Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-March
Here are a long independent novella, the Dell digests, and a couple March ezines.
- Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds
- Asimov’s, April/May 2015
- Analog, May 2015
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168-169, March 2015
- Strange Horizons, March 2015
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
A long independent novella, military space opera, less action-oriented than a character study. Scur, our narrator, is a soldier, conscripted for the long-ongoing war between two factions of human worlds. Her name is a strikingly harsh and ugly one in English, and it’s notable that she chose it for herself, the original version being Scurelya. Perhaps she meant it as fitting for a soldier, but all we really know is that she insists on it.
It’s notable, in fact, how very little we know about her, other than a recollection of her mother’s liking for a particular poet. Her conscription was apparently illegal, but she tells us she made no resistance and did her job as a soldier as long as the war lasted. On both sides of the conflict, troops were implanted with slow bullets, memory devices that held their service records as well as a lot of personal data. Scur tells us that the data isn’t accessible to personnel without a reader device, but the information there is considered reliable. When Scur finds herself on a prisoner transport after the war, she implicitly trusts that her bullet will clear her of any charge.
In the chaos after the ceasefire, Scur was briefly captured by a sadistic enemy soldier, an incident that shows her as stubborn and determined to survive. Otherwise, we don’t know, as Scur doesn’t, exactly how she came to be on the prisoner transport ship. She just wakes up from hibernation on the disabled vessel with mayhem growing in the corridors. In partnership with a crewmember, she takes over the ship and imposes order. At this time, she has two goals—to return home and to take revenge on her enemy torturer. But as they learn more about what happened to the ship, and in fact to all the known human worlds, it becomes clear that the first goal is impossible. The future of humanity may depend on the ship’s population.
Too many authors don’t seem to think through a narrative strategy, don’t consider the implications, particularly in a first-person account, of the questions: who is telling this story to whom, and by what medium? Here, these decisions are crucial. We only know Scur’s story as she tells it to us, which may account for certain strangenesses, such as a dispassionate flatness to her narrative voice, making it all the more remarkable on the rare occasion when she loses this dispassion. If she concentrates her account on only a few individuals aboard the ship, it’s because these are the people who meant the most to her, not necessarily that ones who meant the most to the events she lived through. It isn’t an objective account, which becomes more clear toward the end, when she is explicitly addressing future generations who will have to carry on when she is gone, who may have to face the peril that doomed her civilization. Her story is meant to prepare them, which may not mean telling them the entire truth.
The war had made us what we were—traitors, cowards, murderers and sadists. We were all dregs of one sort or another. Even the best of us had sometimes lied about what we had done, or how we had found our way aboard Caprice.
Or it may be that their memories aren’t reliable, which is a thing we know about memories. But Scur’s story tells us that they need not limit or define a life, and at the moment she relinquished her own, she committed to what readers may recognize as an existentialist position. Near the end of her life, she finally admits that the bullet holding the record of her life may not have been what it once seemed, what she once told us and perhaps once believed. But her life now is what she has made of it as if from a flat blank slate, cutting the past out of herself and overwriting it with what she chooses to be.
Asimov’s, April/May 2015
A double issue with some very long stories, of which one is yet another installment in the Steele serialization.
“The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer
Science fiction based on a biomedical premise: a contagion that turns human ova diploid, capable of parthenogenesis—reproduction without benefit of sperm [although it apparently originates with a male carrier]. Not only that, every time a female ovulates, the egg is fertilized. And not only that, every daughter born by this process is also affected. The syndrome came to public attention with the case of a young woman named Candace who gave birth to four daughters before the preacher in her community had her fifth pregnancy aborted and all the children sterilized [“spayed like bitches”]. The potential consequences to society are profound. Some people [like Texas politicians] want to dehumanize the new mothers. Some researchers are even using the term “speciation”, with predictable political consequences.
Tess is a freelance journalist who has been following the parthenogenetic phenomenon since its inception. It was through reading her articles that Candace’s preacher first learned of it; Tess now feels guiltily responsible for what happened to her. Now Tess has the career-making opportunity to do a feature article for a major publication—travel allowance, expense account, the whole deal depending on her ability to score an interview with Candace. Tess also happens to be pregnant herself and worrying over the remote possibility that her sperm donor might have been a carrier. The story follows her on her fact-finding trip, during which we encounter researchers concerned about their grants, bigoted Texas politicians, bitchy editors, and Tess’s overbearing mother, who’s an awful lot like her overbearing partner. Everyone but Candace, who keeps refusing to meet with her.
