Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: Omenana, Samovar, and Analog

Omenana 4/22
Samovar 4/22
Analog 5-6/22

In its 21st issue, Omenana continues to bring a fascinating mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror from African writers. “Madam Aisirhiowen’s Greatest Invention” by Amadin Ogbewe is an interesting story of a woman who transformed herself into a cyborg ruler. When we meet her she is deposed and staying with her great-granddaughter, build­ing something with her minions. It’s pretty ominous, but we only find out what it is after a climactic battle scene. One story that very effectively got my skin crawling is “How to Acquire a Tongue-eating Louse” by Stacy Hardy. Told in the second person and making the connection to sexuality in explicit detail, this one is not for the squeamish. “Notes on the Shadow World” by Mandisi Nkomo has the older style of narrative where we learn about the story from someone who is in possession of a manuscript by the main actor, in this case a Professor Nilesh Khota. Khota discovered a portal to another world at a dangerous road crossing. The Shadow World he describes has a Lovecraftian flavor.

In April Samovar brings us two new stories trans­lated into English. “Panorama People” by Azrin Fauzi (translated by Ali Aiman Mazwin) is set in Malaysia. The story features three characters and three points of view, and deeply engages with the visual arts as one of the characters pursues a lost painting. The story uses the “rule of three” from visual composition to structure its narrative, and it’s an interesting approach. “You, Or Dissocia­tion as a Survival Tool in Pursuit of Finding a Mental Haven of Sanity” by Diana Barberena-Jonas (translated by the author) starts as horror. A mother and her newly toddling baby are locked in a house she won’t leave, since something awful is outside. The narration effectively combines a calm, almost soothing narrative interspersed with her deeply emotional, enraged, suffering asides. This condition persists for months, and there’s a metaphorical claustrophobia to it that many new parents might find relatable. At the end the story moves away from stasis towards something new.

As we head into summer, Analog arrives with 19 stories, including a novella and four novelettes. Adam-Troy Castro’s novella “Burning the Ladder” is an interesting tale of interstellar di­plomacy in his ongoing series featuring Andrea Cort. Having been banished to a backwater out­post after annoying a senior diplomat, Cort finds an alien child who had been abandoned. As she and her co-workers try to find her home, they’re met with serious resistance and cultural taboos from the local population. They may have bitten off more than they can chew. I often appreciate the care taken in Eric Del Carlo’s stories, and “Boy in the Key of Forsaken” is no exception. Locke is a kid abandoned by his guardian. He haunts the space docks and becomes fascinated by the way celestial beings make semi-organic spaceships. He rescues a ship that had been tossed aside as malformed, and together they literally make beautiful music. But there are trials that come even when you’ve made something of a safe haven for yourself. “Planetfall” by newcomer A.C. Koch features Nadia, captain of a generation starship who has just discovered that she doesn’t actually have enough fuel to slow down and is about to overshoot their destination planetary system. The main plot of engineering crisis is interwoven with Nadia’s relationship with her father, the ship’s only murderer but also possibly key to their success.

I particularly liked the two pieces of flash fic­tion in this issue. “Firebreak” by Alice Towey features a Valkyrie firefighting drone and the pris­oner it has been paired with. The way the drone has been programmed makes it seem like the prisoner’s life is expendable, and it has to wrestle with an ethical dilemma. Then “Subsidiary Class 2 Museum Report” by Tim McDaniel is a lovely and very short story describing a museum display that goes through the Precambrian era, extinc­tion of the dinosaurs, evolution of mammals, the Elimination, the Resurgence… and you’ll have to see where it goes from there. It’s not every day you get a taste of Stapledonian scope in five hundred words or less. Also reaching for an extraordinary scale is “A Hundred Mouths and a Voice of Iron” by John Markley. This is a very dark story about an executioner on board the spaceship Praxidike. They go to a system where 100 million people were wiped out by the artificial intelligence Jashub, and they have to interrogate it to judge its fate. Its story is much more com­plicated than rogue-AI-kills-everyone, and there is real pathos here. Another story I appreciated is “Proof of Concept” by Auston Habershaw. The narrator is a being with a distributed brain and shapeshifting ability. Unfortunately, enough of it got blown away in an altercation that it lost a lot of memory and now has to figure out what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish. It’s a great way to build up a mystery, and the reveal is satisfying.

Sean McMullen contributes the novelette “Beacon”. This has a fascinating premise where Elgin Yang, one of the scientists in charge of the uncrewed exploration mission Hypatia, unbe­knownst to him, had his consciousness uploaded to the ship. After thousands of years of voyage the ship has woken him up for its own reasons. Unfortunately Yang is absolutely phobic of all the vast stretches of space and time that are involved, and a lot of the story is devoted to keeping his brain from rolling up like a defensive armadillo. But if he can survive his disembodied panic at­tacks, there may be wonders in store. Closer to home, in “Bounty 1486” by Wendy Nikel, Delia has a regular gig piloting a small spaceship around Earth, reeling in space junk. She’s on duty for three or four days a week and gets to spend the rest of the time with her young daughter. It’s a fine living, although maybe not quite as exciting as the NASA career she originally dreamed of… until a call comes in that, thanks to an unlikely chain of failures, an astronaut is drifting away from the ISS, beyond hope of rescue. Delia is easy to root for in this can-she-save-the-day classic SF story.

Recommended Stories

“Boy in the Key of Forsaken”, Eric Del Carlo (Analog 5-6/22)
“Proof of Concept”, Auston Habershaw (Analog 5-6/22)
“Subsidiary Class 2 Museum Report”,  Tim McDaniels (Analog 5-6/22)

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 July 2022 issue of Locus.

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