Our Favourite Short Fiction – October 2016

By Matt Cavanagh

Hello readers so if you’re looking for a short trip into the land of SF&F here are five stories we would like to recommend to you:


Fireside Magazine Logo

From Fireside Fiction Issue #37

In this story we explore the very topical issue of what makes the news and what should be the news. A journalist is increasingly tormented by the stories he is coming across which speaks of injustice and the cruelty of the world. However their editor keeps rejecting them on not being newsworthy enough. Khaw creates a very very near future world where direct access to the stories and images ultimately forces our journalist to attempt to help the victims. This one is pretty much turning into science fact now and is staying with me many days after reading it.

Ordonta at Rest by Nancy Au
http://liminalstoriesmag.com/issue2/odonata-at-rest

Odonata at Rest

From Liminal Stories Issue #2


In this story Au has created an amazingly alive character in the form of Bernice, the daughter of Chinese immigrants in the US. Through their school system she is effectively on a scholarship to a Catholic school. This is a tale of culture clashes. Bernice is clever, witty and is reviewing how her family decided to stop being flying Ordonta to move to the West (or at least this is what she believes) with a teacher who tries to tell how Western life is ‘better’. The story doesn’t take blatant sides but it does say something about how we expect people to conform to a way of life.

The Solace of Counted Things by Natalia Theodoridou
http://liminalstoriesmag.com/issue2/the-solace-of-counted-things

The Solace of Counted Things

Liminal Stories Issue #2

For a darker take this story looks at a brother sister relationship gone very very wrong. A taxidermist creates strange creatures which mirror his inner thoughts and struggles. It’s unsettling and you quickly pick up what may have led to this strange sense of affairs…also keep counting what you see…

Rusties by Nnedi Okorafor & Wanuri Kahiu
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/okorafor-kahiu_10_16/

Clarkesworld Magazine Cover 121

From Clarkesworld Issue #121

This story does in a few paragraphs what many recent Hollywood blockbusters have completely failed at. Compelling world building as we see Africa slowly changed by the growth of AI which takes many forms but includes the friendly Rusties – traffic robots who control many of the cities’ dangerous streets. But many people start to blame the robots for taking away jobs and rebellion leads to war. This story mixes these global scale events with a more intimate look at a young woman’s failing relationship with her boyfriend and her childhood’s friendly ‘rustie. Absolutely fascinating.

A Diet of Worms by Valerie Valdes
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/a-diet-of-worms/

A Nightmare of Worms

From Nightmare Magazine Issue #49: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror

Many of us may have had a job that we all knew when we accepted it was just to keep us ticking along before we moved on and then we would escape. Here our main character is doing a quick night shift in the theatre they despise but quickly they find themselves jumping through time (and in the same job!!!). There is an eerie sense of dislocation as we jump to various points of time in someone’s life. It may have touched a nerve or thousand, read this one!!

Infomocracy

Malka Ann Older

Infomocracy

Image Credit: Tor

Review By Kris Vyas-Myall

This is a book I absolutely adored, in fact it is in the running to be my favourite book of the year, but I am not sure I would necessarily recommend it for everyone. I spend all day working with big data, I volunteer with political parties in my spare time and I love to read polling data to relax. For someone who finds cross breaks as exciting as I do, this is the kind of science fiction novel we would dream about.
 
For this explores the future of democracy in an explosion of ideas. It takes all the trends in information, social media and politics and explores them in fascinating ways. All of it is plausible and attempts to neither laud or condemn this future, more this is one possible way the world could go. 

Some people may dislike the level of information that is introduced at the start but I loved it. Older has clearly spent so much time working out the complex formulation of the world and it is necessary to discuss exactly how it works before you can really dive into it. However, in spite of this, it is not a vision that is absurd or hard to understand. Whilst I have not read this as a manifesto this kind of proposal is the natural extraction of where we may be heading.
 
One of the big things that has emerged as so important this year is the realisation that information is not neutral and access to more information than ever before has not made people more informed, but has caused them to become siloed. Even with the organisation “Information” the question still becomes: what is really true information? How informed are people?
 
This does not free people. Domination by corporations, for example, seems to be accelerated not reduced. People with interests still seem to be able to control things. This could turn into the kind of standard techno thriller that bores me but it keeps firmly asking the questions, not merely using it as a vehicle for action sequences. Neither does it purely become a social-science lesson, a specimen pinned and labelled, this world that is built is to be explored and lived in.
 
If there is a fault I did sometimes have a hard time keeping track of where the characters were at each point in the middle of all the data dumps. However, this was the right call to make, as you see the experience from different points of view and they are well differentiated. Also I am very much a person who likes to see the woods rather than the individual trees.
 
However, the characters did strike me as very real, I have been at elections where I have worked for one political party but been friends with people campaigning for opposition in the same region, where we’d sit up and watch the debates both cheering our own candidate on. I’ve had meetings with commentators, activists and even been yelled at by people telling me all politicians are the same and the system is corrupt. As such I felt like I recognised many of the different people on show. Hell I am certainly the person who sits there crawling through the data trying to grab on to any hope in the trends.
 
And as such, hope is not what I would say is in good supply. What we get is a possible vision of the future that is so real. Neither a warning or a satire, just what may be. This kind of thought-provoking science fiction is, in my opinion, exactly what the field needs.
 
 
I would recommend anyone interested in this to first check out the opening chapters on Tor in order to see if this is what you are looking for:

http://www.tor.com/2016/06/07/read-ch…

Ms Marvel: Vol 5 Super Famous

WriterG. Willow Wilson

Artists: Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon & Takeshi Miyazawa

Colourist: Ian Herring

Lettering: Virtual Calligraphy & Joe Caramagna

Ms Marvel: Super Famous

Image Credit: Marvel

Over the course of the last two years Ms. Marvel has become an absolute sensation and rightly so. It has been critically acclaimed from almost every outlet being both a source of inspiration and glorious fun. As it moves into its third year and has finished its arc Kamala is growing up and this presents new challenges both to her as a character and a book.

