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Lois Tilton’s 2013 Reviews in Review


Reviewing the course of the year in genre sort fiction, I see a continuing slow erosion in the field. We lost two important venues, the very promising Eclipse Online and the long-running Electric Velocipede, shutting down after 27 issues. The valuable review site SF Site also ceased its regular publication schedule. On the positive side of the ledger, we have a promising new dark fantasy ezine: The Dark. I also saw more original anthologies than I did last year – an encouraging sign. We’re not dead yet.

My pick for the 2013 new author of promise is Sunny Moraine.

Herewith, the fiction I found most worthy of recognition in my reviews this year.

Print Publications

First, the digests, since they finish up their year before the rest of us. These long-lived zines keep delivering. Making up my Best list this year, I found stories from Asimov’s and F&SF in nearly equal numbers. My science-fiction specific list, however, was dominated by stories from Asimov’s. While this speaks well of Asimov’s fiction for the year, it also reflects a lamentable shortage of alternative venues for high-quality hard SF.

Asimov’s

Robert Reed continued his Great Ship series of novellas here with “Precious Mental”, a complex and twisting tale of immortality and personal identity. Jason Sanford gave us a harrowing account of an individual’s struggle to retain his integrity and religious principles under a genocidal regime in “Monday’s Monk”. I also like David J Schwartz’s short, insightful piece about humans coping with an alien occupation, “Today’s Friends”. More good fiction from this zine:

  • “Feral Moon” by Alexander Jablokov
  • “Over There” by Will McIntosh
  • “Entangled” by Ian R MacLeod

Analog

I will admit that I was hoping, with a new editor, for some updating of this venerable zine, perhaps some improvement in the prevailing story values. Instead, the old ways seem to have prevailed, doubtless to the satisfaction of the long-term readership. The best work I found here during the year includes:

  • “The Firewall and the Door” by Sean McMullen
  • “Murder on the Aldrin Express” by Martin L Shoemaker
  • “The Chorus Line” by Daniel Hatch

F&SF

With the exception of Ken Liu’s well-crafted alternate history, “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”, my favorites from F&SF this year were all fantasy. I especially enjoyed Desmond Warzel’s engaging story of a neighborhood haunted by a demonic car, “The Blue Celeb”. Also:

  • “Kormak the Lucky” by Eleanor Arnason
  • “This Is How You Disappear” by Dale Bailey
  • “Among Us” by Robert Reed

Interzone

Still coming out in print with full-color illustrations, IZ continues to shift its prevailing tone away from dark SFnal futures. Fantasy has now become a regular presence, including one of my favorites: Sarah Brooks’ “Trans-Siberia: An Account of a Journey” through a surreal and fantastic Russian landscape. Other good pieces, of which only the Shirley is straight SF:

  • “The Kindest Man in Stormland” by John Shirley
  • “Hareton K-12 County School and Adult Extension” by James Van Pelt
  • “Dark Gardens” by Greg Kurzawa

Electronic Publications

Subterranean Online

This one heads the list of ezines for quality fiction as the Subzine put out more superior stories than any other, with the bonus of many at novella length. Indeed, it’s hard to find many pieces unworthy of special notice. I was especially impressed by Caitlín R Kiernan’s metafictional viewing of a classic film about the blood-drinking Countess Elizabeth Báthory, “The Prayer of Ninety Cats”. More favorites:

  • “Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard
  • “The Sun and I” by K J Parker
  • “Doctor Helios” by Lewis Shiner
  • “The Indelible Dark” by William Browning Spencer

Clarkesworld

Here was my single favorite story of the year, Robert Reed’s “Mystic Falls”, in which a man seeks out a mysterious apparition of a young woman. Its genre values were slight, but its story values very high indeed. I also liked Kali Wallace’s “No Portraits on the Sky”, in which a community of tree-dwellers face the failure of the environment on which they depend. And:

  • “Cry of the Kharchal” by Vandana Singh
  • “86, 87, 88, 89″ by Genevieve Valentine
  • “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

This magazine of adventure fantasy continued to put out enjoyable work. Two of my favorites were Richard Parks’ mythic journey into hell in “Cherry Blossoms of the River of Souls” and Tori Truslow’s “Boat in Shadows, Crossing”, with its fantastic Venice-like setting and sex-shifting characters. Also:

