"Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" - 25 - Deborah Coates "A Strange Uncertain Light" - 93 - G. V. Anderson "The Legacy" - 141- Albert E. Cowdrey "The Slave" - 163 - Andrej Kokoulin, trans. from the Russian by Alex Shvartsman
"Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad" - 6 - Cassandra Khaw "Lacuna Heights" - 58 - Theodore McCombs "Nice for What" - 132 - Dominica Phetteplace "Planet Doykeit" - 206 - Eliza Rose "The Everlasting Humming of the Earth" - 226 - Molly Gloss "The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller" - 243 - Alex Irvine
"To Skeptics" - 57 - Mary Soon Lee "My Ghost Will Know the Way" - 204 - Beth Cato
BOOKS TO LOOK FOR - 75 - Charles de Lint MUSING ON BOOKS - 85 -Michelle West FILMS: SEQUEL, CALIFRAGILISTIC - 189 - David J. Skal SCIENCE: HOW VACCINES WORK - 194 - Jerry Oltion PLUMAGE FROM PEGASUS - 199 - Paul Di Filippo COMING ATTRACTIONS - 256 - CURIOSITIES - 258 - David Langford
Cartoons: Nick Downes (84, 203), Arthur Masear (92, 131).
Former Editor, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Author of The Prodigal Troll, the Traitor to the Crown Series, and Wild Things, plus dozens of short stories. World Fantasy Award Winner, and finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Sidewise, Sturgeon, and Locus Awards. Teacher at Clarion and elsewhere.
This review is only for the Nebula Award nominated novelette (2019) A Strange Uncertain Light by G.V. Anderson:
It’s a delightfully creepy Gothic story alternating between two women who share a strange and likely supernatural connection - one on her honeymoon after impulsive elopement in the 1930s, another on a dangerous errand in the 1830s - with all the trappings of the genre: creepy haunted mansion, unfriendly Yorkshire moors, deeply buried secrets and, of course, ghosts. Plus an interesting concept of “chime children” which I was not aware of until this story.
The atmosphere is done very well, maintaining the oddly creepy feel throughout. Plotwise, there are a few threads and bits that I’m not quite clear on, but it compensates for it through the well-done tension and suspense. Overall quite an enjoyable read.
I could not find a free legal copy online, but this magazine that it is published in is free through Kindle Unlimited (if you have it). —————
6 • Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad • 19 pages by Cassandra Khaw OK/Good. Now that there is peace the robots of war have been repurposed for service jobs. When Harold gets on the train the robot just packs in the riders. The robots don't have a meaning to their lives ever since the government took away the dogs.
25 • Girls Who Never Stood a Chance • 32 pages by Deborah Coates Excellent/VG. True can't do anything right according to her mother's boyfriend. Bess is locked in the basement for feeding a stray cat. Shade's family is just bad. Liv, Jamie and True's sister Mallory are also left behind when the cordon goes around South Dakota. If dealing with dragons wasn't bad enough, a group of dragon hunting men have spotted the girls.
58 • Lacuna Heights • 17 pages by Theodore McCombs Good+. Andrew has gaps in his memory. Could it have something to do with the Aleph? He has an Aleph implant but hardly ever uses it. Right now he's a lawyer working for Aleph. The feds want to break the privacy of a banker suspected of stealing funds. Could Andrew unknowingly be going into privacy mode?
93 • A Strange Uncertain Light • 39 pages by G. V. Anderson Very Good+. Anne hallucinates ghosts, wants to escape her town and marries Merritt after knowing him for two weeks. Merritt survived the war, but his brothers both died, marrying the younger Anne will pull him away from his grief. The honeymoon at Rannings, an estate built by an ancestor of Merritt but soon lost. Mary Wells marches into the asylum where Benjamin is being held and demands his release. It's been a year and he was only supposed to be there for six months. The doctor isn't keen to let his subject go.
132 • Nice for What • 9 pages by Dominica Phetteplace Fair/OK. Luliana has cancer and to pay for the expensive treatment she has signed a promotional contract with Tactyan. She has to endorse many peripheral products as well. Rather dreary, Tactyan is evil or at least mercenary, but Luliana is no saint either.