It’s a long story, which thus has sufficient room for all this stuff. The author mostly keeps the infodumpfery under control and presents the potential consequences of the phenomenon as undetermined, even while some characters are predicting doom—the extinction of males, of non-parthenogenic humanity, overpopulation. The world may–or may not—be on the brink of a demographic disaster or an intolerant overreaction. In the meantime, Tess struggles with her own personal problems, including her normal [she hopes] pregnancy.
If anything, the story is perhaps too little alarmist. Texas politicians notwithstanding, the author seems to be minimizing many of the worst tendencies in human society, one of which is to blame the female for anything that goes wrong in reproduction. And I certainly find the prospect of annual pregnancy to be highly alarming.
One plot point seems inconsistent. If Candace’s preacher had her pregnancy forcible aborted and her daughters sterilized, why didn’t he sterilize Candace at the same time, while he was at it?
“Day Job” by Tom Purdom
Set in a fairly recognizable nanny-state future when Len has been unable to keep fulltime work because of a personality defect. He does contract work as a hacker and spends his recreational hours as a VR troll, but his girlfriend persuades him that he could do better with therapeutic personality enhancement. His therapists don’t believe he has a real potential for violence, which would trigger mandatory intervention. But the computer analysis singles him out for special observation, and one therapist senses something that’s been overlooked.
This one gathers interest as it proceeds, looking at Len’s situation from multiple points of view, including his own. I like the way the story illustrates how role-playing can enhance an individual’s potential for antisocial behavior, a lot like the internet does now.
“Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters—H’ard and Andy Are Come to Town” by Michael Swanwick & Gregory Frost
Into a fantasy landscape more or less like the US Dustbowl come the eponymous pair of rogues and con artists in search of suckers to fleece. H’ard has a minor gift for wizardry and Andy for verbiage.
Andy took his handkerchief and swiped at the back of his neck. “I declare, this must be the easiest money we have ever earned. It would be just like shooting ducks in a barrel if the aforementioned waterfowl had previously been duped into assembling the staves and bands of that barrel, jollified into hauling buckets of water until it was full, and then sweet-talked into diving headlong into it immediately after clipping their own flight feathers.”
Much fun. I can’t help thinking there is some tuckerizing going on here.
“The Gun Between the Veryush and the Cloud Mothers” by Anna Tambour
I find the premise of this work particularly opaque, despite the author’s numerous but obscure hints: any readers who can figure out the meaning of “follwel . . . aulifers . . . furebri” are one up on me. As Cheema the gatherer prays:
“We thank you who came before to the Above,” she said now. “We thank you who saw our empty dish and knew how to fill it. Who created the gun, the well. Who built the temple and Arret and taught the first bof to follow your code. Who installed the first krez to follow your wisdom and keep order, as the krez knows the secrets of our hearts, our wish to think only of today, our hunger and thirst.”
It’s fortunately not necessary to parse this jargon to figure out that the characters here are living on a hard and desiccated world so lacking in resources that the bodies of their parents are used to fabricate essential utensils [although they do not, apparently, eat them]. There is extreme disparity of wealth, i.e., food resources, divided unevenly between Above and Below. It’s those Above who use the gun to seed the Cloud Mothers that rain ripened grain and fruit onto Below, where it is gathered and hauled Above, the Belowers being allowed only a small fraction of the bounty which they have done all the grueling work of gathering. The Abovers are soft and decadent, wallowing in a Neroesque waste, complete with vomitoria, that I think goes way to excess. But they have also forgotten most of how their system really works. The current leader Above is aware that fuel is running out, with the harvests diminishing, while those Below are disturbed by the growing frequency of gatherers killed by failed shots of the gun. The story looks at a number of different characters for their reaction to this situation.
It’s the characters who count here, but those Above are largely the sort that we applaud when they’re thrown over the cliff to their deaths. The decadence of the Abovers is excessively exaggerated, so I don’t take them particularly seriously as people. The Belowers are overall more real and sympathetic, definitely the good guys of the scenario, with Cheema the gatherer being a likely candidate for sainthood. There are people of good will in both locations, who sincerely want a solution to the population’s impending food shortage, but I see no way they’re going to succeed, if the situation actually is as the story suggests. But whether it is or not, I’m not sure.
