kim’s ver­sion, the narrator is Margot, the girl locked in the closet during the one day of sunshine of Venus. The story is opened up, and we learn about Margot’s parents. Her father, a terraforming expert whose failure on Venus changes their family’s future, and her mother, end up taking her to Mars, where she, among other things, is able to time travel back to her formative Venusian day and try to fix her life, which means we get a really effective mix-up of a bunch of cool SF ideas with a well-depicted family with issues. I liked it a lot.

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis, MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the October 2017 issue of Locus.

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