The Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow

I recently started requesting galleys at Net Galley. It’s a site where you can download and read books before they are published in return for giving an honest review. It helps publishers to build reviews for books before they come out. I am a big fan of Cory Doctorow and requested to read The Lost Cause, due to be published on November 14. I finished it today, so here is my brief review.

The story takes place about thirty years in our future. Climate change has continued to wreak havoc on the world. A new generation has grown up knowing nothing of a time before climate change. There has been a two-term president who signed into law a Green New Deal that has started to address the issues of climate change for real. This is followed by a less effective president of the same party and then a new president after who starts to turn things back. This is where the story begins

The protagonist is a young man named Brooks just graduating high school whose idealist parents died in pandemic when he was eight. He shares their ideals. His grandfather does not. He belongs to a Maga Club whose members are opposed to all the changes and love the new president. When internally displaced migrants from another city come to Brooks’ hometown of Burbank, Brooks and his friends clash with the Maga Club folks.

I really enjoyed this book. It had some cheesy romance, a little bit of political polemics, a whole lot of liberal ideals, and even some food descriptions that made my mouth water. It shows a view of how we might overcome climate change in the near future despite people who deny it happening and clinging to old ways. Both fun and political. One of the author’s better books.

My rating: 4/5

Apex Magazine Issue 140

Apex magazine tends toward the dark side of fiction, so it is appropriate that I finished reading the latest issue just before Halloween. It was definitely more of treat than a trick.

The issue starts with a dystopian story in a world experiencing climate change called “Whisper Songs” by Lyndsie Manusos. A woman experiencing post-partum depression witnesses three birds die in her yard. As required by law, she calls the authorities so they can come collect the birds’ songs. They come but things get off track. A close examination of one of these collectors and the mom. Unique and interesting. (My rating: 4/5)

A new writer with the name Zohair gives on odd story called “Quietus“. A man is condemned to death and put alive into a coffin and floated down the river. As the coffin travels, people seem to see what they want to see and have very different experiences, including seeing an empty coffin. It doesn’t seem to have much to say, at least not to me. (My rating: 2/5)

A game of mahjong centers “Life Wager” by Lucy Zhang. A woman who is the child of a god and a human returns to heaven and plays a series of games with the emperor. But that’s about all that happens. Just kind of meh for me. (My rating: 3/5)

Kɛrozin Lamp Kurfi” by Victor Forna is an experimental story that I really wanted to like much more than I did. It tells of a mother who chases her son into a story to save him and struggles to get out with her mind intact. I liked the idea of going into the story but the telling was a little disjointed and confusing for me. (My rating: 3/5)

Apex excels at stories with atmosphere that provoke emotions. “Junebug” by Sarah Hollowell is an excellent example. Three friends are traveling to visit their dying friend when they get stuck in traffic on the highway. The emotions build and overflow, leading to unusual experiences. (My rating: 5/5)

Spitting Image” by Rich Larson is the kind of creepy story that is perfect for Halloween. A boy’s friend leads him to a well in the forest that returns things dropped into it, changed. I shiver just remembering this story. Makes your skin crawl, just like it is supposed to. (My rating: 4/5)

After her grandmother dies, a woman wears the hat she did and starts to experience the same thinning of skin and hair. In “Brainpink Umber“, Chelsea Sutton explores questions like: What makes us who we are? And what happens when that starts to fade? This story feels like a metaphor for dementia running in a family. (My rating: 4/5)

Talk about metaphors that work! “From This Beating Heart, From This Fractured Mind” by Elisabeth Ring tells of a man with a wooden ticking heart and a woman with a glass mind living together and supporting one another. He is a bit cold and disconnected. She can’t seem to wrap her mind around things like she should. It is a tale of mental health and isolation. Well done. (My rating: 4/5)

In a future with sentient biorobots, a young man lives with his male partner while his mother from the old country begs him to get married and have children. At the same time, he struggles with what to do with one of his under performing charges. “Memories of the Old Sun” by Eugen Bacon addresses two tropes but never really brings them together. Disappointing with great writing. (My rating: 3/5)

The issue ends with the beautiful “Through Dreams She Moves” by Tonya Liburd. A woman who can enter other people’s dreams enters those of a man in a coma in an effort to wake him up. What makes this especially poignant and evocative is the clever use of the second person. The story addresses several people as it goes: her mom, then boss, the client’s father, the client, and her great grandfather in the past. It works beautifully. (My rating: 5/5)

My average rating for this issue is 3.7 out of five. Be sure to at least spend the time to read the two best stories in the issue.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 54

A read-headed young woman has her hand in a bear's mouth as it roars in her face

When I finally picked up the September/October issue of Uncanny Magazine, I was excited. I had been looking forward to reading since early September. Right away I was rewarded with a spectacular story.

