Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar-Apr 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017

I set up a schedule to actually get an issue read in the two months before the next issue comes out. Genius! *cough*

There were two stories that I particularly enjoyed in this issue:

“The Man Who Put the Bomp” by Richard Chwedyk
According to the introduction to this novella, this is Richard Chwedyk’s fifth “saurs” story. I haven’t read the first four, but here’s what I gather to be the situation thus far: Saurs were genetically engineered to be playthings. Imagine if the plastic dinosaurs you played with as a kid moved around and could be your “Teddy Ruxpin”/”Furby”-like companions. But the saurs turn out to be more than just toys. They are alive. They have intelligence and autonomy. After a era of struggle, they have a kind of freedom, living in small enclaves, watched over by a few caretakers, and besieged by bio-tech corporations that wish to learn their secrets.

This story revolves around one such safe house. The cast of saur characters is confusingly large (really the only neagtive criticism I have about the story). Among them is Axel (an inventor theropod with a traumatic past*), Agnes (a stegosaur who wants to protect the community to a xenophobic degree), Tibor (who believes himself to be the ruler of Tiborea), Bronte (who has recently hatched an egg, even though saurs weren’t supposed to be able to procreate), Preston (author of bestselling thrillers), and the mysterious, mad-scientist sauropod, Geraldine. Geraldine may or may not be behind the appearance of the VOOM!, a bright pink kid-sized car.

“No good ever came from anything pink!”

Ambition is at the heart of this story. Scientists Nicholas Danner, who worked on the saur’s original genetic code, and an up-and-comer Christine Haig are sent to investigate the happens at the saur safe house. Danner must come to terms with what he helped create and Christine must decide whether the saurs are what they say they are. And in the meantime, Axel and Tibor endeavor to go on a tour of Tiborea in the VOOM!

There are shenanigans, hijinks, and a lot of humor.

* Have you seen the videos of things people do to Furbies?

“Daisy” by Eleanor Arnason

“I’m doing a job for Art.”
“He’s a nasty man, Emily. Don’t get mixed up wit him.”
“I’m trying to track down his pet octopus. Someone stole it.”
“His what?”
“His octopus.”

Art Pancakes is a mobster. Emily Olson is a private eye. And Daisy is a missing octopus.

Octopuses are weird critters. They seem to be more intelligent than most animals and they are quite alien, alien in the sense of otherness. This story is very lightly science fiction and probably just fantasy. I’ll be honest, I saw a few of the plot points from far out, but that didn’t make this story any less good.

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “Bluebeard’s Wife”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Bluebeard’s Wife” by T. Kingfisher

Card picked: A
From: Available online!

The Story

He had apparently been a very evil man, but not actually a bad one. Althea had spent the last few months trying to get her mind around how such a thing was possible.

What if Bluebeard’s wife hadn’t looked into the forbidden room? What if, with two boundary-defying sisters in her past, she has no problem letting her husband have a room of his own? It’s not like she’s giving him the key to her diary. A room full of dead bodies isn’t something that can be kept a secret forever, but what if remains truly a secret for twenty-seven years of fairly happy marriage?

The classic story of Bluebeard is a weighty tale. T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) handles it with her signature light touch and knowing nods to the original.

Personal Trivia
For many years, I confused the tales of Bluebeard and Blackbeard. I found it very strange that a pirate would keep a room full of dead wives on his ship. The only other things I have a similar problem with are kingfishers and the Fisher King. So, it seems inordinately appropriate that “Bluebeard’s Wife” is written by T. Kingfisher.

Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan-Feb 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017 edited by C. C. Finlay

I reviewed the Nov-Dec issue on January 27th. Here it is only March 22rd and I’ve finished the Jan-Feb issue. Progress! These are the standouts from the issue. Note: I didn’t say favorites.

“Vinegar and Cinnamon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I could lead a comfortable rat-wizard life.

Maura is the golden child of the family; she has some ability with magic and is being taught how to use it. Sam is the good child of the family; he does his chores and then some to help the family get by. One day, by mistake, Maura turns Sam into a rat. And as a rat, Sam could have a very different life… Lovely story full of fairy tale and sibling rivalry.

“Alexandria” by Monica Byrne
This only slightly a science fiction story. Beth is a widower. A native of Kansas, she married a man, Keiji, from Japan. On their honeymoon, they went to Egypt to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria, not realizing it no longer existed. After that, they both “traveled” through their mutual love of books and maps. But now that Keiji is gone, Beth is left with farm land and very little to remember her husband by. So she builds a monument. The sci-fi elements are the sectional epigraphs from the future describing the confusing archaeological artifact found in what was once Kansas. It’s only March, but this might make it to my year end “best of.”

“Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” by Marc Laidlaw
According to the introduction, Marc Laidlaw lives on the island of Kauai. Therefore, I’m going to take his use of Hawaiian culture and slang as genuine and well-intentioned. I hope so, because it’s that Hawaiian flair that gives this light Lovecraftian story some extra omph.

“One Way” by Rick Norwood
Oh man, this story annoyed me. We start out with Harvey (has-been physicist), Jerry (boy genius), and Sam (uh, does the soldering). Together, just the three of them, build a perpetual energy machine…that just might destroy the world. My first objection to this story is the built-in-a-basement style engineering. That isn’t how things are developed and made. To recuse myself, I’m married to an engineer. The majority of my social circle are engineers. I’m a little protective of the fact that it takes many more people that anyone realizes to create the electronic wonders we use daily. And then there was Deloris, Jerry’s girlfriend. Deloris is an English major. Deloris doesn’t know science. Direct quote from Deloris: “That sounds important. I don’t know any science…” Deloris’s only purpose in the story is to have one of the male characters explain to her (and to us, the readers) what’s going on. It really bothered me that a story in one of the more prominent sci-fi literature magazines had such a poorly depicted female character. To further recuse myself, I have a degree in English literature. I also know some science.

Deal Me In, Week 6 ~ “Flower Garden”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Flower Garden” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: Eight of Hearts
From: The Lottery, and Other Stories

The Story

Mrs. Winnings lives in Winning house at the top of the hill with her husband and two children and her in-laws. She always dreamed of living in the little cottage on the way down the hill, but she is, after all, a Winnings. When Mrs. MacLean moves in to the cottage, Mrs. Winnings thinks that it will be the next best thing: she can be friends with the new resident and often visit the cozy little cottage. Mrs. MacLean, from New York City, is a widower with a son the same age as Mrs. Winnings’ oldest boy. She paints the little cottage in bright colors (so much different than dark, drafty Winnings house) and plants a large, elaborate flower garden.

All is well until the middle of the summer when the garden becomes too much work for Mrs. MacLean. She hires Mr. Jones to help her. Mrs. Winnings tries to tell Mrs. MacLean: Mr. Jones, a black man, was involved with a white woman and they had three children before the woman left. But Mrs. MacLean just doesn’t pick up on the subtleties of the situation. Mrs. Winnings severs her friendship with Mrs. MacLean, almost too late to protect her own reputation.

As the summer grows hotter and longer, Mrs. MacLean’s garden withers and no one is friendly to her anymore. She wonder’s out-loud to Mrs. Winnings about what might have changed.

“Are you sure it isn’t because of Mr. Jones working here?”

…and Mrs. Winnings went down the hill thinking, The nerve of her, trying to blame the colored folks.

So, there you go: story about race relations with old New England Shirley Jackson flair.

Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “The House of Aunts”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The House of Aunts” by Zen Cho

Card picked: Jack of Clubs
From: Available online at GigaNotoSaurus

The Story

The first time she saw the boy across the classroom, Ah Lee knew she was in love because she tasted durian on her tongue. That was what happened–no poetry about it. She looked at a human boy one day and the creamy rank richness of durian filled her mouth. For a moment the ghost of its stench staggered on the edge of her teeth, and then it vanished.

She had not tasted fruit since before the baby came. Since before she was dead.

After school she went home and asked the aunts about it.

“Ah Ma,” she said, “can you taste anything besides people?”

Ah Lee is seventeen. She lives with her six aunties—her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and four of their daughters. All the women aside from Ah Lee are over age 55, the generation “gap” is more like a chasm. The aunties want Ah Lee to be a good student, to get a scholarship, to get a career, and to be an independent  woman. These were all things that weren’t as possible for them. All Ah Lee wants is to be an average teenager, which is already complicated by being dead. Ah Lee and her aunties are pontianak, entrail-eating “ghosts” of women who died while pregnant. Ah Lee develops a crush on Ridzual, the new boy at school. Both are on the outskirts of social circles at school and they become friends…until Ah Lee tells Ridzual her secret.

Here I am, two weeks into the year, I have a strong contender for my 2017 Top Ten. Cho does a wonderful job with the aunties’ cross talk and tangents and their firm belief that they are doing the right things for Ah Lee. Ah Lee is pitch perfect too, full of all the frustrations and small secrets of being a teenage girl.

