Category Archives: Short Fiction

Book Review – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, Edited by John Joseph Adams

The new John Joseph Adams-edited anthology, Cosmic Powers, is the first great anthology of the year, jam-packed with smart, entertaining sci-fi adventure stories that bring a nicely modern sensibility to old ideas and tropes. There are several recurring themes throughout the anthology. Religion figures largely in many of these stories, and several of the stories deal with gods or with beings who have amassed nearly godlike power with the aid of time and technology. Artificial intelligences of various kinds make several appearances, as do post-humans of multiple kinds. Examinations of families both biological and found are significant as well, and several stories look at the responsibility of people to each other, personally, and to humanity as a whole; it’s “the personal is political” writ across space and time. It’s a remarkably cohesive collection that nonetheless contains a wonderful variety of stories by a diverse group of authors to offer a well-rounded perspective on the idea of stories that take place on a cosmic scale.

The collection kicks off on a strong note with Charlie Jane Anders’ very clever, very funny adventure story, “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime,” and Tobias S. Buckell’s “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance,” which is at least as clever as its predecessor, telling the story of a maintenance robot’s creative circumvention of its own programming. It’s seldom that any anthology starts off with three knock-out stories in a row, but these two are followed up with Becky Chambers’ “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts,” a delightful epistolary exploration of the Hero’s Journey from the perspective of an unlikely Chosen One.

The next three stories aren’t as good. Vylar Kaftan’s “The Sighted Watchmaker” is fine, and I’m sure it will be appealing to those who enjoy this kind of thing, but it wasn’t for me. It lost me with the Richard Dawkins epigraph and never quite managed to recapture my interests. I had already read “Infinite Love Engine” by Joseph Allen Hill in a recent issue of Lightspeed, but rereading it didn’t help me “get” it any better than I did the first time. I want to love the sheer weirdness of it, but it verges on a degree of psychedelia that makes it difficult to nail down exactly what the story is about. Still, I expect this is a story that I’ll return to again; I think maybe I just need to read it the right way and it will all make sense. “Unfamiliar Gods” by Adam-Troy Castro, with Judi B. Castro, is a mostly straightforward deal with the devil story, played for laughs and with an absurdist “twist,” but it’s not particularly funny or thoughtful.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World” covers some of the same thematic ground as “The Sighted Watchmaker,” but more effectively and with an interesting story structure that works well to break up Yoachim’s big ideas into easily digestible portions. “Golden Ring” by Karl Schroeder and “The Universe, Sung in Stars” by Kat Howard similarly work with ideas relating the nature of god and time, but neither of these approach the excellence of “Seven Wonders.” The Kat Howard story is beautifully written, but all the lovely, poetic prose in the world isn’t enough to make up for a somewhat trite premise.

From Alan Dean Foster comes the workmanlike but ultimately anti-climactic “Our Specialty is Xenogeology,” in which a Star Trek-ish team of space explorers almost make first contact but then think better of it. I expected to love A. Merc Rustad’s “Tomorrow When We See the Sun,” having liked all the previous work of theirs that I’ve read, but I didn’t. (Still can’t wait til I get my copy of their first short fiction collection, though. So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories came out May 2 from Lethe Press.) I barely remember Jack Campbell’s “Wakening Ouroboros” and Dan Abnett’s “The Frost Giant’s Data,” and together with the sadly unremarkable Kameron Hurley tale, “Warped Passages”—which is only notable due to its seeming connection to Hurley’s excellent space opera, The Stars Are Legion—they made for a finish to Cosmic Powers that wasn’t nearly as strong as its start.

Fortunately, there’s still a few more excellent stories tucked in the middle. Seanan McGuire’s “Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair!” is a cool, fun adventure with some high stakes. It’s perhaps a little too tidy, but I’d definitely be down to read the continuing adventures of these characters as a novel. Linda Nagata’s “Diamond and the World Breaker” has a similar tone and similarly high stakes, and I loved the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Diamond and Violetta. As the current parent of fourteen-year-old girl, I found the conflict relatable, and Nagata does a good job of capturing some of the frustration and joy of watching one’s child grow up. Sandwiched between these two stories is “The Dragon the Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard, a thoughtful musing on the long-term ways that war damages communities and families. It’s the story in the book that is least like any of the other stories collected here, but it resonates in a compelling way with the stories that immediately precede and follow it.

