Rich Horton Reviews Short Fiction: Dark Breakers, Bourbon Penn, and Fusion Fragment

Bourbon Penn 12/21
Fusion Fragment 11/21
Dark Breakers, C.S.E. Cooney (Mythic Delirium) February 2022.

Even though online publications seem to dominate the field these days (or at least awards ballots) intrigu­ing new print ’zines still appear. Two recent examples are Bourbon Penn and Fusion Fragment. Louis Ev­ans appears again in Bourbon Penn with “Lazaret”, a truly odd story set in an artificial environment that seems like a ship traveling to another planet, but which involves strange monotonous days for the protagonist, running on a treadmill, eating and some­times having sex with other people while roleplaying either as a wife or a husband, and ambiguous visions of the artificial(?) sun towards which they head. (I was reminded, a bit, of one of Kingsley Amis’s SF short stories, “Something Strange”.) Gregory Norman Bossert is also here with “Appearing Nightly”, a piece about an unusual performance artist from the period between the World Wars, a woman who seems to appear out of nowhere – and do nothing. It’s a piece of true weirdness, hard to describe but worth experiencing.

Fusion Fragment features Alexandra Seidel’s “The Pilgrims of Babble”, cool SF about an immersive virtual reality game and the new language that seems to spontaneously arise among its players. It’s an epistolary story, about the investigation into that language, and its effect on the players who learn it – and then forget their original languages.

C.S.E. Cooney’s novel Saint Death’s Daughter arrives in April, and for those like me who have been anticipating this for some time, Dark Break­ers comes out just in time for a nice sample of her work. This collects five linked stories set in the same world (or worlds) as her Tordotcom novella Desdemona and the Deep – a world in which Athe (the human realm) is tenuously linked to two other worlds: Valwode, the realm of the Gentry; and Bana the Bone Kingdom, the realm of goblins. Two stories are expanded versions of novellas I’ve discussed in this column before (“The Breaker Queen” and “The Two Paupers”) and three are brand new. My favorite of these was the longest, “Salissay’s Laundries”, about an investigative journalist, Salissay Dimaguiba, who disguises herself to expose abuses at the Seafall City Laundries where people (mostly women) who are suspected of being infected by the Gentry are sent to have the infection “worked” out of them. Salissay knows that the Gentry are a myth, and is sure that the Laundries are merely a way to get cheap labor out of poor people or people with uncomfortable “differences.” What she finds both confirms part of her beliefs and confounds her other belief – and it’s lovely, extravagant, colorful, passionate – like all of Cooney’s work.

That’s it, then! Time to say (temporary!) farewell to all of you Locus readers! Thanks for reading me, thanks much more for being interested in short SF! For all the changes in the marketplace (some welcome, some less great) and all the changes in the creators (all welcome!) the field of SF remains vibrant and exciting, and short fiction often leads the way. I’ve loved writing about it for these past twenty years. I’ve been introduced to some really exciting stuff, I’ve had the chance to promote, even reprint, some marvelous work, and I’ve made a great many friends. (Two of whom, full disclosure, are reviewed here: Benjamin C. Kinney and C.S.E. Cooney.) I’m not leaving the field, just changing my focus. I hope to keep finding new wonders and keep meeting new friends!

Recommended Stories

“Salissay’s Laundries”, C.S.E. Cooney (Dark Breakers)
“Lazaret”, Louis Evans (Bourbon Penn 12/21)
“The Pilgrims of Babble”, Alexandra Seidel (Fusion Fragment 11/21)

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 February 2022 issue of Locus.

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