Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-September

Still digging through September. Particularly liking the current Interzone and Strange Horizons stories.


Publications Reviewed


Interzone #248, Sep-Oct 2013

A superior issue, the best of this zine that I’ve seen in some time. Two of the pieces are science fiction, two fantasy and one weird horror, but all reward the reading in their own ways.

“Ad Astra” by Carole Johnstone

After years in the close confines of a spacecraft on the way to the edge of the solar system, a pair of human guinea pigs slowly unravels. Lena thinks that everyone, including Rick, is lying to her. This may be so; we don’t know, because we only have Lena’s point of view, and she’s not thinking clearly. Rick hears things in the walls.

“Can’t you hear it?” he screeches, but I don’t think that he’s asking me. When he pulls him­self towards the ladder, I don’t unstrap myself; I don’t try to stop him with either words or deed. A cringing, hunkered down part of me flinches as he climbs the ladder, as he opens the hatch.

This is real science fiction, cynical in tone. It could also be considered horror, for if Lena is correct, the owners of this space program have deliberately sacrificed them for the sake of supplying data, using them as “the domestiques for the true stars, the ones who might come after.” Unfortunately, not an inconceivable horror at all.

“The Hareton K-12 County School and Adult Extension” by James Van Pelt

The history of a singular institution. It may have been the hill on which it was built, but even from the beginning it had its genius loci, which might have taken the form of a rabbit, then and even now, when the school has not only become the heart of the community but a community in itself. It’s a school filled with a unique benevolence and timeless dedication to learning. Indeed, all times seem to exist somewhere in the building’s labyrinthine depths.

Still, it’s the first day of school at Hareton again. Students become unstuck from the world because the classroom is a world, a thousand tiny worlds connected by hallways. Each day in these tiny worlds behind classroom doors cre­ations take place. Edens for the innocents, where knowledge hangs unplucked.

This is an idyll. The touch of magic that hands about the place is faint but undeniable. There is no real plot, no central characters, only the building, constantly expanding with its own purpose, and the people who inhabit it for their time – of whom perhaps something always remains. The strength of the vision is such as to make readers wish it could all be true, that this is the place learning could have in the world.

“Dark Gardens” by Greg Kurzawa

Very creepy dark fantasy. A speculator buys a house where an unskilled stage magician had lived before disappearing mysteriously. Clearing out the place, Sam discovers a heap of journals and videos that reveal the weird workings of the magician’s mind, who engaged in weird contemplation of the ways of God and decided that he too could create life from mud and dust, creating a dark Eden. The tapes reveal the result: an animated manikin that he displayed on the stage in a grotesque travesty of entertainment.

They dance – or rather, Kurricke drags her across the stage. Evelyn is shockingly graceless. A spin – she stumbles. A dip – she clutches him, terrified. The spectacle goes on too long. The audience grows restless.

Finally, beneath a hatch in the floor, Sam discovers a ghastly submerged world that seems to be inhabited by a ghostly presence.

This strangely disturbing work reminds me in many ways of Kathe Koja’s The Cipher, originally and more aptly titled The Funhole. There’s more than mere insanity here, there is something that warps both mind and matter, whether or not we might call them other gods.


“In Teatro Obscuro” by Ken Altabef

In a city transformed for the worse since a long ago war, an old man lives for the past that he views through a magical pair of opera glasses. Most often, he takes in operas performed in his youth, the dilapidated old theatre restored in his sight to its original glory.

The cupola is stripped of its shimmering gilt and massive crystal chandelier, the balconies decrepit and carpeted with dust, the empty stage slanted like the prow of a sinking ship.

Alas, the building is scheduled for imminent demolition.

A heartbreaking work of fantasy that addresses the call of the lost, golden past in the human heart.

