2016 Story 54

Today's story brings us closer to completing the discussion of Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

54. THE GAMES WE PLAY by Cassandra Khaw.  Genre fiction is full of stories where the disempowered/disenfranchised rise up in some way against their oppressors. In short fiction, it feels like this struggle is usually told on a very intimate scale: soldier against officer, impoverished resident against rich landlord, child against parent. So what's really impressive in Khaw's story is that the battle is intimate (supplicant vs. king) but the stakes are societal (subservient species vs. overlord species), the outcome of this personal battle possibly affected the precarious relationship between the races. Khaw pulls it off masterfully, with a main character (Yavena) that we immediately feel we can root for and an adversary (the Dog King) who is intriguing and possibly also likeable. The ebb-and-flow of the tension gives the reader small respites before the big final scene. One of my favorites of the collection.

2016 Story 53

Today's story continues the run from Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

53. BY THREAD OF NIGHT AND STARLIGHT NEEDLE by Shveta Thakrar.  Thakrar's story builds upon a mystery for the reader (rather than a mystery involving the characters): what do these various vignettes about siblings have in common? What connections can be made between these various pairs, in their different societies and time frames and economic circumstances? The author does answer that question, very sastisfactorily, by the end of the story ... and without the necessity of an info-dump for the reader. The vignettes overlap and interweave, with focus on two particular sister-brother pairs. I love stories that explore why we need each other, and Thakrar does that so well here.

2016 Story 52

Today's story continues the run of Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

52. TWO BRIGHT VENUSES by Alex Dally MacFarlane.  I will not pretend that I understood the science behind the story. But the concept (of a Superior Venus and an Inferior Venus both existing, and thus needed two of the same person -- a Superior Irunn and an Inferior Irunn -- to explore them) pulled me in right away. The language here is lyrical, poetic, and full of big concepts that are still accessible. MacFarlane's two Irunns to me represent the Social vs the Interior of every person, and the story made me think of how to be whole, we must balance these two parts.

2016 Story 51

Today's story comes from Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

51. THE TRINITITE GOLEM by Sonya Taaffe.  Taaffe's short, tightly-focused tale tells the story of Robert Oppenheimer's guilt long after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, infused with the methods by which the government tried (and largely succeeded) to destroy him. Oppeheimer encounters a classic Golem ... or does he? So much of the story seems to be in the main character's mind that I found myself wondering if the encounter is real or imagined? Ultimately, I don't think it matters to the strength of the story, which is a bullet of grief and regret but also a little bit of hope.

2016 Story 50

Today's story again comes from Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

50. THE TIGER'S SILENT ROAR by Holly Heisey.  Heisey's story of a renowned artist (Evin) with a secret that could ruin his career, and his encounter with a soul-hunter (Mira Tran) works on so many levels I don't think I can talk about all of them in a what is meant to be a short review. It's a treatise on the nature of art, the nature of creation. It's a discussion of how art can change not only an individual (Tran has never seen Evin's art in person, only photographs) but also society as a whole. It's about small incremental changes leading to big changes, and it's about privilege. It's just a really stunning, really intimate story.

2016 Story 49

Today's story comes from Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

49. THE BOOK OF MAY by C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez.  I love epistolary stories and novels, have done so since I first read Dracula in high school. There's something about watching a story unfold via letters, journal entries, newspaper articles and such ephemera that just adds a level of intrigue to the story. I find myself wondering what the character's intent was behind the letter she sent, what meaning can be gleaned from whether he sent his message by post or by telegram or by private courier. And now, with email almost considered outmoded and so much shared via text messaging and social media -- those questions become even more interesting. Cooney and Hernandez drew me in with the tone of Morgan/May's first email to Eliazar/Harry and his response, and I was hooked the rest of the way through the emails, the text messages, the snail-mailed letters. Morgan is clearly dying, and so I found myself wondering how much of what she writes is lucid, how reliable/unreliable she is as a narrator? Which lead to wondering how much of what Harry was writing was fantasy as well. And the story takes such delightful detours on the way to a really wonderful conclusion. I also recognized the roles of ill friend and healthy caretaker, having been in both at various points in my life (although thankfully not as a terminally ill patient), and that helped the story strike home even more.

2016 Story 48

Today's story concludes my thoughts on the February 2016 issue of Lightspeed magazine (#69), edited by John Joseph Adams, and exclusive to the ebook edition of the issue:

48. MAY BE SOME TIME by Brenda W. Clough.  Captain Lawrence "Titus" Oates, knowing he was ill and close to death, sacrificed himself to the brutal conditions of Antarctica in the hopes that it would guarantee the survival of the rest of his team. Clough posits that a time-travel research team from 2015 pulled Oates out of time because his unique circumstances (body never recovered) meant they could rescue him without injuring the timeline. Oates is a man of his time and thus has a hard time adjusting to a world where women are doctors and technology is incredibly advanced; he is also a man of ego and is affected by the news that he was not chosen for rescue based on his accomplishments but his circumstances. Clough's novella does a wonderful job of explicating the struggle of someone who was an insider (war hero from a rich family) becoming an outsider (adopted by a society he doesn't have the language or experience to assimilate with). I didn't always agree with the main character, but his struggle was relatable.

