lizabethstucker's review

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Digging into my backlot of science fiction magazines. A mixture of verse and stories. I've only reviewed and rated the stories. This particular issue is the 40th Anniversary one! 3.8 out of 5

"" by Will McIntosh
Daniel wants someone to share his life with, to love and be loved by. When he meets Winnie through a dating app, he thinks she could be the one almost immediately. Emily, his former girlfriend and current best friend, is more suspicious, doing a deep dive on who Winnie could be. Which, considering they never meet in person despite Winnie being in Atlanta and Daniel in Athens, not that long a drive, is valid. Starts extremely slowly, assumingly to establish the characters. Not my favorite way as most writers don't do a good job at it. I'm not entirely certain that this is actually science fiction, despite the use of Artificial Intelligence. As to Daniel, I found him to be incredibly childish, blind, immature, and boring. He learned absolutely nothing from his experience. I struggled to complete this novella. 2.5 out of 5

"Number Thirty-Nine Skink" by Suzanne Palmer
It started simply enough, an expedition designed to bring life in balance to an empty planet. Then the humans left suddenly, leaving Mike willingly behind with Kadey whose programming makes the creatures populating the area. When Mike dies of cancer, Kadey continues her work. Until the night something changes. Poor Kadey, struggling with loneliness, possibly incomplete programming, and the knowledge hidden from her regarding why the humans left. Sad, yes, but with a more hopeful ending that is also a beginning. Lovely story, so well written. 4.5 out of 5

"Three Can Keep a Secret..." by Bill Johnson & Gregory Frost
A convoluted tale of assassins, misdirection, love, greed, and con-artistry with an almost noir feel to it. It's almost impossible to give a synopsis that isn't chockful of spoilers. The first person narrator isn't totally reliable, but still intriguing in what he shares. I loved this more than I expected with this strange little story. FYI, in case you don't know, the title is from an old saying.
Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead. 4.5 out of 5

"The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going" by Sarah Pinsker
A child must suffer so the city can be happy, or so they say. One particular child is taken from her mother, locked away in the dark with no social interaction beyond the delivery of food. As time passes, language is lost and memories of a happier time begin to fade. Then one day the door isn't shut tightly and the child gets out of the tiny dark room. She crawls up the stairs, each step bringing back a particular memory, heading for freedom. But at what cost? Rip my heart out, why don't you? Two and a half pages of the most gut-wrenching narrative. The tightly woven writing is painfully descriptive. And the ending! Oh, the ending. I just cannot deal with it. 5 out of 5

"Invasion of the Saucer-Men" by Dale Bailey
Teenagers have been foiling alien invasions for some time. After all, the adults are either locked in their homes consuming television or would dismiss the very idea of aliens. The newest landing of a flying saucer bonds together teens out at the local make-out point. Per the author, his idea was to take the cheesy sci-fi and horror movie titles of the 1950s and treat the core idea with some emotional and thematic nuance. Here we have a group of teen archetypes, from the football star to the nerds to the beauty. There are also the followers that are always found in high school. This brings back memories of too many cheesy nights at the drive-ins in my county. I've always found my sympathies fell with the aliens most of the time, faced with humans whose first response to the unknown was always violence. Horrible ending to this story. Horrible. CW: extremely graphic attack. 3 out of 5

"Kitty Hawk" by Alan Smale
After receiving word of her brother's death, Katharine Wriht travels from Ohio to North Carolina to help her other brother. Instead of Orville preparing to pack up for the trip home with his beloved brother's body, he is trying to continue with the flight experiments that killed Wilbur. Katharine finds herself engaged in helping, even learning to fly herself. This is a complete AU of the Wright Brothers and the birth of flight, through World War I and the suffrage movement. The writing is evocative of the time period and the dangers of experimental flight. I don't know why it didn't click with me, but I struggled quite a bit in reading this imaginative tale. I can see others enjoying this greatly, just not me. 3 out of 5

