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Short Story Markets Reviewed: July

Editor's note: 
It's easy to find reviews of larger markets—Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Asimov's, reviews of the big players in the short story field are surplus. We're taking a different approach, however. Instead of reviewing markets you're probably familiar with, Meryl Stenhouse reviews the ones you aren't. 

The Future Fire

Issue 2016.37

The Future Fire was founded in 2005 and has established itself as a home for science fiction and fantasy with “feminist, queer, postcolonial and ecological themes.” As well as putting out four issues a year, the editorial team has produced five anthologies – one ‘best of,’ two disability-themed (Outlaw Bodies and Accessing the Future), We See a Different Frontier, on post-colonialism from the point of view of the colonised and oppressed, and Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.  
     This issue opens with an editorial reminding us of the recent hate crimes from around the globe, and while that’s a sobering beginning, al-Ayad goes on to point out that stories put shape and perspective to our lives, and the stories in this issue capture that–people going on and finding joy regardless. Overall an excellent issue, neatly balanced between dark and light stories.

  The Future Fire, Issue 2016.37

The Future Fire, Issue 2016.37

The Wave
by Vanessa Fogg
Recommended Read

     Shannon is a surfer in a near-future world of ecological disasters, where the next generation of YouTube stars record their neural activity–mind-casts–which are transmitted directly to the consumerist masses. It’s an awfully accurate portrayal of a generation focused on living vicariously through the experiences of people who become stars simply by putting their lives on public display. I really enjoyed the story–Shannon’s quest to ride the massive waves that only happened when certain weather events converged, her reasons for surfing, rather than completing her degree and her relationship with her team members–which comes together into a sort of meta-experience. All that was missing was my neural connection. 


A Distant Glimpse
by Simon Kewin

     Mina is the leader of a group of other children who are scavengers at a massive landfill, created from the discards of the lords and ladies of a great shining city that Mina sees in the distance. A thoroughly depressing story of child slavery and abuse and the hopelessness of those unfortunate enough to be the victims.


Patchwork Girl
by Colleen Anderson

     An insightful poem about a woman shaped by domestic violence who takes revenge on her abuser using what she learned from his violent acts.


Porphyria: Dazzle Con Debut
by Priya Sridhar

     A sweet story about a young woman using her strange and rather cool superpowers for the first time. I was slightly thrown out of the story by the fantasy of an unoccupied girl’s bathroom at a convention, but I moved past it. This wasn’t a high-stakes story and didn’t dig very deeply. Topical issues were very briefly touched on but didn’t resonate.


Glow in the Dark
by Rachel Linn

     Library assistant Ivy looks for patterns and signs, which lead her to understanding. She notices a woman photocopying articles on seal biology, then finds a seal tooth in a model of the library, which leads her to a discovery. Ivy is immediately likable, which is good, because the whole story is a fascinating journey through her thought processes. She’s a tragic and slightly comic figure, drawn with sensitivity and I really enjoyed her search.


Cinder-Elver
by Mary Alexandra Agner

     Despite being put off by the promise of yet another fairytale retelling, I grinned all through this story. The author gives a solid middle finger to duty and societal expectations and all that guff. Nice to see fairy godmothers who give useful gifts. Best fairytale retelling I’ve seen so far.

 


Bracken

Issue 1, March 2016

Bracken’s tagline is “lyrical fiction and poetry, inspired by the wood and what lies in its shadows,” and that was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Bracken’s first issue came out in March, so they are quite new, with a proposed quarterly publication schedule. Issue one opens with an explanation of the origins of the magazine, born of the editor’s love of the woods, and her desire for magical realism set outside the urban landscape.  It’s a meaty issue with five short stories and six poems in mix of styles, but leaning heavily to the literary. I look forward to seeing what Bracken settles into. Overall a good first issue, and keeps its promise of stories outside the urban landscape.

  Bracken, Issue 1

Bracken, Issue 1

When We Got to Arizona and the Petrified Forest
by Laura LeHew

     Three crows that the protagonist met in the petrified forest of Arizona move into her life and her dreams. Bracken’s submission guidelines encourage ‘in-between-genre pieces’ and that’s definitely what this piece was. It was like a conversation with an odd stranger in the line-up at the supermarket; a brief connection that resonates for the rest of the day. Very enjoyable.


Through Earth and Sky
by Gwendolyn Kiste
Recommended Read

     Two sisters, torn from their family and cared for by those who don’t listen. One loving husband, one abusive husband, magic, the raising of bones, and the wind a tool for justice. I love a good story told in second person POV and Kiste pulled this off with panache. 