141 • The Legacy • 22 pages by Albert E. Cowdrey Very Good. Maggie inherits the Palisades when her billionaire father died. The catch is, she has to live in there for two years. She'll have to leave New Orleans including her boyfriend and cut short nursing school that she almost finished. Her lawyer uncle has bad vibes about the place and advises her to forget it. She goes for it anyway.
163 • The Slave • 26 pages by Andrej Kokoulin Good. At the age of five and four Gene made Roman his slave. Roman obeyed and after a while got a sense of pleasure from this. Eventually Gene's family moved away. Roman didn't have a master any more. How does this affect Roman? This was a good story, but it didn't seem to be fantasy or SF. Albeit one little boy who let the power of suggestion change his life.
206 • Planet Doykeit • 20 pages by Eliza Rose Huh. The Di Vandering Do has brought a colony to Doykeit. Zishe is in cultivation, Ivka is in terraforming. Some scalp readers tell Ivka she is going to have a baby. Zishe tells Ivka she doesn't have to do it. There don't seem to be any hardships, the panic grass has taken root. Is there more to the relationship between Zishe and Ivka than being friendly coworkers? Will having a baby change Ivka? It seemed pointless to me and hard to read, too many words to learn by context.
226 • The Everlasting Humming of the Earth • 17 pages by Molly Gloss Good. Joyce is sensitive to vibrations in the Earth. When there's a major quake anywhere it disturbs her for days. Acupuncture seems to help. In the small town where she is now, that means Tuesday and Thursday with Raylene.
243 • The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller • 13 pages by Alex Irvine Very Good. Jason's group is cornered by a killer robot and they are just about to die when the robot is suddenly killed. No one knows how the robots got there, but one day they came and started killing everyone. Weapons may have worked against them, but the robots weapons were better. Before planes or whatever could get in range the robots destroyed them. Now that society has collapsed the robots still patrol everywhere and are dangerous, but they're mostly in twos or threes not a unified force. There are tales of Wolfgang Robotkiller, this gives the survivors hope.
I appreciate how they link these stories into one particular "feel," like a television series with individual stories would connect. This has a few deep ones that resonated with me. I like the unique writing, the mix of literary and genre fiction. The diverse styles and methods of storytelling make for an interesting read in each issue. Developing writers also have insight into the works of other new writers and can learn from them- what worked, what didn't work. For example, a writer may have an underdeveloped style, and copy another writer on an unconscious level. You can watch it in your writing when you have seen it in others.
An above average issue, containing a tale connecting past and present by G.V. Anderson and light fantasy tales by Andrej Kokoulin (translated by Alex Shvartsman) and Molly Gloss. Cassandra Khaw and Alex Irvine start and end the issue, respectively, with tales related to the cover.
- "Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad" by Cassandra Khaw: in a future England where robots do the manual labour, a plot to provoke war with the US is uncovered. Being provided with a purpose would be prove to be a reason for the war, plus dogs.
- "Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" by Deborah Coates: when an unusual fantasy event occurs, a region of the country is evacuated. But left behind are some girls that the men in the town look down on. But in the end, it would be the girls who would turn out to be the survivors. The fantasy element of the story, however, acts as a 'MacGuffin' and it somewhat peripheral to the story.
- "Lacuna Heights" by Theodore McCombs: in a future where an implant can keep private memories private, even from the user when not in 'privacy mode', a lawyer representing the company making the implants fights a case in court against the government getting access to the memories. But the lawyer himself is finding 'gaps' in his own memory of events, due to his own usage of the private mode. Getting to the bottom of the it would reveal a different side to the lawyer, and a hint of how the future would look in a time of a climate crisis and how different people cope with it.
- "A Strange Uncertain Light" by G.V. Anderson: a fascinating story that starts with a newly married woman with the gift of seeing ghosts, but becomes more interesting when another viewpoint character is added with a strange connection to the woman, leading to a chase to discredit a horrible doctor from the past and yet another character that will link both the past and the present, leading to a nice closure to the tale.
- "Nice For What" by Dominica Phetteplace: a brief story about an internet 'social influencer' who discovers she has cancer and tries to use her fame to maintain her cancer treatment. But when the deal falls through, she has to come up with another plan.