"Cupido" by Rich Larson
Marcel is a genius at chemistry. He came up with a way to make pheromones specific to the pair he's paid to bring together, either by one of the potential couple or by a third party. The majority of the money he charges goes to pay for his grandmother's colon cancer treatment. As word gets around, he finds himself moving to smaller cities to avoid identification. As yet, what he does isn't illegal. He didn't expect to find himself attracted to his potential mark. Frankly, I don't consider this to be science fiction at all. The science is already viable. Add the consent issues which would be called dubcon (dubious consent) and I'm too busy cringing to enjoy. In my mind, Marcel is anything but a hero. 3 out of 5

"A Singular Event in the Fourth Dimension" by Andrea M. Pawley
Olive was removed from the reducer pile, adopted by a childless couple to help stave off loneliness. Now that the second grandmother is living with them and Mama was pregnant, Olive is worried that she will be sent back to the pile, no longer needed. A loving, imaginative little android who believes in fairy dust, even if the fairies never seem to do anything magical like in the stories. Love doesn't have to be limited to just humans or blood relations. Sweet and touching. 4.5 out of 5

"The Wisdom of the Group" by Ian R. MacLeod
There are theories and studies about group-think, how certain groups can intuit a trend or coming situation without any real knowledge. With the right group, the members could get wealthy or probably save the world, depending on their inclination. Samuel has been part of such a group since brought in by his professor while still in university. Now, years later, Samuel is wealthy, has a liv-in lover, three dogs with unfortunate names, and a gorgeous house in Washington state. But something is wrong, something that seems to be originating from Samuel. The response is usually to cut the wrong out of the group. A complicated basis for a disturbing story. I had to sit on this one for a while in order to determine what I felt about it. Definitely strong writing, could almost be considered psychological horror. I don't know if I would ever say that I liked it, but I recognize the work done and the uniqueness of the story. 3.5 out of 5

"After the Atrocity" by Ian Creasey
Abu Hameed, the terrorist behind the attack that left ten thousand people dead, has also died during interrogation. The solution? A machine that can make exact copies, complete with memories, of an individual. Violet Ruiz, operator and creator of the machine, even made a duplicate of herself in order to work 24/7. As Hameed's copies die during the enhanced interrogation, more copies are needed. Soon Violet II wonders about the ethical implications. Well thought out consideration of just how far a nation is willing to go in search of revenge wrapped in the disguise of intel. Patriot Act, enhanced interrogation the Greater Good, dismantling both Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention, anyone? 4 out of 5

"Goner" by Gregory Norman Bossert
In order to explore space, humans had to be converted from flesh into nanotechnology based creatures. The pilots call themselves Goners. Char's best friend's father is a Goner. Already fascinated with the idea of flying, Char uses a sliver of Pilot Clark to begin changing. While this is complete in itself, the story also begs for more. What is happening to Char? Will he be allowed to live his dreams despite his age? S fascinating a concept. 3.5 out of 5

"We Regret the Error" by Terry Bisson
A series of news corrections from the future. So many corrections, even some corrections of corrections. Taken individually, these are amusing. Pieced together, there is a much deeper story playing out. Oh, and a nice dig at Disney's well-known history of not paying some of their artists for their work. 3 out of 5

"Tao Zero" by Damien Broderick
Teenagers, incredibly smart ones, have unprotected sex after winning $370 million in the Mega Millions lottery. The celebration leads to a child, the narrator, and the money to try to trap the Tao, the Way that cannot be named, inside a machine. I tried, I really tried to read this without success. After rereading the first two pages over and over in an attempt to struggle through, I put the story aside, hoping to pick it back up when refreshed. Didn't work. DNF

useriv's review

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Read so far:
"" by Will McIntosh was OK.

"Three Can Keep a Secret ..." by Bill Johnson and Gregory Frost. I didn't like

"Number Thirty-Nine Skink" by Suzanne Palmer, I don't see the point.
"The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going" by Sarah Pinsker, an awful riff on The ones who walk away.
"Invasion of the Saucer-Men" by Dale Bailey. Tiresome rehash of the american high school lore.

