So, the good news is that I still have time to finish this project by the end of the day on Wednesday. The bad news, of course, is that I had about a two-day-long funk last week that has put me pretty far behind where I’d intended to be by this point. This was compounded over the weekend by family obligations and the fatigue brought on by my allergies when I’m pretty sure literally every tree in my town bloomed at once. It’s pretty, and the whole town smells like flowers, but it makes me feel like I’m going to die. However, today I’ve got some non-drowsy allergy meds in me and I’m feeling productive, so I expect to get, well, not caught up, quite, but close.
I think my favorite thing about this project so far—though it makes it hard to really compare these authors to each other—has been that Up and Coming showcases an incredible number of ways of being good. There’s really no way that any reader is going to universally enjoy the stories on offer, and every group I’ve written about has been a mixed bag, but it’s always interesting.
I only read a page or two of the excerpt from The Waters of Versailles before I switched over to Some of the Best from Tor.com 2015 in order to read all of Kelly Robson’s novella. It didn’t turn out to be as superlatively excellent as I’d hoped, but it is a great read, perhaps enhanced by my having recently watched A Little Chaos, about a totally different project at Versailles, which had the setting fresh in my mind. Kelly Robson does a much better job than that film, though, of utilizing Versailles, and Sylvain de Guilherand is a much more interesting fictional character than Kate Winslet was, even if the stories do both deal with people who feel somewhat unhappy and displaced at the French court.
“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a weird story. It’s beautifully written and powerful, but it also includes an extremely brutal and graphic rape/murder that I wasn’t prepared for and it touches specifically on the sadly still-timely issue of the disappearance of First Nations women in Canada. On the author’s website, she does warn that the story is extremely violent, but it doesn’t seem to have been published with any kind of warning elsewhere, and I think that this is a case where a trigger warning might be necessary to give readers some advance warning.
I don’t think I quite get “Two-Year Man” as it’s a story with some weird messaging. It’s just as nicely written as the other Robson pieces included here, but the main character is very unsettling. While I finished the story, I found it to be a largely unpleasant read that left me with more questions than I like to have at the end of a short story. There’s something to be said, I suppose, for not tying everything up too neatly, but I don’t like it when I have questions about everything from world building issues to thematic concerns to character motivations.
Andy Rogers’ “The Doom of Sallee” is, I guess, a time travel story, or maybe some kind of alternate universe? It wasn’t terribly clear, and it wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep reading and rereading it to try and figure it out. I tried to read his novella, Brothers in Arms, but got about three pages into it before I couldn’t take anymore sci-fi soldier talk. That said, I don’t have anything bad to say about Andy Rogers. His work seems fine, just decidedly not for me.
“The Eleventh Hour” contemplates what one might do if given an hour—a literal, physical hour in this case, which is a moderately cool idea—to save the world. It’s a clever story, but not especially impactful or memorable aside from the idea of a physical representation of an hour that the main character has to decide how to spend.
“Grand Tour” is a nicely structured piece with an interesting speculative element. Steve Ruskin’s story of a widowed artist with a magical camera lucida makes for an entertaining read, and it’s smartly bookended with complementary scenes that have unifying motifs. Séances (really, Spiritualism in general) don’t appear enough in fantasy, to be honest, and it’s good to see an author utilizing some of that history in a compelling way.
“We Fly” by K.B. Rylander is a story with some interesting ideas, and Rylander speculates on an interesting possible dilemma related to the mind-uploading technology that she’s writing about. However, the devil is always in details, and there were some small things that I didn’t like, just casual mentions of unsettlingly authoritarian policies in the world of the story that make it feel dystopian in way that is both frightening and largely unexplored in the narrative. I did like Natasha’s gesture of resistance at the end, but I’m not sure if it matters. Then again, that could be the point. I would love to give this story to a classroom full of eighth graders and ask them what they think; it seems like a perfect story for that kind of analysis.
Hope Erica Schultz leads with “Mr. Reilly’s Tattoo,” which I didn’t hate, though it was a bit too saccharine for me to truly like it. “The Princess in the Basement” is similarly sweet, and a little too heavy-handed with its messaging right at the end, but it’s a decent enough modern fairy tale.
I vaguely remember something about the story Effie Seiberg had in Women Destroy Science Fiction! a couple of years ago, but I’m pretty sure that the three newer stories she’s included in Up and Coming are going to stick with me much longer. “Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” is a story about corporate evil (and the apocalypse) told in the form of an internal email chain. It’s smart and funny, but not too precious. “Thundergod in Therapy” tells the story of a retired Zeus, and I liked it well enough that I can forgive it for not really delivering on the “in Therapy” part of its title.
The best of Seiberg’s three stories here, however, is hands down “Rocket Surgery.” Of these selections, it deals with the biggest ideas and has the most ambitious themes. It’s also the timeliest and most insightful as a piece of science fiction that can be read as a commentary on current trends in technology and society. Most importantly, when looking at Seiberg as a contender for a major award, “Rocket Surgery” works to show that the author has more range as a writer and depth as a thinker than is exhibited in her more humorous pieces. I’m not sure where Seiberg will ultimately end up when I make my final decisions on who to nominate for the Campbell Award, but “Rocket Surgery” is an early addition to my longlist for next year’s Best Short Story Hugo.
I’m very sad about the 2014 publication date for “The Djinn Who Sought to Kill the Sun.” If it had been published in 2015, it would definitely be a shoe-in for a Best Novelette Hugo nomination. It works wonderfully as a fairy tale and as a gorgeously imagined story about healing from grief and trauma by finding purpose and a way forward into the future instead of dwelling in the past. I can’t find that Tahmeed Shafiq has published anything else since this story, but if this is the quality of work he was producing at age sixteen(!), I am very excited to see what he might produce in the future.
This is the first time I’ve read anything by Iona Sharma, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find her. “Archana and Chandni” is the sci-fi lesbian wedding family dramedy I never knew I desperately wanted to read. It’s seriously a kind of perfect story. I didn’t love “Alnwick” quite so much, but it’s a well-executed blend of relationship drama and hard sci-fi that manages to do all of its ideas justice, even if it doesn’t have the sheer charm that “Archana and Chandni” possesses in spades.
“Ice in D Minor” is a beautifully melancholy (though ultimately hopeful) piece about a composer tasked with writing music that will help to cool the warming planet. “The Sun Never Sets” is a first contact story set in Victorian England, which I was predisposed to love—especially when it opened with a young woman who is an amateur astronomer. Unfortunately, the story takes a weird, imperialist turn that, in hindsight, is telegraphed by the title, and isn’t as clever or amusing as I think it is intended to be. Sadly, my overall opinion of Anthea Sharp’s work isn’t improved by her final piece, “Fae Horse,” which starts with a young woman trying to escape being burned as a witch and finishes with that young woman sacrificing her identity and humanity in order to rescue a man. It’s finely written, but I would have liked it better if Eileen didn’t get such a raw deal in the end.
Iona Sharma and Effie Seiberg are new favorites, for sure, and I was disappointed that Tahmeed Shafiq doesn’t seem to have published anything in the last two years, but the majority of authors in this group were only okay. I’m sure I’ll be happy to read some of them again if I come across them in the future, but I doubt I’ll be seeking them out particularly.