Bedtime Story by James Sallis, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, July/August 2018

This is a very short piece. Only 5 pages. But what Mr. Sallis achieves in such a short time should be commended.

Plot: A man, after some terrible event, returns to his hometown to claim a body from a doctor who has set up shop in a house. Much of the piece centers on the descriptions of people and animals who have been killed–by what isn’t frankly stated. The protagonist/narrator visits a diner where he is told where the doctor is keeping the bodies. The narrator goes and claims the body.

cov1807lg-250Character: This has a lot of character background for such a small piece. Jack, the protagonist, was once part of the resistance with his friend–now the body he has come to claim. The doctor is also the same doctor who delivered Jack. It’s all come full circle to this doctor. Having seen someone who he’d helped birth come back to claim his dead friend’s body.

Setting: The setting is the real intriguing aspect of this piece. Readers are constantly getting clues about what happened here. We don’t know if it’s a zombie plague, disease or what. But the events shape the setting of the piece, which is super clever and a lesson I must remember for my own writing. Events change spaces. Events make people perceive spaces in different ways. (C-)

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.

Crash-Site by Brian Trent, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, May/June 2018

Crash-Site by Brian Trent is a sequel to a story he wrote and published in F&SF May/June 2017. I didn’t read that first installment, but despite this, Trent is able to create a cohesive futuristic world for first-time readers.

The story follows 3 different people, at about 25 pages, it has just enough room to give each character enough “screen time.”

cov1805lg-250The first character is a man named Tel-Silag. He has been driven inside by the death of his wife and children. What exactly has happened to them I was never completely sure. I’m guessing it was in the first story, but there is a lot of memories about how they were somehow reanimated and made to dance as their bodies rot. Tel-Silag has also found a type of bio-weapon-gun thing that whenever he shoots it makes plants grow at an increased rate. He has killed someone with it but hitting them in the stomach and making their stomach flora go crazy. Tel-Silag’s goal is to somehow find a way to resurrect his wife–something that is impossible.

Umerah Javed is a space fairing entrepreneur. She uses a technology from her spaceship above the same planet Tel-Silag is on to broadcast her consciousness into a “proxy;” a woman who rents her body out to people off-planet. Umerah finds her old lover on this planet, Harris Alexander Pope (who is a legendary space pirate/conman/fighter guy). With his help, Umerah begins tracking Tel-Silag. It is thought that he knows the whereabouts of a crashed alien spacecraft. Apparently, he got the bio-gun from this crash-site.

Catherine Avellani is the third part. She is a doctor, of sorts, but is just as shifty as anyone else in the piece. She is also looking for Tel-Silag and the crashed ship. She also is cruising around in some kind of weird tank with a cyborg named Bok, who likes killing things with the gun. She want’s the crashed spaceship for research reasons, but is also willing to detonate her body with an anti-matter bomb to stop others from getting it. She has a backup system that will transfer her consciousness to another body–though with no memory of why she died, so she would lose some information if she has to detonate.

Needless to say, all these characters come face to face, but who ends up with the spaceship and a new technology, well. I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

This is a pretty cool story, an interesting world for sure. I just wish I would have read the first installment as I think it would have been more interesting with it. Like so many pieces, this one falls a little short on the ending. I didn’t really feel as though there was ample set up for the conclusion. (C)