APEX MAGAZINE Issue 122 (Mar./Apr. 2021) Edited by Jason Sizemore


A really stellar issue from Apex again for these two months. Aside from the interactive story I had no interest in (so cannot speak on) there is not one disappointing story here.

“The Amazing Exploding Women of the Early Twentieth Century” by A.C. Wise — Two actresses in the early silent era of film find they share pyrokinetic abilities that enable them to set themselves on fire without harm. A useful talent for an era where many did their own stunts; also a talent that can be turned against abusive powers in the industry. The main story is bookended by short sections set in the recent present, with one of the women relating things to a granddaughter (if my memory serves in details). I always get appreciation/enjoyment from stories about film, including the silent era, which I love. The only downside to this story is the length: longer than I felt it needed. The framing scenes add some extra themes, but not sure they were essential or needed.

“Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversive Eating” by Sabrina Vourvoulias — An ‘interactive’ story with which I chose to not interact.

“Barefoot and Midnight” by Sheree Renée Thomas — A standout story of the issue due to its subject matter and power, but above all because it is written so amazingly well, horrific and melancholic and beautiful all at once. Like a lamentation the story surges with righteous wailing against injustices. It shows how pain and sacrifice can continue even amid processes of healing, and suggests that sometimes revenge is just as damaging as an original hurt.

“Black Box of the Terraworms” by Barton Aikman — Terraforming machines sent by humans to an alien planet consume some of the native organisms and through it learn from the creature’s memories of the planet’s previous inhabitants that worshiped the creatures. An inventive story of biotechnology and ecological themes, but which then also takes of mythical tones. Fascinating grand-scale fiction.

“A Love That Burns Hot Enough to Last: Deleted Scenes from a Documentary” by Sam J. Miller — A series of interviews about a pop singer and a Christian parent who campaigns against her music, being convinced she is in reality a witch. Almost always enjoy Miller’s work, and this was no exception. I feared that the stereotypically bigoted Christian would make me sour, but Miller actually handles it well. (I still wish more authors would introduce Christians who AREN’T this way at all.) The story more speaks to themes of hero worship and unreasonable expectations that fans place on talent.

“If Those Ragged Feet Won’t Run” by Annie Neugebauer — A fantasy where a mother and newborn try and escape from bird-like monsters that kill those who stray from the village. Great atmosphere and tense plotting here. It recalled to my mind the thoughts I’ll sometimes have watching nature programs where I see a predator about to strike down prey, a cute little juvenile who’s just trying to survive. But then after the predator fail and I celebrate continued life, the camera cuts to the starving offspring of the predator that now have no food.

“She Searches for God in the Storm Within” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali  — A reprint originally published in Sword and Sonnet, edited by Aiden Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler. It features a powerful female protagonist surviving against harsh unjust treatment. The theme of the anthology where it appeared was “women and non-binary battle poets”. I’m not a fan of the poet aspect, but this is another story of righteous anger, but taken in a more positive way, speaking to the unleashing of a ‘storm’ of suppressed rage that women (and women of color in particular) become told to endure.

“The Eight-Thousanders” by Jason Sanford — I never expected to like a story about climbing Mount Everest so much. Turning it into a horror featuring a vampire who ‘prey’s on those who succumb to the mountain is brilliant, and Sandford uses that plot to explore familiar vampire tale themes in novel ways, as well as cultural aspects of the mountain climbers and the natives who make a living catering to them. The story originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine at the end of last year.

With editorial by Jason Sizemore, nonfiction articles “Jimi Hendrix Sang It” by ZZ Claybourne and “Telling Stories of Ghosts” by Wendy N. Wagner, book reviews by A.C. Wise, and interviews with Sabrina Vourvoulias and Annie Neugebauer by Andrea Johnson, and of cover artist Thomas Tan by Russell Dickerson. Cover design by Justin Stewart.


ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT Vol. CXXXI #s 3 and 4 (March/April 2021) Edited by Trevor Quachri


Another overall impressive issue from Analog, which is nicely becoming more diverse and balanced in their offerings. I wouldn’t say they have lost the core mission of the hard SF that they tend to go for, but they have broadened the representation of authors and interpretations of what that means beyond what had in past become a somewhat cliched standard. A wider range of readers will find things to enjoy in issues these days.