Advertising has become so much a part of our culture. In “Can You Hear Me Now?“, Catherynne M. Valente uses that fact to amazing effect. Imagine if a woman in the ads you see was suddenly a real person, aware that they played different roles in each commercial? How would she deal with that? This masterpiece explores that idea while touching on all the real troubles and desires that consumerism covers up. (My rating: 5/5)

I was initially intrigued by the indigenous setting of “We Do Not Eat Much Fish” by Grace P. Fong. A woman called a witch by her father and husband, encounters a fisherman and brings him home to her son with dire results. The story is a bit gruesome for me and doesn’t explore as much as I wanted about the context of a woman taken to strange home by her husband. (My rating: 3/5)

Remember being a kid and peeling Elmer’s glue off your hand in sheets? In Kristina Ten’s “The Curing“, the outcast immigrant kids go a bit further. They cover their whole bodies and peel them off, and the glue copies come “alive”! Now, just one wouldn’t do, right? These kids make multiple copies and absorb all the memories that their copies make. It is a great story with lots of metaphor, subtle, and not too much in your face. (My rating: 5/5)

The longest story in the issue is “The Kingdom of Darkness” by Sarah Monette. In an alternative past, a man protects a demoniac after his witch finder is murdered. I am sorry to say that I could not finish this story. I found myself forcing myself to read it. I didn’t care what was going on. And it seemed a bit all over the place. (My rating: 1/5)

I found “The Girl with a City Inside of Her” by Jeannette Ng to be a little confusing. A girl with a city inside her sits on a stool in the sideshow of a carnival talking to the visitors about her city. The author seems to switch back and forth between the girl literally having a city inside her to it being simply a metaphor. I didn’t really care for it. (My rating: 2/5)

On a doomed mission to look for a replacement planet, a reluctant outfitter does her best to keep the surveyors alive after a deadly pandemic at home. This is “The Coffin Maker” by AnaMaria Curtis, and she really creates a palpable atmosphere. I could feel what was going on in this story. The desperation, the frustration. (My rating: 4/5)

Four Words Written on My Skin” by Jenn Reese is a kind of a romance with a trope I don’t care much for. A woman follows her wife into the woods where the Fae have stolen her in an attempt to get her back. Their relationship was rocky but once her wife is taken, the main character realizes how important she is to her. That said, it is a good story well-written. (My rating: 3/5)

My excitement at the start of the issue had pretty much petered out by the end. The issue comes to a disappointing average rating of 3.25 out of five. Issue 55 is likely to be the last in my subscription.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

A young redheaded girl dressed all in black with white paint on her face to look like a skull is holding a sword in her right hand.

The book club that I am a member of reads a different genre of book each month. In October, our genre is Fantasy/Horror in keeping with Halloween at the end of the month. Currently we are reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, the first book of The Locked Tomb series. This is a popular book that I was familiar with but had decided not to read before it became club’s selection. My instinct was right.

The story centers around an orphan on a planet of necromancers protecting their empire from some great danger buried there. She was raised with the princess of the planet who treated her with contempt despite the fact that they were the only two children on the planet. Shortly after the novel begins, they are both called to the First planet (theirs is the Ninth planet, referring to their house rather than the planet’s distance from its sun) at the call of the emperor. Once there, they and everyone else called embark on a quest to become an immortal guardian who helps defend the empire at the side of the emperor. But things go sideways as they compete for this honor. The bulk of the story describes this quest and the mysteries surrounding it.

