Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, early May

A mixed column this time. Catching up with the digests, the usual first-of-the-month e-zines, and a fat anthology that I didn’t like much. The Good Story award goes to the China Miéville piece in April’s Guardian.


Publications Reviewed


Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

Not in the beginning was JRR Tolkien, and following after him came a horde of imitators overrunning the genre landscape like kudzu, so that the default fantasy setting became a medievaloid secondary world populated by the stock characters of kings, elves and wizards found in gaming manuals. So there was rejoicing among readers when, in the mid-1980s, authors began to place their fantasy tales in contemporary settings, often in real and imagined cities. Thus was born Urban Fantasy, and for a while it was good.

As shared worlds were also popular at this time, it was natural that shared-world urban fantasies would come into being, and among these was Bordertown. I cannot say that it was one of my favorites. While the notion of a place where the borders between Elfland and the mundane were breached was highly promising, the YA sensibility was not to my taste – the emphasis on oh-so-sensitive runaway misfit “kids” [adult teens for the most part] – and there was just a whiff of “product” about the project and a sameness about the stories.

Time passed, and so did the popularity of this particular subgenre. The term “Urban Fantasy” became debased. So it was with great interest that I saw this revival of the original stuff, featuring some of the same and some newer authors who were fans of the original series. The author lineup in the ToC is truly stellar. It is again a YA anthology, unexpectedly, as this market segment is very active now. The premise is apt: the road to Bordertown had been inexplicably closed for years, but is now open again. Aside from a number of poems, there are thirteen original stories in almost 550 pages, which is not all the wordage that this might imply, as they are anything but crowded on the page.

Alas, my enthusiasm for this project did not survive contact with the stories. The essential problem is the YA-ness of the fiction, which too often follows the same simple, even childish pattern: Runaway comes to Bordertown and finds self-discovery. Runaway comes to Bordertown and learns a Lesson. Resolutions are almost uniformly positive. And for all the talk of “kids,” we see almost no actual children in Bordertown; for all the miscegenation going on, it’s as if the halfies emerge from the womb fully-formed and angst-ridden at age 16.

There were some stories I liked, particularly the Doctorow, Shetterly and Hopkinson, which seemed to be more stories set in Bordertown than Bordertown stories. But the longer I read, the more of a labor it became, accompanied by sighs, to push through the volume, one too-similar tale after the other. I’m not really sure who the intended reader is here. Not, judging from my own reaction, cranky old people who might be hoping for a revival of interesting, adult urban fantasy. And I have to wonder how many young readers, new to this milieu, are going to be captured by a scenario dated by a quarter-century.

“Welcome to Bordertown” by Ellen Kushner and Terri Windling

After all the buildup and anticipation, the opening piece by two of the world’s originators is a crashing disappointment. Thirteen years ago, rejected by Harvard, naive Trish ran off to Bordertown in pursuit of illusions.

“There’s a place called the Borderlands,” she’d told me, “where magic is actually real, Jimmy, and elves live alongside mortal men, and everything is beautiful. They don’t have cars and televisions, or factories and shopping malls. And no one thinks it’s weird to love old books there and to want more out of life than this.”

Now that the way is open again, her brother Jimmy, now grown up practical and grounded, is determined to go there and fetch her back home.

A wise man once wrote: “You can’t go home again.” The corollary here must be: “You can’t run away again.” The fantasy world of 1986 is just as distant from contemporary reality as Middle-Earth. What was cool then is stale and moldy now. If there isn’t a TV series today that mocks the ’80s, there probably will be tomorrow. This insight seems lost on the authors, who seem to be trying to jump-start the mummified remains of the cool-that-was instead of creating something new for readers who want more than nostalgia.

“Shannon’s Law” by Cory Doctorow

At age seventeen, Shannon Klod was the self-described [he is the narrator, after all] networking genius who brought the Internet to B-Town.

Here we have this amazing thing, this other universe sitting there, only one hairbreadth from the universe we’ve been untangling for centuries, and what do we use it for? Fashion. Music. Bohemia.

Shannon wants more. If other human kids want to soak up the glamour of Elfland, Shannon wants to subvert it. He wants to rationalize it and translate the magic into physics. And the more they tell him it’s impossible, the more he’s determined.

This is more like it, as one might expect from Doctorow. There is binary code. There is Wiki. There is coffee. There is a love story. There would be hope for this anthology if more of the tales were like it.

