Book and Movie Reviews: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers book cover from Goodreads

Invasion of the Body SnatchersInvasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s this moment after watching one of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies (there are four and I’ll have more to say about them later on in this review) when I think to myself “I really should read the original novel by Jack Finney.” Well, after watching all four adaptations again recently, I finally read the book, and what a surprise it turned out to be.

You know the story: seed pods from space arrive in a small town on Earth and begin replacing people while they sleep. What surprised me about the 1955 novel was how faithfully it was followed by the 1956 film adaptation starring Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles Bennell and Dana Wynter as Becky Driscoll. The first half is essentially the same between novel and film. About halfway through, details and plot points begin to diverge slightly, leading to a different ending. To be honest, the book’s climax seems a little silly, and it’s much less horrifying than the fate of the main characters by the end of the film. The film has its only silliness, in the shape of a framing device tacked on when the studio decided the ending was too dark, but what I view as the film’s real ending is absolutely bone-chilling.

The novel has more room for exposition than the film, and in general this additional information is really interesting. The novel is told in first person by Dr. Miles Bennell, who is even more cheeky and self-centered in the novel than he is in the film. He’s also much more progressive in the novel, which I didn’t expect from a male character created in the 1950s. Dr. Bennell makes particularly incisive observations related to race and gender. The novel cannot avoid all stereotypes, though. Becky Driscoll is primarily a passive and emotional damsel in distress, but there are several great moments in the novel when she becomes much more active and heroic, including coming up with a particularly great escape plan from a seemingly impossible situation.

The pod people plot from the movies is one of my favorite delicious terrors from horror and that creepiness and consistently frightening progression is definitely there in the original novel. The only thing that really disappointed me about the novel was the ending. The film adaptions tend to lean toward darker endings and more ambiguity. They make me feel like the horror has only just begun. The book’s ending instead is lighter and conclusive. It just doesn’t pack the same punch. Until then, though, the book is genuinely creepy and frightening.

The first three of the four movies based on the novel are some of my favorite movies of all time. They work because they capture the fears of their time. The 1956 film directed by Don Siegel is perhaps the best, and the fear it evokes with its seed pods and pod people is the fear of communism, in which your neighbor might turn out to be a communist plotting against America. As I mentioned, the ending gets really dark, though the framing device undercuts this. All of the actors are fantastic, and there is a scene with McCarthy and Wynter near the end of the movie that is one of the great chillers of all time.  The film is a masterpiece of paranoia, the practical effects are still amazing, and the chase scenes are much more frightening on the screen than they are in the book.

The second adaption arrived in 1978, directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland as the leads. They are joined by a great cast, including Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum, as well as a fun cameo by Kevin McCarthy from the original movie. The fear of the 1970s seems to be of pop psychology and the effects drugs like Xanax prescribed for anxiety and depression have on emotions. The 1978 film doubles down on the special effects and paranoia, and the scream-screech of the aliens when they spot humans will always be frightening to me. The film departs from the novel in many ways and changes the characters quite radically, but it retains the paranoia and creepiness.

The third adaptation from 1993, Body Snatchers, was directed by Abel Ferrara and stars Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth and Forest Whitaker. The movie departs from the novel in many ways. The protagonist here is a teenage girl dragged to a military base by her father, an Environmental Protection Agency agent investigating the impact of the base on the local environment. The fears of the early 1990s seem to be of the military, stepparents, and the environment impact of humans. While the plot is simplified quite a bit compared to the earlier movies and the novel, what elevates the movie in my opinion is just how frightening it becomes. Making the protagonist a young woman and part of a family with a stepmother and half-brother leads to truly horrific moments that make me jump in my seat every time I see them. Meg Tilly is frightening as hell, especially during a monologue in which she asks “Where are you going to go?”

One great novel, three great movies. And then there’s 2007’s The Invasion, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as gender-reversed versions of the novel’s protagonists. This movie is terrible! The fear of the Aughts seems to be of pandemics and bodily fluids. The invasion spreads by vomiting on other people; it’s even grosser on screen than it sounds. There are no pods, just gross skin effects. No other fears are that well developed. Veronica Cartwright is always great, but her cameo here is wasted. The movie isn’t all that frightening, there aren’t any particularly captivating or scary scenes, and the talents of all of the actors are completely wasted. Unlike the earlier movies, The Invasion doesn’t really seem to have much to say. It doesn’t offer any compelling parallels to the contemporary world. It just seems to exist as an exercise to distill the novel to the very basics; it fails miserably.

