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Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, early May


Publications Reviewed



Analog, July/August 2014

A double issue opening with another installment of Flynn’s Journeyman serial. Readers who’ve been following this extended adventure may well find it the most entertaining story in the issue, although my own favorite is the Esaias. There’s still plenty of room for a near-dozen shorter works, which have inspired some commentary on the subject of Hard SF.

“Mind Locker” by Juliette Wade

YA cyberpunk. In a corrupt state, we have a bunch of street kids with, apparently, heads full of implants that connect them to databases and each other, as well as other enhancements, but no food. While they’re busy staging failed raids on food trucks, they fear a mysterious personage they call the Locker, who blocks their heads in some manner and cuts them off from whatever they’re linked into. Our heroine, Hub Girl, is a master hacker who puts it all together with a political conspiracy involving the disappearance of the mayor.

The jargon here is pretty thick:

Watching at the City’s edge with my Arkive maps, GPS flags, and vid-hacks integrated, I got the god’s-eye view of everything up to the vending row two blocks north. Under the row’s bright adsign, radio transponders in the machines call out: Empty, empty.

Generally, the story follows the usual template wherein grubby street kids with cool nicknames outwit and outhack the forces of authority. In the meantime, I’m left wondering where they get all the implanted gizmos to do it with, when they can’t even find lunch. Not making much sense, that.

“Who Killed Bonnie’s Brain?” by Daniel Hatch

A brain in a vat is dead. But how and why? The obit doesn’t say.

“Bannister, whose brain was removed and retained on life support in 2043, was declared dead by the medical examiner. After the removal, Bannister continued working in the IT field for 13 years. She was credited with major advances in artificial intelligence during that time, including the development of stand-alone AIs.”

Ben is a local reporter who gets involved in the case at the behest of Bonnie’s fellow vat-brain, the judge, who fears a similar fate might befall him. To the cops, apparently, the death isn’t considered a murder, or possibly even not a death. Local reporting is a slow job in these future times, so he agrees. He discovers that Bonnie’s AIs, Peter and Paul, have mysteriously erased their memories of the events surrounding the death; since they had access to her lifesupport system, it seems clear that they could killed her. But does this make them criminals or tools?

As a murder mystery, this one is a bit thin. But it’s set in a mildly dystopian* world where life has gotten thin, where people like Ben live in self-contained towers from which they only reluctantly emerge, and the underclass inhabits the deteriorating ruins of the tract communities. I like the scene where he hitches a ride on a van, freaking out about the reported dangers of automotive transportation, even when the roads [how are they still maintained?] are almost empty.

(*) Things may be a lot worse, elsewhere, but we don’t see much of it.

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra

The Exoplanetary Explorers aren’t popular with the grunts of the regular Space Navy, so trouble is inevitable when cadet Emily Asgari and her companions happen to enter the wrong bar. After the brawl, they’re sent as punishment to assist in the evacuation of the exploratory team on Abreathon. With her career in jeopardy, Emily isn’t pleased with her team members, but it’s the way of their service that the entire team rises or falls as one. It doesn’t help that Priam the smartass claims he can figure out how to salvage the mission.

That bold statement stunned the mentor into a not-so-brief silence. “You believe that you, with no practical experience and without ever having set foot on the planet, could make a discovery that has evaded fifty trained minds for well over a quarter century?”

The problem, it seems, is that the planet is home to an intelligent species that appears to have developed microelectronic but refuses all human attempts to communicate.

There are two types of SFnal problem-solving stories. In one, a character is faced with a problem under conditions that readers, assuming the uniformity of the laws of nature, might conceivably discover a solution. In the other, the author contrives an artificial situation that confronts the character with a problem, but the situation is set up in such a way that readers have no realistic chance of discovering the solution. This is one of the latter. I found little about the story to like, beginning with the obnoxious characters. I have complete sympathy with the mentor’s consternation. In fact, I feel that if the obnoxious character managed to figure out the solution in a few days, the expedition would have surely done so sometime in that quarter century. I also find it inexplicable that the characters wouldn’t have known anything about this planet, despite it being one of the rare worlds where intelligent life had been discovered by their own service.

What bothers me most, however, is the callous and cavalier employment of a sacrificial redshirt, a poor guy who wants nothing more but to finish his packing and go home, yet is thrust by the author into the careless hands of the story’s characters. If Priam were so damn smart, he should have been aware of the dangers lying just beneath their feet. Instead, an innocent bystander has to suffer for his arrogance. That these characters are, at the end, rewarded for their misbehavior is truly unconscionable.