“A Voice Like a Hole” by Catherynne M Valente

So Fig ran away to escape her mean stepmother but she did it wrong, or so she tells us, by leaving at age fifteen. Sixteen would have been perfect, or so she tells us. When she ran out of money, she sang for it.

It’s not a perfect voice, maybe not even a pretty one. A voice like a hole. People just toppled in. I stood outside the Denny’s, and god, the first time it was so hard, it hurt so much, like a ripping and a tearing inside of me, like the hole would take me, too, my face so hot and ashamed, so afraid, still Fig the nonspeaking fairy, can’t even say hail, can’t even talk back, can’t even duck when she sees a fist coming down.

Her friend Maria tells her about Bordertown and how sparkly it is, but Fig never believes in it, or in the possibility of her getting there. She only rides the train back and forth, back and forth, because she has nowhere else to be, until the day the wreck of Maria stumbles into her car.

This is essentially a story about runaways and being on the streets, and maybe hoping there is something better. Tack on a magic ending. While the author explains the meaning of the title, it still has very unfortunate connotations.

“Incunabulum” by Emma Bull

Page [as he will call himself] gains consciousness to discover blood – not his own – on his shirt but not the reason. Or much else, not even his own name. Memoryless and lost, he stumbles uncomprehendingly through the streets where no one takes him seriously. [“He did not know what a bozo was, but by her tone, it was not much sought after.”] Eventually he learns who he was and is, and a Lesson.

If anyone was doing Urban Fantasy right, back in the day, it was Emma Bull. So I began this one with high hopes, and particularly when I saw that it was about a lost “kid” from Elfland – a point of view that is less often seen in this setting. The prose, certainly, did not disappoint, with its mixture of the elf-courtly and the wryly humorous. But when the entire setup appears to have been for the point of learning a Lesson, it does. Sigh.

“A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Peya finds a communications charm that unexpectedly lets her talk with a plaster statue of a prince in the park. Her not-sister Rabbit has prophesied that Peya will lose her virginity and fall in love in thirteen days, and she’s looking for a good prospect. This, apparently, is the statue, to which she has always been attracted. He was created by a woman who loved him, but since her death no one else has spoken to him. Peya’s proposition leaves him conflicted.

Be human? In some ways, the idea appeals to him. If he were human, he could finally have a death. But if this Peya succeeded in changing him so utterly, would he still hold a piece of his beloved?

Several threads braided together here: the statue’s yearning for his dead creator, the yearning of Peya’s mother for the lover who never came to join her in Bordertown, a boy’s yearning for the place, lately inaccessible. Peya doesn’t really seem to be yearning so much, but she gets her wish. Not everyone, however, does, which is refreshing in a way.

“The Sages of Elsewhere” by Will Shetterly

A sequel. Wolfman Ron is happily running his bookstore when he sort of accidentally acquires a valuable ancient magic tome, The Secrets of Seven Sages. Not long afterwards, a rival bookseller tries to steal it, but the book warns Ron. In revenge, the rival puts a curse on him and the store. Ron really wants to sell the book so he can buy a nice house for his wife Sparks, but the book doesn’t like the prospective buyer.

A neat story of magic with a twist. I like the way the book only speaks in quotations. While this is a tale that could only take place in a setting like Bordertown, it’s not just a story about Bordertown, which makes it more interesting. Despite being a sequel, it stands perfectly well on its own.

“Crossings” by Janni Lee Simner

Being young and foolish, best friends Miranda and Analise show up in Bordertown in search of vampires and true love. For which certain fantasy authors must be held responsible.

I was just about halfway through this volume when I said to myself, well, at least there aren’t any vampires this time. Of course the author debunks the odious romantic vampire myth instead of perpetuating it, but it makes for a predictable plot, in which the characters exchange their mundane problems for others, Miranda being also a border-crosser of another sort.

“Our Stars, Our Selves” by Tim Pratt

Allie shows up in Bordertown and proceeds to mock the local residents about being stuck in the ’80s.

“Yep, I mean nice to meet you, I’m Allie Land, lesbian future rock star for hire. But since you’re done hitting on me, maybe you can point me to The Dancing Ferret? I hear they give away free beers there.”

Of course the guy she insults is a creep, but this doesn’t make Allie much less offensive. Then she meets an astrologer who shows her a star that can grant her one wish, but this was the way the creep got into trouble, which is a Cautionary Tale. Allie may be obnoxious, but she’s quick to learn her Lesson. Sigh.

