, May 2022, May 2022

“Hearts of Stone” by Emma Newman

“Arbitrium” by Anjali Sachdeva

Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett

There are two entertaining first publication stories at for May, including a Wild Cards novelette.

“Hearts of Stone” by Emma Newman

In this long fantasy novelette, set in George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards universe, the Silver Helix test Kerry, who can turn people into granite with a touch. Kerry’s card turned, and she is now an ace in the Wild Cards universe. Her parents used her Midas-like touch to make money by claiming her victims were sculptures made by them. That continued until she touched her parents to escape their abuse.

Now she was on her first mission for Flint, the man who found her and guided her from despair. All she had to do was tail Kazimir, a suspicious Russian diplomat in London. If truth be told, the assignment bored Kerry. But then a fellow ace duped her into making friends with Kazimir.

At first, things were interesting. Kazimir seemed nice, even harmless. But in the end, he proved to be the deadliest one of them all.

Newman set this story in today’s world, even including Ukraine’s current plight. The story twisted back and forth, never letting the reader settle on a truth. It was wonderfully convoluted.

“Arbitrium” by Anjali Sachdeva

Vashti is a negotiator in this short SF story. Doctors long thought that viruses were mindless entities that infected higher beings. But then science discovered viruses can communicate across an infection through a peptide called arbitrium. And if they can communicate, then people can bargain with them to avoid the worst outbreaks.

Vashti trains to negotiate with this most alien of intelligences. After an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Florida, she uses a special translator to find out what they want. However, viruses replicate new generations much quicker than humans, so they learn faster.

This appealing and unusual story was hard to predict.

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