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Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh
Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh

Sylvia Jacobs has a career in science fiction spanning eighteen years, from the publication of “A Stitch in Time” in the April 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and running through the April 1969 issue of Galaxy Magazine, when her story “Slave to Man” appeared. Her body of work, however, is not entirely reflective of that longevity, consisting of eight short stories and two essays, all except one of which were published within a decade of her first appearance.

Her second story, “The Pilot and the Bushman,” appeared in the August 1951 issue of Galaxy Magazine and would eventually be reprinted in Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction the following year. It belongs to the same category of science fiction as Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (originally published in Galaxy as Gravy Planet), using an advertising executive to look at consumerism and aliens, although Jacobs’ work has a very different feel than the more famous story.

Jacobs tells the tale of Jerry Jergens, a New York advertising executive, and the Ambassador from Outer Space.  Following an accidental statement by the Ambassador that aliens had a Matter Repositor which made trade and manufacturing unnecessary, Earth began to suffer from a buyer’s strike. The Ambassador admits that discussing the Repositor was a mistake, but he refuses to deny its existence and interstellar law forbids him from sharing the technology with humans. Jerry, however has an offer to help get the Ambassador out of the fix he’s in. In return for which, Jerry wants to be able to market Earth to aliens, a proposition that the Ambassador does not see as something that can be successful.

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Still Not Telling Us: “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr.

Still Not Telling Us: “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr.

Galaxy, March 1969, containing “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain,” by James Tiptree, Jr. Cover by Chaffee

“. . . Take ‘The Last Flight of Dr. Ain.’ That whole damn story is told backward. . .. It’s a perfect example of Tiptree’s basic narrative instinct. Start from the end and preferably 5,000 feet underground on a dark day and then DON’T TELL THEM.”

This is James Tiptree, Jr., on his story “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain.” Or, this is Alice Sheldon, referring to “Tiptree” in the third person — and, still, NOT TELLING US.

“Tiptree”/Sheldon was a little dismissive of “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” at times. I disagree. It was certainly the first of her stories to gain wide notice (and a Nebula nomination.) And it’s the earliest of her publications to really light me up. Thus I’d like to take a very close look at it here, in my latest piece trying to figure out how stories, particularly good stories, really work. (I note with some amusement that this essay is roughly the same length as the original story. I also add that of necessity I have “spoiled” the story, but I add that this story in particular is unspoilable, partly because it demands and rewards rereading. That said, if you haven’t read the story and you can find a copy, do go ahead and read it first!)

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An Annual Anthology of Strange and Darksome Tales: Nightscript

An Annual Anthology of Strange and Darksome Tales: Nightscript


Nightscript Volume 7 (Chthonic Matter, 2021). Cover by Jana Heidersdorf

I just finished complaining about the lack of modern horror and fantasy anthologies, and along comes Nightscript strictly to prove me wrong.

I don’t know much about Nightscript. But I know I love the creep-tastic cover of Volume 7, by Berlin artist Jana Heidersdorf. I first glimpsed it when a fellow dark fantasy enthusiast posted it on Facebook, and was intrigued enough to track down the publisher (C.M. Muller’s Chthonic Matter) and order a copy.

I’m glad I did. Nightscript is a very fine production indeed. Published “annually, during Grand October,” it’s clearly a small press labor of love, but it’s also a thoroughly professional piece of work. Over the last seven years it’s published original work by Steve Rasnic Tem, Simon Strantzas, Michael Wehunt, Jason A. Wyckoff, Charles Wilkinson, Damien Angelica Walters, Ashley Stokes, and many others.

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Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka
Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka

Chuck Rothman’s story “The Passing of the Beacon Star” appeared in the eighth issue of Tomorrow Speculative Fiction in April of 1994.  Although it has a strong fantasy feel, the story is a science fiction tale, set on another planet in which the human settlers carry around insect-like jerritch on their shoulders.

The jerritch act as retainers of the human’s memories, so individuals have no long term memory. If they need to access details of something that has happened in the past, whether to them or to the world at large, their jerritch plugs its antenna into a port on the human’s neck and allows the person to access the memories they need. This allows each individual to essentially live a variety of lives without reference to their earlier existence and in the process they take on new names and identities.