Finally, there’s a new Yoon Ha Lee story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” set in his Hexarchate universe but offering a very different perspective than what has been seen of that world so far. Before now, the Hexarchate stories have been very concerned with specifically military stories, with a lot of focus on the complex calendrical mathematics that fuel the Hexarchate’s technology, but “The Chameleon’s Gloves” is a bit smaller, more personal story centered around a character who is something of an outsider to all of that. It’s not my favorite thing Lee has ever written, and if you really want to get a good idea of his oeuvre you ought to pick up his superb 2013 collection, Conservation of Shadows, but it’s a great place to start, especially if you’ve only read Ninefox Gambit and not any of Lee’s short fiction.

Book Review: Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages is having a good year, which is also a boon for those of us who love good short fiction. Klages’ Tor.com novella, Passing Strange, is sure to be among the best of 2017, and it was a fortuitous discovery for me as I hadn’t read anything by Ellen Klages before. When I saw that she had a new collection of short fiction coming out from Tachyon just a couple of months later, I was thrilled.  I was even more thrilled when I got approved for the ARC on NetGalley, and my excitement turned out to be totally warranted. Wicked Wonders is, with one significant and honestly baffling exception, full of consistently thoughtful, clever, affecting stories, all overlaid by a sort of gently reassuring feeling of nostalgia.

The only major criticism I have of the collection specifically concerns the story “Woodsmoke,” which starts off as a nice story about girls bonding (maybe even falling in adolescent love) at a summer camp but then turns into the horrendously sensationalized reveal that one of the girls has an intersex condition, complete with immediate misgendering and melodramatic handwringing about “I don’t know your real name.” It’s a bizarre bait and switch that feels like a betrayal of the characters (who deserve better treatment) and the spirit of the story (which up to that point was fine, if unremarkable). Frankly, I don’t know what Klages was about with this story, and her explanation of it in the Story Notes section at the back of the book is unhelpful except to say that she hopes to make it part of a novel length work at some point (please no). If “Woodsmoke” had appeared early in the collection, I may have stopped reading the book altogether because it was so deeply upsetting; as it is, I can only recommend Wicked Wonders with a major reservation.

Regarding the rest of the collection, many of the stories in Wicked Wonders deal with childhood, and Klages has a real knack for capturing something of the bittersweetness of coming of age moments. “The Education of a Witch” explores a young girl’s identification with a villainess, and it’s a story that will likely be relatable, albeit in different ways, both to those of us who grew up before princess culture and those who grew up immersed in it. “Singing on a Star” is looks at the anxieties that surround a child’s first sleepover. Often, Klages’ stories feature precocious girls with creatively clever and interesting ways of looking at the world, as in “Gone to the Library” (which also features a cameo by Grace Hopper).

Most of these stories deal with transitions of one kind or another. In “Amicae Aeternum” (a story which legit made me weep when I read it and is literally making me tear up as I write this), a young girl says goodbye to her best friend before moving very far away. “Echoes of Aurora” is a gorgeously melancholy autumnal love story that deals with a non-childhood life change. “Hey, Presto!” is a smart and thoughtful coming of age story about a young woman reconnecting with her father and discovering they have more in common than she previously thought. In “Goodnight Moons,” a story that that recalls nothing more than Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, an astronaut takes a much bigger leap for humanity than she thought she was going to when she signed up to go to Mars.

Also evident in this collection is a sharply wry sense of humor, and Klages often uses ironic turns of phrase and sly references to great effect. “Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl” is a smart and funny original fairytale that should appeal to fans of Ursula Vernon. “The Scary Ham” is a short, humorous nonfiction story about the grieving process (and it was a very scary ham). “Mrs. Zeno’s Paradox” carries social nicety between women to a logical extreme, making use of a single strong central joke for maximum effect.

To be sure, there’s a decided slightness to all the stories in this collection, which is sometimes at odds with the ostensibly serious subject matter Klages writes about. While there is a little darkness in some of the stories, Klages’ endings are almost universally happy, or at least optimistic, and I suspect this won’t appeal to all readers. Still, there’s something to be said for short, sweet stories that don’t require a great deal of thought to understand and enjoy, and Wicked Wonders, for the most part, has a pleasantly restful quality that makes it quietly delightful to read.

