Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Short fiction recommendations - June 2015

June was a relatively high-volume month in the short sf world — I looked at 168 stories from 34 magazines — but I'm only recommending eight stories (or, seven stories and a series of story-like works), four — half — of which come from outside of my usual list of sf venues. A bad month for the science fiction field proper, in other words.

Exciting new feature, though! If you want to make a link to what I said about any one specific story, add a # and the writer's full name without spaces, punctuation, or diacritics to the end of the URL. For example, to link to the E. Catherine Tobler story I'm recommending this month, add #ecatherinetobler to the URL for this post, for the Team IIT story add #teamiit, and so on. Are you thrilled? I'm thrilled.

[Click here to skip the boring lists and get to the recommendations]

As always, I give the full list of magazines I look at — most of them exclusively sf (or sf/f), some not but publishing sf often enough to make it worth looking at them, all of them except the ones marked with asterisks free online — and encourage you to let me know if there are any conspicuously missing. (Some of the obvious ones are missing because I haven't yet gotten around to subscribing — F&SF — or haven't been able to justify the expense to myself — Analog, IGMS — and some are missing because it feels like a safe assumption that they won't publish anything for me — Beneath Ceaseless Skies, say — but I still always welcome any recommendations, and if there's a specific story you think I should see in one of the ones I avoid by all means let me know.) So, the current full list:

Abyss & Apex, Acidic Fiction, AE, Apex, Asimov's*, Betwixt, The Book Smugglers, Buzzy Mag, Clarkesworld, The Colored Lens, Cosmos, Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, Escape Pod, Expanded Horizons, Fantastic Stories, Fantasy Scroll, Farrago's Wainscot, Fireside, The Future Fire, Galaxy's Edge, GigaNotoSaurus, The Golden Key, Ideomancer, Interfictions, Interzone*, Kaleidotrope, Lackington's, Lakeside Circus, Lightspeed, Liquid Imagination, Luna Station Quarterly, Mythic Delirium, New Haven Review, Omenana, Perihelion, Pornokitsch, Scigentasy, Shimmer, SQ Mag, STRAEON*, Strange Constellations, Strange Horizons, Terraform, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, tor.com, Uncanny, Unlikely Story, Unsung Stories, Weird Fiction Review, Words Without Borders.

Of these, no new fiction appeared in June in Abyss & Apex, Betwixt, Buzzy Mag, Expanded Horizons, Fantastic Stories, Farrago's Wainscot, Galaxy's Edge, The Golden Key, Ideomancer, Lackington's, Lakeside Circus, New Haven Review, Plasma Frequency, Pornokitsch, Scigentasy, SQ Mag, STRAEON, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Unlikely Story, or Weird Fiction Review. Each of the remaining published at least one new story, and I at least looked at all of it.

I did not purchase, and therefore did not consider the stories exclusive to, the full so-called "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" issue of Lightspeed because, quite frankly, the free stories — not one of which was I able to force myself to finish — inspired no confidence whatsoever in the potential of the rest. Plus, I refuse to own an object featuring that hideous and offensive cover art. Considering that the Kickstarter campaign raised about a gazillion dollars in its first minute, I suspect that withholding my $17.99 (or $3.99, even) won't hurt them too bad.

The only new addition this month is Fireside — I'm not sure why I didn't have it on there before. The one deletion is Plasma Frequency, which has ceased publication. After this month I will be dropping Acidic Fiction, which is also ceasing publication (no great loss, frankly), and Liquid Imagination: they explicitly say their stories only exist to fill up your non-work time so you can go back to work and be productive, they have a regular column of writing tips from a life coach, they might as well rename themselves Corporate Imagination.

Two other notes: first of all, three of my recommendations this month come from Muse India, whose May/June edition had a huge special science fiction feature (scroll down). In addition to fiction, they published an enormous quantity of non-fiction, including among many other things an essay on climate change by Vandana Singh. Many thanks to Aishwarya Subramanian for alerting me to this issue's existence. Second, though I didn't much care for any of what I could see a way to calling science fiction in the latest issue of Interfictions, I want to point out at least Keguro Macharia's brilliant essay on Octavia E. Butler's disowned Patternist novel Survivor, which examines the novel's generic status much more interestingly and productively than most such genre-investigations can even imagine, and Richard Bowes' marvelous story "Fordham Court," which dispenses with (most of) his usual ambiguously sfnal flourishes without losing anything from his characteristically captivating efforts to reconstruct memories; and the way in which story interacts with story, document with document, is magical in itself.