“Invasive Species” by Catherine Wells — The wife of a man goes missing on an alien world where humans are kept in a small enclave by the native intelligent population to limit human damage to the ecosystem (and also supposedly for human safety.) When the missing wife cannot be found anywhere, the man seeks permission to go search beyond the enclave’s walls, and takes in a native nanny to watch his newborn while off looking. The ideas in the story are wonderful, and it’s entertaining. However, by its end I was left wondering about the alien actions and I can’t help but think a lot of action/lack of communication occurred simply so the story could happen.

“Flash Mob” by Meg Pontecorvo — Too much science fiction spends efforts being speculative or focusing on technology. I adore a nice story simply focusing on doing science. In this one, a researcher tries to balance single parenthood with the demands of academic research. Her research into squid behaviors allows an opportunity to observe a rare, inexplicable mass of Japanese squid gathering off the coast of CA. She thinks there may be something to their bioluminescent signaling. Fantastic ending for this as well.

“Tail Call Optimization” by Tony Ballantyne — AI stories aren’t inherently my favorite. However, this one manages to put a spin and unexpected twists into the story to make it very entertaining and thought provoking. An apparently malfunctioning alien AI comes into contact with a human intelligence that forces reconsideration of the situation.

“Damocles” by Sean McMullen — An alternate history story of higher technology in WWII, specifically an invention that could be a devastatingly dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Those that like this genre of story will likely really enjoy this one. It’s written well, but didn’t really capture my interest.

“Problem Landing” by Sean Monaghan — A story of Mars, drawing inspiration from private-funded space exploration corporation like Musk’s SpaceX. As the title suggests, landing on the red planet goes awry. The existing Martian colonists try and come up with a rescue plan for any survivors among the new arrivals. A classic sort of Analog story where human ingenuity is needed to solve a technical problem. It works well as that, but I didn’t find it as compelling on the level of the characters so much. Hard SF fans should really love it though.

“The Trashpusher of Planet 4” by Brenda Kalt — Excellent story that balances seriousness and humor, the familiar and unexpected, with things alien and human. It’s told from the point-of-view of Awi Trashpusher Nonnumber, a lower caste worker on a spaceship traveling through our solar system. Though Awi sits as low-rung as one of his People can, he aspires to more. While his fellow species members give him no respect, the ship’s AI starts giving him greater tasks in secret. The protagonist may be alien in appearance, but the social and personal struggles of the tale are all very familiar to us humans.

“It’s Cold on Europa” by Filip Wiltgren — Two isolated ice miners on Europa live with artificial constructs of their spouses, which have personalities/memories updated as part of the slow communication from their real counterparts based elsewhere in the solar system. The protagonist becomes increasingly concerned that her spousal construct is acting colder and distant, but she has no indications of why. A really fantastic story that postulates new iterations of time-old communication problems in relationships. It takes the concept of ‘ghosting’ and anxiety to larger scales.

“The Acheulean Gift” by Matthew Claxton — A camp houses children born from a now defunct program that used genetic engineering to express genes of extinct humanoid species (like Denisovans and Neanderthals) in H. sapiens. It’s an interesting, and good, story that explores the biological basis of things like cooperation, tool use and problem solving, but also then of fear of the other and racism. I wish the story delved into the genetics in more detail with more believability though.

“If a Tree Doesn’t Fall” by Jerry Oltion — A hiker in Wyoming comes across a floating tree, and he investigates how the heck this could possibly be happening. Nothing much to this short story at all, but a pleasant enough diversion.

“Thh*sh*thhh” by Aimee Ogden — Another story with not much to it, but just the right amount given this is flash fiction. A human researcher (xenoanthropologist?) attends the exceedingly rare funeral for a member of an extremely long-lived (practically immortal) alien species. At this she learns the painful emotional downside to their exceptional life spans. High quality flash fiction.

“John Henry Was a Steel Driving Man” by Shane Halbach — Another classic Analog problem-solving story, set on a space station, where workers have to deal with potential disaster. Complicating matters are divisions among the poorly treated workers who want to strike, and the corporate powers above them. Sometimes the actions of fellow co-workers can make the situation worse. If not great, a decent story that preaches the virtues of hard work that one takes pride in, and attention to detail, no matter the situation.

“Recollection” by Elise Stephens — When the status and destination of many stories in Analog can be known from very early on, it’s nice to have a more slow building story included here that at first puts the reader in uncertain waters. Set in a barren dystopia, a government representative (Harvester) arrives in town to look into aid that they might need. A teenage girl there becomes intrigued by technology the woman uses that holds memory and images of the time before. An interesting look at the ethics of uneasy decisions.

