This group of stories is a sadly lackluster bunch. There’s nothing particularly awful in this group, but most of it was firmly in the category of “not my kind of thing.”
“Paolo, Friend Paolo” was overlong to the point of being boring, and “Tigerskin” was forgettable. However, though I didn’t like “QSFTmk2.7853 Has a Name” very much on first reading, it’s turned out to be a story that has stuck with me, and I’ve found myself thinking about it off and on for a full twenty-four hours now. The idea of artificially intelligent robots being people isn’t new or fresh, but Kurt Hunt’s take on it has the sort of slow-burning and lasting impact that is a mark of a great story.
From L.S. Johnson come a pair of haunting stories deeply rooted in fairy tale traditions. “Vacui Magia” is an excellent use of second person point of view, which is tricky to work with and which I always appreciate seeing done well. It’s also a remarkable meditation on some of the complex feelings women have about motherhood. “Little Men with Knives” is a fascinating modern version of something very like “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” and it’s notable if for no other reason than that’s not a story that gets much attention in the world of fairy tale retellings. That said, it’s also a wonderful story in its own right, and it’s likely to make my final list for Best Novelette this year.
“The Economist & the Dragon” had a title that excited me, but the story was a disappointment, to say the least. The set up goes on too long, and the punchline, when it comes, is nowhere near surprising enough to be really funny, which is too bad. Even just hours after reading it and looking at my notes, I have a hard time recalling anything about “Head Games.” “The Shadow Under Scotland” is an only very vaguely Lovecraftian story that doesn’t really justify its use of Scotland as a setting important enough to name it in the title. Aside from the dialect of the characters, there’s nothing particularly specific to Scotland, and the danger/horror of the story isn’t big enough to feel like it threatens a whole country.
Rachael K. Jones
Rachael K. Jones is by far the best of today’s group of writers, and I loved all three of the stories printed here. It’s too bad “Makeisha in Time” is from 2014; if it had a 2015 pub date, it would definitely be on my Best Short Story list this year. I loved this story of a woman who is unstuck in time and trying to find a way to change the narratives of history. “Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands,” the story of two deaf women and the way their relationship is changed by the arrival of a sorcerer on their secluded island is going to be on my list this year. And “Charlotte Incorporated,” about a brain in a jar looking for a body, is a strong early addition to my ongoing list of favorite 2016 stories.
“Broken” tries unsuccessfully to squeeze a lot of world building into a short space, and ends up being nearly incoherent and full of proper nouns that are never defined explicitly and whose meanings can only be half figured out from context. I might have enjoyed it if I could understand what the hell was going on. “Hide Behind,” on the other hand, is a moderately creepy monster story with a dark fairy tale sensibility. I didn’t love it, but I can definitely see why someone who more generally likes that sort of thing might.
Paul B. Kohler
“Rememorations” is the second or third time just in this collection that I’ve seen someone write about the idea that the human brain somehow isn’t big enough to handle immortality—basically that the brain’s memory storage gets full and causes problems for the immortal—and I kind of hate this idea. Partly, I dislike it because I half-suspect that everyone is just copying off that one Doctor Who episode, but partly I dislike it because every story based around it seems to think that it’s very clever, in spite of not having anything very insightful to say about either immortality or memory. The smug tone of this story’s heavily telegraphed ending just made me sigh. Meanwhile, “The Soul Collector” has a relatively pedestrian premise, which could nevertheless have been elevated by a more capable writer, but is instead spoiled by poor word choices and some of the worst, faux old-timey, theatrical dialogue I’ve read this year.
Someone is going to love Jeanne Kramer-Smyth’s work, but that someone is not me. Both of her stories here are short, simple ones with little conflict, no real sense of danger, and happy endings all around. There’s some darkness in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian backgrounds of both “Unsealed” and “View from Above,” but Kramer-Smyth doesn’t allow it to touch her characters in any real sense.
Jamie Gilman Kress
“And Now, Fill Her In” puts a psychic of sorts on a doomed plane, but what happens next isn’t actually interesting. Instead, it’s mostly just Kiya looking around and silently judging other passengers.
Jason LaPier’s selection is an excerpt from his novel, Unexpected Rain. It seems to be trying to be a space opera hybrid akin to The Expanse, but I couldn’t get into it. The excerpt is from—for some reason—Chapter 9 of the book, which means I have no idea what exactly is going on in it. In any case, it’s some mediocre action stuff peppered with ham-fisted, sophomoric dialogue. I looked up the book on Goodreads, but after reading the book description and glancing through the reviews, I can tell that it’s definitely not for me.
I wanted to love the excerpt from Fonda Lee’s novel, Zeroboxer, but it’s much more the sort of thing that I’d like to Netflix if it was a movie—not the sort of thing I have much interest in reading. That said, it’s well-written and a cool idea if you’re at all into sports stories, and the few reviews I read of it sounded promising. Lee’s short story, “Universal Print” wasn’t great, however. It’s interesting to see how common printing technology has gotten in sci-fi, but this story was otherwise forgettable.
I unequivocally loved all three of Rachael K. Jones’s stories, and I will probably be picking up L.S. Johnson’s recently published story collection for more of her work, but the rest of today’s crop of stories was just not that good.