THE SEM10TIC STANDARD

Speculative Fiction. Art. The In-between.

Short Story Markets Reviewed: August

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. 

RED SUN MAGAZINE

Issue 1, July - November 2016. Edited by Ben Richards.

Red Sun Magazine is clearly designed for print, and while it’s quite readable in PDF form, I definitely felt that I was missing out by not having the paper copy. Its lush and colourful and would look fantastic on glossy paper. Editor Ben Richards opens the magazine with a tone of excitement which is catching. There are two interviews with well-established authors, Margaret Weis and David Morrell. As well as reviews, the magazine contains four stories with a spotlight on contributor Erin Rudel. All four stories have a strong horror element which I didn’t expect. However it was a good read and I look forward to more from this magazine.

Red Sun Magazine, Issue 1

Red Sun Magazine, Issue 1

The Orion Incident
by David W. Amendola

The main character in the lead story, Andrea Ustinov, is both competent and bad-tempered, two things I approve of. Retrieved from prison to investigate the return of a starship thought lost, she and a rookie crew come face-to-face with the mystery of an empty ship and a lost crew. This is an action piece and quite enjoyable, with the body count you expect from military sci-fi.

Taste the New Drug
by Rhoades Brazos
Recommended Read

Bennie and his team are criminals turned enforcers, hired by the authorities to clean up less desirable elements of the city. Bennie thinks he can’t get any lower than his current rung, but some hideously evolved beetles show him just how wrong he is. This near future cyberpunk (beetle punk?) Is gripping from start to finish.

Star Jelly
by Brenda Kezar

Anna is on leave from her teaching job and desperate to get away from children. Unfortunately, one of them turns up on the beach outside her yard, excited about the fall of purple star jellies that happened the night before. This story has shades of 70s science-fiction horror, including extra-terrestrial organisms, small US towns, and a large body count.

Paper Cut
by Aeryn Rudel

Jimmy, a former ranger now working for the underworld, upsets a yakuza boss, who retaliates in an unusual and deadly manner. This is the only story in the magazine with a magical element, but otherwise it fits quite well with the military horror theme. 

Novel: Stay Crazy

STAY CRAZY

by Erica L. Satifka. Apex Publications: Lexington, 2016. Science fiction. Interviewed by Gary Emmette Chandler.

Stay Crazy

Stay Crazy

Overall: 4/5 stars*

     Growing up, kids often imagine themselves as heroes. Fed on an endless stream of heroics, they wield the force in their back yards, casting spells and brandishing imaginary swords. They hold out hope that one day they'll receive their letter from Hogwartz—that one day, they'll find some hidden ability within themselves, and be tasked with saving the world.
     But what if a time came when you couldn't separate the imagined from reality? What if someone told you there was a threat, but you couldn't be sure that threat was real? What if you were older, angry, and didn't want to save the world anymore? That's the dilemma of Emmeline Kalberg, the protagonist in Erica L. Satifka's first novel, Stay Crazy.
     As a schizophrenic with depressive tendencies, Em is not your typical hero, just as Stay Crazy isn't your typical heroic story. When the novel begins, Em is a college dropout starting a new job as a stock worker at Savertown USA, back in her hometown after two months in a mental hospital. Almost as soon as she begins work, an entity named Escodex begins communicating with Em through the goods of Savertown USA, warning her that disaster is pending, and imploring her to save both of their dimensions.
     While the premise might sound light and humorous, Stay Crazy is frequently a dark, raw novel. From the start, Em is angry and abrasive, lashing out at everyone who comes near. As a character, Em has far more in common with Netflix's brooding Jessica Jones than CW's bubbly Supergirl. As Em herself says at one point:

     "THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD DOESN'T STOCK SHELVES AT SAVERTOWN USA. THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD DOESN'T NEED HER MOM TO DRIVE HER TO WORK, AND SHE DOESN'T NEED TO DROP OUT OF COLLEGE AFTER THREE WEEKS."


