Category Archives: E-Market / Quarterly

Subterranean Online, Spring 2014

Reviewed by Harlen Bayha

“The Screams of Dragons” by Kelley Armstrong takes that little voice inside of all of us, the one that says, “You can get away with it, no one will know,” and turns it into the screams of dragons inside a young boy’s head. Abused by his grandmother due to her superstitious prejudices against him, he retreats from his family. He cuts the connection away slice by slice, bruise by bruise, constantly working to find any edge against his tormentors, until he finds a path to vengeance.

The story’s a bit gruesome, but in a bucolic way, you know? No? That’s okay. Suffice it to say, there’s fields of green and beautiful castles, up to a point. Then there’s a town stuffed with gargoyles and odd people who probably aren’t as crazy as the rest of the world thinks they are. In the end, there’s a boy who I came to understand and sympathize with, but who had lost something human. Maybe he never was.

Definitely my cup o’ tea.

“Bus Fare” by Caitlín R. Kiernan follows the well-trodden path of a talkative, very patient, and trusting monster battling a human in a riddle death-match. Mythical monsters apparently don’t read these stories, and don’t know they’re bound to lose? The riddles are the frustrating kind with multiple answers if you allow some creativity. Bonus answers to one might be a painting, a television, a lego set, and a number of other things. However, the story’s not completely about the riddles, which really helps, so the ending feels better than the setup, and the writing is fairly entertaining throughout.

“The Traveller and the Book” by Ian R MacLeod carries multiple layers of analogy, and I think it will appeal to readers depending on their particular background. Both fans and opponents of omnipotent deities could find something to like or hate here. The story reads like a religious text centering on a character with god-like abilities, but it doesn’t delve far past the surface of this traveller. What I did know of him didn’t make me want to like him.

His attitude of ownership toward other people, especially toward women, struck me as either childish or jaded. He eventually creates a wife for himself, and in attempting to be altruistic, he gives her free will, not realizing the issue that she didn’t ever choose to marry him. The only other woman mentioned specifically is a flying harpy he copulates with momentarily. No comment.

“Hath No Fury” by Kat Howard in a nice rebuttal to the previous stories, taking a vengeful approach to girl power. One of the Greek Furies of legend must attempt to unravel a magical mystery in modern-day New York City. Her days are filled with run-ins with characters from various antiquated pantheons, like Odin and Baba Yaga, and has a similar feel to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The early story kept getting cut up by flashbacks, though, and I found it hard to gain traction with two stories intertwining so frequently.

As the story moves along, the flashbacks cease, allowing the modern plot to heat up for a strong push to the end. Our Fury has to deal with the psychological burden of existing to deliver only vengeance, and never arriving in time to save anyone. She also has a powerful need to safeguard her friendships, but the scales in her heart drive her to do the right thing, even when it will cause pain and possibly undermine those friendships.

A well crafted story, particularly suited to enthusiasts of Greek mythos.

I’m not quite sure why the editor included “One Dove” by Stephen Gallagher unless it was because of the steampunkish overtones so in vogue these days. I kept looking for some horror, fantasy, or science fiction element as I read, but it turned out to be a fairly entertaining Sherlockian mystery set in Victorian London, complete with steam trains and old-fashioned investigative techniques like hiring a street urchin to spook a horse. I had hoped for something more Lovecraftian because of the asylum and the spooky intro, but I didn’t get it. However, if you want an old-school mystery, I can recommend it.

“The Burial Of Sir John Mawe At Cassini” by Chaz Brenchley takes us back to the pulp science fiction days of yore, treating Mars and Venus as human-friendly environments without reference to any sort of technology to make it so. Humans have reached some sort of pact with aliens who now shuttle them around the inner planets on their ships. Generations ago, these aliens helped the British Empire populate Mars. The Russians have claimed Venus, despite the horrific heat, pressure, and lack of oxygen. I think the Russians got the short end of that deal.

The story focuses on an Anglican gravedigger observing a funeral procession that isn’t what it seems, while explaining the Martian-human culture and the political struggles between the human settlers and the native Martians. The human motives seem clear, but the alien motives are not. They also probably don’t realize how duplicitous humans are, which ends up being the crux of the story. The gravedigger seems like a stand-up fellow, though the people around him aren’t.

“The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile” by Aliette de Bodard follows a child living in the decline of a great interstellar empire as rebel forces advance closer to her home planet and the weaker imperial troops begin their retreat. She learns up close the brutality of war, the smash of stampeding crowds, and the pain of losing the people close to her. Although I felt some connection to the characters around her, I didn’t feel the main character’s plight, or identify with her much. She is faced with a stark choice at the end, but I felt she made it without understanding the full consequences, which drowned the impact for me.

