Review: Lightspeed Magazine Issue 2 July 2010

Lightspeed Magazine, July 2010Lightspeed Magazine, July 2010 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the second issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Time travel but uniquely appears in two stories in this issue, “No Time Like the Present” by Carol Emshwiller and “…For a Single Yesterday” by George R. R. Martin, a reprint from 1972. In the first, new people arrive in town, strange people that eventually find themselves persecuted by the town. Where they came from becomes obvious, but where they’re going is not. In the second, a commune has found a semblance of routine and contentment after nuclear war, but one resident who was only visiting when the war broke out has a way of escaping his sadness that leads to confrontation. A very melancholy and gorgeous story by Martin.

Martin’s story is also concerned with memory, and memory is one of the central concerns of Tobias Buckell’s action-packed, grim, character-driven “Manumission.” The protagonist appears in other Buckell stories I’m now dying to read.

I found much to like about “The Zeppelin Conductors’ Society Annual Gentlemen’s Ball” by Genevieve Valentine, though I found it a little opaque, especially at the end. There is a question of motivation near the end that suggests I missed something very important about the piece. I don’t happen to be a big fan of steampunk, but I really appreciated the exploration of class and oppression, and what I don’t understand likely has something to do with this exploration. Valentine creates a vivid world and layers in ephemera that provides even more detail about the state of things.

Nonfiction includes humor and essays, author interviews, and an interesting interview with The Lisps about their Futurity project.

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Review: Nightmare Magazine Issue 1 October 2012

Nightmare Magazine, October 2012Nightmare Magazine, October 2012 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m reading the most recent issues of Nightmare Magazine and also going back to the beginning to read every issue.

“Property Condemned” by Jonathan Maberry is a great standalone story set in (according to the interview with Maberry in this issue) the same town where some of his other stories and novels take place. Not having read anything else by the writer, I really appreciated how well this story worked and how chilling it turned out to be. The action begins like the best Amblin productions: four kids on bikes heading toward what they think is a haunted house. Where it ends up is much darker, though, and much more Stephen King than Steven Spielberg. In the interview with the writer, I learned something I didn’t know about the psychology of abused children, and it actually lends to the story a tiny, grudging element of hope where at first I only saw hopelessness. As a reader who unfortunately understands a little too well what the protagonist suffers at the hands of his father, the story resonates and gives me a lot to think about.

“Frontier Death Song” by Laird Barron is a gory chase story that leads from Alaska to the East Coast while the protagonist flees a being he probably shouldn’t have messed with in the first place. There is a lot of tension and horror to contend with and the pace is nonstop. I especially like the elements that seemed Lovecraftian in a story that already works well with the mythology it’s updating. The ending is horrifying and satisfying, although I was left with a few questions I don’t think were answered, including what it was the protagonist had done (prior to the events of the story) to lead to this fate.

“Good Fences” by Genevieve Valentine is vivid psychological horror centered around a burning car and an increasingly paranoid, isolated, and perhaps insane city resident. The horror is in inaction and cowardice bred by apathy. The story is dreamlike and surreal, but ultimately I don’t think it matters if these things are really happening or if it is all in the protagonist’s head; it is horrifying no matter what the reading (which is something the writer points out in her interview.)

My favorite story in an issue of great stories is “Afterlife” by Sarah Langan. Like the previous story, there is some question to the protagonist’s sanity, though I think Langan clearly suggests the supernatural elements are really happening (and she says as much in her interview.) The horror is Grey Gardens-like–a daughter and her mother trapped in their home by mental illness, social anxiety, physical and emotional abuse, and poverty–with supernatural elements that offer the protagonist moments of great heroism.

What is so horrifying about the story is not the ghosts but how they ended up there, their choice between fates, and how this parallels the protagonist’s situation with her mother. The labelled jars are going to give me nightmares…

Fantastic issue!

Final note: to truly appreciate Jeff Simpson’s art spotlighted in the issue, these must be viewed on a big color screen. http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/non…

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Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #202

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #202Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #202 by Scott H. Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I found these two stories somewhat opaque (especially the second one), they feature strong writing, memorable characters, and vivid world building. I was left after reading both wanting to know much more about their worlds.