“The Burning Lands” by Tom Jolly — Strange, seemingly spontaneous wildfires are breaking out and killing people. A detective and arson investigator try and solve the mystery. For methanogenesis playing such a key role in this, was very disappointed archeaea were not properly discussed in such a ‘hard’ SF venue.

“Hillman, Charles Dallas, Age: 35, No Partner, Parents: Deceased” by Ron Collins — A former finance broker on the run decides to enter into a clinical trial to go off the grid with free room and board. The brain scans they do on him have unexpected consequences for someone trying to maintain a low profile. An ironic cyberpunkish kind of story that felt as jumbled by its end as the protagonist seems to be.

“I Have Loved the Stars Too Fondly” by James Van Pelt — A very short story (flash?) where a social program provides the homeless with a new chance and home as lunar colonists. Among other possible interpretations, the tale illustrates how such programs can be mistrusted and also taken advantage of. Parallels to how different societal groups react to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination spring to mind.

“The Pond Who Sang” by Charles Hand — Many have combined the mathematical aspects of music with concepts of neural networks (biological or other), such as Hofstadter. Here, Hand puts such musings into a very inventive short SF. I’m not sure this works as is without further development, beyond being intriguing and a speculative ‘mood’ piece.

“Second Hand Destinies” by Marie Vibbert — SF with symbiotic creatures helping animate a humanoid body aren’t new, but Vibbert does interesting things with the concept in this story (more parasitic perhaps) of a small family eking out survival on a dilapidated space station. Vividly written and great characters.

“The Shadow of His Wings” by Ray Nayler — Transfer of consciousness into animals (that still allows total control) forms the speculative crux of this story that explores issues of obligation and power. Strange, but written in a way that makes it seem completely ordinary.

Includes science fact article “From Atmospheric Rivers to Super Typhoons: The Future Looks Bright for Weather Disaster Fans” by Christina De La Rocha and poems “Mostly Hydrogen” by Jack Martin and “First Scientist (?-?) by Jessy Randall. With guest editorial “Better Than Being Fossilized!” by Ian Watson, The Alternative View by John G. Cramer and Guest Alternative View by John J. Vester. Reference Library by Don Sakers and Upcoming Events by Anthony Lewis.


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.


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.


UNCANNY MAGAZINE #38 (January/February 2021) Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas


Since its inception I’ve been one of the Space Unicorns supporting Uncanny Magazine. Yet, among all the genre outlets, it is probably the one that I’m most divided on among typical story content. The type of story they feature sometimes works fantastically for me, but then other times falls flat; this is even with authors who are typical favorites. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it to explain the reasons behind those personal tastes, but just accept that Uncanny will feature an even split for me.

“Tyrannosaurus Hex” by Sam J. Miller — One of my two favorite stories in the issue. For me, Miller can take a story concept that I’m not all terribly excited about and still turn it into something engaging and interesting; this is a case in point. At a dinner, a young girl joins an even younger boy in virtual reality entertainment through their implants, while the adults obliviously chat. The girl quickly realizes something is not quite right, and very dangerous, with the program the boy is running. Namely the malware that has infected it. An interesting take on generational tech divides, shared digital experiences, and lazy parenting.

“A House Full of Voices Is Never Empty” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard — You stopped reading this early in.

“Pathfinding!” by Nicole Kornher-Stace — A second story on children in simulations, with a director and individuals named with numbers, à la Stranger Things. Written in third-person present across 31 numbered sections, it felt long to me. I had no serious problems with it, but didn’t take to its themes or style particularly either.

“In That Place She Grows a Garden” by Del Sandeen — A reprint from a story I first read in Fiyah Magazine, from an issue themed around ‘hair’. A young African American girl is disciplined at school for failing to conform to discriminatory codes that ban traditional Black hairstyles. Despite their attempts to control her body, her head has other plans for what it will grow. Really adore this one, even a second time.

“Beyond the Doll Forest” by Marissa Lingen — My other favorite new story in the issue, again by an author I often enjoy. A nanny ponders her young charge who fears curses, the miniature forest that the girl has built in her playroom that seems to show small changes and fleeting glimpses of creatures, and the absent siblings the girl speaks of. A creepy fantasy of magic, illness symbolized, and the strength/powers of childhood imagination.