Kamala has become such an icon because Wilson has managed to find the perfect balance of particularism and universalism. Kamala is arguably unique in big-two comics as a popular legacy hero who is a young Muslim-American woman, and her sense of fun and the trials she goes through growing up are as relatable to this generation as Peter Parker’s were back in the sixties. At the same time the story arc developed in the first four volumes was so carefully planned out and tightly drawn that if the story had ended there it would have been, although a massive disappointment, a satisfying tale that would probably regularly top the greatest runs and be subjected to sub-par revivals years down the road. Whilst thankfully this is not Ms. Marvel’s fate, the book is now faced with the second album problem, after such a high note that works alone.

The challenges are real for Kamala too. As she grows up and becomes an icon people look to her as a symbol and protector, yet she also has to pass her exams at school and be there for her family and friends when they need her. Becoming an Avenger was a natural next step for the character but it presents the same challenges both within the universe and for writing a cohesive story. This is resolved by building on what has already been written without forgetting the meaning and purpose of any elements of it, combining these elements into the storyline.

The desire to be in many places at once is a natural one, as is to want to be all things to all people. Everyone has had this experience growing up and the temptation to try to actually do it the way Kamala does is one we all might seek out. However, we know from the moment of its inception that the plan is doomed to failure. Whether intentionally or not, this works as a rebuke of the standard practice in mainstream comics; where as soon as a character is popular they are put in as many other comics as possible in order to beef up sales, as is often demonstrated by the omnipresence of Wolverine, Spiderman and Batman. But this risks creating a monster without real substance, mere merchandise. The solution as always to decide what is important and to do less well, not to spread yourself completely thin.

The growth of the characters around Kamala demonstrates well the lightness of touch G. Willow Wilson has shown so many times before. Tyesha and Aamir are an adorable couple and it raises interesting questions about religion and race without getting too heavy or condemning activity.

What was a bit of challenge for me was in the changing of the artist to Nico Leon from issue four. This is not because Leon is not a great artist nor that the title has not changed artist before. What was a shock was the change away from the very distinctive stylised look that the different artists have previously gone for, instead going for something more realistic. I enjoy it now but it creates a very different look, like moving between video tape and celluloid as a filming material.

Whilst it fits in with the overall themes of the story, I do have some concerns with the choices they made with the Bruno and Kamala relationship. I love Mike as a character but I’m never keen on the superhero trope of being forced to choose between loving one person and saving the world. With teenagers, it can make things more understandable but it is a cheap trope usually used to manufacture tension where it does not need to exist. It would be the equivalent of treating a doctor with disdain for being on call. Luckily it is more or less resolved so it will hopefully not be an ongoing thread.

Overall, Wilson manages to steer the title brilliantly into the start of a second run by building on what has come before and going into new areas without losing the heart of what is already there.

The Best of C. L. Moore

The Best of C. L. Moore

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Kris

A wonderful selection of Moore’s short fiction which highlights why she is one of the all time greats of science fiction and fantasy. These vary from the pulpy Northwest Smith tales, to the philosophy of No Woman Born, via the beauty of The Fruit of Knowledge. Let’s go through each one in turn:

Shambleau

Shambleau: We start with the Northwest Smith stories. These are very much of the pulp era, combining gritty space hunter with the creatures of Greek mythology. What I find most interesting in Moore’s work as compared to her contemporaries is the reflexive approach she brings. We are not made to just think of the titular creature as simply a monster but also a victim of her circumstances.

Black Thirst: We get a continuation of these stories with the next part. This time it is a kind of vampires on Venus. This allows us to see both the strengths and weakness of these early series. These are an easy read and Moore’s style is able to keep them both tense and fast moving. However, if you binge on these in one go, rather than occasionally returning to them months apart, the formula can become wearing. But, for just having this pairing, it remains an enjoyable time.

The Bright Illusion: This is Moore making more of a move towards experimentation than the action adventures that surround it. However, it does not quite have the philosophical element of her later writing so it becomes more of a lesson in the bizarre and uncanny. If it had been published later I would almost be tempted to describe it as psychedelic. It does veer close to magical violent lost civilisation tropes but I think it is able to steer clear enough of them.

Black God's Kiss

Black God’s Kiss: My feelings on the Jirel of Joiry tales are mixed, as I feel there are some issues with the later adventures, but going back to the original story most of these are not present. Instead we get some proper dark fantasy of the original warrior woman. What this really highlights is Moore’s ability to create atmosphere, and the building up of dread is palable. Some individual lines here and there still bother me but overall this one adventure is an important piece of her canon.

Tryst in Time: This is probably the slightest tale in the collection and overshadowed by the following Greater Than Gods and the superior Vintage Season that rounds out these stories. This is not to say it is bad, it is actually a pretty reasonable cross-time caper about the power of love. But many more interesting works will be coming soon.

Greater Than Gods

Greater Than Gods: Five years on and the move to John W. Campbell’s publications can be seen as she writes a much more mature and philosophical tale. Out have gone heavy atmosphere and action, in come high concept and character front and centre. Returning again to time travel this looks at the nature of seeing possible timelines and the Cassandra problem.

Fruit of Knowledge

Fruit of Knowledge: This is probably her most beautiful work. A retelling of the Garden of Eden which makes the move from cosmic to personal drama of flawed individual. Every word of the story feels like it is perfectly chosen and it creates a wonderful painting.

