cetian's review

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It was through N. K. Jemisin that I knew about Paul M. Berger, after her mentioning his name in a blog post. I believe they are in the same writting group. "The Mantis Tattoo" was first published in "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" and more recently the author asked and was granted permission to offer the download for free. Here is the PDF: http://www.paulmberger.com/2016/02/14/heres-the-mantis-tattoo and it's worth reading. It would be great if it was re-published and we could actually pay the author too.

The story envolves early humans. The writting is clean and the way myth is presented is quite striking. The characters' speech is very believable and they seem to be in the stage Malinowski wrote about, where we humans believed we can directly interefer with nature, spirits, the world. Now, we use the term "magical thinking" in a pejorative way. But that's it, a spirituality where there is no separation between human and physical reality nor between those and the spiritual realm. The narrative is well built, influenced by trickster stories. I hope that Berger is able to publish more of his work.

morgandhu's review

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Short fiction

I read this primarily for Bao Shu's contribution, but ended up enjoying most of the other pieces as well.

Bao Shu's speculative novella What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear seems at first to be a straight-forward non-genre story about a young boy in modern-day China - excerpt of course, for that thing about him being born on the day the world was supposed to end, but obviously it didn't. You read on, thinking that's going to become the sfnal bit, but it isn't really mentioned again, and the boy just keeps growing older and having perfectly normal boychild experiences.

Then things get a bit confusing, and you start wondering just when he is supposed to have bern born - you try to remember in what year the Beijing Olympics took place, and when the Arab Spring happened in relation to that, and you wonder if maybe your memory has faded or if maybe the author got something a bit wrong. Then you decide that no, your memory of current events can't be that bad, and that no author is going to screw up that many references, so you decide that this is some kind of alternate history story, in which things happened in a different way than in our own world.

And then you notice the pattern. And you remember that Xie Baosheng was four when the Olympics were in Beijing, and that there was a four-year gap between those Olympics and the day the Mayan Long Cycle calendar ran out in in 2012. And that's when it hits you.

What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear isn't just a moving story about a man, the woman he loves all his life, and how he is shaped and his life is directed by the times he lives in. It's also a meditation on time and history - how we perceive then, how we understand them, how we try to create meaning and causality out of the passing of time and events. It is profoundly human, and profoundly philosophical, all at once.

And kudos as well to Ken Liu, whose translation of this and other Chinese works of science fiction is making the global conversation of ideas wider and richer.

Other pieces:

"A Residence for Friendless Ladies," Alice Sola
Kim - In this atmospheric novelette, a young trans man is forced to live as a woman when he is sent to stay with his grandmother, who runs an eerie and forbidding home for women - part hostel, part finishing school, part prison - who don't quite fit into society's roles. An unflinching look at identity denied and the courage needed to open closed doors.

"The Mantis Tattoo," Paul M. Berger - A trickster story in an African-inspired setting. Mantis the trickster chooses a young man to serve him, and sends him on his first mission - to save his people from the return of their historical enemies.

"Things Worth Knowing," Jay O'Connell - A highly dystopic look at the direction of privatised education and corporate recruitment.

"La Héron," Charlotte Ashley - A mysterious swordswoman registers for the Black Bouts of Caen - a tournament of duellists that draws contestants from as distant a place as the lands of faerie.

"This Is the Way the Universe Ends: With a Bang," Brian Dolton - An interesting take on the death and rebirth of the universe, with a rather unusual and determined heroine.

"Last Transaction," Nik Constantine - structured as a sequence of computer communications to a future citizen of a highly automated society, you think you know where this will end up... But you'd be wrong.

"Little Girls in Bone Museums," Sadie Bruce - a disturbing piece about the ways that women have distorted and tortured their bodies to adhere to male standards of beauty, accepted objectification in the place of respect, and convinced themselves that this will make them happy.

"A Small Diversion on the Road to Hell," Jonathan L. Howard - Sooner or later, bartenders see everything. This is a delightfully whimsical story about a day in the life of bartender in a place called Helix, and the twisty temporal paradoxes his time-travelling customers have been getting into.

"How to Masquerade As a Human before the Invasion," Jenn Reese - a short short story about passing for human. Its advice will be shockingly familiar to those of us who never quite fit in

"A Users Guide to Increments of Time," Kat Howard - two sorcerers whose magic can steal time become lovers , but cannot help stealing time - first to have more time together, and later, once love has altered, to destroy each other.

"Bilingual," Henry Lien - a young girl sets out to find a way to communicate with dolphins in the wild about threats from human hunters. Told almost entirely via Tweets.

standback's review

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A truly stand-out issue.

Any issue of a magazine is naturally a grab-bag, and some stories are better than others, and every reader will have his own favorites. But this issue has a rare confluence of fantastic stories, of all kinds of different types, which will delight lovers of excellent short fiction - particularly those who delight in variety.

The jewel in the crown is "What Has Passed Shall In Kinder Light Appear," by Bao Shu (translated by Ken Liu); one of my favorite stories I've read all year. It has a brilliant speculative premise -- a twist on alternate-history that I won't spoil here, because it's fresh and original and it creeps up on you gradually. And that premise is married to a touching personal story of love and loss, a tour through the the history of China and the world entire, and a powerful theme about the narratives we construct around our lives. A stunning story.

But the issue has many other excellent pieces, including:

"La Héron," by Charlotte Ashley - A fantasy adventure story, where a mysterious warrior faces a tournament of duels against tricksy fairy knights.

"This Is the Way the Universe Ends: with a Bang," by Brian Dolton - At the end of time, the universe's few remaining residents are a motley assortment of bizarre super-intelligent beings - each with its own nature, and each with its own approach to the impending heat-death of the universe. Some of those approaches are more amiable than others. A story that manages to be both bizarre, and very fun.

"Little Girls In Bone Museums," by Sadie Bruce - A story of dark beauty and the capacity for mutilation, reminiscent of Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Fluted Girl."

"How to Masquerade as a Human Before the Invasion," by Jenn Reese - A sardonic little two-page piece that does just what it says on the tin.

"A Residence for Friendless Ladies," by Alice Sola Kim - A lovely story that manages to be melancholy and sassy at the same time. It's a story of being boxed away where you don't belong, and how doing that creates places nobody could belong to at all.

This also happens to be the issue where Gordon Van Gelder passes the editorial torch to Charles Coleman Finlay, so along with all the other great stuff, you get a couple of sweet essays celebrating the magazine and all stands for. Truly, an excellent issue to get your hands on :)