CLUBHOUSE: Review: Fusion Fragment Magazine #20

OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.


Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Editor: Cavan Terrill

Cover Art: by Abi Stevens

What the Sky Recalls – by M. Shedric Simpson


The Von Neumann machines weren’t supposed to destroy Madison, Wisconsin.


They were to be released to build the city anew. Unfortunately, someone cut corners in their programming. Bean counters, no doubt. The Nanites were disassembling everything and constructing nobody knows what. Elizabeth Cartwright has entered the red zone, ostensibly on Red Cross business to talk the last holdouts into becoming refugees, but really to try to connect with her memories. She doesn’t know what she will find. She doesn’t know what she wants to find, but her overwhelming sense of loss prevents her from giving up.

Sometimes the end of the world as we know it is a quiet affair, a very personal affair. Even if it turns out not to be the end of the world, simply a transformation, it is still the end of everything we know and are accustomed to. This is something we all face if we live long enough. How do we handle oblivion? Personally. One against fate.

Every time I go downtown, I see one building gone, another being constructed in its place. By humans? By Nanites? What’s the difference? Change is inevitable. This story is a powerful yet subtle cause for reflection.

Inheritance – by Sarah Bess Jaffe


Beware inheriting a derelict lighthouse.


The protagonist, an inner city recovered drug addict, has inherited a crumbling lighthouse on the Atlantic shore. Inherited because the extended family that lived there, distant relatives, has disappeared. The lawyers track her down. What the heck, the chance to start a new life. She keeps aloof from people but relishes the sea and the creatures who depend on it, even though occasionally it offers frightening visions. Nothing as frightening as what men are capable of though, so it will do.

Normally her day is without purpose beyond enjoying the moment, but this day presses hard with confusing moments redolent of threat and fear, almost as if she is being pressured by unseen forces to make a decision. What is it she has to decide?

Lovecraft would like this story. It is very measured and genteel, yet tension and menace slowly build, a local catastrophe being merely a symptom of a growing estrangement from reality, or perhaps, a growing awareness of the true reality underlying the mundane? Revelations abound, and in a very unnatural way seem perfectly natural. (There’s a Lovecraftian concept for you!)

To put it another way, you may or may not agree with her final decision, but if you possess any empathy at all you will understand why she makes her choice.

Also, let me point out there’s a great deal of poetry in the mood and description which lends to the dreamlike air of the story, as if it were an account of a waking dream, a fantasy made real. In this case, poetic feeling enhances plausibility. The style perfectly suits the story. I like it.

Give me English – by Ai Jiang

Note: This was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I reviewed it in my last column because it had been reprinted in Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction. Here it is again. Appears to be enjoying a prolific reprint life. In case you missed my review, and to save time, I’ll just reprint what I wrote last week.


Life in New York City is hell when the only currency you can use is the words you know.


Essentially the story of a new immigrant in a hostile country, but startlingly original in that, instead of money, words are the medium of exploitation and humiliation. Implants allow you to trade words you know for goods and services. There are ways of earning words, but too many ways to spend them. The catch is the meaning of a word, once traded or spent, is no longer known to you. Becoming silent is a terrifying prospect. The premise brilliantly amplifies the stress and worry of financial uncertainty common to new immigrants and brings their struggle vividly to life. Powerful. As a writer I take relative poverty for granted, but to not be able to use words? Scary.

Last Landing – by Ende Mac


When you fall in love with a robot, be sure you know what you are doing.


Claire is an exobiologist in charge of the sulfur-pool-dwelling newts, or rather, in charge of making sure the alien life forms on the colony planet don’t go extinct because of the environmental changes being brought about to make the planet habitable for humans, which it isn’t… yet. But, really, half the time she’s expected to babysit the tourists transiting through to one of the perfected colonies further out. It’s all very boring.

Till she spots the newly arrived information droid. It has a metal cone for a head, but apart from that is a perfect replicant of the sort of butch lesbian powerhouses she prefers. A dead ringer for her dead spouse in fact, apart from the cone. Suddenly Claire is obsessed with getting to know the droid, which is an impossibility, unless she can get her pal Sal, who has the requisite knowledge, to activate the droid’s “compatibility” mode. Trouble is that’s against company rules. Claire doesn’t care. She’s all in for the droid.

A classic love story, in a way, in that people tend to impose on the object of their affection a false, overly optimistic image of how that person will love and adore them. People are way more complex than they pretend, or even know, and on the cusp of the advent of AI entities it may turn out that the same problem will afflict sentient robots. It might not be programmed the way you think it is, especially if self-programmed and learning all the time.