No Woman Born

No Woman Born: Rightly regarded as her masterpiece. In this Deidre, possibly the greatest entertainer of her age, dies but is then reborn in a new metal body. What follows is one of the great identity stories of Science Fiction. Is she human? Is she even the same person? Just stunning. As an aside, this was considered as the starting point for a BBC TV series in the early 60s, so we could all have been watching Dancer Who instead…

Daemon: This is a really dark fantasy but a powerful one, in many ways a very good contrast to Black God’s Kiss in order to see both the evolution of her style and the core of the story. So much builds up and changes and is questioned (it is plausible the entire story did not really happen as we have it narrated) over the course of the story I am loathe to discuss the content, but it is fascinating and could easily be published in a mainstream publication today without raising an eyebrow.

Vintage Season

Vintage Season: Something of note with these stories is how they seem to move further and further away from the overt fantastical elements. Whilst the Northwest Smith stories are about hunting monsters across the solar system, it takes a while for the science fiction of The Vintage Season to emerge. This is another time travel tale but with a real difference from the usual state of affairs and shows how Moore really was, at heart, a master of character and human drama, using science fiction and fantasy as a lens for this.

Throughout these stories one thing that is noticeable compared to her contemporaries is how she puts women front and centre, whether as protagonists or villains. Her depictions do still sometimes reflect the views of the period in which she lived but that is something which is always going to be hard to avoid.

So this collection really highlights the breadth and skill of C. L. Moore’s career. Whilst it can seem an easy choice to anthologise these works chronologically it is really useful in order to show the evolution of her style and ideas. A must for anyone who is a fan of or has an interest in the 30s and 40s speculative fiction.

Our Favourite Short Fiction – September 2016

By Matt Cavanagh

Hello readers! So if you’re looking for a short trip into the land of SF&F here are five stories we would like to recommend to you from September:

Aphrodite’s Blood by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/campbell-hicks_09_16

Clarkesworld 120

From Clarkesworld Issue #120

This is a short but very sweet tale of two AIs left behind in the aftermath of an environmental disaster. It tells the story of the AI that used to distil wine for humans. It set an interesting scene of how technology can be both a blessing and a curse for us. I loved how in a few paragraphs the emotional state of the AI comes out as a character in their own right and its decision to try and get the people back to its factory and its consequences are heart-warming (not something I associate with an apocalypse!).



Mama Tulu by Jessica Guess
http://lunastationquarterly.com/story/mama-tulu/

Luna Station Quarterly Issue 27

From Luna Station Quarterly Issue #27

If however you’re looking more for your blood to be chilled this story may be worth a look. Our narrator tells us two stories about Mama Tulu in her Caribbean town, who is both respected and feared in equal measure. Two tales of cruel men come together in a rather unusual and unsettling way. The final couple of paragraphs as you realise what has happened will make you look over your shoulder. A great sense of place comes across this tale which adds freshness to it.

Little Widow by Maria Dahvana Headley
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/little-widow/

Little Widow Nightmare 48

From Nightmare Magazine Issue #48

The common links between dinosaurs and cults is often overlooked in fantasy and this story rectifies this imbalance at last. It tells the tale of a group of women who have survived a doomsday cult. You are never too sure where the tale is going (something I always enjoy). It skirts on the edge of being a dark tale of how women are viewed and how they survive the sexism of men and then bounces into a carnival that brings with it dinosaurs and possibly some overdue retribution.

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin
http://www.tor.com/2016/09/28/the-city-born-great/

From Tor.com

Urban fantasy can these days be felt to be limited to the wisecracking PI investigating magical crimes but here Jemisin reminds us that cities can be a lot more than a crime scene. Our narrator is a homeless black man who is being told he has to be the midwife…for New York City. Themes of police mistrust, being an outcast and a slight touch of romance are mixed with a unique chase scene and a beautifully epic finale; the story really captures the uniqueness and variety of New York.

Emergency Management Protocol by C.C.S. Ryan
http://www.firesidefiction.com/issue36/chapter/emergency-management-protocol/

Fireside 36

From Fireside Fiction Issue #36

Last but no means least is a story that starts with a break-up. Zory has moved to a new planet with her girlfriend who spends most of her time away; in a job where she feels lost and a neighbourhood she doesn’t know it is time to move on. However an earthquake then takes place that requires Zory to step outside of her apartment and face the world and start to trust others. The story of how we find our way through life is mixed with an off-world environment and in these rather dark times there is a reminder that people can also do some wonderful things under pressure.

Lucifer: Cold Heaven

Writer: Holly Black

Artists: Lee Garbett & Stephanie Hans

Colourist: Antonio Fabela

Lettering: Todd Klein
Cover Artists: Dave Johnson & Christopher Moeller

Lucifer Cover

I feel some background would help explain my feelings on Lucifer. Mike Carey’s Lucifer was a very unusual beast that went into the heart of deep philosophical and theological questions. Whilst it did open up some interesting spin-off avenues that could have been continued, Lucifer as a character seemed well and truly mined out. And in the intervening 10 years I have heard few people asking for a revival. However, with a (largely unrelated) Lucifer TV series taking off on FOX and Gaiman’s Sandman Overture being a hit, it makes sense for Morningstar to polish his horns and dust off his wings for another adventure.

What Black gives us is really two kinds of stories that intersect, a celestial tale the fans would expect and a more down to earth story they would not. As is often the case the latter is certainly the more interesting. I will tackle these two separately.

The setup for the main story (established quickly in the first issue and on the back cover) is that God is dead. Convinced that Lucifer is the murderer the angels send Gabriel to execute him but soon they decide to team-up to investigate the real culprit. Once again a murder plot makes sense in order to move it closer to the world of the FOX show, however the team never really gels. Black is so careful to ensure the two angels fit into the canon of Carey and Gaiman that they don’t have the larger than life clashes that make buddy-cop films such a staple. Lucifer within the book does not exude the cocky charm of Tom Ellis, rather he is more quiet and determined. At the same time Gabriel is angry and haunted but still an angel. As such the team-up doesn’t really allow for any interesting insights or character moments. Just two begrudging companions determined to solve a case.

