Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 198

Images of a farm are reflected in the visor of an astronaut as s/he floats above the earth, head upside down relative to the cover with the earth below

The March issue of Clarkesworld Magazine was a mixed bag for me. There were two stories that I simply loved, one I didn’t like much at all, and two that were just meh. Here are my brief individual reviews for each story.

The opening story “Love in the Season of New Dance” by Bo Balder is a poignant tale of a researcher on an alien planet studying a cicada-like species. This researcher is touched by the predicament of a single creature as it breaks through to the surface long before its fellows, dooming it to die before the rest arise. A touching relationship grows through their short time together. (My rating: 4/5)

In “Pinocchio Photography” by Angela Liu, the main character is a photographer in an eerie future where the dead can be animated post mortem and their pictures taken with loved ones with a special type of film. This photographer starts the job as a side hustle that her mother disapproves of and her dying father sees her enjoying. They all come together in a bittersweet and emotional conclusion. (My rating: 5/5)

The Spoil Heap” by Fiona Moore takes place across two times—the story’s present and past as the main character Morag remembers it. The back and forth between the two time periods gives the tale a slowly unfolding suspense as it reveals what is actually happening in the present. And that present is a post apocalyptic world that fell into a form of feudalism before Morag took action to create the world of the present. (My rating: 5/5)

Bek of “Bek, Ascendant” by Shari Paul has left her home planet just prior to its destruction and become part of a team of aliens who help to resettle species that have lost their home planets. She had thought that she was the last human alive but finds that many from her planet were rescued by the alien confederacy that she is now a part of. And her childhood friend the Emperor is still alive. And now her team is being sent to manage their resettlement. How will she handle this unforeseen turn of events? (My rating: 3/5)

In a future where clones are created regularly by corporations, the clones are only given rights and recognized as “human” (rather than property) once they pass a test to “convert”. If a clone fails to convert, it is automatically destroyed at a certain age via an implant. But some unconverted clones don’t want to recognize such a system by participating in the testing process. One clone who works for a cloning company is challenged by this choice in “Failure to Convert” by Shih-Li Kow. This story is a touching exploration of what it means to be human and the choices that make us more or less so. (My rating: 4/5)

What it means to be human is also explored in “Zeta-Epsilon” by Isabel J. Kim. It is an emotional story of a brother and sister raised together and treated as property by the company that created their relationship. The brother is human and the sister is a sentient AI that was planted in his brain. They were raised together to become a ship (the sister) and its pilot (the brother). But they both want more than that from life. They want freedom and agency. This is the story of how they seek that together. (My rating: 4/5)

It wasn’t clear to me at first what was going on it “AI Aboard the Golden Parrot” by Louise Hughes. It is one of those stories that kind of dumps you into the tale and leaves you to figure out what it means as you go. That can work well sometimes, but that isn’t the case here. At least not for me. The story is about an old pirate carnival ride that is now roaming the ocean as it cautiously approaches a city that seems not to want it to. (My rating: 3/5)

The final story of the issue, “Love is a Process of Unbecoming” by Jonathan Kincaid, was a complete disappointment for me. It felt experimental, and the experiment failed. It seems to be about an infection and what is does to its host. But it felt like a jumble, and I never really understood what was going on. But, maybe that’s just me. It might be just what someone else is looking for. (My rating: 2/5)

The wonderful in this issue is weighed down a bit by the meh and jumbled stories to yield an overall rating of the fiction of 3.75. Definitely worth a read for the high rated stories.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy book cover

I am reading a lot of short stories for my “Year of Short Fiction”. But short fiction also includes novellas. There are many different definitions for the length of a novella, but The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association defines word counts for different length formats like this:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers is therefore a novella and is the latest of my short fiction reads. It is the sequel to her previous novella A Psalm for the Wild Built. Both take place on a moon and follow a monk and a sentient robot. In the second of these novellas, the monk acts as the travel coordinator for the robot as it re-introduces its kind to humans for the first time in generations. When robots gained sentience, they left the humans and their factories and moved to the wild to live on their own. For more details, read the first novella. It’s really good.

While the theme of the first book was more individual, this second takes on relationships. How will people relate to a sentient robot after generations of separation? How will the relationship between the monk and the robot change during the tour? Once again the writing is colorful, bringing to life the world around the characters and the characters themselves. The conversation feels realistic to the situations. And the interaction of the characters shows the changing relationships through the story rather than exposition. Overall, a worthy sequel, but not quite as good as the first book for me.

My rating: 4/5

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 153

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 153 cover

Let’s dive right in. Issue 153 of Lightspeed Magazine is for the month of February 2023. It is edited by John Joseph Adams, and all the stories are original.

