“Sun, Moon, Dust,” by Ursala Vernon

Uncanny #16, May/June 017
Cover by Galen Dara

“Sun, Moon, Dust,” by Ursala Vernon.
Short Story. Published in Uncanny, May/June 2017.

Allpa received the magic sword from his grandmother, as she lay dying.

“I’m afraid I don’t really need a sword, grandma,” he said.

Rocket Star Rank calls it “sweet and refreshing”. The reviews Pros include the vividness of Allpa’s predicament, and the sweetness of the conclusions; Cons are that Allpa is too passive to be a satisfying protagonist, and the sense that he hasn’t earned his happy ending.

At Featured Futures, Jason recommends the story:

This rural encomium, while thematically in Vernon’s comfort zone, is conceptually more of a BCS-style secondary-world pure-fantasy tale than the Vernon I’ve read which tends to be fairly connected to this world regardless of its fantasy elements. It’s also not her strongest, perhaps because of this. But her strongest is extremely strong and this is still pretty good.

And here’s Charles Payseur:

 The story challenges the assumptions of a lot of epic fantasy that every farmer boy is a hero waiting to be activated, that in the heart of every young man there is a desire to be a ruthless or honorable warrior. Allpa, despite being brought up at least partly in the presence of warriors, doesn’t care to get involved. He shows that there is nobility even in farming, and indeed that it has a lot fewer ethical issues than going out and killing people or hurting people for a good cause. There is the sense that he’s supposed to be “fixed” by the sword, but the story doesn’t reinforce that. It allows Allpa to be himself, for his values to be those that can govern his actions, and it doesn’t punish him for his desires by having his farm attacked or anything so obvious. Instead, he becomes a teacher himself, showing the sword-people that there might be another way. And it’s just a touching and fun story that’s a joy to read.


What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“The Person You Are Trying To Reach Is Not Available,” by Andrea Chapela

“The Person You Are Trying To Reach Is Not Available,” by Andrea Chapela.
Translated from Spanish by Andrea Chapela. Published in Samovar, June 2017. Short story.

Strange Horizons have published their second issue of Samovar, the magazine celebrating translated speculative fiction from around the world. Like last post, I’ve leaped on a brand new story which looks intriguing, so no outside reviews yet – we’ve got a clean slate for this one.

What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“Terra Nullius,” by Hanuš Seiner

“Terra Nullius,” by Hanuš Seiner. Translated by Julie Nováková.
Short story. Published in Strange Horizons, March 20th 2017.


It’s Charles Payseur’s review of the piece that I found particularly intriguing, right from the premise:

This is a beautiful and rather haunting story that follows a dramatic confrontation, but only along its peripheral. The story explores the vast worlds inside of alien beings, where one human is diving over and over again to try and find the key to human survival in the face of an ever-adapting enemy. It’s a story of alien invasion, and a sort of invasion that humanity cannot hold out forever against, these aliens capable of taking their experiences and creating a sort of illusory world for their next generation to adapt safe and better, to learn how better to conquer and spread.

Christos Antonaros, at Tangent Online, writes:

An original idea, which dips the reader into the bottom of a river, and even deeper into the terrifying illusions created inside of the guts of five alien behemoths. The setting and structure of the story are attention-grabbing from the very first paragraphs. (…) At some points, especially during sections of dialog, the plot becomes confusing, but the author then gives the reader a plot-twisting conclusion that resolves any questions.

A.C. Wise, in her column for Apex, writes:

Seiner offers up a truly alien mode of being, as well as learning and communication. The story calls into question the line between reality and illusion, at times echoing the unanchored feeling of exploring a new world – neither the characters nor the reader are fully grounded, drifting and making their way through the landscape together.

Rocket Stack Rank is less impressed. The full review (spoilers!) gives the story two stars, saying “The concept is pretty cool,” but “The execution of that idea is awful, and the whole story is a confused mess.”

I’ll close with a return to Payseur’s comments, this time on the themes and resonance of the story:

It’s a hitting story about trying to break this echo-chamber of conditioned abuse that just prepares people for war. (…) What happens when people are so trained and programed just for conflict, just to believe that their illusion is real? There’s a lot going on in the story and it’s nicely built to show the depth of these illusions, how it gets into everything. (…) It’s a story that really dives into illusions and isolation and how the young and conditioned by the older generations. It’s chilling and yet not without a spark of hope. An amazing read!


What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister

“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister.
Published in Shimmer #29, January 2016.

Content note: A deliberately disturbing story, focusing on the death of children and infants.


Recommended by Lady Business, where Ira writes:

This is a beautifully written and haunting and somewhat disturbing (I love it) story about creation and having children and loss. I’m not sure what more I can say about it that won’t spoil the reading experience, aside from that the language and imagery is lovely and haunting. Definitely worth a read.

Michael Kelly at @sfeditorspicks writes much the same:

Lyrical, melancholic, and moving story about parenting, loss, death, and sorrow.