This review is based on an advance copy of the title received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Listen. It’s almost impossible for any collection of twenty-one short stories to please everyone all of the time, but with Difficult Women Roxane Gay comes closer than most to nailing it. The stories in this volume are, from start to finish, thoughtful, clever, funny, tragic and hopeful in turn. These stories are a rage-filled paean to the strength and resilience and weakness and fragility and everything in between of women. This is an ugly, heart-wrenching, beautiful book, and if Roxane Gay wrote three hundred forty-four more stories like this I would treat them like a devotional and reread them every year for the rest of my life.

Probably what I love best about Difficult Women is that Roxane Gay is so unconcerned with dualities. She avoids trite, reductive storytelling in favor of exploring the complexities of every day life. Gay’s difficult women deal with trauma and loss, they fall in love, and they fuck. They are kind and brave and capricious and cruel and yielding and stubborn and cold-hearted and hot-tempered and more, and every woman Gay writes about here contains multitudes. It’s impressive to find so much intricacy of character in short fiction, and Gay turns out one fascinating story after another.

That said, there’s a significant amount of thematic overlap and repetition between entries in the collection. Sexual violence, dead children, and abusive lovers figure largely in these tales, and this can at times create a sense of grimness that won’t be appealing to all readers. Certainly there are some lighter stories included, but I found those to have a slighter quality than those stories that dealt with weightier material. Altogether, though, the stories of Difficult Women are well-chosen and smartly arranged so that the reader is never overwhelmed by darkness, and those couple of slighter stories, while not among my favorites, perform an important function in the collection as a whole by periodically lightening the mood and offering the reader a perfect opportunity to grab a drink or take a break.

In style and genre, Gay is clearly a writer of wide-ranging interests, with several stories veering into the realm of magical realism and one (“The Sacrifice of Darkness”) that is unambiguously speculative in nature. Gay writes stories in numerous settings about characters of different ages, races and classes, floating in and out of her characters’ lives with what might seem like ease for the reader but I expect is the result of years of life experience and meticulous study of people combined with finely honed craft. Stylistically, these stories all tend towards a forthrightness that challenges the reader to really see and empathize with the characters with all their flaws and defies moralistic judgments. This is a collection that is keenly intellectual, but never self-consciously so. Even Gay’s symbolism is generally natural and easy to grasp, and she doesn’t bother with any too-precious conceits, complex metaphors or arcane allusions that might make the text inaccessible.

In the end, Difficult Women is just what it says it is and what it appears to be. It’s a work of elegant simplicity and brutal honesty and deeply humane reflections on the human condition. I look forward to shamelessly pushing it on literally everyone I know.

The Best of 2016: Short Fiction

I didn’t get to read nearly as much short fiction this year as I’d have liked, but I definitely read more than I have in other recent years and I expect to continue reading more short fiction, especially in magazines and anthologies, as we head into the new year. I haven’t been this into short fiction in probably twenty years, but I’m loving it, as evidenced by my multiple new subscriptions and the number of new anthologies on my TBR list and backed on Kickstarter.

Readers, there is so much great stuff out there, and though 2016 was a garbage fire in general there was nonetheless some truly superb stories to read this year. While I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read as much as I want to, I think I managed to catch a few of the year’s best stories. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite short reads of 2016.

“The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
Listen. This is certainly not the best story I read in 2016, but it might be my favorite simply because it’s so delightfully unexpected. The thing is, while princess story retellings and reimaginings are a dime a dozen, no one ever goes for the really weird stuff. Charlie Jane Anders goes for the weird stuff, and it’s awesome.
Buy the book here.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
“Spinning Silver” is both retelling and reclamation, and Naomi Novik has made something very old and rather ugly into something new and clever and beautiful.
Buy the book here.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe) and Uncanny #13, Nov/Dec 2016
Even I occasionally like to read a good retelling of a princess story, and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a mashup of a couple of lesser-known ones. Amal El-Mohtar’s distinctive voice and lovely prose elevate this short romance to something far more like myth-making.
Read it online here.
Buy the book here.
Buy the magazine here.

“Fifty Shades of Grays” by Steven Barnes
In Lightspeed Magazine #73, June 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue
Wickedly smart, darkly funny, and just the right amount of fatalistic.
Read it online here.

