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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Tor.com -- January 2019

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Tor.com, January 2019

The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” by Karin Tidbeck

Beyond the El” by John Chu
His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light” by Mimi Mondal
Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by JY Yang
Deriving Life” by Elizabeth Bear

Reviewed by Rick Cartwright

The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” by Karin Tidbeck  is a well-crafted coming of age story of Saga, the janitor of a trans-dimensional ship called Skidbladnir.  The problem is that the writer appears to have been so influenced by the Farscape and Babylon 5 television series’ that it comes across as a fanfiction pastiche of both shows to a reader well versed in the two classic video series.  Other than that, it is a good story of the growth of Saga from a worker that merely existed to find a purpose.

Beyond the El” by John Chu started with an intriguing slant on the premise of dealing with the death of a parent.  Conner is a chief who spends his off-work time trying to recreate the recipes of his late mother. According to the story blurb, “To move on with his life, he will have to confront his past.  It doesn’t take long before the reader is ready to send all the characters to the fire. Conner is a complete wimp who essentially deserves everything he gets because he is so passive and unwilling to stand up to his bully of a sister. While he gets some resolution in the end, by then the reader just doesn’t care enough about him to be glad for the ending.

His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light” by Mimi Mondal is an interesting story steeped in Hindu and Arabic mythology where an everyman character, trapeze master Binu and his jinni companion, face off against the wrath of a goddess to save both their circus home and the freedom of a young girl.  The resolution is unexpected and well done and more than makes up for the somewhat slow start.

Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy” by JY Yang took a while to get going but wound up being by far the best of the month’s offerings. Part murder mystery, part doomed romance, Yang does a skillful job weaving the tale while laying out the world to the reader. Frankly, the story is bit more horror/paranormal than science fiction but it is a good read with an amazing twist at the end that you don’t see coming.

Deriving Life” by Elizabeth Bear could have been a gut wrenching story of love, loss, death, and how the survivor of a relationship goes on. Instead, the author spent so much time virtue signaling about global warming and carbon neutrality she neglected to flesh out essential story elements such as just what the parasite “Tenants” really were. Depending on where you were in the story, they were either sentient cancer cells, the spirit of Neanderthals, or some combination of the two. Or something else entirely. JY Yang creates the same sort of world, but wisely avoided social commentary in favor of crafting a compelling story. The end result here is a dilution of the emotional impact and story to the point that the tale is not worth reading. Which is a pity, because there were powerful segments of the story that hinted at what could have been.