ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION #540/541 (January/February 2021) Edited by Sheila Williams


Though there are a couple/few stories in this issue that I didn’t care much for, the vast majority were really excellent. A great start to 2021 for Asimov’s.

“A Rocket for Dimitrios” by Ray Nayler — Increasingly liking the fiction from Nayler and his translations, and this alternate history is no different. A follow up to his previous story “The Disintegration Loops”, the foundation for this alternate world is the discovery of alien technology in the early 1930s and its implementation in US over the ensuing three decades. The alien tech provides amazing things, but humanity still has a poor grasp on how any of it works. The technological advancements have also brought heightened paranoia and authoritarianism to the US under seven-termed (if I recall correctly) President FDR. Standing against the patriarchal US government and the directions it continues to follow are a group of women, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Hedy Lamarr. So, I still haven’t mentioned the actual plot to this story, but honestly its a MacGuffin to explore some great themes and characters in this altverse.

“The Realms of Water” by Robert Reed — Falls into the category of SF writer of a certain age becoming enamored with European history (Roman) and transposing some part of that into SF/Fantasy retelling. This unfortunately seems to happen a lot. The very prolific Reed always writes well. But this was just not a story I found interesting, and it took up way too much space in this issue. On the other hand, at least he didn’t go the alternate history route.

“No Stone Unturned” by Nick Wolven — An exploration of the possible effects that teleportation technology might have on humans, this is top notch SF with both speculative elements, a good dose of science and a human element at its heart. A man becomes concerned about his wife who has been part of a program testing transporter technology. She seems more distant, and forgetful of their child. But, is this an effect of the transporter process as one conspiracy guru claims, or is there something more basic and ageless going on here? Highly recommended.

“Table Etiquette for Diplomatic Personnel, in Seventeen Scenes” by Suzanne Palmer — A murder aboard a human alliance space station with several visiting alien species has possible connection to an old conflict between two groups, and the cuisine selections that must be diplomatically selected/prepared to avoid insulting – or poisoning – any species. Fun, and slyly written, any Trek fan should enjoy this as well.

“Hunches” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch — An engineer on the bridge of a starship is saved from horrible death by going with gut and donning a pressure suit just before sudden crisis unfolds. With nothing transpiring as it should, the disoriented engineer continues to use his hunches to save the ship and surviving crew. A more contained and limited story than I’m used to seeing from Rusch. It is by no means bad, but I also didn’t find it that striking or perceptive.

“Shy Sarah and the Draft Pick Lottery” by Ted Kosmatka — Set in a world – or maybe reality! – where the top echelons of society control people and events according to powerful statistical models much like sabermetrics is used for baseball scouting and plans. An abnormally shy woman who has skills in scouting for prospects that can bring a statistical edge (luck) to situations risks her position and life by telling a prospect the truth about how the world is run and what those in power will do to maintain their edge. Great idea in this story and superb execution.

“Mayor for Today” by Fran Wilde — Concept of a world-wide gig economy taken to extremes. Wilde goes with this idea in interesting directions and as usual writes a compelling and entertaining story. It mixes absurd humor with political critique and sympathetic characterization of individuals struggling to survive in a system.

“The Fear of Missing Out” by Robert H. Cloake — A socially awkward man begins to use new auto-personality technology to navigate difficult situations, like talking to an attractive man he happens to meet. While it’s running most sensory input is lost to him, but he can rewatch what has occurred while on ‘auto-pilot’ afterward, having retaken primary control of his body/mind. Success at winning a date leads him on a path to further dependence on the technology so that primary control actually becomes the unwanted exception. A poignant take on technology dependency and avoiding uncomfortable situations.

“The Three-Day Hunt” by Robert R. Chase — Well written story about a war veteran and his dog going on a search for the pilot of a crashed UFO. At first uncertain if it is something extraterrestrial or human military-based, the man soon gets word that its an intelligent alien species out there in the woods and he should disengage to leave first contact to the professionals and high muckety-mucks. The story ends with a clever observation, and it is an enjoyable enough read. But there’s not really much here beyond the surface level.

“Humans and Other People” by Sean William Swanwick — A pair of scavengers (human and robot) who loot sites in a post-climate-disaster NE USA encounter unexpected complications in a fire-ravaged building in Philly. The concept and start of this seemed real promising, but then I felt it muddled with a voice/style I just never really could get behind.

“I Didn’t Buy It” by Naomi Kanakia — A short story on the concept of identity and perspective and relationships. I really didn’t care for the style, and in fact, didn’t buy it.

The issue also features poetry by Jane Yolen, Leslie J. Anderson, Robert Frazier, and Avra Margariti. Editorial by Sheila Williams, Reflection “One Hundred Years of Robots” by Robert Silerberg, Internet Column by James Patrick Kelly, and Book Reviews by Norman Spinrad and In Memoriam for Mike Resnick. Also includes In Memoriam for Mike Resnick, Readers’ Award Ballot, 2020 Index, and SF Convention Calendar.


THE DARK MAGAZINE #69 (February 2021) Edited by Sean Wallace


Another issue with three of four stories to read. Those three fit the billing of dark fantasy, and were notably good, with one particularly sticking with me to lead off the issue:

“Laughter Among the Trees” by Suzan Palumbo — An immigrant to Canada with her parents from the West Indies, Anarika has mixed feelings about the birth of her sister Sabrina, an immediate citizen of this new land, her only home in contrast to the rest of the family. But, when Sab goes missing on a family camping trip, Ana deals with the guilt and the pain of her parents for the years to come. The eerie story combines familiar conventional themes of sibling rivalry and the immigrant experience with elements of classic horror (ghosts) and the monstrosities of colonization in very effective ways.