- "The Legacy" by Albert E. Cowdrey: a story of a lawyer handing over the estate of a house to its heir. But the house, situated near a forest, gives off strange vibes to the lawyer and he learns of a mystery over some missing persons related to the house. Later on, he learns of a mysterious mute person invited to live at the house by the heir and visits a previously locked room which, on closer examination, seems to imply that that its previous owner was a very long lived person. Then, an act of violence at the house would reveal the truth about the mute person and of the mysterious owner.
- "The Slave" by Andrej Kokoulin, translated by Alex Shvartsman: an unusual, interesting story of a boy who is 'marked' as a slave by an older boy. As they grow up, the boy obeys the orders of the other boy without question, even as such orders get him into trouble. Then one day, the older boy moves away and the boy feels adrift without orders until he joins the army and feels at home being ordered around. As time passes, he slowly forgets his former 'slave' past; until the older boy reappears in his life and he has to decide whether to return to his former slave past or not.
- "Planet Doykeit" by Eliza Rose: a story of a Jewish colony surviving on another planet. Unfortunately, the tale appears to require familiarity with Jewish themes, traditions and culture, which is beyond me and making it hard to get into the story.
- "The Everlasting Humming of the Earth" by Molly Gloss: the tale of a woman who can sense that an earthquake is about to happen or is happening but cannot tell where it is happening. As she lives her life constantly being 'shaken' by the earth, her only source of comfort is via acupuncture. But during one session, her acupuncturist suggests a way for her to live with her 'gift'.
- "The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller" by Alex Irvine: in a future where robots came out of nowhere to destroy civilisation on Earth, the survivors survive by learning the routines the robots go through before seeking food and shelter. But rumours speak of one man known as Wolfgang Robotkiller who is capably of destroying the robots. But when one survivor is saved from a robot by Wolfgang, the survivor has to decide what to say when, for usual, legends don't live up to the reality.
Cassandra Khaw - Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad - 3 stars - War between the U.S. and Great Britain, including robots. Unfortunately, the story is just a little bit too scrambled.
Deborah Coates - Girls Who Never Stood a Chance - 4 stars - Dragons appear on Earth and everybody flees, except for those women who aren't wanted and so are left behind, plus a few macho men who want to hunt dragons. The women show that they can stand up and defend themselves. A good story.
Theodore McCombs - Lacuna Heights - 3 stars - A man has blank spots in his memory, every day. Is it because of the memory sharing implant, or is it due to some other reason? Meanwhile, he is living in a San Francisco which doesn't have any hills. Kind of an odd story.
G. V. Anderson - A Strange Uncertain Light - 5 stars - A very good story about ghosts and a woman who can see and communicate with them.
Dominica Phetteplace - Nice for What - 4 stars - A woman is doing PR on social media for a company which is providing her with her treatments for terminal cancer. Truly story of modern times.
Albert E. Cowdrey - The Legacy - 4 stars - An extremely rich man leaves everything he owns to his last living blood relative, the daughter of a former wife. In order to inherit, though, she has to live in his isolated mountain cabin for 2 years. The story is a little bit eerie and a little bit humorous, but all good.
Andrej Kokoulin, translated from the Russian by Alex Shvartsman - The Slave - 5 stars - One young boy convinces his younger friend that the younger boy should be a slave to the older one. The younger one agrees, and ends up doing everything that he's told to do until he's grown up. A very interesting story.
Jerry Oltion - SCIENCE: HOW VACCINES WORK - 3 stars - An explanation of how vaccines work.
Eliza Rose - Planet Doykeit - 4 stars - A Jewish group colonizes a small planet far away and establishes a strict set of rules to live by. An OK story, but too many unfamiliar terms.
Molly Gloss - The Everlasting Humming of the Earth - 5 stars - A woman is born with the ability to feel the internal vibrations of the Earth and, because of this, can anticipate when major earthquakes are going to occur, but not where. It affects her whole life. Another very interesting story.
Alex Irvine - The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller - 4 stars - Robots from somewhere invade the Earth and destroy civilization, and then continue trying to kill all survivors. The few survivors have to scavenge food in order to live. Slowly, stories accumulate about one man who is killing the robots.