“Elf Blood” by Annette Curtis Klause

Another vampire, this one the protagonist. Lizzie is a half-blood, but not the elf kind. She was also turned against her will by a sort of vampire Fagin back in the world. Being doubly a misfit, she ended up in Bordertown, where she makes a living as a street artist and sucking blood down at the docks, yearning for love and acceptance and elf blood. But elves despise her on sight.

I don’t blame the elves a bit for despising Lizzie, and I’m quite low on sympathy for the sort of person who will betray those who befriend her. And, this being the kind of moral universe it is, she breaks the rules by failing to take responsibility for her own problem, letting someone else do the solving.

“Ours is the Prettiest” by Nalo Hopkinson

Damiana is caught between her fractious ex-lover Gladstone and Gladstone’s newest lover Beti, who claims to come from some other Realm – which Damy doesn’t believe.

That’s how it all started. Bordertown was a place of collisions that led people’s lives in new directions. For the four days before Jamboree, Gladstone wandered everywhere with Beti. The two of them were just totolbée over each other.

But Gladstone is jealous and quick to take offense, convinced that no one can really love a half-blood. Now it’s the Jamboree parade going on, and Damy has a strong sense that something bad is going to happen.

This one brings its own differently flavored magic to Bordertown – or perhaps transports Bordertown to the Caribbean, it being one of those shifty places. Damiana’s Trinidadian [?] voice gives a lot of interest to the narrative, which is centered around a Caribbean children’s nursery rhyme that hints at Beti’s true nature. Essentially, though, it’s a tale of loving what you cannot keep, which is a common Bordertown theme.

“We Do Not Come in Peace” by Christopher Barzak

Marius was a street musician in Bordertown who befriended a vulnerable newbie, Alex, whom he called Mouse. It was about that time that he began to lose his music, perhaps because he lost his self-respect taking money after a one-night-stand with one of the powerful elves.

In fact I’ve lost whatever connection I had to the music that used to simply be there, in reach, whenever I wanted, like a glass of water on a bedside table. When I reach now, I come back empty.

As Marius loses his self-confidence, Mouse’s is growing, until he is leading a revolutionary movement against the elves. This seems at one point that it might become a story about power and its effect on human relationships, but instead it is about Marius rediscovering himself.

“The Rowan Gentleman” by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Ashley is an actress working at a theatre owned by Alain, an apparently indolent elf, when a dying girl stumbles into the theatre and says something about waiting for the Rowan Gentleman. Ashley doesn’t believe there really is a Rowan Gentleman, only a legend about a man who helps people in trouble. But Alain lies to the police when they come, and then she is accosted by a thug in the alley, who seems to think she knows something she doesn’t about the girl’s death. So Ashley decides to find out, and of course everything turns out well in the end, if you don’t count the dead girl.

“A Tangle of Green Men” by Charles de Lint

After Joey Green gets out of juvie, he leaves the rez and goes to work with his uncle in the city, setting up convention halls. His only ambition is to keep his mouth shut and earn enough for a pickup, until he finds himself working Faeriecon, where he meets a guy roleplaying a Green Man and, more importantly, his daughter.

Is she flirting with me? Time to shut that down. The last thing I need is to have some nice middle-class white girl flirting with me, even if her dad does think he’s a tree.

They fall in love, marry, and live happily until Julianna has a fatal accident. Joey is determined to find her in the afterlife, and apparently the road to the afterlife is in Bordertown. But the road to Bordertown has been closed.

Just about everyone in this story seems to have some kind of spiritual gift, and they all talk about it a lot. Green Men, medicine men, women with Sight. There’s a lot more Goodness than I can easily stand. In this setup, Bordertown and its denizens don’t really seem to belong, and it feels like it was shoehorned at the end into another story where it didn’t have a place.


The Guardian, April 22 2011

This British newspaper decided to sponsor a fiction series on the theme Oil stories: “Climate change, peak oil and pollution dominate our everyday lives, but how have they affected our imagination?” China Miéville’s contribution is darkly fantastic, as readers might expect from this leading author in our field.

“Covehithe” by China Miéville

Offshore drilling and the ultimate sea change. Ex-commando Dughan decides to show his daughter the secret that had taken him away so often when she was a young child. They have to go on foot, silent by moonlight, to avoid security, because all this part of the coast is a forbidden zone. They watch from the top of an eroding cliff as a derelict drilling rig emerges from the sea.

