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.

To See a Monster by Ed McDonald, Grimdark Magazine #16, 2018

To See a Monster by Ed McDonald takes place in the same world as the author’s debut novel (the first of a trilogy), Blackwing.

16-monster-1-300x400In this short story, a disgraced soldier deemed a cowered and slandered, challenges his slanderer to a duel. The whole piece takes place in this scene. It’s broken up by memories of the battle the narrator fled from, leaving some of his best soldiers (and best friends) to die, while he made an escape with the bulk of his army.

The world is intriguing. From this piece, I’m not sure if it’s like a gunsmoke fantasy (like guns and magic at the same time) or if it’s more traditionally medieval fantasy. What I do know is that this story piqued my interest in Mr. McDonald’s series, called The Raven’s Mark, released in 2017. The second book, Ravencry will be released next month (August 2018), and I’m excited to dive in and check this story out as soon as I’m done reading Seveneves (about 300 pages to go on that one).

Anyway, back to the story at hand. The narrator is likable and vicious. He’s interesting, cocky, and totally flawed. He’s a bad person for the right reasons. He’s worth reading about and I’m curious if he’s the same main character in the first book. (B-)