“Femme and Sundance” by Christopher Caldwell — Two men start a passionate relationship and plan a bank heist, utilizing charmed masks provided by a curandera one of them knows. Then starts a wild ride on the run with the money, but the magic of the masks still vibrating, and others in pursuit. A fun urban fantasy adventure.

“Distribution” by Paul Cornell — This one certainly fits within the ‘uncanny’ moniker. It’s filled with deep themes of human nature, memory, and social obligations, and it’s set within a vaguely post-disaster setting where fragments of rebuilding occur that hearken to the past, but amid continued near-future technology from our present. Mostly consisting as an interview conversation between two characters, I found it hard to get into and appreciate despite themes that usually resonate.

The issue also features editorials from the editors and “Imagining Futures: Where Our Works Go from Here” by Elsa Sjunneson; poems “Medusa Gets a Haircut” by Theodora Goss, “Kalevala, an untelling” by Lizy Simonen, “bargain | bin” by Ewen Ma, “What The Time Travellers Stole” by L.X. Beckett, and “Fish Out of Water” by Neil Gaiman; essays “Weird Plagues: How Fear of Disease Mutated into a Subgenre” by John Wiswell, “Milk Teeth” by Octavia Cade, “Hayao Miyazaki’s Lost Magic of Parenthood” by Aidan Moher, and “Trash Fantasias, or Why Mass Effect 3‘s Ending Was Bad Actually” by Katherine Cross; interviews of Miyuki Jane Pinckard and Paul Cornell by Caroline M. Yoachim; and thank you messages to Patreon supporters and Kickstarter backers.


January/February 2021 Short Fiction Roundup


Here is the first bimonthly roundup up my short fiction reviews from those markets that publish with a greater frequency than monthly or bimonthly. Right now that includes Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Abyss & Apex is another one I will feature, but given that it’s quarterly the January – April content will all just appear with the March/April post.

Given the number of stories, for these I’m only reviewing/mentioning the ones that I enjoy most. I may eventually review Fantasy Magazine fully as it is a more standard monthly publication. However, right now it’s so short, and half the content of the first two issues has fallen into the only two categories of things I absolutely don’t go for. So I’ve included it in this for the time being.

Many of these are available for free to discover if you are not a regular reader of them. I hope that those who enjoy and become fans of the outlets will be able to support them.

I still have several regular January/February issue reviews to put up before getting started on March/April, but they should go up in the near future.

Fantasy Magazine – Edited by Arley Sorg & Christie Yant

“Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind” by C.E. McGill (Issue 63, January 2021) – A stunning fantasy that seems to cover familiarly trodden territory at cursory glance, but weaves together several deep themes into a modern direction. At story’s start the protagonist, Oz, is about to commit suicide, only being stopped by a knock at the door and the arrival of an official group from town. His name has come up in the draw for choosing the next sacrifice to the god of the mountain. Oz’s journey to the mountain leads to greater self-discovery, reconciliation with his past, and a lesson in sacrifice. I love how the tone of the story feels set in conventional current world, yet with elements of magic and fantasy, or the beliefs of another era. This fits perfectly with Oz’s life journey.

“Kisser” by David James Brock (Issue 64, February 2021) – This story will resonate with any who have had the stress dream of teeth falling out. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read it right before going to sleep! However, where the story could go full down the route of horror, it only brushes against dark fantasy in its setup, a man who finds his teeth actually coming out. A great character study that investigates how the man’s obsession with peripheral details of life (including outside of control) can compound to be more harmful than letting go – and how he might move past that.

“Flight” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Issue 64, February 2021) – Written from the third-person point-of-view of gray parrots, this story shows the interactions of these birds among one another in a community being changed by humans. The story revolves around the general theme of disruptions of natural processes by humans, the uncertainty and unbalance it creates and how other animals may adapt. It also illustrates how the cruel violence and disregard of intelligent humanity goes beyond the ‘red in tooth and claw’ (or beak) of biology. Beautifully written.

Daily Science Fiction – Edited by Jonathan Laden & Michele Barasso

First time I’ve ever reviewed something from this treasure of an online story outlet. So, I’ll start off by just saying in general they are something fans of SFF should subscribe to (it’s free), and if you enjoy it, consider supporting. With a story every day, usually flash-fiction length, they publish a fair amount that is solid, if not Earth-shattering. Occasionally there is something I’m not a fan of, and sometimes there is something that really resonates. Here’s a couple that did:

“The Union” by Tim Yu (26th January 2021) – Regarding this story that features an impending alien invasion of Earth, the author notes: “If we really faced an existential threat and had to unify, what would be the new benchmark normal to unify into? How would we funnel all of human diversity into that normal?” The optimist in me says that I don’t know as this is the most likely answer, but with the sadness of profound realism I feel it’s up there in probability. Well written, and I hope to see more from Yu. Perhaps a story with marine biology next?

