Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: F&SF and Fusion Fragment

F&SF 7-8/21
Fusion Fragment 5/21

A new story by Yukimi Ogawa is some­thing I look forward to, and I was very happy with her latest, “Her Garden, the Size of Her Palm“, from the July-August F&SF. A young woman learns that the money her late mother saved for her college education has been squandered by her father, so she gets a job. She is sent via wormhole to a cozy house and a woman called Grandma, who “wasn’t a typical grandma. She had many heads, for starters.” The story continues in that wild – but still grounded, feeling more like SF than fantasy – fashion, as our narrator is sent via wormhole to several dangerous planets, on what seem weirdly commercial ven­tures, and tangles with one of Grandma’s rivals. I found it immensely fun.

Perhaps the most ambitious story here is Chi­medum Ohaegbu‘s “And for My Next Trick, I Have Disappeared“, about Adachukwu, who falls asleep on the bus and realizes that her body is seemingly disappearing – or being consumed – piece by piece. That’s the essentially fantastical part of the story, and I’m not sure if it’s anything but metaphor, but the rest of the story is quite lovely and works through Adachukwu’s concern about falling out with her close friend Penny, as we see the relationship form and suddenly end, and as Adachukwu agonizes over any possible next step. Much less ambitious, but sweet and fun, if a bit predictable, is Lisa Lacey Liscoumb‘s “How to Train Your Demon“, in which an old woman summons a demon and then surprises him with the fairly trivial tasks she asks of him, and with the treats – like ginger snaps – she offers. As I said, the eventual course of this story is easy to see from the start, but it is enjoyable, and notable too for focusing realistically on an elderly person.

Michael Swanwick has a strong story here as well, “Dreadnought“. Luke is a “troll,” or really a homeless guy living under a bridge. He’s made a bit of a mess of his life but he gets along, with friends (of a sort) like preacher Reverend Howe – who might be called eccentric (or worse) – and his companion Cthulhu. Luke can see things, such as the radio towers that seem to be the su­perstructure of a huge underground ship, and also such as people like the man who, he’s convinced, is keeping someone prisoner in his basement. The Reverend is ill, and soon will die, and Luke confronts a Rabbi who tells him the Reverend’s role, and then tells him his own responsibilities, as in the case of the prisoner in the basement. When the Reverend does die, the nature and importance of responsibility becomes clear….

The May Fusion Fragment is another solid issue of a newish magazine that is establishing itself very nicely. The best stories come from Octavia Cade and Louis Evans. Cade’s “The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, and How World Trees Are Not a Substitute” has her protago­nist, an environmental scientist/activist who has contemplated ecoterrorism, visit three prominent women scientists who famously did not receive full credit for their contributions: Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, and Chien-Shung Wu. The conceit is that these visits occur – in dreams? In a fugue state? – at the pool by the World Tree, where Odin traded an eye for wisdom. The segments detail each woman’s career, and the choices and compromises they made, and let the protagonist weigh her past compromises and future choices in that light. It’s an interesting and thoughtful piece, a bit static and prosy perhaps, which may have been the only way to stage the arguments at the center of it. Evans’s “Babies Come from Earth” is a short piece, about a couple on another world, the woman’s pregnancy and a striking realization of what her pregnancy involves, and where her baby will come from. It seemed new to me.

Recommended Stories

“The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, and How World Trees Are Not a Substitute”, Octavia Cade (Fusion Fragment 5/21)
“Babies Come from Earth”, Louis Evans (Fusion Fragment 5/21)
“Her Garden, the Size of Her Palm”, Yukimi Ogawa (F&SF, 7-8/21)
“And for My Next Trick, I Have Disappeared”, Chimedum Ohaegbu (F&SF 7-8/21)
“Dreadnought”, Michael Swanwick (F&SF 7-8/21)

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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