If you’re looking for something different to usher in the New Year, look no further: Dysfunctional families; con jobs gone wrong; ghost parents; galaxy-spanning opera; and philosophical & temporal dilemmas, are just a few of the topics we’ll be considering in. . .
This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 11 short stories, some novelettes and a novella, along with five poems that provide a timely introduction to 2023. Add that to the cover, Floating on the Stream, by Kent Bash, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty to put you in the mood for all kinds of New Year resolutions.
As always, we’ll start with the poetry submissions:
Dzherelo (The Source) by R.B. Lemberg, was a most enjoyable example of how to lose yourself in a mosaic of words, deftly woven together in a way that reminds us as much of the colossal tapestry of time from the perspective of the Earth on which we depend, and the minuscule – and often disruptive – way we live our lives.
I’m sure we all realize the need to make the world a better place. But how many of us will find the courage to act on that need?
In The Deal, co-written by Beth Cato and Rhonda Parrish, we’re given a timely reminder about not rushing things, even if you’re living on borrowed time.
Yes, imagine being at death’s door, only to be offered the chance of living your life over . . . at a price! What would you do? Grab the opportunity with both hands, or, as our protagonist prefers, would you weigh the true cost of saving your skin. A timely reminder, this one, about discovering who you really are.
Beth and Rhonda follow this up with, Lucky Shot, a wonderful flip of the proverbial coin. Are you the type whose every decision in life is based on horoscopes, portents, and omens? Or, are you a ‘take life as it comes kinda person? Who, come what may, will still be plugging away regardless? A superb dig in the ribs at the juxtaposition by which we live.
In Sis’ Bouki: The Hyena Gifts – by Rob Cameron, we get a deceptively intricate and cunningly crafted tale where old-world values clash with modern-day morality. You’ll need to immerse yourselves in what the prose is saying, as it really does speak to the heart and the individual. Are you a slave to custom and tradition, or do you have the guts to find your own path in a world filled by needless bigotry?
A great example of how to send a message with the written word.
Do you know your Greek Mythology? If you do, you’ll soon discover there’s nothing minor about this tour through Gerri Leen’s short, yet labyrinthine poem, Save me, Sister, You Said. Another profoundly moving story that cuts to the heart of the matter and portrays – once again – how to convey your message in just a few words. Love. Betrayal. Deception and fate. This tribute to classic antiquity has it all.
I really enjoyed our first short story, Persephone’s Children, by C.B. Channell, as it’s a rather clever accolade as to why it is you might wake up after drinking too much at a party – something we may have all done from time to time – and have no memory of the shenanigans you’ve been up to.
As I was stunned to discover, this wasn’t always the case. And it’s only because. . .
Ah, you’ll have to read the story to find out why. But the ‘why’ is portrayed via a clever little mix of ‘heroic legend meets dysfunctional family unit.’ Very clever. And subtle. So, let’s raise a glass to C.B. Channell for serving up such a special brew.
Our only novella, Best, Last, Only comes courtesy of Robert Reed, who needs no introduction to followers of operatic sci-fi. And you’ll be pleased to discover that this tale offers a stunning insight into the Great Ship universe. And in particular, how mankind – and other races – prepared for a pivotal point in the journey that spawned a thousand worlds as it expanded knowledge among the stars.
I shan’t say more, except that this offering will particularly appeal to fans of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s a genius of a genesis story. So be prepared to be blown away.
The Bucket Shop Job, by David D. Levine, is a treat of a novella, and as you’ll see, serves as a tasty appetizer to the forthcoming The Kuiper Belt Job, to be released by Caezik Press later this year.
A ‘new boy’ is offered a position with a close-knit gang, the Cannibal Club. The job? A straightforward switcheroo-style con, in which our protagonist will play a pivotal role.
The trouble is, it’s always difficult to make the right first impression. Especially with seasoned criminals who are intimately familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So familiar, in fact, that you could say they act as a family unit, and look out for each other above all else.
So, how does the new boy fit in?
Find out in this roister-doister tale of backstabbing and double-dealing that not only reminded me in some respects of Cowboy Bebop and elements of Zack Snyder’s Army of Thieves, but also made me want to go out, buy the sequel, and become a member of a very exclusive gang. Great fun!
In Oracle, by Morgan L. Ventura, we are served a story of discovery that is as poetic as it is profound. Our protagonist experiences a turning point in their life that is as unexpected as it is evocative. Yes, skepticism becomes certitude, and a period of profound self-reflection brings with it a timely change of perspective.
Try it, and find enlightenment. For how many of us are searching for the answers to questions that remain unanswered?
