This was a somewhat light reading day, with several authors who only have one story included in Up and Coming. This is nice, in a way, because I’m exhausted from two straight days of staying up late to finish (the wages of thinking up ambitious, time-sensitive projects at the last minute), but it does make it somewhat more difficult to get a real sense of an author when you’ve only got a single story to go on. Still, some of these stories are excellent enough to make up for the lack of quantity.
The first story of the day is Jonathan Edelstein’s novelette, “First Do No Harm.” It’s nice to see a piece set in Africa, and while I’m not an expert, the setting of “First Do No Harm” appears to be meticulously researched and respectfully imagined. Unfortunately, I don’t buy the ideas that underpin the story. While I can imagine there being a dark age of sorts following some apocalyptic event, I find the sustained and enforced stifling of scientific inquiry—in favor of only teaching and practicing medicine that has already been recorded—highly unbelievable. I don’t think this kind of dogmatism was even common in the actual Dark Ages, and I can’t imagine that it would happen in a society capable of producing nanotechnology.
“A Long Horizon” is a fascinating story about a pair of unlikely friends. It’s one of several stories in Up and Coming that are drawn from last year’s The Immortality Chronicles, and Harlow C. Fallon offers up an unusual take on immortality. This is a far better story than its lackluster title suggests, though there’s unfortunately very little to say about it that wouldn’t spoil it.
“The Lady of the House of Mirrors” is a novelette from an anthology about lesbian mad scientists, which I didn’t know existed but now definitely need to read all of. I love this story so much. It owes a great deal to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, obviously, but it’s not too on the nose. Rafaela F. Ferraz has a distinctive flair that is all her own, and “The Lady of the House of Mirrors” has a decidedly steampunk-ish sensibility. My only serious critique is that the characters of Rosie’s assistant and his friend the embalmer could easily have been cut out for a more streamlined story. While they do serve a purpose in the narrative, what little they add to the story could easily have been achieved by other means.
“She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow” is a strange, sad little story with some confusing mythology. It’s not bad, but it also doesn’t distinguish itself in any particular way. It’s not sad in any edifying fashion, just gloomy.
“Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident” is fucking hilarious. DeShawna Blanchard is a delightful smartass, and I would read a thousand pages about her adventures. “Seven Things” is a story told in the form of an essay written by DeShawna as part of the disciplinary action she faces after said incident. It’s a bright, funny change of pace after several darker stories, but it’s also a well-paced and thoroughly charming piece in its own right.
I won’t say that both of Ron S. Friedman’s selections are objectively bad, since obviously someone liked them well enough to publish, but I will say that I hated them. “Game Not Over” is about video game characters who become self-aware and possess the body of a gamer. While there’s some humorous potential in this basic premise, the story as it’s told here isn’t funny, smart or insightful in any way. In “LUCA,” a husband and wife team of scientists are investigating what lives in the waters of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, when a tragedy occurs. Again, there’s a seed of a decent idea here, but it’s spoiled by a simplistic, almost adolescent writing style and messaging that is so heavy-handed and trite that it’s downright silly.
From David Jón Fuller come a pair of urban fantasy stories and a sci-fi tale set on a generation ship. “The Harsh Light of Morning” is about a racist, weirdly religious vampire who preyed upon children at a residential school in Canada. It feels more like a seed for a longer work than anything else, and I think its themes could definitely use a lot more space to develop in. “Caged” has a gay werewolf being rescued by his gay werebear romantic interest, which is adorable, and the story has an interesting aesthetic that is both distinctly Canadian and very heavy metal. Neither are really my cup of tea. I was more interested in “In Open Air” at first, but just couldn’t get into it. I skimmed to the end, and it was fine, but nothing special. Fuller’s style is the type of workmanlike that seems common in small press and self-pubbed work, but I generally prefer to read stuff that is a little more polished.
Sarah Gailey is by far my favorite of today’s bunch of authors. “Bargain” is a short, sweet story about a demon, Malachai, summoned by an old woman who wants to save her wife, who is dying from cancer. It’s a very smart, very funny story, and there were happy tears at the end. “Bargain” is Hugo-eligible this year, if you’re still looking to fill out your list for Best Short Story.
“Haunted” is a totally different sort of story, a look at domestic violence from the point of view of a house, dealing with how tragedy marks a place and playing with the idea of what it means for something to be haunted. This one has a February 2016 pub date, so won’t be eligible for this round of Hugos, but I could easily see it making my list next year, it’s so good.
“The Backup” says it’s a short story, but it feels very long and somewhat aimless. There are some interesting ideas here about family and grief, but the whole story just feels kind of overstuffed, and when the ending came I was just nonplussed, which is not how I ever like to feel at the end of anything.
Jaymee Goh’s “Liminal Grid” has a lot to say, probably about freedom and stuff, but I found it unreadable. Not unreadably bad, however. It’s just that it’s the sort of relatively near-future neo-cyberpunk-ish techno-thriller-ish thing that can just put me to sleep. I’m sure that this is an excellent story for the right audience, but I’m not it.
Sarah Gailey is an author to watch, for sure, and I really liked the contributions from Harlow C. Fallon, Rafaela F. Ferraz, and Annalee Flower Horne. However, this was balanced out today by some of the least enjoyable work in Up and Coming so far.