But three great movies out of four is an incredible track record for any franchise. I think this rate of success is the result of Jack Finney coming up with a timeless and frightening plot particularly worthy of film adaptation. It’s one novel I think should be adapted about once every decade, because pod people are a great device for reflecting on our changing times and fears. What would an Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie look like today, in 2017?

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Magazine Review: Asimov’s Science Fiction August 2016

Asimov's Science Fiction August 2016 magazine cover

Asimov's Science Fiction, August 2016,Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2016, by Sheila Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The August 2016 (I’m a little behind) issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction is a really good collection of stories, poems, and essays.

The essays include “Discovering Women of Wonder” by editor Sheila Williams, “The Software of Magic” by Robert Silverberg, “Thinking About Dinosaurs” by James Patrick Kelly, and “On Books” by Paul Di Filippo. All of them are fascinating and I’ve now got a huge list of new books I want to read.

The poetry was a little less interesting to me, a little too cute and a little too focused on science in poetic form rather than being poetry of the science fiction genre. “On the Death of Classical Physics” by Michael Meyerhofer nicely jumps scale from trees to the quantum world before being domesticated, in my opinion, by nevertheless interesting observations about the rigors and stress of daily life. “Your Clone Excels at You” by Robert Frazier has an imaginative form that leads to a too-clever, in my opinion, final line that I’m not sure achieves the poem’s aims. “SETI” by Andrew Paul Wood is nicely yearning but the poetry of it didn’t really, in my opinion, add anything to the questions asked. “The Martian Air Merchants” by Ken Poyner also makes me wonder what is gained by positioning these facts and questions in poetic form. But perhaps I’m being too harsh; I’ve been spoiled by my recent exposure to some of the poetry I’ve read in association with the Science Fiction Poetry Association, where the craft of poetry is always top-notch and science fiction and fantasy are just different genres poetry can explore. That is, I seem to prefer what’s important to poets writing the poetry collected by SFPA to what the poets emphasize in this issue of Asimov’s. Feel free to ignore my ramblings.

I’m much more comfortable in recommending the many great short stories and novelettes in this issue. “Wakers” by Sean Monaghan is about unlucky colonists awakened from hibernation on board a starship after an accident makes it impossible to reach their destination exoplanet. The latest person helping the ship’s damaged A.I. has gotten old and he needs to awaken someone else to replace him. That’s a tough choice to make for someone. The relationship between him and the A.I. and the expectations he has about who he wakes up next are really fascinating. The story takes a turn that was unexpected and a little opaque to me but it explores ethical dilemmas that I hadn’t realized I held positions on until the final choices of the story are made.

“Toppers” by Jason Sanford has secondary world fantasy tendencies despite it’s hard science fiction premise, and I really enjoyed it. Time and journeys are involved and they nicely loop in satisfying ways throughout the story.

“The Mutants Men Don’t See” by James Alan Gardner is one of my favorites in this issue. It has superheroes, the inception of superheroes (one of my favorite things about the genre), danger, angst, and surprise, with a wonderfully satisfying turn I didn’t see coming.

“Kit: Some Assembly Required” by Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz is another favorite. I did not expect one of my favorite playwrights, Christopher Marlowe, to show up in a story about an emergent A.I. That history, Doctor Faustus, and A.I. should combine in such wondrous fashion seems like a miracle, but really demonstrates the creativity and talent of the authors. The final line gives me chills. If you are a fan of Doctor Faustus and the subversive way Marlowe crafts his anti-hero, then you are in for a treat.

“Patience Lake” by Matthew Claxton is straight-up bad-ass science fiction western and it might remind you of Cormac McCarthy’s work and noir fiction. In a dystopian future of bionic people struggling to survive, Casey Kim, former military, badly mutilated in a chemical attack and now outwardly more machine than man, just wants to make it to a town where there might be work for him. A request for water leads to friendship and then much worse. The story is bleak, the characters are sharply drawn, the world is vivid, and oh my goodness that ending.

“Kairos” by Sieren Damsgaard Ernst challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. I happen to be hopeful for radical life extension someday, but Ernst’s protagonist takes a decidedly dim view of the prospect soon after her second husband tells her that he and his research company have developed the technology and he wants her to join him as one of the first immortals. What follows is her grappling with the prospect while visiting Aachen, Germany and remembering her first husband. I was absolutely fascinated by the character’s process of thinking through her issues with life extension and her husband’s request. At the end she approaches the issue in her own unique way and it leads to some really fascinating and unexpected if open-ended final thoughts. I’m really happy I stayed with the story and it gave me a lot to think about concerning my own rationale for immortality.