And now, arbitrarily presented in reverse alphabetical order by writer's name, my short science fiction recommendations!

E. Catherine Tobler, "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled (Third Sound Remix)" (Clarkesworld)
So "poetic" as frequently to be illegible, this story nevertheless maintains the contrasting capitalist-exploitative and transcendent aspects of space travel in delicate balance (in addition to, along another non-parallel axis, the beauty and insanity of transcendence), not using the one to excuse the other as sf has often done in one direction or another, but exploring the way they infect — and propel — one another, and the pain and confusion this might cause.

Team IIT, "Dashing Through the Door" (Muse India)
I have much the same formal reservations about this story as I did about the Köhler story last month, though "scientific paper as sf story" does have an appropriateness (and history) to it (and the fact that it seems to actually have been written by a team is interesting). Even aside from those reservations, the paper's exploration of the possibilities of quantum teleportation is...a bit elementary. There's a wryness to the tone that I enjoy, though, and I particularly like the way it makes clear the complicity — and the compartmentalization of that complicity in the minds of those who are complicit — of science with domination (a suggestion for how strict border controls could be imposed is followed almost immediately by "When it is just as easy to visit Africa, as it is to visit the corner grocery store, it will undoubtedly truly transform the world into a 'global village'", and then only two paragraphs later "This system provides a powerful protocol for military deployment") though it's not actually much clearer here than in any real paper and for all I know the writers are simply engaging in that complicity rather than critiquing it. Still.

Kate Schapira, "Alternate histories" (Climate Anxiety Counseling)
I wrote about these alternate histories in my April post, when Schapira started writing them; after a month's hiatus she resumed in June. I don't have all that much to add to what I said last time, but the work continues to be vital and I for one plan to follow it wherever it goes. (The link is to the tag, so depending on when you click it you'll see different things, but I urge you to explore.)

Priya Sarukkai Chabria, "dance? he asked" (Muse India)
"that's a pretty lonely thing to do: read." People well into their second century, living with their artificially-maintained and increasingly aged bodies kept mostly in isolation, engaged in fascinating but, one senses, largely unfulfilling — or maybe better unfulfilled — intellectual pursuits (one a sort of landscape holographer, the other a paleontologist), possessing and using a lively but almost entirely non-overlapping knowledge of a supposedly shared cultural history, meet through "4-D" avatars on "The Grid." Over the course of months they slowly reveal more and more of their "real" selves to each other, each giving the other ample time to revolt against the imperfections of physical bodies and cut contact. Real? In this (or any) context, what could the word possibly mean? "i never use the word real on myself." Everything is carefully managed, everything planned, strategized, but (it's supposedly less "painful" this way than any other alternative) attended with a constant fear of disappointment, mingled with hope for surprise. How much of what the other person does is just their strategy, and does that mean it's not real? What does any behavior, any sign of the other person, or of the world, mean? The story's leaps from perspective to perspective, far from providing any authoritative standpoint from which to answer this question objectively, reinforces its mystery, or maybe its meaninglessness. "nothing is certain from remaining evidence."

Ray Nayler, "Mutability" (Asimov's)
I've been thinking about immortality a lot lately, and I'm always consumed with questions of memory and loss (which of course are major aspects of my thoughts on immortality), so in a way this story is a shoe-in. Despite hitting all the marks on that checklist though it feels a bit slight, reaching for the wrong kind of significance (honestly, who likes this kind of language, and what could it mean to them?) and coming up short in an uninteresting way. (It'd be better without the Mysterious Woman and the State Department Russian Exoticism, too, but hey). I might not be recommending the story to readers so much as recommending further thought and more honesty to the writer.

Alan Garth, "World Away" (Perihelion)
The boilerplate "teen" "rebellion" story is largely irrelevant in the face of the wonder and terror of Tenni's experience outside of the generation ship — though the hints of her denial of, what's the phrase, reproductive futurity, are also a bit interesting.