There were no helicopters now. Nothing so noisy. No downcast beams to light up what was coming, breaking water, way off the coast. It was only moonlit. A tower. A steeple of girders. Streaming, and rising.

The author plays out the suspense. At first, it seems that some military dictatorship might have confiscated the land along the coast for sinister reasons. Then we see the animate oil rig emerge from the sea and move onto land, sinking its drill as if to feed. But its real purpose is a more wonderful one, and we realize that the evolution of the rigs has recapitulated a natural process. Dughan knows the history of the rigs, knows their names, when they sank, when they began to reemerge. What he does not say explicitly but is easy to discover, is that the rig that comes onto the beach at Covehithe has migrated all the way across the Atlantic from the Brazilian field where it went down. Aside from this unnatural wonder, the story also gives us a look at Dughan’s evolving relationship with his daughter, who begins to understand him during this expedition.



Asimov’s, June 2011

The regular issues always seem so short when they follow one of the doubles. This one features a detective story by Mary Robinette Kowal.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Murder mystery. Junior homicide detective Scott Huang arrives on the scene to investigate the murder of real estate developer Neil Patterson, while Metta, the department’s AI, nags him and keeps several steps ahead of him. This case is kind of a break for Huang.

Otherwise, he got the easy ones, the ones that Metta had already solved and all she needed was a flesh and blood officer to do the legwork. Not that anyone ever said that, but it was pretty obvious.

While Huang is in the midst of the preliminary investigation, armed intruders attack police HQ and steal the AI hardware chassis, crippling the department. While a backup AI is soon employed, most of the evidence concerning the Patterson murder has been lost, and backup-Metta relies on Huang for the missing details. But Huang is distracted because he would rather be investigating Metta Prime’s abduction.

What a good mystery usually needs is a twisty plot, and this one satisfies. Suspects, red herrings and clues abound. It is also definitely an SF mystery. The AIs are central to the story, and it’s interesting to see how the police have to cope when they can no longer depend on the AI, particularly when it seems the AI memory may have become unreliable. It seems there may be times when human thinking is necessary. Also central to the plot is the AI’s Mae West persona, but I quickly found the constant flow of Mae West jokes to be very irritating and felt that the author had taken this particular shtick too far.

“The Cold Step Beyond” by Ian R MacLeod

A far, far future fantasy. It seems that humanity [or womankind] has conquered spacetime, but the disturbance to the fabric of reality has allowed monstrous entities to cross where they do not belong. The Warrior Church was founded to eliminate these, and the woman called Bess is one of its warriors, now a creature of armor and talons and unnatural reflexes and no memory of her life before she entered the Church.

Bess seemed to slide across the placid meadow in cubes and sideways protrusions. She was there. Then she wasn’t. She was under the trees perhaps a full half second after she had first levered herself up from a squat. Three severed leaves were floating down in the wake of her sword’s last arc, and the thing crouched before her was small and bipedal.

The thing she finds seems to be a small human female, but things are not what they seem.

Despite the language of space and time, this can’t really be called science fiction. It’s as if we’ve gone past science into some otherly ordered reality, and neither Bess nor Elli are properly human, even they once were and still feel themselves to be. In all things that matter, this is a fantastic tale of self-discovery.

“All the News That’s Fit” by Carol Emshwiller

An isolated mountain village looks forward to the man who comes every couple of weeks, bringing the news. But it’s been a month now, and he hasn’t come. Is he hurt? Did the bridge collapse? Darta, an older woman, decides to go down the mountain and see for herself and maybe find the newsman, whom maybe she loves just a little bit.

No matter what they say, I do know something about news. I know the price of eggs down there isn’t important to us up here. I know scandals are interesting even when we don’t know the people involved. Murders are always good.

When she reaches the lowland town where the newsman lives, she finds everything a wonder, even when it is ordinary to the people who live there.

A fable with a lesson in perspective. Emshwiller’s stories cast a light on human reality that shines in a signature spectrum of her own.

“Walking Stick Fires” by Alan DeNiro

So it seems that Earth has been overwhelmed by aliens. Parka and Jar have stolen the Amulet of Ruby Webs from the Worm-Hares of Casino, to deliver to Santa Fey. Parka is something with talons and Jar is something with mandibles, and they ride motorcycles, but Jar never learned to do a wheelie. For some reason, insects are all over the place wherever they stop – walking sticks. A whole lot of weird stuff happening, that Parka admits he doesn’t understand.