I'm not liking this issue so far.

"Kitty Hawk" by Alan Smale was better, but too many world changes are derived from one little change in history in a final paragraph that almost ruins the story.

"Cupido" by Rich Larson was almost good, but sported mangled spanish and a feel good ending for the protagonist, who was actually a sociopath.

"The Wisdom of the Group" by Ian R. MacLeod, was good writing of an anecdote a bit too simple.

"A Singular Event in the Fourth Dimension" by Andrea M. Pawley. Sometimes hard to parse the sentences, a feel good story. Liked it, would read more about those characters.

"After the Atrocity" by Ian Creasey
Moral dilemmas about coning and war prisoners. Good

"Goner" by Gregory Norman Bossert. Strange, in a good way.

"We Regret the Error" by Terry Bisson. Not sure I like it, a chronicle of the singularity told through a newspaper corrections.
"Tao Zero" by Damien Broderick
is looking good.

Short Stories

standback's review

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New reader and, alas, disappointed by this issue. Some good stories -- but a lot of stories that left me cold, or worse, frustrated and disappointed.

Standout stories:

"Kitty Hawk," by Alan Smale. Uses alternate history to craft a firm, understated character piece.

When Wilbur Wright dies testing the famous flying apparatus, his sister Katherine finds herself stepping into his shoes -- including taking to the skies. The character dynamics are terrific. Fair warning -- this story has little that's SFnal, beyond using familiar historical characters for its premise. But then, that's hardly a flaw.

"After the Atrocity," by Ian Creasy. The inventor of cloning technology is uneasy about the uses to which it's put.

A crunchy SF story which makes very good use of its tropes, playing with several different angles of cloning, swiftly and effectively.

I also enjoyed:

"Number Thirty-Nine Skink," by Suzanne Palmer. Kadey, an abandoned bio-seeding robot, trundles across the planet it was supposed to be exploring and terraforming. I often feel stranded-alone stories can be a little dull, because there's no potential for interacting with anybody. But in this story, Kadey's relationships with those who have abandoned it are so central and vivid, that's no obstacle at all.

(As an aside, the Earth corporation that abandoned Kadey is made out to be bad guys, buuut Kadey's behavior actually justifies 'em pretty well...)

"A Singular Event in the Fourth Dimension," by Andrea M. Pawley. A sweet story with the strong voice. Olive is an adopted robot, rescued from junking, who's about to get a baby sister.


Of the remaining stories, some simply didn't grab me. But a lot of them were outright frustrating.

"," Will McIntosh -- I feel like you shouldn't be able to get away with a story THIS Genre-Blind in a genre magazine. The protagonist is clueless and callous. I spent most of the story wanting to yell at him. Alas, "clueless guy fails to understand the obvious" is pretty much all the story has to offer.
(Also, the relationships here are AWFUL. This is kind of lampshaded and even made a plot point, so... slightly less awful?)

"Three Can Keep A Secret...", Bill Johnson & Gregory Frost -- An SF-nal caper story. These can be lighthearted fun, but this one really creaked for me. The selling points seem to be the protagonist's absolute, in-your-face chutzpah ("I am naked! Can you all see me? I am NAKED!", he yells, and shoves his behind in a security guard's face. This is his method for passing unscrutinized through a strip search), and an endless array of outright magical gadgets -- controllable clones; controlling people's behavior; teleportation -- that nobody else in the world has ever heard of. The result is much less a daring, ingenious heist, and much more a kind of self-congratulating story, with the cards all stacked in the scoundrel's favor.

"Tao Zero," Damien Broderick -- This is one of those stories that feels like it's throwing everything at the wall, hoping something will stick ("I realize that I have left any readers of this brief memoir dangling absurdly between my tesseract adventure, the fall of the Infinite Corridor, the tale of Bandaid my excellent robot dog, and my parents' passage into the Tao..."). Nothing really does.

