Mario Milosevic. The Untied States of America.
A simple transposition of two letters in the name of a country underpins the story. The United States are no longer united – literally. Supplied by some unknown agency, and with unknown powers, pellets delivered to the population of the USA with instructions to place them on state lines have resulted in the states being separated down to a tectonic level.
Cut adrift, the states are at the mercy of the tides and the winds, and for the most part the inhabitants of each states are mutually happy to see their previously neighbouring states moving away from them. A mother who lost her son many years ago, when he chose to brave the oceans and seek to find whatever other distant states had on offer, has those scars re-opened when a visitor arrives on the beach below her watch-station.
The story effectively deals with isolsation/ism, the need to find out what is beyond the next hill in comparison to those for whom the grass is always greener on the current side of the valley, and loss.
Melissa Yuan-Innes. Iron Monk.
An altogether darker take on space exploration than is the norm. It’s a claustrophobic story set on a Chinese space mission to respond to an alien message received from our solar system. No noble heroes here, but ‘volunteers’ who have been sent up after a number of previously failed missions by their political masters, both governmental and corporation.
The odds are stacked against them when their radiation shielding fails, and with concern over who might be the spy amongst them, and radiactive poisoining taking effect, rescuing the mission and, indeed decided what the mission is to be, is the order of the day.
David D. Levine. A Passion for Art.
Strange things are happening at the Art Institute in Chicago, and a down-on-his-luck security expert is brought in to solve the mysterious disappearance of objet d’arts.
Whilst he’s down on his luck, his luck with him in brushing past the felon, and he is able to identify the offender by dint of very good security cameras. What the cameras reveal is amazing …. the art thief approaches the artworks, which then come alive, and walk out with her (all of which is pretty much taken in stride by everyone concerned).
Obsessed with the crime and the criminal, the investigator follows her to her garret, where she breaks down in front of him, recognising a kindred spirit, as the story comes to a rapid conclusion.
Jason Sanford. Plague Birds.
Humanity has paid the price for genetic modification, with AIs taking control and trying to sort out the mess we have created. With cities in ruins, the population has splintered and dwindled, with villages with their own AIs attempting to undo the genmod which has created human/animal hybrids; and roving AIs taking control of humans, the red Plague Birds that patrol the countryside, dispensing summary justice.
The story follows a young woman, a recent victim of a lupine-urged attack on her by her boyfriend. When the Plague Bird arrives, that crime, and the actions of the local nomadic hunters, have to be addressed.
It’s a clever backdrop to a story, and Sanford evidently notes his interest in the primary character, so more may be forthcoming.
Jon Ingold. Over Water.
A story told through a strong narrative voice – an elder who has travelled far, and speaks several languages, relates events in his youth that led him to leave his island and to become the man who he is now.
Those events involve the relative peace of his island, and island of fishermen, being shattered when relations with their neighbouring island reach a climax. The young boy lives with his parents, and grandfather, and Ingold creates a community, a sense of family history, a regional conflict against a bigger picture quite subtly. The only minor quibble would be his use of Hawnish as a language, with Hainish being a term well known to those who know their SF.
The story benefits from the bookending contributions from the main character, rather than being a straightforward narrative, giving a strong sense of events before and after those in the story.
An excellent issue, with Ingold and Sanford being my picks of the issue..