In “Mortal Eyes” by Ann Chatham, the protagonist is the only one awake when a company of fantastic creatures arrives to claim a debt. There is more to her story than just the pages in this issue, and I’m especially wish I knew how she ended up in the position she is in at the beginning of the story. There are lots of allusions to events that led the characters to the story’s present, but there isn’t much detail provided except for the current action leading to an ending that also seems a setup for further stories. I wonder as I read more BCS if this is a specific element of craft: hinting at the larger world and other stories that surround the story given, but leaving it for the reader to imagine. Although I might be a little frustrated by this, there is no question that it lends a sense of depth and space that drew me in. I just wish for more.

My difficulty with “The Nature of Ghosts and the Fate of Shadows” by Luke Nolby is not the lack of detail but understanding the motives of the main character. He is, for me, mostly a cypher, except at the end when he seems to become a voice for philosophical observations about the nature of war and violence. On one level, this is the result of the writer’s mastery of craft: he weaves together the present with multiple parallel pasts. Because of one of these pasts, it is clear that the protagonist has changed substantially, but in other parallels he seemed to be repeating the same actions with the same unclear motives over and over again. Perhaps that is the point of the story. On a different level, I just couldn’t quite visualize the protagonist nor comprehend the mechanics of him, including what was going on with what he called his ghost. Despite my difficulty, I cannot stop thinking about him and the world in which he dwells. And I’m in awe of Nobly’s craft; so much to learn about writing flashbacks woven together with the present.

I love how this issue challenged me. BCS continues to open up fantasy for me, to see that it is not limited to Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, and the subgenre or two of fantasy I read growing up.

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Review: Lightspeed Magazine Issue 1 June 2010

Lightspeed Magazine, June 2010Lightspeed Magazine, June 2010 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently subscribed to several genre magazines, including Lightspeed Magazine. I helped support the magazine’s latest two Destroy issues via Kickstarter, but I had not yet dived into any issues. Now that I own them all and am subscribed for another year thanks to a generous Kickstarter reward, it’s time to get started with Issue 1!

The four short stories in the debut issue of Lightspeed are all fantastic. “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” by Vylar Kaftan is a beautiful literary journey through love, space, and time. The level of Kaftan’s craft here is excellent, including the pacing, language, sounds, and episodic time jumps as a woman describes her on-again off-again relationship with a man set against exponential progress in technology. I also love how Lightspeed and Nightmare Magazines include “Author Spotlight” interviews for each story; it’s wonderful to read about each author’s process and the genesis of their stories. Lightspeed Issue 1 also includes nonfiction essays after each story that explores their science further. These are often pretty basic in content, but the passion of the essayists is quite apparent.

“The Cassandra Project” by Jack McDevitt uncovers a secret about the moon that might explain Fermi’s Paradox, and the decades-long conspiracy to keep the finding from the public. I work in planetary science and I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story very much because I’ve had to deal with conspiracy theory advocates in the past, but I had a great time with the story and appreciated its thoughtfulness about the great mystery of why we don’t see a sky crowded with aliens all talking at once. I also really enjoyed the interview with McDevitt and “The High Untresspassed Sanctity of Space: Seven True Stories about Eugene Cernan” by Genevieve Valentine, a list essay of quite exceptional depth and fascinating historical tidbits related to the last astronaut on the moon.

“Cats in Victory” by David Barr Kirtley is speculative science fiction at its best and most “Planet of the Apes” like, but this time with dogs and cats and other animals. It’s also quite tense and I’m thankful it didn’t end quite where I expected the plot to lead. Another great “Author Spotlight” and Carol Pinchefsky’s “Top Ten Reasons Why Uplifted Animals Don’t Make Good Pets” is hilarious.

Perhaps my favorite of the four stories is “Amaryliss” by Carrie Vaughn. The writer explores a world that has been forced by near-apocalypse to enact systems of sustainability that introduce their own complex consequences. This is a story about mothers and daughters and it left me in tears. The world building is spectacular, so vivid and alive. The author provides insightful background to her story in her interview. The accompanying essay suggests ways we can individually be more sustainable today, and though some of the suggestions are a bit rote and even scientifically questionable, it’s helpful to read the essayist’s thoughts on the subject and to ponder again my own Ecological Footprint.

What a great start to a magazine that seems to be thriving several years later. Just 72 issues to go until I’m caught up!

