Transfinite #2 comes to us with three works of fiction this month.
The first is James Targett's "Empires Rise, Empires Fall," a story of combat with a nanotech monster. While the idea of the monster is somewhat interesting, this story is a mess of infodump scenes, poor plotting, and scenes that have no relationship to the rest of the story. This story feels like it was a novellette or novella shoe-horned into a long short story.
"By Virtue of Our Humanity" by Corey Kellgren details human aggression getting us in trouble with a supernaturally powerful race that has a strong sense of justice. Corey Kellgren handles the story well. I did think the communication method was a bit awkward, but I get the sense that this might be intentional. Overall, "By Virtue of Our Humanity" is an acceptable read.
The issue ends with the second part of George Brereton's serial that started with "Counting Sheep." "Counting the Cost" continues with Brereton's brisk style and crisp characterizations, while raising the suspense from the first installment. I would recommend reading "Counting Sheep" before the second part of this serial, however. And I wish editor R. E. B. Tongue had warned us this was going to be a serial, rather than a story of two parts, back in issue #1.
Transfinite is a new PDF zine from Britain. In addition to fiction, it has articles and essays. And the "cover" art for issue #1 is first rate.
The fiction opens with the action packed "Counting Sheep" by George Brereton. "Counting Sheep" is being published in two parts. The first half of this story is engagingly written and the action holds the attention with its tale of attack on a mine and factory in an unknown setting. But you never really learn what this story is about, why things are taking place. The second half of the story is in Transfinite #2.
Matthew Frank is next with "Thief," a story about identity theft. The first half of the story is relatively strong. However, "Thief" goes astray from its main thrust with strange diversions that have little to do with the rest of the story. The ending is an attempt to bring the story back on point, but it ultimately fails after the strange ramblings that took the story adrift.
Another story about concept of identity, "Vocal Concern" by Duncan B. Barlow details the story of a man confronted with himself. Barlow's effort succeeds in the meat of it, but the setting of the story is very esotericthe world of music recording. If you can get past the setting to the conflict, you will find a story that has the power to engage. However, I did find the end of the story a little weak, and rather predictable.
"A Time to Stay" is the weakest story of this issue. Werner A. Lind writes an unengaging time travel story that doesn't have any real conflict, nor has it anything to really hold the interest. It's a relatively uninspired character study wrapped around a strange plot device and provides nothing new to the time travel genre. Indeed, the story ends before it really even had begun.
The final story is the contribution of Transfinite editor, R. E. B. Tongue. "The Last Raid" is a reimagining of manned spaceflight, with Britain making the first manned flight. It's fairly well written, but fails to answer the important questions that one would imagine would arise from such an alternate history. This would be the second story in the issue that fails to tell the whole story but stops at the setup.
I rather enjoyed Brereton's "Counting Sheep," but I am rather disappointed that the decision was made to publish this story over two issues, especially given that I found at least some of the remaining fiction lacking.
"The Sparklers" presents a confused picture of a young woman coming to her own as a self-defined Guardian pledged to protect humankind from the ravages of supernatural nasties called Sparklers. The Sparklers are busily killing off every man, woman and child on Earth as the story opens, and it's up to our heroine to track them down by driving her SUV into a dreamworld with a secret weapon epoxied to her dashboard and her cat in the front seat. In the dreamworld, she discovers that the Sparklers have been unleashed upon the Earth by her dead mother, who for some unknown reason believes that she will achieve goddesshood if she kills everyone else off. The stage is set for a showdown that ends with a whimper rather than a bang.
Sloppy writing full of cliches and underdeveloped characters further undermine an already weak story.
This is the only fiction offering in this month's issue of The Spook, which seems bent on presenting every obstacle possible to reading its contents. Available only in online format, it is full of memory-hogging, flashy ads of the type found in print magazines, and tiny type that forces you to squint while pressing your nose against the screen to decipher it.
Michael Belfiore lives in New York State's Hudson River Valley, where he runs a writing-for-hire business with his wife Wendy Kagan. Visit him online at www.michaelbelfiore.com.