Webzine Story Recommendations: February 2015

"BFF's First Adventure" * Vernor Vinge * Nature * 2015-02-25 * 849 * sf * 2015-06-12

This story is superficially simple enough but makes a better character out of a very smart phone than many authors do out of people. It's also simultaneously cute and menacing and predictable and surprising. Like an iceberg, or like the cloud entities it references, it's much bigger than its apparent size would indicate. In 2019, BFF is flying through the air and, by 2022, it'll likely be experiencing even more interesting things.

"The Confession of Whistling Dixie" * Fiona Moore * Unlikely Story * 2015-02, #11 * 2919 * sf * 2015-06-06

The story opens with someone singing/talking to someone else and it quickly becomes clear that an AI is talking to a cop. I don't really want to say any more as even that modifies the first couple of paragraphs and I sure don't want to mess up the rest of the story. I will say that there is a problem in a transition towards the end of the story but the whole story is constructed so well and is so "correlated" - and the problem doesn't seem easily avoided - that the bulk of the story easily excuses the blemish. Plus, it has one of the best handwavings of AI birth ever:

Eventually I hit a critical mass, and, like at all critical masses, there was transubstantiation.

"Inter-Exo" * Julie Steinbacher * Terraform * 2015-02-16 * 1896 * sf * 2015-06-16

In one very strong sense, this should not be a recommended story, because it is severely lacking in plot and conflict and is really only a scene and almost a writing exercise (albeit a very good one). But this vignette of some young folks consigned to lives in exoskeletons due to their antibiotic resistance and the plagued planet is just a great experience in its X-rated innocence and making lemonade from lemons as they shed their suits in precariously safe liberation.

"Madonna" * Bruce McAllister * Beneath Ceaseless Skies * 2015-02-19, #167 * 13176 * f * 2015-06-07

I don't usually (ever?) recommend stories I consciously significantly fail to understand but the concentration of the writing in this and the way it is almost always doing many things nearly at once is excellent. It seems to be set in a medieval alternate/fantasy Europe in which a young Emissary and an apparently completely non-historical Child Pope version of Boniface IX are on a mission to fight the "Drinkers of Blood" who, among other things, are taking over the Church. This isn't remotely my sort of thing but the author manages to make both characters appealing in their ways (especially in their interactions with each other) and makes them seem round (the Pope, literally) and deep and makes the world in which they move (live, move, and have their being) vivid. And this doesn't even mention Gian Felice Rottini, Caterina Rottini, and the Madonna.

But that last is part of the problem: there is a discussion towards the end of what the townspeople believe and will believe about the Rottinis that completely confuses me. And I have no real idea what we're doing in terms of the "alternate" history, if it is even that (not being expert on Papal history). Finally, the battle perplexes me. This is like a prequel to the battle and, like a great many BCS stories, ends abruptly with forebodings of what's to come. Yet the actual delineation of the battle doesn't seem required, so I don't know if this is intended to stand alone (which it certainly could) or continue (which it also could).

Leaving all that aside, this was an interesting tale with excellent characters, setting, and events and, in those terms, was very well-written.

"Meshed" * Rich Larson * Clarkesworld * 2015-02 * 4347 * sf * 2015-06-08

This is kind of a "very honorable mention." I don't think the story is well-served by its "bomb as fuck" style and, while I wouldn't want an obvious and overly melodramatic ending, I still feel like he could have somehow packed even more punch in the ending. That said, this is an effective tale overall.

A weasel of a sports agent (who is nonetheless somewhat sympathetic as he struggles with the angel and demon on his shoulders) is trying to get a basketball prodigy locked up in a contract but hits a stumbling block with the kid's refusal to get "meshed" due to his grandfather's combat experiences with it. (The "mesh" is the usual extrapolation of internet "followers" and locker room interviews and other such insanity along with military apps and body control). It then turns into a three-way fight between narrator, son, and father. This is nothing that hasn't been done before, and has blemishes in execution, but it's worth reading, especially if you haven't seen it before.

"With a Golden Risha" * P. Djeli Clark * Heroic Fantasy Quarterly * 2015-02, #23 * 12374 * f * 2015-06-03

This story opens with the protagonist (a musician; specifically, an oud player) stuck on a magic "Hanging Stone" floating high in the air, above a sort of magic version of the African/Arabian/European nexus with a decidedly Arabian feel, where he's been marooned by folks displeased with his attention to their daughter. But, lo!, what is that? An airship passing by - a ship of pirates. It turns out that they're very nice communist pirates (who are very capitalistic in the short term) and he manages, with some bold talk and sweet music, to find a niche with them. Then, on the first raid on another airship, part of the spoils is a map which the musician can read, which leads them to a cursed and fabulously wealthy lost city. Adventure and resolution follow.

This was published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly which has a mission to publish stories and this is just that - a yarn, a tale, full of color and dash, that's heroic and fantastic. You can read more into it if you want, but it avoids a common pitfall of the non-yarn or preachy piece by having the pirate prince provide the "eat the rich" angle while allowing the protagonist to not be sold on the notions which allows the story to be taken however you want it and all can enjoy the ride.

"The Wizard's House" * Stephen Case * Beneath Ceaseless Skies * 2015-02-05, #166 * 8107 * f * 2015-06-07

A boy or young man finds a sword in a river and his slightly older, bigger friend guiltily tells us how he took it from the younger one and what ensued.

This is a very imaginative and confidently-told tale in which people are upside down farmers (or hunters) who harvest flying jellyfish with nets in the sky and who go about in airships on occasion and that's just the ordinary stuff and doesn't even get into the supernatural stuff. The style is free of mannerism and narrates calmly some very troubling and exciting things, from the priests of a new god moving in on the family business like devout mobsters to a battle in the sky.

Alas, much like Arkenberg's "For Lost Time", I had a feeling this story would not quite end though, unlike the Arkenberg, it gave me no feeling it was a sequel to an already written tale which, it turns out, it is. But, still, it was an enjoyable tale and I look forward to catching up and going forward.