Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction: Future SF Digest and Asimov’s
Future SF Digest 12/22
As I wrap up my reading year for 2022, I’m sorry to also be noting the shuttering, at least for now, of one of my favorite venues. Future Science Fiction Digest, edited by Alex Shvartsman, is going on hiatus as of its 17th issue. It started publishing in 2018 (the same year I started my short fiction column here) with an emphasis on international and translated fiction. Shvartsman cites plenty of reasons for the hiatus, many of which I can relate to. The magazine goes out on a high note with a handful of well-picked stories. “The Language of Insects” by H. Pueyo is a lovely story of interspecies communication and first contact. Insectoid aliens Mango, Galena, and Kinnabari find a station on a Mars-like planet occupied by one human, Rosa. Mango is a linguist, and they slowly work through different layers of communication starting with objects, moving to concrete language, and on to abstract and emotional concepts. “Seven Deadliest Inventions of the New Era: An Itemization” by Uchechukwu Nwaka is an action story told in sequential vignettes. Taiwo and sister Kehinde break into a lab where Taiwo used to work for the Professor. Using some of the titular inventions and defending against others, we learn about the backstory of the lab, Taiwo’s involvement, and what has become of their work. The final story is an apt send-off from Shvartsman, whose publishing company is UFO (Unidentified Funny Objects). “Max Loves the Internet” by Rodrigo Culagovski is a silly and fun but well-done story involving an alien computer program sent to scout Earth for invasion. When we create the internet and crypto-mining servers, we provide it the ideal habitat in which to thrive, but then it meets Inti, the sentient manifestation of the internet. Combat quickly ensues, resolving in a clever way. Future SF Digest, with its international scope and smart sense of fun, will be well missed.
The Nov/Dec Asimov’s starts off with “Falling Off the Edge of the World” by Suzanne Palmer, a story that feels pandemic-inspired. It’s told in three timelines: Gabe immediately after the accident that nearly rips apart the spaceship Hellebore (where he worked as an agriculturalist), Gabe decades later having made a life of sorts along with the other survivor of the wreck on the other half of the ship, and then the mission that improbably finds them and attempts rescue. The threads weave together expertly, and mysteries are satisfyingly resolved. Another far-future story is “The Long Revenge of Chenda Sebalko” by Tom Purdom. It’s an elaborate story of nemeses in a post-death world where Kellerson (kind of accidentally) killed Chenda’s wife before immortality was common. Chenda has vowed revenge, as he feels that justice was not served, and the crisis of the story is when Kellerson kidnaps Chenda and starts an all-out attack on his financial systems. It’s up to two of Chenda’s children, also immortal, to figure out a rescue.
Closer to the present, Ray Nayler’s “The Empty” imagines Sal, a remote truck driver up for a promotion. From her control center in a cargo container in the desert, she is trying to deal with a malfunctioning truck but also sees signs of a person in distress. Helping that person would mean putting herself at significant financial risk because of the gig work structure, and Nayler doesn’t opt for an unrealistically happy ending here. Then in the novelette “Flicker” by Michael Cassutt, Ty is a US Air Force crew member stationed on a Bering Sea rig for exercises. When the rig is attacked by what appear to be ecoterrorists, Ty is put on duty watching the one terrorist taken captive. He starts listening to the prisoner, and between their treatment at the hands of the military and how they describe their mission, his worldview starts to shift.
“The Empty,” Ray Nayler (Asimov’s 11-12/22)
“Falling Off the Edge of the World,” Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s 11-12/22)
“The Language of Insects,” H. Pueyo (Future SF Digest 12/22)
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 February 2023 issue of Locus.
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