“The Yoke of the Aspens” by Kay Chronister — I do not read you.

“One Last Broken Thing” by Aimee Ogden — Liv’s mother has abandoned her and her father, who now live on an unproductive farm where her father shoots any animal that he sees in the fields. At school Liv is mocked and outcast. But as HS graduation approaches, Liv yearns to depart for college, though her father remains set against it. An apt title for a story showing how people can be broken by the past and loss, but also the power of staying true to oneself.

“A Resting Place For Dolls” by Priya Sridhar — A baker who is distraught over the suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain uses a doll-making hobby – and power – inherited from her grandmother to help friends and acquaintances in her life who struggle with depression and stress. An anti-Voodoo doll kind of concept here, in a brief but good short story.

The issue also features cover art “Angel Fire East” by Tomislav Tikulin.


CLARKESWORLD MAGAZINE #173 (February 2021) Edited by Neil Clarke


A particularly strong issue this month for Clarkesworld, with a much appreciated return of translated fiction. I still am not a fan of novellas in short fiction outlets, but both of the ones here at least connected with me to largely appreciate and enjoy them.

“The Failed Dianas” by Monique Laban — A delightful story that shares themes with Sarah Gailey’s recent novel The Echo Wife, albeit a far less dark direction here. At the restaurant she runs, Diana greets herself – the latest clone created by her parents in an attempt to raise their daughter according to their vision of professional success. The new Diana comes to learn the truth that was kept from her, and soon meets a group of prior Dianas who have all found their own personal, diverse successes. The story effectively shows how much potential an individual can have and how one outlet/profession is never the defining or sole identity for them.

“Terra Rasa” by Anastasia Bookreyeva, translated by Ray Nayler — Hoorah! Translations are back again this issue and here is a great one of a fabulous story. Set in a climate disaster future where the world burns, the story follows a young woman who has worked as a rescuer and earned a coveted ticket onto a ship fleeing the devastation for salvation. It’s a brutal story and ending, but nonetheless offers a look into the beauty of the human heart that can occur even amongst all this.

“Obelisker Adrift in the Desert” by K.H. Meridian — The world has been devastated by inter-computer warfare. A cybernetically enhanced woman discovers one of the computer AIs in an obelisk and the two begin to form a friendship born from the loneliness, and perhaps regret. But, computers and humanity still remain for conflict to again rear up. A bit too long for my tastes, but Meridian writes the characters and their interactions so well that I was easily able to move past that and enjoy this.

“Mercy and the Mollusc” by M. L. Clark — Way too long for a short fiction outlet, and could’ve been used for a novel with a bit more in it to balance that length. A man goes around an alien world that humanity is terraforming, riding atop a giant sentient mollusk and trying to make up for the native life he destroyed prior as a soldier. Fascinating concepts in this story, both the biology and the themes of colonization.

“‘Remember the Washington,’ They Said as They Fed the Ugoxli” by Jeff Reynolds — SF set on a colony world with vibes more of a Western and concepts of frontier justice, as an unnamed former soldier who is tasked recovering bodies from the destroyed ships enacts retaliation against the aliens, and others. A difficult story where the horrors of war de’humanize’ all, and challenging then to read and connect to such characters and monstrosity. Almost more of a horror story in this regard.

“We’ll Always Have Two Versions of Pteros” by Dominica Phetteplace — “Everything was going great until Barry announced one morning that he was in the wrong timestream… He seemed sluggish. Disoriented. In need of coffee.” A lovely short story touching on the possibilities of relationships, but also that some things are just not meant to be.

“History in Pieces” by Beth Goder — Told in fragmentary ‘puzzle pieces’ of alien Archivists observing humans who have arrived on a world to colonize, the scattered construction of the narrative and jumps in time works well even in this ~1400 word story. The aliens literally create pieces filled with sensory and emotive records that fit together and become part of them. What could be gimmicky is formed into the core of the story, a poetic beautiful tragedy yet with continued hope.

The issue also features the nonfiction articles “Peter Pan Through the Years” by Carrie Sessarego, interviews with Karen Osborne (“Thrilling to the Harmony”) and S.B. Divya (“Science, Math, Fiction, and the Oxford Comma”) by Arley Sorg, 2020 Reader’s Poll Finalists news from editor Neil Clarke, and cover art “Forward” by Wenjuinn Png.


INTO THE DARK (Star Wars — The High Republic) by Claudia Gray

Into the Dark
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Claudia Gray
Del Rey Books — February 2021
ISBN: 9781368057288
— Hardcover — 425 pp.


Set concurrently to events in the High Republic novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, Claudia Gray’s new YA novel Into the Dark expands readers’ introduction to details of this Star Wars period, but works equally well as a stand alone adventure. Those who’ve already read some of Gray’s canon Star Wars novels know her reputation for penning some great ones, whether marketed for the general adult (e.g. Master & Apprentice) or young adult (e.g. Leia: Princess of Alderaan). For any new Star Wars readers, you could start out with anything by her, including this exciting new release.

