Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Interzone, Galaxy’s Edge, Cynthia Ward, Emily C. Skaftun, and James Van Pelt

Interzone 9-10/20
Galaxy’s Edge 9/20
The Adventure of the Naked Guide, Cynthia Ward (Aqueduct Press) March 2020.
Living Forever & Other Terrible Ideas, Emily C. Skaftun (Fairwood Press) November 2020.
The Best of James Van Pelt, James Van Pelt (Fairwood Press) November 2020.

I was very excited to see Alexander Glass‘s return to Interzone in the September-October is­sue. He appeared there (and in Interzone‘s sister magazine The Third Alternative/Black Static) quite often in the late ’90s and early 2000s, with very original, often quite “high-concept” sto­ries. His first in more than a decade is “Time’s Own Gravity“. It opens with our narrator and his wife desperately escaping their house, alerted by a change in their clocks, and we soon realize that some catastrophe has caused strange time effects to manifest. Just what these are, and what they do, is one of the story’s secrets, as is, more importantly, the question of the narrator’s history with this issue, and the potential relationship of the time distortions to a certain scientist’s free energy machine. Fine work, and I hope it presages many more new stories from Glass.

The most interesting story in the September Galaxy’s Edge comes from Russian writer K.A. Teryna (with Alex Shvartsman translating.) “No One Ever Leaves Port Henri” is set in the fictional Caribbean island country of Port Henri some while ago, when Joseph Fellow has just learned that his young son will be the next king, Henri X. Joseph has a criminal past and a lot of guilt, but he loves the boy’s mother and knows this isn’t the good news it might seem to be. He desperately tries to arrange for his son and his wife to escape… but the king has powers he doesn’t anticipate, and the story hurries to a dark conclusion. I think I’d have liked a bit more setup along the way, but it is creepy and effective.

Cynthia Ward continues her “Blood-Thirsty Agent” series with The Adventure of the Naked Guide, in which Lucy Harker, Dracula’s daughter and so a dhampir, and her lover Clarimal Stein, an upiór, find themselves in Lutha, helping the British free that somewhat “Ruritanian” country from Austrian domination. Lucy is ordered to accompany her half-brother on a mission to rescue her mother, who has been captured, presumably by Luthan collaborators with Austria. Soon they realize that she has been taken underground to the “Hollow Earth” (or Pellucidar), by allies of the Germans. Lucy, alone, follows the kidnappers, on the way picking up a beautiful native from one of the nations in Pellucidar. There’s some exciting steampunkish action, but the story turns more on what she learns about her mothers, what she and Clarimal come to understand about their own relationship, and the implications of their work for the British Empire. This is enjoyable, as all of these stories have been, and the amalgamation, now, of Burroughs (and even Anthony Hope!) into this universe is fun. The main purpose is more serious now (as long hinted)…. The only issue I have is that this story gets a bit talky, even didactic, to good thematic purpose, but perhaps not wholly to the service of the story.

Fairwood Press has two very worthwhile collec­tions out in November. Emily C. Skaftun‘s Liv­ing Forever & Other Terrible Ideas is another exemplar of the real service they do by publishing story collections from writers who are not terribly prolific or known for their novels, but who have pub­lished work that deserves a more permanent home. There are two originals in this collection, and I re­ally liked “Oneirotoxicity“, told by Mara, whose husband Kyle is dying of cancer. He is a dream researcher in a future in which dreams can be col­lected and replayed and have been shown to have powerful positive effects, including on disease, but can also be toxic. For some reason the dreams Kyle is using are no help to him: is it because of his research interests? Mara herself starts to follow Kyle’s research, especially after his death, and what she finds is intriguing (her artist career is suddenly rejuvenated) but also very scary. The center of the story is really nicely done – Mara’s character well portrayed, her reaction to the dreams powerful – but I found the resolution just a bit too pat, too pinned, almost too SFnal. Still, it’s a strong piece from a worthwhile collection. Fairwood has also published several collections – and a novel – from the very prolific, and quietly excellent, James Van Pelt. His latest book, The Best of James Van Pelt, is a huge volume containing Van Pelt’s own choice of his best work, some previously collected but many heretofore not, stories that in many cases I missed, such as “The Lies“, from Daily Science Fiction, a short-short that powerfully portrays a man car­ing for his wife in pandemic-ravaged future (note: the story is from 2015!) while being sustained by dreams of a trip to a new planet.

Recommended Stories

“Time’s Own Gravity”, Alexander Glass (Interzone 9-10/20)
“Oneirotoxicity”, Emily C. Skaftun (Living Forever & Other Terrible Ideas)
“No One Ever Leaves Port Henri”, K.A. Teryna (Galaxy’s Edge 9/20)
The Adventure of the Naked Guide, Cynthia Ward (Aqueduct Press)

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 November 2020 issue of Locus.

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