Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: F&SF, Clarkesworld, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies

F&SF 5-6/18
Clarkesworld 4/18
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 4/12/18, 4/26/18

In the May-June F&SF my preferred sto­ries were from relatively new voices. Pip Coen‘s first stories appeared last year, and Brian Trent has only been publishing a bit longer. Coen’s “Inquisitive” is the tale of the life of a decidedly non-neurotypical young woman, Saffi Kenyon, and her school career, in which her blunt inquisitiveness puts her on the path to entry to the College of Inquisition – but the “Inquisition” in question is not just scientific, but also the sort the name implies in our history. Saffi attracts enemies of course, and as she is a woman resistance is guaran­teed… The story’s arc is predictable enough, but the main character and the narrative style make it a success. Trent’s “Crash-Site” assembles a diverse group of mostly rival individuals searching for the site of a long-past starship crash, which should be a trove of exotic tech. These include a man mourning his dead wife, her simulation, a woman inhabiting the body of a local, a couple of enemies from long destroyed Mars, and a local alien tribe, among others. It’s colorful, enjoyable, twisty space operatic fun.

Clarkesworld‘s April issue includes a simple but effective story from Rich Larson, “Carousel­ing“. Ostap is an artist, and his lover Alyce is a physicist. She and her team are in Mombasa, ready for a major experiment involving some­thing called the Slip. While they’re apart, they use a virtual reality system, linkwear, which allows them a semblance of contact. Ostap wants to ask her to marry him, but feels it’s not fair to do so right before the experiment – but he does suggest she bring the linkwear with her to the lab. I think the reader can see where this is going: the experiment is a disaster, the lab is destroyed leaving no survivors, and Ostap is devastated, but – well, as I said, the next revelation is obvious. Larson handles it beautifully and steers the story to a proper and touching ending.

The April 12 issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies includes a nice piece from Rahul Kanakia, “Weft“, told by a magic user named Thread, who, with his two companions, is charged with hunting down and eliminating people who have gained potentially dangerous magical powers. The current subject is a cook’s daughter, and the question arises: what has she done to deserve extermination? Why not let her go? Can they get away with that? And is it really a good idea? All are questions interestingly posed.

The April 29 (#250) is a special double issue and is as strong as we might expect. Richard Parks and Margaret Ronald continue their two mystery-oriented series. Parks’s “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village” brings Jing and her father, along with Mei Li, a snake devil trying to be human, to the titlular village and its magistrate, who is indeed acting quite strange. They must try to figure out what happened to the magistrate, which involves a fox demon with a problem a bit like Mei Li’s. Ronald’s “Silence in Blue Glass” is set a little earlier in the career of Arthur Swift, just after his release from hospital following his traumatic military experience. He is invited to a dinner party by his brother, which turns out to involve business negotiations between Georgina Bren­nec, head of a mining family, and Arthur’s friend Mieni, a kobold. Things are complicated by the presence of Georgina’s brother, who would rather be an artist than be involved in the family business, and by Georgina’s erstwhile lover, who has just married a much younger woman. Mieni presents a gift of blue glass, which enforces a sort of “cone of silence” – and later in the night, when that silence is shattered by Georgina’s death screams, there are plenty of plausible suspects in her murder. The thread linking all of this is careers – for Arthur, for Mieni and her people, for Georgina’s brother. Good solid work, in a series very much worth following.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam‘s “Angry Kings” is decent work as well, about a princess who has fled her father the King, who became abusive (towards many people) after his wife’s death. The Princess is returning to her father as the story opens, and the story, via memories of variations on traditional fairy tales and her own journey, tries to come to an accommodation with her memories of her father. The standout this month, however, is by K.J. Parker. “The Thought That Counts” is one of Parker’s mo­rality tales, and like so much of his work turns on the potentially ruinous effects of love. The narrator, anonymous (but, it seems, a familiar figure in a Parker’s fantastical history, a certain brilliant but unscrupulous philosopher) tells of his encounter with a woman, an artist, who was escaping her farming family to become a portrait painter in the big city. When a number of her subjects turn up mysteriously mindless, the nar­rator ends up defending her in court – and then remembers another woman he had known long ago. It’s blackly funny, in the usual Parker mode, and mordantly reflective of the nature of evil.

Recommended Stories

“Inquisitive”, Pip Coen (F&SF 5-6/18)

“Weft”, Rahul Kanakia (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 4/12/18)

“Carouseling”, Rich Larson (Clarkesworld 4/18)

“The Thought That Counts”, K.J. Parker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 4/26/18)

“Silence in Blue Glass”, Margaret Ronald (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 4/26/18)

“Crash-Site”, Brian Trent (F&SF 5-6/18)

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

This review and more like it in the June 2018 issue of Locus.

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