“The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still” by Catherynne M. Valente
Self-published on her website.
My favorite of several stories I read in November that were born from the grief and anger many felt (and still feel) following Donald Trump’s election.
Read it online here.

“Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?” by Michael R. Underwood
In Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling (ed. by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli
I never would have guessed that in 2016 I would find myself crying over a couple of Sesame Street-esque characters who have been turned into super soldiers and are trying to find their way home after a war with something very like Disney, but I did.
Buy the book here.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
In Uncanny #13, Nov/Dec 2016
This story has gotten a lot of buzz among people whose opinions I value, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a story about rage, revenge and catharsis, and it turns out that these are timely themes in late 2016.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

“43 Responses to ‘In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'” by Barbara A. Barnett
On Daily Science Fiction, February 5, 2016
“43 Responses” utilizes a format–of an internet comments section–that could have been gimmicky or too-precious in a genuinely interesting way, and I love the way Barbara A. Barnett uses this form to slowly spool out story for the reader and create an immersive reading experience.
Read it online here.

“This is Not a Wardrobe Door” by A. Merc Rustad
In Fireside Magazine Issue 29, January 2016
If you liked Seanan McGuire’s novella, Every Heart a Doorway, at all, you should definitely be sure to read this story.
Read it online here.
Support Fireside Fiction on Patreon.

“Red Dirt Witch” by N.K. Jemisin
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
I wept.
Buy the magazine here.

“Black, Their Regalia” by Darcie Little Badger
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
Native goth kids saving the world with music. They are badasses. Darcie Little Badger is a badass storyteller.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

“The Things My Mother Left Me” by P. Djeli Clark
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
This is the 2016 story that I most hope gets expanded upon in novel form. It’s simply a marvel of short story worldbuilding, with a capable young woman protagonist of a type that I find endlessly compelling. Also, elements of the story reminded me strongly of the Midnight Carnival parts in The Last Unicorn, and that’s never a bad thing.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 12

Reading Up and Coming, even though I feel like it’s been a frantic and sometimes frustrating pace, has been totally worth it. This final group of authors has produced some of my favorite stories in the collection, and made for an altogether pleasant last day of reading.

Nicolas Wilson

Nicolas Wilson starts things off with “Trials,” which I mostly liked very well. It’s a very Star Trek-ish novelette with some fascinating aliens and a mostly compelling plot in which a man travels to a dangerous ice planet and has to negotiate a treaty with the people there. Though it’s somewhat (if not entirely) corrected by the ending of the story, the only serious issue I had with “Trials” was the narrator’s motivation being “earning” a woman’s love so he could steal her away from someone else. It’s not romantic or interesting; it’s infantilizing and unattractively obsessive, and that he transfers his affections so easily to the alien woman he meets only serves to reinforce that the narrator sees women as interchangeable objects rather than as people with agency of their own.

Wilson follows this up with “Multiply,” a cute piece of odd couple romantic comedy about a pair of AIs traveling together. It’s not bad, but it’s a fairly pedestrian premise with an execution that doesn’t really rise above workmanlike. I chuckled a couple of times, but the banter between the characters became grating about halfway through the story.

Alyssa Wong

I read and loved Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” last year when it first came out, and if anything I loved it more the second time around. It’s definitely a story with several shades of meaning and multiple layers of genius to explore. “The Fisher Queen” is a similarly marvelous story about a young woman who finds out that her mother might be a mermaid of the sort that her people usually eat as fish, and in “Santos de Sampaquitas,” a young woman must deal with a god in order to protect her family. The beauty of Alyssa Wong’s language makes all three of these stories compulsively readable and highly enjoyable without distracting from the richness of her settings and the resonance of the themes she explores. Going into this project, Alyssa Wong was one of the writers I was almost certain I would nominate for the Campbell, on the strength of “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” alone, and her other stories here only made me more sure of that choice.

Eleanor R. Wood

“Fibonacci” has an interesting structure and a lovely cadence to its storytelling, but very little plot and not much in particular to say about its subject matter. Still, I liked it the best of the three stories Eleanor R. Wood offered here. “Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust” has a premise that I enjoyed at first, but it moved along so slowly and methodically that I found myself bored and losing focus about halfway through. “Daddy’s Girl,” about a woman whose father is an android in need of repairs, is fine, but nothing particularly special, and its sweetness turned cloying at the end.

