Reviews: New & Noteworthy Short Genre Fiction: July-August 2015

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by Gillian Daniels

clarkesworld-june2015-300wForestspirit, Forestspirit” by Bogi Takács (Published June 2015) Clarkesworld

Shaped as a children’s story but filled out with nano-tech, this fable’s science is so fluid it’s magic. Its main character was once a soldier with a singular conscious but is now a “post-human” who lives in a forest for many years before befriending a boy, Péter. Together, they struggle to save their home from the Consentience, a rogue network intelligence similar to the narrator in form if not personality. A very well-crafted piece of science fantasy with descriptions of the woods that would be at home in a tale from Hans Christian Anderson. Péter certainly thinks he’s a part of one, all too eager to name his new friend, “Gabi.”

Our main character is more hesitant.

What compelled me about this story is Gabi’s changing conception of self and community. There are others who have undergone similar transformations since an ominous war took place, suggesting a number of soldiers who submitted to experimentation generations ago. The other neural networks, however, have jetted off into space with the rest of humanity and have “reorganized their minds to an extent that even I find somewhat intimidating.” Gabi is far more at home in the forest, retaining a unique identity and physiology that mutates into breezes and animals, a sort of nature god. Our main character is solitary but not lonely. Still, Péter and his uncle, “the man of green,” may have more in common with Gabi than one would assume.

Lightspeed_61_June_2015-300wEmergency Repair by Kate M. Galey (Published June 2015) Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue!

A self-described “mad scientist” struggles to save her longterm partner, a surgeon. Slowly, a compelling portrait of devotion and remorse emerges. Our narrator feels guilty for the decisions she’s made that have changed the landscape of her world, a brand of apocalypse reminiscent of the Terminator films or the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron, where weaponized androids have decided to take over civilization. The trope is well-worn enough that it feels more like a natural disaster within the scope of science fiction. It sets the stage, however, for the super science main character to fight for the person she really cares about, who, in light of recent events, still loves her without hesitance or fear. Hopefully, this will remain the case when (or, perhaps, if) she wakes up in the body our narrator is working on.

This is a love story colored by despair but framed by a dry instruction manual. The technical details often mitigate the sentimentality of the piece and contrast nicely with our heroine’s distress. This is not, it appears, someone used to feeling desperate and alone. She did not crumble in the face of ruining her reputation or violating any laws, but here? Here, for her, there are real stakes and true vulnerability.

Daily Science FictionYours, Not Mine by Hamilton Perez (Published June 2015) Daily Science Fiction.

I’ve been on a domestic horror kick, recently, as there seems to be no end of terrifying perils in the domestic sphere. I was waiting to find something like this. It’s a story of anxiety about motherhood and a marriage changed by a new member to a couple’s home. The piece’s mood swerves between creepy-cute and gruesome, coming out the other side with something that feels just right.

The main character and her husband, Charles, are blessed (so to speak) with a newborn, Joshua. Soon, they receive a wave of visitations from gift-giving demons. She sees the creatures as “harmless enough” and politely accepts their attempts to celebrate the birth of their child: “We received everything from cat skull baby-rattles with the eyes and brain still inside, to crocodile intestines tied into an almost beautiful, demonic design (it was intended to be hung over the fireplace).” Charles is less than happy about the prospect of raising the anti-Christ. As the title suggests, he has some doubts regarding where the baby has come from. It’s Rosemary’s Baby with the twist that Rosemary isn’t as phased about this specific turn of events, letting the demons in with as much annoyance as someone politely answering the door for Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re passionate about their devotion to this child, after all, and so is she.

if-online-logoThe Walking Thing by Marlee Jane Ward (Published June 2015) Interfictions.

Nita is a teenage girl in a small, claustrophobic town infected with an inexplicable plague. She worries about boys liking her and walks around, angry at her mother, a bossy nurse with a punishing schedule. One evening, she comes back from work to describe to Nita how friends and neighbors have begun to come into the hospital, walking without stop. There’s a note of comedy at their circumstances, at least until Nita watches people she’s known all her life get up and become unable to sit back down again. It would be simple if they were possessed or turned into zombies, but no. It’s not that kind of story. They’re perfectly aware of what’s happening and what will eventually happen if they can’t break the pattern they’ve been locked into, confined to the small town that Nita disdains so much.

Interfictions has a talent for finding brilliant absurdism and this is no exception, an example of out-there speculative fiction that plays fast and loose with real-world logic but holds firm to emotional truths. The prose crackles with Nita’s bravery in the face of bizarre circumstances. She’s crass and realistic, even as her rebellious streak wavers, genre-savvy enough to wonder why there’s no one on the television to report on the event and tell her what to do, but inventive enough to find her own way in the fallout. Her town crumbles like a juvenile fantasy gone wrong, a “you’ll-pay-for-this-you’ll-all-pay-for-how-you’ve-treated-me” vengeance that turns the daydreamer into a victim. Certainly, not everyone is pleased to see her unaffected by the eerily specific plague.

Her story is ruthless and, at times, ruthlessly funny, culminating in a pitch-perfect tragicomedy. This is a vital portrait of a girl forced to grow from a young woman with low self-esteem to a caregiver burdened with awful purpose. The result is bleak, unfortunate, and strangely life-affirming. Nita isn’t equipped to save the people around her, but she can save herself.

Gillian Daniels is a writer of prose, poetry, and criticism. After attending the Clarion Science Writing Workshop in 2011, her poems and fiction have been published in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine among others. Her reviews are available at The New England Theatre Geek blog and other venues. She is a transplant from Northeast Ohio and is highly suspicious of her home in the New World, i.e. Boston.

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