The case itself is probably the most disappointing part of the comic books. It mostly consist of historical info-dumps and walking through old storylines (literally):

Lucifer Dreaming

Whilst the artwork does a great job of recreating the scenes as I recall them from the 90s, these feel more like fan service than actually a significant development of the story. What is good is that it does create a fully nightmarish landscape and give one a feeling of being immersed in the horror.

And the solution is built on a gun which, I would argue, Chekov failed to really lay out. That is not to say these moments are completely dull. Black is a master of dialogue and the back and forth that all the characters have are wonderful.

Medjine Lucifer

The other storyline, however, is brilliant. A young Haitian girl, Medjine, ends up in the possession of a demonic entity in a jar. This entity is in a bottle and so the only power the demon has is to communicate via whispers.

The whole story is such a great representation of depression and how it feels to have these self-doubts nagging at you day after day. This goes in a direction of trying to drive Medjine to violent psychosis externally rather than turning inward upon the self, but this makes sense within the context of the story. The art does much of the great work, really visualising the inner feelings and allowing us to feel the psychological reaction of these characters.

Medjine is a brilliant PoV character and I think it shows Black’s background in childrens’ and young adult literature. She manages to get inside the mind of someone in a very different situation from most of the readers and allow us to understand her without being patronising or stereotypical.

As such her journey through the story is the real heart of the piece. Lucifer may be the title character who goes directly on the murder mystery quest, but what I adored was seeing was Medjine go through these trials and traumas that are very real with only a touch of the fantastic to elevate them.

I am not sure I want to pick up more of Lucifer’s adventures but if Black wants to write the further adventures of Medjine it will go to the front of my pull-list.

Women of the Retro Hugos

By Kris and Nisha

We are great lovers of book awards, we love to discuss them and look at them in depth. With the celebration of the well-deserved wins of women writers (predominantly women of colour) at the 2016 Hugo awards, the 1941 Retro Hugos were largely overlooked. On the one hand all the winners were white men but on the other in the majority of categories at least one female nominee made the top 10 (the drama, fan and graphic story categories lacked women created works).


Here I wanted to look at these texts in more depth and how well they shape up with the other nominees in this category.


Note: You can see more discussion of other eligible nominees at the Retro Hugo Women Livejournal

Best Novel


Top 10 by number of nominations:
1. Slan by A. E. Van Vogt
2. Gray Lensman by E. E. Smith
3. The Ill-Made Knight by T. H. White
4. Kallocain by Karin Boye
5. The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson
6. The Final Blackout by L. Ron Hubbard
7. Twice In Time by Manly Wade Wellman
8. Typewriter In The Sky by L. Ron Hubbard
9. The Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
10. Captain Future and The Space Emperor by Edmond Hamilton

Thoughts on:
Kallocain by Karin Boye

Kallocain Karin Boye

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Kallocain lands right smack in the middle of the era of literary dystopias, but whilst it has resemblances to We and 1984, it asks the kind of interesting questions we more commonly associate with Kafka and Koestler (from the same year); principally what is the role of truth in a dictatorship? A scientist (Leo Kall) manages to develop a perfect truth serum, believing it will allow him to root out criminality and political dissidents, but he soon has to question everything as it becomes clear that no one is innocent of this kind of Orwellian thoughtcrime. Whilst reading this in translation makes it harder to judge the style, the Lannestock translation I read manages to perfectly balance a creeping sense of unease with the enthusiasm Leo feels for his discoveries. My only contention with it is that it is too short. At only around 200 pages it doesn’t really have the room to breathe and fully explore the ideas she sets down. But the bonus of this is that it doesn’t feel bloated with every moment carefully considered in order to generate the maximum effect.


Would it be a worthy winner?
This year’s nominees show an interesting combination of pulpy adventure, golden age science fiction, and non-American literary fiction. Kallocain is one of the most interesting of the latter. Of all the books nominated I would contend it is both the most literary and the most of its time, but as such it means it holds up the strongest. It is of a very specific genre asking very important questions that are still valuable today, and the shadow the events of the 1940s cast stop it from becoming purely a historical artefact. Also, as mentioned above, it lacks the fat of the events of some works from this period, being slim and direct with no florid prose.


The more pulpy writers (Smith, Williamson, Burroughs and Hamilton) offer little to appeal to me this year nor am I fan of Hubbard’s books (the views extolled in The Final Blackout leave a particularly bad taste in the mouth). White’s book suffers from being part of a series and from the loss of Merlin, meaning there are too many “humorous” asides and it lacks the focus of the earlier parts.  And whilst Twice In Time is interesting from a historical perspective once you work out the obvious trick (I think I did on page 10) it becomes a fairly dull plod.


For me the two which hold up best are Kallocain and Slan. Slan is easily the most influential work among the nominees and also feels the most contemporary. It is less meaningful than Kallocain but a lot more fun. For me both would be equally worthy winners.


In the final voting breakdown it’s notable 50% of voters did not state any preference for Kallocain, it is definitely a work that deserves much more exposure among the science fiction community.


Best Novella


Top 10
1. If This Goes On by Robert Heinlein
2. Coventry by Robert Heinlein
3. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt
4. Magic Inc. by Robert Heinlein
5. The Roaring Trumpet by L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt
6. The Wheels of If by L. Sprague de Camp
7. Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
8. Soldiers of the Black Goat by Marian O’Hearn
8. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
8. The Mound by H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop


NB: By His Bootstraps by Heinlein also had 8 nominations but was released in 1941 so would have been ineligible


Thoughts on:
Soldiers of the Black Goat by Marian O’Hearn

This was not a story I was familiar with before this and has never been reprinted (although it did get, I would argue, the best cover art of the year):

Unknown Magazine Jan 1940

Image Credit: ISFDB

In the run up to the nominations phase I had tried to read O’Hearn’s other work from Unknown, The Spark of Allah, which left me decidedly unimpressed. This is certainly a better work than that, with a great deal of detailed description and a well-known setting to ground the tale in. And yet, it doesn’t really rise above that for me.


