Nick Wolven. No placeholder for you, my love.
An intriguing love story from Wolven, set in an online virtual reality world, where Claire is looking for Mr. Right. She thinks she has found him, but getting the Happy Ever After ending isn’t as simple as it might be. Was it not ever thus.
Kelly Robson. Two Year-Man.
Sitting down to write this review, the word ‘unsettling’ sprang to mind as the adjective best describing this story, and then a little connection was made in the cranial matter and I check for any previous stories by Robson, and found that in her only previous story of hers that I have read, the adjective of choice was ‘challenging’. So, good to see a new writer with the writerly cojones to push the envelope in their writing.
Robson doesn’t explain much, if anything. She sets up a near future society which is strictly delineated by what is in effect a caste system, and the protagonist is low down the societal ladder, being merely a ‘two-year man’. His janitorial job doesn’t have any prospects, but a few perks now and then, and the story, which reminded me of David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ a little in tone, looks at what happens when he smuggles something back home to his partner. Normally it’s a half-eaten sandwhich or the like left over from lunch by a higher status employee in the office block he looks after, but this time…..
(Well, if you must know and don’t mind a spoilder, it’s a ‘baby’ he rescues from the basement, one destined for the incinerator, and his wife isn’t best pleased with this, especially as it’s not entirely human….
Paul McAuley. Wild Honey.
A post-Collapse setting, but an unlikely one, with a bee keeper the main protagonist. But she’s not an ordinary apiarist, and they’re not ordinary bees…
Into the dusty outback where Mel lives under the termite hill-like beehives she tends, with bees of various tweaked types, who are networked, comes trouble, with a capital T. (I really should have said Trouble, with a capital T I suppose).
The Bad Guys are after the medicines she makes from the honey, and the honey beer she brews, and you just know, as she does, that there isn’t going to be a happy ending. So it’s down to her to draw on her own resources against great odds. She’s old, and feeling the draw of the ground where her predecessor bee-keepers are buried, and is looking for someone to take on her mantle, and there’s a young girl kept prisoner by the gang who appears to fit the bill.
There’s a neat denouement, which fills in some detail, and, appropriately, there’s a little bee sting at the end of the reader.
Karl Bunker. Caisson
Bunker takes up back in time to the 1870s, and the building of The Brooklyn Bridge. A Polish immigrant leaps at the chance to work on the building of the foundations, which involves digging in a ‘caisson’, a watertight, pressurised structure in which the digging is done underwater.
This is not a job without its risks, but the rewards, in terms of the daily pay rate, are high. However, deep in the mud in which they are digging, his colleague and fellow emigre, finds something very interesting….
Bunker doesn’t give the reader a glimpse of what is found, and raised, merely a suggestion, then a comment from a young child at the end of the story…
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The First Step.
It appears that KKR has been concentrating on novels of late, but this is the first of doubtless many now that she has turned her gaze, and fingers to the shorter form.
It’s a short story, with a simple premise – an elderly scientist is pressing hard to complete work on his time machine. He has a very personal reason for wanting it to work, and has a very specific destination, and time, in mind. Nice enough, as far as it goes.
Will McIntosh. A Thousand Nights Till Morning.
McIntosh closes the issue with a very strong story.
Once again a minor irritation with editor Sheila Williams as her introduction tells us what the story is about : “..the consequences for what’s left of humanity after a brutal alien invasion”. Granted McIntosh makes that quite clear fairly early on, but I’d prefer to let the author set the scene, not the editorial introduction.
And McIntosh sets the scene very well indeed, putting the reader deep inside the story immediately, with protagonist Aiden being given the task of explaining to those on a colony on Mars that they might be all that’s left of humanity after the aforementioned brutal alien invasion of Earth.
One of the strong points of the story is that Aiden is far from the usual heroic protagonist. He has a number of issues he is working through, some personality issues, and it’s a huge struggle for him to take on the various roles he has to play throughout the story. When he comes face to face with the aliens he has a bodily reaction that is entirely understandable, but rarely happens in SF. And part of the story arc is him heading back to Earth to find and rescue his relatives. (That doesn’t end well).
All in all, the story avoids standard tropes, is a bit bleak at times, but far away from, say, the ‘War of the Worlds’ with Tom Cruse, where he, his son, and cute daughter all survive against the odds and things are going to get back to normal fairly quickly. McIntosh ends with a future that is going to be anything but was has been the norm in the past.
I’m going to put the story on the shortlist for the Best SF Short Story Award 2015.
A strong issue with lots of stories to like. FWIW I read most of the issue travelling to and from Wembley Stadium to watch the Buffalo Bills v Jacksonville Jaguars match. Almost 30yrs since I started supporting the Bills, and I finally get to see them live!