Tor.com, July 2017
“When the Devil Drives” by Melinda Snodgrass
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
This month’s offerings from Tor.com provide readers with a choice among superhero fiction, science fantasy, science fiction, and dark fantasy.
Set in the popular Wild Cards universe of superpowered Aces and mutated Jokers, “When the Devil Drives” by Melinda Snodgrass reads like crime fiction. The narrator is an intersexed Ace who can teleport anywhere on Earth, but only while in male form during the day and in female form during the night. (The character seems to be a man while in neutral form, and is a husband and father.) A former assassin working for the British Secret Service, he now runs a company that provides the services of Aces for its clients. When a dead woman is found in a building his company has demolished, he tracks down the killer using all his skills as a superhero, spy, and stage magician. This story will best be appreciated by those familiar with the Wild Cards setting and by fans of hardboiled mysteries.
“Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang takes place in a distant future where an oppressive empire rules multiple colony worlds. The protagonist is one of the empire’s ansibles, who use singing to transport people and objects across vast distances of space. She begins a romantic relationship with one of the empire’s starmages, officials with vast powers that seem more magical than technological. Together they become part of a violent rebellion against the empire. This space fantasy contains several quotations printed in Chinese characters, and will be better enjoyed by those who can read them. (Since the two lovers are both female, it may be worthwhile to note that the word “ansible,” created by Ursula K. LeGuin to describe a device which provides faster-than-light communication, is an anagram of “lesbian.” It seems likely this wordplay is intentional.)
Earth in the near future, when civilization seems to be collapsing, is the setting for “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata. All attempts to colonize Mars have failed. With the financial backing of a wealthy businessman, an architect begins creating a gigantic monument (via remote telemetry) on the red planet, designed to survive long after humanity is gone. A crisis occurs when a large piece of equipment left behind by one of the failed colonies approaches the structure, suggesting the possibility of sabotage. This is a realistic science fiction story told in a clear, elegant style and with an important message about humanity’s hopes and fears.
“These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw is a horror story with a medieval setting. The narrator is the king’s second wife. The king’s son by his first wife is a cruel child who delights in killing animals. When his actions go further, his stepmother uses magic to make him pay for his crimes. This is a grim chiller that reads like a gruesome fairy tale.
Victoria Silverwolf lives on a wooded hilltop in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with one human and nineteen cats (counting the three new kittens.)