A thoughtful piece, with interesting Chinese cultural references throughout.

Harlen Bayha believes someday humans will populate the stars, and the stories we craft today will become our heritage, our religion, our ethical guidance. He also loves shooting digital aliens, reading graphic novels, watching Asian action films, fabricating flamboyant lies, and irony.

Subterranean Online, Winter 2014

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Subterreanean Online has consistently published some of the best SF of the year, and I looked forward to seeing their Winter issue.

The issue starts out with “The Scrivener,” an allegory about the writing process. The title character has three daughters: Imagination, Ornamentation, and Plot, who don’t follow in their father’s footsteps. The Scivener is told by a critic to send his daughters out to a witch in the forest, where they might learn how to be writers. Each runs into something unexpected. Eleanor Arnason may be writing an allegorical tale, but it avoids heavy-handedness and manages to make the symbolic characters real and it works just as well as a straight story.

I find Greg Egan‘s “Bit Players” to be a total misfire, though. The concept – revealed far too slowly as Segreda, the protagonist, figures it out – is that the people in it are background characters in video games. The concept certainly has possibilities, but once revealed, it really doesn’t do much about it. The concept is too slight, and the story didn’t do much for me.

“The Prelate’s Commission” entails Teleui, a very talented artist, making a very special painting: one of the Devil – his true appearance, so that the world will know him. Teleui takes on the commission and tracks down the Prince, who, of course, has conditions. Jeffrey Ford isn’t doing the standard “deal with the devil” story, though, and though it’s a twist ending that ends in death, it avoids the cliches you might expect.

We move more toward horror in “Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story” by Karen Joy Fowler. Nanny Anne takes care of twins Fiona and Dacey when their parents are away and when a mysterious storm surrounds their house while their parents are away over Christmas, Fiona begins to suspect that Nanny Anne is doing something frightening that has to do with some odd circumstances about the origin of the two children. The scariness of the situation is ramped up slowly and the result is some nice terror about the loss of what no child wants to lose.

“Hayfever” is my favorite of the stories in this issue. It’s about Stephen, who is given the job of cooking a final meal for Pyne of Mabar, an alien tyrant sentenced to death. Pyne requests the meat of a mimblebat, a creature of a place called Painted Plains, one of the first planets to rebel against him. Of course, Stephen suspects a trick, and getting the ingredients turns out to be even more difficult than he had expected, even knowing this could be some sort of trick. Frances Hardinge‘s story is one of amazing imagination, and which weaves supposedly diverse elements into something that comes together flawlessly. It really has everything that good science fiction should have, wrapped up in a nice sense of fun.

“Caligo Lane” is a street in San Francisco, where Franny lives. Franny is a cartographer, but her maps are more than just directions: they are a way to make distances disappear. Set in the 1940s, Franny finds herself casting a spell to effect a rescue. Ellen Klages writes a good tale about rescue which certainly has a feel-good vibe. It’s a type of story that bothers me, though, since it uses magic to deal with a real-world horror that is just too big for a magic solution. That’s my own quibble, and if that sort of thing is not an issue, then you’ll like the story much more.

K J Parker contributes “I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There,” a fantasy where the narrator approaches a magician in order to learn magic. Magic and magicians are banned (even though magic does not work), but the man gives the lessons, which is not what is expected. That’s one big strength of the story: one constant surprise after another as we learn more of the character and how his request plays out over time. I liked the cleverness of the story, and the lessons it teaches without teaching.

“Pilgrims of the Round World” by Bruce Sterling completes the issue. It’s a novella set in Renaissance Turin where Ugo and Agnes, proprietors of the Inn of Saint Cleopha are called to be ambassadors to the court of Cyprus, ruled in part by their daughter, the Queen of Jerusalem. The story is filled with stories and characters, all woven together into a tapestry of talk. There are plenty of wonders here, but the story is far too long and spends all of its time in talk.

Overall, this is another first-class issue from Subterranean Online. Even with the stories I don’t care for, the results are better than most anything else around.

Chuck Rothman‘s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate were recently republished by Fantastic Books.

Subterranean Online, Fall 2013

Reviewed by Bob Blough

Subterranean has put out another superior issue. Somehow this e-zine presents classy and exciting fiction almost every time they publish.

