Featured image from the cover of Apex Magazine issue 117, by Julia Griffin
In addition to being the shortest month of the year, I faced some unexpected life changes in February and was unable to produce my zine review column on a weekly basis. While my writing time suffered, my reading time thankfully did not, and I found plenty of quality short fiction to celebrate this month.
“The Message” by Vanessa Fogg (The Future Fire Issue 48, February 2019) Short Story
Science fiction has always assumed that if Earth received a message from deep space, it would have civilization-altering consequences. Here, Vanessa Fogg charts a near-future course for us where scientists find such a message and it is just consumed, rather inelegantly, into our mass-media culture. Sarah is the teenaged daughter of the scientist who discovered the enigmatic, indecipherable Message fifteen years before, but its effect on her life has more to do with everyday concerns like “will my parents ever stop fighting?” and “does my best friend Chloe really love me?”. That second question forms the heart of Fogg’s story. Sarah and Chloe live half a world apart and have never met – and may never meet – in person, yet to Sarah the intimacy of that relationship is as deep and true as anything she can see or touch. Fogg disperses so many thematic and narrative strands and covers so many relevant scientific and sociological issues it is an absolute marvel how she weaves them together into a cohesive whole. Inventive, intricate, incandescent; stories like this are the reason I have a “Must Read” category in this column.
“The Crafter at the Web’s Heart” by Izzy Wasserstein (Apex Magazine Issue 117, February 2019) Short Story
Traverse is a mythical city suspended over a chasm by a massive spider’s web, whose magic users become the thing they specialize in. Danae is headed for spider-dom, but first she must escape the predations of a dangerous fly cult and unravel a conspiracy that threatens to upend everything she holds dear. “The Crafter at the Web’s Heart” is a jaw-dropping feat of imaginative world-building bolstered by an exciting and suspenseful chase plot.
Reviewed in the February 16, 2019 edition of The Rack.
“Thoughts and Prayers” by Ken Liu (Slate – Future Tense, January 26, 2019) Short Story
When Abigail Fort loses her daughter Hayley in a mass shooting, she decides her daughter’s death needs to mean something and allows a gun control group to use Hayley in a high-tech lobbying campaign. Then, out come the trolls. Abigail’s sister-in-law helps her get fitted with a new digital armor to filter out all the virtual attacks and disturbing, unintended consequences ensue. Liu’s mastery of near-future speculation and his grasp of the core issues is illuminating. An effective use of shifting perspectives, especially when we get a troll’s take on the proceedings.
“This Wine-Dark Feeling That Isn’t The Blues” by José Pablo Iriarte (Escape Pod #666, February 7, 2019) Short Story
Abigail can’t accept losing her lover Savannah, but she has suspicions about the true nature of existence that, if true, could help her chart a new course. A moving story with a brilliant twist, stunning in its economy of plot and language (it is only 1600 words long). The less said, the better: just read (or listen to) it. A content warning accompanies the story; be aware that it deals with suicide.
“Counting Days” by Patricia Lundy (Daily Science Fiction, February 1, 2019) Short Story
Another brief and powerful story about a touchy subject; DSF won’t let you see the text without first reading the content warning – kudos.
“The Backstitched Heart of Katherine Wright” by Alison Wilgus (Interzone #279, January/February 2019) Novelette
Katherine, the sister of the famous Wright brothers, Orville and Wilber, can thread herself backward in time – an ability that comes in handy when one of the boys keeps getting himself killed. The bittersweet ending packs an extra punch if you know how things turned out in real life.
“Circus Girl, the Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by J.Y. Yang (Tor.com, 1/23/2019) Novelette
It’s not everyday you get to describe a story about a young woman pursued by a serial killer as “easygoing”, but that’s what you get here, and somehow it works.