Frank Wu

I wanted to love Frank Wu’s “Season of the Ants in a Timeless Land,” but it’s another story that I, sadly, just found my mind wandering throughout. The romance, such as it was, was unconvincing, and none of the characters were compelling enough to keep my attention very long. I also found the religious allusions and the mysticism of the ending off-putting.

Jeff Xilon

From Jeff Xilon come “H,” a very short stream of consciousness in which a drug is used to make soldiers into a sort of hive mind and “All of Our Days,” about a man who misses out on a chance at immortality when he takes too long enjoying having a body. Neither of these were awful, but neither one stands out as very accomplished either.

J.Y. Yang

I loved “A House of Anxious Spiders” so, so much. J.Y. Yang’s imagery of people fighting with spiders that live in their mouths and then losing their voice until a new one hatches is clever and powerful, but never cutesy, and Yang doesn’t shy away from an insightful examination of the ways in which even people who love each other can hurt each other deeply. Sook Yee’s and Kathy’s cruelties to each other will feel almost too familiar to anyone who has argued about something real with a person who knows you well. In “Temporary Saints,” a woman prepares the bodies of children who were briefly able to perform miracles, and “Song of the Krakenmaid” finds a woman dealing with an interesting cryptid and a cheating girlfriend.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve never come across any of J.Y. Yang’s stories before since they are relevant to basically all of my interests, but you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out for them in the future.

Isabel Yap

I didn’t love “Milagroso” in spite of its interesting ideas, and “Good Girls” was at times actually unappealing to me, but I love “The Oiran’s Song” passionately. It’s brutal and sad, but it’s also remarkably beautifully written, and Isabel Yap has a distinctive voice that I look forward to reading more of.

Jo Zebedee

I read just enough of this excerpt from Inish Carraig to send me over to Goodreads to find out more about the book, which confirmed that it is not one for me. However, though it only has a few reviews, they all seem to be very positive so far. If you like post-alien invasion stories, this one might be one to pick up.

Jon F. Zeigler

On the one hand, I love an original fairy tale, and “Galen and the Golden-Coat Hare” is a well-conceived and nicely written one. On the other hand, I dislike the deeply conservative message of this one, which frames poverty as a virtue that should be preserved and justice as the upholding of a fundamentally unjust status quo. Zeigler plays with some interesting fairy tale conventions, and there’s a clever conclusion to the story, but I just can’t bring myself to consider the ending a happy one.

Anna Zumbro

I know it’s only a quirk of alphabetical chance, but I was a little disappointed that the last two stories in Up and Coming weren’t more impactful. “The Pixie Game” and “The Cur of County Road Six” are both extremely short stories about kids being kind of awful to each other, and “The Cur” is a particularly ugly.

Final Verdict:

Alyssa Wong, of course, is definitely on my Campbell ballot, but Isabel Yap and J.Y. Yang are strong contenders for the couple of slots that I still haven’t sorted out yet.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 11

Second group of authors of the day!

Joseph Tomaras

I actually have no idea where to start with any substantial analysis or review of Joseph Tomaras’s work. All I can say is that, without being an expert on critical theory and being white myself, it seems as if Tomaras chooses to write about a lot of experiences that aren’t his in a way that seems appropriative and voyeuristic. “Bonfires in Anacostia” was fine, if somewhat pessimistic, but “Thirty-Eight Observations on the Nature of the Self” asks the reader to empathize with a pedophile, which I just don’t have it in me to do today. “The Joy of Sects” is Tomaras’s weirdest story in this collection, and follows a trans woman as she infiltrates a sex cult as part of a Marxist conspiracy to suppress religion, another thing that my splitting allergy-induced headache prevented me from entirely wrapping my head around.

Vincent Trigili

Vincent Trigili’s “The Storymaster” is a bland, derivative piece with a long, dialogue infodump for an ending, which is my least favorite type of story. There are a lot of dragon story tropes strung together here, but not in an interesting way, and the infodump at the end neatly dispelled anything like mystery or tension within the story.

P.K. Tyler

Whereas Joseph Tomaras’s work was mildly troubling, P.K. Tyler’s novelette, “Moon Dust” just made me absolutely fucking furious. It’s a truly disgusting piece of internalized misogyny that only made me feel progressively enraged the more I read. Reading about a young woman being kidnapped, raped, impregnated, escaped, punished by her family and society, and then being expected to read her decision to keep and love the baby that is a product of her rape as a positive, edifying thing, made me want to vomit. That P.K. Tyler went to some lengths to frame Nilafay’s rape as consensual sex is just the cherry on top of this sundae of awfulness. I skipped Tyler’s second story altogether.