This cornucopia starts with a new story by Lewis Shiner. “Doctor Helios” is a cold war spy novella that begins in Egypt in the year of 1963. John York, a spy from the CIA is sent to Cairo. He, of course, gets involved with beautiful women, car chases, guns and super-villains. It’s written in a very Ian Fleming style and the setting is vividly brought to life. We smell Cairo and feel the heat in the desert. However, as the plot continues, the politics get muddy and York’s wonton sexual liaisons become a heavy load of responsibility. It is an exquisitely done post-cold war deconstruction of the super-spy/super-villain story. Wonderfully written, but in no way is it a piece of fantastic fiction.

The next offering is SF, pure quill SF as Gardner Dozois calls it, and excellently done. In “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” Ted Chiang maintains his past high standards. This is a confessional by a reporter, in the near future, who is writing an article on a new software coming out called “Remem.” In this future the world has lifelogs that record our individual lives from just after birth to death. Unfortunately, that is so much information that finding anything specific takes too long to make it worthwhile. Remem is supposed to make sorting of all those memories quick and easy. The reporter decides to test Remem on himself by looking over his relationship with his daughter.

At the same time a second strand is intertwined with the first strand and is about a tribe of people in 1941 facing a major technology change of their own. Westerners are introducing the concept of writing.

In the contrast of two overpowering technological changes, Chiang examines questions as varied as: What is memory? What is the difference between truth and facts? Are foggy memories a blessing or curse? What will happen to a community with such a breakthrough?

“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is a stimulating walk through these discussions, wrapped up in a surprisingly moving picture of a man and his daughter. This one is not to be missed.

“Hook Agonistes” by Jay Lake and Seanan McGuire hits all my SF sweet spots. It’s a masterful far future story set on an alien spacecraft with a few humans from a destroyed earth kept alive as a janitorial crew. This scenario is complicated by the fact that a mysterious robot/AI named Jas is the de facto leader of those humans still alive. The trip has lasted hundreds of years and Jas has tried to keep the memory of Earth alive for its descendants. We learn right from the beginning that time on board is reckoned as 300 A.L. which stands for After Lowryland . There are quotes from Mr. Lowry sprinkled throughout the text that illuminate what is taking place and how these people came to be on the ship.

This is a clever and emotionally fulfilling novella as we come to know Jas and the problems he encounters. Also, it is delightfully written, revealing just enough with each section to help us put together what is happening without giving too much of the mystery away.

“What Doctor Ivanovitch Saw” by Ian Tregillis pales a bit in comparison to these others, but is a solidly done recounting of an alternate universe where America did not enter World War II and the Nazis were defeated by the Russians. Doctor Ivanovitch is a scientist trying to discover how the Nazi’s were able to create people with Superpowers during the war. The Russians are in a race to determine this secret weapon before the Japanese discover it. It’s well written but a bit flat and unsurprising.

Read this issue of Subterranean and you will encounter some of the best SF work written this year.

Subterranean Online, Summer 2013

Reviewed by Cyd Athens

This is a special K. J. Parker issue of Subterranean Online.

“The Sun And I” by K. J. Parker

Five down-on-their-luck young men decide to “invent God” and present themselves as His holy messengers as a way to legitimize their begging. Figuring the scam to be a short-term affair, they are surprised when their fake religion takes off. A few unintentional miracles such as healing a horde of plague sufferers with a questionable potion (soup made, in part, with moldy bread) launches the The Invincible Sun into the stratosphere, and the religion’s founders into the limelight. Exponential growth follows with all that comes with it. This story is a processional where each thing naturally flows to the next–all the way to the end.

“Stage Blood” by Kat Howard

This is a story about magic–both the kind that magicians do on stage, and the kind that exists in fantasy and supernatural tales. It begins onstage with a magician, Ian, thrusting swords through a woman in a clear box. Like any good sleight of hand, what the magician, and the woman, experience is different from what the audience sees. After the final curtain, Ian locks the box away with the rest of his secrets. When Stella appears one day from that secret place, Ian wants her–not for romance, but for her secrets. The magic here has secrets of its own. The ending is fitting, but unsurprising–like a magic trick seen again after the viewer has figured out how it works.

“Illuminated” by K. J. Parker

The protagonist here is a chauvinist male magician in a time when women, with their “frailties,” are considered unfit to become full magicians. Though it is made clear that his views on women are typical of the time and place, it nonetheless creates a character that is not immediately, or consistently, sympathetic. Having drawn the short straw, and been stuck with a female assistant, he goes to an ancient tower in search of arcane knowledge. Though they find the tome for which they were searching, he can’t read the writing and, because unknown magics are best not read aloud lest they be cast, his assistant can’t read it to him. Therefore, she must transcribe the book in her more legible hand for him to read. As the tale progresses, it becomes harder all around to determine who is telling it. This is a classic Parker story.