     The driving force behind her character is anger. Em hates everything around her: her co-workers and the job she's been forced into, her therapist, her mental illness—sometimes, even her family.
     Beyond her anger, Em's schizophrenia is a complex core element of the story. Unreliable narrators and reluctant anti-hero protagonists might not be new concepts, but they're always a delicate balance. It would be an easy thing for Stay Crazy for veer into "gotcha" territory, where Em's mental illness is used as a gimmick to play games with the reader. To Satifka's credit, that never happens; when Em wonders what is real, so does the reader. When she's grounded, so is the reader. It might be difficult to like Em at times, but it's not difficult to empathize with her, and that's one of the novel's greatest strengths.
     Stay Crazy succeeds in its defiance of convention, in taking the most familiar story arc in existence and turning it inside out. As a first novel, it's a promising showcase of Satifka's talent, and fans of Philip K. Dick will feel right at home. It's not always the easiest ride—and at times it's painful to watch Em's self-destructive anger and vulnerability unfold—but it's certainly one worth taking, and one that's bound to linger with you long after you've put it down. 

 

INTERVIEW: ERICA L. SATIFKA

Conducted by Gary Emmette Chandler

     You’ve been quite prolific and successful in your short fiction career, publishing in Clarkesworld as well as other high profile SF/F magazines. Stay Crazy is your first published novel. How long has it been in the works, and what was the transition to writing longer fiction like?

     Funny story… I wrote this novel before I wrote any of the short stories, back in 2005-06. Safe to say that I didn’t know much about the writing business back then, and because I was allergic to editing (still am to some extent), I “trunked” it after it was rejected by one or two agents. I wrote almost nothing in the few years after that, for various stupid reasons, but I never forgot the story and how I wished I’d done something with the novel before quitting.
     In 2011-ish, I started writing again! But I didn’t work on novels, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish a new novel without finishing this novel first, but I wasn’t ready to look at it yet. I wrote only shorts for a couple of years until I moved to Portland, and then I pulled out this novel, and then I rewrote it, and here we are. It looks like I graduated from short stories to novel writing in a typical path, but literally nothing about my writing career has followed a normal trajectory at all, and sometimes that’s just the way it is.

     In Stay Crazy, your protagonist, Emmeline Kalberg, has schizophrenia with depressive tendencies. It’s refreshing to see a story deal with mental illness outside of the stereotypical institution setting. What inspired you to write this character and her story?

     I came up with the story behind Stay Crazy while employed at a certain big-box store, in the frozen food section, just like in the novel. I was also reading a lot (and I mean a LOT) of Philip K. Dick at the time; I discovered him in my senior year of college and he quickly became my favorite writer and biggest inspiration. And I was also really depressed! I’d graduated college a few months back and afterwards found myself trapped in the tiny college town. I was also writing fiction, though as a hobby (back then I didn’t know you could actually submit fiction to magazines). Coming up with this story and working it through in my head was the only way I could deal with the crushing horror of working at that place.
     I could be mistaken, since it’s been so long since I came up with the idea, but I don’t think Em originally had schizophrenia. That idea got added later, when I read Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip. One of the main characters of that novel, Jack Bohlen, describes himself as an “ex-schizophrenic,” and while a lot of mystical things happen in that novel, the character is actually mentally ill for real; it’s not all a hallucination. And this just completely floored me for whatever reason, that a character could be battling demons both inside and outside his head simultaneously. I started reading more about schizophrenia from people who actually have it, and started to feel very strongly that this would add an extra layer that the story was missing (as well as keep it from simply being an autobiography with aliens). And I was right! The story clicked after that and I started writing it down for real, after I got out of that town.

     A protagonist with schizophrenia is probably one of the more unreliable narrators a writer could choose. In your novel, Em has to balance her own hallucinations with a very real situation that seems absolutely crazy: an entity named Escodex who speaks only to the mentally ill (through the goods of Savertown USA, no less) and who tasks her with saving the world. Were there any extra challenges in writing Em that you might not have encountered with a different protagonist?