“They’re trying to survive on this godforsaken planet we — I mean, not us personally, I mean the mining ventures — sucked dry for resource management. And for what? So we can get more fuel for our transmutators to find more planets to suck dry and destroy?”

Do you have to understand it to enjoy it? Not in this case.

“Apocalypse Daily” by Felicity Shoulders

Katrina works for Endertainment, the gaming company that produces Apocalypse Daily, and it’s on her to come up with a really spectacular apocalypse for the system’s anniversary. Her job is on the line, and the presence of her unemployed sister crashing at her place is a daily reminder. A backstabbing member of her development team comes up with a version of the game in which player betray each other for points.

The author cleverly works gaming into game theory, as both the game and job worlds work out along the lines of a Prisoners Dilemma scenario. “It’s just about survival.”

“The Fighter” by Colin P Davies

Dominick is a fighter in the Hero League, under the ring name Grizzly. He has the claws to match the name, because the League is like the Roman games, where fights can end in death. He’s on his way home after a match when he’s stopped by the highway patrol, for no reason he can tell. Something is wrong.

He did not need this! The night had been bad enough already, with Eagle taking chunks out of his arms and then the dizzying crack on his head. He just wanted to get to his white mansion on the cliff-top at Heavenly Hills.

A twist story, with the revelation not too original. Given the scenario, I’m not sure that the police would be disputing with each other as they do.


Analog, June 2011

It’s been quite some time since this zine serialized a novel, but there’s a four-parter starting now. Which, as usual, leaves much less space for short fiction, but what there is, is pretty good stuff.

“Citizen-Astronaut” by David D Levine

Newsblogger Gary Shu finds himself unexpectedly picked by the Citizen-Astronaut program and heading to Mars. The space agency has made it clear that future funding depends on the positive publicity they hope he generates. As soon as he arrives on the red planet, he discovers that there’s a lot of stuff going on that hasn’t made it into the official reports. And that he’s not allowed to put into his own reports. Like the Blue Spew from the hab’s toilet.

Dae-jung gave a little smirk and pulled a panel off of the wall, revealing a disordered nest of variously-colored wires, conduits, and pipes. It didn’t look a thing like the tidy pictures in the training manuals. “The last time we tried it, we lost power in the kitchen for half a week. Best to leave well enough alone.”

In consequence of the censorship, Gary’s reports are boring and his ratings slip. Then the meteorite strikes.

Here we have two classic Analog themes: the creative individual vs bureaucracy, and the creative individual solving a life-and-death problem. Gary Shu fits the role well; he turns out to be a competent handyman as well as a journalist – a doer, not a speecher.

“Kawataro” by Alec Nevala-Lee

The kawataro is a water demon of Japanese folklore. There is a statue of one on the road that leads to the isolated fishing village of Hana, where Hakaru has come to assist Dr Nakaya with her documentation of the deaf children’s unique sign language. Because the villagers are descendants of an outcaste group, a significant amount of congenital deafness has developed among them, and the deaf children have spontaneously developed a sign language of their own. But now the education authorities plan to merge the local school with a larger one, which threatens Nakaya’s project, as it depends on keeping the children isolated. When a school official involved in the merger is killed [by a kawataro, as readers are shown] suspicion falls on Nakaya, who is not only an outsider but, as the victim remarks, an unpleasant woman. But Hakaru learns that there are have been other, similar killings over the years. Something else is going on, something the villagers don’t want to face.

This one is a medical murder mystery, with the solution lying in the cause of the congenital deafness. The author makes a neat connection between it and the kawataro. The story begins on an ominous note:

Hakaru, uneasy, was about to continue along the road when he saw three other figures lined up nearby. At first, through the curtain of rain, he thought they were statues as well. It was only when one moved slightly that he realized he was looking at a group of three children standing about ten yards away. The oldest, a boy who seemed no more than twelve, was wearing a raincoat, once red, that had been spattered with dark mud nearly up to the sleeves.

It’s a story of secrets. The author initially sets up Nakaya as a villain, if not a murderer, when we see her lecturing the local officials on the history of their own village. But she turns out to have her own secret, which explains her zealousness.