The story is set in the city of Amak during a festival known as “Choosing Day.” On this date, the citizens of Amak not only choose their new identities, but also choose which House of Guidance, essentially a sect, will guide the city for the next year.

Rothman focuses on a woman who is using the name “Weaver of Colors.”  Wandering through the crowded city aimlessly, she connects with her jerritch looking for a place to get away from the crowds. The jerritch leads her to the Cult of the Beacon Star, which is the current Guiding House for Amak. Unlikely to be selected again, the house is empty except for one of its Holies, the priest who oversees the sanctuary.  Weaver and the priest learn, through their jerritches, that they were once lovers, and although their recollections are limited, they reconnect with each other until the votes are cast and the Cult of the Beacon Star is not longer the guiding light, at which time, Weaver learns more about herself from her jerritch.

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Spider-Societies, Alien Structures, and Grim Wastelands: March/April 2022 Print SF Magazines

Spider-Societies, Alien Structures, and Grim Wastelands: March/April 2022 Print SF Magazines

March/April 2022 issues of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Cover art by Shutterstock, 123RF, and Mondolithic Studios

One of the bennies of digital publishing is the luxury of enjoying magazine reviews while the magazines are still on the shelves. I haven’t purchased the March/April F&F yet, for example, but my interest has been sharpened by reviews like this one, by C.D. Lewis at Tangent Online, for Tobi Ogundiran’s “The Epic of Qu Shittu.”

[It] opens on a stowaway sneaking into the ship’s hold of a deadly enchanter in the hope of meeting the legend himself. What could possibly go wrong? Ogundiran’s language makes it a pleasure to read room descriptions; horror and humor meet in descriptions of “skulls wearing identical smiles as if sharing some secret joke…”  The story elements laid before the reader support so many directions it’s not initially clear whether “The Epic of Qu Shittu” will turn out to be a tragedy, a heist, a revenge plot, or something else; it’s an exciting read that adds psychological elements and moral problems to the physical conflicts.

The March/April print magazines contain stories by Matthew Hughes, Adriana C. Grigore, Ray Nayler, Will McIntosh, Marta Randall, Paul McAuley, Steve Rasnic Tem, William Ledbetter, Mark W. Tiedemann, Michael Swanwick, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Michael F. Flynn, and many others.

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Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope
Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope

Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process.  What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.

One of the magazines in my collection is the first issue of Tails of Wonder, dated Spring 1993 and edited by Nicolas Samuels. According to a card tucked into the issue, the magazine was previously called (or meant to be called Sharp Tooth), but a name change occurred prior to publication. The magazine does not seem to have any existence on the internet that was just beginning to appear when it was released and most of the authors who appeared in its pages do not seem to have gone on to publish anything else. I have not been able to tell if there was ever a Tails of Wonder issue #2.

Among the authors who did continue to publish after their appearance in Tails of Wonder was Edo van Belkom, who had already been publishing fiction for three years, under both his own name and the pseudonym Evan Hollander. His contribution to Tails of Wonder is the short story “S.P.S.”  He would reprint the story in his 1998 collection Death Drives a Semi.

By 1993, the idea of virtual reality was mainstream enough that the next year the television show Mad About You included an episode in which one of the main characters decided to invest in a virtual reality device.  In van Belkom’s story, “S.P.S.” stands for “sensory perception simulators” and are beginning to be marketed to the general public.  The story is told from the point of view of the woman whose husband, Marty, has decided to buy one of the units.

Right from the beginning of the story, with the opening line, “My husband died during childbirth,” the reader knows this story isn’t going to have a particularly happy ending.  However in the slightly over two pages the story runs, van Belkom manages to accomplish a great deal with both technological extrapolation and character.

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It All Started in Lockdown: An Interview with Wyldblood Editor Mark Bilsborough

It All Started in Lockdown: An Interview with Wyldblood Editor Mark Bilsborough

What pushed you to get Wyldblood up and running? And for the uninitiated, what exactly is Wyldblood?