I wonder here if I’m just being too dense to grasp the hints the author has given. The hints are obviously hints, but none of them seem to lead anywhere that I can follow. So the piece is a lot harder to enjoy than if the premise were made more explicit.
“Paul and His Son” by Joe M McDermott
In another future surveillance state, Paul is in anguish about his son, who’s sliding rapidly on a downward, self-destructive path. The authorities won’t authorize drugs for him, but Paul is convinced they would help, the way they helped him when he was Paul, Jr’s age.
The doctors don’t understand. They don’t have to live with him, locking him in every night, always with one eye on him, because he is going to run away, and indifferent to his education, his future, his own family. Just give me the fucking pill that will fix this. And they won’t.
But the doctors have no control over what they can prescribe, either. The authorities keep them under control and surveillance. But Paul has a client who gets million-dollar nanopills from the black market. Paul wants to know where he can find them.
The pain here is palpably real. It’s easy to sympathize with Paul’s obsession, knowing at the same time that there’s little hope for his solution ever working, just as nothing else has worked. It’s notable that we are never given access to Paul, Jr’s point of view, just as his father never does. This is Paul’s story, the father’s story, and the tragedy is that he’ll probably never understand his son.
“The Marriage of the Sea” by Liz Williams
The narrator is the intended bride of the sea, but the sea being female, she is also a bride. As every character we see here is also female, this may be a parthenogenetic species. I have some problems with the text, which begins with: “. . . the city and I will be wed.” But it isn’t the sea speaking, it’s the bride of the sea, representing the city. So the line is, at best, unclear and misleading; at worst, just wrong. Alas for the ceremony, a band of outsider warriors who worship a different goddess attack the bride’s tower to rescue her, much against her will.
This is pretty old mythic stuff, except for a minor high-tech component.
“What I Intend” by Robert Reed
The richest man in the world announces in public that he plans to employ an algorithm to sift through possible signals from alien intelligences. He has a vision that he only dimly comprehends:
“They want to be understood . . . . The dumbest shit of alien slime isn’t going to spend that much energy and that much capital to make an empty three second flash of light.”
The world assumes he’s crazy. His wife wonders if he’s actually an alien. His employees want to keep the funds flowing by holding out potential rewards. Then one employee has an insight that punches a hole in all the assumptions.
I’m reminded here of Citizen Kane, a portrait of a uniquely rich and powerful individual that reaches down through his psyche to his most basic motivation. It might have been SETI, it might have been anything else.
“Willing Flesh” by Jay O’Connell
A long, long time ago, there was The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book, edited by Isaac Asimov. It was a funny compendium, delving into the potential unfortunate consequences of quick weight loss gimmicks. Here, we have a work that could have been excerpted from that classic volume. Garrison, drowning in peanut butter and aerosol cheese, sees an ad for Fat Burner, a personality program that promises great loss with no effort. Garrison seems never to have learned the universal axiom that anything promised on TV can’t possibly be true, and the fact that the FDA has banned the product doesn’t reduce his resolve. The unfortunate consequences ensue.
The author is pretty kind to Garrison, probably more than he deserves. This is one of those situations where the humor tends to derive from cruelty, and the author pulls back at the end.
“How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age” by Fran Wilde
The military-technological complex has trapped Eleanor. They recruited her as a journalist from college with a promise of new eyes–enhanced vision implants that upload automatically to their servers. Until something went wrong, an explosion that officially never happened, and she saw what she wasn’t supposed to see. The company techs have put her back together and let her keep the eyes, after deleting anything they wanted to keep classified, but they couldn’t exorcise the ghosts of Eleanor’s dying companions.
The gaps aren’t a relief any more; they only highlight the shards I have left. Somewhere on IARPA’s servers, tagged classified, is whatever my lenses force-uploaded in a rush during the explosion, but I can’t see it anymore. So much for intrepid reporting.
Now, back home to recuperate, she communes with different ghosts in her town’s old battlefield cemetery, haunted by, among others, the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead. But the company won’t leave her alone; they have plans for her.
The piece edges over into SF horror, but this is less because of the ghosts than the total control the company has over Eleanor’s vision, arbitrarily classifying anything they feel threatened by—deleting entire colors from her eyes, deleting her ability to see a cornfield. Horror is the company telling her she can’t say No to whatever they do. It’s horror because we know how true it is. The ghosts, in contrast, are companionable entities. Tallulah, especially, is the most interesting character here; it’s evident that the author has a strong sense of who she was.