I have been a subscriber to this wonderful magazine for more than fifteen years. The sad truth, though, is that I rarely make my way through an entire issue. Sometimes - often, actually - I put an issue on the shelf without reading any of it. I love it when each new issue arrives, though, and I do often go back and read issues that I've missed. On occasion, I'll see a reference to a well-regarded story many years after its publication, and I'll go grab that copy to see what I've missed. Occasionally, I'll grab one at random and read it cover to cover. And every once in a while, the cover of one of the issues is so engaging that I can't resist reading the whole thing.
That's what happened with the July/August 2019 issue. I've resisted putting this one on the shelf ever since it arrived because I just love the cover art. It has remained on my nightstand since it arrived, and I've slowly read stories from it here and there over the past couple years until about a week ago when I decided to push through and finish it off.
My favorite story in this issue was "The Legacy," which had some very witty passages that I read aloud to my wife. "The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller" wasn't far behind. I was delighted by its clever interpretation of that wonderful cover image. I enjoyed "Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" and "A Strange Uncertain Light," as well. The latter, in particular, really drew me in. If the purpose of a story is to make you feel, then "The Slave" was a highly successful, though the feeling I experienced was sort of a shocked revulsion, as if I were unwillingly observing an auto accident. Good story, though I agree with the intro that it may not have really qualified as "speculative fiction." And, finally, I was moved by "The Everlasting Humming of the Earth."
In general, several really good stories in this month's issue. The only one I didn't finish was "Planet Doykeit." It lost me right out of the gate and didn't reel me back in.
One final surprise was the science article about vaccines. It fascinates me that this was written in 2019 and published almost a year before the pandemic began, roughly 18 months before the first COVID vaccines became available. In light of all the misinformation and willful confusion about the benefit of that vaccine, it would be great if people (especially those who have claimed to have done their "research") could read this insightful piece which really does a great job illuminating how and why vaccines work the way they do. The article was written in response to the resurgence of diseases that were essentially gone from our society but have recently mounted a comeback in the face of waning immunizations by certain parts of the population. But it absolutely felt timely today.
Wonderful work by everyone who contributed to this terrific issue! Time to go select another from the shelf and tote it around with me for a while.
Once again, a solid, enjoyable issue. Here are my favorite stories.
- “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" - Deborah Coates. South Dakota acquires a bad case of dragons. Several throw-away young women are abandoned after the state is evacuated. How will they cope with the dangers…to say nothing of the dragons?
- “Lacuna Heights" - Theodore McCombs. In the near future, we could all use some lacunae.
- “The Legacy" - Albert E. Cowdrey. A Cowdrey twist on the “must stay in the haunted house to inherit millions” trope. William Warlock, Esq of New Orleans is on the case.
- “The Slave" - Andrej Kokoulin. A Portrait of the Authoritarian as a Young Man. Some of us are hardwired to want crave rigid direction in our lives. Can this be overcome?
- “Planet Doykeit" - Eliza Rose. Widespread Panicum! Ain’t Life Grand? Terraforming a hostile planet as an allegory for a spiritual life. Helpful hint - unless you are an Orthodox Jew, be sure to have Wikipedia open to look up Yiddish words and Jewish practices, which is part of the enjoyable experience of this story.
- “The Everlasting Humming of the Earth" - Molly Gloss. Anyone who suffers from tinnitus can identify with this story. But imagine if the ringing in your ears could predict future disasters? The poignant and touching life story of a Cassandra searching for a means to cope.
- “The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller" - Alex Irvine. Excellent use of the cover art to generate an exciting tale of life under (literally) the robots. Legends are more important than reality.
Giant robots aside, a good issue with great stories from Deborah Coates, G.V. Anderson, Andrej Kokoulin and Molly Gloss - at least those were my favorites.
Dragons in South Dakota… that’s what we find in “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance”, by Deborah Coates. A powerful story that uses the excuse of a dragon apocalypse to talk about women that are talked down, about girls who are left behind. One of those stories where the monsters are not the creatures with talons and scales but all too human.
With the captivating title of “A Strange Uncertain Light”, G.V. Anderson delivers an impressive gothic novelette that feels both classic and new. Two timelines 100 years apart that come together unexpectedly, walks by dusk in the moorlands, and paradoxical conversations with dead that are not dead yet. An author to follow.
There’s also the disturbing “The Slave”, from Andrej Kokoulin, translated from Russian. A story with no fantastical or science-fictional elements, but with a strong speculative drive in the sense of bringing to the point of absurdity situations of servility that often persist by mutual consent.
