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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Tor.com -- August 2014

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Tor.com, August 2014

In the Sight of Akresa” by Ray Wood
Sleeper” by Jo Walton
La Signora” by Bruce McAllister
Hero of the Five Points” by Alan Gratz
Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys
Strongest Conjuration” by Skyler White
A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap

Reviewed by Ryan Holmes

In the Sight of Akresa” is a novelette by debut author Ray Wood concerning the forbidden love of Claire, daughter to the Duke of Rouchefort, for the freed slave, Aya, whose tongue was removed against blasphemy in the faraway lands of Yovali. The story is told from Claire’s point of view in second person narrative as she’s speaking to her desire. Wood blends subtle tones of forbidden romance with moments of revulsion concerning Aya’s maimed tongue which adds an unusual color to the context. The prose is seamless, vivid, and engaging. Claire’s conflicts, a father with little time for her and an overprotective brother with too much, add layers of complexity to an already convoluted relationship. As a character, Claire endures a tremendous arc and at the end learns how much she’s willing to do for love.

Jo Walton’s “Sleeper” is about a biographer, Essie, in a future where biographies come with simulations of the subject. Essie’s subject is Matthew Corley, a slightly famous correspondent for the BBC in the twentieth century, a man with many secrets: a closet homosexual until he came out after his wife of many years died of breast cancer and a Russian sleeper agent during the Cold War, a socialist disillusioned with even the Russians. At least, Essie believes he was and created his simulation to reflect that belief because she wants him to be it again. Walton paints a future where, contrary to the current and alarming trends toward socialism in the free world, socialism is dead, replaced by corrupt corporations and overbearing governments. Walton confuses socialism with limited government, with freedom, and suggests that somehow they can coexist. They cannot, but Essie believes, and recruits her simulation, as though it had free will, to change the world, to somehow influence the viewers toward her convoluted perception of government, and in doing so sheds light on the very tactics of influence being used today by those in power who crave more of it in the name of shared wealth and the promise of undeserved entitlements.

La Signora” by Bruce McAllister is about the teenage son of a naval officer living oversees in an ancient fishing village who attends the local school at the insistence of his mother, a teacher with a love for cultures. There he learns of the Signora, the Lady of the Sea. On the night of La Signora, he heads out with his friends and their fathers, the village’s fishermen. There he encounters Signora. She leaves him inflicted and weak, unable to dwell on other women, but the boy finds happiness and peace in another Signora, the Blessed Mother, and strength to resist worldly temptation through faith in the word of God and the love of His Son. McAllister stuffs a ton of plot and character into a short story, but his true talent lies in the deft way he spins plot strings between characters and settings. At first read, they appear as mere details intended to add depth, but when we pull away in the end, we see the web McAllister wove and how each detail holds it all together.

Alan Gratz’s “Hero of the Five Points,” is a steampunk novelette set in 1853 in the world of the League of Seven. Dalton Dent, on his first solo mission for the Septemberist Society, must track down and kill the giant crime boss, Mose, whose size and meanness are legendary in the Five Points. Mose is more than just the biggest thug in a land of perpetual gang war. He’s a Manglespawn, a halfbreed offspring of a Mangleborn titan and a human. Dalton’s mission seems black and white, but before it’s done, Mose will blur the lines of right and wrong until Dalton can’t see which side he stands on. From rayguns to copper-clad Coppers, Tik Tok valets and Lektricity, this adventure is full of fantastic imagination and great story telling.

Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys contains seven flash fictions about the lives of six characters and their interactions with the land of Tikanu, which comes alive with magical creatures from the Jewish culture. Tikanu is a magical land of laws and patterns, a nation without borders that grows wherever the wild mint of its people grows. It serves as a beautiful metaphor for the Jewish people and contains enough servings of symbolism and hidden meaning to provide for a number of rereads.

Skyler White’s “Strongest Conjuration” is an Incrementalists novelette that picks up after the events of the novel. The Incrementalists are members of a secret society that transfer their memories and personalities to another body as they work to make the world better a little at a time. Sometimes, the memories transfer but the personality is lost. This is the case for Ren, and her Garden of memories is broken, lost with the personality that came before hers. Her desire to find it, to regain her former personality, causes her to break from Incremental tradition and push her abilities through leaps and bounds. She gets lost in the past, lost in the memories, and risks losing her mental stability, all because she feels guilty that she’s not the person her lover, Phil, has known for so many centuries. White explores many simple questions like what, who, and when but the answers are complex, deep, and thought provoking.

A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap is a Japanese dark fantasy bordering on horror about Makino, a woman stricken with grief for her dying husband, Tetsuya. She is visited by a kappa, a creature of water and flesh, while she is in the bath. They have a history. The kappa saved Makino from drowning when she was a girl. They share a bond. The kappa wants her love. She wants to save Tetsuya. To save him, she must sacrifice her love for him. Yap explores the lengths we will go to hold on to what we love: the love we admit openly and the love we keep from everyone, at times even ourselves.

Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA's Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com