“President John F. Kennedy, Astronaut” by Sandra McDonald was both what I expected and not what I expected. He is indeed an astronaut in this story, there is some alternative history at play, but the main protagonists are other characters on their own unique journey. The story is a little silly, funny, a lot of fun, and leads to a satisfying and hopeful ending.

All in all, the August 2016 issue of Asimov’s is very enjoyable with some particularly well-done stories.

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Short Story Review: The Price of Oranges by Nancy Kress

The Price Of Oranges [Short Story Hardback #33]The Price Of Oranges [Short Story Hardback #33] by Nancy Kress
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my absolute favorite short stories. I’ve read “The Price of Oranges” many times, but I always seem to forget how it ends, making each new read a magical, emotional experience all over again. Nancy Kress always creates characters that jump off the page, and Harry and Manny, and Jackie and Robert and Ann, are some of my favorites.

Harry’s worried that his granddaughter Jackie is miserable, so he seeks out a young man that might show her that things are not all gloom and despair. He’s not going to look for this dream guy in the present, though. And if you think maybe Harry is overstepping and being a little patriarchal, you’d be right. Things don’t turn out like he expects at all.

Funny, magical, heartbreaking, and full of great food purchased surprisingly cheaply, “The Price of Oranges” is classic Nancy Kress.

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Short Story Review: Dancing on Air by Nancy Kress

Dancing On Air Book cover
Dancing On Air Book cover

“Dancing On Air” book cover

Dancing on Air by Nancy Kress

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bio-enhanced ballerinas and dogs. Mothers and daughters. The price of passion. This powerful short story is a must-read.

In “Dancing on Air”, Nancy Kress explores the consequences of bio-enhancement but does not provide easy answers as the reader is drawn into the tumultuous lives of several characters within and orbiting the New York City Ballet. The story reminds me a little of the movie Black Swan and the lengths people will go for their art. This story, though, takes place slightly in the future, in a world of rapid, unfettered progress in genetics and biotech reshaping the very notions of what it means to be human, and to follow art. It also frequently provides the point of view of the bio-enhanced talking Doberman named Angel, commissioned to protect the company’s top star after the murder of ballerinas. A reporter whose teenage daughter is obsessed with being asked to join the Company begins to uncover and untangle the various motivations and machinations of the ballerinas, their mothers, the Artistic Director, and the bio-enhancement industry itself.

Kress’s prose is sharp, concise, and devastating. Obviously I’m a huge fan of her work; Kress’s stories never fail to blow my mind.

Highly recommended.

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Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang book cover from Goodreads

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ted Chiang’s collection of his stories published between 1990 and 2002 is now one of my favorite books ever, full of some of my favorite stories ever. There is not one story in this collection I did not enjoy, and all of them left me in awe. Yes, I’m going to be a little breathless with this review, but it’s how I’ve been feeling for days now ever since I started reading Stories of Your Life and Others.

These stories are about people who find themselves on sudden exponential journeys into the future. They soon discover that such journeys are both isolating and actualizing. Sometimes these are physical journeys, like Hillalum climbing the “Tower of Babylon” but more frequently these are mental or spiritual journeys, including Leon’s intelligence enhancement in “Understand” and Neil Fisk’s love of God in “Hell Is the Absence of God.” Always these are stories about the pursuit of knowledge, no matter where that knowledge leads. Each story moves forward with increasing momentum and speed, resulting in my heart racing, my eyes widening, and my jaw dropping (I told you this would be a breathless review.)

I purchased this collection for “Story of Your Life”, soon to be a major motion picture. That story alone is worth the price of the book. It brings together the very personal with the sudden arrival to Earth of aliens, and its journey is through both linguistics and physics, leading to a tremendous and unexpected ending. I have no idea how the sheer brilliance of this complex literary masterpiece can be dramatized on the big screen, but with early reviews suggesting a cinematic masterpiece, perhaps the filmmakers have succeeded.

