The Prevaricator by Matthew Hughes, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, July/August 2018

First off, some background about this story. It was written because one of his fans in Belgium wanted a story by Mr. Hughes, that the fan could then commissioned to be illustrated and bound for his private collection.

A Note On Patronage:

This is awesome. More people who love fiction and love a specific writer should do this same thing. So many masterpieces have been created because of patronage. It’s what drove the Italian Renaissance, as well as many other great painters, scultors, writers, et al. This is awesome.

Plot:

cov1807lg-250As a young boy Alphronz discovers that if he goes out into the streets and cries people will give him money. Begins to swindle people of their hard earned cash in this way until he realizes he has become too old. He then begins to set up elaborate and laborious cons that strip wealthy people of their money by offering them fake, high stake investments. But when he tries a new con, one that he can only do with the help of a wizard, his ambitions grow far too large.

Character:

Alphronz is clever and interesting and insightful. Despite his con man profession, he is still rather endearing due to the fact that he understands what drives people to make foolish decisions with their money. Often it is pain, other times it is fear. People will pay almost anything to make pain and/or fear to go away.

The World:

The world is an intriguing one, which I think is the best you can hope for in a short piece like this. I thought the world building was quite good and the magic that was being thrown around didn’t need to be explained because Alphronz never understands it either.

Conclusion:

A fun read for anyone who likes con man stories. It also does double duty for people who like magical worlds in which there isn’t really a bad guy, but nor is there a good guy. (C+)

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The Adjunct by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, July/August 2018

I connected with this story. Maybe because I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to get undergrads and high school students to follow formatting standards for their papers.

The narrator has been teaching at *cough* Miskatonic University. Anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft will recognize that place. This narrator has been trying to get her students to use a formatting for their papers, abbreviated as CFSR, which is some strange kind of hybrid citation system that connects experience as well as a bibliography.

Plot:

cov1807lg-250The narrator, a burned out adjunct English Professor, tries to get her students to follow CFSR citation formatting. When many of her students can’t do it correctly, a higher up in the college calls her into his office and insists she makes sure all her students do it perfectly.

Later, when she visits a Starbucks on campus, a long time adjunct professor there tells her to visit the “restricted section” of the library and look for CFSR. She didn’t even know there was a restricted section, so of course, she goes. What she finds is. . . a wonderful joke on the horror genre.

Character(s):

As someone who has spent a lot of time showing students how to format things, giving them examples, outlining the ins-and-outs of MS Word, and then find that only 1/4 of the students listened or even tried to use MLA or APA, I connected with this narrator really well. Her roll of the eyes, her absolute disdain for students who won’t or can’t do what is literally the bare minimum. It all fits horribly well with the eventual outcome. She goes to teach at a community college. (HA!).

Conclusion:

A really well written and fun piece of ironic fiction. I don’t know if this is something everyone would connect with as much as someone who shares the experiences of the narrator. I guess that’s every piece of fiction. But still, it’s a fun jog down a Lovecraftian horror comedy.

The Phobos Experience by Mary Robinette Kowal, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, July/August 2018

This bit of space opera came at a bad time for me. I’m about 550 pages through Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and so much of this story mixed with Seveneves in my brain and even as I was reading it, the two seemed to take place in the same world–and maybe even on the same timeline. Did I say it came at a bad time? Maybe it was just right.

Plot:

Three scientists are sent to Phobos, a tiny moon of Mars, to explore a cave system on the 14-kilometer moon. They find much more than they bargained for.

Character(s):

The main character, Darlene, is a NavComp who plots a course through space for pilots cov1807lg-250to follow. She is on this mission in that capacity. She also suffers from benign, yet incapacitating vertigo. Sorta a big deal in space. While it’s an interesting character trait, it also becomes a nucance, as her vertigo is the sole construct that causes most of the tension in this story–which, to me, feels a bit sloppy, or lazy. The whole plot would be very boring without her vertigo, so the whole plot hinges on the fact that Darlene doesn’t follow protocol and tell her superiors that she is unfit to go on this mission, which doesn’t make her seem smart of likable.

Setting:

Phobos is a moon covered in 3-4 feet of dust. Its light gravitational pull means that when the dust is disturbed it goes everywhere. It also means there’s a ton of stuff that can hide on Phobos. I think this is the best part of this story. It seemed real to me and I felt as though I now know what it’s like to be on Phobos.

Conclusion:

It’s a fine story, but like so many the ending doesn’t really pack a punch. It peters out instead. The main character never really changes, though her actions change the circumstances she is in. At the end I found myself asking, “so what,” mostly because this seems like the beginning of a much larger story–the inciting incident of a longer story, that still needs to be told.