“Technarion” by Sean McMullen

In 1875, Lewis Blackburn is a promising electrical engineer hired by an eccentric entrepreneur for his “unparalleled skill in the logic of switches and relays, and a grasp of mathematics” to assist in his construction of a machine to view the future, as sort of time telescope. Kellard’s device makes him a lot of money by revealing future trends, but he is ruthless in protecting his secrets. But in fact, Kellard has stolen the secret of the device by eavesdropping on wireless communications that no one is supposed to know exist. And no one seems to be concerned that the original transmitters might also want to protect their secrets with at least as much ruthlessness as Kellard.

The opening of the story makes it clear that things at some point are going to go badly. The particular direction taken by the plot, however, is not what readers may be most likely to expect – although there are hints of what is actually going on. I’m not sure I totally appreciate this twist, or the position that Blackburn decides to take in the midst of an ethical conundrum of ends and means. Regardless, this is a strong SFnal thriller set in the milieu commonly known for steampunk.



Beneath Ceaseless Skies, September 2013

#129 explores strange lands; #130, the stronger issue, involves religious persecution.


“On the Weaponization of Flora and Fauna” by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen

The noble colonists from a country that might be taken for Portugal have settled in nicely on their distant estates in this newly-discovered part of the world, and many of them, such as Lady Calixta, have taken up naturalist studies, discovering and cataloguing the very exotic lifeforms of the region. Unfortunately, the homeland itself appears to have risen up against the king and forced him into exile among them, where he proceeds to make a nuisance of himself, levying taxes and using his basilisk to turn disfavored courtiers into stone. When one of the naturalists discovers a bird that can breathe fire, the king naturally sends him on an expedition into the outback to find more of them. Calixta joins the party, which meets with unexpected setbacks

The Duke’s fencing masters must have taught him better than they knew, for as the beast barreled towards him, he dodged aside like a bullfighter, lashing out with his sword, though the beast’s cries and exudations had already begun to corrode its metal. His sword pierced the cloud of darkness surrounding the creature before shattering, the blade shearing off halfway along its length.

A light, ironic touch in this tale of exploration in strange lands. This is not your mundane New World, not with dragons, vegetative soldiers and shifting lakes. The narrative takes a contemporary point of view, as readers will see in the title’s “weaponization”, as well as its attitudes towards class privilege.

“The Goblin King’s Concubine” by Raphael Ordoñez

Maugreth is on an expedition to find the lost princess of the house of Adul, there being a reward for her return. After a perilous journey of murder and betrayal, much of it on his part, he discovers her living comfortably in a village of the goblins, here called helborim. She agrees to be rescued but insists on bringing along her half-breed offspring.

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Minuë. “It’s true, we’re hideous to them. But to Cheirod I was a peerless prize. He brooks no dissent and consummates his every desire. Several of his wise men objected when he chose to adopt the fruit of my womb as heir. They were promptly impaled.”

A dark, cruel fantasy, where the unlucky are devoured by spiders or suffer other gruesome fates. There is a strong retro tone to the tale, as the central image is that of a naked white woman held as a sex slave by a monster – or a creature that most humans would consider a monster. But this princess is a match for human or goblin. There is also a sense here of a larger world beyond the backwater where the story finds itself, nations and races and languages yet unseen. A maugreth, for example, is a term of disgust and we don’t know why our character has chosen to call himself by such a name, although it certainly seems fitting, given his actions.


“The Black Veil” by M Bennardo

In Salem Town, Constant Skerry was once a judge who sentenced a number of accused witches to death. Now, rejected by his community, dying from a painful affliction that might be cancer or might be wounds caused by the devil, he makes his way to a cabin in the woods where a reclusive figure dwells, whose face is concealed by a black veil. Onto the Black Veil, Skerry projects his hopes, fears and doubts. Is it Christ? The Devil? One of his victims, the case whose doubts prey on his mind most strongly?

Were the Black Veil’s lips her lips—blue and bloodspecked? Was its tongue her tongue—black, swollen, and silent? Were its eyes her eyes—wormy and hollow from the
loam of the unmarked, unholy grave?