“The Case of the Stalking Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale

Supernormal investigator Dana Roberts recounts her first adventure to a club of skeptics after a club member contacts her to confess to having secretly recorded Dana’s earlier visit. This is a gestalt where the setting and characters work together as more than background. Dana’s experience, which began when she was a girl and spanned the years into her adulthood, is expertly told and captures reactions one might expect of someone in that situation. As stories about narrators who are relating tales told to them by other characters go, this one is not bad.

“The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World” by Catherynne M. Valente

Here we start with a fantastic title and experience a tale worthy of it. The Bride narrates this story where the Wizard of Los Angeles and the Wizard of New York battle it out to determine which of them will be the Bride’s Groom. The wizards’ duel, however, comes after we learn about some of the competitors who did not make it to the final round–the Witch of the Mississippi, the Baron of Nebraska, and the Hag of Florida to name a few. It is difficult to classify this story, and that is part of its charm. It is as if the author placed a surreal alternate universe over a typical western duel. Things here are familiar, yet different. In the end, the Groom gets the Bride. It is the how of it that makes this a fun read.

“Don’t Ask” by Bruce McAllister and W. S. Adams

After a man’s soldier sweetheart is killed by stepping on an IED, he searches for answers–not to just how she died, but also to what love is. That he loved her is never in doubt. The way that he shows it begs the question of what any of us do, or would do, for the ones we love. This is a short and thought-inspiring piece.

Subterranean Online, Spring 2013

Reviewed by Bob Blough

This is a full fantasy issue of Subterranean Online. And a good issue it is.

My least favorite story (and first read) of the bunch is “The Seafarer” by Tobias S. Buckell.  It’s not particularly bad, just bland. It’s an ordinary episode from a series begun with two novellas previously published in Subterranean. It concerns Alej, who has escaped the armies of an enchantress with a handful of men. He is weary of fighting and has arrived at the port city of Rusajka. It chronicles his search for work in Rusajka, but since his soldiering days are behind him he has trouble finding anything he can do. At his lowest point he is accepted on a boat owned by Yalisa. The rest of the story is about the ship and crew dealing with unscrupulous port masters (and magic) until a solution is found – or forced into place. I felt it to be rather predictable, and too long.  But as an adventure story it’s enjoyable enough.

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” is a superior work by Kat Howard, and is surely one of the best novellas to be published this year. The first paragraph provides a taste of the prose style:

“The white bird flew through the clarion of the cathedral bells, winging its way through the rich music of their tolling to perch in the shelter of the church’s walls. The chiming continued, marking time into measured, holy hours.”

That not only caught my attention, but told me I was in for a treat if the author could maintain the same level of prose. It not only continued but gathered layers, adding real flesh and blood characters, humor, and a satisfying love story.

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” is the story of Sweeney, a man cursed many years ago to live part of his life as a man and at other times be transformed into a bird. Taking place in modern day New York City, he meets up with an antisocial female painter of good renown (she suffers from a panic disorder). Together they piece together their various lives into something beautiful and tragic as she begins to paint various mythical birds, and Sweeney himself. Closure is very real for both but in unexpected ways. I can’t praise this work highly enough. Read it and luxuriate in the telling.

Jay Lake’s “A Stranger Comes to Kalimpura” takes place in the fantasy world he first created for his novel Green. It concerns the priestess of the Temple of the Silver Lady, Mother Vajpai. She encounters a god-like creature who has come to her city and immediately begins to destroy it. The plot revolves around getting rid of this godling. The idea is good and the characters interesting, with lucid, clear prose, but this story takes place in the middle of the series and contains far too much backstory for someone not familiar with it. I often found myself bored, as relationships were explained rather than lived, and past information statically recounted. I think this is wholly for followers of the series, who no doubt will enjoy it.

William Browning Spencer is a writer who writes stories that only he could. He is a one of a kind storyteller. “The Indelible Dark” does not disappoint. It concerns the existential life of Joel Sterns, a writer of genre fiction from Austin, TX. It is also the SF story he is writing at the moment. The fictional author breaks into his fictional story to comment and discuss his life. This delicate conflation creates a palpably grim atmosphere that never descends into the maudlin. It’s meta-fiction squared, off-beat and well-written, and makes for an exciting combination.

Another offbeat story is Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Prayer of Ninety Cats,” a dark fantasy written from an interesting angle. Written in the second person, you are a movie critic sent to review an old but restored copy of a black and white film concerning the Blood Countess in Romania who tortured girls in the basement of her castle. The atmosphere – of both worlds, an odd sort of out of place version of today, as well as that of the movie itself – is masterfully rendered. As a film lover I was entranced by Ms. Kiernan’s descriptions. Prose that flows like poetry and true horror is an excellent coupling. This is superior fiction.

