Small Thoughts Review: Air of the Overworld by Matthew Hughes

Air of the Overworld is a fantasy novelet published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2020, issue. It focuses on a reoccurring character that Hughes has written about for years; a wizard’s henchman named Baldemar.

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If you haven’t read the other (mis)adventures of Baldemar, this specific tale may be difficult to connect with that first. There are minor characters who regular readers have gotten to know in prior installments, as well as references to events in the past that would surely feel more important if you’d read about them. Me, I’ve read one other story about Baldemar, so I at least understood the type of magical world he lives in. I think the barrier to access may be–thicker, so to speak, if I had not.

Air of the Overworld is a retelling of a classic tale. It could be equated to the story of Icaris–that foolish man who made wings of wax and flew to close to the sun, or it could take on a more biblical feel–it really depends on the connection the reader makes. Baldemar is basically the test subject of a powerful wizard–not the one he is employed by, but a different one–though how he got there I never really was sure. This powerful wizard wants to ascend to the high plane–the fourth plane, and experiments on Baldemar, sending him to this plane of perfect existence in an attempt to learn what he can from the air Baldemar traps in a golden bladder. The wizard is certain he can ascend if only he can learn enough, perform the correct spells, etc.

While Baldemar shows clear ingenuity to help himself out of a difficult situation in which his very being is altered due to his visits to the Overworld, the stakes, at least for me, never really felt so urgent that I was compelled to keep reading. It’s a story with all those fictional elements, character development, and agency, a person, in a place, with a problem–that is then fixed by that character or not, though what is most important is that they seem to have the ability to help themselves. And Baldemar does. But still, something felt amiss. I think it may be chalked up to nothing more than being thrust into a story that is the latest in a serialization, and while I wanted to know what would happen, it felt as though I lacked some context for it to be truly fulfilling.

Small Thoughts: The Joy in Wounding by Charlotte Ashley

The Joy in Wounding, published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is a fantasy piece by Charlotte Ashley. It’s a continuation of some characters from a prior short story published in F&SF.

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Despite the fact I’d read that last story, I’m still grappling with the type of world this is. The main character is a witch, and so are her sisters, but then she has like some wind that floats around her all the time and can talk (?). It feels very Murakami in some ways, yet then magical things are happening that make the main character fly around leagues and leagues–with no real point of reference.

If I hadn’t read the last story in this series I’d have been even more confused than I am, and not only with the world. Some of the character’s actions seem unwarranted and unearned as if they act in order to create plot, rather than in their truer nature. Sometimes there are those pieces in magazines that I just can’t understand how they fit into what is publishable and marketable, and sadly this is one of those. It’s a harsh assessment, but this reader had an exceedingly difficult time not putting down the issue altogether.

Small Thoughts: Rejoice, My Brothers And Sisters by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Rejoice, My Brothers And Sisters

by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: Nov/Dec 2019

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Rejoice, My Brothers And Sisters is something of an inverted Matrix plotline.  It tells the story of “an Angel” who has become corporeal and visits a “zoo” in which humans live. That zoo is our real-world–or at least a world that is very similar to our own.

Many who live within this zoo believe/know they are living in a contained and fake environment. Many people protest and want to ascend to the place the protagonist has come from, which involves porting your consciousness over to “the cloud.”

Since the story is narrated by a sliver of consciousness that would fit in a human brain, compared to a consciousness unbridled by physicality, and instead in an infinite processor, readers can’t trust the main character. First, they start out trying to convince someone the idea of ascension is impossible. But the longer the story goes on the more I began to doubt whether this narrator was in the zoo to tell the truth, or merely spread propaganda.

The unreliable narrator is cool–I love unreliable narrators–but some of the concepts in this piece just seemed tired. I didn’t really buy into the world either. I think, ultimately, this piece is trying to establish too many things in the short word-count it has. The result is that the world doesn’t feel persistent. Instead, it feels thin, washed, the people living within the zoo unreal, or simple plot devices.

Check out what Benjamin Rosenbaum is up to: here