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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld Issue 80, May 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the three original works of fiction featured in the May 2013 issue of Clarkesworld.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The first two works of original fiction in this issue explore vengeance, a dish best served after long and meticulous planning. The third story looks at mankind’s colonization attempts on Mars and eventual discovery of sentient life through the eyes of the beings that are in turn discovering humanity.

PROS: Two stories with a similar theme act as an interesting comparison study; story of mankind discovering life on Mars has an engaging viewpoint; all three stories handle plot tension with skill.
CONS: One story is far too short to be satisfying; another tries too hard to be clever and perhaps falls short due to cultural barriers.
BOTTOM LINE: The three stories in the May 2013 issue of Clarkesworld were quick reads, a description that can be either complementary or critical depending on the value the reader feels he/she has gained from the experience.  One satisfying, well-written story shines above the rest and another has great potential for being a much longer, richer story but is slightly marred by its abrupt, mysterious ending.

Soulcatcher by James Patrick Kelly

A long-planned act of vengeance over a sister’s abduction is threatened when the missing sister returns with the creature that took her away from her family so long ago.  Klary runs a gallery, and when xeni-Harvel Asher turns up to look over her wares she will get to see first-hand if her carefully laid plans come to fruition.  James Patrick Kelly’s story is a page-turner.  He keeps the focus on the three characters in the piece and the “will it or won’t it work” anticipation of Klary’s plan draws the reader right in.  Asher appears to be a nefarious villain and Kelly succeeds in letting the reader know that by Asher’s interactions with others combined with some as-yet-unexplained power he has over people.  James Patrick Kelly lays some good groundwork within the story which ultimately leaves the reader even more disappointed when the story ends rather abruptly.  The reader is aware from the beginning that there is something going on with Klary’s sister, Janary, that is not clear to her and it was frustrating to read the story and find that the end left things unclear for both Klary and the reader. I would read a much longer version of this story if he were to write one as the story itself (up until the end) was very well-written.

All of which leads me to ponder short self-contained short stories vs. those that read as if they are a chapter pulled out of a much larger work. In all fairness to James Patrick Kelly, this story was my favorite of the issue right up until the end and many other stories before this one have left me feeling less than satisfied. I don’t mind reading a short story that is part of, or will become part of, a bigger work if it is mostly self-contained. Leaving a little mystery at the end is fine. However, when the ending leaves me feeling as if the majority of the story is unresolved, I feel cheated. Unless I see a “continued in the next issue” tag, I personally would rather not see stories that read like a book chapter included in publications that I pay for. Keep in mind this is one man’s opinion. I would be curious about your opinion on the subject.

Tachy Psyche by Andy Dudak

The story opens with Wang Zhe waiting to be killed, however the woman committing the act appears to be moving in slow-motion.  As Wang Zhe contemplates this state of affairs he informs the reader through his reminiscences that he and others have gone through some form of intensive modification that has resulted in the ability to slow down or speed up thought at will.  In this case Wang Zhe is seeing his attempted murder play out in agonizing stillness, allowing him the chance to study it in greater and greater detail.   “Tachy Psyche” is a bit of a conundrum in that it has theories, or concepts, that I suspect will engage a certain section of science fiction fandom while at the same time feels as if it is trying too hard to be clever.  There are some cultural references that did not connect and that added a dash of confusion to the story as a whole.

R+D)/I=M by E. Catherine Tobler

Tobler’s story is told through the eyes of an alien couple, a “Martian” couple, as they surreptitiously interact with a human couple from Earth by raiding the grapevines at night.  The aliens are quick to point out that the people from Earth had not yet recognized that there was a sentient species on Mars and after a time of pilfering grapes agree to try to make contact.  And of course we all know what that means, don’t we?  Curiosity soon leads to further study and the question of who are the true aliens in this scenario.  The voice that Tobler employs in this story goes a long way towards drawing the reader in, engendering feelings of compassion and connection with this very alien species. The aliens themselves are able to inhabit the humans to some degree, experiencing what the humans are experiencing as a way to learn how to bridge the communication gap.  The story is interesting from start to finish as it examines some of the less-explored areas of what travel to another planet would be like. Contrasting and comparing the alien couple and what they see and learn of the human couple is a highly effective element in Tobler’s story.

Cover art for this issue is by the artist Julie Dillon. Dillon’s work always seems to have a glow to it, as if lit from within, and this cover image is no exception.  I recommend spending some time on her site to enjoy more of her vibrant, vivid creations.

There is much more to this issue of Clarkesworld and I recommend a visit to their site to check it out.  In addition to two reprint stories, one by Liz Williams and the other by Michael Swanwick, there are non-fiction articles on science and science fiction as well as Neil Clarke’s Editor’s Desk column.

All of this issue’s stories are available for free on the Clarkesworld website. Give them a try and let me know where I’ve missed it, what I got right (if anything) and your opinions on what this month’s issue has to offer.

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