Last up is “The Syndrome” by Brian Francis Slattery. Told in a lighter vein than others here, it nevertheless actually touches on some very timely topics. It takes place in a future where most of the world is destroyed by the undead. Yes, a clichéd scenario, but beautifully made new by the narrator, a human psychologist who specializes in analyzing the undead who come seeking his help. This is very uncommon, as the undead live in a perpetual now that does not lend itself to childhood traumas or any kind of traditional human syndrome. The psychologist works with one patient named Derek who appears to be trying to commit suicide even though he is already dead. We follow the interaction of these two characters as Derek takes up painting and tries to find why he is doing this. The discussions are surprisingly deep for such a comical idea and come from a truly alien perspective. Long but constantly surprising, this is a must read.

Subterranean Online should be considered one of the classiest genre magazines in the business. They consistently publish fascinating fiction, from SF to Fantasy to Horror…to the indescribable. Read it with joy.

Fireside Magazine #3, Winter 2012/13

Reviewed by Louis West

This issue of Fireside contains a collection of excellent stories from some well-known authors. Quite a pleasure to read.

“Form and Void,” by Elizabeth Bear, explores the gritty reality of how friendship can still appear to thrive, even in the absence of warmth and mutual respect.

“Before she turned into a dragon, Kathy Cutter was Comanche Zaripes’ best friend.” And with that first sentence, I was hooked, drawn into the roller-coaster ride of the often emotionally abusive friendship between the two girls as they grew up and ventured together into the depths of Jovian space.

Kathy was smart, flaunted her beauty and wore fancy boutique clothes, while Comanche was too smart and her family was always broke. Kathy collected insults, never forgetting or forgiving, jealously wearing the memory jewels everywhere. Everyone wanted to be Kathy’s friend, but Comanche was Kathy’s only friend because that’s the way Kathy liked it. The two girls were friends all the way through college, Comanche even picking the same astroengineering graduate program just to stay with her friend. And when Kathy announced that she would immigrate to Io, Comanche followed, leaving her family behind. At times, Kathy seemed to be kind to her friend, giving Comanche her old computer and allowing her to share her stateroom on the journey to Jupiter’s moon. But, when Kathy eventually decides she wants to transform herself into a dragon, a space-based cyborg that had once been human, Comanche knew that she couldn’t follow. In reality, their friendship had all been a mutually beneficial lie. Kathy felt that Comanche was the only one who had ever wanted Kathy for herself while Comanche “liked being the person who could walk with the dragon, even if she got a little chewed or scorched.”

“Liked walking with the dragon.” I wonder how many of us that describes. An excellent story and a definite must read.

Lucas J.W. Johnson’s “Remaker, Remaker” is an excerpt from the journal of a certified free-lance Remaker, Martin Fullius. Martin is well-known for his skills at crafting cyborg augments, especially for gladiators and the Roman military. But he wants to be able to remake the entire human body, organs, muscles, limbs, to vastly increase its capacity for power. With the financial backing of a mysterious patron, Martin pursues his personal research, designing, experimenting, then graduating to work on living subjects—dying soldiers, slaves, even a child. They all die, hard, screaming deaths; but Martin believes he learns from each and continues. Ultimately, his benefactor tasks Martin to remake his apprentice, a weak man sent to him by his benefactor. Martin succeeds, but only in a way that Dr. Frankenstein could truly appreciate.

Horrific, like a retelling of 20th century Nazi live-human experiments. I felt no sympathy for the Remaker and only saw the tale as a warning to modern-day geneticists, technologists and bioengineers who play with life, sometimes without regard for the well-being of the very ones that need help the most.

“John Fisher,” by Daniel Abraham, is an excellent ghost story, pitting the angry imagination of a young step-daughter against the safety of her new step-father. Except this 5-year old manages to bring a creature called John Fisher to life, communicating with him via her play phone. She doesn’t want John to hurt her mommy and gets increasingly upset over what John says he might do to her step-father. Then John appears in the step-father’s dreams, dreams with the full-flavor of nightmare, dreams that promise nothing good will happen when John comes to the house. One late night, John appears in the house. The man does what any good father would: he defends his sleeping daughter saying “if you get her, it’s because I’m already dead, motherfucker.”

All a little girl needs to know is that her father figure will protect her, no matter what. A must read.