This story plays delightfully with both the complexity and the superficiality of one-sided love affairs in such a way to remind us that we humans at least will always be human, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, especially in the grip of passion. There’s an underlying theme, too, that we will carry all our faults and virtues to the stars. Just because you’re living in a space colony, don’t expect to have left pettiness and superficial human relations behind on Earth. Such joys will still be with you. If you’re bored in a mall on earth, you’ll probably be just as bored in a mall on another planet. Staring out the window at the alien scenery won’t do any good. Only takes a short while to get used to it, to take it for granted.

So how do you convince a robot to love you? And if you succeed, is it worth it? I have the horrible feeling this is a question many a youth today will ask by the time they are mature adults. In fact, the correct answer may be part of what defines a mature adult at some distant point in the lifetime of young people today. The value of this amusing story is that it will get them contemplating the conundrum well in advance of the time when they will need to know the answer. Fortunately for us old folks, we’ll be gone by then. Still, fun to imagine the emotional chaos and misery advancing technology will produce beyond our time. Part of what makes old folks giggle. We’re seers, to a degree. But then, anyone with imagination is a potentially a prophet, as this story well indicates. One of the reasons it is so entertaining.

:Master Doc – by Cavar


In the future higher education will transform you beyond what you thought you were capable of.


This is a surreal horror story. A young, first year student is starting off a three-year expedited undergraduate degree. At first everything is swell, then it isn’t. The university used to service 3,000 students. Now there are only 300. Everybody gets their own room in the dormitory. Classes are small. But the learning load is enormous. Fortunately, the library is everywhere. In fact it’s all-embracing, and the campus police are so kind and useful and watchful. But it sure is hard learning stuff.

Is this a parody. A satire? A dystopian satire? Or a warning? There’s an implication too much education makes you less than an independent thinker. Puts me in mind of a history book I read recently that referred to the upper-class traitors who betrayed British secrets to the Soviets, like Anthony Blunt who for decades was Queen Elizabeth’s personal art advisor, as “over-educated idiots.” Is there such a thing as too much education?  This story seems to imply as much.

The more you learn, the less you know? That how you focus on becoming a specialist in this or that sphere of learning ultimately depends on the underlying culture of the institution where you are studying, and chances are you are being shoehorned into a particular mode of thought without realizing it? And never forget the learned professors imparting their wisdom are often old enough to be your grandfather, many of their opinions formed ages ago, and very, very academic in their worldview. Especially in the arts, university is not necessarily the best place to grasp what’s happening now, or about to happen.

I was lucky, I sailed through university, getting good marks and being inspired by many a professor, but I was far too shallow to let any of it leave a permanent imprint. So, I suspect I missed any institutional propaganda entirely. When it comes to the propaganda of the world being shoved at me, I cherry pick what I like and ignore the rest. In a sense I was immune to my university experience. But not everybody is. Hmm. A most thought-provoking story. Powerful.

In the end the university of life is what counts. And then you die. See? Nothing to worry about.

Snow Goes On – by Louis Evans


Not a good omen when the only one to attend your one-man show is Dr. Apocalypse.


This is an often-hilarious account of an acting career in an alternate reality where superheroes and supervillains are ubiquitous, over abundant in fact, and normally taken for granted no matter how violent they are. The arc of the career for the self-pitying no-talented actor Nicholas Tremaine (I believe I know why that name was chosen) is amusingly accurate for many a temporarily famous actor. I would call this parody of superhero fiction and movies better grounded in reality than any of the Marvel or DC products of today. No wonder, since it is really a satire on the artificiality of Hollywood-style fame. You want to be an actor? This is what you’re in for.

Besides, I trod the boards at the Freddy Wood theatre a number of times when studying writing and acting at the University of British Columbia. Let’s see, among other characters I played Tiresias the Blind Seer in Euripides “The Bacchae,” an assistant to the High Priest Caiaphas, an assistant Arab executioner at the crucifixion of Christ, Salvador Dali, a faceless humanoid robot enacting a Greek play after the end of humanity,  a moaning rock, a terrified tree, and “whatever the hell you’re supposed to be’ (the director couldn’t make up his mind). Along the way I sensed this would be a difficult method of earning a steady living and opted to become an accounts payable clerk instead. Still, I remember what it’s like to think I’m an actor and wonder if anybody else shared my opinion. You think writers suffer from imposter syndrome? Hah! Not at all compared to actors. Because of my limited experience I find it easy to identify with Nicholas Tremaine. Pretty sure most people can.

Point is the story amused the hell out of me. I think it is brilliant.

The Memory Shop – by Melissa Ren


What if you could have your most painful memories erased? Will that make you feel better?


Constance Cheng has paid good money to get rid of what she most regrets. It’s complicated. All the specific memories must go, and all the associated memories which might trigger the trauma. And so much depends on all the people involved legally agreeing never to bring up the subject in her presence. Not enough to wipe her slate clean. All those involved must pretend theirs are blank as well. Still, if you can afford it, technology is your path to sanity.