The Woodcutter's Sons
by Stephen Case

     The forest grants a boon to a woodcutter, who asks for his twin boys to be able to understand the language of the trees. The tale was beautifully told in a very traditional style. The prose was almost enough to make me overlook the narrow roles of women in the story, being either wives, dead wives, sex objects or gift givers. Almost, but not quite.


Passing Through
by Stephen Thom

     K fights with his wife and she leaves him. He rescues an odd stranger who is tangled in barbed wire. Years later he returns to the house to look for memories, and finds himself repeating old actions, including rescuing not one but two strangers from the wire. A weird tale about repeating past mistakes. 


Father Bear
by V. N. Martin

A bear ponders the presence of a child in his forest. Short and thoughtful.


Runaway
by Claire Hermann. Poem.

     Good use of shape and vocabulary which elevates the life of the runaway to something magical.


Close to Home
by Jed Myers. Poem.
Recommended Read

     Really fabulous imagery and a lovely rhythm that captures the sway and dance of the forest. 


Give Up the Saw
by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens. Poem.

     I enjoyed this piece, but damned if I would call it poetry.


Tale from the Vienna Woods
by Erika Michael. Poem.

     I found the references to fairytales and history in this piece engaging, but I just wanted to left-align everything.

     
I Asked the Alchemist
by Sara Backer

     I have no idea why the alchemist was even involved in this poem. 


Devoured // Neverhome
by Jessica Bixel

     Ouch. Dark, disturbing and excellent.

 

 

Lackingtons

Edited by Ranylt Richildis

This is the ‘governments’ issue of Lackingtons and, given the political dramas and upheavals of our age, sometimes comes in under the ‘too close for comfort’ banner. The editor’s tastes lean toward the experimental, a style I’m not a fan of, but the majority of stories were strong and engaging. I won’t say that the issue was comforting; it was quite confronting, in the best way. Excellent issue, worth adding to your collection.

  Lackington's, Issue 10

Lackington's, Issue 10

Wax Names
by Evelyn Deshane

     In a world where stories have been swallowed to feed a voracious king, two women keep them alive, passing the stories between them. I love the heart of this piece, of a people keeping their history and culture alive regardless of the rules of their lives. The parallels with oppressed peoples are clear. Even so, this was an upbeat story with a core of hope.


The Problem with Thunderstormes
by Dennis Mombauer

     Leros, sheltering in the subways from a deadly thunderstorm, emerges to find he has been elected Director (as the only candidate) and charged with preventing the thunderstorms and protecting the people. This story was really experimental, more so than I usually read. I enjoyed the reading, I loved the atmosphere of the piece. Did I get it? Nope. No idea. But it was still a gripping read. Dennis, if you’re out there, what is the problem with thunderstorms?


A Million Future Days
by Charles Payseur

     Chance Chase is living on church charity in a future world where debt keeps going after you’re dead. All the future possibilities of himself give him advice which is just as useless and confusing as it sounds. A fantastically convoluted story with a gripping end.


Tiny Guns
by Steven Earnshaw

     I don’t enjoy stories that are deliberately confusing and obtuse. I read this all the way through but had zero interest in the characters or outcome. Someone might like it, but that someone wasn’t me.


On the Occasion of the Treaty of the Thousand Rivers, A Visit to the Gallery
by Wren Wallis

     A general comes to view the collection of a powerful relation of the current ruler, and hears the story of a greedy king and a djinn. Delightful story, rich in wonders.


The Transfigured Knight
by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

     A survivor of a bloody war is trapped in his armour and pays penance by being willingly tortured. He then goes back to war. An odd and brutal story (it comes with warnings) which didn’t hit the mark for me. It’s told in the distant and formal tones of a fable, but lacks a coherent moral. Unless that moral is “men will always prefer violence,” in which case, thanks for the depressing thought.


The Automatic Prime Ministers
by Kate Heartfield
Recommended Read

     In the near future, government decisions are based on modelling scenarios. Flora and Maryam, prime ministers of Canada and India respectively, meet in Canada for a summit where world leaders will present their decisions on the fate of a shipful of alien refugees in orbit. This story hit really close to home given the present refugee crisis. Heartfield does a fantastic job of pointing out all the logical reasons not to accept refugees—and the single most important reason they should be accepted. Brilliant and heartrending.

 

Grendelsong

Issues 2, Spring 2016
Edited by Paul Jessup

The editorial informs us that this is actually a reboot, that each issue has a Grendeltaste, and that the editor does not exist. Very whimsical. There’s also part one of an essay on occultism. This was a really meaty issue, packed with great stories. 