Mary Robinette Kowal‘s “The White Phoenix Feather” is an absolute pleasure to read. Against the backdrop of a gourmet meal that’s a gastronomic delight, Viola must protect a client from large spider-like native ninjas while her client completes the ritualistic meal then eats a White Phoenix Feather. The feather is not really a feather. Instead, it’s a frond-like growth which native females called “samurai” because of their bladed arms that sprout only during mating season. Viola and her partner, Joe, have a contract with a local samurai to provide the occasional White Phoenix Feather to clients eager to indulge in an Extreme Dining experience. Much like eating fugu fish, the allure is in the danger, not from lethal toxins but from attacks by dog-level intelligent ninjas drawn to the pheromones emitted by the feather. The experience also allows the samurai to clear her stable of lesser males, a mutually profitable venture all around. Except the client violates his contact by telling his girlfriend about his plans to eat the feather. The ever-present ninjas learn about it, and now a different, and very intelligent, samurai seeks to acquire the feather, thereby allowing her to steal the entire stable of ninjas that would be drawn to it.

To enhance the atmosphere of danger, Viola must sit at the table looking decorative, protecting the client from repeated attacks without any weapons except what she can create out of table utensils, hot soup, pepper mills, a seeded baguette, hot fondue and various other items associated with the meal service. Her waiter is a true artist, who always has the right food or utensil for her when she needs it most. But it’s not the spiders that prove to be the greatest challenge for Viola, it’s her client–he’s crass and unappreciative of the exceptional nature of an Extreme Dining experience. In the end it’s only her pleasure in the subtle aromas of a single-malt Glenmorangie scotch that makes the evening worthwhile for Viola.

An exceptional tale and the ongoing descriptions of the various gourmet dishes enticed me in a way few stories can—through the sensation of taste. A must read.

Louis West. With a background in sub-atomic physics, astronomy, biophysics, medical genetics and international finance, Louis is particularly fond of hard SF. He critiques a broad variety of SF&F stories and volunteers at various New England-based SF&F conferences. His own SF writing explores the personal, social and cultural impacts of evolving nano-tech.

Subterranean Online, Winter 2013

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

The Winter issue of Subterranean Online bills itself as a “Special Walter Jon Williams Issue,” with two novellas by Williams, including his classic “Surfacing.”

“Raptors” by Conrad Williams is the story of Eddie’s relationship with Dervla, a mysterious woman who seemed to be keeping secrets. Eddie is dealing with his dying grandmother and with the on-off relationship with Dervla. Most of the story reads like a mainstream relationship story; the fantastic element only begins to come into play toward the end, where you begin to understand what Dervla was doing throughout the story. I found it a little slow going, but overall worth the time to get to the conclusion.

Steven R. Boyett contributes “Hard Silver,” set in the cowboy era, where a mysterious masked man and his faithful Indian companion discover a dying man, who had been brutally attacked after a short visit to Agville. There are dangerous supernatural forces at work, and it’s a good thing that the masked man happens to use silver bullets in his gun. It’s a wonderful conceit and a fast-paced modern pulp story — with far more depth than traditional pulp, of course — and an ending that leaves things hanging in a way that is very satisfying.

The featured Walter Jon Williams story is an alternate history novella focusing on Mark Twain at the turn of the 20th century. “The Boolean Gate” has his path crossing with Nikola Tesla, who is working on a plan to give unlimited power for all the earth. But Twain eventually discovers that there are dark forces at work. The underlying story here is a strong one, but I found Williams spends far too much time on minutiae of the era (four paragraphs, plus a poem, about J. P. Morgan’s big nose) and also too much time establishing the character. There’s a five thousand word scene of a breakfast between Twain and Tesla that establishes a few small items that are important to the story, while giving numerous descriptions of the tables, silverware, tablecloths, and meals at the Waldorf hotel. The story would have been much better at 2/3rds the length.

Subterranean Online, Fall 2012

Reviewed by Bob Blough

Subterranean Online, unlike most other e-zines, publishes long pieces of fiction that a reader can really sink his or her teeth into. This issue has four long stories each very different from the others. There is something for everyone’s taste this time.

“African Sunrise” by Nnedi Okorafor is a long novella. Part One was published as “The Book of Phoenix” (excerpted from the Great Book) in Clarkesworld last year. Upon reading it I thought it was brilliant and one of my favorite stories of 2011. It was also picked up by Jonathan Strahan for his “Best of the Year” anthology. This previously published part tells the story of the maturation of an African woman who was raised in Tower 7 in a future United States. She and her compatriots in this lab/prison have been genetically altered to be various weapons for the USA. It is an exciting and well written story with nicely rendered characters and relationships. The main character is called Phoenix. She is 3 years old while appearing about 40. She finds out about what her real circumstances are, and using her “super powers” destroys the Tower.

