Uncanny Magazine Issue 50

Uncanny Magazine Issue 50 cover

Time for the next magazine review in my year of short fiction. This one is Uncanny Magazine Issue 50 for January/February 2023. Let’s dive right into the story reviews!

The first story, “Collaboration?” by Ken Liu & Caroline M. Yoachim, is experimental. It attempts to tell the story of two beings creating worlds together. In the ebook version they use what they call an accessible version that will work for screen readers. It didn’t really work for me. It’s a little better on the website but still not my cup of tea. (My rating: 2/5)

Next up is “Cold Relations” by Mary Robinette Kowal. This is by far my favorite story of the year so far. It tells the tale of a brother and sister on opposites sides of the law where magic is concerned. They’ve become estranged but start to come together in a way that surprises. Emotion-filled storytelling that is both realistic and tugs at the heart. (My rating: 5/5)

How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark is exactly what it sounds like in the title. A wannabe somebody in the Victorian era mail orders a kraken egg and raises it in his bathtub. As you can imaging, things don’t go to plan. The author really brings you into the world of his unlikable protagonist and makes you feel the consequences of his hubris. (My rating: 4/5)

A. T. Greenblatt shows us Waystation City” through the experience of twins who are seeking to leave it. Everyone arrives without knowing when they will leave. The twins get tired of waiting and seek a guide to get out sooner, as many others have. The feel of the city and how those in it are feeling really shine. (My rating: 5/5)

Imagine a plague-ridden world hollowed out by millions of deaths that has descended into a dictatorial corporate government. Now you are a trans woman living alone in an apartment where you once cared for the now-dead owner. Oh, and “you see dead people”, that is ghosts. This is the setup for “Horsewoman” by A.M. Dellamonica. The loneliness amidst all the voices is what came through most to me. (My rating: 3/5)

In “Flower, Daughter, Soil, Seed” by Eugenia Triantafyllou, a mother tells her daughter of the women in her family all the way back to her great great grandmother. The twist here is that they are all flowers. Each generation is a different flower that grew up in a different environment. The love flows through and down to each new generation. (My rating: 4/5)

In “One Man’s Treasure by Sarah Pinsker, the wealthy have so much magic they can afford to throw away its tools and artifacts. The garbage workers need to be careful not to be hexed by the things they pick up. One crew finds a statue that may be more than it seems. This story felt very Agatha Christie to me in all the best ways. (My rating: 4/5)

What if the Jesuits had an enclave on the moon? Why the moon? What would they do there? How would they relate the church authorities? E. Lily Yu explores these questions and more in “The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium“. Like other Jesuits, these are scientists, and they discover something important. But will they be allowed to share their findings? (My rating: 5/5)

A cold, dark man arrives at a small village each month to take one of the women to be his servant for the month. No one ever sees these women again. “Silver Necklace, Golden Ring” by Marie Brennan is the story of one of these women. But she resolves to do something about her situation and takes her fate into her own hands. A well-told fairy tale of female agency in less than ideal circumstances. (My rating: 4/5)

Married husbands accompany a young female magician into the desert to guard her as she undoes the magic  at the request of a recently deceased woman who performed that magic long ago in “Miz Boudreaux’s Last Ride” by Christopher Caldwell. Shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds heighten the fear and foreboding. (My rating: 3/5)

No matter where he lives or tries to escape it, the protagonist of John Wiswell’s “Bad Doors” simply cannot get away from the mysterious door that keeps appearing in the walls of his homes. It doesn’t help that he is dealing with a global pandemic and an uncle deep into conspiracy theories. Angst and helplessness and frustration are on hand here. (My rating: 3/5)

In “Prospect Heights” by Maureen McHugh, a young woman in a gentrified neighborhood of New York is warned not to turn right out of her apartment. Of course, she does, and as she explores the dilapidated building thinks she sees herself. Nothing really new here for me but the imagery and writing are good. (My rating: 3/5)

One bonus review. I don’t normally review the essays in these magazines, though I do read them. I highly recommend from this issue “Building Better Worlds” by Javier Grillo–Marxuach which discusses how world building in fiction works. It deals mostly with film and TV but also applies to writing. It is fantastic resource for any storyteller.

Overall, this was an excellent issue in my opinion. My short fiction ratings average out to 3.75. I’m looking forward to reading more short stories in my February issues!