With the opening of the Republic’s Starlight Beacon station in the ‘wilds’ of the Outer Rim, Jedi long-based in the Temple on the Republic capital of Coruscant feel the Force guiding them to new opportunities and needs at that galactic edge. When Jedi Padawan Reath Silas learns that his master, Jora Malli, is one of those who will be leaving the comfort and calm of the Temple for the chaos and unknown of the Outer Rim for a posting at the station, he meets the development with worry and disappointment. A historian and bookworm, Reath has gravitated toward more academic Jedi pursuits, spending time in the library where others maximize lightsaber training and seek more extroverted action. But, Master Jora reminds her apprentice that Jedi must seek balance in all things, and push themselves through the difficulties of doing things they feel naturally disinclined toward or fear. That is, of course, except the Dark Side of the Force.

Reluctantly, Reath agrees, and promises to push himself toward being a better Jedi; be better attuned to the Force like those Masters he looks up to. Three of these Jedi join Reath on an Outer Rim based transport hired to take them to the Starlight Beacon dedication, where Jora already has arrived. Dez Rydan was Jora’s first Padawan, and the Knight is now already a legend to Reath, representing the dashing skills at adventure that elude him. Orla Jareni has just declared herself a Wayseeker, given official leave to operate outside of the Jedi Council’s purview to discover her place in the Force. Third is Cohmac Vitus, a respected Jedi with scholarly specializations into folklore that match Reath’s interests.

The transport taking the Jedi is a cargo ship blandly named the Vessel, run by the Byne Guild, an organization based in the outer reaches where Starlight Beacon is located. The motley crew consists of an eccentric trio: captain Leox Gyasi, an affable low-key guy who is protective of his crew; co-pilot Affie Hollow, a teenager whose parents died while in Guild employ, and who was then taken in by the leader of the Byne Guild; navigator Geode, who is a Vinitian appearing to be nothing more than a featureless, immobile, mute, rock.

Soon after departing Coruscant via hyperspace, the “Great Disaster” that features in Light of the Jedi occurs. The occupants of the Vessel suddenly find themselves surrounded in hyperspace by dangerous debris that looks frighteningly similar to the Byne Guild flagship the Legacy Run. This supposedly impossible hyperspace encounter is worsened by the fact that hyperspace itself seems tumultuous and wrong. Expert maneuvers by Affie and Geode allow the Vessel to leave hyperspace. The crew and their Jedi passengers find themselves in the middle of empty space, at a location that was in the Vessel’s computer for inexplicable reasons given its lack of planets or features. All they find is an abandoned station, whose architecture reminds Cohmac and Reath of a long-vanished people. Left stranded and unable to reenter hyperspace until the mysterious disaster can be dealt with and travel is again ‘assured’ safe, the Legacy occupants join the crews of other ships stranded in this location to board the station and investigate.

There they find a jungle of plants, cared for and protected by an army of droids. Stopping other crews from plundering the station and infighting, the Jedi try to keep the peace and manage the unexpected situation. However, they also sense something off, something of the Dark Side. Dark visions of violence seem to warn them of a danger there, and this seems tied to a group of small idols they discover, items they speculate may somehow have been imbued with power of the Sith, or worse.

It took me awhile to get into Into the Dark, and for awhile I wondered if this would be the first Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray that I would find middling. Mostly this is because it takes time to get elements of the plot going, and even once stranded upon the strange garden station, the true trajectory of things makes it somewhat hard to find footing and become invested. Within that first third of the novel, everything involves Gray’s establishment of the characters, and building the themes of the novel. I guess I didn’t quite take to the characters at first, particularly Reath. Earnest and well-intentioned, his fresh naïveté make him so unlike other Jedi I’ve encountered/read, even if a Padawan. As he grew, and I kept reading, I began to appreciate this much more.

By the middle of the book I was firmly hooked, and the revelations of its close tie together the themes of the novel so well, while also tying the plot into the grander picture of The High Republic and its Nihil adversaries introduced in Light of the Jedi. The characters all grew on me, particularly the crew of the Vessel. We got a rock with Geode, but the absurdity of the character and the symbolic physical nature of Geode’s steadfastness and resilience just puts a smile of joy and chuckles on the reader’s face. Affie bears similarity to Reath in her ethics, but unlike him has the experiences of a hard life, and far less trust. They are able to learn from one another. Leox serves as a guardian for Affie, but really more of a mentor, guiding her to independence, but also realizing that he in turn can learn a lot from her and begin to follow her inherent leadership. He also seems like a Star Wars version of “The Dude” from the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski. Complete with “medicinal” Spice.

The relationship between Leox and Affie is very much one of Master and Apprentice, a ‘secular’ parallel to the Jedi relationship that Jora and Reath have. And the health of those mentorships contrasts with the more exploitative one that Affie has with the leader of the Byne Guild. (Or another I shouldn’t say more on.) Gray has already written a novel titled Master and Apprentice about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. But this novel could equally be titled the same, for it continues and expands those themes in fascinating ways then both within the Jedi Order and outside perspectives of the Vessel crew and also (as we eventually learn) the Nihil.

Reath may be Padawan to Jora, but he equally looks to the examples and strengths of the other Jedi he travels with. And he begins to also see their weaknesses and where they themselves struggle with dedicating themselves to the Force or the Jedi ways just as much as Reath does. As a Wayseeker, Orla very obviously exists as a questioning, uncertain soul, despite being an adult. But she also has shared a past traumatic mission with Cohmac, and these events continue to weigh on them – particularly Cohmac. (Aside: The reader learns more about this backstory through a series of passages spread through the novel that are given in flashback. They connect to the present plot, but overall I found this organization of this backstory to be intrusive, and the only part of Into the Dark that I never ended up appreciating.) Dez also expresses doubts and challenges that he still faces. Through them all Reath learns beyond his idealistic foundation that he began upon, and the uncertainty of reality both eases his feelings of guilt over his own struggles and gives him a sense of shared experience to fight for helping not just non-Jedi others, but also his fellow adherents.

