written by David Steffen
I don’t often do reviews, and even less often do I do reviews of short fiction magazines. Why? Well, mostly because I feel terrible giving a short story author a bad review for a story that I didn’t like. I don’t worry about that with Hollywood movies or big name novels since they’re not going to notice or care what I think anyway. Short stories are a varied bunch, and I find that I have gotten a lot more choosy over the years for what kind of fiction I like. I still consume loads of it, but I usually just share the ones that I love (like my Best Of podcast lists) and leave the others unmentioned. But somehow, when I’m reviewing an issue of a magazine I usually feel like I should review everything in it.
So I did think about doing that with this issue. There were stories I loved. There weren’t any stories I hated, but there were stories to which my principle reaction was “I don’t get it” or “It’s not for me.” Thinking on it further, I didn’t really have that much more to say about those stories, so I’m just going to list the stories that I really liked and tell you a little bit about why they were good for me. I’ll also note that I rarely grasp poetry (apart from Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, and perhaps the occasional by another poet) so none of the poems are on this list–not a reflection of the poetry, I expect, but my lack of understanding of the medium.
The Girls of the Forest by Margaret Ronald
Cynthia, a heron-girl who can become a human or heron or a mixture at will, returns pregnant to her forest home from the mundane world after the end of her relationship. Before she left the forest, she saw so many others leave and come back like that, and she always swore that she would never make their stupid mistakes, yet here she is returning alone with the seed of a child in her. Great story, well told. Great worldbuilding. I can imagine this mythical place where discarded mythical lovers return to and endlessly compare notes about their lives in the mundane world. I could really root for Cynthia, trying to raise her half-human child in this place surrounded by discouragement.
The Fungi That Talk Softly by Harry Markov
This one was decidedly weird. The story posits that fungi are a collective intelligence that communicates through some kind of mental bond. They assimilate the memories of any animal whose body they consume, and so are by far the superior intellect on the planet. They live on such a scale that they can note the extinction of species, but only once have they noted an individual of a species–this is the story of the relationship they grow with Rostislav Kazakchiev, a peculiar man who learns to speak with them.
The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown by Caroline M. Yoachim
Speaking of weird. The protagonist is the “seed clown” of candy carnivals made by a magician. Just before he hosts a children’s party, he dissolves her in water and makes a new circus which includes her and an entire candy cast and set of candy props. She serves as the seed for carnival after carnival and they are sent away to perform and be eaten without her. But she wants a change and she will do what she can to make it happen.
Song of Mary by Geoffrey W. Cole
I like stories about generation ships where something has gone wrong. In this particular one, the generators have weakened to a point that there is not enough energy to sustain the entire colony. The ship’s AI must do what she can to help the population find a way to trim their numbers and maintain the survivors.
Ondine’s Curse by Katherine Mankiller
A sea witch becomes romantically entangled with an unsavory man she rescues from a shipwreck. She is old and powerful, but naive to the ways of such men, and he sees little value in any relationship aside from short-term gains.