I am not really familiar with depictions of the Salem witch trials prior to The Crucible so it is hard for me to say how typical this kind of story is, but I feel that adding supernatural elements to this is a problem. Whilst it does not go as far as other works in negating the cause of real world tragedies, it does however remove the story further from reality by the inclusion of the fantastical.


Otherwise I found it unremarkable. Even rereading it I found my mind wandering and trying to work out if I was rereading passages or merely if there was a lot of repetition. There is much to recommend in the prose style itself but I am not certain if there’s really much behind it.

Would it be a worthy winner?

This is a very top heavy category this year. The top seven (of which all but one are either by Heinlein or de Camp) together have 611 nominations, way above any other category (the novel category is next with 576 eligible nominations) and If This Goes On appearing on 72% of ballots (only beaten by the 80% for Fantasia). Yet then it falls to below 10 nominations for all the rest of the field.


This is to be expected as outside of these seven few of these have been collected or reprinted often (The Mound and The Invention of Morel being exceptions) and those available are often extremely problematic. From the Magic Native American tropes of The Mound, through the cultural appropriation of The Green Lama to using slurs I hadn’t even heard before in But Without Horns, it was in many cases a choice between lesser evils.


As such Soldiers of the Black Goat is better than what could have been on the ballot as it is at the very least inoffensive. But there seems to me more to recommend the other works with the thrilling dystopias of Heinlein (and one interesting piece of right-wing argument), the amusing fantasies of de Camp and Pratt or the literary writings of Casares. This renders it unremarkable.

Best Novelette

Top 10
1. The Roads Must Roll by Robert Heinlein
2. Farewell To The Master by Harry Bates
3. Blowups Happen by Robert Heinlein
4. It by Theodore Sturgeon
5. Vault of the Beast by A. E. van Vogt
6. Fruit of Knowledge by C. L. Moore
7. Into The Darkness by Ross Rocklynne
8. The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years by Don Wilcox
9. Half-Breed by Isaac Asimov
10. John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs & John Coleman Burroughs

Thoughts on:
Fruit of Knowledge by C. L. Moore

Unknown Fantasy Fiction October 1940

Image Credit: ISFDB

The best way to describe this is beautiful. Even for Moore, a master of beautiful prose, has painted this like a great renaissance fresco.  This represents part of Moore’s movement away from the adventure fantasies she wrote in the 30s, like Jirel and Northwest, and into writing some of the greatest philosophical stories of the golden age.


This retelling of the Garden of Eden is interesting as it moves it away from the more cosmic to much more of a personal drama on the flaws of people, even if they are figures such as God and Lilith. However, with the possible exception of Lucifer, everyone involved is displayed as sympathetic and just wanting simple happiness. They did not expect to be involved in the troubles to come; Lilith fell in love, Adam had someone created from him, Eve barely existed in the world when she came between all these people and God wanted to create something new.

Would it be a worthy winner?

This is an extremely strong field, I would argue the strongest of the year.  As such the Heinleins are probably the least remarkable. Whilst well written (and avoiding some of the problems of his other work) they are very much standard formulaic works in the future history series. It is a brilliantly creepy horror tale for Sturgeon. Vault of the Beast is classic van Vogt. Farewell to the Master is a fascinating look at our conceptions of who controls whom. Wilcox’s Voyage is one of the best generation starship stories I have ever read.


As such trying to sift through this field is tough; in terms of craft Moore certainly wins out whilst Sturgeon is a master of atmosphere, Wilcox and Bates are more of the experimental side.


As an aside, on my ballot I did not include this work, (along with seven other people) instead I opted for All Is Illusion. I’d be interested to know if any of the other voters put both works on the list or if this split kept Moore out of the final five.


Best Short Story


Top 10
1. Requiem by Robert Heinlein
2. Robbie/Strange Playfellows by Isaac Asimov
3. Martian Quest by Leigh Brackett
4. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges
5. The Stellar Legion by Leigh Brackett
6. Let There Be Light by Robert Heinlein
7. Quietus by Ross Rocklynne
8. The Bleak Shore by Fritz Lieber
9. Hindsight by Jack Williamson
9.  Song in a Minor Key by C. L. Moore

Thoughts on:
Martian Quest/The Stellar Legion by Leigh Brackett

Martian Quest by Leigh Brackett

Image Credit: Baen

If this were the results at the time it would be certainly said that Brackett made a stunning debut. In her first year of publishing two of her four short stories were shortlisted and a third longlisted. If the John W. Campbell award was part of the Retro Hugos she would be likely be competing mostly with second years (Heinlein, Asimov, Vogt and Bester all being previously published). These early stories both point to her keen future influence but also show the rougher edges of a newer writer.

This is not a universe of knightly heroes and moustache-twirling villains, this is disgusting and messy. The descriptions of the violence and warfare are harsh and brutal, with the sense at the end of not a great adventure but a morose senselessness, that in the future people will be just a cruel as they are today.

At the same time they very much date themselves with lines straight out of dime novels like:
His own holster was empty. MacIan got slowly to his feet, raking the white hair out of his eyes, and he said, "You dirty little rat!"

However, when things sparkle it is in her understanding of character and the willingness to explore themes like colonialism and class divides which are largely ignored by the big names like Burroughs, Smith and Williamson.

So as such, these may not be the quality of work that would yet make her immortal but it points the way she will travel to get there.


Song In A Minor Key by C. L. Moore

Northwest of Earth

Image Credit: ISFDB

From the start of a series to the end of one. Two years after the previous adventure of Northwest Smith (Werewoman) Moore returns to the character one last time. However, this is barely a story, instead only in a vignette in a fanzine, not even 800 words long. In many ways it almost feels like Moore’s goodbye to the pulp era. Smith is not finding himself involved with the monsters of legend but in a science fiction setting, he is instead sitting alone thinking about his choice in life:


If he were the boy again knowing all he knew today, still the flaw would be there and sooner or later the same thing must have happened that had happened twenty years ago. He had been born for a wilder age, when men took what they wanted and held what they could without respect for law.