“Code Blue Love” by Bill Johnson

The family of twins Mayer and DeAnne are losers in the genetic lottery. They have buried their other siblings and scans show the same aneurysms growing in their own brains. In response, they’ve developed their own solution, an experimental intelligent stent housing an AI they name String, but both of them would be dead if they waited for official approval. Unfortunately, even then it’s too late for DeAnne. String isn’t strong enough to save her.

Drugs poured into his mother. He felt her heart hesitate, then pump strongly. Blood surged through her system. Her blood pressure rose and the other aneurysm shredded like wet paper.

Now there is only Mayer.

Interesting idea. I like the sections dealing with Mayer’s struggle to get the work done against the rules of the medical establishment. But I think the author took the powers of the AI too far in the end, shifting the story from hardish SF into science fantasy. I do suspect that in this future, with DeAnne’s medic alert information and instructions right on hand, there should have been a way to alert the paramedics and avoid the situation that String couldn’t prevent.

“Vooorh” by Paula S Jordan

There are aliens up on the mountain. Two kinds, hostile to each other. Jason’s wife Sara has gone off with one group, but Jason finds an injured individual, not sure how to help her, yet he must.

Kneeling again, inching a hand beneath her narrow shoulder, he felt some kind of drying residue, stiffening the rags, rough against his skin. He slid his hand further, beneath her back. Her arms curled, rubber-like, and he jerked away. She drew breath with a hiss. From pain? Or was it his touch she didn’t care for?

Fortunately, Voorh speaks English and knows about things like bathtubs, which is convenient, given her aquatic nature. After she is revived, a tense chase across the mountains follows, as Jason tries to get Voorh to her lander, harried by forces both alien and human.

Seems to be a sequel to some previous work in which Sara meets the aliens and goes off with them. Jason says Sara is a pacifist who always thinks the best of people, and Voorh claims that her people are pacifists, too – unless provoked. One of the most common pitfalls of alien SF is the situation where humans find themselves choosing sides in a dispute between two species, making snap judgments about which is the good side. Here, we see that Jason is given more than one reason to suspect Voorh of less-than-peaceful intentions. This adds an element of tension to the story, which the author does really exploit to its advantage.

“Journeyer” by R Garrett Wilson

No muuk has survived the crossing of the o’Le Bar desert in the last twenty-four years, and all the successful crossers had been large bulls with sizable food and water deposits in their humps and thighs. Jo-abeel has a different approach; she plans to run, relying on speed to make the journey short enough to survive. She has a personal reason; her niece needs the Jesper weed that can only be obtained from the other side of the desert. It’s a grueling trek, with surprises.

Just before the rain caught her, she tucked into a ball and rolled, her hand covering her face. She flinched when the first drops hit her, but they didn’t burn. Huge drops pelted down on her, warm like the night air, but not scalding like she imagined.

Imaginative adventure.

“Valued Employee” by James K Isaac

Black Sphere is inexorably taking over the world, enlisting its soldiers into their army. But some are Luddites, resisting the spread of progress, rejecting its technological advantages.

Worn and prematurely aged men and women knelt in the dirt at the edge of the forest. Called Scrubbers, the wiry pads they held dripped with a disinfecting mix of bark and sap, used to scrub away the ever encroaching film of Black Sphere.

Asha was one of the most promising young people of her Luddite village, sent to the city to learn the way of Black Sphere, the better to resist. But Asha converts wholly to progress, replacing her eye and hand with black, accepting the mission of converting her former home. She has been given carte blanch to do whatever is necessary.

The premise is confusing. With all the effort the Luddites put into resisting the black, it’s not clear why they sign up in such numbers to serve it. Otherwise, a fairly standard story of ends and means.

“Sadness” by Timons Esaias

The New People have taken over Earth and confined the remaining ur-human population into shrinking enclaves, where they dwell in resentment and a certain amount of apprehension. For the most part, the New do not visit the enclaves, but it seems that they know everything that goes on, regardless, as the population strictly observes the seemingly-senseless strictures laid on it. Now Evon Bookbinder, which is the name they gave him, is afflicted with a visitation. They want his opinion on a proposed innovation, which they will undoubtedly carry out, regardless of his input.

There’s a strong strain of absurdity here, illustrating the inexplicable nature of the mental processes of the New.

