Review: Clarkesworld 101 (Feb 2015)

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LADY AND THE SHIP, by Atilgan Asikuzun

 

The Last Surviving Gondola Widow, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

5/5 *

A properly steampunk story, in that the time period fits, it contained Victorian Super Technology, and actually used steam/coal to fuel the machines. Nicely researched alt-history focusing on Chicago after the Civil War; bonus points for including a magic system that makes sense, and a female main character that fit well within the context of the story. Good steampunk is hard to find, since it requires that the alt-tech is actually necessary for the world, and isn’t just gears slapped onto a story. Rusch’s characters, setting, and plot all work together into something extraordinary, and I’m delighted to have read it.

Indelible, by Gwendolyn Clare

2/5*

Eh. I can’t remember a worse story in Clarkesworld, which is usually home to the best of the best of SFF short fiction. It’s not terribly bad, it just isn’t good, isn’t unique, isn’t much different from work I reject on a regular basis. I’m tired of the Western/English predisposition to using ze/zer/mx for genderless pronouns; it’s not the only way to express “them” even in human languages, so why is it the only way we see it written in SFF? Especially considering that the main character has an Asian name — they have words in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and several other Asian languages for this exact situation that don’t translate into English as “zer”. (Much more likely to be “this person” or “that person”.) Beyond that, the story is nothing special. The twist at the end isn’t well-supported, and doesn’t answer the essential “question” that the opening evokes. Two stars only because it’s okay enough that if you were completely unfamiliar with this sort of tale, you might enjoy it somewhat.

(TW for rape, violence) The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, by Kelly Robson

4/5*

Having it be 9/11 doesn’t add anything to the story for me, and sets the reader up looking for a connection which never quite materializes (and for me, wasn’t at all necessary to make the rest of the story work). And, I questioned the suddenness of the big decision at the very end, but not so much that I couldn’t buy it. Otherwise, it’s great! Visceral, moving, dark SF bordering on horror. I easily connected with the character — a teenage girl, sexually abused, neglected by her parents — but I don’t think you need to have been any of those things to be well and truly creeped out.

Meshed, by Rich Larson

5/5*

Ah, so good! Intelligent extrapolation from current events/cultural mores to a not-so-distant future, giving us a glimpse of crisp SF from the perspective of an everyday guy. It’s fun, quickly worded, completely plausible, and yet also emotionally solid. There is nothing in this story that I didn’t think, “Yes, sure, that could happen,” about.

The Osteomancer’s Son, by Greg van Eeekhout (First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2006.)

4/5*

I’m a fan of van Eeekhout’s work, but if you’re not, this story is a good introduction. It’s self-contained, but relates to his bone-magic tales, and gives the reader a sense of van Eeekhout’s casual, conversational style: the way he turns big reveals in side comments, and ends a sentence before the surprise has leaked all the way out of it. He’s a fun author, even when he’s telling a dark story, and this is an enjoyable read.

It Takes Two, by Nicola Griffith (First published in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan.)

3/5*

I was thrown immediately by the opening line: “It began, as these things often do, at a bar—” which immediately distances the reader by telling you that you’re not watching the scene unfold, you’re being told about the story after it’s already over. That particular story structure removes the immediacy of this tale, which already involves so much required belief in what one character is telling another at different points in the story. For me, that takes away from what should be the reader’s experience parallel to the narrator’s. As the story develops, it gets more interesting, if not very original, at least in being a newer (GLBT) presentation on a common theme. It’s a strong story, though, and if you like those “hooker with a heart of gold” stories, or the “it’s real love this time, I promise” trope, then you’ll enjoy Griffith’s telling of it.

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What I’ve Been Reading: Short Fiction by Waldrop, Kritzer, and Murakami (free to read online)

Three short stories for a Saturday:

First, Howard Waldrop has a new short up over at Tor.com. “The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz” is excerpted from his forthcoming Horse of a Different Color, out on Nov. 12 from Small Beer Press, and I will be buying it. (Oh, yes, I will.) I wish I knew whether “Wolf-Man” is also an excerpt; it feels incomplete, like the beginning of a tale that isn’t fully told, and Waldrop tends to finish what he starts. I think it’s only half the story, but it’s an interesting one. Where do you put a werewolf who doesn’t want to keep killing but doesn’t know how to stop? Behind bars, for the safety of himself and others, sure. And if it’s 1933? You put him in Alcatraz, because that’s The Rock, the most maximum-security prison of the day. Waldrop starts his story there, rolls it out in that slow, Southern, way he has, and hooks you in with the simple truth of it all.