  • “The Penitent” by M Bennardo
  • “Two Captains” by Gemma Files

Tor.com

The finest work from this site: “A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford is a dark fictional reconsideration of Emily Dickinson’s verse on the subject of Death. “The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu is a very original fantasy about the complications of telling the truth. And:

  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Strange Horizons

I found an improvement this year in the quality and variety of the fiction here, which shifted more to the science-fictional, albeit soft SF. “Ariecc 1.0″ by Lillian Wheeler considers why we may want our computers to be sentient, and “A to Z Theory” by Toh Enjoe combines math and the inexplicable. Fantasy and horror:

  • “A Secret Map of Shanghai” by Victor Fernando R Ocampo.
  • “Event Horizon” by Sunny Moraine

Eclipse Online

When I recall stories like An Owomoyela’s “In Metal, In Bone”, portraying a man trapped in a genocidal war, my regret for the loss of this venue is acute.

Electric Velocipede

Amid the zine’s usual surrealism, two strongly realistic pieces of human loss stand out: “The Irish Astronaut” by Val Nolan and Sam J Miller’s “The Beasts We Want to Be”. “Grandmother of Ghosts” by E Catherine Tobler is more touched by the weird.

Lightspeed

The fantasy side of this zine wins the honors with two special haunting tales: M Bennardo’s “The Herons of Mer De l’Ouest” and Genevieve Valentine’s “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”.

Unlikely Story

This quirky little zine sometimes comes up with some strange little gems. I especially liked Maria Dhavana Headley’s charming correspondence in “The Psammophile”.

Interfictions

Not quite a new publication but an anthology series gone periodical with its mission of blurring genre boundaries, as in Alan DeNiro’s time-bending “The Philip Sydney Game”.

Anthologies

Happily, I was able to read a number of original anthologies this year, after a dismal 2012. Here are some of the best:

Clockwork Phoenix 4

My favorite of the year’s anthologies had a large number of fine stories with long titles. I was especially impressed by Kenneth Schneyer’s enigmatic “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer”, a puzzling mystery in the form of a sequence of paintings. Also:

  • “On the Leitmotive of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse” by Nicole Kornher-Stace
  • “A Little of the Night (Ein Bisschen Nacht)” by Tanith Lee
  • “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Fearsome Journeys

With a strong narrative voice and well-informed medieval setting, K J Parker’s “The Dragonslayer of Merebarton” is the standout of these adventure tales.

Once Upon A Time

The gem of this anthology of fairy tales is Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Giant in Repose”, a reworking and recombining of the classic fairytale quest with a metafictional overlay.

Old Mars

Finally a science fiction anthology, stories in the mode and style of the classic Red Planet tales. I particularly liked David D Levine’s tale of Captain Kidd’s interplanetary voyage, “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure“. Also Howard Waldrop’s distinctive story of a long-dead Martian’s journey, “The Dead Sea-bottom Scrolls . . .”

Individual Works

Finally, a couple of novellas individually published or from sources I don’t usually review. Spin by Nina Allen is an alternate-world retelling of the Arachne myth, an independent chapbook. Also Cry Murder! in a Small Voice, a Shakespearean murder/revenge tale from Greer Gilman. From her collection Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee’s “Iseul’s Lexicon” is about the use of word magic in warfare.

Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Editors can send electronic files of magazines and original anthologies to: loist a*t sff.net

For print materials, please query me by email for the address.

For an index of Magazine Issue reviews posted on Locus Online, including Lois Tilton’s, see Index to Magazine Reviews.

Comments

Comment from Roger Silverstein
Time December 29, 2013 at 6:23 pm

under F&SF “Kormak”, not Kormack. I agree that this story was one of the best of the year, new Arnason stories are always a joy.

Comment from Gordon Van Gelder
Time December 30, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Thank you for doing up this year-end column and for your nice words about F&SF.

One question: do you regard Robert Reed’s “Among Us” as fantasy? I took it to be a science fiction story about alien invasion.

—Gordon V.G.

Comment from Lois Tilton
Time January 3, 2014 at 6:51 am

Gordon – I agree that the Reed story is probably science fiction, but with Reed, there’s always a touch of the enigmatic or ambiguous, to keep readers on their toes.

Whatever the subgenre, he’s one of the very top in short ficiton in our field, and his work is always interesting. I’m glad you publish him.


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