Review of “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata

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This story is a finalist for the 2018 Hugo Awards. It’s hard science fiction and was published in 2017 by Tor.com. Note: review may contain spoilers.

The Earth is dying and the Martian colonies have been abandoned. Financed by the wealthy Nathaniel Sanchez, architect Susannah Li-Langford is building a monument on Mars, using remote machines to clothe a spire in sparkling, white tiles. In a surprising development, the machines notify her they’ve received a signal. Could there be life still on Mars after all?

This is a pretty dystopian setting. With the Earth devastated by climate change and biological warfare, its people have lost their dream to move out to the stars. Instead, they are slowly dying in place. Li-Langford is nearing the end of her life but keeps plodding away at her monument, hoping to leave something lasting behind.

Good points: First, this is science fiction, somewhat on the hard side, but not technical enough to put anyone off. Next, the message is hope. Even with all that’s gone wrong, Li-Langford is willing to abandon her dreams to give someone else a ray of hope.

Not so good points: This reminded me very strongly of Weir’s The Martian, so I didn’t take it as highly original. I thought the characters were flat and not well developed; plus, there was a lot of exposition—I really didn’t end up feeling the devastation on Earth. I didn’t really feel Li-Langford’s dream, either. Why waste all the time and money on a monument when it seems like Earth needs it instead? Then she abandons it without a second thought and dismantles way more than seems necessary for the situation. And how are a few tiles going to help castaways? The plot didn’t quite hold water for me.

Two and a half stars because of the believability issues.

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Review of Third Flatiron Best of 2017 (Third Flatiron Anthologies Book 21)

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This is a collection of thirteen speculative fiction short stories edited by Juliana Rew, including her choice of the best stories from the Third Flatiron Anthologies published in 2017. These stories range from SF to fantasy to horror, and right now it looks it’s only offered as an ebook.

Third Flatiron Anthologies has proved to be a pretty reliable series for lightweight, entertaining fiction, mostly without the heavy political messages that sometimes turn up in short stories just lately. These offerings follow that standard, including everything from the quirky to the serious.

The stories include John Sunseri’s take on a different racetrack, James Beamon’s humorous tale of programmed troops, Konstantine Paradias’ projection of CRISPR in the kitchen, Brian Trent’s vision of Dorian Gray after the fall, Jean Graham’s spooky comeuppance for murder, Ville Nummenpaa’s contest for the most boring speaker, Wulf Moon’s Beast of the Month Club, Rati Mehrotra’s vision of the afterlife, Keyan Bowes’ integrated pre-school, Vaughan Stanger’s burdensome message, and Jill Hand’s projection of what your dog might say to you if it could talk. There were a couple of stand-outs. I especially liked J.L. Forrest’s witchy tale of rescue and Premee Mohamed’s vision of self-sacrifice.

Three and a half stars.

Still more shameless self-promotion!

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Afromyth

A while back I sold a story to Afromyth, an anthology from Afrocentric Books edited by J.S. Emuakpor. It looks like the e-book became available on December 9, and the paperback will soon follow. You can pick up a copy here. My story is “Death in Nairobi” about a Miami detective on holiday roped into investigating a local crime. Have fun reading!

What If? Attacks on Rocket Stack Rank

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A furor erupted this week in SFF cyberspace about pronouns and how reviewer Greg Hullender of Rocket Stack Rank has made light of them. For anyone just tuning in, Rocket Stack Rank (RSR) is a review site run by Hullender and Eric Wong that provides brief reviews of stories eligible for the major SFF awards, including the Nebula, the Hugo, and presumably the Bram Stoker and other awards.

The site has received a lot of positive notice, and recently Hullender was tapped to serve on the Locus panel that feeds the major awards. In response, a group of SFF authors posted an open letter complaining about the pronoun issue and Hullender’s take on trans and non-binary characters in the reviews, also calling him a racist for good measure. Since I’m not trans or non-binary, I’m going to refrain from commenting on this. Everybody is entitled to their own feelings. However, I just wrote the last blog on virtue signaling, so I’m looking at this dust up through that lens.

Hullender promptly posted an apology to “all readers and authors we’ve harmed and offended.” This was judged unacceptable because he also wrote a response to the charges with evidence to demonstrate how they were questionable. Of course, it’s unsupportable to discriminate against people because of their race, gender or trans status, but what if this is actually about something else?

David Gerrold recently made some interesting comments at Amazing Stories. He basically says that members of the SFF community have to stand up and take sides in the progressive/conservative fight in order to save their reputations. This is troubling because it suggests you can’t just remain neutral. Instead, you have to take sides, and then to signal your virtue through word and action in order to be accepted in the community. So why are Hullender and Wong being attacked? Have they not done this properly?

The authors of the open letter think they’re insensitive racists. Hullender seems to think they‘re thoughtful progressives. So, are they posting discriminatory reviews, or are they just posting equal opportunity bad reviews for stories they don’t like?

Trans is the current cause célèbre. Is critiquing the stories not proper virtue signaling? What are members of the community expecting instead?

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Tales of Blood and Squalor Release

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Tales of Blood and Squalor
I recently sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology titled Tales of Blood and Squalor. My first horror sale, yah!

This will be available for sale at Amazon on November 20. There are 14 stories. From the Dark Cloud website, the description reads: “A novelist a tad too committed to realism in her craft, a tourist thirsting for blood, the king of a trailer park dungeon…” If you’re a horror fan, check it out!

Contributors:
Lee Allen Howard (Editor)‎
Joshua Bartolome
Lee Forsythe‎
Jay Seate
Sarah Gribble
Rob Francis
C. W. Blackwell
Rainie Zenith‎
James Edward O’Brien
Gab Halasz ‎
Bryan Dyke
Rachel Verkade
B. D. Prince
Lela E. Buis

Sales!

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I’ve sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology called Tales of Blood and Squalor. This is a landmark sale, as both the story and the anthology are horror. I just don’t do horror, but a little while back I got in this mood. So, my first horror sale. Yah, me!

I’ll post an update as publication becomes imminent.

Review of “The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin

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I have two stories to read to close out the Hugo ballot short story category. This one was published by Tor.com on September 28, 2016.

A young, homeless graffiti artist in New York City meets a man named Paolo who gives him money sometimes or buys him breakfast. He thinks Paolo wants something from him, but it doesn’t seem to be sex. Instead, the man asks him to listen to the city. It’s big and old, and it’s going to be born into new life, but it needs someone to protect it from ancient evil during its birth. Can the boy provide what it needs?

As seems usual with her stories, Jemisin is working with a very resonant idea here—a sentient, living city in the process of birth. Some of the details are excellent, too, glimpses of how people see Paolo, and how they look at the narrator. But her execution doesn’t quite come off. I can’t accept that this narration is the voice of a NYC street kid, and the battle slides off into metaphor as the boy becomes one with the city to fight against its ancient enemy. I ended up suspecting this is message fiction meant to attack the NYC police. Not only does the boy imagine that he’s being shot or tortured whenever he sees police, but the ancient evil is a cop who morphs into a monstrous beast. Are police the evil he has to defeat? Hm.

Three and a half stars.

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