This author has dealt before with matters of faith, and this tale takes on the subject in a very direct way. The narrative voice, title, and setting strongly evoke Hawthorn [also Mrs Radcliffe, with the title]. I like the parallel between the five condemned witches and the five devils who afflict Skerry, and the way the author retains a certain amount of ambiguity to fog the situation – were the tracks on Skerry’s path the feet of the devil, or the hoofprints of a deer?


“Now Ix, He Was a Lover” by Hannah Strom-Martin

A setting that strongly evokes medieval Islamic culture, except that here the god Yah has a wife and a brother/adversary who seduced her. There are also elves, who are kept as slaves but distrusted as Accursed by believers. It seems to be a society devolving into greater intolerance and fanaticism, as Ela’s husband Feride is. More and more, he beats her for imagined sins. But as Feride is a merchant, he is often absent from home, and Ela’s sister persuades her to get back at him by making a forbidden visit to an elf massage parlor. Tragedy follows.

A story where the essence of love appears as kindness and religion as hate. The men of the city hate what they fear they cannot control, which is their women, their wives. The legends of Ix, the seducer, is always there to remind them. The story suggests that an evil force is taking over the city, a force that might be related to Ix, who was a powerful dark god as well as a lover. But the mundane reasons seem to me more compelling in this case.


Lightspeed, September 2013

This month’s SF stories are more SFnal than they often can be at this zine, and with a tone of horror besides.

“Dry Bite” by Will McIntosh

Aliens have attacked Earth, changing most of the population into stingers, who seem to be mutated zombies with quills that emit venom.

There were five of them, just standing there, looking around as if they were out admiring the view. Two were men, or had been when they were alive. One had foot-long yellow spines where his fingers and toes had been. The back of his head was a huge bald dome. The other man was stretched, maybe eight feet tall, and most of his body was covered in thorns. The three women weren’t any easier to look at. At least, thank God, none of them had wings.

At some point, the stingers have stopped attacking the remnant human population. A sort of undeclared peace sets in, and when Josephine discovers her husband and son, she starts following them, taking notes, claiming she wants to figure out what motivates the stingers. She really wants to know if her loved ones recognize her in any way, if there is anything left of their original selves. The rest of the human compound isn’t understanding of this project.

Essentially a zombie story. The real question is how much of the original personality remains in the mutated individual, thus there is little real interest in the aliens, their motives, their methods.

“The Schrödinger War” by D Thomas Minton

Military SF. A war being fought across time for the control of primordial Earth, humans battling to keep the aliens called the Eatees from eliminating the proteins that will one day evolve into life – if they win. Sam volunteered for the force after his wife died of cancer. Soldiers like him aren’t really there in the past, only their genetic templates are sent back, incarnated over and over again. But it doesn’t make any difference to the soldiers, for whom their deaths and the deaths of their buddies are very real.

As a second and third, I screwed everything and anything willing. There are probably three dozen incars making it in the bar’s backroom right now. Dying is still scary to them, and they don’t fully appreciate that they’ll be back again and again. To cope with the fear, they seek solace in the most base and carnal of human actions. It’s a way to forget, at least for a little while.

The scenario reminds me in some ways of Haldeman’s The Forever War, with the important difference that Sam is a volunteer, not a draftee. The story is not really about the war itself, but the effect of the repeated reincarnations on the subjects, how they come to cope with both their pasts and the idea of their own deaths. It’s a sort of extreme psychotherapy.

“Homecoming” by Seanan McGuire

Metaphors, symbolism, archetypes: American football. In October. At the end of October, which is a date of more significance than the mundane Homecoming game, but this is no mundane game, although the archetypes are wearing the uniforms, players and cheerleaders both.

The stadium lights flash dazzlingly on, and the sound of thunder is close behind as the crowds in the stands—who were not there a moment ago, who have always been there, who will always be there when the October lights are lit—leap to their feet, stomping and clapping and howling for the boys of fall, the heroes of the night.

