Review of “The History of the World in Four Sentences” by Liam Hogan

This history of the world is relayed as a bedtime story from a man to his great-granddaughter. She knows it as the story of the things their “an-ces-tors did wrong, an’ what our future is.”

Annoyed, the great-grandfather tells the story in four short sentences. The little girl prefers the longer version with Adam and Eve and trees, though she says nothing.

The narrator has told the reader things the characters can’t know, setting things into a broader perspective.

Thoughts:

In his story comments, author Liam Hogan, says this story is the result of an “impossible story prompt,” that is, to write a 300-400 apocalyptic tale. This makes sense. It has the feel, not of haste—it is too complex for that—but of something with a single point. It reads like an extended-one liner. Unfortunately, the point is something most readers have heard ad nauseam. And this is a bedtime story?

I don’t say this is a bad yarn. It’s just a little preachy, and the reader knows where it’s going from the first paragraph. At the same time, one can’t help but feel a little for the old man and for the little girl who thinks “what the ancestors did wrong” is a bedtime story.

 

Bio:

According his blurb, Hogan is based in London and is an Oxford Physics graduate. His short story, “Ana,” appears in Best of British Science Fiction 2016. Another short story, “The Dance of a Thousand Cuts,” will appear in Best of British Fantasy 2018.

The story can be read here.

 

Title: “The History of the World in Four Sentences”
Author: Liam Hogan
First published: Daily Science Fiction, May 6, 2019

Advertisements

Review of “Dial M for Martians” by Tina Connolly

The little green man approaches Spacetrader Dan with the promise of more cocktails and a business proposition. Dan’s only on his second. Once they’re inside his unmarked ship, the little green man promises Dan it will be the perfect crime. He wants to be rid of his third horizontal living companion. Dan needs a million galactic credit units.

Dan admits Beach Blanket Baleen was supposed to be a surefire winner at the spacewhale racetrack.

All he need do, the little green man says, is to tie the companion’s antennas. He’ll be delivered to Dan’s ship in an escape pod. Because the planet is under quarantine, Dan can sell the specimen on the black market. Dan decides to help the little guy. Out of the goodness of his heart.

Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

 
Thoughts:

This is a fun little tale. Dan gets his comeuppance. He’s in a jam he got himself into. This may seem like desperation, and he does feel a twinge of guilt when he first sees the companion, “all soft and round and quiet,” but he also contemplates snatching the first little green man. If one “specimen” will bring a million galactic units, a second one—hey, even Dan can do that math.

I did find a little tiresome the allusions to pop culture from the sixties and earlier, e.g., the movie “Beach Blanket Bingo.” Also, when the little green man first talks about his third horizontal living companion, he tells Dan, “And I need to be rid of my third horizontal living companion. You know what they say about those.” He waggles his antennae and nudges Dan in the ribs. “Take my third horizontal living companion. Take him… please!” This last is a riff on the classic Henny Youngman line, “Take my wife… Take my wife, please.” There were few, however.

Just the same, this is forgivable with the nice surprise ending. Overall, I liked this little piece.

 
Bio:

According to the bio on her website, author Tina Connolly grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, but now lives with her family in Portland, Oregon, “in an old house on a hill that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic.” Her books include the Ironskin trilogy, the YA Seriously Wicked series, and the collection On the Eyeball Floor. Her books have been finalists for the Nebula, Norton, and World Fantasy awards. She co-hosts Escape Pod, runs the flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

The story can be read here .

Review of “CARE” by Eric S. Fomley

Balana sits on the couch in her sweatpants eating chocolate. She watches the same Dr. Who episode she watched the night before. Observing her behavior, her CARE unit determines she is sad. When it asks what is wrong, Balana tells it, “Nothing.” But her voice quivers.

The CARE unit has been programmed to take care of its owner and initiates its SAD protocol, which involves hot chocolate and a blanket. These actions, the CARE unit tells the reader, have resulted in an average in 37.34% improvement from sadness in the past.

Today, however, it doesn’t seem to help at all. Balana is crying. It asks again what is wrong. She tells it something heard on the news has upset her.

The CARE unit scans newsfeeds. It notes a mandatory immediate recall of all models of CARE units. This must be what has upset Balana. It performs a self-diagnostic and tells her it is operating at peak efficiency and is unaffected by processing flaws.

There is a knock at the door.

Thoughts:

While reminiscent of I, Robot, this story is not anything like Asimov’s. It asks questions about dependence on artificial intelligence. Interesting that the depression displayed by the one human who appears for any length in the story is almost an infantilization of humanity. What does Balana do for a living? How does she afford a CARE unit? Where is her family? Granted, in the space allotted the story, there isn’t room to explore these avenues.