Several times the various Jedi wonder how good it is that the Order completely eschews the Dark Side while striving to keep balance in all other things. Does this make the dangers of the Dark Side even worse? Does it leave them more vulnerable? Yet, the dangers of it now also seem all too clear and real as they discover more on the station, and are met with catastrophe and painful loss.

Into the Dark really delves into Good/Bad and Master/Apprentice dichotomies so well, and on so many levels. On the one hand the novel is an entertaining Star Wars adventure with a teen character coming-of-age that sets it in that YA fold. But underneath that is so much more complexity, not just of plot, but of these basic themes that make the Star Wars universe so effective and endearing.


ARCHITECTS OF MEMORY by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory
(The Memory War Book I)
By Karen Osborne
Tor Books — September 2020
ISBN: 9781250215475
— Paperback — 336 pp.


Indentured salvage pilot Ashlan Jackson has a new work family, and hopes of gaining citizenship now seem attainable. Saved from a mining colony owned by the Wellspring Celestium Holdings corporation where she had little chance of ever getting free from debt, Ash has been rescued by the captain of the Auroran Coporation salvage ship Twenty-Five. Taken on as pilot, Ash has a new chance at life, and the possibility of earning credits to rise from indenture. Despite being physically freed from the colony mines, Ash secretly lives with a terminal illness, one born from contact with the Celestium fuel that powers humanity’s space-flight engines. Citizenship will not only provide Ash freedom, but will give her access to the cure. But, her past on the Wellspring mining colony still haunt her, especially the memories of her dead fiancé Christopher, who perished before he and Ash could both escape.

Though her life remains full of hard indentured work, Ash sees the small steps forward, and has become relatively comfortable around her shipmates, who all trust one another with their lives amid the harshness of empty space and alien threats. Surprising herself, the closest relationship Ash has built is with the captain of the Twenty-Five, Kate Keller. Their mutual attraction and budding romance is something they each try to control and keep secret from the others, to ensure the corporate functioning of the ship remains professional, and their futures’ safe.

The great wrench in their possible futures (but also the tremendous opportunity before the crew of the Twenty-Five) comes from war with the Vai, the first and only aliens met by star-faring humanity. Conflict with the Vai has existed since first contact, and thus far humanity has lost again and again: a devastating destruction of ships, colonies, and millions of lives. Until, everything changes above the colony Tribulation, where the Vai engaged several human corporate ships in battle. Something has happened to cause the Vai to retreat beyond the interstellar boundary known as the White Line. A terrible weapon has been left behind that corporations are now after, ostensibly to help save humanity, but also to get that competitive edge. The crew of the Twenty-Five is first on the scene to scavenge Vai technology and try to find this awesome weapon that can lead to salvation or annihilation. There, at Tribulation, they try and unravel the mystery of what occurred to pause the alien threat. Ash finds answers with both personal repercussions and larger meaning for memory and the nature of life.

Osborne begins Architects of Memory like a blast of lively brass at the start of a Romantic symphony, dropping readers right into the action of this salvage scene and slowly introducing the world, plot background, and characters through Ash’s point-of-view. Along with Captain Keller, we soon meet fiery and loyal war veteran Natalie Chan and Leonard Downey, the engineer who has a thing for Natalie and uses his and irreverent humor as “Chief Executive of Snark” to help calm the others. Also on the Twenty-Five are: Dr. Reva Sharma, an Auroran citizen and physician whose high birthright status and accomplishments sharply contrast with her assignment to the grunt-work of the lowly Twenty-Five‘s crew; the ambitious Executive Officer Alison Ramsay, whose taciturn efficiency compliments Captain Keller’s gentler leadership.

Just as one is getting to know these characters and their histories, Osborne presents more revelations, deepening mysteries, and new quagmires for her protagonist Ash or supporting cast. The pages of Architects of Memory flow with a well-paced intensity balancing action with twisty plots, character betrayals, and moments of quiet resilience when all seems lost or over. The novel embodies space opera as if part of some epic saga, yet manages to do this within a constrained setting of time (days) and location. The reader witnesses struggles, heroism, and failures among this salvage crew, but it feels like a personal story of something much grander in scope. In other words, this is a novel about a handful of specific people, but Osborne makes that individual scale also symbolic for human-wide conflicts of corporate class structure and alien contact.

These humanity-scale themes are nothing new to SF, of course, but Osborne makes them fresh and entertaining at the personal level of character interaction. And, on the front of alien first contact, she writes some fascinating concepts regarding the nature of the Vai. I would write and say more, but I definitely want to avoid spoilers on this. With governments failing to maintain the high cost of space travel/colonization due to fewer immediate benefits (the pandemic has again shown how awful we are at preparing for longterm betterment), private companies have taken on the risks of space exploration to invest in the far-future rewards that will come. Two hundred years from now in the time of Architects of Memory, this practice has led to the indenture and cut-throat (literally perhaps) corporate competition that forms the fabric of human society and injustice. While Osborne doesn’t necessarily take this theme significantly astray from what other space opera SF has done, it seems as if it plays an even larger part in the sequel novel.

