Issue 91 of Clarkesworld opens with “Passage of Earth” by Michael Swanwick. Swanwick is one of my favorite authors when he’s not writing about talking dogs, and this is not a Darger and Surplus story, so I was already inclined to like it. Hank, the protagonist, is the county coroner in a small rural community. One morning, in the wee small hours, an ambulance brings a Worm to his morgue, and Evelyn, a member of the (unidentified) Agency who also happens to be his ex-wife, instructs him to perform an autopsy. The anatomy of the creature, a member of the only other intelligent species in the universe that humans have yet encountered, is so completely different from that of humans that humans don’t know how to combat them — assuming combat is necessary, and the humans appear to be spoiling for war. It’s a tale of interspecies conflict writ small, but with such imagination that the Wor... Read More
Issue 18 of Nightmare Magazine opens with “Have You Heard the One about Anamaria Marquez?” by Isabel Yap. The story is narrated by Mica, a fifth grade student at St. Brebeuf’s, a private school in Manila, the Philippines, but her narration is interrupted occasionally with different iterations of the supernatural, horrific fate of Anamaria Marquez, who once was also a student at St. Brebeuf’s. Depending on what version of her life and death you believe, she was raped, killed and hidden in a tree on the school grounds; locked in a bathroom by a school bully, where she drowned herself; or another half dozen possibilities. In any case, some believe she haunts the school. Home economics teachers who prattle on about opening their third eyes tend to encourage the students in their superstitious fears. The atmosphere of the upcoming school fair is heightening those feelings, as the fifth graders’ part in the fair is to create a haunted house. The flaring emotion... Read More
Issue 142 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a special double issue for BCS Science-Fantasy Month 2, which, according to the magazine’s website, features “stories that combine the awe-inspiring fantastical settings of BCS fiction with futuristic details like spacecraft, laser rifles, and advanced scientific concepts.” It makes for the best issue of the magazine so far in 2014.
“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard takes place at the end, or at least near the end, of a war, on Voc, the planet on which the story is set. The characters in the story do not appear to be human. Rechan, the viewpoint character, is pregnant, and she and her family are engaged in their usual spring migration to the mountains. But their flyer breaks down and strands them halfway up the mountain, and finding repairs or a replacement is difficult. Rechan must meet up... Read More
Weird Tales: The Magazine that Never Dies edited by Marvin Kaye
Marvin Kaye's Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies anthology from 1988 takes a slightly different tack than its earlier sister volume, Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors. Whereas the editors of that earlier collection chose to select one story from each year of the magazine's celebrated 32-year run (1923-1954), Kaye has decided here to not just limit himself to the periodical's classic era of 279 issues, but to also include tales from each of the four latter-day incarnations of "The Unique Magazine" (from 1973-87). The result is 45 pieces of generally superb speculative fantasy and horror, including six "Weird Tales Reprints" by such luminaries as Dickens, Poe, Flaubert and Stoker, as well as Otis Adelbert Kline's "Why Weird Tales?," an article that clearly delineated the magazine's goals and intentions in its first anniversary issue, the one dated May/June/July... Read More
Issue One of Lackington’s begins with “A Long Foreword with a Long Title to Introduce Our Fond New Venture.” There’s a good reason for such a foreword: Lackington’s contains prose that is unlike that to be found in any other speculative fiction magazine. The magazine isn’t interested in telling stories, as such, but in beautiful prose with a speculative bent. “[Y]ou may find the odd slice-of-life vignette in these pages, or the odd meandering reflection, and you will find a lot of prose poetry, or at least prose written by those who are poetically inclined, because aesthetics matter here,” writes the editor, Ranylt Richildis, as if prose and aesthetics are of no concern to those who are interested in plots. Perhaps I should have taken the foreword as a warning and ceased reading immediately, for I found the offerings largely opaque and far too precious for my taste.
Richildis also mentions in her foreword that the pieces... Read More
The January 2014 of Nightmare Magazine opens with “The Mad Butcher of Plainfield’s Chariot of Death” by Adam Howe. Gibbons is the proud owner of Eddie Gein’s car, a genuine relic of the murder on which Alfred Hitchcock based his movie Psycho. Gibbons has a carnival show built around the car, a regular “Disneyland from hell,” and he can’t figure why it isn’t the huge success he expected when he spent his inheritance from his mother on the thing. But not only don’t people flock to see his show with a two-bit carnival traveling from town to town; he is frequently shut down by the local police in response to a citizenry that finds his show too grotesque. And the rest of the carnies don’t like the police nosing around, because there’s a lot going on behind the tents that the cops shouldn’t know about. Even though the carny is all Gibbons has ever known, it looks like he’s not going to last more than another town or two before this... Read More
The most recent two issues of Apex Magazine give us a chance to say goodbye to one editor and hello to the next, and offer an interesting contrast between two strong voices.
Issue 55 is Lynne M. Thomas’s last issue of the 26 she has edited. It is a strong issue, with stories that are beautifully angry — at disease, at societal expectations, at clichés.
The first story, “What You’ve Been Missing” by Maria Dahvana Headley, is about the losses everyone suffers when a man is stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. Joe has been caught eating Proust, dipping the pages into his tea and devouring them. His wife, Bette, is enraged, because when they were first married he had said he’d sooner walk into the snow shoeless than live without the full use of his brain. Now Joe not only doesn’t remember that, he doesn’t even remember ... Read More
“In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers is the novella in the January/February 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and it’s a doozy. It’s one of a number of stories and movies I’ve seen lately that address the question of what it is we love when we love someone. Do we love a mind? A body? Both together? Must they be unchanging? They can’t, really, can they, because we all age and grow; change is actually the only constant. And the question goes deeper, to the nature of the mind as an organic, chemical, electrical entity. Chambers examines all of these questions in a love story about a man and an unusual woman; I won’t say more so that you can discover her secrets for yourself (and she is very secretive).