Whilst it is shorter and there is less to discuss than in her other Northwest Smith stories, I couldn’t help but find this a much more interesting piece. In many ways it feels like the post-modern reflexive takes contemporary writers like to take on classic characters, giving more depth and nuance whilst questioning the underlying premise of what they are doing. Here it is even more interesting that it is being conducted by the original writer.

Would they be worthy winners?
These three all have the same kind of gun-toting off-world adventures. Whilst these are interesting adventures, and Brackett’s work is certainly influential on what was to come, I think it is safe to say they are edged out in the extremely strong top three, but rise above much of what is below.


Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is one of the most important short works of literary fantasy, exploring the importance of ideas and the relationship between work, reader and author among a host of other themes.


Robbie (AKA Strange Playfellows) is the first of Asimov’s Robot stories and possibly the most well known. Whilst it does occasionally feel a little less of a mature style than we would be used to later from Asimov it highlights the importance of him as a writer


Requiem is probably the best of Heinlein future history series, as it still uses the formula of a great business man being put down by powerful people with vested interests, this is instead does it as a character piece. Just an old man who wants to go into space but can’t because it is too detrimental to his health. It’s a fun and heart-warming runaround as they try to get him to go on his final trip.


So whilst Brackett and Moore’s works are interesting they are not quite able to compete with the short works that would come to define the genre for years to come. However I would be willing to argue these works are superior to some of the other lower nominees.

Best Editor (Short Form)

Top 10
1. John W. Campbell (Astounding/Unknown)
2. Frederick Pohl (Astonishing/Super Science)
3. Raymond A. Palmer (Amazing/Fantastic)
4. Mort Weisinger (Captain Future/Startling/Thrilling Wonder)
5. Dorothy McIlwraith (Weird Tales May-Nov)
6. Malcolm Reiss (Jungle/Planet)
7. Farnsworth Wright (Weird Tales Jan-Mar)
8. Mary Gnaedinger (Famous Fantastic Mysteries/Fantastic Novels)*
9. Charles D. Hornig (Future Fiction/Science Fiction)
10. Martin Goodman (Mystery Tales)

*I have not reviewed Mary Gnaedinger’s work as the fantastic magazines are predominantly reprints nor can I see the formatting of a copy to make a general judgement. However, I will say that they help promote and share these works to a wider audience and should be applauded for that.



Thoughts on:
Dorothy McIlwraith (Weird Tales)

This is McIlwraith’s first year at Weird Tales so she only has four issues published to her name. Unfortunately she has taken over in the magazine’s Annus Horribilis. With Howard and Lovecraft’s passings in ’36 and ’37 very little of their work was left to be published and Clark Ashton Smith had retired from fiction writing as a result. Further many of the major writers, in particular C. L. Moore, had moved to writing primarily for Astounding and Unknown.


Previously there was little competition in the fantasy field, with titles like Strange Tales, Fantasy Fan or Oriental Tales never really producing the same breadth or quality of fiction Weird Tales did. However, Campbell’s Unknown was a step above with de Camp, Sturgeon, Leiber, Van Vogt, Kuttner and Moore all producing some of their most interesting fantasy work. Even though it did not sell well it sucked out a lot of talent from the field. This can be seen if we look at the work that is regularly reprinted from the era. Whilst in the early 30s around 3 stories an issue have been subsequently regularly reprinted, this fell in the late 30s to  just over 2 an issue. For 1939, only 6 stories were reprinted one per issue.


And much of what has remained is more noteworthy for the author than the actual writing itself. Leiber’s Fafhrd and Mouser stories were rejected and picked up by Unknown with the more bizarre Automatic Pistol picked up instead. And Lovecraft’s Mound is among his most boring and problematic.


As such McIlwraith was facing undeniable challenges in taking over Weird Tales. We would definitely see interesting work come out of the title in the future, with Bradbury, Bloch and Derleth in particular, but it had quite a few bumps to get over.

Best Professional Artist
Top 10
1. Hubert Rogers (Astounding)
2. Virgil Finlay (Weird Tales/Famous Fantastic Mysteries/Fantastic Novels/Startling Stories)
3. Margaret Brundage (Weird Tales)
4. Edd Cartier (Unknown)
5. Frank R. Paul (Famous Fantastic Mysteries/Fantastic Adventures/Fantastic Novels/Future Fiction/Science Fiction)
6. Hannes Bok (Astonishing/Futuria Fantasia/Planet/Polaris/Super Science/Weird Tales)
7. Robert Fuqua (Amazing/Fantastic)
8. Howard V. Brown (Startling/Thrilling Wonder)
9. Earle Bergey (Captain Future/Startling/Strange/Thrilling Wonder)
10. J. Allen St. John (Fantastic/Tarzan/Barsoom)
10.  J. W. Scott (Future/Marvel)

Thoughts on:
Margaret Brundage (Weird Tales)

(all below image credits to ISFDB)

Weird Tales Brundage

According to ISFDB Brundage only created three works this year (two Weird Tales covers and one piece of interior art) so really this has to be considered to be a career nomination.


Brundage’s work is extremely emotive- the phrase “a picture tells a thousand words” is thrown around a lot but, in some cases, it isn’t true of artwork relating to stories. Brundage’s art, however, seems very good at drawing the theme and feel of the stories and presenting them in a wordless form. The drawing style, the colours, and even the detail in the facial expressions- they all come together in perfectly succinct works that any author would be pleased to have to illustrate their work. The two examples that spring to mind are Oriental Stories Spring 1932 (Spring Garden) and Golden Fleece; two very different pieces set in two contrasting settings, and Brundage very skilfully captures the essence of both.

