Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: Fiyah, Deep Magic, Daily SF, Tor.com, and Abyss & Apex

Fiyah Autumn ’18
Deep Magic Fall ’18
Daily SF 11/28/18, 12/12/18, 12/14/18
Tor.com 10/24/18, 11/14/18
Abyss & Apex 4th Quarter 2018

The theme for the eighth issue of Fiyah is Pil­grimage, which is expressed in several different ways. “BULLET” by Stephen Kearse gives us the pilot of a weapon traveling across space for hundreds of days, giving her plenty of time to think about her mission and about possible ways to stop it. Told with a minimum of drama, the thought process depicted in her journal entries is sobering. “Magician’s Trial” by Sarah A. Macklin tells of a young sorceress who travels to the Great Rift Valley to undergo her coming of age trials, growing from a flip teenager into a mature human being, aware of the value of both her virtues and her vices. “Pedaling” by Tuere T. S. Ganges gives us a diverse crew of young people navigating a post-apocalyptic landscape by bicycle. They come across a town that seems comfortable, but quickly realize that it is a white supremacist stronghold with a population of people of color who are in deep trouble. Although it would be easier to simply pass on by, they put together a plan to rescue as many people as they can. A nicely empower­ing story. The finale is “Saudade” by Nelson Rolon, an incredible adventure story featuring a black Brazilian Venutian in Korea and a runaway teenager who becomes her sidekick. There’s a science-magical artefact in play, a surly spaceship mechanic, and a nemesis with a giant cyborg rat. This is an over-the-top story that’s fun to read.

Deep Magic‘s Fall issue features a very clever novelette in “Love in the Time of Holodecks” by Charity West. A laborer in a dismal future works to earn holodeck credits, her only escape from the oppressive conditions in which she lives. She requests a historically realistic Western romance, but her pleasant immersion is interrupted by an intruder on a quest. Despite her annoyance, he persuades her to join him in searching for an ulti­mate prize, and her sensitivity for verisimilitude is critical to their success. The story progresses to­wards their nigh-inevitable romance, but it takes an interesting turn at the end and our heroine makes huge progress in advancing out of the real-world life that holds little hope for her.

I don’t always get to Daily SF, but I do enjoy little gems like Cat Rambo‘s story “Appreciative Es­tate“. In a world where you can sell your memories, how much would yours be worth? One woman gets a rather sobering answer to that question. “The Earth Looks Different from Here” by Jeanna Mason is a perfect SF ghost story, with the ghost of a NASA mission’s doctor trying to warn the crew of a grave threat. I feel like the author captured several aspects of near-future space exploration just perfectly. Marissa Lingen brings a different perspective to the near-future in “Objects in the Nobel Museum, 2075“, imagining the signs ac­companying the displays in such a place and time. This series of vignettes illuminates a future that may be as optimistic as we dare hope for.

In October, Tor.com features a new entry in George R.R. Martin’s shared Wild Cards universe, with Max Gladstone contributing “Fitting In“. In this very sweet story, a man with elasticity pow­ers, currently working as a high school guidance counselor, teams up with conspiracy-theorist Jan to save a local coffee shop from a developer’s thugs. In contrast, “The Word of Flesh and Soul” by Ruthanna Emrys is extremely intense. Two women are studying a language that can lit­erally change the world, starting with a speaker’s body. One of them is in graduate school, bucking a system that is stacked against her. The other is not even allowed to enroll in that system since she is autistic, and the scholars believe that no one like her could possess the skills necessary for this study. Together they study purloined images of an ancient book and piece together a new theory of the tongue. When they come forward to present their article to a star chamber-like peer review process, they make surprising headway (thanks partly to the factions of academic in-fighting).

Two stories stood out to me in Winter’s Abyss & Apex, starting with “Mustering Out” by Deborah L. Davitt. Maris is a soldier as a generations-long war comes to an end. Conscripted as a youth, she’s lived her whole life with cyber enhancements that let her connect to information networks and other soldiers, and perceive the world around her in en­hanced ways. Now that it’s time to be released, she gets the shocking news that all these enhancements will be stripped from her, and she understandably freaks out. Her journey is to attempt to escape and get the word out to the civilian population about the veterans’ plight. “Tumbling Up” by Karen MacLeod centers on Nomakhepu, a young interstellar diplomat apprenticing with her mother. They’re negotiating with a water-based culture, the Hydri­dae, on a planet where colonization started before the native aliens made their presence known. An unaffiliated diplomat, Naledi, who washed out of the official diplomat training program, joins the mission as an observer. When she goes wandering, Nomakhepu follows and learns quite a bit about different forms of life, things she wouldn’t learn at the official negotiating table. She chooses to return to her mother’s mission, but with a broader sense of what’s out there and what’s possible.

Recommended Stories:
“Pedaling”, Tuere T.S. Ganges (Fiyah #8)
“Objects in the Nobel Museum, 2075”, Marissa Lingen (Daily SF 12/12/18)
“The Earth Looks Different from Here”, Jeanna Mason (Daily SF 12/14/18)
“Love in the Time of Holodecks”, Charity West (Deep Magic Fall 2018)

Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by way of vocation, and a book reviewer/critic by way of avocation. She has worked on NASA projects including the Dream Chaser spacecraft and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She has reviewed for venues such as Locus Magazine, NYRSF, Strange Horizons, SFSignal.com, and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for Locusmag.com and SFSignal.com, especially SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. Her book on Greg Egan came out from University of Illinois Press in 2014, and she has twice been nominated in the Best Non Fiction category of the British SF Awards.

This review and more like it in the February 2019 issue of Locus.

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