“Echo Recovery” by Jennifer Linnaea (5th February 2021) – Beautifully written SF/Fantasy about relationships, making music together, and grief. The Songmaster of the Great Theater at Noti Station accompanies a reptilian-like Vhatian singer named Gyen to Gyen’s hibernation pod after the unexpected death of Gyen’s human song-twin Digne. While Gyen can flee the emptiness in repose until a new song-twin matches to him, The Songmaster, who was in love with Digne, cannot escape the grief process and going on with the business of writing music and managing the dual species singers. The language and emotions of the story are like music.

Strange Horizons – Edited by Vanessa Rose Phin

“Yearning” by Maya Beck (4th January 2021) – A man guides a group of sharecroppers through a ritual they dub firesouling or firesailing, a passage of the spirit into the bodies of ancestors past and descendants future. Through this they observe, and yearn for, what was and what might be. Even with violence past there are visions of a hopeful future. A wonderful piece of Afrofuturism within the fantasy genre that makes a good story with a strong voice.

“A Serpent for Each Year” by Tamara Jerée (1st February 2021) – Perfect flash fiction on grief, death, and celebrating the passage of time in a life.

“Ootheca” by Mário de Seabra Coelho (15th February 2021) – Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a weirdly surreal fantasy with tinges of SF and a nod to Kafka. It explores relationships amid personal tics or details that one might focus upon in another, and judgements that humans make based on happenstance or accepted norms.

Tor.com – Irene Gallo (Publisher), Chris Lough (Director), and Bridget McGovern (Managing Editor)

“Let All the Children Boogie” by Sam J. Miller and edited by Jonathan Strahan (6th January 2021) – “My mind had no need for pronouns. Or words at all for that matter. This person filled me up from the very first moment.” Music can open up whole new worlds and one person can change how you look at the world. Sam J. Miller’s writing can do these things too, like the voice reaching out over the airwaves in this, speaking of a hopeful future possible. Though I get none of the pop culture references in this, despite growing up in the time period, Laurie and Fell’s story is universal, beautiful and uplifting.

“Shards” by Ian Rogers and edited by Ellen Datlow (27th January 2021) – Four out of five people survive a horrific Evil-Dead-esque night in a cabin in the woods. The horror does not end there. Excellent chilling story that confronts the absurdities of horror tropes. It looks deeply into how what becomes glossed over, or moved past, upon the dawn of the morning after, and the cue of the credits, might be the most horrifying of all. In some ways this starts as a sequel, but going places far different than the original, familiar tale.

“Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels” by Lavie Tidhar and edited by Jonathan Strahan (10th February 2021) – I have to admit that Tidhar is one author who writes wonderfully, but whose stories have just never seemed to fall into a style I appreciate, or carried a message that personally resonated. This, a mashup of horror and mystery staples, does fit squarely into two of my literary loves, and it works simply in how entertainingly intriguing the characters and set-up are. I’ll have to go back now and read the first story featuring this character. Once upon a time I would have found this needlessly long, but novelette/novella length has grown on me, particularly with recurring protagonists like these and the clever spin of the plot.

“The Tyger” by Tegan Moore and edited by Ellen Datlow (24th February 2021) – On the night of a wedding reception, a museum comes alive in ways different than before for twelve-year-old Jules. The story does not go in the direction I had expected from its summary, and ends so profoundly and amazingly that a synopsis could not do it justice. The title references Blake’s famous poem, of course, but Jules’ symbolic journey through the museum into adulthood features a prehistoric bear, rather than tiger, to make a fine atmospheric impact. And then again, the tyger here may be something completely different.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Edited by Scott H. Andrews

“As Tight as Any Knot” by M.A. Carrick (Issue #320, 1st January 2021) – This is set in the same universe as the new Orbit Books novel The Mask of Mirrors, which I’ve had my eyes set on recently. But, until now, I had no idea until now that the author is a pseudonym for writing pair Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms. Can’t recall reading Brennan, but I really enjoyed Helms’ Missy Masters novels for Angry Robot Books. Anyway… in this, Ondrakja sees a young beggar girl on a street corner and sees value in saving her from circumstances. “She knew what happened once someone vanished into the depths of Nadežra’s brothels.” The keyword there, is ‘value’. This serves as an introduction to the fantasy world of the novel, and the intrigues of its characters, that makes you curious to read more.

