In the May issue of Cossmass Infinities – another promising new magazine – I liked dave ring‘s “Top Ten Demons to Kill Before the World Ends“, which is both a list story and a footnotes story. It’s pretty funny, about a demon slayer who is trying to kill ten demons – for personal reasons, mostly because they were ex-lovers – before the world ends. Then she finds out that one of them didn’t actually die, which might be good news. Leila Martin‘s “The Soul Catcher” is intriguing as well, a sort of metaphysical piece about someone tasked with fishing for souls, who begins to have doubts about their mission. I felt like the story lost its grip a bit by the end but it was involving along the way.
The great “little magazine” Conjunctions (which is very big, as I’ve noted before) is celebrating its 40th year. Conjunctions has long been very hospitable to fantastika, and this outing includes some good examples. The story I liked best is not fantastical (really), except in its exuberant wordplay. William H. Gass‘s “The Pattern of a Proper Life” is a meditation on adultery and philosophy – very funny, thoughtful, stunningly well written. Do read it, even if it’s not SF! Another non-SF piece that will surely be of interest to SF readers is Samuel R. Delany‘s “A Night in the Lonesome October“, which nods at Zelazny in the title but is a purely naturalistic character story about a homeless man named Billy: a slice of his life in New York City.
One of the more fantastical stories is “The Cloud Lake Unicorn” by Karen Russell, though the fantastical element is somewhat ambiguous. The story really works, though. Mauve is a journalist in Oregon, pushing 40, living fairly happily at a place called Cloud Lake with an older woman as her roommate. She’s been convinced she is infertile for decades, and then, suddenly she’s pregnant. And there’s a unicorn rooting through the trash, running across the back yards. And the unicorn is pregnant too. The story, really, is the story of her pregnancy – its uncertain progress (it is a geriatric pregnancy, after all), her own fears and hopes and joys, the help she gets from neighbors and her sister, and of course the unicorn, and its coming child. Beautifully written, with a nice set of lived-in characters. (Extra credit for quoting a lovely line from one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems!)
Sofia Samatar appears too, with “Three Tales from the Blue Library“, which is three separate stories, delightfully nasty fairy tales in which we see an sick child magically “cured” by a defrocked monk – at a price; a child with an “unfortunate condition” and how her parents cope; and the little day-mother who carries the daylight, and her sad fate. In each case there is a sardonic message, which could be read as a commentary on fairy tales, or a commentary on humanity – and which is really both, I don’t doubt.
Seasons Between Us is an anthology concerned with “identities and memories,” which is one of those rather vague themes that can be more fruitful in assembling an anthology than a more concrete theme. So there are stories like Alvaro Zinos-Amaro‘s “Sympathétique“, in which the protagonist’s identity is split, in a sense, as he gets advice from his future self (which doesn’t exactly work out) – in this case the “memory” is sort-of forward in time; and also Maurice Broaddus‘ “The Sabhu My Destination“, which slightly more conventionally (but to more effect) alternates between memories of Hakeem’s younger life, and the lessons he takes from his (justifiably) angry father; and stories of a hopeful future, featuring extended lifespans, and a lunar colony in which Black people work to create a better world.
A better future is also portrayed in “Robocare” by Rich Larson, in which Maud, mourning the death of his husband and wallowing in frustration at his “old man troubles,” is cleverly helped by his “carebot” to re-engage with the world, and with young people. And possibly my favorite piece here is “Groven” by Heather Osborne, in which a woman comes to terms with the gifts she – and her daughter – get from a dryad, even as her life at times seems over circumscribed. This story didn’t go quite where I expected, but ended up inhabiting its characters in an honest way.
“The Sabhu My Destination”, Maurice Broaddus (Seasons Between Us)
“The Pattern of a Proper Life”, William H. Gass (Conjunctions:76)
“Groven”, Heather Osborne (Seasons Between Us)
“Top Ten Demons to Kill Before the World Ends”, dave ring (Cossmass Infinities 5/21)
“The Cloud Lake Unicorn”, Karen Russell (Conjunctions:76)
“Three Tales from the Blue Library”, Sofia Samatar (Conjunctions:76)
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 August 2021 issue of Locus.
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