The Author

Zen Cho‘s “Monkey King, Faerie Queen” was one of the highlights of my July 2016 #24in48. She is a London-based Malaysian author and editor. Her debut novel is Sorcerer to the Crown.

♣ ♣ ♣

I have a soft spot for any magic involving birds that isn’t a dove act. Here is Malaysian magician Andrew Lee and his beautiful assistant Snow.

Review ~ Blackwater Lake

Cover via Goodreads

Blackwater Lake by Maggie James

Matthew Stanyer fears the worst when he reports his parents missing. His father, Joseph Stanyer, has been struggling to cope with his wife Evie, whose dementia is rapidly worsening. When their bodies are found close to Blackwater Lake, a local beauty spot, the inquest rules the deaths as a murder-suicide. A conclusion that’s supported by the note Joseph leaves for his son.

Grief-stricken, Matthew begins to clear his parents’ house of decades of compulsive hoarding, only to discover the dark enigmas hidden within its walls. Ones that lead Matthew to ask: why did his father choose Blackwater Lake to end his life? What other secrets do its waters conceal? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Picked it up free from Amazon in November 2015; wanted to read more self-pubbed authors especially in the horror and thriller genre. Read it now because I wanted something short for Bout of Book that would be a contrast to Moby-Dick.

What Worked
Good pacing and short chapters kept the story moving along.

What Didn’t Work
I don’t read many thrillers, so maybe what didn’t work for me is a function of the genre rather than a deficit on the writer’s part. In a mystery, I feel like there should be a balance between the gathering of clues (the reveal of information) and the characters working to construct a narrative from those clues. In Blackwater Lake, Matthew’s only job is to uncover the clues in his mother’s hoard of stuff. The clues are presented in rather neat narrative order. Instead of a puzzle to be solved, this story is more like train tracks being revealed on a sunny day after a light snow. Is the reveal of information more important in thrillers than the puzzle is in mysteries?

Pet Peeve Alert: There was also the use of “(for really no good reason) I can’t go to the police,” which was only used as a later stumbling block.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Orelia Publishing, September 27, 2015
Acquired: November 17, 2015, Amazon
Genre: suspense

wintercoyer-16-17More #COYER Reviews
Generator Points Earned: .5 (only a novella)
Generator Points Total: 3

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “Haunted”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Haunted” by Joyce Carol Oates

Card picked: Queen of Spades
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

The Story

Haunted houses, forbidden houses. The old Medlock farm. The Erlich farm. The Minton farm on Elk Creek. No Trespassing the signs said, but we trespassed at will.

This is a rare case of a Deal Me In reread for me. I own Joyce Carol Oates’ anthology Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, which is named for this story. I started reading it in 2010, but I’m not sure I finished it. 2010 seems long, long ago. At that time, I wasn’t ready for Oates’ manner of telling stories. Rarely are they directly told and almost always there is a feeling of corruption and decay.

In “Haunted,” Melissa, now an old woman, tells of the sins of her youth and of her best frenemy, Mary Lou. One of the girl’s favorite activities was visiting the abandoned farms in their area. All had sad stories of deaths and bankruptcy behind them, but none quite as intriguing as the Minton farm. There, Mr. Minton beat his wife to death before committing suicide.

Adolescence intrudes on the girls’ relationship—beautiful Mary Lou suddenly has an interest in dangerous boys—and Melissa visits the Minton farm alone. There she has an encounter with something that might be the ghost of Mrs. Minton. The spirit demands that Melissa send Mary Lou to visit. Mary Lou goes missing, her body eventually found in Elk Creek. As is usual in a Joyce Carol Oates story, what happened is open to interpretation. The world is a dangerous place, especially for girls.

The Author

I’m starting the year off with a Deal Me In repeat offender. Last year, I read through Oates’ Wild Nights! for Deal Me In, as well as reviewing one of her latest anthologies, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror as an ARC. I think there’s been a story of hers in nearly every genre anthology I’ve read for this challenge. In fact, her “The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza” was my Week 1 story in 2015. Oates is very prolific and the winner of many awards both literary and genre.

♣ ♣ ♣

Much of “Haunted” takes place in deserted farmhouses, full of objects left behind or discarded. Maybe such object as these:

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These are printing blocks for gaffed cards, currently up for auction at Ebay. There are quite a few more images of this lot including a close up of the 3½ of Spades. (source: iTricks)