“Take One for the Road” by Jamie Todd Rubin

Rick moves next door to Simon Hollander, the only surviving member of the Mercury landing expedition, the last manned space mission to any other world. Four went out, but only three returned, and none of them ever spoke of it. Rick respects that the old man doesn’t want to talk, until Simon learns that he will soon die of cancer. Then he asks a favor of Rick.

A story of suicide, euthanasia, and homicide, and the blurred lines that separate them. The Mercury part is something that could have taken place in many other hazardous settings, and Simon briefly mentions the use of the solar sail, but I can’t help thinking: hopping around on the surface of Mercury? I mean, isn’t there kind of a temperature problem there? I wish it had been addressed, even a sentence’s worth.

“Stone Age” by Alastair Mayer

Exploring the ruins of Delta Pavonis III, looking for pyramids. Carson has a theory about aliens that no other serious scholar credits. He finds an intact tomb that might provide proof, but a member of his team has tipped off a gang of tomb robbers, who carry everything off but the stone pyramid itself.

Kind of contrived. We can see Carson’s emotional attachment to his theory, but it’s hard to take it seriously.


Clarkesworld, May 2011

Another appearance by the prolific Cat Rambo

“Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know” by Cat Rambo

A J is a shapechanger, created in a vat by the mad scientist Dr Basil. A J’s appearance changes more or less constantly; at the moment she is mostly a human female, but she has spent the last three years hiding in the woods as a bearish creature. Now she has emerged and gone back to Dr Basil, which proves to be a mistake, as his intentions are not benevolent or honorable. In fact, I’m not sure why she did.

Not a real clear point here, except maybe for the obvious: Don’t trust mad scientists, don’t walk back into captivity. The title suggests a theme of identity, but while A J’s outward appearance alters, she seems to remain quite herself throughout the story. Nice touch with the title evoking the woods she hides in.

“The Architect of Heaven” by Jason K Chapman

Trent Bishop has built the Lunar Republic, but he discovers it all means nothing to him when Irene, the woman he loves, decides to join the coldsleep expedition to the Gliese system, to start over on the world they will call Terranova. If Irene is going, he has to go with her, or, since that is impossible, to follow after her, cutting the distance between them by making the new ship faster. He throws all his wealth into the project, and the people who are loyal to him throw all their own resources into it, for his sake.

Bishop Industries no longer existed. Trent had killed it, but it had been left to Carter to slice its carcass up and feed it to the markets. It had taken years and had nearly destroyed the Lunar Republic’s entire economy in the process. Trent himself had been too focused on Irene to notice.

This story of love and loyalty has a twist. It begins on Terranova, where we learn that the Irene skipped over the first ship in transit and was actually the first to arrive, establishing the colony that the first set of colonists will soon discover on landing. [I tend to think they might be pissed about that.]


GigaNotoSaurus, April – May 2011

I was surprised to discover that this hitherto monthly ezine posted a second story in the middle of April. I don’t know if this will become a regular practice. No one ever tells me these things.

“The Landholders No Longer Carry Swords” by Patricia Russo

The people of the village are tenant farmers who have always been at the mercy of the landholders. Now the landholders are pressuring the villagers to sell the title to their common lands. The narrator’s Younger Son-in-Law is full of terrors and rumors about the landholders. He claims they plan to steal the children; he claims they aren’t really human.

They drain the fire from their spines to heat their hundred-room homes. They suck the life from their palms to strengthen their own puny brats. They crack their bones to feed their marrow to their bedridden grandparents.” He rocks back and forth, just like a child.

This one echoes of history in many different voices, of peasants in different lands and different ages who had to face arrogant and rapacious lords. I am particularly reminded of the English Enclosure Acts. The story, however, is less about politics and history than family. The narrator is the household matriarch who never liked or respected Younger Son-in-Law; she thinks his stories are foolish. She is gradually forced to admit that he might be making some sense. We never learn the truth about the rumors that the landholders are some kind of vampires, we never learn the outcome of the imminent confrontation. But we had no reason to suppose things will turn out very well. In the histories, they usually didn’t.

“Droplag” by Angela Ambroz

An interesting contrast to the Chapman story from Clarkesworld, above. While that one was a straightforward science-fictional narrative, this is a wild fantastic journey. When her lover Asadullah is drafted, Ghada figures that time dilation will keep her from ever seeing him again, so she signs up for the Big Drop and has many adventures, meets many new people, and finally encounters Asadullah again, an old man. She also meditates on the psychological drawbacks of Droplag, which I find rather obscure.