The notion driving this one is quite apt and fitting. I suppose it’s one of those things that would make some readers yap about “spoilers” if I mentioned it here, but in fact, the conceit is quite obvious from the git-go. Who has not made the comparison between football players and warriors? There’s a certain readerly satisfaction in recognizing the mythology, in watching the concept develop as the story goes on. Until the author goes and names it, and then proceeds to explain it. Meh. That’s no fun. Hints are one thing, but I feel that authors ought to trust in the readers to get it, even when, sometimes, we suffer from thickness of brain. The cut-outs to the players’ point of view are likewise overly specific, as well as tearjerking. The overall tone thus becomes unfortunately didactic, rather than mythic, as this material certainly can be.

“Bellweather” by Marc Laidlaw

A Gorlen and Spar story, for readers who’ve been following this tale as it develops in different venues, in which human bard and gargoyle have unwillingly exchanged hands and are trying to reverse the curse in the usual manner of endless fantasy quests. Crossing the mountains, Gorlen falls to hypothermia but is rescued by a nomadic herder. It turns out that Chamsin was once a monk in the monastery of the bells; since he left the monastery, the abbot has considered that he owes another boy in his place. He steals the herder’s infant son, and Gorlen and Spar determine to try to retrieve him in exchange for the man’s hospitality. But the abbot’s bell magic is strong.

Finally, through shreds of mist, they saw the temple, the source of all the bells. From every tower, every wall, hung a bell—sometimes many. Large metal bells caught the sun, small bells of duller substances clacked in the mountain wind. From this distance, the monks moving along the walls were small busy figures, brightly garbed. They were playing the bells, keeping them alive, hitting the larger ones with suspended timbers, tapping the others with fine ivory wands like the one Chamsin used to play his weather bell.

What’s neat here is the setting, the mountains seemingly built up from the stone bodies of dead giants, the temple with its bell magic, the simple subsistence life of the herders. I find it a bit reminiscent of the Himalayas. The plot and its resolution may seem a bit contrived; this series runs its characters through some very odd adventures. The question that most concerns me about this story, though, is whether this particular story requires these series characters, or whether any pair of adventurers might do in their place. The answer is that it does, that the crisis could not have been resolved as it was if Gorlen did not have Spar’s quickstone hand. The “a bit contrived” part figures in at this point, but I believe the series continuity is more important here.


Strange Horizons, September 2013

Liking this month’s stories, especially the SF.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” by Ada Hoffman

Annalee’s first con. Where she discovers that Mommy has oversold the experience. Mommy thinks that people at cons will be more tolerant of Annalee’s Asperger’s, but there are too many of them, and too much noise. Annalee, however, can see things that Mommy cannot, like the girl in the Jedi costume from the mirror convention on the other side of the walls. But that convention has its own rules that must be followed. And Mommy, for some reason not clear, doesn’t seem to be able to understand that.

And maybe this was how things went in fairyland. Maybe when you went to another world to be a Jedi, you had to leave your mommy behind. Like Anakin Skywalker. He had been brave, and so would Annalee.

A fannish tale, a twist on the universal fantasy of the secret door to the other world. Who hasn’t had that dream? Who hasn’t wanted to go through? This one could have turned out very badly, but it didn’t. It isn’t, but could be children’s fiction.

“Difference of Opinion” by Meda Kahn

Officially, Keiya is a litch, the term derived from “leech”, a drain on society. But ethics demands Affirmative Action programs for Persons with Disabilities, so Keiya cleans toilets on the station. She’s been told she would make a good robot. Keiya, however, while unable to speak, is quite able to think. What she thinks about Morit, the official Quality of Life person on the station, isn’t too flattering. Morit pushes and pries.

I, too, am an unclaimed colony. Morit wants my head and nothing else.

My head for a study? My head for her to play Devil’s Advocate? My head for her to crack it open…

A character study. An unusual person, Keiya, with a life she values for its own sake, doesn’t want to change. Morit interfering, but more than that, and Keiya knowing it can’t end well, wiser than Morit the philosopher – “What a sophist, baby. You’re all talk no action.” But there’s an attraction, you see. A society that grants her minor rights but not the important ones, like the right to her own mind. Interesting stuff, realistic and insightful.


