Reviewed by Bob Blough
Subterranean Online, unlike most other e-zines, publishes long pieces of fiction that a reader can really sink his or her teeth into. This issue has four long stories each very different from the others. There is something for everyone’s taste this time.
“African Sunrise” by Nnedi Okorafor is a long novella. Part One was published as “The Book of Phoenix” (excerpted from the Great Book) in Clarkesworld last year. Upon reading it I thought it was brilliant and one of my favorite stories of 2011. It was also picked up by Jonathan Strahan for his “Best of the Year” anthology. This previously published part tells the story of the maturation of an African woman who was raised in Tower 7 in a future United States. She and her compatriots in this lab/prison have been genetically altered to be various weapons for the USA. It is an exciting and well written story with nicely rendered characters and relationships. The main character is called Phoenix. She is 3 years old while appearing about 40. She finds out about what her real circumstances are, and using her “super powers” destroys the Tower.
The rest of this story (much more than three times as long as Part One) details what happens after that destruction. Though beautifully written, I did not enjoy her further adventures as much. In this continuation the individual scenes are powerfully written but a sense of too many deus ex machina scenes occur thoughout the text: Oh no, the bad guys are after me so I’ll finally pull out those wings I’ve been obviously growing and escape, or Oh no, I am being pursued by the bad guys and so another super being will be there for the rescue. The superpowers became too convenient for me.
So, while it is still extraordinarily well written in the micro, the macro suffers from too much coincidence. Still definitely worth a read, just go in and expect a well written super hero tale.
If you enjoy comedic SF that begins with a possible and serious SF scenario that descends into every cliché that the genre has to offer, you will enjoy Brian Lumley’s “Two-Stone Tom and His Big T.O.E.” This involves an assistant researcher in a scientific lab who is late for his lab’s major experiment dealing with transferring matter into either the past or the future. Being late, he and one other person are trapped in an infinite matrix of the company’s parking garage when the experiment goes awry. With characters named Adam Tempest and Thomas Fotherington Wright and a plethora of exclamation marks, it announces itself as a satirical take on various tropes of the genre. I found it very funny.
The story I very much enjoyed but the proofreading in this story was atrocious. After too many times of being thrown out of the story by typos, I started counting them. In ¾ of the story I counted 18 major typos. This did not occur in the other stories. I wouldn’t mention this but I have found this tendency in other Subterranean pieces in the past. Editors? Somebody? Please fix this problem.
Historical fantasy is served up in “Game” by Maria Dahvana Headley. It involves a big game hunter of the 1920s being called back to the scene of his most famous tiger hunt in a small town in India. The time period takes place in 1950 when he is 72 years old and is brought back to handle another major threat, this time involving man-eating tigers in the area. The setting is well done and the lead character is refreshingly aged. He is forced to look back upon his life and a specific instance of his past that still literally haunts him. I sensed Robert Aickman while reading this story. And that is high praise.
Pure horror is the name of the game in “When the Shadows are Hungry and Cold (A Milestone Story)” by Kealan Patrick Burke. I was afraid that I might be at a disadvantage in not having read a Milestone story before, but that was not the case. This is a full fledged story about the town of Milestone and the rather seedy Deputy Sheriff of the town.
Bryce Carrigan is investigating the 8th car crash in recent months that seem to have no rhyme or reason. It’s blamed on deer but the automobiles and drivers are too mangled for that to be the answer. Reminiscent of Stephen King, the story twists and turns until more information is released about the town and what happens to its visitors and inhabitants. Bryce, while unlikable, is presented with clarity and depth so that he is not seen as a total jerk. While I must admit that horror is my least favorite part of the fantastic genre, I do enjoy good writing. And this is just fine.
The editor of Subterranean Online is excellent. His literary tastes combine with great sensitivity to the genre, making for stimulating and fun reading almost every issue. This Fall issue continues that trend.