Clarkesworld Issue 159 – Annotated Setlist of the Mikaela Cole Jazz Quintet by Catherine George
The what: A group of colonists from a generational starship get together to find a way of passing the time – and they choose to improvise jazz. It might not look like much of a plot, but there’s much more to the ship then at first glance, not all characters are what they seem, the “colonists” idea has a very dark twist and even “passing the time” holds an unexpected, nasty undertone…
The who: Catherine George is a lawyer who lives in Vancouver, BC, with her partner and two toddlers. In 2018 she returned to writing after 10 years away and now writes short speculative fiction of all types. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Flash Fiction Online and Augur Magazine. Website: cgfiction.com.
The why: I loved this story even though it’s packed with jazz references (and I hate jazz even more than opera :D) – but the music here is just a pretext for the unfolding of a really, really slow burning melancholy. Everything is gradual, from the buildup of the characters’ traumas & desires, the construction of the background and the heavy-impact revelation of the (not so bright) situation. Music is a powerful multipurpose instrument of expression, and here it’s perfectly molded to deal with suffering, hopelessness and futility, but also with questions of gender and individuality. Perfectly incapsulated into the metaphor of distilling alcohols of long forgotten tastes, musical improvisation distills personal tragedies and aspirations through art… and fails to provide closure or relief. It does provide expression, though, and among the stars that might be the rarest (and most human) thing to achieve.
Lightspeed Issue 115 – Njuzu by T.L. Huchu
The what: A deadly accident on an alien planet could be interpreted very differently, depending on the scientific or mythological / traditional view, and that ambiguity puts a heavy strain on the main character’s mind and relationships.
The who: T.L. Huchu’s work has appeared in Interzone, AfroSF, The Apex Book of World SF 5, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, The Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016, and elsewhere. He is the winner of a Nommo Award for African SFF, and has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize and the Grand prix de l’Imaginaire. His new fantasy novel The Library of the Dead, the first book in the Ghostalker series, will be published by Tor in the US and UK in 2021. Find him @TendaiHuchu.
The why: I was intrigued, fascinated and gradually charmed by the way Huchu manages to blend fantasy into hard scifi and make it seem natural – technological, pioneering scifi is built up upon mythical tradition and they work perfectly in conjunction, and not opposition, as expected.
The story is visual, poetic and unfolds slowly in reverse, revealing clues one by one (but actually never all those needed to really get the complete answer, which is great). It is a tragic story that, along the pain of losing someone dear, also tackles questions about gender associated social roles and group, clan and couple dynamics.
A very original, very gripping text that made me really want to read more from this author.
Tor.com (Dec. 24) – I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)? by Neil Gaiman
The what: A “tongue in the cheek” auto-biography of Cthulhu, dictated by itself.
The who: Does anybody really need to be told who Gaiman is? If so, here’s his biography – link.
The why: I really didn’t want to recommend a story from someone so famous already, but it was so good I just couldn’t help it. Powerless under Cthulhu’s eye (eyes? does it have any or plenty?), just like Whateley in the story… I was charmed by the perfect mimicry of an 1800s writing style, cleverly and humorously twisted into self-irony and mockery of the Lovecraftian (unpronounceable) legacy. But fear not: such humor is enriched with horror, lore and gorgeous (visual) prose (e.g. “as it rose you could watch the crimson blood drip and trickle down its bloated face, staining it red, until at its height it bathed the swamps and towers in a gory dead red light.”)
Be it hilarious as hell (and it really is for those with a taste for wickedness), the story is actually much more than just fun: in some of its parts, Cthulhu is a symbol for raw, primeval nature (”eat or be eaten”, literally), and the text can be read metaphorically; in others, Cthulhu is humanized, not only a very powerful almost-god, but also an actual person, yearning for more; and finally, in some others, the writer is playing with the concepts of good and evil, raising some questions about how much morality is intrinsic and how much a matter of interpretation.
Oh, and by the way: Cthulhu’s biggest enemy and fear? Bureaucracy…
What’s this column about? I love short fiction, but I also know that not many of us actually have the time to browse through the all the monthly issued stories, or go buy a physical magazine. Yet, you can easily go online while you wait for something, and must only click these links – here’s 3 scifi (or fantasy) pieces hand-picked as worthy of your limited time, each with 3 vital qualities: readily available online, great literary value, and also 3 to read. Free for the reader, I mean. So, Scifi 3.