Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: Augur, Flash Fiction Online, Lost Colony, and Slate Future Tense

Augur Spring ’22
Flash Fiction Online 5/22
Lost Colony Winter-Spring ’22
Slate Future Tense 5/22

Augur has made it to its fifth year, and its first issue of the year is themed “Joyful Imaginations.” It’s full of lovely stories, definitely more buoyant than average for a genre publication. Two of my favorites are “The Trouble with Time Machines” by Karen Jessica New, and “Love Heart Soup” by Wen-yi Lee. New’s time machine story is seriously meta, playing with how messed up language gets when time ceases to be linear. Scenes seem random and the author herself gets pulled in. It’s just fun. Lee’s story is completely different, rooted in tragedy. A woman from a djinn-touched family makes soup using literal seeds from her heart. After the deaths of her sons in a political upheaval years ago, any day’s soup might be bitter or warm, sweet or sour, etc. The day’s cooking and remembrances lead to her bringing her soup to the anniversary of their deaths.

The Seven Ochre Sisters” by Meg Frances takes fandom as its source of joy. KaTrice and others are teen superfans of the Seven Sisters girl group. They pass out and wake up with orange eyes just as the Sisters reveal themselves to be something quite different than their posings. This is one where I’d like to read even more of the story. The narrator of “Changeling” by Evalyn Broderick finds her joy in a plant she received as a bat mitzvah present. It’s been with her as she’s grown up, and in a rather dystopian near future there’s no way she’s going to give it up just because other people in her apart­ment complex don’t want it in their bomb shelter. This being speculative fiction, there’s something special about the plant, and it might help her escape the microaggressions that surround her. “Still, We Wait” by Nico VC is a lovely tale that manages to find joy even near the end of the universe. The Traveller returns to a mostly dead planet and finds the Observer still there. Although their paths diverged long ago, ae has returned to tell her everything ae’s seen across the galaxies.

I was able to dip into Flash Fiction Online for their May issue. “Upper Bout” by Lindz McLeod is about Struan, a young boy from a broken home. While he tries to keep peace at home, dreams of music and becoming a conductor sustain him. In “Peach Child, Woman, Stone” by Dafydd McKimm, an 11-year-old girl is able to watch when her mother finds a tiny magical child where the stone of her peach should be. Before her eyes the stone child ages within minutes, even as the adults are distracted discussing possible omens. “Bad Taste and Bad Luck” by Rosalind Helsinger features Becca and her girlfriend Elaine. In Becca’s family, husbands tend to die young, and she’s terrified that the same thing might be happening to Elaine. Elaine’s a skeptic about curses, but the story is a portion of their journey to the hospital when she needs a risky esophagectomy. It’s a vivid character portrait even if the end is inconclusive.

On the other end of the story-length spectrum, Lost Colony is a new venue for mid-length stories of 10,000 to 25,000 words. Edited by Mike Pickett, it is publishing one story per quarter, and I was able to read the first two issues. It leads with “Rox” by Mark Bilsborough, which turns out to be quite fun. Rox is the sole survivor of an alien attack that was covered up by her commander. After some years on her own, she’s conscripted into a mission to investigate a possible alien ship, along with the commander’s not-particularly valued son Jak. It will take co-opting some Marines and some im­probable tactics and physics, but Rox might just make it through. The second story is “Three Past Desolation Gap” by Grant Stone, a weird western. Bonnie is on a mission to destroy the Splintered Man using her father’s gun. Gosford and Eaton are her companions, although they’re bitter enemies. They pick up a stranger, King, who definitely isn’t what he seems to be. The farther they reach towards the center of the Splintered Man’s realm, the more dream logic reigns. I appreciated both these stories taking the time to flesh out their denouements.

Brenda Cooper is the author of May’s Slate Future Tense story, “Out of Ash”. In this near future, Washington state is suffering from global warming and has had to move their capital to “New Olympia,” freshly built for the purpose. But despite careful planning (and partly because of inevitable delays), the governor hasn’t had much luck getting people to actually move there. She recruits two activists, the older Guadalupe and the younger Chandra, and gets them involved in the effort. During the bonfire mark­ing the end of the town of Sultan, which also had to move, due to river flooding and erosion, the governor realizes that she can’t let her learned distrust of the press completely cut her off from that important communication channel. I always appreciate stories that show a democratic government functioning, and this one captures a number of layers in a pretty short package. The companion non-fiction essay by Molly Brind’amour is as thought provoking as always, on the theme of climate refugees and what happens when physical communities have been abandoned before.

Recommended Stories

“Love Heart Soup”, Wen-yi Lee (Augur 5.1)
“The Trouble with Time Machines”, Karen Jessica New (Augur 5.1)

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 August 2022 issue of Locus.

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