The world is very dark. It is also incredibly violent and graphic. It revolves around necromancy and the power one gets from the dead and dying. I found the mystery mildly interesting. The world, not so much. The main character is poorly developed from my perspective. She is a bit snarky. This could have worked but felt more lame than clever. And it was just enough for her to be irritating rather than charming. She is no Han Solo. Overall, I found the world building weak. There was barely enough there to hold the story together but not enough to hold my interest. If I had not been reading this for my book club, I would not have finished it. Turns out my first impression before I read it was accurate—it’s not for me. Naturally, I won’t be reading any more of the series.

My rating: 2/5

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 160

An armored magician with long hair and a tattooed face hold their hands close together with bright light between them.

I always look forward to the wide variety of stories in Lightspeed Magazine, and the September issue was no exception.

The issue starts with an odd adventure written by John Kessel and Bruce Sterling entitled “Money in the Bank“. A veteran using a false identity to sell his services as a body guard gets what seems to be a run-of-the-mill assignment. He is sent to guard a cryptocurrency genius. He succeeds but learns that there is much more going on behind the scenes. Madcap humor and an out-there plot that turns out to be a fun combination. (My rating: 3/5)

Eve’s Prayer” by Victor Forna is an actual prayer. A woman on a habitable planet prays for guidance on whether to send a beacon to let humanity know they can safely come. The planet is safe for humans, but she is concerned about what they will do to it. (My rating: 4/5)

The next entry is a bedtime story, literally. In “The Hole in the Garden” by Gene Doucette, a hard-working man comes home late to find his seven-year-old daughter still up waiting for him to tell her a story. Tired, he searches his memory for one that won’t take too long. He comes up with one about a quantum singularity in a man’s garden. But the ending has a surprise twist. This story really pops. (My rating: 5/5)

Many science fiction writers experiment with the way they tell stories. Maria Haskins does this in “Death by Water“, and it doesn’t work for me. The result is a trippy, psychedelic, confusing story about a woman who sails away from Vancouver in a ship as her body slowly falls apart. I didn’t really understand what she was trying to say with this. (My rating: 2/5)

Have you ever wondered how to get over a broken heart? Jordan Kurella gives step-by-step guidance in “Instructions for the Broken Hearted“. This story takes the idea of someone ripping your heart out and stomping on it literally, teaching the reader what to do to get it back in your chest. It is bittersweet and really evokes all the feelings you would expect. (My rating: 4/5)

Dragon tales. Typical fantasy fare, right? Not exactly in “Simmered in Their Wealth Like the Richest of Sauces” by Jo Miles. In our modern world, a dragon is awakened by a rich man seeking the gold that the dragon sleeps on. But the dragon can smell and taste greed. And the aroma of our modern world is making the dragon salivate. (My rating: 5/5)

Remains” by N.R. Lambert is another experimental story. It seems to be the story of a person (“you”) trying to survive as the world around them breaks down. The language is flowery and evokes feeling but I couldn’t tell what was going on. This seems to be a modern trend in writing. I don’t care for it. (My rating: 2/5)

In “His Thing” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu, an African woman is essentially purchased by a man returning to his hometown. He imprisons her in a sentient house that he controls. She seeks to find a way to control her own life. It includes a lot of words from southern Africa that are not defined though there is context to understand their purpose. I would have preferred having them fully defined. (My rating: 4/5)

Altogether, this issue comes in for a rating of 3.63 out of five. The issue was better than that rating for me, the two stories rated at two bringing the average down.

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 204

Two astronauts on an EVA on a green background filled with floating rocks.

Issue 204 is the September edition of Clarkesworld Magazine. Below are my brief reviews of the included fiction.

The issue starts strong with “Stones” by Nnedi Okorafor. A creature “born” on a comet explores the universe for millennia before encountering humans. A tale of alien life learning and exploring and finding out that humans are fearful creatures who respond with violence. And finding one who responds with kindness and care. (My rating: 4/5)

Next up is “The Queen of Calligraphic Susurrations” by D.A. Xiaoline Spires. A calligrapher uses an AI-driven digital brush to write a story for submission that is refused for using AI despite the AI only assisting. Interesting in the way it approaches the dilemma of where AI-written is different from AI-assisted. I didn’t care for the writing style. It felt flowery and poetic in a way that didn’t add to the story but instead bogged it down. (My rating: 3/5)