Timeless Storytelling

Hyperion book cover

My book club decided to read Hyperion by Dan Simmons for your January book in the science fiction genre. This book was first published in 1989 and won the 1990 Hugo award for best novel. I had it on my to read list, but it just didn’t call to me. I read something that described it as Canterbury Tales in space. Didn’t really appeal to me. But boy am I glad my book club selected it to read.

Though it was written in 1989, it still feels contemporary. There are references to a communication technology called the Web that’s not the same as what we have today but has a similar feel. It speaks to “time debt”, taking into account relativity and how that would affect a space-faring civilization. And the storytelling is superb.

The plot involves seven people making a pilgrimage to the planet Hyperion. The book is essentially a series of related short stories, each chapter being the story of one pilgrim’s reason for making the trip. In the background is the mysterious Shrike who lives on the planet and is the destination of their joint pilgrimage. Their reasons vary from love to religion to family. Each story by itself is worth your time, and together they make a novel that stands the test of time.

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 152

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 152

I previously subscribed to Lightspeed Magazine a few years ago. I resubscribed as part of my “year of short fiction”. Here are my brief reviews for the fiction in Issue 152 for January 2023, my first since I started reading it again.

The first story in the issue is The Last Serving by Lincoln Michel, about a vegetarian cook who conquers the culinary world and looks for her next challenge. She settles on learning to cook meat, but with a unique approach. As a vegan, I really connected with this. I really felt the motivation for the chef’s vegetarianism, and it ends with a humdinger of a twist. (My rating: 5/5)

This is followed by A Guide to Alien Terms Useful in the Human Diaspora by Deborah L. Davitt, a short glossary of alien linguistic terms. It is an interesting look at culture and language. It ends with a paragraph that uses all the words in the glossary. I found the format to be unique but the piece itself was just okay for me. (My rating: 3/5)

Imagine Survivor or The Amazing Race on a planetoid where if you die as a fan favorite, they simply bring you back to life and re-insert you into the program. Oh, and you are indentured to the production company. Two of the characters conspire to find a way out in The Narrative Implications of You Untimely Death by Isabel J. Kim. This is a well-written and entertaining exploration of facing hopelessness. It really grabbed me. (My rating: 5/5)

From the Largest Crater by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister is story of separation anxiety told as audio diary entries. A woman goes on an expedition from the moon to earth in an attempt to save her climate ravaged birthplace. Her wife stays home alone missing her. The telling felt overly long and didn’t feel like a particularly new take on this theme. (My rating: 2/5)

This is followed by one of the longest titled short stories I’ve ever seen–A Man Walks Into a Bar; or, In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street, I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done by Scott Edelman. In it a son tells us of his dad who played darts in a league in the seventies and his run in with a particular famous New Yorker. The love and connection to his father really come out on the page. And what he decides to do in the end is an unexpected turn. (My rating: 5/5)

In Braid Me a Howling Tongue, Maria Dong tells of young enslaved girls living and working together. Once every five days they are put outside to fend for themselves as they are hunted by a large creature. One of those girls is an outsider with no tongue. She connects with another of the girls as they learn to cope with their circumstances and seek to better them. A very touching and haunting story of love and care for others told from a place filled with despair. (My rating: 5/5)

In Between the Stones and the Stars by A. L. Goldfuss a hunter and a warrior arrive at a temple to claim the same prize–a chalice. But rather than fight, they decide to camp together and share their food and enjoy each other’s company. But what about the chalice? I enjoyed how this trope was humanized through the individual experiences of each character. A short read worth your time. (My rating: 4/5)

The focus is on light in In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanen Mc Guire. A young woman recently divorced spends a night in her family’s old house in the country. The parts of this story (the light, the protagonist, the neighbors) didn’t come together well for me despite the excellent writing. (My rating: 3/5)

I love stories that deal with deep human issues. The final story, The Ministry of Saturn by Benjamin Peek, explores the nature of creativity, freedom, power over others, and what we owe others. This is the tale of a magician, a homunculus, and his creator. (My rating: 4/5)

My average rating for the fiction in this issue comes out to an even 4. An excellent issue with a mix of great stories well told. I look forward to reading the next issue.

Apex Magazine Issue 135

Apex Magazine Issue 135 cover

I finished reading my first issue of Apex Magazine! It was the first issue of 2023, number 135. On the whole, I enjoyed it. Interestingly my favorite two stories were the classic fiction that were originally published elsewhere. Hopefully that won’t always be the case. Now on to my brief review of each story.

