Programming Note: Due to various circumstances the review of the second half of the April/May 2013 issue of Asimov’s has been rescheduled to next Friday. In the meantime enjoy this review of the April issue of Clarkesworld!
REVIEW SUMMARY: The April issue of Clarkesworld features three oddly imaginative works of sci-fantasy and the inaugural reprint selections of editor Gardner Dozois.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two alien entities wage a surreal battle to save an alien world from absorption by powerful hegemony, Chicken Little’s prediction begins to come true in a forest world filled with useful spiders and human souls reincarnated in the detritus of suburban life mount a defense against avenging garden gnomes in this month’s original fiction.
PROS: Creative, non-standard science fiction/fantasy storytelling; mind-bending world-building; stories demand you read to the end as they do not forecast their conclusions.
CONS: Surreal and occasionally abstract storytelling may not click with even more adventurous readers; endings of all three original works fail to do justice to the artistry of the stories as a whole.
BOTTOM LINE: The April 2013 issue of Clarkesworld is bold in its selection of three original short stories that bend and break traditional science fiction and fantasy molds. All three tales will stir the imagination and demand careful reading. This is the kind of issue that could garner nearly hyperbolic praise or dismissive criticism depending on the reader’s tolerance for storytelling outside of the box and his/her opinion on whether these stories ultimately deliver. I find myself wishing a host of people would read these free offerings as the commentary regarding the stories would surely be fun to witness.
“Annex” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
A multiple-entity known as Esithu is drawn into a long and intricately convoluted plan to subvert the successfully invading government by an equally inventive being called Lykesca. On her website, Sriduangkaew describes her story as a “cyborg shark” and while that may not give you a clear picture of “Annex”, it does turn out to be an apt description. Esithu and Lykesca are fascinating characters not only in their cryptic back-and-forth conversation over a lengthy period of time but are revealed against the backdrop of a world that feels as if it was born out of the most imaginative future world-building of our favorite science fiction films consumed during the creative equivalent of an acid trip. I have written similar statements before, but it is no less true in this instance: if a film company were to make a faithful adaptation of the story, the visuals would be something to behold. As the reader is drawn into the story he/she cannot help but wonder whether Lykesca’s plans will come to fruition and if so how it will tie in with the story as a whole. I was not entirely smitten with the ending but I was captivated by the style and the pictures Sriduangkaew painted in my head. “Annex” is the latest of Sriduangkaew’s stories to be set in the same universe and I am curious to seek out the others to get the full experience.
“No Portraits on the Sky” by Kali Wallace
In the early morning hours Rela hears a snap of branches and looks up to see a stranger falling from the sky. In the brief glimpse she catches he does not appear to be like one of her people and her curiosity leads her to seek him out and, once she finds him, to employ some of her spiders to the effort of healing his surely fatal wounds. Wallace describes a forest world that had me imagining Michael Whelan’s cover to the Larry Niven novel The Smoke Ring. Through Rela’s eyes the reader is given to understand that there is something artificial about the sky in this world, as it has begun to fall in strips that hang over trees and gardens. Members of Rela’s people are relegated to investigating and dealing with this matter while others tend to the roots of the trees that make up this world. For those prone to feelings of fidgety nervousness at the mention of spiders, Wallace’s description of spiders living on and crawling all over Rela will have you it fits. The symbiotic relationship between the people and spiders of this world is a fascinating one that sounds utterly fantastic and yet reads matter-of-factly plausible in the world Wallace has created. Once again I was hoping for a more satisfying ending given how interesting the story was but it took an unexpected twist that both confused and frustrated me. I have enjoyed Wallace’s work in the past and plan to continue to follow her career.
“Melt With You” by Emily C. Skaftun
When I write that a story about two plastic pink yard flamingos banding together with other formerly inanimate objects to fight against a mob of ceramic gnomes is the most accessible of this issue’s original fiction you will have some idea of just how deliciously wacky this issue is. After one of many unexplained apocalypses Irma and “Bubby” have been reincarnated as plastic flamingos and are adjusting as best they can to the limitations of these new bodies. Their former mailman, now a blue jay, alights to share with them and their equally unexplained reincarnated friends and neighbors that “the gnomes are coming” before flying off to warn others. What follows is a battle that would be comical if not for the sheer senseless horror of it all. Skaftun’s story is wildly inventive and in a very brief opening manages to make you care about inanimate objects in a way that probably has not happened since you were little and believed your stuffed animals were alive. “Melt With You” will make you look twice at the objects around you while hoping that they really don’t have souls of their own. I feel compelled to warn you: just gazing briefly at the title may give you a Modern English earworm for the rest of the day.
In his Editor’s Desk column, Neil Clarke points out the recently announced Hugo Awards in which Clarkesworld has garnered five nominations. He then goes on to discuss just how he got into this business of publishing new and interesting genre fiction in a way that will endear him to all genre fans. I strongly encourage you to read this article if nothing else from this month’s issue.
Congratulations Neil Clarke and all of the other Clarkesworld nominees for this year’s Hugo and Nebula Awards. Both appear as if they will be exciting races to the finish.
Cover art this month is provided by artist Alexandru Popescu. The image is entitled “The Awakening”. You can read Alexandru’s author bio and see a larger version of the cover here. It is worth inspecting on a larger scale as it is a gorgeous image.