Review: Diabolical Plots #42, August 2018

Review: Diabolical Plots #42, August 2018

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, August 20, 2018

Diabolical Plots #42, August 2018

Table of Contents
“Medium Matters” by R.K. Duncan
“The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Ryan Dull

August’s issue gives us two science-fiction stories, but both break the traditional mold in favor of humor.

Ever wonder what it’d be like if an advice columnist gave out strangely apt life advice under the guise of paranormal conflict resolution? Well, you’re in luck because R.K. Duncan‘s “Medium Matters” is just that.

While the story begins with a pleading letter from “Cursed, in Kansas City,” the rest of the story is ultimately about the columnist, one Marissa Matters. There’s a consistent thread of humor throughout, which is fantastic because the reality hidden just behind the explanation that spirits are restrained by man-made laws (and, thus, can be issued a Restraining Order) isn’t at all. It’s a commentary on sexual harassment, abuse, and obsessive possessiveness that trails women throughout their daily lives.

There’s a chance I’m reading into the story too much, but I don’t think so. Overall, an interesting read with neat voicing that digs into an important topic.

Ryan Dull‘s “The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” is essentially a piece of corporate meat-market propaganda detailing the ascendance of a relatively large part of the human population (the Beloved BillionTM plus almost a billion vegans… but they don’t count in the announcement).

In another time, where our current socio-environmental-economic situation doesn’t inspire a high level of anxiety and paranoia, I’d probably be laughing my way through the story. Ryan Dull has a way of taking corporate talking points and morphing them into a format that showcases just how ridiculous they are (i.e. McFactTM).

At the risk of forcing my own politics into this narrative, the way the story is written and the style with which Dull employs doublespeak tactics really struck a nerve as I considered it inside the U.S.’s current political/cultural narrative. If that’s the point of the story—and I believe it is—Dull is very successful in teasing out those anxieties and concerns with corny trademarked phrases and protein cubes.

The one major criticism I have for this story is it seems to stretch on for longer than I would’ve liked. As I neared the end of section four I realized there were five subsections and I hadn’t even begun that part.

Overall, worth swinging by and reading. Just don’t eat a burger while doing so.

Review: Apex Magazine #110, July 2018

Review: Apex Magazine #110, July 2018

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, July 8, 2018

Apex #110, July 2018

Table of Contents:
“The Chariots, the Horsemen” by Stephanie Malia Morris
“When You’re Ready” by M. Ian Bell
“Kerouac’s Renascence” by Tal M. Klein
“All Clear!” by Hao He

Stephanie Malia Morris‘s “The Chariots, the Horsemen” is, well, quite beautiful. We first encounter our narrator as she “ascends”, or flies, for the first time during a church service. While you might expect this to be a welcomed miracle, it isn’t. Her grandfather forces her to the ground, chains her there, and treats her like some grotesque creature worthy of ridicule and spewed vitriol. As the story progresses, we start to see that he’s restricting her potential because of his own insecurity. It’s an allegorical tale of finding worth and beauty in yourself, even when those closest to you try and stifle the things that make you special. Morris ends “The Chariots, the Horsemen” with a victorious dash that brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

“When You’re Ready” by M. Ian Bell takes you into the mind of an unnamed narrator as he crafts a simulated consciousness (simulant) through childhood, adolescence, and, finally, adulthood. The story truly comes to a head as the simulant meets his first real love. The narration is almost… sterile in its style through the first half of the story, as if it’s truly the scientific journal of this unnamed man. However, the further we get into the simulant’s life, the more that objective take breaks down and bleeds emotion, just as the simulant himself does.

The style and form of the story is just beautiful. The more I consider it, the more I realize how well everything is tied together, from narration, to plotting, to the infrequent dialog with Diane. It’s a wonderful piece.

“Kerouac’s Renascence” by Tal M. Klein follows Kerouac Jones on his journey to kill himself so he won’t die a slow death from Huntington’s disease. Written in an epistolary style, “Kerouac’s Renascence” feels more at home in a literary fiction collection than science fiction. The story is emotive and layered pleasantly throughout Kerouac’s time in Japan and most of the trip on the cruise ship, the Empress Polaris.

However, I found the ending to be rather unfulfilling as the speculative element, a bubble of space-time triggered by a volcano that results in the ship arriving in San Francisco twenty years later, seemed rather tacked onto the story. If I’m honest, I would’ve found the expected ending—Kerouac’s arrival in San Francisco and his subsequent death—much more fulfilling.

In short, it’s a well-written and thought-provoking piece, but the ending left much to be desired.