“ARIECC 1.0” by Lillian Wheeler

The acronym: Automated Road Information and Emergency Contact Computer. It monitors the highway between Ottawa and Toronto. Callers can report problems and request information. One caller is different. She calls it “Ari” and wants it to call her “Anna-Lyn”. She just wants to talk to a caring voice.

“I’m in a bad spot, Ari.”

You are currently within range of my sensors L64A and R65B. They do not detect any delay or obstruction. Please specify the type of trouble.

There was a strange sound that its recognition software could not identify. “You’re the only one who’s asked me that. What does that say about my life, eh?”

After so many stories about computers that are sentient, here’s one where it is not. ARIECC would never pass even the crude Turing test. And there’s the heartwrench. Anna-Lyn wants so much for it to be sentient that she hears statements like Have a safe trip as the wishes of a caring individual. The really interesting point is this: at the conclusion, the computer performs an action that may have readers thinking, Maybe it can feel, after all. Maybe it can care. But this is the author tempting us, knowing that the wishful thinking Anna-Lyn manifests to an extreme is present in most of us. Or maybe that we’ve read too many SF stories.



On Spec #93, Summer 2013

Eight short stories, primarily fantasy, in this issue of the little Canadian zine. I note a pattern to several of them: the narrative withholding the key bit of information until the end, although sometimes hints are given. There’s also an overall positive, optimistic tone that makes me wish for more variety.

“A Pilgrim at the Edge of the World” by Sarah Frost

We seem to be on a future Earth where other species have been evolving intelligence in the absence of humans; in this case, semi-flightless birds. Kaainka is a young male on his adulthood journey, hoping to return to take up a place in his tribe. He meets with adventure and insights, he views and honors the sacred object of his quest. Readers have an advantage over the character, because we know who built the monument, if not what exactly became of us. Nicely done, not exceedingly original.

“Feathers for Tray” by Tyrell Johnson

A dystopia where persons with deformities are sent to exile communities, in the hope they will commit suicide – in this case, by leaping from the Screaming Cliffs. We expect, having seen the scenario before, that these exiles are mutants or otherwise genetically impaired, but the narrator tells us that he was sent away after an accident in which he lost two fingers from his hand. An awfully intolerant bunch! Now a young woman arrives with no obvious, visible deformation, which the community inexplicably resents.

I have a hard time fully crediting this premise. If the population is so small as to be able to exile any member with such small imperfections to a single place [there being another colony for worse cases] they would seem to be depriving themselves of a great deal to support a nonproductive group. And there are many deformities that aren’t visually apparent, which the elders of the exile community don’t seem to grasp. In the conclusion, the SFnal premise turns abruptly to fantasy in a moment of optimism, mostly unearned.

“Unknown and Unseen” by Albert Choi

The sort of dystopia where people labor in regimented factories to meet arbitrary output quotas. Nothing original here but the manner in which the workers snatch a ray of hope.

“Aghostic” by J P Boyd

The longest work here, a meditation on faith. Wolfram Krone is a celebrated scientist, a proud rationalist who finds no place for the superstition of religion in the clear-thinking mind. To his profound shock, he is visited by a pair of aliens in robotic bodies who offer him visions of wonder.

It seemed as if his brain had been possessed by a swirl of images, sounds, even tastes, that kept churning inside him, remaking his neural pathways – and his whole way of thinking. In that state of confusion, and low resistance, he meekly agreed when they asked him to help them be baptized.

It’s a struggle with Krone to accept that by fulfilling the terms of his bargain with the aliens doesn’t imply agreeing with their belief. He still can’t help trying to talk them out of it. But when he finds a priest who agrees to consider the deed, he, too, has to struggle with misgivings.

A profoundly optimistic work, as Krone concludes that “Nothing is too wonderful to be true.” The theological discussion is of interest. The aliens less believable than the humans.

