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!