“The Sentry” by Frank Smith
A short story of PTSD. Rick has come back from a bad war to a family that doesn’t really know him now. When he has to put an injured animal out of its misery, it all comes back, not that it’s ever really left.
The way the boy looked at him hurt. Rick didn’t know why it hurt so bad. If he could do just one thing to make the rest of his life matter, it would be to ensure that these kids, whether they could grow to care for him or not, never had to do what he’d done.
Effectively done. It’s notable that it’s only a fellow veteran who immediately understands Rick’s pain.
Analog, May 2015
Opening with a long novella by Rajnar Vajra, which brings on another screed.
“Zen Angel” by Rajnar Vajra
Readers of this column may recall my repeated misgivings about publications that rely too heavily on a stable of regular authors. This piece brings to mind a related difficulty of authors who publish only in one regular publication; that it can inhibit them in developing and expanding the limits of their craft. In this case: how to open a story in a way that won’t bore readers into putting it down before it actually starts. We have this quasi-immortal guy named Len whom the government wants to kill because his existence may become inconvenient. Here’s a premise with possibilities. But the piece opens with him maundering at great length on trivial and inconsequential subjects until, almost half-way through the lengthy text, the government introduces him to an alien, who almost immediately whisks him away to somewhere in the galaxy—or some galaxy. Where the story actually begins. The first half—mostly irrelevant. The government’s schemes—irrelevant. The promising premise—a dead end. Could you cut most of this text away and discard it without harming the narrative? Pretty much.
So at last we have the alien, who saves Len from his own government for a purpose of her own race, which she explains at great length. She also explains that her people sort of bioengineered Len for this purpose. Which is—they need representatives of five other sentient species to open a valuable relic from before the birth of the universe. An incalculable reward awaits them all. A contest will determine which candidate species are chosen. Certain uncooperative and hostile species are scheming either to kill other candidates or steal the incalculable reward. So—another, completely different, promising premise, as explained at great length by the alien. Such that, once all the explaining is out of the way, readers should be anticipating some neat, clever competitions at which Len will prevail, plus exciting action scenes during which Len will overcome the nasty aliens and gain the fantastic reward. Something along these lines. And we do get a little of this: a little bit of competition that turns out not to be very competitive, a little bit of action, and a final reward that turns out to be . . . nice. The term anticlimax comes to mind, and by this I don’t mean the story’s last line.
It’s all quite frustrating. Because there really is a promising premise here [two of them, one wasted]. It could have been developed into a taut [“marked by economy of structure and detail”], exciting action piece, or a more cerebral puzzle piece, or a character piece in which we learn a lot more about Len than his teething problem. It could have been. The author is perfectly capable. I just wonder if some other editor might have been able to bring the promise to more fulfillment.
“Slider” by Bud Sparkhawk
A baseball story. The narrator is a baseball dad, the kind of guy who lives out his own frustrated fantasies through his kid. And now it really happens, they want to sign the kid to the majors while he’s still in high school.
Visions of Todd on the mound in Camden Yards, wearing the orange and black, throwing his fast balls, sliders, and curves to one frustrated batter after another, holding them back as the team advanced to the top of the standings, ran through my mind in a montage.
But there’s a catch. The contract includes an age-retardant clause. Todd would be trapped artificially at a youthful prime for an extended lifetime, giving up college, any other career possibilities, his girlfriend, any life outside the game. To the narrator, none of this matters. I think most of us have met this guy.
I note another story published recently with this same age-retardant baseball theme, but this one is the superior, being based on real human concerns. I do have to wonder how the premise got into the memestream, though.
“Cetacean Dreams” by Robert R Chase
Dolphins hunting Leviathan on Europa. The dolphins wear diving suits. Leviathan is an unknown very large thing that the dolphins are supposed to find and study. A neat science-fictional premise, but a pat, predictable plot.
“Arnheim’s World” by Therese Arkenberg
Arnheim is proudly showing off his newly-terraformed world to his friend Sara. “All I’ve ever wanted was a place that didn’t belong to other people.” Being rich helps with goals like that. Then comes an emergency.
There’s moral dilemma at the heart of this one. Does Sara betray Arnheim? Does she do the right or the wrong thing? It’s not so simple a question, but an interesting one.
“No Gain” by Aubry Kae Andersen
Corruption in sports again, this time women’s gymnastics. Maggie is a former world-class competitor, wiped out from injury, now hired to train a new phenom from Uzbekistan. Sabina is too good to be true; Maggie knows something is fishy but not quite what.
