Source: Archetypes: Magician
Clockwork Phoenix 5 is an eclectic collection of speculative fiction stories from a diverse cast of authors. The stories selected reflect the diversity of the authors and while some of them failed to hit the mark with me, they all have something unique to offer the reader.
“The Wind at His Back” by Jason Kimble
“The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me” by Rachael K. Jones
“The Perfect Happy Family” by Patricia Russo
“The Mirror-City” by Mary Brennan
“Finch’s Wedding and the Hive that Sings” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Squeeze” by Rob Cameron
“A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death)” by A. C. Wise
“The Sorcerer of Etah” by Gray Rinehart
“The Prime Importance of a Happy Number” by Sam Fleming
“Social Visiting” by Sunil Patel
“The Book of May” by C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez
“The Tiger’s Silent Roar” by Holly Heisey
“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff
“The Trinitite Golem” by Sonya Taaffe
“Two Bright Venuses” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“By Thread of Night and Starlight Needle” by Shveta Thakrar
“The Games We Play” by Cassandra Khaw
“The Road, and the Valley, and the Beasts” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
“Innumerable Glimmering Lights” by Rich Larson
“The Souls of Horses” by Beth Cato
I have five favorites in this anthology. First, Patricia Russo’s “The Perfect Happy Family” for its charming characters and its minimalist, surrealist apocalyptic setting. “Squeeze” by Rob Cameron is a wonderful benign ghost story, and the closest to a classical narrative in this anthology. Rich Larson’s “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” is a fantastic alien protagonist story that loops in a way that makes me smile. I appreciated Sonya Taaffe’s “The Trinitite Golem” for the way it slips fluidly between reality and myth and fantasy. Finally, “The Sorcerer of Etah” I enjoyed for its arctic setting and the interesting way it presented problems for the main character.
I have the flu. It’s not the point of this post, but in case what follows is rambling, incoherent and full of elementary typos, I want to at least give myself a little bit of a safety net of allowance.
The truth is I’m not in a good head space right now, and it’s got little to do with the virus. In fact, the flu might be keeping me from slipping into an even darker space right now. As tough as it is, in reality one can only focus on one major upheaval at a time and the flu is currently closer to me.
What I really want to talk about, is my grandfather. He’s dying. There’s no other way to spin it. He was admitted to hospital last week with a complicated pneumonia infection and a dangerously low weight. My sister and my aunt have been keeping me informed and over the past couple days it has been a roller coaster of prognoses, everything from an immediate need to say my good-byes to his expected recovery. I’ve been sleeping with my phone under my pillow, waiting for that call that’s going to come, telling me that my grandfather has passed while I’m on the other side of the world. You tell me which is harder: being there when a loved one passes or not being there, because right now I really don’t know.
My grandfather has survived over a dozen heart attacks, at least five of which should have put him down. He was at 13% of his cardiac function when they put a pacemaker in him. He’s been cut open more times than I like to think about and over the past two years has swatted away at three different cancers. Last year his pacemaker gave him a jolt that sent him down the stairs. He broke two ribs and fractured a vertebrata and still insisted over this last Christmas on moving furniture around for the comfort of guests who were staying, and not for lack of the strong, willing hands of grandchildren either. My grandfather is particular about things. Once he puts his mind to a thing, once he has a plan, he sees it through, come hell or high water.
“We Magases are stubborn,” he often says. I believe him.
Yesterday the topic was broached between the doctors and the rest of the family that it might be time to let Grandpa go. “He is being maintained, but only maintained,” it was explained to me. “He’s in a lot of pain, and it’s selfish of us to keep him going if he doesn’t want to.”
They said they would talk to Grandpa about how he wanted to go. I understand their reasoning, and while I have nothing against end of life care, and think that it should, in this case as in all cases, be an individual’s own right to choose what they do with their body, nonetheless everything in me rebells at this suggestion. Not only because he is my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, and a bedrock supporter of my perhaps less than responsible decision to live abroad for five years; not only because he’s got a heart full of selfless kindness that had him rooting through the storage room for anything of use he could donate to the Syrian refugees starting over in Canada; but because it goes against everything he’s told me a Magas is: strong, stubborn, tenacious. I don’t want to see him giving up on life like that. This opinion doesn’t come from a spiritual or a religious place in me, but rather a philosophical one: you have an eternity to be dead, but only a few short years to be alive. Maybe my view will change as I get older, but I hope not.
Today I received a message from my aunt. The doctors asked Grandpa what his goals are going forward and he told them that he wants to get better. I have never been more proud of anyone in my family. To face pain and death with a fighting spirit and a will to live–I hope I can show half his courage before the obstacles that lay ahead of me in life.
Things still aren’t certain for my grandfather. He’s stable at the moment and the doctors have tentatively reduced some medications to increase others. The lung cancer is making it difficult for him to clear the pneumonia from his lungs and his pacemaker is struggling to keep his heart ticking. I know this is a thousand times more difficult for Grandpa than it is for the rest of us, but if there’s even the slightest hope that I might see him in person again after my move back next month, I want it to be clung to with all the stubbornness behind our name.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Dylan Thomas
If you’ve taken a casual look at my blog recently you might get the impression that I do a bit of reviewing. Actually, I do a lot of reviewing, though lately not so much on the books I’ve been reading for pleasure. Frantically writing my own fiction has eaten up a large chunk of my time, on top of the reviews I do for Tangent Online.