     Honestly, a lot of Em is based on myself, as are most of my characters. I don’t have schizophrenia, but the sarcasm and the pessimism and the fatalism are all me. So her personality wasn’t that much of a departure. The hallucinations and delusions were, but after reading a dozen or so memoirs of people with schizophrenia (and I stuck almost entirely to first-hand accounts), I found it easy to slip into her POV. Just like folks with any sort of disability or difference, people with schizophrenia are all different, so I wanted to avoid making Em only her schizophrenia. It’s really just another thing about the character, like her eye color or love of weird comic books.
     The main challenge was to avoid either stigmatizing or romanticizing mental illness. Basically, there are a lot of shitty portrayals of people with schizophrenia in fiction, especially science fiction and horror. Either they’re axe murderers, or their illness was entirely the result of the speculative element, a sort of paranormal gaslighting. Stay Crazy may not be entirely accurate but at least it avoids those tropes!

     Stay Crazy strikes me as a rather unique take on the classic “save the world” tale, and seems to play with the conventions and expectations of that sort of story. Was this a conscious decision?

      I’ve never met a convention or expectation I didn’t immediately want to invert, and I find heroes extremely boring. Going back to Philip K. Dick, one of the things I still find so refreshing about his work is that every character is an everyman, and not in that “everyone thinks he’s an everyman, but actually he’s a powerful wizard” way. While Em could be considered a variation on the Chosen One, there’s never a point at which things stop sucking for her, no graduation from the wizard school.
     On the other hand, it wasn’t a deliberate subversion in that I didn’t take a “normal” plot and character and twist them, it’s always been a different sort of book. The reason I will never be a huge success at writing is that I am incredibly resistant to writing certain types of stories or following formula; I don’t think this makes me better than writers who follow a formula, but it’s all I know how to do.

     Em’s path is a bittersweet one, but also fitting for the tone of the novel and her character. Can you see a sequel somewhere down the line for Em, or is her story at an end for you?

     This is a standalone novel. Absent someone dropping a dump truck of money on my lawn to get me to write a sequel (someone please do this), I don’t see returning to this story, not because I don’t love the characters or the plot, but because… well, it’s done. It’s designed that way. I hear standalones are coming back, though that might just be wishful thinking!

 

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.

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: 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.

Short Story Markets Reviewed: June

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. 

Luna Station Quarterly

Issue 026, June 2016. Edited by Jennifer Lyn Parsons

     LSQ has been around for 26 issues now, and is solidly placed as an inclusive market for women writers. This issue starts with an editorial on the importance of fan fiction as a force in pop culture, and finding joy in stories. It’s an idea that is gaining popularity and Parsons includes her own relationship with fanfiction. Overall I enjoyed the issue, which is available online and in Kindle and ePub formats.

Luna Station Quarterly

Luna Station Quarterly

Sycamore Heights
by Josie Turner

     The Masons are a strange family, viewed through the eyes of daughter Maisie, possibly the strangest of all. The creepy atmosphere of the island they are holidaying on was beautifully constructed and Maisie’s fears felt real and valid. But the story ended abruptly without any deeper insights and left me feeling unsatisfied.

To Give Birth to a Dancing Star
by K B Sluss

     This science fiction piece opens with a lovely image of music captured in ice. Dr Mai Pham has come to Antarctica to research and escape grief. I really enjoyed the technical aspects of the story and Mai’s personal search for meaning in the universe.

Dream Catcher
by Natasha Burge

     There is always a danger in writing a story from a culture and country not your own, and it showed in this story in the many inauthentic details and, more tellingly, the misspelling of the name of the Australian Aboriginal peoples portrayed in the story (they are the Yolngu, not Yonglu). The story itself was overly heavy with exposition and consequently slow to read. The underlying mystic-savage cliché also left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Save
by Nicole Robb

     An interesting if far-fetched idea, good tight delivery and a punch at the end. Great short read.