  Grendelsong, Issue 2

Grendelsong, Issue 2

We Ride the Stillness
by Deborah Walker

     Mother is the leader of a cluster of tube worms (I think? The biology is a little sketchy.) who has to deal with a wild and ranging larvae she names Red Ice, whose travels warn Mother of dangers to come. The story is well told and gives the characters personality without anthropomorphising. I would never have believed there could be so many stories about ocean invertebrates. Okay, that’s two, but still that’s more than I would have expected (the other being Salt and Cement and Other Denials, by Sara Saab in Lackington’s Architecture issue). This is a subgenre I’d like to see more of.


Sisters
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

     A retelling of The Little Mermaid. Elin wants to save her sisters, but loses them one by one. A dire story of loss with no happy ending. I’m afraid my dislike of fairytale retellings has coloured my opinion of this piece, which is otherwise well done.


The Tale that Wrote Itself
by Berit Ellingsen

     A dry-farmer writes a tale that catches the attention of the king. When the king asks the farmer to write a story for him, the farmer refuses. The poetic descriptions in this tale really captivated me, though they might not appeal to everyone. 


On the Acquisition of a Very Fine Steed 
by Virginia Mohlere

     Hyacinth, a powerful Seelie, wakes up after a night of revels in an unknown bed, next to a kelpie. They find themselves in the court of spiders and must escape before they’re eaten. I grinned all through this delightful, sexy tale. These are no prissy fairies with glitter and cantrips. Mind you I wouldn’t like to meet either of them, but their story was a lovely ride.


Verses on St. Andrews
by Berrien C Henderson
Recommended Read

     Feeling’s mother gifted him a pouch that protects him from the glamour of the Witch on St Andrews. When a bully chases him onto the witch’s property, he learns what his mother’s gift contains. I liked the themes here, that you can have sympathy for someone and still hate and fear them.


Carnival Microbial
by Octavia Cade

     The cast of a circus are, as the title suggests, microbial. This story is as gross and crazy as you would expect. Excellently disgusting, written in poetic prose that just makes you want to take a shower in disinfectant.


Eat Me, Drink Me, Set Me Free
by Julie Reeser

     Short, sharp and punchy. Love the Alice references.


What the Hoffenphaafs Know
by Samantha Henderson

     The Hoffenphaafs know it. Lovely poetic language in this story. It has the feeling of a surreal play, where the players and the sets and the costumes are stunning and engaging and unfathomable. Go in without knowing, come out again unknowing still. But worth the coin.


Wardrobe of Metaphysical Maps 
by Julia August

     A new bride finds a hoard of maps made by the previous duchess, but these are not ordinary maps. The last one holds the key to her happiness. 


A Lover’s Discourse: Five Fragments and a Memory of War
by Fábio Fernandes

     Stories are sentient beings, images of humans, with culture and history but still, apparently, second class citizens locked in basements and feared and shunned. Eduardo has been searching for his story all his life. I couldn’t really get behind this story. Though well told, the basic conceit just didn’t work for me. And frankly, I loathe it when people compare stories to babies and writing them to giving birth. 


Lunching with the Sphinxes
by Richard Bowes

     Millicent Mead is an art teacher in the place of swamps and seawalls that was once New York. Children are going missing to provide young bodies for old. Millicent and her students find a novel way to bring down the regime. A gripping story that moves along at a great pace. 

 

Novel Review: The God Wave (Book 1 of The God Wave Trilogy)

The God Wave

by Patrick Hemstreet. Harper Voyager: New York, 2016. Science fiction technothriller.


     "Chuck Brenton briefly contemplated the possibility that the course of experimentation they were pursuing might be pouring gasoline on neurological flames . . . and it worried him."