On second reading, I think it’s definitely only a fragment, but worth the read.

Second, “Bits” by Naomi Kritzer is up at Clarkesworld Magazine. It’s a delightful story about sex toys and aliens, with lines like this:

Because really, there are two immutable laws of nature at work here: number one, love will find a way; and number two, if a sexual act can be conceived of, someone will pay money to watch it.

But “Bits” ends on an absolutely sweet note which genuinely made me smile.

Finally, a story from the future. “Samsa in Love” by Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen) , is up at The New Yorker, dated 10-28-2013 but readable now. It makes sense that you can read forward into time, with this story, since Murakami takes up a tale from the past, and carries on with the Gregor Samsa that Franz Kafka left behind. I don’t know if it’s a great story, if it would be better if you read it in the original language, or if it’s just going to be a slightly odd tale that you wonder over for a few days and then forget until you realize one day that it’s affected you in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Let’s hope it’s one of those.

* Thanks for Micheal J. DeLuca and E. Lily Yu for recommending the first two to me.

Review: Clarkesworld, Issue 71, Aug 2012

I recently subscribed to Clarkesworld as well, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, since I actually buy their issues when I get a chance. Now I get them delivered to me, thanks to Weightless Books! Let’s jump right in…

FICTION:

  • “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson – another short, list-structured story, like Ken Liu’s piece from the August Lightspeed. Like Liu, Johnson gives us a smart, well-crafted, rigidly structured story that, for me, lacked an emotional element. I can see how it’s pretty and clever, but it didn’t affect me.
  • “Honey Bear” by Sofia Samatar – Oh, this was perfect. Samatar lets the story of mothering a different kind of child unfold naturally. She’s set up her world and her characters off screen so that all she needs to do is show you their story, the one that makes sense in that world, and she doesn’t clutter it up with unnecessary explanations. By the end of the story, it’s all clear. The child, the parents’ relationship, the ways in which their world is different from ours. In between bits of a rather frightening alien invasion story (made less scary, initially, by the fact that Samara doesn’t tell you about it all at once, which just means it hits you harder when you understand what’s happened) you also see the ways in which a woman adapts to her child, and a marriage lives, stutters, or dies. I had to take a break after reading it, to let it all soak in. “Honey Bear” combines horror and beauty in the best possible way.
  • “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente – I want to ask Valente if she’s played Fallout, particularly Fallout: New Vegas, because in a way this story could be a glimpse into the lives of the people who didn’t go into a Vault just after the war. But saying that might give you the impression that this story is childish or flat, which is completely wrong. That “Fade to White” appealed to my geeky, post-apocalyptic, Cold War loving self (in a variety of ways) is no complaint. It is a sharp, brilliantly written, look at what being a teenager is like, when you live in an America that was hit by nuclear bombs, is ruled by “President McCarthy”, and is struggling to hold on to the imagined brilliance of the 1950s it didn’t get to have. It’s all about the propaganda that the adults created to hold on to their American Dream, and the ways in which that shapes and manipulates the people trying to live up to it. Like Samatar’s story, like all of the best stories, Valente’s tale doesn’t spoon-feed you the world building or explain it all up front. You see it like you see your life, out car windows and in commercials and in small pieces in the tiny moments you’re truly alone. Loved it.

NON-FICTION:

  • “The Spell of History: Magic Systems and Real-World Zeitgeists” by Jeff Seymour
  • “In a Carapace of Light: A Conversation with China Miéville” by Jeremy L. C. Jones
  • “Another Word: Plausibility and Truth” by Daniel Abraham
  • “Editor’s Desk: Finding the Good in a Dark Day” by Neil Clarke

I don’t have anything to say about the essays/interviews individually, except to say that they’re good, you should read them, you’ll learn something. Clarkesworld has a great non-fiction editor, and their essays are more about exploring a piece of genre than about fawning over a particular author, which I appreciate.

Overall, I’d say it’s a short but excellent read. As always, I wish that Clarkesworld had more fiction, because what they print is so good. It should tell you something, though, that the only complaint I ever have with this magazine is, “WANT MORE!” – which is really a compliment, phrased badly.

Want to hear these stories as podcasts instead? Go here and listen.