GOlden Fleece Brundage

That being said, I do feel some of the work is very charged- sexually and racially. For starters, I noticed several “bad guys” depicted to appear a lot like a stereotypical depiction of a black or Asian man. Some may be a reflection of the time or piece, but it still comes across as offensive, especially the picture for The Black Gargoyle.

Brundage Weird Tales

Additionally, whilst the darker women are shown as depictions of strength and grace (which I do think is a good thing), the white women in the artwork are almost always shown as stupid, helpless and/or needing the protection of a man who, for the most part, seems to also be white (or at least very fair). Again, this could still be indicative of the stories more than the artist’s personal philosophy, for which I commend the artist for conveying the content so strongly.

Another thing I noticed was the prevalence of naked breasts. Whilst I am aware this is a common trope in sci-fi, fantasy and horror, I got a little exhausted seeing it over and over again. After a certain point, it feels like nudity for its own sake especially in light of the complete absence of male nudity. It was quite refreshing to see artwork where the woman was clothed and it felt like more attention was being given to her as a character in her own right. Although I do wonder if this observation would be better placed in a discussion of the representation of women in these genres and era rather than a critique of the artist. Regardless of the possibly questionable content, the artist’s work is evocative and beautiful, working as standalone art as well as illustrating the respective stories.

Brundage Weird Tales

Would it be a worthy winner?

The long list for this year is a bit of a disappointment as there are a lot of weaker artists to my eye whilst some of the more interesting artists of the year were the emerging talents who were ignored. I find Finlay’s work this year to be overly busy and confusing, where some simplicity would suffice. Rogers, conversely, is overly dry and clinical, often lacking a real sense of excitement. Paul’s work in many cases seems to have moved toward Brundage’s style (being very different from his early work on Wonder and Amazing Stories) and, as such, has many of the same problems. Among these top nominees she fits in quite well within this mixed bag.


The real standout of the year is really the emergence of Hannes Bok who along with other more forgotten artists like H. W. Scott are producing art that still feels contemporary, and really makes you want to discover what is inside the magazines.

Jem and the Holograms: Dark Jem

Writer: Kelly Thompson

Artist, Lettering and Co-Writer: Sophie Campbell

Colourist: Maria Victoria Robado

Lettering: Shawn Lee

Jem and the Holograms: Dark Jem

Image Credit: IDW

Review By Nisha

When I was very young- I’m talking first year of Infants- my sisters, tired of endless playing of The Little Mermaid, introduced me to a cartoon they loved about a girl who forms a band with her sisters and battles for control of her late father’s record company, with the help of a computer her father invented. I absolutely fell in love with the story (the five episode arc at the beginning, released as a movie), the characters and the songs. It stuck with me throughout my life and was even my inspiration to become a performer.

So when Kris dropped the news that Jem and the Holograms was going to be revived in graphic novel form, I was practically backflipping around the house.

I won’t go into much depth of the series in general, although there are some things that need to be mentioned going into the comics. Jetta is already a member of the Misfits from the beginning, Eric isn’t the big villain that he was in the cartoon, Rio is a reporter and both Kimber and Stormer are gay. Other than that, Kelly Thompson- a huge Jem fan herself- stays very faithful to the cartoon and the characters. The arc that I am here to review is Dark Jem: where a computer virus infects Synergy (the computer, who projects Jem’s image over Jerrica) and that, in turn, converts the Holograms and goes after their fans- warping their minds and changing their personalities.

As I have mentioned already, Kelly Thompson does an absolutely stellar job of capturing the essence of all the characters we know and love: Ashley’s annoyingly loveable petulance, the to-and-fro between the Holograms as bandmates and as sisters, Kimber’s secret wish to be the frontwoman, Techrat’s inability to be a people-person. On top of that, she also adds a whole new dimension to other characters, namely the Misfits. Whilst they are part of what made the cartoon popular back in the 80s, we don’t get to know much about them (compared to the Holograms), and Kelly’s writing does really well in opening them up and showing them to be practically a family as well. And she does a great job at throwing in the odd British idiom, courtesy of Jetta. Also, Pizzazz has a pet cat, and that will forever be awesome. She also throws the Misfits a huge curveball- the possibility of the band having to go on without Pizzazz and the casting of a new singer. The addition of a transgender character was bold and just pure beauty, as the Misfits accept her without missing a beat- lending credence to Stormer’s exclamation in the cartoon that “Misfits” is a name that means something; that they are the ones who don’t “fit in”, but will accept each other. The character stuff does seem to overshadow the plot, but the characters are so strong and loveable that I honestly don’t find it to be an issue.

The artwork… All I can say is that I am devastated that Sophie Campbell is no longer doing the artwork for Jem (although I wish her all the luck in her new projects). The style is completely different to the original cartoon, but in a way that’s really exciting and dynamic. She represents a whole range of body types in the characters and the detail is just fantastic. She creates really emotive faces that just lift the story to a whole new level- for example, when Jerrica is infected by the virus, she is still drawn the same but which a very subtle edge to her facial expressions. If the colourist hadn’t opted to goth-up her hair, the change in her personality would still have been very clear. And the panel where Pizzazz is sitting by her front door, completely isolated, is just heartbreaking. Sophie manages to evoke so much emotion in one picture. I’ve always felt that Pizzazz’s attitude was covering for someone very insecure who feels unworthy of love, and that picture captured that fragile interior so beautifully.

The colouring of the comics is ridiculously faithful to the essence of the cartoon series. Think 80s, think bold, think rock! The colours are vivid and practically leap off the page. One doesn’t often think too much about how much the colouring affects the mood and enjoyment of graphic series but it’s part of the heart and soul. Maria Victoria Robado does an incredible job of maintaining the looks and colouring of the characters and enhancing Sophie’s artwork. Together, Maria and Sophie create a wonderful and poignant contrast between the everyday life of the Holograms and the Misfits- both of whom have their own special colour schemes- and the world after they are infected by the virus. Whilst I think the “they’re evil, so they’re Goth now” thing is a little done to death, the creative team behind Jem still execute it with grace and make those scenes freakish and creepy.