While reading “Tower of Babylon”, I realized I had read it before in a recent magazine issue. It is even better the second time around. Every step of the journey is invigorating. “Understand” explores topics and themes I’m particularly excited about and I sped through the pages at what felt like supercomputer speed. “Seventy-Two Letters” is so well-researched and expertly crafted that I wanted to cry with joy and appreciation, long before the genius, inevitable, but still unexpected ending left my jaw on the floor. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” is an oral history about a specific future technology; there are many perspectives about that technology collected in the story but there is also a through-story that focuses on one woman and her own insights about the technology. It’s incredible.

Chiang’s gift is that he seems to select a single compelling idea and then pursues that idea wherever it leads him, in a completely rational and logical manner that still leads to very surprising and shocking revelations. He grasps an idea in his hand and rotates it to find, I think, every possible beautiful and horrifying facet. He also selects the perfect characters to tell personal stories related to the idea, and he’s not afraid to suddenly expand into social, cultural, even cosmic dimensions, before returning to the personal.

Here’s where I get even more breathless: he includes “Story Notes” with a brief summary for what inspired him to write each story! After reading all the great stories, those notes were like an extra special bonus, just a little more information about their genesis to make me even more appreciative. For example, “Division by Zero” is another great story in the collection and he explains how he was amazed by a particular famous mathematics equation and began to wonder what it would be like if someone discovered that the “wondrous beauty” of mathematics “was just an illusion.” From such a story spark to a heartbreaking exploration of a relationship.

I cannot recommend this collection of stories enough. I’m still reeling. This is what I want from science fiction: stories that captivate me from the opening words, surprise and delight me along the way, that stay with me after the end, and that feel like they are actively changing me. I feel changed as a reader, a writer, and, well, a person! I feel like I might be on my own sudden exponential journey into the future and it is exhilarating and horrifying. I cannot wait to read more of Chiang’s exceptional work. Yes, I’m out of breath. Ted Chiang is now one of my absolute favorite authors, right up there with Ursula K. Le Guin, Nancy Kress, and Vernor Vinge.

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Magazine Review: Analog September 2016

Analog September 2016 magazine cover from Goodreads

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2016Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2016 by Trevor Quachri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First time subscriber, first issue of Analog I’ve read, and I loved everything in it!


“Progress Report” by Ragnar Vajra follows the protagonist on an alien planet from their first conscience thoughts to increasing awareness and intelligence, as the mystery about how they came to be there and what they are meant to do unfolds. The technology involved in the protagonist’s rapid development is so interesting and it also serves as a unique tool for the writer to fill in backstory and build the world. The characters’ diction is a lot of fun and the diary-like telling over a span of several days is captivating.

“Detroit Hammersmith, Zero-Gravity Toilet Repairman (Retired)” by Suzanne Palmer brings the protagonist out of retirement to investigate failing toilets on a space station. What he finds leads to even bigger mysteries, and a role he wasn’t expecting to play in diplomatic talks being held on the station. This is a really fun story with great characters and aliens and a nice twist that amusingly bugs the hell out of Hammersmith.

“Deep Waters Call Out to What is Deeper Still” by Sarah Frost presents a different mystery: what goes on in the mind of a squid? The protagonist is a scientist and animal mind-whisperer at a facility that hooks up animal like swordfish to their own virtual heavens. The history and ethics of such a zoo aren’t really explored in this story, but the protagonist is a caring soul who goes out of zir way to make the transition for the animals as painless and fruitful as possible. The latest addition to the facility knows something is missing, and the protagonist must find out why the squid is so unhappy. There’s a parallel plot of friendship, perhaps more, that leads to an emotional mind-melding moment.

I see some other reviewers struggled with the pronouns in this piece. I particularly liked how the story is not about the protagonist’s gender identity, and that they simply refer to themselves with their preferred pronouns. I’m looking forward to more gender fluidity in my reading, without gender necessarily being the thrust of the plot. It’s just nice to see people from a variety of backgrounds with various identities participating in thought-provoking science fiction stories.

“Silhouettes” by Dave Creek includes the personal notes and science reports of an 87 year old exoplanet explorer who for reasons to be revealed didn’t bother to participate in rejuvenation technologies back on Earth. He’s alone and studying the reproductive cycles of aliens on planet Keleni, a planet of short days and fierce winds. As details about the exoplanet and its aliens are revealed, so are those about his past. Another great story in an issue full of wonderful world-building.

“Adventures in Family Bonding” by W. Michael Beachy has a breezy title and writing style that belie the really dark places and dystopian future this story eventually reveals. It starts out simple enough: grandma gets a call from her son, wondering if she can babysit her grandson for a week or two. Something’s not quite right about the relationship between mother and son, and things only get worse from there. The last image is terrifying, or maybe gratifying, depending on the reader.