I adored the characters of Ash and Natalie, whose interactions and friendship/conflict form the bulk of the novel’s momentum. Osborne puts these two women not just through traumatic pasts, but continued challenges that eat away at the core of their identities and dreams. Yet, they each stay as honestly true to themselves and their ideals as one could ever expect, and fight against tremendous odds for the slim chance of continued survival or eventual victory. The so-called Golden Age of SF soap opera is notorious for having pretty awful representation of females. The men are shown in a better light, but still read as far less than believable humans. They do great things, but they also seem so poorly challenged. As others have also recently done, Osborne corrects things in two ways thus: the genders are treated more equally, and in many regards the gender does not even need to matter (such as clothes or occupation or relationships); all are written with strengths and weakness, and their victories are earned. As much as I loved the character of Ash, I loved Natalie even more. This may be because she and her past still remain dark and mysterious to the readers in many ways (compared to so much of Ash’s point of view). I’m excited to see that the next novel actually is with Natalie as protagonist.

There is only one criticism I would make of Architects of Memory; it comes from its compressed setting, but I was very willing to look past and forgive it amid the abundant things the novel excels at. So many important events occur offscreen (in the past) to have made the present that the novel explores. OK, I admit that’s kind of a dumb statement. Of course the background to a story’s plot has huge monumental events that shape the plot. But here there are some whose absence lessens that impact that plot threads, character relationships, could otherwise have. One instance is the broad close-knit relationship between the Twenty-Five‘s crew, often described by Ash as a family. Cracks and tensions that form in this family, betrayals that occur, happen before readers have gotten to fully see the degree of trust and friendship there. Ash at least relate how things were different, however. The more unfortunate example is the relationship between Keller and Ash. Ash’s love for Christopher, Kate, and herself form the emotional heart of the novel, and it would have been great to see more of her together with the Captain. To Osborne’s credit, she does try to solve this with hallucinations that are a side-effect of the Celestium sickness. I can’t honestly think how Osborne could have solved this without creating other problems, so maybe my criticism here is totally unwarranted. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that my one regret from reading Architects of Memory is that with other constraints it couldn’t explore that relationship between these two great characters more.

With its excellent pacing, compelling characters, and riveting plot, Architects of Memory is a novel that makes the reader want to enjoy the ride in one sitting, or as few as possible. Although it has a sequel, Engines of Oblivion is the intended end to the duology, to my knowledge. And, if you were inclined to just stop with the close of this one, Osborne does a fantastic job at wrapping the events of this episode up in a satisfying way, which makes further adventures possible and welcome, but not obligatory.

For any interested, excerpts from Architects of Memory are available to read on Tor.com and the Tor/Forge blog. I’ll be starting my copy of Engines of Oblivion in the next days and will have a review of that up here shortly after completing, and I also hope to have up an interview with author Karen Osborne on the two novels and her machinations for the future. Look for those then, and if you haven’t yet started with this one, what are you waiting for?


LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE #129 (February 2021) Edited by John Joseph Adams


The majority of the stories in this issue were average to good. Two of the three that stood above the rest are reprints: “Small and Bright” by Autumn Brown and “Sidewalks” by Maureen F. McHugh. The original other that I adored was “Me Two” by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown.

“The Mathematics of Fairyland” by Phoebe Barton — You feel as if this doesn’t bode well as a start to the issue. So you stop reading and go onto the next story.

“Bulletproof Tattoos” by Paul Crenshaw — A reprint from an anthology themed around the concept of: If This Goes On. The story serves as a satire on gun violence and the lengths that people (or technology) might go to prevent it, without really solving the heart of the issue. Works for its purposes of making a validly good point with interesting speculation, but I found the satire a bit too heavy to really enjoy it as a story.

“Me Two” by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown — A lovely short story about two souls who cannot be together, through a scifi twist. A young boy grows up realizing that every other day he wakes up as a girl on the opposite side of the world (and she switched with him). However the distance they each swap is more than just across one world. Beautiful take on connection and loss.

“Sidewalks” by Maureen F. McHugh — Reprint from an issue of Omni several years back, this fantastic story begins as the protagonist Dr. Gupta is given a psychiatric patient who seems to speak gibberish. Dr. Gupta soon discovers it is actually Old English, but what is her origin? The story unfolds almost like a mystery and is extremely satisfying.

“Church of Birds” by Micah Dean Hicks — Originally published in The Kenyan Review, this story comes inspired by the Grimm fairy tale “The Six Swans”. I’m not that well-read in fairy tales and while I’ve enjoyed some retellings or things done in their style, it’s not a sub-genre I gravitate toward. This does explore an interesting theme though around the repercussions that would come for a person who has been turned into some other form of animal, like a bird.

“The Memory of a Memory Is a Spirit” by A.T. Greenblatt — After leaving her island home, a caretaker returns to tend the overgrown environment and live again with the angry spirits she had abandoned. Although very straight-forward, it is beautifully written, and the themes/character are easy to empathize with or relate to.

“Small and Bright” by Autumn Brown — Reprint from Octavia’s Brood, a collection on my shelf that I really have to get around to reading. This tale of a post-disaster subterranean human civilization includes feminist themes around motherhood and discovery of hopeful new worlds. I found the biology in this of reproduction and symbiosis particularly interesting, but the beautiful language of it all, even when describing something horrendous, is just transcendent.

“Destinations of Beauty” by Alexander Weinstein — Part of a series of short stories written in the style of travel guides for exotic lands, this focuses on ones that – as the title indicates – feature beauty. Usually a beauty now lost or unappreciated amid noise or melancholy. I am not a personal fan of this kind of plotless story, but it does excel at evoking mood in the reader here.

