Charles Payseur Reviews Short Fiction: GigaNotoSaurus, Flash Fiction Online, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and F&SF

GigaNotoSaurus 12/22
Flash Fiction Online 12/22
Three-Lobed Burning Eye 12/22
F&SF 1-2/23

December’s GigaNotoSaurus story has some strong Star Trek vibes with “Patterns in Stone and Stars” by MV Melcer, where a Federation in conflict with different galactic powers needs to determine if the inhabitants of a certain strategically important planet are sentient and therefore would prevent the world from being colonized. Szkazy is from the outer territories of the Federation, which means most opportunities are beyond her reach, reserved for the Aolians as dominant demographic. Despite that, she’s clawed her way through school and, when prejudice prevented her from using that education in the way she wanted, she joined the military as a science officer. Now it’s her job to un­tangle the complex political situation on the planet and determine if a strange species is sentient, all while dealing with her ex and the weight of everything she’s been through. Melcer does a great job of pushing Szkazy to her limits while establishing a familiar (but wholly original) setting that tackles big ideas through a compelling and intimate space adventure.

In Flash Fiction Online’s December issue, Jenn Reese does some interesting things with structure and wordplay with “It Begins with RAVEN”. The plot of the piece follows a colonizing mission plagued by disaster, where the narrator, Tess, spends a lot of her time not dealing with emergencies crushing on one of the other crew members. Slowly, though, Tess begins to see (and at times is shown) that her crush isn’t exactly the healthiest of things, and that by focusing so much in one direc­tion, she might be missing out on something very important right in front of her. All the while, Reese plays a game of shifting RAVEN one letter at a time into something different and rather romantic. It’s a great extra layer for a story that plucks warmth and joy from tragedy.

There’s a lot to enjoy in December’s Three-Lobed Burning Eye, with a heavy emphasis on weird and grim speculative fiction. While many of the stories explore feelings of hor­ror and doom, my favorite might be one that brings readers to the edge of the void but doesn’t kick them into it. “A Girl Explodes” by Ruth Joffre on one level embraces a grim horror – the realities of sexual harassment, misogyny, and bullying – but it also doesn’t quite reveal everything that happened. As the title states, a girl explodes, but what that means is complicated, and might not be entirely without a silver lining. For some of the girl’s friends, at least, there is something almost hopeful about what comes out of the tear in space the girl makes in her explosion, and what happens next. It’s a sharp piece, unsettling and strange, but for me much more about power and change than about defeat or inevitability.

Moving into 2023 and the January/February F&SF should be a delight for fans of specula­tive poetry, as the issue contains no fewer than six poems, almost twice what the publication averaged in 2022. That includes R.B. Lem­berg’s powerful “Dzherelo (The Source)”, which unfolds as the narrator remembers their youth and their connection to a place they have been separated from physically but remained tied to in other ways. Mentally and emotionally, yes, but also in another, almost magical way, through water, through the me­dium that connects all things on Earth, that moves through the world and through every person. And in that touch of water to water there is a recognition and attempt to soothe, to heal, to offer a kind of prayer and hope for the future, despite the present being full of violence and fear. Lemberg does a beautiful job tying it all together and tracing the con­nection back to their source. Making their F&SF debut, Morgan L. Ventura adds to the issue with “Oracle”, which speaks to time, power, and memory. In it, a narrator seeks out an oracle and learns – not about fate, exactly, but perhaps about possibility. And the poem follows a revelation, the night sky acting like a curtain pulled back to show the stars and the vastness of the universe. There is a promise in that, captured by Ventura in the language of their work, of hope and wonder hidden for much of the day but still there, waiting to inspire and to whisper secrets about the past, present, and future.

Moving over to fiction, Stefan Slater makes his F&SF debut with the haunting “Cowboy Ghost Dads Always Break Your Heart”. Told in the second person, You are a half-ghost, raised by a living mother after her liaison with your ghost father, who’s a cowboy inhabiting a mountain mining ghost town. As a result, you’re a bit see-through, often overlooked, almost invisible – something that weighs on you, that makes you crave being seen and noticed and valued. When you set off to track down your dad, though, the experience isn’t quite what you expected. I appreciate how Slater does careful work showing that these feelings aren’t all about lineage, and there’s no easy fix to feeling overlooked and lonely. There’s a tenderness in the prose that shines, and the ending is quiet and heartwarming and beautifully done. Rob Cameron is another making a debut in F&SF this issue, with “Sis’ Bouki: the Hyena Gifts”. Poetic and a bit shat­tering, the story looks back into American history to find a Black man fleeing his en­slavement, calling out to gods to protect him and being answered by tricksters. And in the way of tricksters, they offer a kind of trick, a bargain with hidden layers and portents. But the trick isn’t necessarily on him, and the piece finds power in resisting oppression, in breaking the chains of servitude and reach­ing for a reckoning for those who would so cruelly dominate others. Cameron mixes history, folklore, and an evocative style to examine a dream deferred and the promise of it coming due.

Recommended Stories
“A Girl Explodes”, Ruth Joffre (Three-Lobed Burning Eye 12/22)
“Sis’ Bouki: the Hyena Gifts”, Rob Cameron (F&SF 1-2/23)

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.

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