There are five novelettes in this issue. The first is “The New Cambrian” by Andy Stewart, a science fiction tale about an expedition to Europa to study life beneath the surface of the iced-over water world. As... Read More
The Winter 2014 issue of Subterranean Magazine was edited by guest editor Jonathan Strahan, the editor of a popular year’s best anthology and a number of other anthologies. He has good taste, as the stories chosen for this issue demonstrate — with the exception of the longest and last piece, a snarky bit of irreligious, virtually plotless prose by Bruce Sterling (about which more below).
“The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason is structured as a fairy tale often is, with three daughters each setting out on an errand prescribed by their father. This father wants his daughters to be writers of stories, a goal of his own he has never achieved because, he thinks, he lacks the divine spark necessary to such an endeavor. When his daughters are grown, he takes them to a famous critic, who reads their stories, which they had written reluctantly, fearing th... Read More
The first of three novelettes in the February 2014 issue of Asimov’s is Derek Künsken's “Schools of Clay,” a space opera that is almost incomprehensible. It concerns a race of beings that is modeled on bees, apparently, with queens, workers and new generations of princesses. These beings mine asteroid belts and seem to be partly machine and partly organic (though their nature is never spelled out, one of the serious shortcomings of this story). Some of these beings have souls, and some do not, though what “soul” means in this context is unclear. Diviya is the viewpoint character, a medic or mechanic or both, caught between castes. And he is a revolutionary, for the workers have become dissatisfied with their status. A need for the colony to migrate — a pod of predatory shaghāl has come after the colony, beings whose nature and aims are not explained — comes too early for the plans of the revolutionaries, but Diviya encourages them to rise up regar... Read More
Issue 134 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies opens with “A Death for the Ageless” by Margaret Ronald. Swift, the narrator of this story is a sort of police detective in a world filled with many species. The world is torn by war, and the city in which the narrator lives is a refuge for many from another land known as Poma-mél. Elariel of the Ageless has died, which humans had thought was impossible up until this murder; stab wounds to the Ageless would normally close with no more effect than an annoyed expression from the one stabbed, but this time the result is a corpse. When Swift’s supervisor arrives, he immediately notifies the victim’s wife, who appears almost instantaneously and makes away with the corpse. It doesn’t appear that there will be much for Swift to investigate, but with the help of a kobold (who repeatedly is forced to insist she isn’t a goblin), he figures out an enormous mystery. It’s a well-written piece, even if it ... Read More
Beware the Dark is a new horror and dark art magazine currently scheduled to be published three times per year. A new horror magazine is always good news, as there seems to be much more horror being written than there are outlets in which to publish it (which explains why Beware the Dark is presently closed to submissions). This magazine suggests, however, that the reason there are so few outlets is that there is little good horror being written. I’m hoping that further editions of the magazine improve on the first, which was disappointing.
Issue 1 begins with “Potential” by Ramsey Campbell. Scoring a story by Campbell to open a new magazine would normally be a triumph, except that this story, a reprint, is very minor Campbell indeed. First published in 1973, this tale of a be-in has not aged well. The protagonist, Charles, misses out on the plastic bells, but snags one of the last paper flowers t... Read More
Issue 131 is the fifth anniversary issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it has five extraordinary tales. The first is “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” by Richard Parks. Parks’ tales, usually set in an unnamed Asian country that bears a close resemblance to Japan, often deal with characters who need to find themselves. This tale is no different. Hiroshi, a boy, tends to stare down a dry well in much of his free time, for to him the well is full of music. No one else can hear it, though. Hiroshi’s uncle tries to dissuade him from listening to the well, instead encouraging him to engage in usual childhood pursuits, but Hiroshi finds the games of children tedious, unchanging and, well, childish. Hiroshi finally decides to go into the well to find out what is there. His experiences can be summed up in a thought he has again and again: “This is a very strange cave.” There is much for him to learn there, however, and we learn those ... Read More
Nightmare is celebrating its first anniversary with Issue 13, and it starts off with a humdinger of a story by Norman Partridge called “10/31: Bloody Mary.” The use of the date is a deliberate reminder of 9/11, and connotes a catastrophe of equal or greater weight. On 10/31 — this year, next year, last year, we’re never told — all of the monsters became real. Somehow, on Halloween, “werewolves and witches, mummies and zombies, and other nameless things the boy would rather never see” become real. The boy (the protagonist of the story) hides during the day, never going out to forage for food and other necessities of life until night. He is utterly alone. Then one day a young woman appears, one who is very fast with her sawed-off shotgun when a Jack o’ Lantern attacks. She takes the boy under her wing and teaches him how to fight back instead of hide. The plot isn’t particularly new, and it goes much as you would expect it to; ... Read More
The September/October 2013 issue of Interzone opens with "Ad Astra" by Carole Johnstone. A married couple has been sent together to the explore the solar system, all the way out to Pluto and back. After years of travel together with only each other for company, they barely speak to each other, though they still have sex very frequently — sex that seems more like battle than love. They’ve been steadily absorbing radiation, and the narrator, Lena, carries out monthly medical checks on them, growing increasingly concerned at the exposure levels. What Lena fears most, though, is that they never turned back after they reached Pluto, and are now in the Cuiper Belt; they will keep moving out forever, she thinks, unsatisfactory astronauts who were intentionally sacrificed by the government as an experiment in long-term space flight. But Rick will not confirm Lena’s suspicions, no matter how much she begs. Is she imagining it? Is Rick in... Read More