The issue also features an excerpt of the novel Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, book reviews “On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu” by LaShawn M. Wanak, “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), by Katie Mack” by Chris Kluwe, and “Latinx Screams, edited by V. Castro and Cynthia Pelayo” by Arley Sorg. Author spotlights by Audrey T. Williams, Benjamin C. Kinney, Elan Samuel, and Laurel Amberdine. Editorial by John Joseph Adams, plus Coming Attractions and other miscellany. Cover by Grandfailure.


THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION #753 (January/February 2021) Edited by C.C. Finlay


An overall solid issue to mark the final issue under the six-year editorial tenure of Charles Coleman (CC) Finlay. While I didn’t remotely dislike this last editorial era, there didn’t seem to be as many stories falling in as favorites for me as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction previously had. There are likely more stories purchased by Finlay still slated to appear in upcoming issues, but I am excited to see how this beloved genre outlet evolves under Sheree Renée Thomas. I also have liked Finlay’s fiction a lot in the past, so I’ll be please to see him return to more of it.

“The Dark Ride” by John Kessel — A blend of history, fiction, and SciFi Fantasy, this relates the assassination of President McKinley by the Anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo New York. Beside the historical narrative is an alternate version of events where Czolgosz travels to the moon and becomes a resistance leader against the oppressive.y ruling moon people. As the novella progresses, the two histories begin to blend together, highlighting the similarities of the social and political ideals that Czolgosz holds on the two worlds. And contrasting the failure that the assassination was in bringing larger change, compared to the hero he becomes on the moon. The SF moon world here is styled after the SF of the early 1900s when the story is set. Though it had some interesting aspects to it, those didn’t need a novella to be accomplished.

“Interludes with the Gunwright” by Jonathan L. Howard — One of my favorite stories in the issue, a touching tale of passions: of love between two characters, and a devotion to one’s chosen craft. A soldier visits a gunwright to secure new weapons, and without money instead leaves a valuable gun in her possession for study/reference as payment. The gunwright is pleased to see the soldier one day return alive, and the two find themselves craving time spent together in life despite their professions tied to destruction and violence.

“Bible Stories for Adults, No. 51: The Great Fish” by James Morrow — I have yet to enjoy or even appreciate any of the stories from this series by Morrow. For this one I gave up trying and stopped reading halfway.

“Integral Nothings” by Robert Reed — Though a series of vignettes, Reed relates how things on Earth have been altered by unknown, alien forces with a step-wise series of “Blessings” that appear to help preserve the planet and its populations. Each section focuses on one particular human representative point-of-view, but written with an omniscient, distant voice that playfully describes the human as the epitome of some trait (most intelligent, most wealthy, etc.) while contrasting that with an anecdote that shows how little and insignificant humans are in the scheme of the cosmos. They style works well to tell a story – whose heart is pretty familiar to the SF field – in a fresh, fun way.

“The Diamond Family Glitters” by H. Pueyo — The grandmother and matriarch of a family is dying. Each of her children and grandchildren has inherited some sort of unique supernatural ability, and they wonder whether that magic that helps keep them spiritually connected and unified will vanish with her passing. Well written and touching story of the symbolic magic that passes between generations and how that can be kept alive.

“A Little Knife Music” by Jenn Reese — Another powerful short story around the symbolism of weapons in this issue. This one explores the nature of using a dangerous gift or talent, and devotion to mentors and friends. An assassin gifted by the Goddess of Music with a deadly, cutting voice becomes conflicted when she is ordered to kill a friend. Superbly written.

“N-raptured” by Justin C. Key — Unseen aliens have converted racists on Earth into rats, and anyone who has used used the n-word has a tick mark scar appear suddenly on their forehead for each infraction as warning to not go too far like those turned. Six scar marks, and you become a rat. Those not so ‘raptured’ away have been left to carefully consider and watch their language and interactions, but Carl finds it hard, even though he only used the n-word when singing lyrics to a song. Well, and that one other time… But that doesn’t make him racist, right? Thought-provoking satire on race relations, language, perceptions, and the socially ingrained.

“Hard!” by Van Aaron Hughes — A SF story revolving around the sport of curling. The intro mentions how this is surely the best written of such stories (perhaps the only?) Nonetheless it is enjoyable, light-hearted fare featuring a warm father/son relationship. Makes sense to me that aliens would be a fan of curling.

“Litter Witch” by Susan Palwick — A lovely parable or fairy tale type story about resilience and strengthening over bullying. A young girl who dreams of being a witch is made fun of at school, but uses those injuries to build a home in the woods, to be in a place where years later another young girl arrives who needs some of that strength to survive.

“Wild Geese” by Lavie Tidhar — Nothing about the plot really engaged me with this story, but the far future cyberpunk and blend of cultures made for a fascinating atmosphere/setting that feels very real even within a short story, albeit mysterious. Tidhar also writes it with a flowing beauty. I wish there were more here in the terms of plot or even themes that I could have found to grasp onto. But it may also be one to reread.

“The Piper” by Karen Joy Fowler — A young man follows a friend in joining the army to fight for the King, but changes his mind about the decision after their departure and learning a possible other path. Relatively short (though not flash fiction length), it’s a good spin on familiar tropes (as the intro to the story promises).