The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside by Isabel J. Kim is one of those rare stories written in the second person, making you feel like the story is about you. You work as an intern downtown in a glass high rise for a global magical corporation. The longer you work there, the more your body transforms. If you decide to accept their offer of a permanent position at the end of the summer, your body will become completely transformed; you will no longer be human. But that’s okay, you have no intention of staying. But maybe that boy across the office may change things…. This is a well-told story exploring the deeper aspects of what we really want out of life. (My rating: 4/5)

In Carnival Ever After, Mari Ness tells a tale of a woman who has joins the carnival due to an unusual condition that her family just couldn’t accept. When someone comes to “save” her, she might not be interested in leaving the supporting arms of her new “family”. While this story is interesting, it treads on ground that feels already well covered without offering much new to say. (My rating: 3/5)

A chess game forms the outline of The Immortal Game by Lindz McLeod. But don’t worry if you don’t know anything about the game. The story works even if you don’t understand chess notation. It is the story of a seduction. But who is seducing who and to what end? This is a somewhat familiar story told in a novel way. (My rating: 4/5)

Daughter, Mother, Charcoal by Akis Linardos is a story of generational subservience, showing just how difficult it can be to change one’s circumstance. And it isn’t always the physical obstacles that get in the way. It can be our culture as well as our own resulting mental states that hold us back and why it can take generations to change. This story evokes the feelings of darkness and despair that go along with challenges of such circumstances. (My rating: 4/5)

There was just one story that really didn’t do it for me. It was The Wreck of the Medusa by Jordan Kurella. A young trans boy comes of age on a pirate ship. It might just be me or my environment when I read it, but this story felt all over the place. I wasn’t sure what was happening or even what the point was. It is a story of transformation and growing into yourself, but it just didn’t quite work for me. (My rating: 2/5)

The shortest story in the issue is Experimental Protocol for the Coronal Sectioning and Assessment of a Human Soul by Sagan Yee. It intertwines a quasi-medical document describing how to remove a soul with a dying person’s telling briefly of their life as they approach their own end. It is clinical, beautiful, and haunting all at the same time and only 800 words. (My rating: 4/5)

Walking the Deep Down by Michelle Denham is a clever fable about a trek through the desert, avoiding being eaten by a monster, and planting something special that grows into something unexpected. The main character avoids the foolishness in old fairy tales and wisely outfoxes the monster in way that is reminiscent of Aesop’s fables. (My rating: 4/5)

Message in a Vessel by V. G. Harrison takes place on the moon in a future where some sort of medical disaster has split humanity into vampires and humans. The humans have essentially become livestock that the vampires feed from. One vampire isn’t entirely comfortable with this state of things. Her compassion and sense of justice is too much to resist as she attempts to save a human life. The world building is fantastic for such a short tale and the characters and circumstances really come alive. (My rating: 5/5)

My favorite story by far is Your Rover is Here by LP Kindred. A Rover driver (think Uber or Lyft) tells of how he uses magic to thwart a would be terrorist’s attack by one of his rides. In the aftermath, he is not treated as a hero. A thrilling but dark tale about the reality of social injustice from the view of someone in the midst of suffering it. (My rating: 5/5)

When I average my ratings for all the stories, this issue comes out to be a 3.8. Not bad! But as I said in the intro, the two best stories were not originals. Regardless, for a first issue this was a good experience. Dark stories that touch on deep human issues in ways that engage all the senses and make you feel something. That’s what I was hoping for from Apex, and it delivered.

Bite Sized Stephen King

Elevation book cover

I took a short vacation to Charleston, SC for the New Year. We drove there and back from Western North Carolina. As we usually do, we listened to audiobooks during the drive. On the way there, we started listening to Behind Her Lives by Briana Cole. This was a missing person thriller. Well, they got the missing person part right. We did not find it thrilling. It moved too slowly. And there were some odd word choices that seemed wrong. Maybe the narrator read the wrong word? That’s what it sounded like. In any case, we turned it off before we even finished our four and a half hour drive. Definitely not recommended.

I spent some time on New Year’s Day looking for a short audiobook for the ride home. Something in the four to five hour range. There isn’t much in that time frame, especially that is a thriller. I landed on Elevation by Stephen King. It isn’t exactly what I would call a thriller, but that is how my library tagged it. It is the story of a man with a mysterious malady who uses it to help out a couple being discriminated against in small town New England. It has the fantastic storytelling that King is famous for in a package that is much smaller than usual for him.

We were pleased to learn that there were actually two short stories in the audiobook. The second is simply called “Laurie”. It tells the story of how a puppy changes the life of a recent widower in Florida who is finding it hard to move on with his life. It is funny, poignant, and completely relatable, especially to anyone who had ever had a puppy.

