The first story in this issue, Carrie Vaughn’s “Crazy Rhythm,” might be classed as a science-fictional equivalent to magical realism. It’s just barely possible that the machine created by one of the main characters could have been built out of spare parts by a single man…and yet it’s improbable enough to make you wonder. While I do like stories where the speculative element is uncertain or understated, I found it too slight here. It’s an excellent tale—and one that, despite being set in the 1920’s, is highly relevant to today’s world—but it felt like one that could have been published in a mainstream literary journal.
In “Life on the Moon,” Tony Daniel does something quite impressive: he pairs a great story with several great poems. Several sections of the piece are headed by poems written by one of the main characters—and they’re evocative, lyrical poetry that could easily be published on their own. While poems often tell a story, they do so in a much different way than prose, and in my experience it’s rare to find an author who’s so skilled at both forms.
Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Consciousness Problem” is a surreal, creepy sci-fi story that keeps the reader guessing about the true nature of what’s going on. The main character, Elise, is recovering from a traumatic brain injury that has left her prone to hallucinations. Her husband Myung, meanwhile, has just cloned himself as part of a scientific project. There are several moments throughout the story where it’s not clear whether the clone has replaced the original or if Elise is hallucinating. The questions Elise faces about herself as she tries to cope with the changes to her thoughts, memories, and perceptions echo the questions about the nature of the self that are raised by the clone. It’s an interesting twist on an old sci-fi trope.
“Adventures in the Ghost Trade,” by Liz Williams, is a fun story, mingling urban fantasy with a traditional detective yarn. I was happy to see in the author interview that Williams has written other stories about the main character and his investigations.
I loved William Alexander’s novelette, “Ana’s Tag.” Like “Adventures in the Ghost Trade,” this piece has a fun, adventure-story feel to it. My one quibble is that I expected Ana’s wandering backpack to play more of a pivotal role in the climax of the story than it did.
Eleanor Arnason’s novella “Dapple” stands alongside “The Consciousness Problem” as one of my favorite stories in this issue. The author does a great job of creating a vibrant, detailed culture. Ahl/Dapple was an interesting protagonist, and I found myself engaged with her quest to become an actor.
The issue’s fiction selection is rounded off by two novel excerpts, from Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall and Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit. Wylding Hall seems to have an interesting format: it alternates between the points-of-view of several band members and their manager, hinting at mysterious happenings during a summer-long retreat to write and record an album. The excerpt from Dark Orbit presents an interesting sci-fi setting with a character I wanted to read more about.
Finally, the issue contains several interviews and book reviews. These provide interesting insights into the creative process of writers and artists in the speculative fiction field, as well as introductions to recently-published works.
Overall, this is a great issue with a wide variety of interesting content. My one complaint is about the balance between new work and reprints: of the eight complete stories in this issue, five are reprints. I would have preferred a greater emphasis on new work.