Feeding is No Crime
by Patricia Russo

     An ugly act in the ancient world is met with love and kindness in the modern world. A little too sweet for my tastes, but if you’d like a story of relentless hope, this is for you.

The Garden
by Carlea Holl-Jensen
Recommended Read
     
     Evelyn and Albie are the only two in the garden, living day to day to Albie’s schedule, Albie’s whims. The isolation and Evelyn’s fear of Albie’s temper are excellently portrayed. A chilling tale, gripping and well-constructed, with shadows of domestic violence and controlling personalities. 

Sergiane’s Choice
by Melissa Ferguson

     Sergiane makes several choices in this story due to her single-minded desperation. She gets what she wants, but doesn’t question her choices until the very end. A very unlikeable heroine, which is fine, but I felt her obsession overshadowed any personality.

The King is Dead
by Miranda Geer

     This is an engaging horror story, with a wonderfully odd voice and atmosphere.  Unfortunately the ending didn’t work for me. However I enjoyed reading it, especially the author’s ideas on human voices versus animal voices.

 

The Dark

Issue 11, June 2016. Edited by Sean Wallace and Jack Fisher

     The Dark has established itself as a solid market, and the editors’ tastes come through clearly in each issue. Stories are strong on character and strange, unsettling images. Very enjoyable overall, with all stories of a very high quality.

The Hibernating Queen
by Leena Likitalo

     Val is a bear, the daughter of the Queen, and this year is her first hibernation. Her peacock friends warn her that she will be married off, but Val doesn’t believe her mother would do that. The developing tale of Val’s hibernation and realization about her future is chilling and claustrophobic, and the ending strange and confronting. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the initial images of baby bears and talking peacocks with the growing darkness at the heart of Val’s world.

Free Jim’s Mine
by Tananarive Due
Recommended Read

     Lottie is an escaped slave, carrying the child of her Cherokee lover Waya. The three of them are trying to make it to the border, and freedom, with the help of Lottie’s Uncle Jim. Gripping and uncomfortable to read from start to finish. I always like it when an author doesn’t hold back, and there’s no apology in this story. It’s blunt and confronting.

The Bat House
by M. Bennardo

     Patience demands that Bedelia tell her nothing of what is going on in the world. She wants only to look at their little house and garden. This is a tale of single-minded stubbornness and determined ignorance. While I enjoyed the tale, I would have liked to know where they were in time and space. Perhaps this was the author’s attempt to highlight their isolation, but it meant that the impending apocalypse came out of nowhere, instead of being built in.

The Slipway Grey
by Helen Marshall

     A grandfather at the end of his life tells his granddaughter a story about the slipway grey (a shark) he swears he saw as a child. The voice in this story is captivating and compelling, and while it wanders across other stories, it all comes together beautifully at the end. I really enjoyed the tale-telling style; I’m reading Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo at the moment, which is written in the same style. There’s something very engaging in the author speaking directly to the reader like this.
 

Metaphorosis 

May 2016. Edited by Morris Allen

     Metaphorosis launched its first issue in January 2016, and is on its sixth issue already. Free to read online, the magazine is mainly funded through Patreon, a model that I’m seeing more and more in spec-fic magazines. The stories are unashamedly plot-based, though with an emphasis on prose and language that makes for beautiful reading. I enjoyed most of the stories in this month’s issue and also the short author interviews which accompany each story.

Metaphorosis

Metaphorosis

Tides of Reflection
by Mark Rookyard

     Silven has lost her son to the sea on an alien planet, and it seems most of the colony has either gone into the waves or left. She fears that once everyone has gone, no one will remember her lost son. A tale of loss and longing on an alien world. Desperately tragic but beautifully drawn.