The rest of this story (much more than three times as long as Part One) details what happens after that destruction. Though beautifully written, I did not enjoy her further adventures as much. In this continuation the individual scenes are powerfully written but a sense of too many deus ex machina scenes occur thoughout the text: Oh no, the bad guys are after me so I’ll finally pull out those wings I’ve been obviously growing and escape, or Oh no, I am being pursued by the bad guys and so another super being will be there for the rescue. The superpowers became too convenient for me.

So, while it is still extraordinarily well written in the micro, the macro suffers from too much coincidence. Still definitely worth a read, just go in and expect a well written super hero tale.

If you enjoy comedic SF that begins with a possible and serious SF scenario that descends into every cliché that the genre has to offer, you will enjoy Brian Lumley’s “Two-Stone Tom and His Big T.O.E.” This involves an assistant researcher in a scientific lab who is late for his lab’s major experiment dealing with transferring matter into either the past or the future. Being late, he and one other person are trapped in an infinite matrix of the company’s parking garage when the experiment goes awry. With characters named Adam Tempest and Thomas Fotherington Wright and a plethora of exclamation marks, it announces itself as a satirical take on various tropes of the genre. I found it very funny.

The story I very much enjoyed but the proofreading in this story was atrocious. After too many times of being thrown out of the story by typos, I started counting them. In ¾ of the story I counted 18 major typos. This did not occur in the other stories. I wouldn’t mention this but I have found this tendency in other Subterranean pieces in the past. Editors? Somebody? Please fix this problem.

Historical fantasy is served up in “Game” by Maria Dahvana Headley. It involves a big game hunter of the 1920s being called back to the scene of his most famous tiger hunt in a small town in India. The time period takes place in 1950 when he is 72 years old and is brought back to handle another major threat, this time involving man-eating tigers in the area. The setting is well done and the lead character is refreshingly aged. He is forced to look back upon his life and a specific instance of his past that still literally haunts him. I sensed Robert Aickman while reading this story. And that is high praise.

Pure horror is the name of the game in “When the Shadows are Hungry and Cold (A Milestone Story)” by Kealan Patrick Burke. I was afraid that I might be at a disadvantage in not having read a Milestone story before, but that was not the case. This is a full fledged story about the town of Milestone and the rather seedy Deputy Sheriff of the town.

Bryce Carrigan is investigating the 8th car crash in recent months that seem to have no rhyme or reason. It’s blamed on deer but the automobiles and drivers are too mangled for that to be the answer. Reminiscent of Stephen King, the story twists and turns until more information is released about the town and what happens to its visitors and inhabitants. Bryce, while unlikable, is presented with clarity and depth so that he is not seen as a total jerk. While I must admit that horror is my least favorite part of the fantastic genre, I do enjoy good writing. And this is just fine.

The editor of Subterranean Online is excellent. His literary tastes combine with great sensitivity to the genre, making for stimulating and fun reading almost every issue. This Fall issue continues that trend.

Fireside Magazine #2, Summer 2012

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Fireside is a new professional quarterly ezine that touches bases with science fiction, fantasy, and graphic storytelling. 

The issue starts out with “The Heart of the Story,” set in a city that has grown up from stories:  stories have created it, and much of the description is in literary terms.  Arachne is a woman in this city, who discovers a bookstore and goes inside.  The writing here is strong, and Kat Howard uses some interesting language and clever phrases throughout.  The problem (ironically given the title) is that there is no story in the story.  Arachne wanders in the bookstore and sees things, but it doesn’t lead to any conclusion, just metaphor and description.  This is a conceit, but there is no story or characterization or anything else but pretty words. 

On the other hand, Jake Kerr‘s “Perspective” has plenty of story, and it’s one of the best I’ve read all year.  The narrator is a near-recluse after the death of his wife, but his son Jeffery is in trouble with the police for “tagging” buildings with black molecular paint that can’t be removed.  Jeffrey is arrested for making random designs all over the city and, despite his father’s pleas, goes out to do more. The story is about loss and family, and the ending is absolutely perfect, coming out of nowhere to hit you with plenty of emotional power.  This would be the highlight of any magazine.

“An Honest Mistake” is a graphic work, written by magazine editor Brian White with art by Steve Walker and lettering by Frank Cvetkovic.  The zombie apocalypse is on hand and Gil is battling against the living dead.  Only things are not that simple.  The concept is only mildly interesting and the story meanders (despite its brevity) and goes for a gross out that Robert Bloch was doing in the 1940s.  I was not impressed.