Tangent is a fanzine started back in 1993 that reviews the works from the short story to novella pro-paying market. Occasionally they’ll review novels, and there are articles and other interesting stuff out there for the SFF minded.
At the end of every year a list is compiled of what the review team felt were the best of the best to be published that year. Stories we like are given a zero to three star ranking, depending on whether they’re just ‘good’ or mind-blowingly life changing. Keep in mind that these are already stories that have been accepted into professional publications, so these are double-vetted stories of pure awesomeness.
To see the 2015 list, visit Tangent Online here. You have to scroll down some, past the explanation of the list (summarized above) and some stuff about Sad Puppies that I’m not going to get into here.
Anyway, if you’re looking for some spectacular short science fiction, fantasy, or horror reads and aren’t sure where to start, give this list a look. I’ve picked quite a few choice stories myself.
Nightmare #40 had a story with a similar theme as the last Nightmare issue I reviewed, which threw more for a bit of a loop. It was the best story in the issue, so I can’t complain, but the coincidence made me smile.
“Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller
“Vulcanization” by Nisi Shawl
“Angel, Monster, Man” is a bit of a lengthy story, but it was my favorite of the issue, both for its subject matter and for its presentation. “Vulcanization” I liked less. I didn’t like the main character, I thought the pacing was off, and the emotion stretched too far into satire to make sense within the story.
It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of reading another issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They publish enough stories and at such great quality that there are usually several per issue that I really enjoy. The January/February 2016 issue is no exception.
“Vortex” by Gregory Benford
“Number Nine Moon” by Alex Irvine
“Smooth Stones and Empty Bones” by Bennett North
“The White Piano” by David Gerrold
“Caspar D. LuckinBill, What Are You Going to Do?” by Nick Wolven
“Robot from the Future” by Terry Bisson
“Squidtown” by Leo Vladimirsky
“Touch me All Over” by Betsy James
“Telltale” by Matthew Hughes
“The Visionaries” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Braid of Days and Wake of Nights” by E. Lily Yu
Of the above twelve stories, “The White Piano” is hands down my favorite. The voice and the frame story both form a very complex piece of writing craft and I can absolute appreciate the work that went into the formation of this story. “Telltale” is another great story. It’s part of a larger, ongoing narrative, but new readers should have no problem understanding the character and the premise, nonetheless.
I sometimes feel that it’s hard to place my specific tastes in literature. Much like my music listening habits, I’ll read almost anything (with a few exceptions) and I’ll dump on my favorite genres as often as I’ll praise works in genres I hardly ever delve into. There are a few things though, that I really look for to improve my opinion of a particular work: strong characters, decent plot, contextually plausible events, and if not humor then at least clever writing. I can enjoy pretty much any story, so long as it has those elements. Except I also have ridiculously high standards, and when I read a story that doesn’t quite do it for me, I say so. So it is with issue #26 of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I love the genre, fantasy is near and dear to my heart, but I couldn’t get fully into these three stories:
“The Blue Lamp” by Robert Zoltan
“Beggar’s Belief” by Jon Byrne
“The Voice of the Green Flame” by J.R. Restrick
The best of them is absolutely “The Blue Lamp.” It has a decent rise and fall of tension, and some characters I could get behind, but it meandered a bit and some of the mystery fell a little flat. Still, it’s a solid fantasy story for anyone looking for a read and run sort of experience.
Issue number 86 of Aurealis has two short stories that may or may not appeal to fantasy fans. Personally, I wasn’t entirely impressed by either of them. “Potkin” is the stronger of the two, if only because “Adrift on the Smokey Sea” felt way too on point for an adventure story. If you like Sherlock Holmes style stories where the protagonist and his side kick already know all the answers to every not-puzzle they encounter, then it might be the story for you. As for me, I like a little sense of danger and the unknown in my reading, and this story didn’t do it for me. “Potkin” on the other hand, has a few good things going for it, but it feels too short to contain everything it’s trying to say. Read the stories and judge for yourself.
“Potkin” by Janet Haigh
“Adrift on the Smokey Sea” by Lachlan Huddy
Going way, way back (god I haven’t updated in months, even the crickets have packed up and moved on to more active audiences) I reviewed the 8th issue of Sci Phi Journal in November of last year. None of the stories in particular caught my attention, but here is what issue #8 had to offer:
“The Trade’s On” by J’nae Rae Spano
“Be Careful What You wish For” by L. P. Melling
“reBirth” by Katherine Gripp
“The Pondering Pacifist” by John Kaniecki
“Walk” by Gunnar De Winter
“They Shall Be As Gods” by John Rovito
Like I said, none of this issue’s stories really stood out to me. In each something important seemed to be missing to really bring the concepts alive. As a result, I never felt fully satisfied with what I read. Sci Phi Journal is, however, still a young publication, and a dedicated venue for soft science fiction, primarily philosophy. As it grows into its own audience and niche I expect the stories it publishes will be tighter and more vibrant all around as well.
Nightmare #37 was a special issue with the theme “Queers Destroy Horror.” Featuring four stories, it was something of a mixed bag. Matthew Bright’s “Golden Hair, Red Lips” stole the show with a modern telling of the hedonism of Dorian Grey. “Dispatches From a Hole in the World” by Sunny Moraine ramped up the creepy factor and ended the issue on a truly unsettling note.
- “Golden Hair, Red Lips” by Matthew Bright
- “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong.
- “The Lord of Corrosion” by Lee Thomas
- “Dispatches From a Hole in the World” by Sunny Moraine.
My full review is available at Tangent Online.
Read the original stories at Nightmare.