2016 Story 47

Today's story also comes from the February 2016 issue of Lightspeed Magazine (#69), edited by John Joseph Adams:

47. STARFISH by Karin Tidbeck.  Kim takes an arctic cruise to take her mind off of recent changes in her life. The captain's late-night tale of the Iron Coffin, a portal to another realm, intrigues her. The world of the story is not immediately recognizable as "not our own," which I think is a great way to pull a reader in. Tidbeck implies heavily before outright revealing that the setting is a world very much like our own but not quite exactly the same; the biggest hint is the starfish-creatures of the title, who are real and a metaphor. I related to the main character wanting to just get away from a life she's no longer happy with.

2016 Stories 40 - 46

Fell behind in these posts due to lots of work and family business to attend to. I've been reading, just not blogging. So here's a catch-up post. To keep it simple, all of today's stories come from the February 2016 issue of Lightspeed magazine (#69), edited by John Joseph Adams:

40. CHARLOTTE INCORPORATED by Rachael K. Jones.  Charlotte is one of the unincorporated -- brains with no bodies. She dreams of affording a body of her own and what it would look like. But at what cost comes mobility and real sensory input? Charlotte's yearning for a better life is instantly recognizable, and isn't that what SF is all about, addressing present-day concerns in fantastic settings? Jones' world-building around her is smooth and detailed while still allowing for twists and surprises.

41. HEREAFTER by Samuel Peralta.  Caitlyn meets Sean by happenstance one afternoon, and this begins a time-travel tale that is beautiful and heartbreaking. I can't say much more without giving away the myriad twists and emotional gut-punches the story contains, but I can say this is a must-read.

42. SOONER OR LATER EVERYTHING FALLS INTO THE SEA by Sarah Pinsker.  Bay scavenges what washes up from the ocean onto the shoreline near her hovel. She finds Gabby, a former rock star, and their relationship begins on a contentious note. This is a world post-climate-change, where the rich live on self-contained ships and everyone else deals with rebuilding a society that has collapsed but not been obliterated. Except for Bay, who has run away from it all for reasons that are revealed throughout the story. The multiple POVs, some first person and some limited third person, add to the reader's intrigue as to what is really going on here by questioning which narrators are reliable and which are not.

43. TRANSITIONAL FORMS by Paul McAuley.  Ray Roberts is a patroller around an Arizona "hot zone" where artificial plant life forms grow and change, either naturally or due to interference from hackers. A chance encounter with a scientist begins Ray on the road of transition for himself as well. The almost clinical approach to the story somehow makes it feel even more like a classic western despite the heavy SF world-building: a great example of a melding of genres that pulls from the best of both and creates something new and exciting.

44. MONSTROUS EMBRACE by Rachel Swirsky.  Ugliness personified speaks to a young prince while he's asleep, and implores him to marry it for the sake of his kingdom. It reminds him of his personal history and how their bond formed, and reveals the history of his intended bride as well. The voice is compelling, full of ache and despair but still tinged with hope and something close to love.

45. NOT BY WARDROBE, TORNADO OR LOOKING GLASS by Jeremiah Tolbert.  Louisa's world has turned upside down as more and more people, adults and children, are beckoned through their own personal "rabbit holes" to fantasy worlds where they are the Hero, the Rescuer. Louisa has loved fiction of that kind since she was a child, so why hasn't she been called? As the world changes around her, questions mount about the nature and proliferation of the rabbit holes, and answers do come, for the reader and for Louisa. Tolbert expertly touches on our own inner fantasy worlds, our needs and our compromises between fantasy and "the real world."

46. MAP OF SEVENTEEN by Christopher Barzak.  During her senior year of high school, Meg's older brother Tommy moves back home and brings his boyfriend Tristan with him. Meg is concerned about the effect this will have on her parents, who love thier children but still must deal with being prominent citizens of a small town. Meg ends up confronting her own secrets as they crach up against those of Tommy and Tristan, and thus ends up beginning to create a map of where her life is and where it will go from here. Looking back through the posts tagged with "barzak" in this community, I see that I've read this story at least four time before (and honestly, I was surprised it's only been four times). Even after all those readings, the story still leaves me with tears in my eyes at the end, and the feeling that I really want to know what became of Meg and her family in the years following the story.

2016 Story 39

Today's story is again from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen:

39. SOCIAL VISITING by Sunil Patel.  Patel's story starts mundanely enough: teenage Shaila is forced by her parents to endure yet another Sunday of social visiting with various motel-owning relatives, aunts and uncles who dote on her and try to feed her and make her drink teas she doesn't really enjoy. But she does what she must to keep the family happy -- and then discovers she's been tested for a destiny that involves fighting a famous Indian demon banished by Rama long ago. Patel's two main charaacters, Shaila and Divya, are relatable and strong young women, and the adult characters (Shaila's parents and her aunt Ranitamasi) are equally well-drawn. So often in this sort of story the teenagers are beyond average and the adults are disconnected and stupid, but Patel makes everyone a vital part of the story, and doesn't let Shaila's initial "sarcastic teenager" tone overwhelm the story or make her unlikeable.