Damien Walters Grintalis shows a more frightening form of horror in “Scarred.”  Violet’s body is covered with scars, the remnants of a dark secret:  a spirit that emerges when she cuts herself in order to get revenge on those she is angry with.  The spirit is seductive, trying to get Violet to release it and her anger, as she struggles to deal with it.  A strong piece of horror with a Twilight Zone kicker at the end that tiptoes around the question as to what is good and what is evil.

The final story, “Rhapsody in Blue Shift” by Stephen Blackmoore, is a hard SF ghost story with an appearance of George Gershwin on a spaceship.  Sid is a janitor on the ship, which has been pressed into service as a refugee ship, when Gershwin shows up and warns him of trouble about to occur.  Sid has never heard of him, and gets in a good deal of trouble for following his directions (though I can’t see why; it seems very arbitrary that the captain reacts the way he does).  The story is a good one, but I was left with the question:  why Gershwin?  I’m a fan, but the role could have been filled by just about anyone.  But I liked Sid as a character and the story is good fun.

Overall, this is quite a good issue.  The weaknesses are more than compensated for by the strengths.

Subterranean Online, Summer 2012

Reviewed by Bob Blough

This is an excellent issue of Subterranean, a joy to read. And since much of it was horror I found it exhilarating. The fantasy and horror are of superior quality.  Just don’t expect any science fiction this time around.

First off is “Let Maps to Others,” written by the enigmatic K.J. Bishop. “Let Maps to Others” concerns Bishop’s long running Company series that takes place in an alternate world (or perhaps a ruritania) in or around the Renaissance of the world. You do not have to be familiar with any of the previous stories to enjoy this one. It concerns an un-named scholar whose major field of study is the mythical lands of Escuvio. It seems that people in the not so distant past have visited this land but never divulged its location. Thus it has become the holy grail of a sort to the Company. If this does not sound exciting then I am not doing the story justice. K.J. Bishop writes with a startling clarity and suppleness of prose that reminds me of Ursula K. LeGuin. The story itself is written in a wonderfully quirky first person voice and concerns the unnamed protagonist’s rivalry with another scholar about Escuvio. There are rivalries and underhanded doings and ship rides and … Well, I can’t say more as I don’t want to ruin any surprises. But I have to say that I could lay out all those surprises to you right now and it wouldn’tt spoil the reading of this densely packed novella. My only quibble? It is not truly fantasy and not SF but as stated it is a ruritania, which reads as more of an historical tract than either of these genres. I guess I like a bit more fantasy in my fantasy, but as an example of its kind it is superb.

Ian R. MacLeod gives us a chilling horror story in “Tumbling Nancy.” This novelette begins prosaically enough with a publishing house in 1960s London. “Tumbling Nancy” is a series of children’s books written by Edna Bramley, and while everyone seems to have encountered them in their childhood, they are abominably written and the publishing house has decided to discontinue them. It falls to the new assistant editor, who is the narrator of the story, to tell Edna that her publisher is dropping her. Again, MacLeod writes as only he does and if you like his highly polished prose you will enjoy this story. What befalls the editor through the 1960s and up to today is a horror story about many things, cynicism and how it destroys, power and how it corrupts, and what may actually be behind this odd series of children’s books.

Robert Jackson Bennett has fashioned a superior work with “To Be Read Upon Your Waking,” set with a high dark fantasy backdrop. Compellingly written and emotionally moving, this chewy and detailed piece is just plain one of the best things I’ve read in High Fantasy in a long time. It takes place in our immediate past (1949-1950) and consists of letters written by a man (and cad) named James from France to his lover, whom he abandoned in London three months earlier. James has run off to France to avoid his debt collectors and bought a small property there that he believes to be the Anperde abbey; an abbey that he had been researching while in London. The epistolary form works beautifully for this story as we learn of the recent love affair between these two men and more importantly the consequences of James’ clearing out of the foundation of the abbey. He encounters more than he bargained for and slowly devolves into madness and/or the realm of fairy. If you like fine writing and enjoy dark fantasy do not miss this one.

The issue concludes in a more humorous vein in the further adventures of Mike Resnick’s Lucifer Jones. This episode, called “The Puce Whale: A Lucifer Jones Story,” is more complete than the last one I read and as the title suggests riffs amusingly on Moby Dick. After the rest of this issue I needed some humor and this one had me chortling aloud and even groaning at some of the puns. Of course, as the title suggests, it involves the search for the great puce whale (since the search for the great white whale was already taken) and is told by Lucifer in his customary small time grafter grandiose way. It is entertaining. Humor is hard to pull off but this one worked just fine.

This was an excellent issue of Subterranean with what should be some future award nominees (if not winners) for the major fantasy and horror awards. If you like those genres you will not be disappointed. But even if you just like well-written literary fiction of any kind you won’t be disappointed.