A Song Without a Voice
by Brad Presslar

     Dahlia was a brilliant performer before cancer stole her face and her voice. She wants only one thing: Jonah to come back to her, and has constructed an elaborate earworm just for him, to make him need her as much as she needs him. An upbeat story with no surprises, but still enjoyable.

Solomon and the Dragon’s Tongue
by Molly Etta
Recommended Read

     Sensible, earthy Yutke marries a scholar with his head in dreams. When Shlomo flees to the new world, she learns about a New York of ‘gold and ink’ from his letters. When he disappears, she goes to the new world herself with their son Moshe. A lovely story about practicality and strength versus fantasy.

Mr. McAvennie’s Freedom
by Dan Micklethwaite

     Rob dreams of the freedom he had in his youth, before work and marriage and kids conspire to destroy his dreams. He goes to someone he knows in Germany to experience an escape in the form of an elaborately constructed magical world. I found it difficult to get past the core of this story, which was middle-class white man is dissatisfied with his life.
 

Capricious

Issue Three. Edited by Andi Buchanan

     Capricious is shiny new, and still settling into a rhythm. The editorial lists achievements of previous contributors to the magazine in the recent Sir Julius Vogel awards, NZ’s premier speculative fiction award. The four stories in this issue were equally engaging though very different, but tied together by having protagonists who are girls or young women. The issue also includes interviews with two of the authors, which were interesting to read and shed light on the origin of the stories. The contributions in this issue were noticeably stronger than issue one, which was still very good. It will be interesting to watch Capricious settle into its groove.

                             Capricious

                             Capricious

The Rupture
by Malka Older
Recommended Read

     Exelle, a member of an extraterrestrial group with human ancestry, returns to a dying Earth to spend time at university, studying the people left on Earth. She’s convinced she has the better life, but does she? An engaging story about self and place. The rupture party is exactly as you would expect in this era of FOMO and YOLO and the desperate pursuit of experiences.

Glittering: Guttering
by Crystal Lynn Hilbert

     Rikka is a chef, and I love that right from the start, and also does roller-derby, which I understand is some sort of North American cult sport. There are not enough roller-derby chef heroines in fiction. This story is a rollicking good adventure tale with a heroine you can’t help but admire. I especially liked that the heroine was well aware of the customs and myths of fae, and used her head (as well as her boots).

Marie
by Lee Murray

     Nell and Marie are searching for the perfect person to adopt Marie but Nell isn’t sure she wants to let her go. The longing and loathing between the two was well-drawn, but the ending was baffling. Initially I thought the story was another version of Let The Right One In, but thank goodness for no vampires. However I didn’t understand the core magic of the story, so while it was compelling, it left me feeling unsatisfied.

mejaime
by RJ Edwards

     There’s a quiet pathos to this story. Jamie wants to be a musician but can’t even find the courage to tell her friends. Her creepy stalker-hater is far too realistic, and the reaction of her doctor is also frighteningly real and abusive. I’m torn between loving the story for its honest ending, and wishing it was longer so that Jamie could get a resolution. It was definitely realistic and honest.

 

Novel: Call Forth the Waves (The Celestine Series Book 2)

Call Forth the Waves

by L. J. Hatton. Skyscape: New York, 2016. Young adult.
 

     “Adults were too busy looking for an angle and trying to unravel the science behind the magic. They were so distracted searching for gears, and wires, and secret hatches that they missed the performance.” 

Disclaimer: Whilst there are certainly merits in analyzing a text as it stands alone, I felt it necessary to read both the first and the second novel in order to complete this review. Therefore there will be references to book one of the series, Sing Down the Stars, but no significant spoilers of either.

