The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2015

fsf150304Stories this month from Bao Shu, Alice Sola Kim, Paul M. Berger, Jay O’Connell, Charlotte Ashley Brian Dolton, Nik Constantine, Sadie Bruce, Jonathan L. Howard, Jenn Reese, Kat Howard, Henry Lien. Reviews underway.

Jay O’Connell. Things Worth Knowing.

Another dark, near-future story form O’Connell.

Here he looks at public schooling (not to give away too much, but teachers are in short supply and it’s all done online, and the school caretaker is armed), and recruitment practices from the MegaCorps. They’re not backward in coming forward in recruiting talent from school….

For my taste O’Connell takes it just a little too far to be a truly satisfying story.

Charlotte Ashley. La Heron.

“A Dumas-inspired tale of swordplay and camaraderie.”

Brian Dolton. This Is the Way the Universe Ends : With a Bang.

As the title suggests, a story set very, very far in the future.

It is the end days of our universe, with less than a hundred intelligences alive, and their are factions with differing views as to what may happen to the universe, and themselves. We follow the intelligence/AI Titus, who is attacked by another, as Titus attempts to unravel what is happening.

The story engages the reader throughout. Dolton’s a writer new to me, and this first encounter bodes well for the future.

Bao Shu. What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear.

Well, where to start? Firstly, stop reading this page and try to read the story, to get full impact from the story.

Every so often (not as often as I would like) I read a story that I really, really like, and which, when I finish reading it, am really, really pleased to have read it, and know that it will stick in the mind for quite some time. This is one such.

The story is translated by Ken Liu so props to him for that.

OK so the story isn’t science fiction. It’s speculative fiction. It could be classified as Alternate History, but that would be doing a dis-service. Firstly, it’s a story about a man who is introduced to us as a child and who we follow through to old age (but wonderfully, circle of life wise, we are returned to the beginning when we reach the end).

It’s a love story, and that is handled skilfully and as a complex thing.

The premise of the story draws on philosophy, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who actually appears in the story. And the really, really clever thing is that the story has a delightful premise – it runs real historical events and personalities in reverse order, to ask some fundamental questions. So the starting point is a China where it is now – lots of technology, industry, a successful host of the Olympics (birds nest stadium). We follow Xie Baosheng from this point over decades as events happen in the reverse order, with world leaders and nations carrying out actions that see the USSR created, then Germany split in two, then the Cultural Revolution, then the Korean War, then the Second World War (only it’s the first world war due to the direction they’re heading).

There’s some clever stuff you will definitely miss (some in-jokes for the Chinese SFF community) and some other great ones – Star Wars I-III are made first, when the CGI technology is available, but over the decades as China loses the technology, episodes IV-VI come out, but the lack of CGI makes them a poor trio of films.

This is a story that I’m adding to the short list for the Best SF Short Story Award 2015. You could read this interview with Ken Liu about the story, but read the story first.

Nik Constantine. Last Transaction.

A first published story by Constantine, who has a tech background, and he sticks with what he knows to get this story right. The narrative is presented in the form a log of computer program actions, observations and communications with the unnamed/unseen protagonist. There are several computer programs throughout, starting up, gathering data, making transactions and the reader (I’ve a suspicion some readers may not like the format) is able to piece together what is happening in what becomes (not an easy thing) a thriller.

Jenn Reese. How to Masquerade as a Human Before the Invasion.

Less than two-pages on, erm, how to masquerade as a human before the invasion.

Quite a bit of ‘poetry’ appears in SF magazines that I, when the fancy takes me, complain could be simply turned into prose by removing the line breaks and turning the narrow columns into paragraphs. The story feels a little like that process has been carried out on a longer poem. It’s ok as far as it goes, but it doesn’t boldly go anywhere that hasn’t been gone before.

Alice Sola Kim. A Residence for Friendless Ladies.
A disturbing story of a young woman, thwarted in her desires to be a man, who is admitted to the titular establishment. There are knocks on doors to be avoided, a curfew to be followed, and it’s bizarre and unsettling. Best not to rock the boat…

Paul M. Berger. The Mantis Tattoo.

A trickster tale with a difference.

Out on the savannah Nudur is hunting, and finally makes a kill, only to find that the beast he has killed speaks to him in the voice of The Mantis.

We find that Nudur and his people see themselves as Human Beings, with The Fathers having left them and headed North generations ago. And Nudur is tasked to head North to meet the returning Fathers. It’s a challenge for Nudur – and he believes Mantis has deserted him, as he finds the reunion with the returning forefathers is not what he might have hoped, and that there has been some divergence from the baseline norm.

Kat Howard. A User’s Guide to Increments of Time.

The course of true love does not run smoothly for this pair of chronomancers. Or, to be clearer, they take their time over their love, and that of others, and that is too high a price to pay.

We follow the closing of their relationship, and the increasing animosity between them as they each user their own magic to steal time from each other – a little at a time, until the stakes get higher..

Henry Lien. Bilingual.

Bookended by two emails, a twitter stream transcript tells the story of @DolphinMemeGirl who takes on the treatment of captive dolphins, as SETI/cetaceans and mobile technology come together.

Conclusion

An especially strong issue.

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