The crowd jumped to their feet, clapping and yelling. They didn’t seem to notice Sabina’s skewed index finger. Maggie stared at it, though, as did the judges.
The girl’s coach, however, not only controls Maggie’s oxycodone supply, he has a gangster-like demeanor.
The premise here is quite properly science-fictional, the conclusion another ethical dilemma, although there’s no doubt this time where right and wrong lie.
“Sentience Signified” by J L Forrest
Surveying Joon [sounds like a mashup of “Jupiter and Moon” but it’s a planet apparently orbiting 107 Piscium]. Bilit is happily exploring the local wonders, the initial drone survey having reported “No sentient life”.
Bilit recorded images and dictated his notes. He collected samples. He drank the splendor that here, two-dozen light years from the mythical Garden of Eden, existed the real thing. It had evolved from its own DNA helix for hundreds of millions of years.
No reader is going to be in doubt of what Bilit finds, even from the first word in the title. The only question is what he and the rest of humanity is going to do about it. Here we have one of the oldest standards of the genre, and if anything sets this one apart from the thousands of tales that have preceded it, I’d have to call it the wonder of the landscape. Which isn’t a lot, but considerably preferable to the myriads of clichés that might have been in its place.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168-169, March 2015
Issue #168 has a particularly well-matched set of stories, both featuring members of an urban underclass; #169 features young people taking journeys. An uninspiring pair of issues overall, and too much YA for my liking.
“Steady on Her Feet” by K J Kabza
Holliday is a mudlark, from a family of river scavengers who live in sewer pipes. She has ambitions and an affection for her young sister.
The pipes and tides of the Marmouth ate such gentle dreamers alive, and if this was the nature of Molly’s soul, she would not survive long without kindness and a fierce protector. The rest of their family could provide neither. The duty fell to Holliday, and it was a solemn task she would not have parted for, not for all the world.
One day Holliday becomes caught up in the schemes of kind of mad scientist who surgically implants clockwork character traits into patients in need of such augmentation. Except for an excess of temper, Holliday’s character is judged to be impeccable, and she is given a job; with her pay, she buys gifts for Molly, until she is discovered by her nasty family.
A YA sort of story. It’s obvious from the outset that the doctors are up to no good by hiring Holliday, but I can’t quite figure why they take so long about it.
“A Screech of Gulls” by Alyc Helms
Tutti resembles a Molly grown toothless and alcoholic, a loser who nevertheless managed in his life to find one good thing, his wife. Now she is dead, and Tutti lives on the docks catching and selling gulls, which he’s too soft-hearted to kill himself. He’s also fond of Gemma, the junk girl whose stall is next to his on the dock, so he come to her aid when a thug threatens her. This kindly gesture doesn’t turn out well.
The hardness of her expression makes her ugly, uglier than Nico’s digging fingers had. Tutti clamps his gums together so hard he tastes blood. He bites down so the tightness gripping his chest and throat won’t escape in a sad wail. He’d hoped to die before he saw her turn ugly. It isn’t fair, how the world shatters everything beautiful and leaves him only with useless bits that he can’t piece back together.
It’s in their conclusions that these two stories diverge. This one is both more realistic and depressing, but it exhibits genuine feeling.
“Sun, Stone, Spear” by Carrie Vaughn
Set in a fantastic version of the Neolithic/early Bronze Age, when people are constructing megalithic monuments on astronomical principles. By adding bog bodies into the mix, the author seems to be suggesting early Britain. Two young women decide to take a journey; Ehu’s ambitions as an astronomer need a greater scope than she can find at home, and Mahra wants an adventure. The adventure is full of hardship and peril, and they keep wondering if they’re doing the right thing. They need not have worried, however, because they have the favor of the author, which is even better than the gods.
To me, it’s more that they’re doing a stupid thing, not by leaving but by doing it so badly, so poorly prepared, with no sign of having supplies or provisions. Mahra claims to be a hunter, but her only weapon is a stabbing spear, which is good for war or for large animals but not the rabbits she occasionally takes, the author not telling us how. I find myself not particularly caring if they end up in a bog or not.
“The Sixth Day” by Sylvia Anna Hiven
A story of sisters in a landscape devastated by some unexplained fantastic calamity. Both girls have a fantastic power; Jo makes the corn grow and Cassie [the pretty one, too] sees into the future, which is all people seem to care about, according to Jo.
