Short Reviews – January to March, 2024

Andrew Leon Hudson

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S ome might assume that sifting through hundreds of short story submissions would be enough for a magazine’s editor – that magazine’s editor sometimes wonders on the subject himself – and yet it remains a rewarding task to dive into what other genre publications are putting out there.

Take Care by Lex Chamberlin appears in Issue 6 of Radon Journal, a thrice annual platform for “prose and poetry relating to science fiction, anarchism, transhumanism, and dystopia”, and adds to that body of fiction that presents the perspective of an artificial intelligence and allows us to look into the gap between what we can intuit and what (and how) our narrator comprehends, leading to surprising (yet strangely satisfying) turns.

Andra, an embodied AI care-giver, arrives at the Mayweather Household to provide end-of-life support to Gwyn, whose husband Cam (to Andra’s eye) manifests his presumed grief through emotional absenteeism, unhealthy personal habits and sleeping paterns, and an increasing obsession over his work. Hints that all is not well in the wider world seep in at the edges of what Andra perceives, until a bad day at the office (or, more likely, the lab) turns any expectation regarding the characters’ mortality rather on its head.

What follows is darkly amusing and faintly sad, yet manages to culminate in an unusual sort of optimism.

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N ext we return to Sci Phi Journal, for a more straightforwardly serious piece of writing. Javier Fernández’s The Cleft, translated from the original Spanish La grieta by Álvaro Piñero González, leans heavily towards prehistorical anthropology, with only an arguably unreal element – a disembodied voice from beneath the earth’s surface – nudging it away from the scientific end of speculative fiction towards the fantastical.

Initially, we follow what seems an early human hunter as he oportunistically stalks a marvelous prey, determined to bring his tribe the greatest prize. Twists and turns of fortune play with them both, eventually seeing the hunter returning to his people, until fate steps in once again. Then we find ourselves accompanying an actual man, a sheepherder, returning home after searching for and rescuing one of his flock – another prized specimen, the value of livestock undiminished though perhaps thousands of years separate the two strands.

The story features beginnings and endings, and leaves much to the reader’s interpretation; but, if the final action of the man represents the start of something far greater and long-lasting than itself, it certainly has its own origins in what motivated the hunter long before. Difficult to describe without spoiling, as you might guess from this attempt.

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A nother proven reliable zine, The Future Fire, provides our third recommendation. A Witch, a Wakening by Laura Blackwell is a deceptively gentle read, in which our narrator consciously dreams of anonymous witchhood, being one of several different sleepers who share the roles of witch and their assistant, seemingly without any need for consistency as one or the other.

Somnolent logic pervades all: close, easy familiarity between strangers as if old friends; random events signifying predestined certainty; unreadable words that can still be understood; mysterious tasks completed as if by knowledgeable hands. But the idyllic pastoral atmosphere reveals an edge, too. Perhaps subconscious archetypes must be satisfied even when we don’t want them to be.

This was not the only story in The Future Fire I enjoyed. The Rose Sisterhood by Susan Taitel delivers an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast fable, and in fact both the other zines featured here had rivals for my favourite reads: Jason Vizcarra-Brown’s The Magnetic Gospel in Radon and Mary G. Thompson’s Charlie v. Inman in Sci Phi.

Finally, to wrap up this inevitable extending of recommendations, it seems Emma Burnett is taking 2024 by storm. In addition to this issue’s Friends in High Places, she has At a Higher Dose, Love in Daikaiju Magazine and Escape Choice in, one more time, The Future Fire – both definitely worth a look!


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Andrew Leon Hudson

Author image of Andrew Leon Hudson Andrew is a technical writer by day, and is technically a writer by night as well. In addition to editing Mythaxis he has been published in a small handful of quality zines, and co-authored a serialised alternate history adventure novel. He lives in Barcelona, Spain, and doesn’t do things online often enough to count.

© Andrew Leon Hudson 2024 All Rights Reserved

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