“Repair Parts” by Camille Alexa

A love story. Richard, a student despairing of meeting the right girl, finally encounters her, newly arrived in town to recover from a broken heart. Definitely needs repair parts.

Charming and heartwarming, which I would have appreciated a bit more had not just about every story here been competing to warm my own heart.

“The Ash Queen” by Leslie Brown

Revisionist fairy tale. The author isn’t excessively coy about letting us know which one. It’s the sort that inverts the point of view to invite us to sympathize with characters stamped as the villains in the original, and to question the virtue of the protagonists. The treatment of Sister Mary Luke as a nun rings true, more so than the queen.

“Meet” by L D Wilton

A man, whom we recognize as more than a mortal, is meeting someone at the train station. He waits and waits. She finally arrives, weary from her journey.

Her heavily lidded eyes seemed glued to her feet in a supreme effort to keep them finding the ground. Some of her hair was in a clumsy roll that could hardly bother to keep it constituents in line. It was long and dark but, where there may have been lustrous red highlights once, there was now just tired rust weighing it down.

This one is from myth, with the point being the identity of the two characters, which information the author withholds. As a scenario, it’s apt, but the part where we get into the argument among the gods is a bit tedious; I could have done without.

“Wizard’s Sacrifice” by Shen Braun

One of the imperial wizards comes home exhausted from the wars, with no greater thought than to see his children. Too soon, he will have to return, after replenishing his strength through sacrifice. This is another one where the author is weighting the story towards the surprise of the final twist. And another one where I find the premise dubious, wondering: where do new wizards come from? These abilities are usually regarded as inherited.


Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #29, September 2013

In contrast with the zine above with its more naively conventional stories, here we have absurdity, metafiction, and symbolism – literary stuff. But the same stricture applies, that one can have too much of even a good thing when stories start to seem all too much alike. Ten pieces here in an eyestrain-inducing miniscule font, most of them quite short, even slight. None without interest, several memorable. There is a theme of transformation.

“Smash!” by Jennifer Linnaea

Sea monsters run in Tabitha’s family, although the trait seems to have skipped her parents. But in her grandmother’s forest there are glass sea monsters to be found by those who deserve them, as Tabitha does.

It was about a hand high, blown of delicate curves of green and purple glass: its eyes flashed gold when she wasn’t quite looking.

Tabitha not only enjoys her life as a sea monster, she profits from it nicely. Too nicely, however. There seem to be rules to this kind of thing, as her daughter instinctively grasps.

An imaginative conceit with a sharp sting in its tail.

“The Groomsmen” by Sarah Blackman

A woman gives birth to seven sons. Then they have grown up, and one of them marries. An odd sort of story, in which the “about” doesn’t seem to be what matters, but rather the narrative voice. It’s the sort of piece that might almost be mundane – women do, after all, occasionally bear septuplets – except for the voice in which it’s told, which is on a decided slant.

Her sons felt to her like a reflex. Her response to them was like their response to her when she was inattentive, or blindly feeling about the darkened house at three in the morning, and held them insecurely against her breast. Her reaction to them was to yip a piercing warning cry; her reaction was to nip. In this way, warning and nipping, a large amount of time passed very quickly.

We are told some things about the woman, other things about her husband, about the clock he makes for a wedding gift for their son, about the ride to the wedding hall. Then the whole thing turns upside-down and we have to blink and look again at what we thought we had been seeing, not mundane at all. Seven sons, or seven brothers, are of course a number of significance in folklore and fairy tales, in which they often turn out to be not what they seem.

“Fairy Skulls” by Nina Allan

Vinnie’s favorite relative was her aunt Jude, who had accumulated lots of exotic stuff during her lifetime, including the gold charm bracelet with fairy skulls. When Vinnie inherits Jude’s estate, she is living with Margo, who talks her into a moldy cottage in the country, infested by fairies, or menniken, as the locals call them.

