“Sublimation angels”, Jason Sanford A small human colony scrapes out a meager existence on a one of the most inhospitable planets imaginable. Eur is so cold its atmosphere has frozen into a global ice sheet, in which the colonists have burrowed their cave home. In the lower depths of the cave, the air is sour and lacking oxygen, while in the upper regions the air is sweet. At the top of their society are the brutal “moms”, and at the bottom are the “low kids”, near starvation and short on breathable air. At the top of the heap is Big Mom, an AI transformed to human form to run the colony.
Sanford has recently labelled an ongoing “movement” in SF writing with the name SciFi Strange. This story may be (deliberately?) an exemplar of the style. First for its unflinching description of the painful realities of life with limited resources under the control of arbitrary and gruesome authority, a theme easily found in the New Weird that Sanford cites as a major influence on SciFi Strange.
Also in an ending that leaves some of the major questions opened in the story unanswered (What motivates the AI overlords and the Aurals, for example). That kind of unrevelatory ending is one of the marks of SciFi Strange that Sanford doesn’t mention himself, but it does strike me as characteristic of many of the writers he names in the SciFi Strange family. To me its something where the author is walking a fine line between leading the reader to come up with answers for themselves, and leaving the reader confused and feeling short-changed. Here, Sanford just manages to keep me engaged with a few ideas of what he’s getting at, but not a complete grasp of it.
Although I found myself infuriated (well, mildly infuriated, anyway, if that’s possible) at points by the pessimism of the view of the future of human society presented here, I can’t deny it’s true to human nature, and you can’t beat a story that triggers real emotion like that.
“No longer you”, Katherine Sparrow and Rachel Swirsky Simon meets Aviva while recovering from his relationship with Becca, only his new girlfriend turns out to be more than just the girl next door. The narrator’s psychology is very believable, giving this story much more depth than it’s relatively straightforward plot would have had on its own.
“Shucked”, Adrian Joyce Late-working computer programmer Kevin has to fend off what seems to be a logic virus of the mind. Joyce packs a good bit of energy into this relatively short story.
“The godfall’s chemsong”, Jeremiah Tolbert Muskblue is an underwater dweller facing difficulties growing up. The first of which is, if she doesn’t find enough to eat she never will grow up. As an exploration of an alien psychology, the story is in some ways highly inventive; but in others seems to demand the reader react to Muskblue’s plight on the level of human psychology. Finally, where Sanford’s story ending toes the line between enigmatic and incomprehensible, Tolbert takes at least one full step over it.
“The festival of Tethselem”, Chris Butler A fantasy centered on a mysterious relic, the “Figure of Frozen Time”. This is largely a mash-up of existing fantasy tropes, though the nature of the Figure itself does have a new twist and the story is capably told.