“Daughters with Bloody Teeth” by Marika Bailey (Issue #321, 14th January 2021) – Beautiful and evocative fantasy that plays with the individual and the collective ‘we’ within the framework of a wolf mythology. Beyond that, it speaks to human injustices and rights of self-authority. It takes a moment to really get into this and make sense of what is occurring, but also, I think my mind wandered from paying attention to subtle reveals of information at first, being just enraptured by the flow of the language.

“Bast and Her Young” by Tegan Moore (Issue #321, 14th January 2021) – A historical story around the ascension of Hatshepsut as Pharaoh, and her consolidation of power amid realization that she is not the first female Pharaoh. It is nice to see a retelling of Egyptian history/mythology, as it seems less common in fantasy than Greek or Norse. Moore gives Hatshepsut’s voice a bit of a modern colloquial twist that I at first found odd, but grew to appreciate.

“Her Black Coal Heart a Diamond in My Hand” by R. K. Duncan (Issue #322, 28th January 2021) – A dark chilling tale that explores the degrees of exploitation that can occur when creating art from the emotional hurt (or literal ghosts) of others, and from oneself. Rich language and turns in this story make it an engaging, compelling read.

“The Guadaloupe Witch” by Josh Rountree (Issue #322, 28th January 2021) – A witch finds confronted by a young man sent by her former husband to kill or capture her. The young man is a childhood friend of her now deceased son, her beloved she is now on a mission to restore. While the plot of this story is familiar, it proceeds in a tender and assured way that shows the true power of the eponymous witch.

“Quintessence” by Andrew Dykstal (Issue #324, 25th February 2021) – Deep within winter-covered Highfall peak, miners of a resource called quintessence are kept functioning and alive through expensive injections of red, rationed by the mining Company, but administered on-site by a witch. Loren’s brother-in-law Clyde is sick and dying of ‘crack-up’, but the newly posted ‘old’ witch Gristle refuses to provide Loren with additional red to save him. Wonderful world-building and characterization here, and exploration of consequences of the well-intentioned going too far in desperation. And the secret evils of corporations in search of profits.


THE DARK MAGAZINE #68 (January 2021) Edited by Sean Wallace


Three of the four stories in this issue I adored, and the other might be appreciated by those who aren’t put off by its voice. The Dark Magazine continues to excel in presenting horror/dark fantasy that span a large variety of the genres, with no two stories alike here.

“The Van Etten House” by Carrie Laben — Two friends begin a partnership as online collectible dealers in their college town after graduation. Within the packed house of deceased hoarder, they discover a room of custom-made dolls that appear modeled after children contacted though Christian magazine pen-pal want ads. And it gets ore unsettling. The most conventional horror story in the issue, in this case also one of my favorites. Creepy dolls will always be something that gets me, and the idea gets a fresh look here both in terms of the doll’s creator and their effects. Alongside this, the strength of the bond between the partners becomes tested. This could fit right in adapted into a horror anthology TV series, and I loved its atmosphere of familiar horror territory in a new way.

“Love for Ashes” by Frances Ogamba — You did not read this story because I started talking to you in it.

“There, in the Woods” by Clara Madrigano — A woman living in her childhood home considers the recent disappearance of a boy from the neighborhood in the nearby woods, a sinister place where her husband also recently disappeared, and others in her past. Understandably questioned by police, she find herself unable to leave the house, yet still drawn by the lure of the woods and the truth she knows deep down. The story can be read symbolically, or literally as horror/fantasy, and it could likely evoke different interpretations according to the reader and details held onto. It’s unsettling and mysterious, and I’ll look forward now to more from the author written in English as this, or translated from Portuguese.

“Each Night an Adaptation” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu — A girl sleeps in her dead father’s house to help him enter the afterlife, and to help her mother who cannot handle keeping the tradition herself. And how this shapes her future. A touching short piece on how people handle grief, deal with the heaviness of expectations, and confront horror. Though dark, it is pervaded with an atmosphere of perseverance and strength in its protagonist, the aptly named Destiny.

The issue also features cover art by Vincent Chong.