Tamara Vardomskaya

Both “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus” and “Acrobat Duality” were technically excellent stories that I just didn’t care for. “Acrobatic Duality” was somewhat the better of the two, but most of what turned me off was the author’s seeming disdain for fine art in “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus,” which framed art as frivolous and wasteful in contrast to the main character’s work as a nurse during a war and the fulfillment she finds as a wife.

Leo Vladimirsky

I’m always surprised that late stage capitalism isn’t more fertile ground for SF authors, but I was glad to see Leo Vladimirsky making use of it as a dystopian backdrop for the story in “Collar.” Unfortunately, “Dandelion,” about a couple who don’t share the gene for immortality, doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the previous tale.

Nancy S.M. Waldman

In a group of mediocre writers, Nancy S.M. Waldman stands out as the most consistently excellent, and I loved all three of the stories that she submitted for this anthology. “ReMemories” is a little scattered in terms of what ideas it wants to focus on, but it’s a strong piece with a good amount of emotional impact, some interesting technology ideas, and a hopeful ending. “And Always, Murder” has a fantastic cast of uplifted animals who have integrated themselves into human society with varying levels of success. “Sound of Chartreuse” is a little fussy and high-mindedly intellectual to be purely enjoyable, but it’s a smart bit of family history and the ideas about synesthesia and communication could stand to have even more development. I would definitely read a book about Carinth.

Thomas M. Waldroon

“Sinseerly a Friend & Yr. Obed’t” dealt with some country-ish folks and a lake full of alien sea monsters. It might be fine for the right reader, but I found it dull and uninspired.

Jo Lindsay Walton

I expected “It’s OK to Say if You Went Back in Time and Killed Baby Hitler” to be a funnier story than it was, just based on the title. However, I wasn’t disappointed with it, and Jo Lindsay Walton’s story of competing time travel companies is clever enough to deserve its title after all.

Kim Wells

Kim Wells’s “The Book of Safkhet: Chronicler of the Journey, Mistress of the House of Books” is a very weird mashup of science fiction (space ships), fantasy (dragons), and biblical allusions that just did not work for me at all. Sometimes an unlikely mix of story influences can fuse together into something great; this time, it’s just a big old confused mess.

Alison Wilgus

“King Tide” takes us into a relatively near future in which coastal areas have flooded due to climate change and gives the reader a peek into the life of a young couple living in the aftermath of it all. It’s a quietly reflective tale that, at the same time never gets too bogged down in sentiment. Alison Wilgus follows this up with “Noise Pollution,” which is an excellent piece of world building in which music provides the magic to combat noise. I love this idea and think it’s plenty good enough to carry a much longer work, but as a short story it feels a little overstuffed and underbaked.

Final Verdict:

My favorites of this group are Leo Vladimirsky and Nancy S.M. Waldman, by far, but Alison Wilgus is also an author who I’ll be keeping an eye out for, especially if she ever decides to expand upon the ideas she put forward in “Noise Pollution.”

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 10

This is only the first of two posts for today, now that I’m finally caught up on reading. I had considered doing all twenty of today’s authors in one post, but decided it would just run far too long; I think most of these posts have run in the 1.5-2k word range and I think breaking it up into groups of ten has so far worked really well. This first group of the day has some stellar pieces that stand out against a backdrop of general mediocrity.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

“Edge of the Unknown” is a very silly story about how the girls at a finishing school for young witches react to Arthur Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m just not enough of a Sherlock Holmes fan to care that much about a story with this premise.

Daniel Arthur Smith

Daniel Arthur Smith’s first story, “The Diatomic Quantum Flop,” opens with four stoner college dudes, which I found immediately off-putting. I literally can’t think of a cast of characters whose stories could be less interesting to me, but I have a feeling this story is fine for people who can identify with its characters. Smith follows this up with “Tower,” a story that reads a bit like a disaster action film concept. The point of view character in this one is a war veteran who reads like exactly the sort of square-jawed action hero who bores me to tears just thinking about him. Again, the story itself is fine, I guess, but not at all the sort of thing I would ever pick up to read on purpose. I skipped Smith’s novella excerpt, which for some reason starts with chapter four.

