Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: The National Pastime 2021 Edition, Alternate Plains, and The Adventure of the Golden Woman

The National Pastime 2021 Edition

Alternate Plains, Darren Ridgley & Adam Pe­trash, eds. (Great Plains Publications) October 2021.

The Adventure of the Golden Woman, Cynthia Ward (Aqueduct Press) September 2021.

Here’s an unexpected source of some SF: the 2021 issue of The National Pastime, published by the Society for American Baseball Research. This issue is about “the future according to baseball,” and it’s edited by Cecilia M. Tan & Marty Resnick. Most of it is devoted to specula­tion about things like future rule changes or the effect of climate change on baseball, but there are some SF stories too. Tan offers “Signs of the Times”, about the first woman to pitch in the majors. The story is quite short – Sal comes in and faces a couple of batters, and we get a glimpse of some of the challenges she faced (and is facing), including an opponent who likes to suggest he has slept with her. Which is well done. The best parts for me, though, were the subtly interleaved mentions of sensible rule changes. Harry Turtledove’s “Under Coogan’s Bluff” is a cute story about a team from the future time-travelling to play an exhibition game in 1905 New York. Resnick, in “The ‘Natural’“, takes on mechanical enhancements in his telling of a veteran ballplayer with an augmented eye and cybernetic arm; and James Breaux’s “The Game is Afoot” presents baseball on Mars. Nothing earthshaking here, but fun stuff for baseball-loving SF fans.

Alternate Plains is an anthology of work set in Canada’s Plains provinces. I was particularly taken with the final story, “Those Who Walk on Cur­rents of Earth” by Premee Mohamed. Fielding and Sparrow are two friends in an increasingly bitter future, their town decaying (no more oil, no more coal) much as the rest of the world seems to be, with plagues and climate change and a sort of societal apathy. One night there is a quake (caused by fracking, we assume) and Fielding and Sparrow decide to bike to the quake’s epicentre – an old power plant. What they find there is very strange – a hole in the ground, a “gate,” perhaps, a presence. And temptation. And what is there left on Earth, anyway? Besides the closely observed milieu, and the well-pointed message, Mohamed’s prose is lovely. I also enjoyed Wayne Santos’s “Just Another Roadside Infestation”, in which Reyna Macatangay has returned to Vegreville, Alberta, to investigate the Vegreville Pysanka, an egg-shaped structure that Reyan realizes is about to “hatch” – unleashing who can say what sort of “supranatural” manifestation. You see, Reyna is (she keeps telling herself) a “pro­fessional” – it seems this isn’t her first rodeo at all. And with the reluctant help of a local Mountie she manages to tame this manifestation – in an amusing way. The story is a nice mixture of light-hearted and serious, and I found the explanation of the various categories of “supranatural” clever and fun.

Cynthia Ward brings her Blood-Thirsty Agent series of novellas to a close with The Adventure of the Golden Woman. Lucy Harker is on a mission, ostensibly for the British government, to Berlin in 1931. Her contact is Christopher Isherwood – and, as ever in these stories, we meet, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes as major characters, a tantalizing mix of fictional and real people – Sally Bowles is here (name slightly changed), and Josephine Baker, and even a man named Dolf with a toothbrush mustache who seems to hate Jews. (For that matter, there is a very brief nod to Ursula Le Guin.) Much of this is just grace notes – but graceful ones! – but the true nature (fictional and otherwise) of the recurring characters (like Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes in this case) mat­ters. In this alternate history, England has conquered most of Europe. George V is visiting Berlin on board a huge airship, aided by Martian technology. And there are reports of mysterious mechanical golden women…. Lucy, soon in the company of her lover Clarimal Stein, as well as Sherlock Holmes, gets enmeshed in a twisty series of plots, involving the mechanical women, American agents, British agents, a spaceship – more than need be detailed. It’s fun, full of action, and a satisfying capstone to the series. (And while Lucy and Clarimal’s story seems to come to a logical conclusion, there is plenty of room for more stories in this milieu.)

Recommended Stories

“Those Who Walk on Currents of Earth”, Premee Mohamed (Alternate Plains)

The Adventure of the Golden Woman, 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 October 2021 issue of Locus.

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