Nevertheless, when faced with impending loss, she turns for solace not to girlfriends, but physical comforts, television, and, eventually, an artificial intelligence device.

The good thing about artificial intelligence devices is that they stay on mission. Of course, the bad thing about artificial intelligence devices is that they stay on mission.
I like this story.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Eric S. Fomley is from Indiana and member of the Codex Writers’ Group. His fiction publications include Galaxy’s Edge, Flame Tree Press, and many other anthologies and magazines. His website (https://ericfomley.com) refers to him as a “professional speculative fiction writer” and notes that he has qualified for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).

Title: “CARE”
Author: Eric S. Fomley
First published: Daily Science Fiction, April 24, 2019

The story can be read here.

 

Review of “The Drums Drone Death” by J. Allan Dunn

Joseph Allan Elphinstone Dunn was born in Great Britain. He traveled to the United States and Hawaii. He spent time in Colorado and San Francisco and settled on the East Coast in 1914. He was a prolific author, writing some one thousand stories, roughly half of which were westerns. He also wrote adventure stories and Atlantis stories set in the South Seas, plus juvenile fiction. He wrote an article on Jack London for Sunset magazine. The two became friends.

Plot:

American John Carter (hmm….common enough name, but couldn’t have anything to do with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s guy on Mars, could it?) is a police commissioner on the New Hebridean Island of Vate, (or Efate) along with a British and French contingent who police their own countrymen, and the high commissioners who have control (maybe) over the native chiefs. It is still a place “where a dual British and French government holds sway over that archipelago of far-flung, savage isles, where the bushmen still serve man meat baked in the ovens and call it ‘long pig.’” See how the author slipped the mention of cannibalism right in the beginning?

Carter’s mother was a “Quebec Canadian,” and thus he speaks French. He also has a girl waiting for him back in the States. She has money, but he is determined to make his fortune before they marry.

While he is in his office studying Melanesian word lists, one of the natives by the name of Futu stops by and asks to see him.

“Come in, you rascal. Shut the door. Now what is it?”

Yeah. Class. Respect.

Futu tells him, “I catchum drum talkee. All same talkee come from Mallicolo. I think mebbe plenty trouble walk along that place.” The drum’s message was essentially: “White Mary, she speak too much trouble along Tomasi place, all same Mallicolo. She say boss polisimani come plenty quick. She say maybe matemate too soon.”

The reader is informed that “White Mary” refers to any white woman and “matemate” is murder.

Oh. This could be something serious! He pays Futu, who is happy to receive his coin, ‘cause, you know, he expects the new-found coin will help with the trouble he has been having with the magistrate.

After plying the British commissioner with booze, Carter interviews him about the “Tomasi place.” The reader gets a plot summary. John Carter gets his Lugar and his amphibian plane and then heads out.

According to the gossip supplied by the commissioner, Thomas began a mutual colonization project about three years earlier. That is, he and a group of investors got a plot of land where they might grow crops commercially while prospecting for minerals. It takes capital and doesn’t often return a profit. It gives a chance for Carter and the reader to get a heads-up on who all is involved.

Thoughts:

The British commission admits he has received letters about a “chap named Burton” from the man’s family and his fiancée. They have not heard anything from him and want to know if something has happened. The commissioner is not overly concerned. Guys get out here, a long way from home. It is miserable. Things do not go as well as they had hoped, and they stop writing.

He also repeats what the reader already knows about the meanings of “White Mary” and “matemate.”

When Carter gets to the Thomas mutual colony, he finds things are worse than he expected. The man Thomas initially started the colony with, a Scotsman names Shields, has just committed suicide in his quarters. Two other men are missing. A third has gone to look for them. The sister of the third man, Claire Halliday, remains behind. Something strikes Carter as wrong with her. Is she ill? Is she merely exhausted? Certainly, Thomas is hovering over her closely. Something seems odd about the Filipino valet  as well.

Before it all falls into place, there are a lot of narrow escapes and surprises, but Carter figures out the secret identity of one of the bad’uns early on after a search of their quarters turns up three items. The reader is not told what these items are until the end. One is ridiculous, but another is funny: a girlie magazine.

The main character is an American who is not in it for the long haul, but the whole piece is so steeped in colonial thinking, it is a wonder no one breaks out in a chorus of “Rule Britannia.”

This is largely an adventure/detective tale imbued not only with colonialism but racism. Natives are either “good” when they work with the westerners out of gratitude or “bad” when they don’t—the ingrates.

The New Hebrides gained independence in 1980 and are now known as Vanuatu.