In “A Guide to Matchmaking on Station 9“, an empathic Jewish matchmaker with synesthesia living on a space station consults her ex-lover while making a few final matches before joining her daughter and newborn granddaughter on another space station. Nika Murphy’s story is rich with so many layers for its brevity. Subtle. Much is explored without coming right out and saying it. This story really sank into me. (My rating: 5/5)

The longest story in the issue is “Axiom of Dreams” by Arula Ratnakar. A young woman explores her dreams in an attempt to solve a complex math problem to get into a PhD program. Very math-y in a way that may not be for everyone. A fascinating exploration of the nature of reality. (My rating: 4/5)

The most disappointing story for me was “The People from the Dead Whale” by Djuna, translated from Korean by Jihyun Park and Gord Seller. It takes place on a tidally locked planet that humans have colonized. They live on “whales” in the ocean between the scorching hot Day and freezing cold Night sides of the planet. A tribe of refugees from a dead “whale” seeks a new home. It’s a very interesting world. This story is more of a tease or an introduction to even more. I’d be interested in more stories in this setting. (My rating: 3/5)

In “The Five Remembrance, According to STE-319” by R.L. Meza, a dying robot built to kill rescues a small girl on a battlefield. The remembrances are essentially statements that would only apply to humans, but yet are demonstrated by the robot. A critique of war, it is told from the perspective of the robot. (My rating: 4/5)

The issue concludes with an emotional bang with “Upgrade Day” by RJ Taylor. A person who sold their after life for a successful first life struggles as a post-human robot that is slowly growing obsolete. His owners can’t afford to keep upgrading him. They offer to do the unthinkable while he stays on to care for the girl as she grows up. A poignant tale of sacrifice and dedication and learning the costs of our decisions. (My rating: 5/5)

Overall, my rating for this issue is 4 our of five stars. Clarkesworld seems to have consistently excellent stories. I always look forward to each issue.

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 159

Three moons rising over a desert-like planetscape

I continue to catch up on my reviews from my vacation reading. Here is my review of the fiction in the August issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

The unusual “The Things You Can Maintain Yourself” by Benjamin C. Kinney kicks things off. A woman is forced to recycle the plant-based car she has owned and maintained for decades. It evokes a strong feeling and shows the support of communities that will be needed in such a future. (My rating: 4/5)

My favorite story is “The Letters They Left Behind” by Scott Edelman. A mother going off on a deep-space mission with aliens lasting many years, leaves behind letters for her daughter, marking milestones. But when she gets back, she finds that things turned out differently than she expected. The struggle of how to best be a parent centers this story as does the relationship. (My rating: 5/5)

In our current world of surveillance capitalism, “Monopticon” by Dani Atkinson is a wonderful story of subverting such a panopticon. Someone who has planted a file in the surveillance software system explains how the system itself came about. It is a very clever thought experiment and great exploration of individuality and privacy in a surveillance society.

In the Nest Beneath the Mountain-Tree, Your Sisters Dance” by Lowry Poletti tells of a scientist studying alien wasp symbiotes. This scientist will die when his symbiote dies. His is dying, and he is desperately searching for a way to live. It is a fascinating premise and world. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite come together for me as much as I would have liked. (My rating: 3/5)

I really appreciated the perspective and what Sloane Leong was attempting in “The Blade and the Bloodwright“. But, I didn’t care for it. In it a violent army uses the uncontrollable magic of a witch as a weapon to punish their island chief enemies. It was too bloody and dark and abstract. (My rating: 2/5)

I’m not sure what Russell Hemmell was doing with “All the Colours of the Death Knell“. It is a straightforward tale of a witch waiting to be burned at the stake as she ponders her thoughts and feelings. Good as far as it goes, but I felt something was missing. (My rating: 3/5)

Isabel J. Kim is one of my favorite short story writers. Everything she writes is good. “You Will Not Live to See M/M Horrors Beyond Your Comprehension” is a play in which Achilles seeks his future from the Oracle while a chorus of phone obsessed future people look on and interfere. It is an amazing piece of connecting a classic tale with contemporary experiences. (My rating: 4/5)

My overall rating for the fiction in this issue comes out to 3.63 out of five stars. I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading!

