Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Uncanny, Galaxy’s Edge, Bourbon Penn, and Writers of the Future 35

Uncanny 5-6/19
Galaxy’s Edge 5/19
Bourbon Penn 3/19
Writers of the Future, Vol. 35, David Farland, ed. (Galaxy Press) April 2019.

Uncanny‘s May-June issue is also a bit slight. Still, Ellen Klages, as one might expect, doesn’t disappoint with “Nice Things“. Phoebe Morris is dealing with her late mother’s things and, in so doing, dealing with memories of her perfection­ist mother, how she wouldn’t let her supposedly clumsy daughter handle her “nice things,” and how she never seemed to approve of Phoebe’s accomplishments. So when strange things seem to be happening – is Phoebe’s mother haunting her? – Phoebe decides on an exorcism of sorts, with a chilling ending. Elizabeth Bear‘s “Lest We Forget” is an effective little piece, using the newly resurrected theory about flatworm memory transmission to ask, via a look at an ex-soldier afflicted with PTSD related to atrocities he committed, what might happen if civilians could understand soldiers’ experiences better.

I continue to be impressed with the weird little magazine Bourbon Penn. In the March issue I thought the best story was “The Immaterial­ists” by Charles Wilkinson, in which a graduate student, Arthur Uphill, becomes obsessed with the publications of one Mr. Zym, whose Eyam Edi­tions would put out apparently impossible-to-find books of poems or plays. Uphill keeps looking for these poets – with strange results, that I thought ultimately quite nicely reflected the strange nature of the art Mr. Zym seemed to be promoting.

Galaxy’s Edge is a magazine that has always featured a lot of very short stories, and two of the short-shorts in May serve as good examples of the range of effects these stories can provide at their best. Emily McCosh‘s “Breath, Weeping Wind, Death” is about Death – in this case visiting an old woman in her last moments, and encountering the woman’s grandchild. It’s a sentimental story, but in a good way – sweet, moving, honest. Perhaps the more usual mode for short-shorts is the purely comic. “Gulp Review for Jacklebeer Burgers & More at Intergalactic Highway Rest Stop #698309 in the Dragonfruit Nebula” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires is just that, and it’s quite fun, with various species commenting on the offerings of the title establishment.

I have a difficult time approaching the Writers of the Future volumes, given their association with the Church of Scientology, and some of the ques­tions that have arisen about the treatment of some of their writers and about artificially inflated sales figures. In the end I think the new writers who ap­pear in these books deserve notice – and it’s only fair to say that the Writers of the Future contest has been an important early career boost to some very fine writers.

This latest volume, the 35th, has a set of stories that seem to me to fit what we might expect from a group of new writers. They show lots of promise, and often feature colorful and interesting central ideas, but they aren’t fully successful. Sometimes the prose needs another polish, sometimes a good idea isn’t fully resolved, sometimes a plot doesn’t quite work, but really every story seems worth a look, and every writer seems to have the potential to grow to something special. As a bonus, there are two stories by veteran writers long associated with the contest – Dean Wesley Smith‘s “Lost Robot“, and Rebecca Moesta‘s “Yellow Sub­marine” – both competent and enjoyable pieces, if not brilliant.

Among the contest winners, I preferred the open­ing story, “Untrained Luck” by Elise Stephens, about a woman brought into an unfamiliar country to negotiate a commercial agreement between two rivals, which threatens to fall apart because of bad faith on both sides. Things change when she encounters a young homeless boy – who soon tries to steal from her. She realizes this boy may have the dangerous gift of luck – untrained luck. The story nicely portrays a plausible commercial dis­pute, and the two main characters are attractive. In “Release From Service” by Rustin Lovewell, we meet a young assassin in training, Ty’Rin, protégé of the Mantis, who has been assigned to perform a “Release From Service” – killing another assassin who has gone rogue. It’s a bit predictable, as we soon realize that the assassin is Ty’Rin’s one-time lover, and that she has rebelled because she was asked to kill a woman who was working for social justice. No real surprises here, but I was involved throughout.

Recommended Stories

“Nice Things”, Ellen Klages (Uncanny 5-6/19)
“Breath, Weeping Wind, Death”, Emily McCosh (Galaxy’s Edge 5/19)
“The Immaterialists”, Charles Wilkinson (Bourbon Penn 5/19)

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 July 2019 issue of Locus.

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