“You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” by Paul Di Filippo — Published within the “Plumage from Pegasus” feature that Di Filippo writes each issue, this is still short fiction, so I find it odd that the feature is so rarely mentioned in other reviews that cover every other story. They are usually humorous and/or satirical and/or farcical and/or etc in tone. They’re rarely earth-shatteringly deep, but they are usually clever and entertaining. This one plays well with the seemingly ever-expanding “Best of…” collections in the genre and the fragmentary sub-genre niches of SFF.

The issue also features the poem “Annabel Digs Her Own Grave” by Gretchen Tessmer, book reviews by Charles de Lint and Elizabeth Hand, game reviews by Marc Laidlaw, film reviews by Karin Lowachee, and the science article “How Fast Are We Going?” by Jerry Oltion. With “Coming Attractions”, and “Curiosities” by Thomas Kaufsek. Cartoons by Ali Solomon, Arthur Masear, and Kendra Allenby; cover art by Kent Bash.


Humans and the Environment in Translation: New Event for the Calico Series from Two Lines Press

I’m always excited to see additional literature in translation, and this in particular caught my interest in its intersection with ecology and climate. I am lucky to be able to read this for review, so look for it in the future. But also I wanted to share the news, copied below from Two Lines Press releases, about an event that should be of interest to others holding a passion for translation. Follow the link below to learn more, including biographies on the three translators of this international eco-lit collection.

CELEBRATE ELEMENTAL

“Join Point Reyes Books and Two Lines Press on March 11 for a special event celebrating the release of Elemental with contributors Jessica Cohen, Allison Charette, and Brian Bergstrom. Moderated by Cristina Rodriguez. A whirlwind of fantastic new writing from Japan, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Germany, and more, this latest installment of the Calico Series maps the intimate, ongoing relationship between human civilization and the environment. Featuring fiction and reportage from eight authors working in different languages, Elemental is an awesome collection that speaks of climate catastrophe, geological time, and mythology; it’s a global gathering of engaged, innovative eco-lit. Register for the event on Point Reyes Books event page, and don’t forget to buy a copy of the book while you’re there!”

THURSDAY, MARCH 11

5:30 PT | 6:30 MT | 7:30 CT | 8:30 ET

About Elemental

A family’s heirloom stones unearth a story spanning war, illness, and radioactivity. A pipeline installed to protect a town from flooding results in a howling that disturbs the town’s inhabitants. A political prisoner embarks on an epic flight toward freedom, literally blown like a kite in the wind.

A whirlwind of fantastic new writing from Japan, Iran, Norway, Germany, Madagascar, Iraq, Poland, and Israel, this collection of fiction and reportage maps the intimate, ongoing relationship between human civilization and the natural world. Do we set the limits on our existence? Or is it wind, water, fire, and earth that define–even control–us? Borrowing from eco-literature and mythology, Elemental unflinchingly takes up the earth.

“Stone, earth, water, ice, wind, and burning heat. The stories here dig deep and unexpectedly into life’s fundamentals—the elements and the passions—bringing into English, many for the first time, writers of stature from across the globe. A celebration of both storytelling and translation, Elemental is essential, a gift that opens up the pleasures of new worlds.” —Hugh Raffles, author of The Book of Unconformities

About the Calico Series

The Calico Series, published biannually by Two Lines Press, captures vanguard works of translated literature in stylish, collectible editions. Each Calico is a vibrant snapshot that explores one aspect of our present moment, offering the voices of previously inaccessible, highly innovative writers from around the world today.

Humble Bundle Deal from Tachyon Publications for eBook Readers!

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HUMBLE BOOK BUNDLE: SUPERMASSIVE SCI-FI, FANTASY, & HORROR BY TACHYON

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Humble Bundle has teamed up with Tachyon Publications! You can get up to 47 Tachyon digital titles for less than $30! You can get ebooks like The Freeze-Frame RevolutionThe Very Best of Caitlín R. KiernanBeyond FrankensteinBooklifeAdventures of a Dwergish GirlThe Emerald Circus, and Sea Change.

Plus, you decide how much of your purchase will go to support two nonprofits:

Founded in 1999, The Carl Brandon Society‘s mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

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$441 WORTH OF AWESOME STUFF • PAY $1 OR MORE • DRM-FREE & MULTI-FORMAT

A CONTEST OF PRINCIPLES (STAR TREK) by Greg Cox

A Contest of Principles
(Star Trek: The Original Series)
By Greg Cox
Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) — November 2020
ISBN: 9781982134709
— Paperback — 387 pp.


Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are ordered to the planet Vok, where the government there is holding its first democratic elections after a long period of authoritarian military rule. The Federation has been invited to watch over the elections as non-aligned observers, and ensure that the computer-based voting system proceeds without controversy or tampering. The outcome of the election will have broad repercussions for nearby systems as well. Vok has territorial eyes set on the planet Braco, viewed as their ancestral home. But the nearby planet of Ozalor also contests Braco as their own, and generations of animosity has now built up between the worlds. Adding to the eggshells that the crew of the Enterprise must step among, Ozalor maintains a fiercely isolationist policy, maintaining no diplomatic ties to the Federation, and keeping memory of last encounters turned hostile and deadly.

While Kirk visits Vok with Federation representatives to oversee the election, news of contagious disease outbreak on Braco draws Dr. McCoy, Nurse Chapel and a security guard to that nearby world via shuttle. It’s a trap! (Oh, sorry, that’s Star Wars) Ambushed upon arrival, Dr. McCoy is secreted off Braco by a majordomo to the royal family of Ozalor. The Princess of that planet is afflicted by a mysterious disease and McCoy has been kidnapped to help treat her. Spock meets up with Nurse Chapel and the security officer on Braco to investigate the doctor’s disappearance, but faces resistance from the controlling government there, who is eager to blame a political dissident group on their planet for the kidnapping. On Ozalor, McCoy tries to help his VIP patient,, despite the circumstances of his enlistment, but discovers himself then plunged into the machinations of the royal court.