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 203

A tree person sits on a cloud in the sky

The August issue of Clarkesworld Magazine is another that I read over my vacation. Once again, my brief reviews of the fiction in the issue.

It opens with a technological retelling of Adam, Eve, and the garden of Eden in “Every Seed is a Prayer (And Your World is a Seed)” by Stephen Case. Ava joins Odem at a station in the midst of a forest managed by AI El. Their job is to fix the drones, but they drift further and further apart regarding doing what they are told. An interesting future perspective on an old myth. (My rating: 4/5)

Window Boy” by Thomas Ha starts out as a simple enough story. A boy sits staring out a window while waiting to go to boarding school and occasionally talks to the “window boy”. But after the window boy asks him for something, he starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. An interesting take on haves and have-nots in the future. (My rating: 3/5)

I didn’t really get “Light Speed Is Not a Speed” by Andy Dudak. For me it was a confusing mish-mash of a history of a storyteller on a world seeded by humans. (My rating: 2/5)

Clarkesworld often has Chinese science fiction in its pages. In “Who Can Have the Moon” by Congyun ‘Muming’ Gu, translated by Tian Huang, a poor Chinese woman with nothing grows up to become a famous artist of 3D dream boxes. It’s about the transition from 2D to 3D and digital art. Well told, and it is always good to get a different culture’s view of science fiction. (My rating: 4/5)

A history lecturer at an English university deals with discrimination and becomes an unwitting accomplice in a plan that eliminates her job in “Empathetic Ear” by M. J. Pettit. An interesting perspective and exploration of discrimination and the politics surrounding it. (My rating: 4/5)

Gel Pen Notes from Generation Ship Y” by Marisca Pichette is a unique twist on the story of a ship that will take generations to reach its destination. The ship leaves earth for Proxima Centauri with a crew of people sterile and unable to age. How does one handle generations of time without aging? What does endless life aboard a ship do to those on board? (My rating: 3/5)

In the future, everyone has nanobots installed in their body. These regulate and heal the body. Everybody has them implanted in their youth. But what happens if your body rejects them? That is the premise of “Resistant” by Koji A. Dae. For me it felt a bit like an allegory for an abortion clinic(?). (My rating: 3/5)

This issue tried some unique story lines. Some worked for me. Others not so much. Over all for me the issue is 3.29 out of five starts.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 53

A centaur holding a bow with a nocked arrow kisses his femail rider who is also holding a bow with a nocked arrow

I finished reading the July/August issue while on my recent vacation and am only now getting around to posting my reviews of the fiction in it.

The issue starts off with the excellent “SuperMAX” by Daniel H. Wilson. It is the story of a father who created an AI-controlled prison whose object it is to rehabilitate the prisoners so that they can be released safely. This father used his son as the basis of the AI with predictably unpleasant effects form the research process for the son. The father shows up at the prison unannounced in an effort to make amends. Things do not go as he expects in this heartbreaking and poignant tale. (My rating: 5/5)

This is followed by another superior effort entitled “Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200” by R.S.A. Garcia. An elderly woman living alone in Trinidad is given a robot by her daughter to help around the house. It becomes more than just a robot to both her and others with the same model. The story is told in dialect and is a little challenging to get used to. But this is important to the atmosphere and intimacy of the story. (My rating: 5/5)

The Big Heavy” by Steph Kwiatkowski is about a generation ship, about the despair of being on a seemingly never-ending journey in the black void of space. The author does a good job of sharing the feelings of the community, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I found it depressing and pointless. (My rating: 2/5)

What follows is an explicit gay romance with a love triangle at the center in “Anything with a Void at the Center” by Lee Mandelo. A young man working in a porn shop works out his feelings for his roommates. Aspects of the action in the porn shop were a little too much for me, but the care the young men show for each other is touching as is the working out of individual quirks. (My rating: 3/5)

In “Love at the Event Horizon” by Natalia Theodoridou a filmmaker avoiding making his latest film is saved by a ghost ship and falls in love with it’s captain. It is a story of facing your fears through the care of another. (My rating: 3/5)

