Clarkesworld #95, August 2014

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Clarkesworld #95, August 2014

“Five Stages of Grief after the Alien Invasion” by Caroline M. Yoachim
“Bonfires in Anacostia” by Joseph Tomaras
“The Saint of the Sidewalks” by Kat Howard
“The Rose Witch” by James Patrick Kelly

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Clarkesworld continues its run of high quality literary fiction, with a mixture of stories that concentrate on dark themes.

The concept of “Five Stages of Grief after the Alien Invasion” is clear in the title. The Croakers had inadvertently invaded Earth with terraforming spores, thinking it uninhabited. Realizing their mistake, they reversed the process, but for many it was too late. Ellie had been overcome by the grief, spending her time caring for a bundle of blankets she thinks is her daughter. Using the well-known five stages of grief, Caroline M. Yoachim shows how different characters try to cope with the loss and to heal. It’s a very strong and emotional tale.

Joseph Tomaras‘s “Bonfires in Anacostia” clearly was written in response to the revelations of government spying and the eroding of the right to privacy. It follows some Washington DC yuppies who inadvertently start to say things that attract the attention of the Powers that Be, leading to swift retaliation. The essential message of the story is to outrage us at the wrongness of it all, but it comes across to me as just another way of saying, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” The idea is presented, but nothing ever comes of it other than a variation on a truck ending. Characters are well drawn, but the facelessness of their enemy makes it seem far too remote and blunts the story and it only seems an excuse to wallow in how bad life is.

“The Saint of the Sidewalk” is a woman who supposedly deals with miracles. Joan needs one, and writes down a prayer to the saint. She gets her wish, but also the baggage that comes with it, including the reactions of people who find she is a real saint who just might be able to grant wishes herself. Kat Howard talks about miracles, but it’s just as much a story about the price of fame and how that can be hard on you.

James Patrick Kelly contributes to the issue with “The Rose Witch,” about Julianja, a woman who was an apprentice of Tzigana, who dies before she can pass along anything much. All Julianja has is some knowledge of the magic in her rose garden. When a man shows up to try to find a way to end a curse, she joins him in his quest. I liked the character of Julianja, as well as the story breaking away from the standard high fantasy quest and having a resolution that managed to break some new ground.

As usual, I admire the quality of writing throughout the issue, even when I have reservations about the result.

Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate were recently republished by Fantastic Books. His story “Ulenge Prime,” will soon be appearing in Analog.