Under ceaseless skies 10/21, 11/4, 11/18/21
Science Fiction Compendium of the Future 9/21
Speed of light 12/21
chris willrich return to the pages of Under ceaseless skies at number 341 with “A murder of ravens”, a new story about Shadowdrop the cat. This long story takes the town of Shadowdrop into an election period, with all sorts of mischief being perpetrated, some of which require our feline hero to team up with creatures as diverse as humans from various lands, wizards, birds, and even a dog. This is a fun adventure with some Pratchett-esque commentary on politics. Willrich’s story is paired with “The last days of summer in the City of Olives” for Filip Hajdar Drnovsek Zorko. Luzetia is a teacher and a surgeon, but she is also a long way from her home, where she was the twin sister of a queen who has since become tyrannical. A duke from her home country comes to ask her to lead a rebellion against her sister, and she must find some way to refuse without turning a blind eye to the plight of her people and the growing refugee situation. her. The solution she finds with a colleague is elegant.
In the next number, #342, I especially liked it “the black rainbow” for Denzel Xavier Scott. The narrator grew up in an orphanage where she posed as a strange Nexian girl, but it turns out she’s something very different. We meet her running away from the orphanage after draining the life force from everyone there, even though she loved them, and setting it on fire. We learn about her birth and how she ended up at this point, but can she resolve her conflicted nature? Eloquent monsters are the best. Then in number 343 we have “Deep in the gardener’s mound” for Tobi Ogundiran. Iná runs through the forest with her little brother to escape the raiders who came to her village after her mother left them. But the forest itself is drawing her in for her own ends, something possibly related to the absence of her mother. This forest has very different motivations than some of the more Anthropocene-focused fantasies I’ve read lately.
SF Future Compendium released its 12th issue, continuing to draw our attention to international voices. Each of the stories here has a solid core and a charming countenance. “The madness of the old” for Nora Schinner centers on a cantankerous old woman, Setti, in chronic pain in a post-climate catastrophe future. She finds a disk with a still-functional load of personality from the days before the flood, named Jasmin. Despite being a digital ghost, Jasmin encourages Setti to have a kinder mindset. Setti’s irascible voice anchors the story. “When a sleeping seed blooms” for Alexandra Seidel is another sci-fi ghost story, featuring a lone archaeologist exploring catacombs on an abandoned planet. Often working at the limit of his life support, he is excavating an exquisite fresco when he comes across a shadowy but friendly figure who seems to guide her to a new chamber. The secrets they contain may reveal the untold history of the fall of an ancient empire, but ghostly tombs aren’t always benign.
Jane Espenson from buffy the vampire slayer fame (along with many, many more television credits) has a rare stand-alone story in this number,”Draft of Paul Winterhoeven’s Nobel Prize speech, with personal notes”. The titular inventor is convinced that his pain is exceptionally horrible and that if others could feel the depth of his agony, they would all understand why he is so tortured. He develops a pain gun to inject his pain into others, but his then-girlfriend and nurse, Belinda, uses it to allow for better empathy in medical practice, when doctors can actually feel their patients’ pain, they can short-circuit the all-too-common responses of “it’s not that bad” and “it’s all in their head” and find effective treatments much faster. Meanwhile, Paul’s use of the gun reveals to everyone but himself that his pain isn’t much worse than anyone else’s, and his draft Nobel Prize speech, never to be delivered, plumbs the depths of his heart. bitterness about it. Even filtered through a decidedly misanthropic narrator, what would a world of true empathy look like? This story has a great voice and is just the right length for the concept. Oleg Divov‘s “When the Mujna begins” (translated by Alex Shvartsman) has an absurd concept as each Russian is offered a remote control that will allow them to vote for or against the “mujna”. Debates rage, though no one seems to know what the mujna is or even how remote controls might work. While I usually don’t agree with stories that end on a turning point, in this one, the moment leading up is really the point.
In the December issue of Speed of light my favorite science fiction story isTop ten things to see before the world burns” for Aimee Ogden. I like listicle stories, and this one does a better than average job of lighting up a character. Mer is visiting Earth before it becomes completely uninhabitable, something she can relate to as the habitat survivor of the failed asteroid Euphrosyne. She’s in a liminal, transitional state, and through the touristy introductions to each panel we also get a condensed story of what the Earth has been through up to this point. It’s a story that deftly does several things in a compact format. On the side of fantasywriting to you” for Sharang Biswas it also has a character going through a time of change and pain, in this case because the narrator and his companion Achmat are mourning the loss of the other companion of their triad. In this lyrical flash piece, they reflect on the stages they go through to preserve the body of her lover in a book of her life, a beautiful macabre image. On a lighter note carrie vaughn leads us “Tangles or how I couldn’t knit a sweater for my boyfriend”. Here the narrator is a weaver woman dating a literal angel. She sets out to knit him a sweater, trying to account for her wings, but the project goes awry more than usual, putting other Earth Angels out of the woodwork. The frustrations and insecurities of both knitting and relationships play out in this rather charming tale.
In November Sarah Pinsker has a strangely sweet story in Tor.com“A better way to say”. Set in the early 20th century in a Jewish neighborhood in New York, the narrator is a young man who was hired to shout the lines of silent films to an audience that is mostly unable to read the English title cards. As he says these things over and over again, he is thinking of ways he could improve them, and that eventually leads him to attempt a career in journalism. He gets a big break when Douglas Fairbanks comes to town to promote the Robin Hood movie, but it looks like an archery stunt could go terribly wrong. There’s just a little touch of magic here, a little push in a modest life that makes at least one thing better in the world. This might be the least dramatic secret story I’ve ever read, but that makes it all the more satisfying.
“Draft of Paul Winterhoeven’s Nobel Prize Speech, with Personal Notes”, Jane Espenson (SF Future Compendium 9/21)
“The Top Ten Things To See Before The World Burns”, Aimee Ogden (Speed of light 12/21)
“A better way to say”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com 10/11/21)
This review and others like it in the January 2022 issue of Place.
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