So apart from obsessive checking of Drop probs–fifty percent, eighty percent, ten percent–a number of arbitrary magical thinking rules had sprung up as well: Three prostrations before entering any Drop, for good luck. Never, ever mention Hawking Paradoxes, or you will die.

I’m not familiar with the author’s previous stories set in this universe, but from this example it seems to be fun adventure stuff, so that the future history and the Drop technology are primarily set dressing, letting us know that things are Different, and Drop can mess with your mind. As fun adventure stuff, it fits the bill.


Apex Magazine #24, May 2011

A couple of tales about the downside of getting what you wish for.

“Twilight of the Eco-Terrorist” by Annalee Newitz

One day when making out behind the donut shop, Long vaporizes his [?] boyfriend.

I bent down to kiss his lips but they weren’t there. The air was in confusion; my body sank into his as if he had become honey, and then steam.

So he realizes he has a superpower, but he doesn’t understand how it works. In college, he majors in materials science to try to figure it out. On the side, the local eco-terrorist chapter finds his ability to vaporize cars useful, but his real goal is to reverse the vaporization of Lawrence and reconstitute him.

A crazy-neat idea without the usual superhero clichés. Also a variation on the old theme: Be careful what you wish for. There are no unequivocal gender cues for Long, the narrator, so I take my best guess.

“Recipe Collecting in the Asteroid Belt” by Jeremy R Butler

With no family history of adventure or heroism, the narrator joins the Asteroid Wrangler Corps.

Dangle Smilin’ Joe Ferese in front of a seven-year-old wired for middle management and watch a kid’s destiny implode. Smilin’ Joe was the poster boy for asteroid wrangling back at the start. They rolled him out every news show for at least a year. Smilin’ Joe sitting in his wheelchair, happy as a clam, telling stories about micrometeorite punctures, emergency decompressions, launch failures.

“Be careful what you wish for.” There turns out to be no more adventure in the wrangling business. So the Wranglers make up their own, out of local ingredients. Depressing humor.

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.

5 thoughts on “Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, early May

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  • May 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    With regards to your Bordertown review: I think perhaps the target audience of this YA anthology will be YA readers who will appreciate the YA sensibilities and YA-ness, which you seem rather biased against. Also, people who were fans of the material the first time around. I suspect that if you were looking for so-called “adult” urban fantasy, you were in the wrong place.
    I was absolutely blown away by this collection, as a fan of the old Bordertown, and as a long-time reader/reviewer of YA. The bridging of the generation gap, the blending of old and new, the mixture of original writers and newcomers, made for quite an enjoyable experience. Was it perfect? No. Was it a spectacularly delightful treat? Yes.

  • May 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Michael, you raise some interesting points.

    The nature of disappointment is that there must first be expectations. If this volume had been presented as just another YA anthology, I doubt that I would have read it. But it was presented as a revival of the good urban fantasy of 25 years ago, with many of the same authors I recall enjoying at the time. My expectations were pretty high.

    Which brings up another issue – the validity of memory. My memories of the original urban fantasy are very fond. But they are old memories. It’s been a quarter century since I read and enjoyed that stuff. Would I enjoy it as much now, reading it for the first time? And here is another aspect of disappointment: I am now wondering if those stories were really as good as I remember them. I am now wondering if they were not perhaps as lame as the ones in this anthology. Was I taken in, then, by a fictive glamour and now, with critical fairy ointment filling my eyes, seeing true? But I have lost something, reading this book. Readers who, like me, were seeking nostalgia may find themselves realizing that this is one of the homes to which we can’t return.

    Now I was aware that this was a YA work when I picked it up, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. My recent reading in this field has been all but nonexistent. I don’t think I expected stuff that was quite this simplistic and formulaic. Perhaps this is what today’s YA readers do expect. I still wonder if young readers are likely to be as impressed by pale and ethereal elves as by sparkly vampires, or whatever is popular now. Maybe it will be a case of everything old comes new again. We can only wait and see.

  • May 11, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    You’ve likely heard this before, but THANKS for doing this, Lois. It’s really helpful in terms of deciding what to read, and a pleasure to read in itself.

  • May 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    You’re quite welcome, Allan. It’s always good to know that readers exist.



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