My visitor had been interrogating, in English, one of the chipmunks who feed on our offering plants. Perhaps he had tried Chipmunk unsuccessfully. I heard the interlaced threads of “How many kilograms do you eat in one lifetime?” “What is your lineage?” “Do you find the weather conducive to health?” and something about sports that I didn’t quite follow.

But the overall tone is indeed sadness, grief for the erosion of human heritage and dignity at the expense of survival.

–RECOMMENDED

“Crimson Sky” by Eric Choi

Flying on Mars. Maggie is a med-pilot in an ambulance-chopper designed for the Martian atmosphere – which the author describes in excruciating detail.

The BX–719’s rotor had four low aspect ratio blades made of reinforced Kevlar epoxy skin stretched over a skeleton of graphite epoxy spars and ribs. Resembling giant fan blades, they were twisted along their lengths, and the top and bottom surfaces were equipped with a pair of upper and lower boundary layer trips to produce an optimal lift distribution.

She’s been sent to rescue a blimp pilot who was reportedly trying to set a distance record, but in fact was engaged in atmospheric research.

I’ve commented on a number of occasions that what the genre needs is a quality, dedicated Hard SF publication. Some people assume that this magazine fills that niche, but in fact there are only three pieces of actual current-science SF in the issue; the rest is more or less science fantasy. Unfortunately, while this one is definitely the right sort of S, the F aspect is lacking; the story itself is so thin as to be almost transparent. Maggie doesn’t like rescuing thrillseekers and she wants better weather data; there’s little else going on, and no real plot tension. It seems that what the author really wants to do here is talk about the Martian atmosphere and how to develop an aircraft that could operate in it. Hence the overwhelming density of the neep and the slightness of the actual story. At one point, about to take off, Maggie gets the current atmospheric data from her dispatcher. Now, the dispatcher knows exactly what information she needs, but the author wants to lecture the readers on this subject instead of presenting a realistic exchange between the characters. Sigh.

“The Half-Toe Bar” by Andrew Reid

A story of bureaucracy and hierarchy, also, if you allow for FTL, Hard SF. In a human-diaspora universe, an expedition of technologically-advanced researchers have come to a regressed world that has some nasty social customs, such as, apparently, forbidding women to speak up. The researchers are going out of their way not to offend, so Bogdana, lowest-ranking as a field tech, stands in back out of the way with her mouth shut white the professors make a hash of trying to trade with the local blacksmith to get their broken-down bus repaired. But Bogdana speaks up anyway, because, as it happens, she’s the only one of them who actually knows anything about blacksmithing. Control predictably freaks out.

A neat Old Tech idea here. It’s interesting to watch Bogdana at the forge, and we can readily agree with her comment, “Half the world gave unnecessary orders, just to get credit for things that were going to happen anyway.” I’m reminded of the story in which the officer only learns how to give orders, it’s the sergeant who knows what to do. The bureaucrats and professors here, however, are really way too idiotic to be credible.

“Hot and Cold” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Deep-space SF problem story. Davos and Xie are the married two-person crew of an exploration craft who now find themselves stranded in an unusually empty region of space with a sphere that gives off anomalous gravitational readings. It doesn’t bode well when Xie’s first words are, “I told you this was a bad idea.” Fortunately [or maybe not], she discovers a derelict spacecraft on the other side of the sphere, with an AI that responds to a call for help. Xie insists on transferring to the other ship.

The heart of the story is the relationship between the couple, which is as frayed as anyone might predict, knowing how long they’d been stuck together in a two-person ship. But there’s also a deranged AI and an intriguing, clever physics notion about black holes in thermodynamic equilibrium. I like this, but I’m rather dubious about the time scales involved, which exceed a millennium in which technology continues to function and humans separated from it by centuries manage to operate it with complete familiarity.



Asimov’s, July 2014

An issue with a theme of nostalgia. I like some of the shorter works.

“The Legion of Tomorrow” by Allen M Steele

Kate’s recently-deceased grandfather was Nathan Arkwright, one of the founding fathers of science fiction, author of Galaxy Patrol, and estranged from his family, about which Kate’s mother will not speak. Only after the funeral and meeting his oldest friends, does Kate learn the secret of her grandfather’s life.

