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.

Favorite Stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov-Dec 2016

Cover via ISFDB

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2016

I purchased a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction back in Sept. 2016 due to one short story. While the subscription only cost me $5, I decided that if I was going to justify this, I was going to actually read each issue…unlike every other time I’ve had a fiction magazine subscription.

My reviewing of issues might get better as the year goes on, but for Nov/Dec 2016 I’m just going to highlight what I found to be the outstanding stories. All of these authors were new to me.

“The Rhythm Man” by James Beamon – Would you make a deal with the devil? If could, what would you ask for? What is that thing in your heart of hearts that you’d sell your soul for? All that bluesman Horace wants from the Rhythm Man is a song… Great mythology and a marvelous sense of place in the setting.

“Lord Elgin at the Acropolis” by Minsoo Kang – The director of a museum is certain that paintings and sculptures are being replaced by forgeries. Except, there’s no evidence. The art is re-certified as original; the security tapes show no tampering. Is he going insane? Or is technology beyond current comprehension to blame? This is half story, half thought experiment, and all good.

“Special Collections” by Kurt Fawver

We only have two rules at the library. The first is that you don’t go into Special Collections without a partner.

I’m lying when I say I don’t like cosmic horror. My problem, I think, is one of scale. To abruptly see some grand transdimentional horror and claim that it is so incomprehensible that it inspires insanity—that doesn’t work for me. But show me the little things that get under a character’s skin, show me the creeping obsessions that lead to questionable moral choices. Then, I’m all in. “Special Collections” is a deliciously spooky tale.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle (the navigation is really nice!), Spilogale, Inc., Nov. 2016
Acquired: Sept. 2016
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror

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Deal Me In, Week 49 ~ “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What is Deal Me In?

“I’m in Marsport Without Hilda” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Eight of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts: In the introduction to “I’m in Marsport…”, Asimov relates being called out by an editor for never including love scenes (or “naughty motifs”) in his stories because the editor believed that Asimov couldn’t write them. Asimov took this as a challenge and wrote this “science-fiction love story.” Asimov was pleased with it and considered it a success. I can’t tell if he’s serious…

Max, a James Bond type (Asimov’s words in the intro), finds himself on a layover in Marsport…for once without his wife Hilda. He wastes no time setting up a date with Flora.

Flora and a body that had been made up out out of heaping handfuls of all that as soft and fragrant and firm; Flora and a low-gravity room and a way about her that made it seem like free fall through a warm, breathable ocean of champagne-flavored meringue—

Uh, yeah. Other than these qualities Flora seems to be an air-headed money-grubber.

Max’s “date” is interrupted before it begins by a matter of galactic significance. Three planetary bigwigs are landing at Marsport. One of them is smuggling a shipment of altered Spaceoline. Spaceoline is a drug that makes space travel possible by countering the space sickness that affects many travelers. While non-addictive, it does leave its users in a relaxed, brain-addled state. The altered form is highly addictive. Of course, one cannot go around accusing planetary bigwigs of wrong-doing. Max needs proof before he can search any of them. He deduces that the smuggler would not risk being impaired by regular Spaceoline. This isn’t as helpful as Max hopes because the smuggler is instead going to pretend to be impaired.

How can Max suss the true smuggler? The solution revolves around a bawdy story about Flora, which thankfully is not related. But can he do it before Flora makes another “date” for the evening? And will his wife find out about Flora (because making up for the delay will be pricey)?

If I could go back in time, I’d advise Asimov to not worry about…ahem…romance. “Stick to robots, Isaac,” I’d say. “They’re your forte.”

Review ~ The War of the Worlds

Cover via Goodreads

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

One of the most famous science-fiction stories ever written, The War of the Worlds helped launch the entire genre by exploiting the concept of interplanetary travel.

First published in 1898, the novel terrified readers of the Victorian era with its account of an invasion of hostile creatures from Mars who moved across the English landscape in bizarre metal transports, using deadly heat rays to destroy buildings and annihilate all life in their path. Its power to stir the imagination was made abundantly clear when Orson Welles adapted the story for a radio drama on Halloween night in 1938 and created a national panic. (via Goodreads)

I started reading The War of the Worlds over Thanksgiving through a service that sends out bite-sized chunks of classic novels…and then I downloaded the full novel because I wanted second helpings. As is usual for novels in 1898, the story moves along quite slowly. A goodly amount of it involves our narrator describing the landscape, which doesn’t seem like it should be that interesting. But the writing is really good and often pretty funny. Wells pulled me along.

When reading classic science fiction, you never know what you’re going to get. If the story has had any popularity at all, expectations are often shaped by adaptations. I saw the 1953 movie as a kid. I don’t remember much other than the glowing green and black ships with their heat ray atop a long crooked neck. I was also rather fond of the 1988 TV series which is a sort of sequel to that movie with a dash of The Thing thrown in.