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Review: Nightmare Magazine Issue 45 June 2016

Nightmare Magazine, June 2016 (Nightmare Magazine, #45)Nightmare Magazine, June 2016 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, wow, this is a great issue. I haven’t read a lot of horror short fiction in recent decades and I’ve been curious to see what writers are writing about. Thus, I’m a new subscriber; it has already been rewarding.

What interests me most about “Great Black Wave” by David Tallerman is the technology of modern and near-future warfare, and how it might provide a handhold for an ancient evil to ascend into the modern world. There are also elements in this story that remind me of one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels, Phantoms.

The surprise of “The Finest, Fullest Flowering” by Marc Laidlaw is how subtlety the tension builds in a story that doesn’t otherwise seem to have much horror in it. At first. The ending gave me a delicious and unexpected chill. The story is a very satisfying read.

“Things of Which We Do Not Speak” by Lucy Taylor is full of repressed awfulness that explodes into unsettling psychological horror. It’s a truly uncomfortable read but also a masterfully written examination of the darkness hidden inside people.

“Ruminations” by Rena Mason brings together contemporary reality and a vaguely science fiction and frightening future via a supernatural bridge. I love how genres mix in this story, but the mixing is grounded by two very captivating characters who make it seem all too real.

The nonfiction in this issue is interesting, though the “The H Word” column seems to continue a conversation of which I haven’t read previous installments. Joyce Carol Oates is interviewed and provides nice insights into the horror-writing side of her work.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brief descriptions I read about “And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices” by Margaret Ronald and “Things With Beards” by Sam J. Miller convinced me to subscribe right then to a year of Clarkesworld Magazine, and I’m so glad I did. Ronald’s story finds the melancholy, family drama, and distance in first contact. Miller’s story is a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing and it finds the monsters and hidden selves already beneath our skin even before invasion. I was also surprised to find a reprint of Nancy Kress’s amazing “Pathways” and happily read it a second time. Because of this strange and often awful American election cycle, the background politics in “Pathways” resonated even more with this reading.

I enjoyed the transcendence of beings in “.identity” by E. Catherine Tobler and the beautiful and sad horror of “The Promise of God” by Michael Flynn. I struggled with the lengthy “The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran but its twists and turns near the end and unexpected appearance of and explanation for the internet were worth the effort. A helpful introduction provided context without which the story would have been even more difficult to read. The way history asserts itself makes for a compellingly ending.

The nonfiction essay about the microbiome by Matthew Simmons, interview with Guy Gabriel Kay by Chris Urie, and inspiration from Alethea Kontis were wonderful. In the issue’s “Editor’s Desk”, Neil Clarke sold me on his anthology The Best Science Fiction of the Year. I have read a few of these stories and if they are reflective of the overall quality of the anthology, then I am eager to read the rest of them.

One of the disadvantages of reading magazines on a Kindle is how the cover art is too small and missing color. There are other ways, though, to view cover art in detail, and Vincent LAÏK’s exquisitely beautiful artwork is available to view on his website:

https://vincent_laik.artstation.com/p…

There is so much activity occurring in the artwork set against a spacescape of planets almost too close for comfort. Meanwhile, the silhouette of a character and mount is almost lost in the foreground, adding amazing juxtapositions between enormous and small, active and still, detailed and obscured.

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Review: Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft

Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by MicrosoftFuture Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many of my favorite writers contributed stories to this anthology after they visited with Microsoft about cutting edge technology and speculation about the future. Some stories deal with translation and conversation, suggested by advancements in Skype, including “Hello, Hello” by Seanan McGuire and “Another Word for World” by Ann Leckie. Several deal with machine intelligence and especially deep learning, including “Machine Learning” by Nancy Kress, “Looking for Gordo” by Robert Sawyer, and “The Tell” by David Brin. The graphic art of “A Cop’s Eye” by Blue Delliquanti and Michele Rosenthal pairs a cop with an AI to help a runaway. Greg Bear gets quantum weird with “The Machine Starts.” Many of these stories also had healthy dollops of VR/AR technology, and “Riding with the Duke” by Jack McDevitt especially foregrounds this technology.

The writing is top-notch in all of these stories, though I think there is sometimes a sense of constraint that is hard to describe; that is, these stories are not necessarily examples of the writers’ best work and they might have been constrained by time or topic, since this is a project focused on the work at one corporation. However, all the stories are at least very good, and some of them are spectacular. Personally, I was caught up in the incredible craft on display, especially from McGuire, Bear, Kress, and Leckie.

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