Ruthanna Emrys, "The Deepest Rift" (tor.com)
The delicate balancing act between patness and non-patness which the story had been maintaining most of its length collapses and falls into patness at the end, and in general Emrys and I have a lot of fundamental differences on questions of what writing is, much of which shows up here to, in my eyes, the story's detriment. But this sort of McIntyrean story (and those problems are reminiscent of some of McIntyre's work too, if I'm being honest — think of the ending of Dreamsnake, for example) of contact, embodiment, knowing, and communication has more than enough good to make up for any objections I might have.

Rimi Chatterjee, "The Cleanup" (Muse India)
This reminded me a bit of the stories in Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction (for which see Benjamin Gabriel's superb review), both in its "content" — two women laborers cleaning out the inside of a statue of, literally, The Man — and in the way it seems more like a small slice of non-story than a "story" proper and, like most of the stories in that anthology, is all the stronger for it. (Unlike those it doesn't have dozens of other non-stories with similar goals propping it up, but it works regardless.) Things occur, yes, but it's not so much a plot happening so much as an event taking place, and the event is the writing itself and what it allows to come forward. What exactly has caused the situation in the story (a massive drop-off in the male population resulting in a further disempowerment of women as the remaining men clutch their waning power to themselves ever more firmly) is not explored, and what interests me particularly is that the story withholds its explicit, infodumpy statement of this situation until the very end (after a peculiar drug experience and a heartbreaking moment of antilesbian panic) not because it's a "surprise" — it's not; we learn nothing we haven't learned already through incluing — but because this juxtaposition of expository techniques is what the event that is this telling requires.


Molly said...

I was looking forward to hearing what you'd say about Mutability, as I think I mentioned. I really liked the story a lot--the details of what I thought it was doing have drifted away from me a little (how fitting, given what it was doing right? :/ ) I liked what it was doing with the way we study in order to return to feelings of significance, that sense of trying to re-access the meaning of certain experiences that shaped us. I felt a kind of horror (semi joking here) of the eternal immortal white hipsterdom that the story posited, though, and that part of the world building didn't really seem thought through. But it wasn't really trying to deal with issues of class and stuff, and that's probably fine. Have you seen Only Lovers Left Alive? I think it had similar issues for me re:immortality and hipster aesthetics.

P. S.

These comments are NOT about reciprocity for the twitter follow. I AM PURER THAN THAT. SO PURE. UNIMPEACHABLY PURE.

P. P. S.

No, but really they aren't. I mentioned to Erin the day before yesterday that I was going to catch up with your blog this weekend. And that will stand up in court. ;P

Ethan Robinson said...

I hope it's not about the twitter follow because i don't want to have to keep unfollowing and refollowing you!! (Seriously I love your comments, thank you so much)

Do you remember if you liked Mutability, stylistically? Like on a sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word, or just General Textural level? I just have so little patience for the kind of writing it's working soooo hard to be, reaching so hard for "evocative" (I think?) but just coming out heavy, heavy, heavy. I'm always curious why people like it when they do...

Definitely feel you on the Only Lovers Left Alive comparison (which I wouldn't have made myself, and OLLA has an interest in drippy decadence this story doesn't, but the immortal white hipsterdom thing DEFINITELY - though, I can't remember, does that actually make sense in this story? Was immortality only available to Certain Classes? Either way not hugely pleasant to read, and Nayler's state department attitudes don't help much.)

"the way we study in order to return to feelings of significance, that sense of trying to re-access the meaning of certain experiences that shaped us."

Oh, y'know, I don't think I explicitly saw it that way - this to me sounds almost like a rejoinder to Proust's voluntary/involuntary memory stuff, which sounds promising...hm. Might have to re-read.

Molly said...

In general I hate that kind of writing. All the Light We Cannot See is getting SO much buzz right now, but I gave up after five pages for exactly that reason. Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" was insanely annoying in that way. Here, I hated it at first and considered giving up on the story, but eventually decided that what Nayler was trying to do with it justified that way of writing...at least partially. I think the musty, cluttered "atmosphere," which isn't really meaningful, seems to be a problem of that world, rather than just a problem with the author's writing. And also a lot of the images therefore start to actually matter more, rather than just sort of painting over the story in sepia (ugh. sepia.). I thought the ending worked nicely. Which makes it better than many versions of that kind of writing and puts Nayler ahead of writers who are better at writing in that style but worse at thinking about what that kind of aesthetic might mean. If that makes sense.

Ethan Robinson said...

Ohhh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, and you're making a VERY strong case for a re-read...interesting, interesting, interesting!