First up is “Learning Letters” by Carrie Vaughn, a story of the far future after “the Fall”. An isolated and primitive but successful community is visited by a stranger in an airplane. Where did they get the fuel for it? Where have they come from? And what do they want? This world just drew me in and made me want more. (My rating: 5/5)

After a nuclear war forces people to live underground, people have the desperate choice between staying underground and slowly going crazy from the lack of sunlight or venturing to the surface and dying from radiation poisoning. “In(con)solation” by Octavia Cade is the story of a couple living together facing this impossible choice. The story is told in an interesting combination of first and second person voices. (My rating: 3/5)

In “The Day the Earthman Didn’t Show, Adam-Troy Castro tells the tale of a collectivist alien society that knows the future and works together to plan for it. For millennia. Only what if something happens and the prophecy doesn’t come true? Read this delightful story and find out. (My rating: 4/5)

Have you ever written to your congressperson or senator? If so, I bet it was nothing like the letter in “Subject: More Monsters Will Not Make Us Safer” by Paul Crenshaw. The problem this author is concerned with is using monsters to make children safer in schools. An interesting look at a current hot button issue. (My rating: 4/5)

All houses change as you live in them, even if you never renovate them. But the changes in “The House of Linear Change” by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe are way beyond that! The son of the homeowner finds himself in a bit of spot. This one was a bit trippy for me, but may be just your thing. (My rating: 3/5)

The title “Real Magic” by Sharang Biswas at first doesn’t quite seem to fit. People nervously approach the local witch to seek her help with a problem. One by one she sets them each on a quest that gets them what they want but with no real magic. She saves the real magic for the really important things. (My rating: 4/5)

I was surprised to learn that the title library in “Guidelines for Using the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library” by Marie Brennan actually exists. The author created a fantastic version of guidelines for using it based on her own time there. A fun read. (My rating: 4/5)

As a child did you ever need to stay with family or friends when something unexpected came up with your family? The boy in “His Guns Could Not Protect Him” by Sam J. Miller experiences this when something happens to his father. No one will tell him as he tries to protect his little brother from learning the danger their dad is in. This one really brings that childhood feeling to life. (My rating: 4/5)

That’s it for this month’s Lightspeed fiction! My ratings come out to 3.875 on average so another successful issue. Happy reading!


Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 197

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 197 cover

I didn’t start my subscription to Clarkesworld Magazine until after the first of January, so the February issue is my first issue. It was worth the wait.

For me the first story is an outlier. I didn’t like it very much. In fact, I’m not sure I really understood it. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe it just isn’t for me. You be the judge of “The Portrait of a Survivor, Observed from the Water” by Yukimi Ogawa. It didn’t work for me. (My rating: 2/5)

There is a lot of talk these days about AI. One researcher even believes that the AI he works with is sentient! In “Somewhere, It’s About to Be Spring“, Samantha Murray tells how a space ship achieves sentience throughout its systems after losing its crew. A touching story. (My rating: 4/5)

A philosopher of cognition doesn’t sound promising as a short story writer. But in “Larva Pupa Imago” Eric Schwitzgebel tells the fascinating journey of a caterpillar from birth to becoming a butterfly. As a caterpillar he enjoys a close friendship until he becomes a butterfly and sets out to procreate. (My rating: 4/5)

An Ode to Stardust” by R. P. Sand is about a woman hampered by real chronic pain her whole life. She tries to hide it from everyone around her and succeeds to become the youngest commander on the moon. There, for the first time, she makes a friend that she can be completely honest with. And it changes both their lives. (My rating: 5/5)

Introduction to 2181 Overture, Second Edition” by Gu Shi, translated by Emily Jin is presented as the introduction to a book in the future about cryosleep. People are frozen until their terminal illness has a treatment. This is nothing new in fiction. But the author goes a bit further. People become voluntary “time migrants”. They allow themselves to be frozen for a time so they can travel into the future where presumably things will be better. Throughout this story is weaved the author’s relationship to the history of cryosleep. Wonderfully told. (My rating: 4/5)

Silo, Sweet Siloby James Castles is one of my two favorite short stories of the year so far. The story takes place after a nuclear war. A group of survivors looking for safety and shelter find a missile silo complex that has been abandoned by humans but is controlled by a missile that failed to launch. They come to an uneasy agreement. The humans can stay if one of them will launch him in thirty days. After all, he wants to complete his mission. Read it to learn how it all turns out. (My rating: 5/5)

In a world with no food other than nutritious but tasteless bran bars, an old woman awaits her “Going Time“. Amal Singh describes a chaotic society that is barely held together by a religious leader. The old woman’s daughter learns some things about the leader that she refuses to believe. And her neighbor shares with her a view of where she will retire to. But is everything as it seems? (My rating: 4/5)

My average rating for the fiction in this issue is 4/5. Let me know if you agree with my ratings. Happy reading!

Too Literary for Me

Cathedral book cover

As I set out on my year of short fiction, I looked through my “to read” list of books for short story collections. One of these was Cathedral by Raymond Carver. It came to my attention in part because it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I decided to read it for my first short story collection of the year.

I am a huge fan of the short story form in part because of the influence of O. Henry. He is well-known for his use of irony and quick turns at the end of his stories. I also appreciate how due to their brevity, short stories often simply dip into a characters life and then leave without necessarily resolving everything or tying it all in a neat bow. Sometimes it is messy, like real life. Many of the stories in Cathedral have this last quality, perhaps all of them. Despite this, I have to say that I wasn’t a fan of Carver’s style.

The stories in this collection have as their theme in some way relationships, mostly friendship and marriage. And while the stories are quick glimpses into their lives, they didn’t feel like they had that much to say about them. I found them voyeuristic rather than entertaining or challenging. The writing is amazing, but I just didn’t understand why I was reading about these people. What was the point? Perhaps the stories were a bit too literary for me.

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!

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.

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.