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!

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.

Storytelling at Its Finest

Something Wicked This Way Comes book cover

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is superior storytelling, though I didn’t think so as I was reading it at first. I found the language over flowery and a little old fashioned (the book was originally published in 1962). But I got used to the language of the time. And the prose is full of so much metaphor that it almost felt like poetry that paints not just a picture you can visualize but one you feel. Instead of trying to see all the description, I instead let it wash over me and move me emotionally. That’s when the book really came alive for me.

The book is the story of two boys–best friends–in a small town in Iowa. One early morning in October, a carnival arrives. But it is no ordinary carnival. The boys are drawn to it and adventure follows. My favorite aspect of this book is the relationships. The two friends are very different but very dedicated to each other. Jim is the adventure seeker. He wants to do things just because he can and to see what happens. Will is the good boy who feels deeply and sees deeply into others. Will and his father also share a relationship that grows and changes as the story unfolds.

But the part I love most about this book is what it says about the nature of evil and how to overcome it. This story could be characterized as horror but doesn’t share the hopelessness that I associate with that genre. Rather it evokes a living and breathing sense of ominous and imminent doom but resolves it in the most unexpected and satisfying way.

Why I Read Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Magazine Issue 49 cover

Every other month, I read the latest issue of Uncanny Magazine. Why do I do this? Lots of reason, really. There are great stories in each issue by well-known and new writers. The non-fiction essays touch on topics modern with respect to our culture and how it is evolving. But mostly I love how new cultural and technical ideas are explored in its pages.

Speculative fiction is my favorite genre. I love it when a writer takes some idea, tool, or practice in today’s world and twists it with a “what if” that explores some aspect of that thing that most of us have yet to consider or think about. That’s why I read this magazine. Six times a year, I get to read the thoughts of people who have pondered these ideas deeply and share them through stories and essays. I encourage you to dive in and see for yourself.

Here are the pieces I most appreciated in the latest issue of Uncanny Magazine, Issue 49 November/December 2022.

A Bit of a Jumble

No Gods, No Monsters book cover

We just had our latest book club meeting yesterday where we discussed Cadwell Turnbull’s No Gods, No Monsters. We all were very interested in reading it. During the meeting, I also learned that we all had some challenges reading it.

This is one of those books that doesn’t give you a lot of background and dumps you into the story. This was the main challenge. Many books start this way with a clear thread joining them. That thread seemed to be missing, leaving the reader struggling to grasp all that is going on through most of the book.

In a post on his website, the author mentions that the community is the protagonist of the story. I didn’t really get this, and I struggled with the characters. Some characters were more sympathetic than others, but I never had enough time with any of them at once to develop any deep feelings. I was taken abruptly from one to the other in what felt a haphazard way.

Interestingly, I still enjoyed this book enough to want to read the next book in the series that is yet to be published. My hope is that some of the confusion and disorientation will dissipate with this second novel. If that is not the case, I expect I won’t finish reading it. It won’t be the first time I stopped reading a series or even a book without finishing it.

Short Science Fiction and Fantasy

Uncanny Magazine Issue 48 cover

I still subscribe to and read every issue of Uncanny Magazine. The latest is September/October 2022. Here are my favorite stories and essays.

Stephen King’s Latest

Fairy Tale book cover

I haven’t read much Stephen King, but what I have read I’ve really enjoyed. The Stand was longer than I felt it needed to be, but I stilled liked it. And in both The Stand and The Dead Zone, I really felt like I got to know the characters. They felt both alive and real. For the most part I could say the same about his latest novel released in early September Fairy Tale.

In King’s latest he tells the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who lost his mother in a tragic accident and later befriends an old curmudgeon living in a run down old house on a hill. In the back yard is a shed that hides… he doesn’t know what. But as he gets to know the owner better, he learns what is in there, and it changes his life.

Once again, the characters are relatable although the story seems to drag in some places. Members of the book club I read this with commented that they felt like some of the perspective of the teenage narrator didn’t fell authentic. Kind of like an older person’s idea of today’s teenager. Despite these shortcomings, this story had me the whole time as it uses, bends, and molds fairy tale tropes to tell a rich story. While not perfect, I was hooked to the end. If you have never read any Stephen King, this might be a good start for you, especially if you are not a particular fan of the horror genre.

You can listen to Stephen King read a chapter of the book here.

Excellent Storytelling in Speculative Fiction

Uncanny Magazine Issue 47 cover

I’ve been a subscriber to Uncanny magazine for a little over a year now. I just finished reading issue 47, the July/August 2022 issue. It is the best issue since I started subscribing. Here are my favorite stories from the issue.

Every issue of this magazine uses speculative fiction to address the very human issues of today. Sometimes the stories are challenging and emotional. Sometimes they are just a romp. And more often than you might think, they are both. Each issue is reading. Consider supporting these writers by subscribing.

A Contemporary SFF Magazine

Uncanny Magazine No. 45 Cover

I am a huge fan of science fiction. I read many sci fi novels in high school, and recently subscribed to the semi-pro Uncanny Magazine. It publishes every other month and includes short stories, novellas, poetry, and essays on the topics of science fiction and fantasy. The latest issue is number 45, March/April 2022.

In this issue I dogeared five different pieces – two short stories and three essays. Flowerkicker by Stephen Graham Jones (available online April 5) is the story of a couple on a hike up a mountain. She is stopping to view every flower. He wants to get to the top and back before sunset. And they come across something out of the ordinary along the path.

In Requiem for a Dollface by Margaret Dunlap (also available online April 5) a teddy bear seeks the “murderer” of a child’s favorite doll. Upon discovering the perpetrator, he must make a very difficult ethical decision.

The essay Acknowledging Taiwanese-American Vampire Foodies by Jo Wu discusses explores cultural prejudice in the foods we eat and how they affect our attitudes toward those who eat differently. I thought the title absurd, not expecting much from the piece. Instead I found it poignant and insightful.

Resisting the Monolith: Collecting As Counter Narrative by Rebecca Romney is an essay by a collector of feminist science fiction. She traces the history back before Margaret Atwood to the nineteenth century. I added at least two titles to my “to read” pile after reading it.

Wax Sealed With a Kiss by Elsa Sjunneson (available online April 5) discusses the role of letters in general and love letters in particular throughout history and their use in fiction such as The Screwtape Letters and This is How You Lose the Time War. She even explores how her own letter writing helped her get perspective on her divorce.

I encourage anyone with an interest in contemporary science fiction and fantasy to read and subscribe to this excellent magazine.