Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyUncanny 11-12/17
Lackington’s Fall ’17
Rivet Journal Fall ’17
All Systems Red, Martha Wells (Tor.com) Sep­tember 2017.
The Martian Job, Jaine Fenn (NewCon) De­cember 2017.

 

Uncanny in November-December features a very effective story by Tina Connolly, “Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work“, about an android on a generation starship who faces a transition as they reach their destination – from a preschool teacher to a more martial role. The unvoiced questions concern what work is nec­essary – and of course identity and agency for androids. I also enjoyed Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ “How to Survive an Epic Journey“, a smart and cynical retelling of the story of the Argonauts, from the POV of Atalanta, who realizes that Jason is kind of a mess as a boyfriend, and that while Medea is kind of a mess too, she might have some redeeming qualities.

The Fall issue of the impressive small ezine Lack­ington’s is devoted to “Trades” – working people, that is. I found Kate Dollarhyde‘s “Lamplighter’s Eve” quite arresting. Biyya has chosen ordinary work instead of marriage and childbearing (which itself, it is intriguingly hinted, is something quite different among these people). While watching her niece one day, she left her with another family member, and the girl accidentally drowned. Biyya is held responsible, and (unjustly, it’s fairly clear) convicted. Her fate is affecting. Even more inter­esting, perhaps, are the lightly sketched hints of a fascinating society. I was also quite amused by “A Summary of Menistarian Law, Composed for the Citizens of Olakia, in Response to Our Present Crisis by Dr. Clemons Indement“, as received and translated by Joseph Tomaras, about the curious legal system (not to mention bribes) of the Grand Duchy of Menisteria, illustrated by several cases, including most importantly a case of domestic abuse. I said the story is amusing – and so it is – but in the end it treats important issues in a realistic (and thus dispiriting) manner.

I had not previously seen Rivet Journal, but in the Fall 2017 issue I found an intriguing piece of experimental fiction from Will Waller, “Phantom Architecture“. Don’t let “experimental” turn you off; this is a very readable piece, set in three separate periods at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco: 1882, 1972, and 2061. Each thread is presented in a sepa­rate column, but they interact effectively. The future story deals with a woman leaving her husband – and her involvement with a new sort of memory record­ing tech, and its possibilities as art, while in 1972 we see another woman, with her mother and daughter in tow, fleeing her family’s mob connections, while in 1882 a man observes the life of the hotel – which seems to involve a desperate time traveler. This time traveler – and the question of memory – connects the three threads.

I’m rather late to the party here, but I thought I should mention Martha Wells‘s All Systems Red, a ripping good novella about a security android which calls itself a murderbot, guarding a group of researchers on an alien planet. The murderbot mainly wants peace to watch its favorite TV shows, but that becomes impossible when the team comes under threat. It soon becomes clear that there is an unexpected group on the planet that doesn’t want any rivals, and the murderbot has to work with its humans to find a way to safety. That part – the plotty part – is nicely done, but the depiction of the murderbot is the story’s heart: a convincingly real person, but not a human, with emotions but not those that humans expect: very funny at times but also quite moving.

Tor.com isn’t the only source of cool novellas in slim book form – NewCon Press in the UK also has a strong novella line, exemplified here by Jaine Fenn‘s The Martian Job. At first glance this is a straightforward caper story, and a good one. Lizzie Choi, who, to her criminal mother’s distaste, has a respectable job for Everlight, one of the corporations that control the Solar System, gets a message from her brother, telling her he’s dead – and that there’s a “job” on Mars that could make her a lot of money. Lizzie, against her better instincts perhaps, decides to take some leave and do the job – and find out what really happened to her brother. This is all cool stuff, with some interesting Martian tech involved, and some twisty characters, and of course hints of corporate misbehavior. The story really opens up quite nicely – and logically – at the end, however, elevating it to something special.

Recommended Stories

“Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work”, Tina Connolly (Uncanny 11-12/17)
“Lamplighter’s Eve”, Kate Dollarhyde (Lackington’s Fall ’17)
The Martian Job, Jaine Fenn (NewCon)
“Phantom Architecture”, Will Waller (Rivet Journal Fall ’17)
All Systems Red, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)


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 February 2018 issue of Locus.Locus Magazine, Science Fiction Fantasy

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