Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: Speculative North, Electric Spec, Daily SF, and Etherea

Speculative North 2/2021
Electric Spec 11/21
Daily SF 12/3/21
Etherea 11/21

Speculative North started in May 2020 and I picked it up with its fourth issue, which might be its only one in 2021. Although it’s published from Canada it seemed to have a broad swath of authors from Eu­rope and North America. Among the variety there’s “The Cat’s Tale” by C.J. Carter-Stephenson, a fun Arthurian tale about the wise but rather dim Sir Degrevaunt and his sly and slovenly squire Belgair, assigned to escort a princess’s cat to the English Channel. Given the number of people after them, it’s probably not just a mundane cat. “Precious Junk and Swift Riches” by Ife J. Ibitayo is the deeply felt story of Lucy, a racer who makes an impression at a junker qualifier and is offered entrance into the high-flying world of elite racing – with all the riches but also corruption that entails. It definitely isn’t what she was expecting, and she faces a classic choice – how much of yourself can you abandon to reach the top? “A Woman of the Old School” by Hugh J. O’Donnell is a charming story about an old woman maintaining a farm after her husband has died, but there’s more than meets the eye when an agent comes to repossess her (not the farm). Then “The Mes­senger” by Carleton Chinner is a fascinating story of a monastery floating above the clouds of Jupiter and Brother Parsifel, who believes he’s made an important discovery – the reader’s discovery will be more about their origins than what Parisfel believes he’s found in the atmosphere below. Overall I felt that the quality of the stories was remarkably high for such a new venue.

Electric Spec is a venue that’s been publishing consistently since 2009 with three or four volumes a year. The issue I read from November leaned to­wards the macabre side of their tagline: “Shockingly good short works of science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre.” “A Perfect Day for Monkeyfish” by Richie Narvaez is an amusing take on the Monkey’s Paw trope. Here Eugene is a monkeyfish whose paw, which grants reverse wishes (the opposite of how the wish was phrased), was stolen. The story is a caper with bartender Soraya and pretentious author Gerald helping him track it down. “The Universal Rule of Doors” by Calie Voorhis is an effective piece of horror. The protagonist is a woman who experiences a terrifying void with a monstrous horror every time she crosses a threshold. She’s managed to be fairly successful as a fashion designer without having to leave her house much, but now there’s an unmissable meeting that requires a space elevator journey – which does not go smoothly. The threat of depressurization raises the stakes considerably. Finally “The Most Wonderful Time” by Michael Merriam is a fun Thanksgiving-in-space story with a full-blown family soap opera sketched out, plus a fruitcake and an English mastiff.

It’s hard to comprehensively cover Daily SF, given their frequency and amazing consistency (even flash stories take time to read and write notes on), but I appreciated “Hero” by Frances Kozier. An older swordswoman has survived her adventures, but not all the people she loved did. How do you keep going when you’ve outlived both the story and your quest companion?

I picked up the very new Australian magazine Etherea with issue #4. The stories are mostly fo­cused, single-idea style tales of which my favorite is “Triage” by Michael A Clark. The heroes are the exhausted workers in a MASH field hospital unit that was stationed near the front lines but is about to be overtaken by the battle. The twist is that this warfare involves both science and sorcery, which is a nice blend, and the drama is handled well.

Recommended Stories

“Hero”, Frances Kozier (Daily SF 12/3/21)
“Crystal Ash”, Atalanti Evripidou (Speculative North 2/21)

Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by way of vocation, and a book reviewer/critic by way of avocation. She has worked on NASA projects including the Dream Chaser spacecraft and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She has reviewed for venues such as Locus Magazine, NYRSF, Strange Horizons, SFSignal.com, and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for Locusmag.com and SFSignal.com, especially SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. Her book on Greg Egan came out from University of Illinois Press in 2014, and she has twice been nominated in the Best Non-Fiction category of the British SF Awards.

This review and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.

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