Overall: 4/5 stars*

L. J. Hatton’s Celestine series is less of a patchwork of genre and more of an embroidery sewn into an addictive plot—one that is more than substantial enough to flow into a second and third installment. Aliens known as the Medusae visited Earth many years ago and then suddenly left. They appeared to have no effect until people started displaying extraordinary powers including matter manipulation, teleportation, and mind control. People said those with abilities were ‘touched’ by the Medusae.
     The novel is set many years after the Medusae left, focusing on the aftermath of the visitation. Those with powers are viewed with suspicion, while some doubt whether the aliens came to Earth at all. The reader enters the world of the text at a precarious time, following the lives of the Roma family.
     The first novel in the series, Sing Down the Stars, introduces us to the five Roma sisters, who each possess the power to manipulate one of the four elements (earth, wind, fire water) with the fifth able to combine and utilize all the elements. The fifth daughter is known as the ‘Celestine,’ who also happens to be our protagonist, Penelope. Penelope ‘Penn’ Roma has hidden away her true nature for most of her life, raised by her father as a boy named Penn due to the fact that her powers would make her a target for the Commission, a militant force seeking to contain and manipulate those who are touched. This results in a constant struggle for Penn between her powers and her gender identity.
     Penn is reminiscent of a younger Jean Grey/Phoenix (the film, not the comic book), powerful in an unstable, volatile way connected almost entirely to her emotional state. Not only this, but the nature of what she can or cannot do is unknown. Despite the fact that Penn is only sixteen-years-old, her story is far from the conventional coming-of-age young adult story. She is already an old soul—confident, intelligent and deeply caring. Her story mimics so many found in adult genres: a story of being torn away from one’s epistemic world and dealing with new experiences, loss, and the unfamiliar. This is evident right from the beginning of Call Forth the Waves. When she finally finds her safe space, it feels cold and brittle. She mourns her old life and the walls of the Hollow serve to increase these feelings, as well as her anxiety about the location of two of her sisters. She still has to figure out how to save them without risking the lives of her family and her friends.
     The imagery paints a steampunk and magical fantasy landscape, but the technology and physical inventory suggest a more science fictional world. We see mention of tablet computers, the Internet, robots, bio-mechanical engineering, and even holograms. On the other hand we see incredible cities built into the sky, people returning from the dead, and characters like Birch who are able to manipulate their environment in ways that seems more akin to magical ability and works of fantasy. This is not contrived, either; Hatton purposefully plays these two genres against each other to heighten the mystery. Even our protagonist is unsure how it all works in this world:

     “My father had tried to explain it to me once, but it was all over my head. Pocket dimensions and quantum displacement involving equations he used entire notebooks to work out by hand.” 

The more you read, the more you wonder: could all of this really be connected to the Medusae alone? If so, is the origin of the alien power itself based on a Clarkeian mysticism? Hatton provides us with some clues, such as the appearance of the character Nafiza. Nafiza’s precognition hints at something connected to fate, determinism, and even spirituality. There seems to be an interesting balance between what the aliens did, what the humans did, and how far the two intersect. Hatton writes with a coherence that allows the reader to entertain all of these possibilities, whilst also creating many unique characters. Birdie, Klok, Birch, Xerxes, Jermay, and Anise (to name a few) could not be more different, but each offer their own essential voices and the novel would not be the same without them. Hatton’s style finds a natural harmony between character interaction and pace.
     I am very much looking forward to the third installment of this series. Having reached the end of the second novel with even more questions that I did with Sing Down the Stars, I wonder if Hatton will be able to unpack all of the mysteries and answer the inconclusive details generated by the narrative thus far. Hopefully the plot does not rely too much on the Medusae as the answer to everything.
     The final pieces are still needed in order to ‘genre-fy’ this series and I am definitely going to pick up Hatton’s next offering. For those who have yet to, or are reluctant to foray into the world of young adult fiction, I don’t blame you. The target audience is not the SF/F connoisseur who finds solace in the works of Bester or Blish. However, Hatton has put together a promising series here so far and it is definitely worth binge-reading if you enjoy the interplay between the fantastical, the science fictional, and the whimsical.

 

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.