What I found most interesting were the bits that I don’t normally associate with The War of the Worlds:

  • Wells refers to the “older worlds of space” and the Martians have a tentacled form that will, after Lovecraft, come to be strongly associated with cosmic horror.
  • Chemical warfare was in its infancy in 1898. The Martian’s use of black gas is more devastating than the fanciful heat ray. The Hague Declaration of 1899 would prohibit the use of poison or poisoned weapons.
  • The red weeds that take over the areas around the Martian crash sites were a totally unexpected and a really vivid detail.

All in all, I found The War of the Worlds to be a good read. H. G. Wells is going on my “need to read more” list.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, public domain, originally published 1898.
Acquired: 11/24/2016, Amazon
Genre: science fiction

Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “The Singing Bell”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Singing Bell” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Ace of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts: This being the first story in an anthology that I’ve owned for a few years, I might have read “The Singing Bell” before. I know I’ve read several of the subsequent Davenport/Dr. Urth stories and Asimov’s style doesn’t vary that much. If anything, the tone of this story was certainly familiar.

“The Singing Bell” starts with the crime from the perpetrator’s point of view. We see all the preparations taken by Louis Peyton. Peyton is sure that he’ll get away with the theft of singing bells from the Moon and the murder of his partner because he has the perfect alibi. Or rather non-alibi. Peyton spends every August sealed away in his bungalow in Colorado. Unless Det. Davenport can prove he was on the Moon, he’s good as gold. (Apparently, travel to the Moon is regulated on par with popping to the QT on a Friday night for snacks.) Furthermore, while law enforcement has an uber lie-detector, the psychoprobe, it legally can only be used to confirm near certain suspicions.

All of this leads Davenport to seek the advice of preeminent extraterrestrialist Wendell Urth to find a way to confirm that Peyton was off Earth. Which Urth, of course, does. Any guesses how one might deduce that a man has been off-world for at least a week?

Is This Your Card?

#24in48 ~ Update 4 & Wrap Up

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For some reason, the 24 in 48 never goes well for me. Time-wise, I only read for 12 hours, but I did finish all 24 stories that I had chosen!

My top five from the weekend:

  1. “Monkey King, Faerie Queen” by Zen Cho
  2. “Multo” by Samuel Marzioli
  3. “All Souls Proceed” by KJ Kabza
  4. “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon
  5. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky

The top two are by authors I was completely unfamiliar with!

Continue reading “#24in48 ~ Update 4 & Wrap Up”

#24in48 ~ Update #2

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My List
Update #1

12 stories
6:18 hours

At about noon yesterday, a was slammed by a combination of cramps and an RA flare-up. I struggled through story #11 and called it day reading-wise. So, once again, I’m not going to make it to 24 hours of reading. But I still have a few good hours left in me as long as I stay clear-headed. I’ll probably forego further updates until Tuesday.

7 – “Cassandra” by Ken Liu
Genre: speculative fiction, superhero
Quote: “Wouldn’t it be better,” I plead, “to kill the man long before he got on the plane rather than having to rescue the plane as it plunges toward the ground?”
Comment: What if the difference between a superhero and a supervillain is *when* they decide to take action.

8 – “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky
Genre:
Quote: I would astonish everyone assembled, the biologists and the paleontologists and the geneticists, the reporters and the rubberneckers and the music aficionados, all those people who—–deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs––believed that they lived in a science fictional world when really they lived in a world of magic where anything was possible.
Comment: This story has been a firebrand in the Sad Puppies/SJW debate. And…I sort of agree with the Puppies. WAIT! That doesn’t mean that this isn’t an excellent story. It’s one that’s going to stick with me. I won’t say a lot about it because it’s short and the link is right up there. It literally took me 6 minutes to read it, so check it out. But it’s also not really science fiction or fantasy. It’s sort of an extended literary prose poem. If you’re going to give awards for genre, give awards to genre… (And I won’t get into the ghetto-ization that genre causes and why giving a genre award probably doesn’t lead to wider readership…)

9 – “The Shell of Sense” by Olivia Howard Dunbar
Genre: horror, sort of
Quote: Then, for this was my first experience of the shadow-folded transition, the odd alteration of my emotions bewildered me.
Comment: Once I thought about writing a story about a ghost left watching as everyone else’s live continues. I would have been 100 year too late to the concept. Lovely prose.

10 – “The Priory Church” by James Collins
Genre: horror
Quote: (brain fog set in…)
Comment: Really enjoyed how different the voice of pompous Peverell was in comparison to the frame story.

11 – “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard
Genre: science fiction
Quote: Mem-implants always went from parent to child. They were a family’s riches and fortune; the continued advice of the ancestors, dispensed from beyond the grave.
Comment: But what is your parent is an important scientist? And you’re…not. Would those memories be wasted?

12 – “Listen” by Karin Tidbeck
Genre: science fiction
Quote: In the moment they spoke, they were completely understandable. But as soon as they fell silent, any memory of what they had said disappeared.
Comment: Both of the stories on my list from Tor.com have music as a part of them. Also an interesting synergy between this story and “Candy Girl.” Both have characters who wish desperately (and foolishly?) to integrate into another culture.