Problem is, what if you still want what led you into the problem in the first place? How do the people who know all about it cope with what seems to you brand new but is to them a predictable slippery slope? The solution you adopted, if it is a solution, is no guarantee of happiness. Because life is complicated. And keeps getting more complicated. How do you render yourself immune to your own thoughts and desires? How do you keep all your built-up angst at bay?

I confess that getting rid of memories is a pretty good solution. I can no longer list my regrets the way I used to because my aging brain no longer keeps track. Not a bad thing. So a technological method of achieving same may be a good thing. Common to both, however, is confusion when ever a memory void is encountered. This can be disconcerting. The older you get, the more likely such will occur. How do you cope with a problem when you have no idea what the problem is? This story is valuable and useful for posing the question. A way to prepare for your future. The story suggests one solution. I know another. Thing is, I leave you to discover the answer for yourself, as everyone does… and must.

The Absence of All Things – by Abhishek Sengupta


What if physics turns out to be a dictator’s best friend?


No, there’s no dictator in this story. But the culmination of a totalitarian wet dream is the consequence of one physics professor’s exploration of quantum reality beyond all previous imaginings. Naturally, like Pandora’s box, things get out of hand once possibilities are realized and unleashed. One minor result is Sresta resenting her husband’s meddling and the price their family has paid, never mind the rest of the world. That her husband, if he is still alive, would probably find what he brought about merely “interesting” bothers her immensely.

And no, it’s not some super-duper explosive he’s come up with. Rather, interfering with the nature of reality itself in a manner that would do Philip K. Dick proud. I mean, what’s the point of questioning reality when it no longer exists, when it has been transformed into a state of flux only paranoia can grasp, and that only briefly?

This is the kind of story I avoid publishing in my Polar Borealis Magazine because it is too topical for my taste, and yet so beautifully written and evocative I would find it hard to resist if it had been submitted. I love SF/Fantasy because I prefer escapist literature. This, on the other hand, is hardcore extrapolative SF warning about what’s currently happening in India, a rock-solid critique of events ripped from today’s ephemeral online news items, yet reads like poetic fantasy appealing gently to our fears. A remarkable piece of work. Well done.

Dirt Retreat – by Eugénie Szwalek


The dirt retreat promises to unburden you of all your cares. Every single one of them.


Definitely not science fiction. Supernatural fantasy perhaps, with a hint of fable. Moral lesson? No. More of a morale lesson. Not for the literal minded. Rather short, yet quite evocative of something tucked away in the mind of just about everybody on the planet. In that sense has broad appeal in the widest sense imaginable. Not at all realistic, yet very real in that it is familiar and common to most of us. Not much happens, but that is part of its charm. Impossible to take it seriously, yet you should take it to heart. I bet you will. I like it.

In Pursuit of the Light – M.C. Benner Dixon


Walking alone, when everyone else in the city is asleep, a woman sees a pulse of light. She knows it means something, but what?


The light sweeps through the city every night at 3:00 a.m. Separated from her husband, unemployed, the woman becomes obsessed with the light and determined to divine its meaning. Like all such obsessions, she becomes convinced it is personally directed at her, and that solving the puzzle of its existence will transform her life into something truly fulfilling.

This could be the diary of someone going mad. Or a metaphor for figuring out how to find oneself in a world burdened with excess stimuli. Or perhaps an example of how rationalization and imagination can lead one’s train of thought in odd directions that may or may not be to one’s advantage. A demonstration of how to organize one’s thoughts and life? A recipe for avoiding boredom? There are many possible interpretations.

The woman is lonely and feels herself a failure at everything. No wonder she leaps at an unusual, repetitive event as a portent of something worth pursuing, hoping against hope it will give her purpose and energy and maybe, just maybe, allow her to feel happy again. There are many people drifting on the edge waiting for something to motivate them to turn things around, to rescue themselves from a dull fate they themselves created through inaction and lack of focus. Scam artists feed on such people. They’re everywhere. But at least the woman in the story has awakened to her plight and is determined to do something about it. Can’t help but root for her.

The author has successfully delineated a modern, pervasive problem and, in the course of the story, stirred the reader into recognizing the need to chart one’s own course without dwelling on the failed expectations of others. A valuable lesson indeed. Does the woman in the story succeed in her quest? A better question to ask is… will you?


Editor Cavan Terrill has the knack of picking nothing but winners for his magazine. I prefer concept-based stories, but the core of most of these stories is character-based fiction exploring fundamental problems in a manner both new and exciting. As always, I’m impressed. I consider Fusion Fragment a first-class magazine every serious fan of speculative fiction should make a habit of reading. It rewards the reader in so many ways. Highly recommended.

Check it out at:  < Fusion Fragment Current Issue >





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