Lesley Smith

Lesley Smith’s “The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture” is an imaginative and moderately interesting meta examination of pop cultural zombie mythology. I like the idea of looking at zombies from the perspective of an entirely different and alien race, and Smith has produced a workmanlike piece that doesn’t overstay its welcome or overwork its concept.

William Squirrell

I didn’t care that much for either “Götterdämmerung” or “Fighting in the Streets of the City of Time,” though neither was particularly bad, just unmemorable. However, I adore “I am Problem Solving Astronaut: How to Write Hard SF,” a very funny—I laughed aloud more than once—piece that takes aim and fires at some of the more common hard SF tropes. It contains the wonderful line: “The future is a perfect meritocracy in which everyone is measured against the same standard: Problem Solving Astronaut.”

Dan Stout

Dan Stout’s “Outpatient” is one of my favorite kind of sci-fi stories, the kind that deal with scientific fuck-ups, and this one is a doozy that is also a nice bit of psychological horror. “The Curious Case of Alpha-7 DE11” deals with an entirely different kind of scientific fuck-up, and it’s told in a very clever fashion, as a voicemail complaint from a mad scientist who is having a problem with a golem that he purchased. What I appreciate most about this story is that it was smart and funny, but not self-consciously so. There’s very little that I dislike more than a clever story that is obsessed with its own cleverness, as it distracts from the actual story and often ruins the joke. Not so here.

Naru Dames Sundar

All of Naru Dames Sundar’s three stories are deeply powerful in their own ways. “A Revolution in Four Courses” deals with the destruction of culture in the wake of imperialism, and it ends on a bittersweet note with an act of resistance that may or may not be futile but still makes for a compelling story. Sundar’s descriptions of food are wonderfully evocative and help to bring his fantasy world to life. In “Infinite Skeins,” a bereft mother searches through numerous parallel universes for her lost daughter, unmindful of what else she might lose in the process. And “Broken-Winged Love” examines some of the often complicated feelings of a mother for a child that isn’t exactly what she expected or hoped for.

Will Swardstrom

“Uncle Allen” isn’t the worst, but it’s too short a story to have the kind of inconsistencies I noticed while reading it, and it ends with a long info-dumping piece of dialogue that reveals information that isn’t particularly hinted at or supported by the story up to that point. Will Swardstrom’s other novelette, “The Control,” is only slightly better. Bek’s long journey through history is told, not shown, and “The Control” focuses on what, to me, is one of the least interesting parts of Bek’s story.

Jeremy Szal

I rather liked Jeremy Szal’s first story, “Daega’s Test,” a very short piece about advanced AIs testing each other, but things were downhill from there. “Last Age of Kings” is a ho-hum piece of sword and sorcery about a guy with a fridged wife, and “Skin Game” has something to say about government surveillance being bad, but it doesn’t do so very memorably.

Lauren C. Teffeau

Lauren C. Teffeau’s “Forge and Fledge” is a nicely written piece about a boy born on a penal colony in space, but I couldn’t for the life of me get into “Jump Cut.” There was some kind of sci-fi motocross and lots of cyberpunk-ish implanted technology, but the story just read like the plot of some kind of straight-to-Netflix space sports flick.

Natalia Theodoridou

Along with Naru Dames Sundar, Natalia Theodoridou is my favorite of this group of writers. “The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul” is a sort of castaway story that finds a man alone on a barren-seeming planet building robot animals in order to keep himself company after the death of the other people he was traveling with. “On Post-Mortem Birds” is a much shorter and significantly more fanciful story about the birds that have to be freed from the dead, and it’s lovely and charming in every way. “Android Whores Can’t Cry” is a total change of pace again, and deals with some relatively well-trod storytelling ground in a compelling way. Theodoridou’s idea of android nacre is fascinating, and it’s a wonderful symbol that she interweaves deftly throughout the narrative.

Final Verdict:

Obviously the standout writers of this bunch of Natalia Theodoridou and Naru Dames Sundar, and I’m definitely considering a Campbell nomination for Theodoridou, who is in her second and last year of eligibility. Lesley Smith, William Squirrell and Dan Stout also turned in some well-worth-reading pieces.