The older mass-market paperback Star Trek novels stuck to the episodic format of the television series, with one major plot line and setting, plus a lighter, B side-plot somehow worked in. The newer novels have felt more expansive in scope, and A Contest of Principles continues that trend, with Enterprise crew members dealing with situations on not just one alien world, or two, but three. Each setting with its own cast of supporting characters and cultures.

Vok feels akin to present-day Earth, the US more specifically given our own recent election turmoils and polarizing partisanship. Braco bears resemblance to many other alien worlds of Star Trek where political differences have created a break-off group labelled terrorist, and the ruling factions thus increased the militarism of their police and security in response. Braco seems headed down that path of authoritarianism from which Vok is just now trying to move on from. However, whereas Vok directed the militarism externally to their enemies on Ozalor, Braco is now directing its militarism internally upon a population caught in the middle of the Vok-Ozalor feud, and thereby divided. With politics of a feudal monarchy, Ozalor feels the most different, almost like a culture from a fantasy novel. The healer/advisor to the court who is able to treat the Princess’ agony through seeming magic augments this fantasy vibe.

These three settings and the interconnected plot threads of each do work perfectly when writing Star Trek: The Original Series, because of the trio of characters that lead it: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. This has become the standard to the detriment of what stories could be done with a larger batch of the crew, or a different subset other than that expected trio. For the TV show, the actors playing those characters were the top-billed, indeed the only ones mentioned in the opening credits. But too often the media-tie in creations of Star Trek have then chosen to also just focus on those three.

I do get it, the charisma between the three are a large part of what made The Original Series work, made it beloved. They make a perfect trio, balanced and complimentary to buffer against the harshness or weakness that any of those individuals have on their own. Writers keep returning to Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, because it’s a classic team and it works. But for these newer Star Trek books, I still hope for broadening beyond that easy, familiar setup of the primary three.

A Contest of Principles does put a bit of a spin on the trio in the sense that it is not putting them together to work off one another, but rather separating them and forcing them to manage as their pure, unadulterated selves, each unguided and untempered by their two friends. So while I may wish to see one of the secondary characters featured more than those three, again, at least we can see them manage on their own. On the other hand, Cox did the same recently with The Antares Maelstrom, and it could get old fast.

Cox does a great job writing each of the three leads, effectively capturing their voice and mannerisms. They act exactly as one would expect them to during the period in which the novel is set, the final year of the Enterprise’s original five-year mission under Kirk. They each are given a challenge and setting that most ideally plays off in opposition to their character traits as well. Kirk is a man of action, but is now placed in a role where he is to observe, severely limited in how much action he can take. Spock, of course a Vulcan of logic, is left to deal with a corrupt and illogical security force, and forced to turn to the arts of diplomacy that (at this point in his life at least) lie with his father Sarek, not he the scientist. McCoy is put up against a magician whose powers he can’t quite explain, to cure a disease that is not responding as his medical knowledge suggests it should.

Though this all may not then be particularly original, Cox writes it engagingly well. McCoy and Spock’s chapters I particularly found entertaining. Spock makes acquaintance with an animal/pet that is humorous and endearing. And, who doesn’t enjoy curmudgeon, but gold-hearted, McCoy chew some scenery? I’m less of a Kirk fan, but those who are will surely find familiar joy with his third of the story.

Thankfully this does work for the novel, as other parts of it succeed less well. The new characters are as one-dimensional as primary characters are able to be in media-tie in novels. The stakes can’t really be high for a crew we all know are going to be fine. But, those created just for this could contain greater depth. There isn’t much nuance to those on Braco or Ozalor, and they behave rather stereotypically. The characters on Vok do have far more nuance, to create intrigues of scandal and conspiracies, and something beyond clear-cut heroes/villains in the election. However, that gain becomes hampered by dialogue that can come across as corny. That issue of dialogue also represents the one negative that crept into the otherwise well-written Enterprise characters, with Kirk. I know Kirk has used the term ‘mister’ in his lines on the show (e.g. “you better think twice about that, mister!”) but when written it looks extra silly; Cox employs it often. The start of the novel went slower for me due to the dialogue writing of those secondary characters, but once more of the action started up I was able to get into the story and enjoy this as a decent Trek novel after all.

Recent Star Trek novels have also upped, or expanded, things in the theme department. A Contest of Principles, which takes its title from a quote regarding politics, of course is all about the themes of politics, comparing them across three unique situations/worlds. When I first read the summary of this regarding the elections and a pandemic disease outbreak I wondered how Cox managed to get things so right! The pandemic outbreak angle of course ends up being a lure for McCoy only, but the similarities between the recent US elections that were going on as this book was published in November are likely not coincidence. Many of course saw the capital riots coming – given they were announced and long-stirred-up, of course. I feel as though the situation on Vok wrapped up a bit too easily and neatly for realism, but nonetheless the look into politics there vis-a-vis our reality is a useful endeavor, as are those ‘contests of principles’ explored on the other two planets.

A Contest of Principles is going to work well for any fans of Star Trek, but it’s probably not one I’d strongly recommend for general readers who don’t care about the series. But for the fans of these stories and this crew, let’s just get some more of the other characters, please?