I have yet to receive my July/August issue of F&SF. No fault of theirs I’m sure. The mail system remains in a state of blissful fuckery since the events of over a year ago. Stuff keeps getting lost. If you’re buying for Christmas, buy soon, because you may not get it until next summer.
Speaking of F&SF magazine, I love you all, but would you please consider revamping your website? It’s a bit old and tired looking. You could be doing so much better. The home page still has an image of the November/December, 2020, cover as if it’s current. The page formatting is wonky, and it’s hard to find things (like where “submissions” is located; under “writer’s guidelines” of course, but that’s not obvious at first blush).
If you need or want some help, drop me a line. I’ll try and sell you on a WordPress setup that would serve you well and can easily be changed.
Haunted Hills Community and Country Club, by Lincoln Michel – I love a good, well-crafted, darkly comedic story like this one. It’s a solid start to the issue. Ingrid wants a job, and real estate seems a great career choice. But the homes in Haunted Hills Community are special. They are all sites of grisly murders or terrifying hauntings, relocated to one place. It’s macabre and delicious, and I love the way the story unspools from her reluctance at first, to her full acceptance, to her falling in love with her career and her life, to the crash landing of an ending built upon the horror of capitalism itself. Sometimes, you should listen to the voices and “GET OUT!”
The Scorpion and the Syrinx, by Brian Trent – This story has some fascinating bones. It rests on the junction of colonization and culture, using a foundation of ancient Rome to build it’s narrative upon. Facing the colonizing Roman legions are the native Azteca, suggesting in this world at least, Rome has spread across the globe. There’s also some really interesting ideas of magic and how it’s used in different ways by both sides of the conflict. Ultimately, though, I felt the story never interrogated deeply enough how stolen children are expected to assimilate by their oppressors, and it turned on one such child doing terrible things to return to her lost home, which ultimately felt hollow to me, a reminder that “winners” always tell us how terrible the “losers” were (see: the entire history of western colonization of any place ever).
Ice Fishing on Europa, by Erin Barbeau – I fell deeply for this one, as much because the protagonist felt a little like “me” as for the gorgeous writing. The sense of isolation and abandonment brings a strong horror vibe to this science fiction outing, but the story itself turns on respect and understanding of another, despite initial fear and loathing. There’s just so much to love here, from the main character’s understanding of their own self-care regime and how to moderate their own failings, too the all-too-often reality of corporate dystopia that casts away people as the cost of business, to friendship that transcends any boundaries and barriers, to finding your place in this great, enormous, often far too cold universe. Lovely damned story.
The Forlorn, by Matthew Hughes – I really quite dug the mythos behind the story here, the world building about gods and their power. Equally the types of magic on display. We get a sort of detective story, one where the main character must practice magic forbidden to them, and which turns on its heel to deal with memory and forgetfulness and the power of worship. In the end, though, our protagonist really learns that attracting the attention of gods can be a thing you don’t really desire. But hopefully another story in this ongoing series will show the results of that.
Seedling, by Octavia Cade – This story is a riff on Hansel and Gretel, and it’s dark and macabre and beautifully written. It takes that well traveled series of bread crumbs, and follows them far deeper into its dark forest, a world of starvation and pain. I found myself deeply discomforted, having been impoverished as a child and familiar with the pangs of hunger. Ultimately, the ending reveals an ongoing cycle of brutality and famine, and I deeply loved that the author didn’t let us have a happily ever after here. Poverty, lack of access to food, are indeed cycles that tend to repeat from generation to generation. Super short, super good story.
The Abomination, by Nuzo Onoh – Oh my. This novella is… so much. So beautiful, so profound, so filled with a deep respect and understand of how we view our bodies, how others view them, how we misgender, classify, label, vilify, and shun those who are not born the way that meets our preferred sense of rightness. The author sets up a classic opportunity for a revenge tale, but it is not revenge as we would expect, but revenge granted without regard for what our protagonist – the abomination of the title, who is anything but – would wish for. The really interesting choice here was to start with the abomination’s sister’s viewpoint, then leap back to it from time to time. Its revealing and painful to hear the ugly internal thoughts of her sister contrasted with the main character’s absolute desire and longing to be accepted by the family that abandoned her, a family she still loves and wishes to be part of. Highly recommend you read this, it should go on the list next year for best novella.
To the Honorable and Esteemed Monsters Under My Bed, by E. A. Bourland – After the hard, long novella above, we get this charming story of a dialogue between a boy and the monsters under his bed in a series of letters they exchange. It’s so delightful and full of whimsy, with great character voices on either side of the dialogue. A definitely palate cleanser after the tragic beauty of the previous story, and a delicious take on the understanding that can arise when you’re able to speak with profound and utter respect to the horrible things that want to eat you. Hmmm… I want to say something deep about this one, but no, I just adored the hell out of it for what it was on the surface, and think you will, too. It makes me want to return to the story I wrote years ago dealing with a little girl and the monsters under her bed. I think I will!
Split the Baby, by Carl Taylor – On the surface, this reads like a lighthearted story about an enterprising young man and how he deals with the divorce his parents are going through and their fight over custody rights. Underneath, though, there’s a dark thread that winds its way through the narrative that quickly reveals itself. It’s the sort of banality of evil you’d expect when corporations decide to offer us services that mitigate our immediate emotional needs without reflecting on the absolute fuckery they are injecting into society at large. Ultimately the boy is clever enough to outwit the fate in store for him that his parents are all too blithely willing to allow so they can be happy, and it provides a bit of a “happy” ending for him, too, though that depends on what you view as happy. A really interesting read, though.
And in Rain, Blank Pages, by Lora Gray – Oof. What to say about this super sad and yet super realistic story. Love is hard, y’all, and loving your abusers harder still. In this case, our protagonist has gotten away from their abuser and met someone who seems in so many ways the opposite of the person they’ve left. While the speculative aspect is pushed strongly here – the person they’ve met speaks by creating written words on any surface they touch – this story is about who we trust, the loneliness we feel, the way we sometimes (badly, improperly) try to get others to fill the void within us, and how ultimately we need to take back control of our lives. Like I said, it’s a super realistic look at relationships and how/why they often go off the rail. Not because we’re a bad person or have bad judgement, but because the person we fell for have their own shit they have yet to find a way to work through without projecting it onto us. Great story, but a little heartbreaking, too.
Her Dragon, by Amal Singh – The issue ends on this lovely tale of a maker who has learned from her grandmother how to create the monsters that the nobles request for their wars and their displays of power. There’s an aspect of constraint in this tale, how we are forced into roles by those we learn from, and how breaking free from that can give us a chance to spread our wings and explore new options. When grandmother dies, the main character decides to follow her own path despite being warned against it, and sets out to create her destiny. That’s a view I love in a story and encourage in everyone when I can, even myself. A hopeful, lovely little story that includes a dragon in it, and that’s never a bad thing.
There’s a couple of poems in here as well (I still have trouble reviewing these, so I won’t) and the usual departments. Definitely an issue everyone should read for the novella, The Abomination, alone, I hope there’s plenty of talk for it to garner some awards, it’s more than deserving.
Here’s hoping the next issue comes on time (and that I’ll eventually see the summer issue in my mailbox).