Not For Me

Reading Like a Writer book cover

I have in interest in writing, though most of my own writing is simple journaling. I have written one short story that I have shared with a few people and in a writing class. That class made me even more interested in learning to write better. I have collected quite a number of books on writing in my “to read” list.

One of those books is Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. I have to admit that I only got to the third chapter. Near the beginning of that chapter, the author puts forward a 134-word sentence as an example of a good sentence. She even writes, “Despite its length, the sentence is economical.” I couldn’t disagree more. This was not a sentence. It was a paragraph! And it wasn’t all that clear to me. There were some other things earlier in the book that I also disagreed with, so when I got to this “economical” sentence I called it quits. There are too many good books out there for me to spend time on one that is clearly not for me.

Unusual Style

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream book cover

I was familiar with the name, but I had never read anything by Harlan Ellison. Recently his Hugo Award winning short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” came to my attention, so I borrowed the book of the same name from my library. It is a collection of some of his short stories, originally published in 1967.

The book includes an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon and a Foreword by the author. The author also writes a brief introduction to each story in the collection. The story titles are:

  • I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream
  • Big Sam Was My Friend
  • Eyes of Dust
  • Word of the Myth
  • Lonelyache
  • Delusion for a Dragon Slayer
  • Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes

My favorite stories are the first and last. His style is unusual. A bit stream of consciousness. In the foreword and introduction, both writers comment on how Ellison’s style is not for everyone. For me, the stories here were a mixed bag. Some I liked okay. Some felt a bit dated. Overall, I have to say that I appreciate having read this book, but I don’t know if or when I might pick up anything else by Harlan Ellison.

Exploring Human Challenges

A Psalm for the Wild-Built book cover

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is exactly my kind of science fiction–the kind that explores ideas. Like her longer novels, in this novella Becky Chambers shares a vision of a future that is both positive and optimistic. The story takes place on a verdant moon where humans have confronted what they were doing to the environment and corrected their activities. One of the catalysts for this was the rise to sentience of their robots. The story takes place many years after that.

The novella tells of a young monk who has a crisis of purpose and decides to change their vocation. At first they find their new work quite a challenge. Eventually they become very good at it and find that the hole they felt inside is not filled after all. At this point they take drastic measures to address this personal crisis. And throughout the descriptions of the countryside and outdoors in general nearly give the same feeling one gets from walking in the woods oneself.

I love it when science fiction addresses both the outward and inward challenges that humans face. This book does a masterful job of addressing both. It shows a positive future (though not a utopia) where humans have successfully and collectively navigated past a challenge that faced them all. But the core of the story is about one person trying to figure what their purpose in life is.

The Undiscovered Joy of Writing

Bird by Bird book cover

I’ve been interested in writing for a while now. I’ve created a long “to be read” list of books about writing. Once of those is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. This book is a collection of short essays about the life of writing, including such topics as Getting Started, Shitty First Drafts, and Finding Your Voice. Some of them are less directly about writing itself, like Looking Around and Radio Station KFKD.

A main focus of the book is encouraging the reader to write, not with the goal of being published, but for the sheer joy of it and the unanticipated benefits is brings. Among these are a deep connection with your fellow human beings. She encourages the reader to write what they know starting with their childhood. She includes the idea of writing about the nasty or abusive lover. Just be sure to change enough details (including giving him a small penis) that he won’t sue for libel.

This book won’t take the place of a writing course or a more detailed book on the craft of writing. But it does a masterful job of sharing the ups and downs of a writers life, encouraging the reader to write despite the fact that their chances at publication, followed by fame and fortune, are minuscule at best. She teaches that the writing life is deeper and more satisfying than that.

Deep Relationships

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow book cover

There has been a lot of hype this year about Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. It is all deserved. The book is a tale of lifelong friendship that starts in a children’s hospital. Sadie and Sam go on to become world-famous video game programmers. Many reviewers have focused on that last aspect of the novel, but the story is much deeper than that.

This is a story that any person can identify with. These friends support each other, fight, go through periods of not speaking, and still care deeply and struggle together and with each other. It is a tale of relationship more than anything else. And it is an engrossing story supremely well-told.

The author uses what some may call gimmicks in a few places. For instance, one chapter is a he said/she said where the same experiences are told from the point of view of each of the main characters. Another chapter is told in the second person (you). However, in each case, the method of writing serves the storytelling well. At the end of the book I felt I had been taken a deep into the lives of very real people from whom I learned a lot about the struggles and rewards of deep relationship.