Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Universal Love by Alexander Weinstein, Not One of Us, and Past Tense, Edited by John Benson

Universal Love, Alexander Weinstein (Henry Holt) January 2020.
Not One of Us 4/20
Past Tense, John Benson, ed. (Not One of Us) January 2020.

I loved Alexander Weinstein’s first story collection,  Children  of  the  New  World.  Universal Love, his second, is another proof SF  has  taken  up  permanent  residence  in the mainstream world. Weinstein writes almost exclusively SF but is praised everywhere, and yet the only story that’s appeared in an SF venue is ”Openness”, from his first book. Moreover, his interest in the science fictional ideas he deploys is deep, and he explores them for their speculative interest, not just as a way of illuminating character (though he’s interested in that as well). To be sure, many of his tropes are familiar…. This book includes stories about selective memory erasure, war games that turn out to be real, virtual sex using artificial bodies, artificial children, parallel worlds, aliens in game space, and so on. But most SF writers revisit these familiar ideas – and Weinstein’s takes on them are often refreshing and thoughtful.

A few favorites. ”Beijing” is about David, a gay man whose relationship with his lover seems to be fraying – his lover urges him to ”patch” the troubling parts of his memory, including his family, who won’t accept his sexuality, but David doesn’t want to lose even painful memories – especially as he realizes his lover is patching some of their past. This is one of the more purely character-oriented stories, and successfully so. ”True Love Testimonials” is a series of testimonies about the experiences of a whole variety of people with virtual sex, and it works as a clever review of some of the things one might do with that tech. ”Childhood” is the most wrenching piece: Joey and Lacy are androids, acquired by their parents when they are already 10 and 14, with implanted memories. Lacy, the elder, rebels – in ways very reminiscent (perhaps a touch too much so) of your typically teenager turning to drugs, but part of her rebellion is against the idea that she’s supposed to be ”human” – and inevitably Joey wonders about that himself. ”Infinite Realities” is about a guy who is working with a friend on ways to visit parallel worlds. When his relationship with his girlfriend goes south, he wonders about a parallel version of her…. Well, you can see that that won’t end well!

Now to the 63rd outing of John Benson’s consistently interesting modestly produced ‘zine Not One of Us. With it comes one of his annual very slim anthologies, this one called Past Tense. These read and look like an extension of the magazine – overflow stories, perhaps, though the quality is wholly comparable with the ‘zine. My favorite piece from this issue of Not One of Us was ”The Two Mrs. Mansfields” by Gwynne Garfinkle, about the new wife of a widower, a ”slip of a girl,” who comes to her new home only to be fascinated by the portrait of her husband’s first wife – with predictable results, but nicely  presented. I liked  Alexandra  Seidel‘s ”Lovers on a Bridge” even better… another story built around art. Gretchen finds herself, somehow, in an art museum, fascinated by a painting. Soon she is accompanied by a man, the Curator of this museum, and together they take a tour of some of the paintings. There is ever a hint that these paintings (real ones) are different – perhaps they can be entered. And there is certainly something strange – but not sinister – about the Curator. This story has the frisson of potential horror always there – but that’s not where it’s going.

Recommended Stories

”Childhood”, Alexander Weinstein (Universal Love)
”True Love Testimonials”, Alexander Weinstein (Universal Love)
”Lovers on a Bridge”, Alexandra Seidel (Past Tense)

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 2020 issue of Locus.

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2 thoughts on “Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Universal Love by Alexander Weinstein, Not One of Us, and Past Tense, Edited by John Benson

  • July 22, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    The article title refers to the collection as Universal Love which, I believe, is correct title but the article itself refers to the title as Unnatural Love (also with the recommended stories) which I don’t believe to be correct. I won’t speculate on how Rich’s subconscious works (or that of the copy editor) 🙂 but simply suggest a correction.

    Needless to say – to have spotted the error reveals myself as someone who reads and values Mr. Horton’s recommendations!

    • July 23, 2020 at 7:59 am

      Thanks, we’ve corrected it!


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