“Dreams of the Rocket Men” by C. Stuart Hardwick recounts the youth of a boy caught up in his elderly neighbor’s interest in rockets, and though the science fiction is light and comes nearer to the end, the fiction leading there is wonderful and heart-breaking in turn. A very heartfelt story.

“Nesting Dolls” by Jacob A. Boyd feels very alien and strange as it follows two boys onboard a generational vessel making its way across the void between the Milky Way and another galaxy. The vessel and its layers are inventive, as are the layers of storytelling. This is a gripping tale, one that is also quite dark and even cruel.

Finally, I almost missed the short poem on page 74, “Paint It Black” by Bruce Boston. In fact, I didn’t miss it, but I didn’t know what it was until I reread the table of contents just now. It’s a very short poem. I would love to learn more about it.


Trevor Quachri’s opening editorial “Captain America’s Bathroom” merges a little memoir with a survey of comic book superheroes and his maturing understanding of them, especially Captain America. There’s a nice parallel drawn between discrimination against transgender people and Captain America’s origins. Definitely a must-read.

Edward M. Lerner provides a quick primer in the first part of “A Mind of Its Own” about artificial intelligence. This is a good review of concepts we’ve been hearing a lot about in the field lately, and I was thankful for the summary. Looking forward to the second part!

My favorite essay in the issue is “Pluto’s Perplexing Polygons” by Richard A. Lovett. Lots of great details and speculation about processes in Sputnik Planum on Pluto determined from the first close-up images taken by New Horizons last year. There’s a quick summary of the mission, but the bulk of the essay is about models of the processes that form the polygons in Sputnik Planum, and what these models say about the youthfulness of this region. Pluto turned out to be beyond anyone’s expectations, and this essay does a great job capturing that wonder and making me impatient for a Pluto-Charon orbiter!

Don Sakers has a nice list of books to check out in “The Reference Library,” and spends some time surveying how science fiction and religion come together over time in various novels and short stories. It was fun reading about the first novel by Madeline Ashby titled Company Town because I was surprised to realize I knew the plot from a short story by her I read and enjoyed what seems like a long time ago. I’m going to have to check this one out.

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Book Review: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Caliban's War book cover from Goodreads

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I like most about The Expanse series of books by James S.A. Corey so far are the characters. They are interesting, relatively complex, often very funny, and come from many different backgrounds (including fictional backgrounds like “Belters” – the population of humans who were born and for the most part live their entire lives in the Asteroid Belt, far from Earth and its gravity, resulting in fascinating physiological, cultural, and language differences.) In the second book, Caliban’s War, a few new characters are introduced, including my new favorite, Bobbie Draper, a Martian Marine. Her story is one of two frames, beginning right after the prologue that introduces the mystery, and takes a particularly satisfying story arc from a PTSD-inducing attack to recovery and justice of sorts.

Along the way, other fantastic new characters are given space, including Chrisjen Avasarala, the United Nations Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration, and Praxidike Meng, a botanist on Ganymede. As the plot unfolds, the characters are moved around like chess pieces to solve the larger mystery and confront the larger threat. At times, I felt the positioning and meeting of characters was a little too predictable and obvious; the characters became plot devices that need to be placed in particular spots for the plot to progress. This sometimes took me momentarily out of the story. What follows their placement, however, generally captivated me. The plot is very exciting, often very suspenseful, and I read through much of the book very quickly.

Some of my favorite characters from the previous book, including the amazing crew of the Rocinante, return. Set about 18 months after the events of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War finds captain Jim Holden a changed man suffering from psychological trauma related to what happened on Eros. I felt this character arc became a little melodramatic but it was also very satisfying, because you cannot help but root for him and Naomi Nagata, and also Amos Burton and Alex Kamal, as the crew reconsiders their mission.

I loved the settings throughout the solar system as well as the descriptions of the hardware. The alien protomolecules are absolutely horrifying and lead to our heroes finding themselves in some incredibly tense and frightening situations. Some of these are similar to those in the previous book and felt to me slightly repetitive. I hope the later books in the series go in new directions. They were really exciting and well-written, however, and the overall plot of the series is definitely moved forward.

The book ends with a whopper of a cliffhanger that manages to be both surprising and frightening. I cannot wait to jump into the next book!

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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: 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: 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:…

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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