Pa, old Jeremiah, the Howell sisters across the corn field—they all just care about what Cassie has to say when she comes back from the ahead side. What will end up slipping away, what knickknacks will vanish: Pa’s wagon wheels or Jeremiah’s clod-hoppers or the wooden cross under the knotted oak where Ma’s buried.
One day Cassie foresees the arrival of a stranger—a young man with cattle, who will love Jo, who looks forward to this great change in her life, with meat to eat.
At its heart, a story of jealousy, as so often comes between sisters. But otherwise the story makes little sense, as it seems obvious that everyone would be better off if Cassie’s prediction becomes true, as the cattle can eat the cornstalks and there seems to be little else edible in the world [although the author isn’t clear on any of this]. I note that maize [if this is what the “corn” is] is not a complete food and everyone is going to die of nutritional deficiencies if this is all they eat, particularly since they avoid obvious protein like the snake eggs.
Strange Horizons, March 2015
It’s probably not a coincidence that we find two stories here about Tibetans, with characters having the same names, like Dawa and Kunchen.
“Even the Mountains are Not Forever” by Laurie Tom
In this one, Kunchen was the leader who took her people to settle another world and remained to guide them, spending most of her time in cryosleep but reviving every ten years. People consider her immortal, but in fact, as she ages, each Kunchen has chosen a successor. Now the fourth incarnation is in search of a young girl who can take her place, but Tashi declines the honor.
“That is . . . terribly sad,” said Tashi. “To pick the lonely girl who wants to be with people but never can.” She shook and glared at the Fourth. “You’re not even really Kunchen! The real Kunchen must have died millennia ago. Everyone believes in her, and she’s long gone, only no one ever bothered to tell people! And now you want me to carry on pretending to be a dead person?”
We are to believe this scheme works, although there must be no photography on Dunxu, that after ten years, people can no longer recognize the woman they only briefly knew. Me, I’m dubious. I have to take Tashi’s side here, knowing that Kunchen largely chose her as being expendable—someone who wouldn’t be missed. But we see her choice was validated when Tashi finds a way to make everything work out. Unfortunately, this outcome is so positive it cloys.
“The Salt Mosquito’s Bite and the Goddess’ Sting” by J Mehentee
Here, Dawa is a very young novice monk who becomes the butt of teasing from the older boys; he believes their story of the deadly salt mosquito.
He examined the bite again. Dawa stood, iciness gripping his insides. If he had heard the older novices correctly, then only a day remained before he’d suffer a horrible death.
In desperate search for a cure, he finds instead people who want to teach him a lesson and who need cures of their own.
A moving story of kindness and faith, with a positive outcome that uplifts without being saccharine.
“City of Salt” by Arkady Martine
This is an aftermath story, where we begin in the ruins of past events and hope to learn what came to pass. Which turns out, as it often the case, to have been sorcery misused. There were once a king, his mage, and his general, who refused to serve the evil they raised.
I really like the image of a city turned to salt by the tears of revenants.
When Nilaq had called the dead to march toward that horizon, they were not dead enough. They wept as they marched. They were admirable, in how they threw themselves onto the swords and the cannons of our enemies, waiting to be rendered unusable save for jackals. After they were bones the salt came and the city dried and burned.
It’s the sort of story we don’t often see here, a secondary-world fantasy that might seem more at home in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where I would have liked it better than this month’s actual contents. But the imagery was totally ruined for me by the author’s intrusive use of kudzu. The geographical setting, or the fantasy version of it, is roughly the region of Mesopotamia and Arabia, a desert land where camels are used for transportation. Kudzu comes from Pacific Asia and is by no means suited to deserts. It doesn’t belong here. Its name doesn’t belong. Even if it’s sorcerous kudzu that can grow in salt, it doesn’t belong. But because it’s here, I’m distracted from the neat city of salt to the stooopid intrusive vines growing over its walls and spoiling my enjoyment.
2 thoughts on “Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-March”
Hi – Thanks for the review of Slow Bullets. Very thoughtful. I had seen the book and considered buying it. Overall, though, I’m not sure if you like it or not. Do you have a recommendation? Thanks.
Chris – I definitely think it’s worth reading, but I’m ambivalent, as you noticed, on how much worth. It presents some interesting takes on personal identity and the exploitation of individuals in war, but elements of the setting and plot are less than original, and the narrative goes flat for long stretches. There’s a reason for this, and a payoff, but flat it still is.