It all started in lockdown, as many things do. I’ve published magazines before, but nothing like Wyldblood, and it just felt like the right time. More importantly, I had the time, though for some reason that’s been quickly sucked away in a nasty combination of too much reading to do and the real world returning with full force.

Wyldblood is a small press and we specialize in science fiction and fantasy – speculative fiction, basically, though we’re not big fans of horror and stories that drip too much blood. We publish a regular magazine (we’re up to issue 8), occasional anthologies (we’ve got werewolves in Call of the Wyld and steampunk in Runs Like Clockwork), reprints of classic authors and, when we get all our reading done, we’ll be publishing original novels and novellas. We’re based in the U.K., but we’re everywhere, really. We lurk on the internet: wyldblood.com and @WyldbloodPress.

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B is for Bradbury

B is for Bradbury


R is for Rocket (Bantam, 1965, cover by Paul Lehr), The Golden Apples of the Sun
(Bantam, 1970, cover by Dean Ellis), Long After Midnight (Bantam, 1978, cover by Ian Miller)

June 5, 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest speculative fiction writers of all time. It’s fair to say that no author has positively affected my path into reading, and subsequently writing, to the extent that he did. Through this four-part series, I hope to convey some of the joy and wonder that Bradbury instilled in me and so many others, by revisiting a selection of his short stories that have continued to resonate with me throughout the years. Disclaimer: I don’t profess that my selection are his greatest tales, no matter what your definition of the term, but they hold a special place in my pantheon of stories, and I hope they will be worthy of your time.

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Random Reviews: “Children of a Greater God” by Julian Flood

Random Reviews: “Children of a Greater God” by Julian Flood

Interzone, October 1992, Cover by Tony Roberts
Interzone, October 1992, Cover by Tony Roberts

One of the issues with selecting stories to read using a completely random method is that some of the stories won’t be of particular interest, won’t completely succeed (or in some cases fail entirely), or not be particularly noteworthy. Eight weeks into this series, I have come across a story that I didn’t entirely bounce off of, but which didn’t really work for me. It has some interesting ideas behind it and I think it is clear that the author knew what he had in mind. I just don’t think he was particularly successful in translating it to the page.

Julian Flood published ten short stories, with nine of them appearing between 1992 and 1997 and three of those appearing in the first year. Half of his fictional output appeared in the pages of Interzone. The August 1992 issue of that magazine (whole number 62) contained his third story, “Children of a Greater God.”

The action is set on the planet Dub’s World, which is not conducive to human existence. The atmosphere of the planet is such that people need to have their bodies rebuilt each evening, although Flood isn’t entirely clear on the various mechanisms that cause this to happen aside from some hand waving about the atmospheric composition of the planet and people connecting to robots for the rebuilding.

Flood’s narrator is either an alternative comedian or a private eye (or some combination of both), although there is nothing humorous about his act, which includes self-mutilation and violence. Flood does have his character discuss comedy with the nightclub owner, noting that “Funny’s not what alternative comedy’s about,” although he doesn’t offer what he, or his character, thinks it is about.

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Random Reviews: “Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes

Random Reviews: “Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes

Analog, January 1965, Cover by John Schoenherr
Analog, January 1965, Cover by John Schoenherr

Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process.  What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.

“Final Report” by Richard Grey Sipes appeared in the January 1965 edition of Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact, an issues more noted for including the first part of Frank Herbert’s serial The Prophet of Dune, which would eventually be published as the second part of the novel Dune. The issue also included stories by Christopher Anvil, Harry Harrison, John T. Phillifent, and James H. Schmitz.

Sipes was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania and in 1928 and died in Missouri on June 12, 1989. He worked as aan Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Long Island University and was a cross-cultural correlation methodologist who wrote several papers on the topic, including “War Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories” and “War, Combative Sports, and Aggression: a Preliminary Causal Model of Cultural Patterning.”

“Final Report” really doesn’t qualify as a short story. There are no characters and it has no plot. Instead, the piece is a written as an army evaluation of new communications equipment. Sipes’ language and format follow a very proscribed and technical manner and he commits fully to the piece. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the essay dry. The reader keeps expecting Sipes to deviate and throw in something humorous or off kilter as the testing of the equipment enters the science fictional realm, however the entire article is written almost straight faced.

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