The Ghasts” by Lavie Tidhar explores childhood fear. A woman who seems to have overcome hers helps children overcome theirs. Only in this case, the fears are justified. And perhaps she hasn’t overcome her own as much as she thinks. A wonderful exploration of fear and helping others and ourselves. (My rating: 5/5)

A friend has to make a hard decision in “Theses on the Scientific Management of Goetic Labour” by Vajra Chandrasekera. He finds that his fellow student is working on a thesis that will end catastrophically, forcing him to confront what he values more, his friendship or his future. (My rating: 3/5)

The titular creatures in “The Music of the Siphorophenes” by C.L. Polk are giant space creatures somewhat like cosmic worms that live in deep space. A young pilot takes a galactic superstar singer to see them and hear their music. But what they find there is more than they expected, and not in a good way. This is a lovely story of overcoming secrets and pain through sharing them. (My rating: 5/5)

With four fantastic stories, I rated this issue at 3.88 overall. Even if you don’t read all the stories, be sure to catch those fab four.

Apex Magazine Issue 139

A bust of a platinum-haired woman emerging from a translucent human heart with a white moth in the foreground.

The next magazine up for review is the July issue of Apex Magazine, which I tend to think of as speculative horror.

The first story in this issue is by A.V. Green and is entitled “The Monster Fucker Club“. And just like it sounds, it is about a group of teenage girls dealing with the challenges they face by having sex with monsters. The story explores these different challenges, including the crazy reality of having to be concerned about active shooters in school. It is an interesting idea explored well, but I felt it could have gone deeper. (My rating: 3/5)

A young woman with an invisible creature around her neck is visited by a stranger in “Dolly Girl” by Christopher Rowe. It explores the theme of self-harm in a supernatural context. It seemed to be going someplace with something to say and then just ended. (My rating: 3/5)

Island Circus” by Amal Singh is another entry in the growing number of stories in the second person. In it, you long to run away to join the circus. What you are running away from is a boat community that is struggling to survive after climate change has caused the oceans to rise. A story about the conflict between duty and desire. (My rating: 3/5)

Relationships are hard. Abusive ones much more so. What to do when you miss your abusive partner after you part? How do you learn and grow to avoid such relationships in the future? That is what the protagonist in “But I Love You” by Sachiko Ragosta attempts to find out by buying a Just Right android made in the mold of her former lover. Fascinating but creepy exploration of troubled relationships. (My rating: 3/5)

In “The Discarded Ones“, Linda Niehoff tells the tale of ghosts who need adopting like stray dogs. These ghosts need someone to look after them until they are ready to move on. A woman sees a late night advertisement that tugs at her heartstrings. She herself is hurting and goes to the shelter to adopt. An interesting way to explore how caring for others can help us heal ourselves. (My rating: 4/5)

The Magazine of Horror” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an exchange of letters where the author is attempting to get a lucrative return on publishing a story in the titular magazine. But the potential downside of doing so could be deadly. The tension builds throughout as does the creep factor. (My rating: 4/5)

Sometimes I read a story that I just don’t connect with. “Gim of P” by Benjamin Dehaan is one such story. In it a miner notices something unusual that no one else seems to care about. The problem is, I didn’t care either. (My rating: 2/5)

In “You Me and the End” by Mona West, a twin on an airplane talks to her absent (and likely dead) twin as the pilot tries to figure out what to do after a nuclear war. There is connection and despair as well as a faint hope of celebration. A remarkable achievement in a story of only a thousand words. (My rating: 4/5)

Zombie’s like to eat brains, right? But what if you were a vegan before you became a zombie? This is the case for the protagonist of “A Young Zombie in Crisis” by Walidah Imarisha. And she doesn’t like brains and so eats the bare minimum to stay undead. How she comes to resolve this challenge is gross and funny. (My rating: 4/5)

You Without Me” by Endira Isa Richardson is a haunting story of a mother and child told to the child (you) by the mother (I). The child is dead but still communicates with the mother. It is a dark tale that really wasn’t for me. (My rating: 2/5)

My average rating for this issue comes in at 3.2 out of 5. Not very good. This magazine tends to be hit or miss for me and not very consistent. While I have appreciated it, I am unlikely to renew my subscription at the end of the year.