A piece of Golden Age nostalgia that might well have been called “The Way the Future Was” if someone else hadn’t already used it, it follows the fortunes of four young people who met at the first Worldcon and have stuck together ever since. The excuse that Maggie gives Kate – that she wouldn’t believe their revelation unless she heard the whole long history firsthand – is unconvincing; essentially, the author wants to dwell in this golden past and uses her as a vehicle. And when the Big Reveal comes at last, it’s a concept that could have just as well come from the same nostalgic era, the same old dream SF authors have been cranking out since that first Worldcon, almost as if the entire subsequent history of science fiction hadn’t happened. What we have here is the Legion of Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

“Blood Wedding” by Robert Reed

Most readers, seeing this title, will likely entertain thoughts of comparison with another notoriously sanguinary nuptial event. Of course readers may entertain whatever comparisons that come to mind, as perhaps, “Two houses, both alike in dignity . . .” Or in this case, obscene wealth. What we have are two feuding patriarchs, one the god of cyborging, the other of biotech, who is putting on a most opulent wedding for his goddess daughter.

Glory wore tailored parasites. Roots slipped painlessly into her tissues, robbing just enough blood and sugar to maintain their splendor. The blossoms erupted from short dense stalks. Every flower produced a fragrance that merged with every other fragrance in the brilliant tropical air—a veritable community promenading down a path of mushroom-built cobblestones.

All does not go smoothly.

This is a story of excess: excess of wealth, excess of power, excess of hubris – which is only a fatal flaw for a mortal. It reaches the point of absurdity; this is not a serious story, although it has a definite capacity to inspire productive comparisons.

“The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife” by Alexander Jablokov

An intriguing tale. We’re in a future when the remains of the “technological civilization” [not just us, but probably our descendants] are ubiquitous but little understood. Professional archeologists avoid the subject, as it is known to attract crackpots. Our archeologist specializes in a pre-technological period known as C2, but once in a rare while he notices the intrusion of an inexplicable technological artifact, which puzzles him, although he publishes nothing about it.

The achievements of technological civilization had been incredible, and the modern world was still struggling to match them. But one thing those people, who had investigated the inner workings of atoms and the hearts of distant stars, had never thought about was their own past. The earth was torn apart with their deep mines, their excavated coal seams, their road cuts, their toxic waste disposal sites, but it was also covered with pristine archeological sites that no one seemed to have paid attention to.

In the meantime, his wife joins a group of crackpots who claim that archeologists are engaged in a collective conspiracy to withhold the truth.

A subtle work that may puzzle readers at first, and indeed ultimately, as much is left unexplained. Among other things, the matter is academic credibility – why some subjects and theories attract crackpottery, or the accusation of crackpottery, why some theories are rejected because the truth seems too preposterous. The theory that the archeologist comes to in the end may cause readers to think twice about a certain theory currently dismissed as entirely preposterous, which makes the story subversive stuff.

–RECOMMENDED

“Five Six Seven” by Evan Fuller

Customer support, on the support side. Moksha Mobile has automated most of its support functions, but when there’s a major service failure, human workers like Doreen are still essential. Doreen is looking forward to her employment review and a chance to upgrade her healthcare options, because she needs an operation. In consequence, she’s become quite a suckup to company policy.

I hope he doesn’t think I’m like this in real life. There are two people in all of us: our natural selves, and the selves we become when circumstances require it. If Rich is listening in on my cell, if anyone else in earshot is paying attention, I can’t let myself show even the slightest doubt in our product. I need my review to go perfectly.

A depressing story of desperation, caught in the corporate meatgrinder.

“Story of Our Lives” by Sandra McDonald

Ronald reminisces about his college days to his nephew Dennis.

Unlike you and your friends, we didn’t spend our nights staring at our ridiculously expensive smart phones. We drank ourselves silly, stumbled across campus, and puked outside of our dorms without anyone much complaining. My favorite booth was third on the left, right under an autographed picture of famous graduate Jessica Savitch. She was an anchorwoman. Of course you haven’t heard of her. She died before the internet could turn her into a meme.

Ah, now that’s nostalgia! There was Ronald, his film major roommate Jake, who wasn’t gay and entertained a succession of girlfriends, and Ellie, one of the above, who had a strange gift: the clairvoyant ability to accurately review movies that hadn’t yet been made. Naturally, they end up in Hollywood, where they pool their talents to great profit, and we discover, at the end, that this is Dennis’s story, too.

I like Ronald, he’s delightfully cranky, and the story is largely his successful coming of age from a rather unlikely beginning. It’s also a poignant story of love and loss, a pain that we may suspect Ronald is covering up with his cranky manner.