After all . . . you never know who might be listening.
Off the Map, by Dane Kuttler is an unnervingly believable tale of misdirection, deception, and bully-boy corporations. It contains a warning, too, as to how far such unscrupulous corporations will go to get what they want.
After all, who doesn’t fear for their family’s safety and integrity? And if someone is canny enough to play of that fear? Well, they’ve got you! So remember. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Plumage From Pegasus by Paul Di Filippo, delivers a clever ‘what if’ scenario regarding the minefield that is short-term property rentals.
I’m sure we’ve all been there, at one time or another, and suffered the headache-inducing pitfalls that always seem to accompany such affairs. After all, if it’s not the exorbitant rent or state of the property itself, then there are always the neighbors to contend with.
Buuuut, what if your neighbors don’t exactly come from your hood? And what if their practices and customs are like nothing you’ve experienced before? (Think Fifth Element and certain aspects from MIB and you’ll be on the right track).
So, prepare yourselves for a surreal little tale that will have you clamoring to pack your bags and sign on the dotted line as if your lives depended on it.
I can’t emphasize how much I enjoyed, Cowboy Ghost Dads Always Break Your Heart, by Stefan Slater. A bit of a pain, really, as I don’t want to go into detail here and spoil the surprise of what you’ll get. However, I will stress Cowboy Ghost Dads is a heart-moving tale about accepting who you are and finding your place in society. You really will relate to certain aspects of the ‘little boy who grows into a man’ approach, and how, if you’re brave enough and have the fortitude, you will eventually meet that special someone, who will see you for who you truly are.
Tegan Moore’s novelette, A Creation of Birds, is a poignant story inspired by the art of divination, surrealist painters, and good old-fashioned sci-fi grandeur. And you’ll see these elements skillfully portrayed as we look into the secrets that live on in the hearts of those who pass beyond the veil.
What we do with those secrets, however, is a topic our protagonist, Rose, considers at length in a journey of self-realization and discovery.
As you join her on this dreamlike adventure through past/present and what might-have-beens, it might be a good idea to consider those things you’ve longed to set right in your own lives, and do something about it, before it’s too late.
Floating on the Stream that Brings from the Fount, by Prashanth Srivatsa, is a rather ambitious metaphysical tale, majestic in scope. And I loved how it managed to incorporate a subtle nuance of one of the Sanskrit epics of ancient India throughout its telling.
A small crew of seasoned spacefarers journey across the vast reaches of the galaxy in search of the elusive fuel needed to keep the ‘great engine’ running. But does that fuel really exist, or have they been sent on a wild-goose chase?
As the story unfolds, we also take a peek into the lives of the crew and learn of their secret desires and motivations for being there. Motives, that once exposed, may jeopardize the mission and lead to their deaths.
This ‘story within a story’ also provides a superb setting for one of the most profoundly satisfying narratives I’ve read in a long time. Think The Book of Eli meets After Earth, and you’ll be on the right track . . . or should that be current?
Either way. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
The Past Is a Dream, (The Launch of a Blacktopia), by Maurice Broaddus, is a wonderfully enlightening piece about the innate drive that impels some people to fulfill their true potential. In this case, set in a future world where the Moon has been colonized and mankind has begun its expansion into the stars. . .
And all because of one special person – Astra Black, aka Livinia Watson – who had the focus and the vision to set an example that went on to inspire generations to come.
Even better, it’s delivered by way of a nostalgic look back on some of the interviews conducted with those who knew Astra – and personal anecdotes from the lady herself – who lived through the momentous events leading up to Astra’s epiphanic breakthrough.
A marvelously sharp story. And one with a moral we all need to heed.
Our final story, To Give Moon Milk to a Lover, by Madalena Daleziou, is a pleasant – and rather clever – homage to Greek philosophy, and in particular, the 6 conceptual words for ‘love.’
Daleziou does so by introducing us to Io, a girl who grows to womanhood as the story arc develops, and who personally experiences the ups and downs of what love can mean. In the end, she comes to realize that there is no harm to self-love if it’s expressed in a way that enhances a wider capacity to care more profoundly for others.
And care she does, in an enlightening and wonderful journey that helps us appreciate that we should all take the time to explore our motives, and accept who we are and where we want to be more candidly.
Looking back over this edition, I have to say how much I enjoyed the variety of methodologies used by our authors to convey their respective messages. We had stories inspired by things as diverse as the School of Hard-Knocks and folklore, all the way through to ancient Sanskrit epics and surrealist art. Fantastic stuff, and just the thing to start 2023 off with a speculative bang.
So, until the next time . . .
I wish you and yours a profoundly Happy New Year.