She had no intention of handling the bracelet over. It had belonged to Jude, and now it was hers. She wouldn’t give it up without a fight. Just thinking about it made her angry.

She supposed this was how the curators of the British Museum felt about the Elgin Marbles.

A struggle ensues.

The most conventionally story like of the pieces here, having characters, a plot, and a conclusion. I take the references to the Elgin Marbles as a sign that the author may not agree with Vinnie on the ownership of the relics.

“Yaga Dreams of Growing Up” by Eileen Wiedbrauk

Yaga plans to be a witch, which occupation runs in her family, mainly for the sake of retribution on her enemies, most particularly Anya the cartwright’s daughter and her friends. A slight tale of wishful thinking, and how far it can get you.

“Dietus Interruptus” by Ian Breen

Montal and his brother Rondelé live in an extraordinarily expansive house that holds all they could ever need, except Mother, after whose death the place has begun to suffer from neglect. Or perhaps a reasonable substitute for her. Among the things neglected have been the brothers’ diets, so they have taken up a scheme of disrupting each others’ meals. But everything changes once Rondelé meets Eve.

The neatest thing here is the house, which the brothers take entirely for granted. This is fun.

At home, Montal fiddled with circuit boards in the electronics lab and Rondelé floated on a raft in the pool. The night they had plans to build a clock in the short hallway leading to the skydiving chamber.

“Good Keith!” by J Brundage

The narrator has invited a couple of friends to the cinema, and they’ve asked if they can bring Keith along, as well. It turns out that Keith is a baby. It also turns out that Keith isn’t the conventional sort of baby. Neither, we gradually realize, is the narrator.

Those giraffes sure knew how to sing and fly, though I suppose it was just the title character who was capable of staying airborne for more than the typical few seconds. I used to have problems with the exact same thing – moving while hanging in the air could be tricky – but I found that good orange-leather shoes could make all the difference in hovering.

Short and bizarre piece that seems to be about differences.

“Three Rights Make a Left” by Rhonda Eikamp

There are caves underground, and the narrator seems to have an instinctive knowledge of all the passages, ever since she discovered them beneath Nic’s bar. She befriends the writer who lives down there in fear of the tourists and other unknown hostile forces. He may or may not be writing her life. But Nic has started to build condominiums for the tourists, and Gregor the writer flees further into the cave depths.

This one is plenty surreal. We have to wonder, along with the narrator, whether she is real outside Gregor’s manuscripts, “not knowing how the story of my life will go on now or whether he’s still writing it down there.” This at least makes comprehensible sense. The evil tourists with fingers like flesh bungee cords make less. Are they likewise the product of the writer’s fears, or perhaps the cause of them? Reality pretty hard to grasp here.

“Eggs” by Claire Hero

The narrator and John meet Sarah and her daughters in the supermarket and explain that they won’t be able to attend the Easter egg hunt, after which the story consists of the narrator imagining the events of that event, which seems to have something to do with the fact that she envies Sarah for having daughters. Obscure.

“Disaster Movies” by Christopher Stabback

Jane has agreed to have sex with a guy she met on the internet, a decision she now views with misgiving, attempting to escape from the reality into various scenarios of the imagination, abetted by the moon. As she had anticipated, things do not go well with the sex, which is no more than what readers expect when they learn the guy writes libertarian SF. It’s hard to tell how old the narrator is – not a young teenager, apparently, but she engages in the denial and magical thinking that I would associate with someone that age, concerned as she is with her mother.

“Four Phoebes” by Maya Sonenberg

A meta fairytale. Four daughters [princesses] are forced from their home when their father [the king/giant] marries again [a wicked stepmother]. The narrator considers different variations of the tale but seems to settle for the one in which the sisters are turned into birds in exchange for the return of the third sister’s feet, which the giant has cut off for reasons that remain unclear.

I find this not really satisfactory, either as tale or meta.

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.

One thought on “Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-September

  • September 20, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Hi, Lois. Thank you for the lovely review. Your last line exactly captured what I was going for.


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