“The Woman from the Ocean” by Karl Bunker

Long ago, fearing that humans were about to destroy their world, a group of people left to find a new planet to colonize. Failing, they finally turned back to Earth, but their lander burned up on entry and Kali was the only survivor. After centuries in coldsleep, she finds the people she encounters regressed technologically and altered in a small but significant way. Although she tries to settle among them, the difference is impossible for her to overcome.

“I don’t know what I was hoping for anyway. What difference could one child make, or a dozen? And what did I want? A return to the old days, with the world ready to destroy itself? No, Michael, there’s nothing of me in your daughter, and she’s better off that way. Let her be one of you.”

An interesting idea here, but not so well executed in the story. We have the premise that the human race is fatally flawed, socially predisposed to engage in self-destructive behavior such as war. It seems that some time after Kali’s ship left Earth, some agency did a genetic intervention on the species to alter this tendency. There were unintended consequences, such as illiteracy [which I find quite a bit of a stretch]. But it worked. War has been eliminated. And Kali knows this. Her ship is out in the void of interstellar space, and somehow managing to follow the details of this experiment in genetic engineering of the species. Color me dubious. For one thing, I suspect that such an experiment couldn’t have been openly carried out. It would have had to be a secret, covert operation, and as such, the details wouldn’t have been broadcast to the population, let alone out into space, even if Kali’s ship somehow had the capacity to intercept it. Nonetheless, Kali turns out to be completely informed, so that a great deal of the story consists in her lecturing her local host/husband Michael about his inferiority to the civilized, literate, warmongering population she represents. Which makes it all way too easy for the author.

But if Kali and her companions, aware of their genetic flaw, hate and fear war so much that they would get onto a spaceship and travel out into the dark unknown in the remote hope of finding a new world, why are they so eager to infect it with their war-prone germ plasm? And when we find her now returned to an Earth that is exactly what she set out to find, why does she try to re-introduce that flawed genetic trait into the population? Kali keeps mentioning the “brave new world that has such people in it”, but I think the better literary reference might be, “You can’t go home again.”

“How Do I Get to Last Summer from Here?” by M Bennardo

A short nostalgic fantasy. The narrator sees other people stepping back into their pasts, but for some reason, he never gets to go back, himself.

I didn’t much care when I got to—but I was itching to go. Last summer, last decade, before I was born—just anywhen else but now. That was the adventure, but nobody would let me through the curtains.

Which is, of course, exactly the reason why. Although he almost makes it to 1995 before he realizes it didn’t really stack up to his recollection of it. I suspect this might be the case for a lot of people who managed to make the transition. And the trip, apparently, is only one-way.



Clarkesworld, May 2014

Different SFnal visions, although the Clark is more fantastic.

“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye” by Matthew Kressel

A couple of immortals, reminiscing while they wander the galaxy and harvest stars. Mostly the Meeker reminisces about the Long Gone, while the Eye encourages him. Then they actually encounter an artifact from the Long Gone, encoding an extinct entity that calls itself human. The reconstituted human, named Beth, seems to be carrying a deadly virus and also a secret whispered to her by her wife, half a billion years ago.

“It was about that day, when I didn’t want to tell the children I was sick. She got angry, but I said she was a hypocrite, because she works in a secret research lab and hides things from us every day.”

The Eye, obsessed with omniscience, is determined to learn this secret, no matter how many incarnations of Beth it takes. But each time, her story is slightly different.

A far-future horror story, an effective game of slow reveal, in which we gradually discover that the true is not what we had supposed, that the real secret is Beth and the reason she has been left in space for the Eye to discover.

“A Gift in Time” by Maggie Clark

Mouse has discovered in himself the gift of time travel, which he has used to travel back to find rare and beautiful treasures with which to woo the beauteous Ezra, who views him with nothing but contempt in their workplace interactions.

Not all the money in the world could get him to leave the singular post in which he might five-days-weekly come to bask, to tremble, to utterly abase himself before that one radiant creature who had come to stand in his heart for everything worth anything in this whole, long, middling life.

An odd tale. Of all the infinite uses to which such a gift could be put, this futile infatuation is surely one of the saddest. Poor Mouse – he will never grant you his favors, and you’ll never stop hoping.

“Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds” by E Catherine Tobler

Post . . . something.

