Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Future Science Fiction, Lightspeed and Tor.com – Locus Online

Under endless skies 10/21, 11/4, 11/18/21
Future Science Fiction Digest 09/21
Speed ​​of light 12/21
Tor.com 10/11/21

Chris Willrich returns to the pages of Under endless skies in issue 341 with “A manslaughter of crows”, a new story about Shadowdrop the chat. This long story brings the city of Shadowdrop to election time, with all sorts of shenanigans going on, some of which require our feline hero to team up with creatures as diverse as humans from multiple lands, mages, birds, and even a dog. . It’s a fun adventure with Pratchett-esque commentary on politics. Willrich’s story is associated with “The last days of summer in the city of olives” through Filip Hajdar Drnovsek Zorko. Luzetia is a professor and a surgeon, but also far from home where she was the twin sister of a queen who has since become tyrannical. A duke from her home country comes to ask her to lead a rebellion against her sister, and she must find a way to decline without turning a blind eye to the plight of her countrymen and their growing refugee situation. The solution she develops with a colleague is elegant.

In the next issue, #342, I particularly liked “The black rainbow” through Denzel Xavier Scott. The narrator was raised in an orphanage where she passed for a strange Nexian girl, but turns out to be something very different. We meet her fleeing the orphanage after draining the life force of everyone there, even though she loved them, and setting it on fire. We learn of her birth and how she got to this point, but can she resolve her conflicted nature? Eloquent monsters are the best. Then in issue 343 we have “At the bottom of the gardener’s wheelbarrow” through Tobi Ogundiran. Iná runs through the forest with her little brother to escape the looters who came to her village after her mother left them. But the forest itself draws him to his own ends, something possibly related to his mother’s absence. This forest has very different motivations than some of the more anthropocene-focused fantasies I’ve read recently.

Future SF Digest published its 12th issue, continuing to draw our attention to international voices. Each of the stories here has a solid core and a charming air. “The madness of the old” through Nora Schinnerl centers on a grumpy old woman, Setti, suffering from chronic pain in a post-climate disaster future. She finds a disk with a still-functioning personality download from before the Flood, named Jasmin. Despite being a digital ghost, Jasmin pushes Setti towards a kinder state of mind. Setti’s irascible voice anchors the story. “When a sleeping seed blooms” through Alexandra Seidel is another sci-fi ghost story, with a solo archaeologist exploring catacombs on an abandoned planet. Often working at the limit of her means of survival, she digs an exquisite mural when she encounters a dark but benevolent figure who seems to lead her to a new room. The secrets inside can reveal the unknown story of the fall of an ancient empire, but tombs with ghosts aren’t always benign.

Jane Espenson of buffy the vampire slayer fame (along with many other TV credits) has a rare standalone story in this issue,”Draft Nobel Prize speech by Paul Winterhoeven, with personal notes”. The titular inventor is convinced that his pain is uniquely horrific and that if others could only feel the depths of his agony, they would all understand why he is so tortured. He develops a pain gun to inject his pain into others, but his girlfriend and nurse Belinda uses it to enable better empathy in medical practice – when doctors can actually to feel to their patients’ pain, they can bypass the all-too-common “it’s not really that bad” and “it’s all in the head” responses and deliver effective treatments much faster. In the meantime, Paul’s use of the gun reveals to everyone but himself that his pain isn’t really any worse than anyone else’s, and his plan to speak for the Nobel Prize, which will never be pronounced, probes the depths of his bitterness on this subject. Even filtered through a staunchly misanthropic narrator, what would a world of true empathy look like? This story has a great voice and is just the right length for the concept. Oleg Divov‘s”When the Mujna begins(translated by Alex Shvartsman) has an absurd concept since Russians are each offered a remote control that will allow them to vote for or against the “mujna”. Debates ensue, though no one seems to know what mujna is or even how remote controls might work. While I usually take issue with stories that end at an inflection point, in this one the race to the moment is really the point.

In the December issue of Speed ​​of light my favorite sci-fi story is “Top 10 things to see before the world burns down” through Aimee Ogden. I have a fondness for listicle stories, and this one does a better than average job of lighting up a character. Mer visits Earth before it is completely uninhabitable, to which he can relate as a survivor of the failed asteroid Euphrosyne’s habitat. It’s in a liminal and transitory state, and through the tourist introductions to each vignette, we also get a time capsule of what Earth has been through so far. It’s a story that cleverly does several things in a compact format. On the side of fantasy »Write to you” through Sharang Biswas also has a character navigating a time of change and grief, in this case because the narrator and his partner Achmat mourn the loss of their other triad partner. In this lyrical flash piece, they meditate on the steps that go into preserving their lover’s body in a book of their lives, a beautiful macabre image. On a lighter note Carrie Vaughn take us”Entanglement or how I failed to knit a sweater for my boyfriend”. Here, the narrator is a female knitter who is dating a literal angel. She sets out to knit him a sweater, trying to account for his wings, but the project goes awry more than usual, knocking other Earth Angels out of the carpentry. The frustrations and insecurities of knitting and relationships come out in this rather charming tale.

In November Sarah Pinsker has a strangely sweet history in Tor.comA better way to say”. Set in the early 20th century in a Jewish neighborhood of New York, the narrator is a young man who has been hired to shout the lines of silent films to audiences who typically cannot read English title cards. As he repeats these things over and over, he thinks of ways to improve them, which eventually leads him to try his hand at a career in journalism. He gets a big break when Douglas Fairbanks comes to town to promote the movie Robin Hood, but an archery stunt looks like it could go wrong. There’s just a little touch of magic here, a little nudge in an otherwise modest life that makes at least one thing in the world better. It may be the least dramatic secret history I’ve read, but that makes it all the more satisfying.

Recommended Stories
“Paul Winterhoeven’s Draft Nobel Prize Speech, with personal notes”, Jane Espenson (Future SF Digest 9/21)
“Top 10 things to see before the world burns down”, Aimee Ogden (Speed ​​of light 12/21)
“A better way to say”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com 10/11/21)


Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by vocation and a book reviewer/critic by vocation. She has worked on NASA projects, including the Dream Chaser spacecraft, and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She reviewed places such as Magazine Locus, NYRSF, Strange horizonsSF Signal.com and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for Locusmag.com and SFSignal.com, in particular SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. His book on Greg Egan was released by University of Illinois Press in 2014, and was twice nominated for Best Non-Fiction at the British SF Awards.

This review and others like it in the January 2022 issue of Place.

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