  The God Wave

The God Wave

Overall: 3/5 stars*

     Patrick Hemstreet’s debut novel The God Wave, the first of a trilogy, makes use of a timeless science fictional formula: exploring the potentials of new technology. Technology often opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for the advancement of society such as space travel and teleportation, but Hemstreet goes down a different route. This novel explores how we can physically be altered by technology—and we are not talking about cyberpunk enhancements or bio-organic add-ons, but rather the ways that technology can enable us to explore our potential. The ways that machines can bring out all that humans can be.
     The reader follows a group of characters as they slowly become intertwined with a technology developed by our main characters Dr. Chuck Brenton, a neuroscientist working at John Hopkins University, and Dr. Matt Streegman, a mathematician and programmer working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
     They work together to develop what appears to be a form of telekinesis. This idea, portrayed from a neurological stand point, pushes the whole idea of mind control further away from something magical and takes the staunch impossibility out of it. This is an example of pure speculative fiction, taking already established concepts within our own world—the fields of neurology and robotics—and painting an almost tangible picture of the potential future harmony of the human brain and the robotic core. The physical laws are always manipulated in science fiction to suit the novum, but with Hemtreet’s novel it feels like they only had to be tweaked very slightly to allow this experiment to flourish.
     Hemstreet communicates these ideas to us in the simple ‘to the point’ language found in many classic science fiction novels, vaguely reminiscent of James Blish and Kurt Vonnegut. People get together in this novel in a sentence and the relationships fade into the background for the rest of the story. This strictness is balanced with some light humour in the form of some ‘geek’ references—not surprising when we think about who the characters are, as scientists/engineers are often viewed as the pinnacle of nerd-hood. Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, and The Matrix are all used to add some comedic elements, as well as strengthening the notion that this world is very close to our own. But it becomes clear quite early on that the real driving force is the idea, which takes precedent over any attempts to flounce around with the English language. These nods at the audience feel odd in this clinical, precise novel.
     What is at once both interesting and disappointing is that the first third of the novel is dedicated to the experimental stage of the technology. The problem arises when the experiment becomes the narrative itself. What I mean by this is not that the discourse or structure is experimental, but that it reflects the ‘act’ of scientific experiment. Experiments, if done properly and accurately, take time. They are grueling, repetitive, precise. They leave no scrap of data that may be of importance out. Hemstreet demonstrates this in his narrative method. Nearly every element of the progression is documented, as though the first half is pure prelude, prompting the reader to remain patient for the end result. But is the conclusion enough of a reason to spend hours on the beginning and the middle? It could be argued that this may have been more interesting as a memoir, with Chuck reflecting on his decisions in the first person.
     Chuck is certainly an endearing character, the symbol of morality who both creates the technology and desires to use it for good. But before we know Chuck, we know his idea, having his Eureka moment in the first few pages. Having a first person account of his thoughts would have been illuminating. In contrast with the likable Chuck, we have Matt who is the antagonist (at first). The narrator places particular emphasis on Matt’s feelings about Chuck—which are most of the time a mixture irritation and disdain. This naturally invites the reader to be on Chuck’s side and I for one felt annoyed that he was snubbed by Matt so often. Every eye roll and snide comment served to further my dislike for this character and there is a sense early on that Matt will become an obstacle for Chuck.
     These two provide a polarity that keeps the tension going, the reader wondering whether Chuck’s higher moral and ethical standard will prevail over Matt’s desire to take the fastest route towards success, despite the moral implications. Chuck is also quick to ask questions and brings to our attention the idea of government surveillance, particularly in the academic environment. It is also worth noting that Hemstreet does give us many more than these two voices to guide the reader through the experiment: Lanfen’s experiences with Bilbo the bot are fun to experience, as are the descriptions of Mini’s artistic pursuits. 
     However, the predominant interactions we focus on are the ones between metal and mind. We rarely see the other characters outside of the confines of the experimental/work environment in the first half of the novel. We know them only as colleagues at first and when we do glimpse them, it’s still all about their work. And rightly so in many instances, with the government lurking in every corner, making sure they don’t expose this new potential power to outsiders.
     The novel peaks at around two thirds of the way in, when things start to get eerie. Hemstreet introduces an atmosphere of paranoia, inviting the reader into an intrigue of spying, surveillance, and mystery surrounding Chuck and Matt’s highly secretive contractors. Hemstreet effectively conveys a sense of anxiety, but unfortunately not for too long. It doesn’t take much time for our highly intelligent characters to figure things out. And yet, despite all of these intellects at work, it still descends into chaos with the eventual ‘boss fight.’ 
     Anyone who is familiar with the critical history of science fiction will know that the plot over character critique is an old argument, often directed at the pulps of the past reserved. There is a very good reason we moved away from action over substance and became the genre we have today: arguably the most diverse and subversive, the most speculative and the most challenging. It’s a cliched argument for a reason. Our standards are high these days, we desire to see our characters outside of the laboratory. Looking at the novel as a whole, it’s far from it.
     Coming towards the end, its position as the prelude to a series becomes much more apparent, resolving the initial obstacles whilst opening up a new direction for the protagonist. The ending suggests as much when we view the last scene of the novel.
     The God Wave came extremely close to keeping me interested right until the end, but I very much doubt I will pick up the sequel. All in all, it became too predictable for me. Whenever a new power comes into the world there are those that seek to control it for themselves, or manipulate it. The experiment played out just as Hemstreet expected, dropping an idea on to a fictional world and watching the ripples turn into waves.

 

Editor's Note:
We're using a five-star rating system for now and while readers should be familiar and comfortable with this format, as a reminder:
 
1 – Unacceptable. A very negative experience
2 – Mediocre. Some serious structural issues
3 – Neutral to positive review. May suit a specific audience
4 – Positive review, a must-read for genre fans
5 – Highly recommended, a must-read for everyone

We believe this will help readers to discover books that suit their tastes and preferences.