“Safe” by Robert Reed
“Sing a Seller’s Song” by Sara Joan Berniker
“Stoker’s Benefactor” by Richard Alan Scott
“Creepdoll” by Gareth Stack
“Offline” by Gustavo Bondoni
“Aegis” by D.T. Neal
“A Most Notorious Woman” by T D Edge
Reviewed by Maggie Jamison
Issue #37 of Albedo One begins with Robert Reed’s tale “Safe.” Bern lives in a world where scientists called Angels take undesired embryos and project them into fertile wombs scattered across the multiverse in the hopes of giving these embryos a better home. But when Bern goes in to one of these “safe houses,” excited to give up what she thinks is an embryo of her own, she ends up losing her entire reproductive system when the doctor discovers not a child but a tumor growing inside her. Trapped in a world obsessed with fertility and liberated from reproductive consequences, Bern struggles to find her place, only to discover the one thing she desires is not so far out of grasp.
“Safe” is a well-told, well-executed story that presents numerous concepts that will leave a reader considering them long after the story is set aside. What it bears in conceptual strength, however, it appears to lack in spirit: while Bern is a generally sympathetic character, the distance she feels toward the world is mirrored by the reader’s feelings toward her, making any emotional experience somewhat bland.
“Sing a Seller’s Song,” by Sara Joan Berniker, is by comparison anything but bland. Young Adam finds himself amidst a world both hopeless and dangerous, trapped by necessity into hawking his own—albeit willing—mother to strangers for sexual favors. But in this dog-eat-dog world, ripped from its gentler past by mysterious “explosions” and red signs of “REVOLUTION!,” survival is the only rule.
Berniker’s tale is short and brutal, and while it taps those well-worn SF traditions of grim, heartless futures, it does succeed in making the reader care about Adam. What is more, Berniker manages to portray his mother in a sympathetic light, while simultaneously managing to turn the reader’s stomach with her coarse, if desperate, degradation.
In “Stoker’s Benefactor” by Richard Alan Scott, an ensemble of theatre people performing in Dublin encounter a dangerous stranger lurking in the streets. While the Count may appear dapper and suave, this man is no ordinary man, and the hero of the tale—one Abraham Stoker (yes, that Bram Stoker)—soon finds himself the only likely savior of a young, beautiful actress caught by the creature’s temptations.
“Stoker’s Benefactor” was a bit of a disappointment. While Scott stays true to the Stoker tradition of relating a tale through a variety of correspondences (letters, newspaper clippings, on-hand accounts via journaling), it left this reader wondering: “Why?” It doesn’t enhance the work that inspired it, and it brings no new perspective to the Dracula mythos. In essence, it feels like a dull shadow of the original, as it lacks both the eerie realism and strong character sympathy that the original possessed. Besides this, “Stoker’s Benefactor” ends exactly how you think it ends.
In “Creepdoll” by Gareth Stack, a lonely bachelor takes a desperate step to finding romance by posing as a single father through the purchase of a hyper-realistic child doll he names Lucy. To his amazement, the scheme works, and he finds himself in a wonderful relationship with a spicy single mother. But what will happen when Lucy doesn’t age like a real child, or anyone discovers that she prefers being plugged into an outlet than munching cheerios?
“Creepdoll” is one of the stand-out works in this issue of Albedo One. The writing is sharp and clear, and the plot is gripping. The characters—even the slightly creepy little Lucy—all come alive in the story, and Tim’s plight is one that keeps the pages turning. It’s a wonderful tale, and Stack’s first published story. It’s a very promising science fiction debut.
“Offline” by Gustavo Bondoni follows Milly, a young school teacher, on her desperate flight from the Sub-Saharan Confederacy, risking her life for an escape attempt that might just spare her and the son of her imprisoned white lover if she can pull it off before the Committee tracks her down. The Confederacy is one built around the prevalent use of identity-based, chip-enabled technology, and although she can fly under the radar by digging the chip out of her arm, Milly finds herself confronted with all the challenges of a sub-citizen, unrecognized by government and all common technologies alike.
Bondoni’s world, as presented in “Offline,” is an in-depth examination of what it would really mean if all civic life required identity chipping to function. There are moments of dark humor in the simple challenges Milly faces (public transportation not stopping for her, as an example), but the story builds its strength on the grimmer, hinted consequences of going “offline.” While the ID chip idea is not a new one, Bondoni’s developed setting and characters carry the story to an abrupt but satisfying conclusion.
In “Aegis” by D.T. Neal, aspiring sculptor Julian Stein is introduced to his sculpting idol Renee Euryale by the invitation of a svelte, well-educated model. Inspired by Ms. Euryale’s marble sculptures—so lifelike in their expression—Stein is surprised to find Euryale an odd, eccentric old-ish woman who always wears thick, dark sunglasses. But while he labors to win her favor, he learns more than he wants to know when she allows him into her confidences.
“Aegis” is the other outstanding piece in this issue of Albedo One. Neal’s writing is fluid and elegant, worthy of the epic, marble masterpieces he describes in this tale. Stein, Euryale, and even the model—Georgina Smythe—come alive on the page, and possess all the endearing eccentricities of real human beings. Carefully crafted and clever, “Aegis” is a dark fantasy for the artistically inclined.
The issue finishes out with “A Most Notorious Woman” by T. D. Edge. Grace O’Malley, Queen of Ireland under English rule, finds herself amidst strange company when she is kidnapped from her time by John Harris, an entrepreneur from a far future age. Positioned as pirate captain aboard the Black Peter, O’Malley’s mission from Harris is to lead his would-be pirate crew to victory amidst the high seas. But O’Malley—her independence and fire being what drew Harris to her in the first place—is no tame woman, and when she learns Harris’ secret, he’s forced to experience what true pirating is all about.
While “A Most Notorious Woman” has a great many fixings that should make it a fun and exciting read (who doesn’t love swashbuckling pirate queens, sea serpents, and far-future tech?), and while it started strong, the story doesn’t deliver as much as it promises. The weakness comes from the tale’s inability to suspend disbelief. Edge relies heavily on dialogue between characters to explain the situation, explain why—in fact—it’s all possible (though this is usually summed up as “magic,” until the end, when all the supposed science is explained, again, though dialogue). In the end, however, the story seemed to suffer most from a cast of flat characters, all of whom—particularly O’Malley—should have been far more engaging than they were.
Issue #37 of Albedo One plays host to some wonderful tales by both newcomers and seasoned pros that will delight and prompt thought from many readers. It also hosts a few that leave something to be desired, but overall, the good outweigh the less enjoyable, making this an issue not to be missed.
Albedo One’s website is here.