The land is filled with bunkers, dark wombs carved into the earth, reinforced with stone, brick, bars. They kept us in small spaces, but we expanded even so, and when they left—they? I still don’t know—we began to die, and so I left too, before I could become a body for someone to discover.

We learn nothing more about what happened, who “they” are or were. Some sort of they is still out there, flying overhead with bright lights at night, snatching away people they discover in the open. The narrator fears them, hides from them. She is walking away, through a land that is almost empty, not knowing where she will end up, just walking.

The story makes us wonder why, what had happened, by saying almost nothing about it. A plague, radiation, alien invasion? Are the lights in the sky enemies or rescuers? The narrator doesn’t know, only what an older friend told her before dying – we don’t know why. But the narrator is more concerned with her journey than these unanswered questions, and what lies at the end of it. If we think of a migration, the flight of birds overhead, we know they have a destination, that some magnetic force we don’t understand is pulling them there. So it is with the narrator. Her story is the journey and the landscape it takes her through, but there is a destination, and a moving conclusion.

–RECOMMENDED



The Dark, May 2014

This new dark fantasy zine is settling well into its niche.

“Mr Hill’s Death” by S L Gilbow

A weird tale. Mr Hill is a high school teacher. When one of his students did a presentation on the subject “tragedy”, she included a video clip of a yellow sports car driving down a road until its driver had a fatal accident. Mr Hill has a yellow sports car.

Every afternoon, Mr. Hill enters the scores for the student’s presentations for the day. Then he clicks on Emily’s video and watches it. He now watches the entire thing. All fifty seconds. Half a dozen times every day. And as he watches the video he wonders if he will ever be able to get the image of the sports car slamming into the tree out of his head.

The situation gets weirder. The video shows up on his computer and he can’t delete it. The date on the video is in the near future. He sells the car and briefly feels himself safe, but readers know otherwise, because we’ve seen the story’s title and first paragraph, describing M Hill’s death.

A conventional story asks what will happen. This one asks “how”. It also asks whether Mr Hill’s death can be considered a tragedy, and what tragedy really means. Whereby I love the last line.

–RECOMMENDED

“Perfect” by Yukimi Ogawa

A woman is obsessed with her beauty, which is beginning to fade. She starts stealing the beauty of other people she meets.

And yes, they were such beautiful hands. No spots, no wrinkles no scars. Fingers so slender, so straight that I wanted to suck at them. I tore her hands off her, and gave her my silk gloves instead. Her hands became smooth, pure white, embroidered in silver thread and studded with crystal. I skipped away from the screaming woman.

At last, however, she meets and falls in love with Perfect, whose beauty she can’t bear to diminish. It doesn’t last, however.

A very weird tale, a surreal and distasteful tale of beauty and love and what matters. The narrator and Perfect may find love in each other, but it’s hard to think anyone else could.

“Phrase Book” by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

The phrases are Japanese, which the narrator is trying to learn because of her lover Tetsuo, who has stranded her in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness while he is back in Japan for “some family problem”. Alone, she reads his books on Japanese folklore, including a particularly cruel custom of creating a spirit creature by torturing a dog to death. The narrator doesn’t like dogs. She also sees canine prints in the snow around the cabin.

We learn all this with the first two phrases, at which too-early point we can already see where this one is going. Thus the rapid build of horror doesn’t really work; we’re already ahead of it, and the narrator just seems dense, her confession too obvious.

“The Land Baby” by Natalia Theodoridou

Alekos is a sponge diver in the pre-scuba era, when the wearers of cumbersome diving suits are called Mechanics on his island, which lives on the sponge trade. Constant use of the suit is slowly crippling him, as the village song says: I am a Mechanic, and let them bury me in the wet sand one day.

The diving suit weighs against his body like a wall. He pushes through the water. The pressure in his eardrums is constant and piercing, as if a nail is being driven through his head. The glass of his diving helmet fogs up; the view becomes obscure, the kingdom around him threatening, mystical. Dark forms swim against the luminescent bottom of the sea. He wades through this other world in his cast-iron boots, half man, half machine.

Onshore waits his young daughter, chatting with a water woman whom she mistakes for her dead mother. But these are women who have lost their own babies and hunt for someone else’s.

Nice use of setting and local folklore here, particularly the well-wrought image of the sea as humanity’s mother. A clear look at people who routinely risk their lives to eke out a living from the sea. Again, the reveal comes too early in the story. I would have liked this one to be longer, to evolve more slowly. There’s good stuff here, but it feels rushed.

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.


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