The February 2015 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine opens with “The Last Surviving Gondola Widow” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The first person narrator of the story is a woman living in Chicago who works as a Pinkerton (that is, a detective employed by the Pinkerton Agency, established in 1850 as one of the first such agencies) who was on Michigan Avenue the day the Gondolas came in from the South to rain hell down on the city. Now it appears that the widow of one of the Gondolas — for that’s how the engineers who piloted them were named, as the Gondolas would respond to the voice and touch of their own engineer like living beings — is not only still living in Illinois, but holds a position of prominence. The story is a steampunk adventure that includes a sort of engineering magic combined with a feminist sensibility. I found the story difficult to decipher because of the density of the information it contains and the order in which it is presented, and would have preferred an earlier explanation of the alternate history that is the foundation for the story. A short story is too small a canvas for the tale Rusch wants to tell; there’s enough idea and imagination here to power a novel.
“Indelible” by Gwendolyn Clare features a first person narrator who is looking for her sister, a Shurkar — an alien, even though the narrator is a human — with particular markings. The narrator has had the markings tattooed on her back and shoulders to assist in her search. The aliens are very different from humans, particularly in their extra or different sexes (it’s hard to tell from the story) and their ability to morph, or shapeshift. Those who came to Earth were seeking asylum, because they were a persecuted ethnic minority on their own planet; they found only worse persecution. It’s a tale of humankind’s inhumanity to anyone who is different, a lesson we seem to need to learn over and over.
September 11 haunts “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” by Kelly Robson. Jessica has been sorely wounded and is being healed by microscopic aliens who have taken up residence in her thalamus. They need to keep her alive, or they will die, too. Jessica can’t be bothered to follow what’s happening in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, because she’s too busy trying to figure out what to do but the invasion of her body and the much greater threat she decides it poses to humanity. The story appealed to me as a horror enthusiast, but Robson fails to fully explain why the alien presence is a danger when it appears to be doing nothing but helping Jessica.
“Meshed” by Rich Larson is about Oxford Diallo, a kid who can play basketball with incredible skill. He’s about to turn 18, and so is being scouted by the first person narrator of the tale, a Nike representative who wants Diallo clothed in nothing but Nike merchandise for the foreseeable future. But Diallo refuses to be meshed: implanted with technology that captures and transmits biofeedback to monitor an athlete’s physical condition, but also to give a first-person visual to spectators and nervecast physical sensation. Most kids can’t wait to be meshed, but Diallo refuses, even though there’s no physical risk from the procedure to install the tech. The explanation for his refusal, when it comes, is appalling and persuasive, and what follows makes the reader’s stomach churn. It’s the best original story in this issue.
Having read and greatly enjoyed Greg van Eekhout’s California Bones, I was a little confused at “The Osteomancer’s Son.” It reads like an early draft of van Eekhout’s idea before he expanded it to novel length, rather than a stand-alone story. It’s still fun to read, but anyone who has read one or more of van Eekhout’s novels will find it a little odd.
Nicola Griffith’s “It Takes Two” is a much different story from her recent hit novel Hild. Cody and Richard are drinking in Seattle’s Queen City Grill, carefully not discussing the contracts for which their employers are bidding. Just as Cody starts fantasizing about having a regular job that doesn’t involve traveling, Richard announces that he’s taken just such a job. And he offers to help Cody land the next contract, the big one in Atlanta, especially on how to deal with the trip to the strip club. Cody finds Cookie, one of the girls working a pole, irresistible, but the big shot who has the contract to let seems to find that more enticing than not. And here’s where we find that this is a love story — not in the traditional sense, but rather an exploration of the chemical and hormonal changes that we call love, that we experience as love, and that can be influenced by drugs that do not, at present, exist — at least that I know of. Griffith’s writing is right on target for this tale, a reprint from Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse Three. It’s the best story in this issue.
The nonfiction in this issue includes Mark Cole’s “What in the World Do They Want, Anyway? The Myth of the Friendly Alien,” which explores why all our fictional visitors from other worlds have been evil, with the possible exception of Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and even that’s open to argument. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro interviews Liza Groen Trombi, the editor-in-chief of Locus, the preeminent industry publication for science fiction and fantasy writers and publishers. Ken Liu interviews Tang Fei, which made me eager to read her fiction. Dawn Metcalf offers “Another Word: YA is the New Black,” a discussion of how writing for teens asks the best question: what does it mean to be human? Neil Clarke closes with an editorial about what he hopes to accomplish with the second hundred issues of Clarkesworld (this is the 101st issue); I found the most exciting change to be his determination to include a translated story in each issue. We need to know more about what’s going on in science fiction and fantasy Asia and Africa, Europe and Oceania; this is a good first step toward that end.
Clarkesworld continues to be a solid periodical. It’s no surprise that it has nominees on the Nebula ballot in both the novelette and the short story categories. I recommend it.