———

Title: “The Drums Drone Death”
Author: J. Allan Dunn (pen name for Joseph Allan Elphinstone Dunn) (1872-1941)
First published: Clues, April 1939

Review of “Canaries” by JR Gershen-Siegel

The unnamed narrator and others have to leave when they came. She (or he?) takes her pet canaries and as much seed as she can carry. Others, she notes, takes clothes or emergency rations. A woman who had been rich on earth brought a bottle of perfume.

The reader is not told who “they” are, but the narrator says they have killed nearly the entire population of earth and now, they are taking away those few left alive to… somewhere.
Thoughts:

The story is sad and creepy. One thinks immediately of a canary in a coal mine, a bird who signals danger to humans by dying, an early warning of trouble to come.

As with her earlier story, “The Interview,” author JR Gershen-Siegel is builds a nice atmospheric little tale from to barest bones. Again, the reader doesn’t know whether the narrator it male or female, nor are there names for any of the characters, let alone the birds. Just the same, the reader can see enough of the world through the narrator’s eyes to see what is going on to make it work.

I found this story more transparent than the earlier one, however, and saw the end coming from a mile away.
Bio:

According to the author interview in Theme of Absence, JR Gershen-Siegel is a Lambda Literary Award nominee. Her work is published by Riverdale Avenue Books and Writers’ Colony Press. She advises new writers to finish the project in front of them, “even if you think Act III is a mess.”

The story can be read here.
Title: “Canaries”
Author: JR Gershen-Siegel
First published: Theme of Absence, March 29, 2019

Review of “Have You Ever Not Seen The Rain?” by Martin Lochman

The rain keeps Eliza awake. She’s waiting for her sister, Kathleen, who should have been home two hours ago at a quarter past eight. Kathleen’s lateness reminds her of the evening ten years before when their parents were late. At first, it didn’t worry them, but as time wore on, they began to wonder. Then came word their parents were never coming home.

When Kathleen does return, she appears worried. Eliza knows something is wrong. A great deal is wrong. Three food synthesizers have broken down.

When the people first landed on this planet, it seemed like they’d finally found a place to settle down. While the planet was mostly water, the land was fertile, and the crops grew easily. But then the rains came and never stopped. Days, weeks, months, and years went by without a break in the rains. They ruined crops, shelters, made planting impossible, and eroded the soil.

And now, with the three more food synthesizers down…

Thoughts:

This atmospheric little piece gives the reader a sense of dread right from the beginning. The sound of rain beating on the metal roof of the shelter and Eliza’s worry about her sister are not small things. They are also not things Eliza can do much about. Kathleen returns with more bad news. The planet becomes more unlivable every day.

Eliza remembers their parents telling them when they were children that they were brave explorers from the planet earth. That wasn’t true. They were refugees, lucky to find this planet after coming across so many inhospitable ones. But it made for a good story. Now that it looks like they can no longer live here, they’ll have to make plans. Eliza is glad the people are building a spaceship. She’s seen it.

However, not all is at appears. There’s a nice little twist at the end. I enjoyed this tale, but I cannot call it uplifting.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Martin Lochman is a Czech emerging author currently living in Malta and working as a university librarian. His flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Ikarie, a former Czech SF magazine, Aphelion, AntipodeanSF, and other places as well as a bunch of Czech anthologies.

Title: “Have You Ever Not Seen The Rain?”
Author: Martin Lochman
First published: Theme of Absence, March 15, 2019

This story can be read here.

Review of “How Tolkein Saved the World” by Ahmed A. Khan

Kai Lung II unfurls his mat and gets set to regale the lad and lasses with tales filled with monumental happenstances, awe-inspiring wonders, and dubious morals.

The dolphins, he tells his listeners, had had enough of humanity’s pollution of the ocean and sent an android scout to get the lay of the land. Its mission was to find maps, power centers, and any other information that could help the dolphins conquer the humans once and for all.

The android approached a boy of about fifteen who was reading a book with what seemed to be detailed maps in it. They talked for a while, and the android returned to the ocean.

Thoughts:

On the one hand, the story is cute. It is enjoyable. On the other hand, the reader can see the end from a mile away. Little happens to deflect the reader’s expectation. One nice aspect is the author’s use of language, particularly in the opening paragraphs. There is a light, tongue-in-cheek flavor in the narrative. Such short pieces often end in a single punch line, but there are little jokes along the way here as well.

These don’t quite overcome the problem with predictability, however. Sadly, J. R. R. Tolkien’s name is misspelled in the title.

Bio:

There was no bio blurb with this story. Several writers have the same name, and none of the websites I looked at listed this story among the author’s works. The malware detector blocked one site because of a Trojan, damn it.
Title: “How Tolkein Saved the World”
Author: Ahmed A. Khan
First published: Daily Science Fiction, March 18, 2019

The story can be read here.