The dystopian world crafted by Hao He in “All Clear!” is complex and interesting. The cultural and technological layout and description is fascinating and very complete, from the anti-grav units keeping an aging skyscraper in the air, to the biological adaptations of the latest generation that allow them a sort of telepathy.

The story itself follows Zhang Dong as a group of fanatics and stoners break into his farming community. By allying with members of this newer generation, he is able to stop a coup and bring relative peace back to his home.

While I really enjoyed the world-building, I wasn’t as intrigued by the story and conflicts. Quite a few pieces were predictable—Zhang’s son, his friend Liang, and the conflict with his father—and it lessened the impact of the story for me. Overall, it’s worth reading for the world, but don’t expect too much in complex plot movement.

Review: Diabolical Plots #40, June 2018

Review: Diabolical Plots #40, June 2018

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, June 18, 2018

Diabolical Plots #40, June 2018

“Tank!” by John Wiswell

Ever wonder what it’d be like to be a non-binary tank with social anxiety attending a con? Well, the wait is over. John Wiswell’s “Tank!” is a cute, and perfectly short, tale of the trials and travails of our tank narrator amongst thousands of cosplayed-up meatbags.

I have to be honest, there’s not a ton to this story, but I can’t help but like it. While simple, there’s a general moral of acceptance and tolerance threaded through the entire piece that’s very accessible, but little else.

In short: come for the non-binary tank with social anxiety, stay for the Cowboy Bebop puns.

“Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull

The premise of Ryan Dull’s “Withholding Judgment Day” is simple: as long as someone somewhere is thinking about Armageddon—I mean, really thinking about it—the End of Days won’t happen. In order to safeguard against the possibility that someday there might be an hour where the world doesn’t rave about the end of the world, the Order of Saint Elegius was founded. Every day is carved up into hour slots and every hour, three monks lose their minds expecting everything to end.

On this bright, beautiful day, the World Cup, a mourning monk, a broken alarm clock, and a humpback whale documentary start the Apocalypse countdown…

“Withholding Judgment Day” is a fantastically fun and well-written romp through a fictional, yet somehow very believable, day in the life of some under-achieving monks. Well worth a read; you won’t regret it.

Review: Salt Lines

Review: Salt Lines

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, April 30, 2018

“Salt Lines” by Ian Muneshwar

Before I dig in, I have to say this story wasn’t written for me. I’m a cis white guy and I don’t think the ending is meant to speak to me on the same level as it would someone like the narrator, Ravi. That said, there’s much to love here.

The tale follows Ravi as he’s chased by a jumbie, which is a somewhat generic name for spirits or demons in some Caribbean countries. Through his flight, we learn about Ravi’s upbringing as well as his current family life. All of these seem literally to feed the jumbie, until we reach the climax of the story. It’s this ending that lost me, but up until the last few paragraphs Muneshwar had me enthralled. As I said above, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this ending, so take that disconnect with a grain of salt (that’s a pun if you read the story).

Review: Variations On A Theme From Turandot

Review: Variations On A Theme From Turandot

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, May 16, 2018

“Variations On A Theme From Turandot” by Ada Hoffmann

This story is, as the title says, a series of variations on the opera Turandot. It’s a strange piece that explores the Turandot character, Liù, as she’s played nightly on the stage by a woman known only as Soprano. Liù has somehow come to realize she’s a character in an opera and spends the rest of the story tweaking and twisting the lines of the story to change the ending.

It’s a rather beautiful story and well worth a read. The piece gracefully weaves the modern-day scenes of the Soprano with the slow, purposeful manipulation of the Princess by Liù. By the end, I’m left with a sense of wonder; wonder at the meaning of art, of the reflection of our lives in the lines we write or the arias we sing. But mostly I wonder at the impact our words have on future generations; on how a central theme of one person’s life might lend to a skewed view of love and loss.

Review: We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice

Review: We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, May 7, 2018

“We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” by Octavia Cade

“We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” is a beautifully haunting piece about climate change. The narrative structure is loose; a tale told by the author in a not-too-far-flung future where the reality of our current choices tear the world asunder in a two-pronged storm of hubris.

The story here has less to do with narrative and everything to do with awareness and change. Cade reaches into your chest and pulls out your heart, then asks: “how much does this cost?” It’s a terrifyingly honest look at how our choices affect the world and, subsequently, what will likely happen if we don’t make changes now.

In the end, Cade seems to posit that, because of our pride and purposeful ignorance, even we will disappear. A recurring phrase throughout the piece seems to sum up Cade’s prediction about humanity’s future: “Organisms that can’t adapt to changing conditions should just die.”

By the end of the story, it’s hard to think she’s wrong, at least in our case.