Another great discovery (a late one for me) was Molly Gloss. “The Everlasting Humming of the Earth” is one of those stories where nothing much really happens, but it gets to you through the characters. It revolves around the difficult life of a woman with the rare gift of being able to hear the constant movement of the tectonic plaques of the Earth. A tale of estrangement, which reminds us that we can always find a way to belong where we less expect it.
As ever, F&SF contains a strong mix of science fiction and fantasy stories, this time containing four novelettes, six short stories, two poems, and a variety of articles. I liked eight of the ten stories, which I consider a good ratio. More significantly, I liked two of them very much indeed. "Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" by Deborah Coates was powerful, compelling, resonant. It also felt like an important story to me, addressing those who are overlooked. Molly Gloss's short story "The Everlasting Humming of the Earth" took its premise down a quieter road than most authors would have done, and I liked it all the better for that. I love Molly Gloss's characters and the way that she writes, and have done ever since I read her 1990 story "Personal Silence." If I hadn't already been a subscriber, I might well have bought the issue just for her story. As it is, consider me a very happy subscriber.
I am no authority on Science Fiction or Fantasy so this review is coming from a casual reader of these genres. However, I am a fan of good stories and I truly enjoyed just about everything in this issue. My favorites are the first and last stories: "Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad" by Cassandra Khaw, and "The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller" by Alex Irvine. These stories are perfectly represented by one of the best covers I've seen on F&SF. This magazine always spotlights wondrous artwork, but this cover is one of my favorites. The poetry and feature departments also do not disappoint. All around, this was an excellent issue. If you are not a regular reader of this magazine, I suggest you seek out a copy at your local bookstore/newsstand and give it a chance. You will be entertained and are sure to discover some new/exciting voices in any issue.
Powerful writing. The power to move you. One of the many pleasures of reading. Good to find authors who have the skill to make you feel, at the end of the reading of their work, that you have experienced something new. Not always pleasant, but always memorable. Girls Who Never Stood a Chance was some fine writing. A Strange Uncertain Light was intriguing. The Everlasting Humming of the Earth by Molly Gloss was amazing in its depth, and I will be looking for more of her writing.
This magazine was a travel impulse purchase: we were browsing in a Barnes & Noble and it was one of the few magazines to catch my eye. And wow, am I glad it did!
Most short story magazines I've read have been pleasant ways to spend some time reading, but nothing too exciting. This magazine, almost every story I read got me thinking and excited. Even the stories I didn't love, I could tell were high quality. I will definitely be looking to read more issues of this!
Good collection. Personal favorites were "Girls Who Never Stood a Chance" by Deborah Coates and "Lacuna Heights" by Theodore McCombs. The robot stories were nothing special, and among them I preferred Cassandra Khaw's "Mighty Are the Meek and the Myriad." I got more of a horror vibe from the collection rather than robot, but /shrug. Cover art is nice.
The 5 stars are for Deborah Coates fantastic story in this issue, "The Girls Who Never Stood a Chance"; would love a book about the same gals (and maybe some others, like, maybe, an old woman who had never fit in 'till things changed and then turns out to help and fit in with these gals? Please?) in the same setting. Anyway, looking forward to more from this author.
A couple of good stories. They left me wanting them to be full novels. It also has inspired me to write more. There was also a well-written article regarding the value of vaccinations that I appreciated.
An excellent issue, with several strong stories. I particularly liked: “Lacuna Heights”, by Theodore McCombs: a really fascinating study of how we use devices for knowledge, and what happens when we need to keep secrets from ourselves. “The Slave”, by Andrej Kokulin and translated from Russian by Alex Shvartsman, a study of obedience and independence and what those things mean. “Girls who Never Stood a Chance”, by Deborah Coates, a story about girls finding their way apart from a man’s world, with a little help from some dragons. “The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller”, by Alex Irvine, a tale of hope in a post-apocalypse, and what happens when hope is too real.
A solid edition with particularly good stories by Deborah Coates (Girls Who Never Stood a Chance), G. V. Anderson (A Strange Uncertain Light), and a story I found really disturbing The Slave by Andrej Kokoulin, translated by Alex Shvartsman.