The Rack – Zine Reviews for Early May

The Latest Issues of Asimov’s, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Analog, and GigaNotoSaurus

Asimov’s Science Fiction, May/June 2018
A pretty decent issue overall, with at least half the stories falling into the meh-to-average range. Among the other, better half:
The two novellas are entertaining, if unexceptional. David Gerrold and Ctein collaborate on “Bubble and Squeak”, about a couple who met while working on the set of a Hollywood disaster film who suddenly find their lives in jeopardy when a real tsunami hits southern California. It’s a fast-paced story with some nice drama and character moments. The other novella is also a collaboration, “The Wandering Warriors” by Rick Wilber and Alan Smale, and despite relying on a lot of cliché and contrivances, it milks its fun premise – in which an amateur baseball team finds itself inexplicably thrust back into Roman times – for everything its worth.
Sue Burke’s novelette “Life from the Sky” offers some alien maybe-life forms dubbed “spaceflakes” turning the world upside-down when they start falling from the sky. Burke’s present-day soft invasion story is a wry and well realized take on Trump-era internet culture, with a relatable protagonist and believable circumstances. The lackadaisical structure and tone of the story is appropriate for the setting and subject matter, but still doesn’t do it any favors.
Paul Park’s “Creative Nonfiction” is a well-written stream of consciousness oddity about a creepy relationship between a teacher and student in a near-future, quasi-dystopian setting. Cadwell Turnbull’s “When the Rains Come Back” envisions an anarchist not-quite-utopian future, with a touching relationship between a young girl who dreams of living on the moon, and her father, who wants her to grow up respecting their island nation’s traditions. Fascinating worldbuilding, wonderful characters, so-so plot execution. It’s the best story of the bunch, regardless.
Uncanny 22Uncanny Magazine, Issue 22, May/June 2018
Naomi Novik’s “Blessings” is the big draw in this mid-spring issue of Uncanny, and it doesn’t disappoint. Noble-born baby Magda’s parents invite six fairies to a dinner party hoping to secure at least one blessing for their child. The guests have a little too much to drink and the blessings get hilariously out of hand. The story skips forward to Magda as an adult, to show us the result of their shenanigans. Novik shows off her dynamic grasp of fairy-tale narratology in a very short story that is both perfect the way it is and makes you wish there was more.
The other stories in the issue are a mixed bag, but I enjoyed Kelly Robson’s “What Gentle Women Dare” about an 18th century prostitute’s encounter with the devil. Like most of Robson’s stories, it tends to be a little too slow on the slow burn, but few genres writers can match the genuinely grown-up elegance of her prose or the intellectual heft in her storytelling. Also, I don’t know if the term “suckstress” was actually in general use in 18th century Liverpool, but it should have been.
Greg Pak’s personal essay about growing up as an Asian-American D&D fanatic, “Dislikes the Sea, But Will Venture Upon It If Necessary”, is a must-read, and an early candidate for next year’s Best Related Work Hugo Award.
BCS 251Beneath Ceaseless Skies # 251, May 10, 2018
Two very short stories make up this issue of the venerable bi-weekly zine: Jonathan Edelstein’s refined “The Examination Cloth”, and Maria Haskins’ memorably grisly “The Root Cellar”. Haskins’ weirder-than-weird tale features a pair of child siblings – older sister/narrator Amadine and baby brother Jeremy – who suffer a gruesome ritual at the hands of their father, who insists he is protecting them from someone much worse. They later discover that he wasn’t kidding. Running on pure nightmare-logic, “The Root Cellar” sneaks under your skin with ghastly imagery and a beautifully sustained atmosphere of creeping menace.
Edelstein’s story is about a man hoping to pass an examination that will see his family’s fortune raised, if he can avoid succumbing to the spells woven into its tapestry. It’s a sturdy, well written tale.
Analog May June 2018Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May/June 2018
Not among the best issues of Analog by any stretch, but there are a few better than average stories:
Christopher L. Bennett has two previous stories set in the same universe as his new novelette, “Hubpoint of No Return”, but it is not necessary to have read them first to get up to speed. David is a researcher on the Hub Network, which facilitates travel and communication among thousands of inhabited worlds. When his “aquatic biocomputer” is stolen by the cat-like freighter captain Tsshar, he sets off on an odyssey to retrieve it. The Hub is a lively and colorful setting, and the characters are likeable and engaging. All the characters are likeable, which is part of the problem. There is no serious conflict, nor any real sense that the obstacles in David’s path are too great to overcome. The story moves so quickly, and the prose is so snappy and fun, that you probably won’t notice until it’s over that you didn’t once break a sweat. An amusing diversion, but hardly one that sticks around after the end.
The three writers I was most excited about when I first scanned the TOC all delivered pretty good stories that disappointed by failing to be great:
Marissa Lingen’s “Finding their Footing” follows recently single mother Anke and her children, trying to have a little adventure by visiting the Neptunian moon Triton before they settle down on the Jovian moon Callisto, where they will begin their new lives. Anke can barely afford the trip as it is, and when a complication arises she has to choose between abandoning their vacation plans or sacrificing a comfortable life when they reach their new home. Sifting through Anke’s past – the loss of the children’s father and their subsequent abandonment by the “family” they all belonged to, provides a strong emotional core for the story. Lingen’s worldbuilding skills are also commendable: the story’s solar system-wide society is well-furnished with fascinating culture, technology, and economics. My issue with the story – and it’s a big one – is that Anke’s dilemma is resolved too quickly and with relative ease, and the solution was obvious from the start.
Robert Reed’s “Two Point Oh” has a devilish little premise – aliens have recently crash-landed on Earth, and require human help to build a new craft to leave in. One of the 43 enterprises working on the project is having trouble getting the results they want, so they hire a mob boss with legendary “motivational” skills to help get things up to speed. Delivered with the author’s typical cunning and adroitness, it also moves a little to slowly and doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its setup. I felt much the same way about Sam J. Miller’s “My Base Pair”, which has a jealousy-inducing story idea readymade for an episode of Black Mirror – depicting a future where gene-hacked DNA can help you produce celebrity lookalike offspring – but the story, about a freelance writer investigating underground fight rings, doesn’t cover much of the ground that makes the idea such an enticing one.
GigaNotoSaurus, May 1, 2018
John the Human and Colophinanoc the Kinri are marooned on a distant planet. Rescue is coming, but it’s going to be awhile – years in fact – and for John, survival means more than just having enough to eat: he needs a friend. Unfortunately, the Kinri are a fundamentally solitary race, who can’t comprehend humans’ obsession with socializing. Adrian Simmons’ funny, lyrical, heartfelt (and heartbreaking) novelette “The Wait is Longer Than You Think” is the kind of story where the characters figure out how to do everything right, but it still goes wrong because the universe is a shitty and unforgiving place. Far from cynical or pessimistic, though, it evinces a healthy stoicism about the fate of its heroes, and revels in the small victories that make life worth the effort.

Must Read –
“The Wait is Longer Than You Think” by Adrian Simmons

Highly Regarded –
“The Root Cellar” by Maria Haskins
“Blessings” by Naomi Novik

Also Recommended –
“When the Rains Come Back” by Cadwell Turnbull

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