It starts out promisingly, teasing us with an interesting family dynamic, a structure mirroring the Tao Te Ching, and attempts to tame the mysteries of the Tao.

But this story is long (at 40 pages), and though it insinuiates great mysteries, it's mostly got its protagonists running pointlessly to and fro. For all that the Ways of the Tao are Mysterious, every time it's actually used it seems as straightforward and firmly-controlled as a high-level D&D spell, and with no unexpected results. (Eventually, the Mysteriousness seems more and more like an excuse not to use those spells over and over.) It's also really choppy -- introducing a second protagonist halfway in (why?), a pointless villain in the last few pages. Not recommended.

"We Regret The Error," Terry Bisson -- Frustrating gimmick story. Did NOT work for me.

Written as a compilation of newspaper corrections, it forces you to decode what's going on, via opaque and tangential references. Not a bad thought, but here it's mostly frustrating, and just does a really poor job building up to its punchline.

"The Wisdom of the Group," Ian R. McLeod -- Starts out well, with a lot of intrigue and suspicion, and the compelling idea of using the wisdom of the crowds as a means of prediction.

But then ut slides into a pretty standard "here, have a prophecy" story. Like "Tao Zero," there's a lot of expectations built up for this kind of supernatural to be different in nature than typical uses of the trope -- but then, no, it's actually pretty bog-standard. I enjoyed, but the opening had me hoping for something more unique from the opening.

"Goner," Gregory Norman Bossert -- Iiiinteresting. I didn't really understand the premise of the "pilots" much at all. Strong visuals, though, and the heart of the story is clear even if the details aren't.

I particularly liked the "permission slip" in order to be able to go hear a pilot speak. Gives you a strong sense of how things stand.

"Cupido," Rich Larson -- The idea of this kind of pheromone-expert for hire is intriguing (and terrifying), and Larson gives it some very nice touches. I like that Marcel doesn't feel invulnerable -- the world's legitimately fighting back against the things he and his ilk do.

The actual plot that plays out is pretty meh. But it's serviceable, in order to get across the central idea and character.

"Invasion of the Saucer-Men," Dale Bailey -- An intensely dislikable main character. Turning this story over in my head trying to figure out how much I'm meant to dislike him (at least quite a bit; possibly with the heat of a thousand suns), because other than that, the story is good and engaging.

Maybe part of my problem with this one is how uneven it is. It starts out sounding like a parody -- "Now here's the thing: teenagers had been foiling alien invasions for months by then. There had been a real run on them lately, and who else was going to do it? Adults?" But by the end, it's the tragic story of some horny teenagers who discover what horrors they are capable off. It... doesn't match. At all. The protagonist of the first half might be a lovable goof, whereas the second half's protagonist is a monster.

The focus on sex and hormones is... realistic and almost lovable, in some ways. Kind of cheap, in others. The story is kind of mocking it, but also definitely using it to titillate the reader and draw them in.

"The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going," Sarah Pinsker -- A twist on Le Guin's classic "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," with the sacrificial boy as POV.

I'm a big fan of Pinsker's, but in this piece, I feel like she sidesteps most of what makes Omelas resonant, powerful, aching. Pinsker here presents something that feels like the opposite of the utilitarianism Omelas skewers -- putting on a pedestal the suffering of one individual; valorizing it, making it the most important thing in the world. To me, that seems just as warped as Omelas - but the story seems fully behind the premise.

I guess this piece feels to me more like a riff on Omelas, than actually being in any kind of dialogue with it. A reference, not a continuation. That's... not such a bad thing! But Omelas is a hell of a story, and I feel this piece demands a sort of comparison, which it doesn't stand very well.


Lastly, kudos to Peter Heck, whose book review column was very enticing! He really got right to the heart of each book right away -- succinctly describing what makes each book intriguing. My TBR list continues to grow...