Webzine Story Recommendations: Pre-2015

"Codename: Delphi" * Linda Nagata * Lightspeed * 2014-04, #47 * 4099 * sf * 2015-06-09

A woman is in a control center in a future military, physically safe but mentally responsible for the lives of many people in her charge who are emphatically not physically safe. This simply covers one of her shifts and, while the story allows the character to occasionally have a second to grab a sip of water from a nearby bottle or the like, neither story nor character deviate from their mission for more than those seconds in the cracks between wall-to-wall tension.

This story was brought to my attention by its appearance in The Year's Best Military SF & Space Opera, which is deserved.

A Whisper in the Weld * Alix E. Harrow * Shimmer * 2014-11, #22 * 5177 * f * 2015-05-22

I was so impressed with "The Animal Women" that I went looking for more and found what appears to be Harrow's first story, with "The Animal Women" being her second. It knows what an opening line hook is.

Isa died in a sudden suffocation of boiling blood and iron cinder in her mouth; she returned to herself wearing a blue cotton dress stained with fresh tobacco.

We proceed to learn about the Bell family, which had moved from Kentucky to Maryland during WWII: how husband Leslie went off to fight and has been reported killed; how Isa came to build ships and die under a furnace in the story's present of 1944; how the orphans Vesta and Effie (Persephone) strive to stay together; how Isa, as a wonderfully conceived ghost, is caught in an interplay of metaphysical forces urging her to go and personal "mule-headedness" enabling her to stay. She doesn't want to see her children abandoned and she really doesn't want Vesta to go to work in her place.

This has all the excellent writing, deft characterization, tangibility of time and place, and other virtues of "The Animal Women" and minimizes the one major problem of that tale. While there is a white bossman at the shipyards who is probably not a very great guy and serves as a magnet for Isa's frustration, symbolizing the war machine and the society that isn't always kind to its members, this is more a function of his position than his personality. The conflict is more between desires and facts and, while Isa may not fight all facts, she fights as much as she can.

I still think the two stories demonstrate a problem with, for example, the villains being too flawed and the heroes not flawed enough and the social motifs sometimes detracting from both the individuality and universality of the characters which are otherwise excellent, but Harrow is definitely a writer to watch.