Charles Paysuer writes:

The story does a great job of showing the darkness that the women live in, the world that is at war, the endless stretches of dead children, the suffering that is still somehow necessary to it all. (…) There is magic in the story but not a pretty kind. The magic is dark and springs from pain, and it sets the mood, dark and brooding and festering.


What did you think of “The Fifth Gable”? Read the story, and come discuss in the comments!

“Seven Birthdays,” by Ken Liu

“Bridging Infinity” Anthology, ed. Jonathan Strahan

“Seven Birthdays,” by Ken Liu.
Published in Bridging Infinity, reprinted in Tor.Com.

Speculiction writes:

Contextualizing the contemporary Western situation with some simple but effective bits of far-future imagination, Liu keeps things relevant by understanding the idea that problems will always exist, and thus what matters is our approach—our attitude—toward them.

Rocket Stack Rank gives the story four stars, citing pros and cons:

Pro: (…) The ending is heartwarming because, after all that time, Mia finally has the right words–and they’re noble, inspiring words. At the large-scale level, it’s a great description of human evolution and transformation into a galaxy-spanning civilization–if civilization is even the right word for something so grand.

Con: There’s little action and no tension in the story, which mostly consists of a recitation of events that transpired.

Tangent Online reviewer Jason McGregor comments:

While this story doesn’t seem to be as free from a sort of historical dualism (which leads to a tincture of human self-loathing which is mostly balanced by an explicit appreciation of our “wondrous” quality) as it is from the human vs. nature dualism that it explicitly disavows and does seem like yet another climate change story at first, it does move on to bigger and better things which do involve mega-engineering and a bit of “gosh wow” and is a good execution of the tried-and-true and fitting “time lapse” structure.


What did you think of “Seven Birthdays”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“The City Born Great,” by N.K. Jemisin

The City Born Great, by N.K. Jemisin. Art by Richie Pope.

“The City Born Great,” by N.K. Jemisin.
Published in Tor.Com, September 2016.

This one runs the gamut, review-wise. Let’s go from down to up…

Seraph, at Tangent Online, calls it:

A profanity-riddled, drug-induced psychotic episode of a paranoid-schizophrenic young man, with no justification for an abrupt and unconnected ending. That’s really the most positive I can be.

Rocket Stack Rank pegs this “Average,” with pros and cons:

Pro: The narrator really does want to do something creative. He sings, he draws, and he despairs, because he knows he has no future. Paulo saves him, and he brings New York to life and defeats a monster with it.

Con: It’s hard to consistently suspend disbelief for this one. Swinging bridges and neighborhoods into action against a Cthulhu-like creature is hard to credit.

A.C. Wise writes,

“The City Born Great” captures the personality of New York City wonderfully, its rough edges, and its unbreakable spirit. The places we live are imbued with the personality of their citizens, and full of quirks all their own. As someone who lived in Jersey and worked in NYC for several years, I fully admit this story had me wanting to punch the air and yell, “Hell, yeah! No cosmic horror is taking my city down!”

 

“The Story of Kao Yu,” by Peter Beagle

The Story of Kao Yu (ebook cover)

“The Story of Kao Yu,” by Peter Beagle.
Short story. Published in Tor.com, December 2016.


Rocket Stack Rank gives this one five stars, calling the story “Beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking”.

Ron Andrea is less impressed: “Well-written and interesting, but there’s no payoff”.

I’d expected to find a little more discussion of a new Peter Beagle story — but then, that’s what we’re here for 🙂

What did you think of it? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

 

“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid

The New Yorker, Nov. 14 2016

“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid.
Short story. Published in The New Yorker, November 2016.

This is another suggestion from the #ShortFictionSunday hashtag. I always enjoy bringing up stories from The New Yorker – they’re often interesting (they need to be interesting enough to get into The New Yorker!), but since they’re not in a genre magazine, they can seem to be left out of the more “usual” circles and buzz.

What do you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar

“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar.
Short story. Published in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales , and reprinted in Uncanny Magazine, November/December 2016.

This was a #ShortFictionSunday recommendation that caught my eye:

Rocket Stack Rank sums the story up well:

Tabitha is an irresistible force who meets an immovable object, Amira. They cease to be who they were and become a couple–something entirely new. Continue reading ““Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar”

“One Way Out,” by Ethan Robinson

“One Way Out,” by Ethan Robinson.

Recommended by @Cecily_Kane on the #ShortFictionSunday hashtag, and by Jonah Sutton-Morse here on our very own suggestion page.


He depressed many keys that day, an untallied number but one no doubt approximately equaling that of any other day. We cannot know what was in his thoughts, but let us speculate: that he was aware, with that awareness which had been acute when he had first started the job but had dimmed progressively with each day he worked, that every key he depressed affected in some small way the movement of objects scattered throughout the world, throughout the solar system, and in some rare cases even elsewhere, further still. During his training, as he learned about the relevance of the speed of light to the keys he must depress, he had tried to engage his supervisor in a kind of low-level philosophical talk about other implications of that universal constant, but the supervisor had been uninterested or uncomprehending — at any rate had not responded in kind. Before long, it appears, Hodos himself grew similarly uninterested.


Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!