Again, the lettering is also something that non-avid comic readers tend not to notice, yet it’s something that cleverly lends a lot to the tone and intonation of the characters. In the Jem comics, this is also true of the songs, which must be a constant challenge for the creative team. A device commonly used in the cartoon were songs from various characters, which is obviously much harder to convey in a graphic novel. This is where Shawn Lee steps in with some serious skill, giving the Holograms and the Misfits their own personal fonts for their songs (which is stepped up with Maria’s colouring). This arc also features some auditions, so the lettering also alters for their different styles, and abilities, of singing. While it isn’t the same as watching the songs on TV, it’s certainly pretty close… and I know I was wincing during the audition scenes because the lettering made the sounds come alive. My only critique is that sometimes the lettering in the songs is a tiny bit difficult to read, but rarely.

All in all, strong story, fantastic characters, great artwork, clever construction- a must for Jem fans! And, if you’ve never watched Jem, you’ll still love it… just read the preceding issues first for context. Also, the entire series is on Netflix so… get on that.

Dozey’s Journeys Through The Meowtiverse – There’s A Star Cat Sleeping In The Sky

Dozey Meowtiverse Space Cat

Recommendations by Dozey

Hello, I am Dozey! I am travelling the Meowtiverse having great adventures, exploring great writings. Why should humans have all the fun?

Being out in space is rather fun you get to zip around between the stars and sleep in zero gravity. It is most relaxing…. PURRRRR!

Here are some of the favourite realms of Women Space Captains I have visited:

Trading In Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Image Credit: Amazon

Trading In Danger by Elizabeth Moon: One of the best series about Space Captains, Kylara Vatta is forced to become a trader and prove her worth. Absolutely action packed.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyangi

Image Credit: ISFDB

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyangi: I am a very affectionate cat so I appreciate love. This, whilst being dark and musing, is also very sweet.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Image Credit: ISFDB

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold: The start of the Vorkosigan saga, one of the most famous space operas, and our introduction to Cordelia Naismith, a must for the fans.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Image Credit: ISFDB

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The second instalment in the Ancillary series where we get to see Breq returned to command and on a mission.

Chasing The Stars by Malorie Blackman

Image Credit: ISFDB

Chasing The Stars by Malorie Blackman: Shakespearian drama in space, politics, romance, and choices. Marvellous!

I am now travelling through the portal to a new adventure, elven women!

I am Dozey! It has been your pleasure to read this!

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again

A. C. Wise

The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again

Image Credit: Goodreads

Review By Kris

“Today they are twelve; they are together and strong, operating like a smoothly oiled machine. But they have all at various times been afraid and alone, less perfect they are now. And they will be again. Their numbers may fluctuate, members coming and going, but always they are this: The Glitter Squadron. And they are fabulous.” pp9

Ultra-fabulous really is the best word to describe this. It is something I did not know I needed in my life until I saw it. I had heard nothing about it until it came up in my feed and then I had to read it immediately.

This is not a book that is really like anything else, with one foot in superheroics, another in high camp and a third limb clutching character driven considerations of gender. And when I say high camp, it is so gloriously campy I expect it should have 60’s Batman style sound effects and a disco soundtrack1. But in the best way it does not descend into self-parody; it is a world that is absolutely believable, you never wonder why someone would live in The Glitter Mansion or fight evil in bunny ears or with a large bejewelled whip.
 
This is a series of stories of a diverse team (predominantly but not exclusively Trans women) of fabulously dressed heroes who fight crazily over-the-top threats interspersed with related cocktail recipes which also give us a deeper understanding of the characters. In the hands of a lesser skilled artist than Wise it could be a complete mess but instead it is a kaleidoscopic glory.

One of the reasons why this works so well is that it has such a focus on character, with most of the pieces concentrating on one or two of the squad members, so they all get a good focus. At the same time it is willing to go into the darker periods of their lives in the middle of all the campy fun, we see that even the most badass of them have more tender sides and go through hard times. This does not lessen them at all though, instead makes us see how fabulous they are all around.

The cast could also easily feel very one-note (as many failed comic-book attempts to create a new superhero teams are a testament to) but they are all differentiated extremely well. We have Bunny, the former lifeguard turned leader described perfectly as:


“Looks beautiful but it will sneak up on you and kick your ass before you even have a chance to compliment its dazzling smile.”pp42


Esmeralda, Bunny’s first rescue, who travels into the land of the dead to rescue her uncle. Starlight is a young former Roller-Girl who still goes back every week to visit her Mama. Cece, The Velvet Underground Drag Queen who thinks of herself as an old Hollywood hero. Ruby and Sapphire, two former circus folk who work together in synchronicity. Penny, their weapons expert who loves big f***ing guns, has a black belt in every martial art but doesn’t like to be seen as too girly. And then M, a leather-clad non-binary person who is a complete mystery to their team-mates.

Whilst we go into the more intimate moments with prejudice, family, marriage, and children all discussed, this never becomes overly dark and depressing. The whole reading experience is so joyful as are the Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron themselves, who are all just looking for excuses to have fun. And yes it is ridiculous, at one point they convince henchman to turn to their side as villains’ pay sucks and they have no health plan. Whilst, at another point they team up with The G-String Men. But is an essential part of the wonderfulness of the adventure.

Joyful, campy, tender and so much fun, it needs to be read to be believed. It is something you won’t realise you need until you have experienced it and once you have you will wonder how you went so long without it.

1. Although Glitter and Gold by Jem and The Holograms currently works as a very good stand in.