REVIEW: "Guns Don’t Kill" by Richard A. Lovett

Review of Richard A. Lovett, “Guns Don’t Kill”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 159–163 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

This piece contains three separate stories about “smartguns” — i.e. guns controlled by AI. In each case, the guns prevent their respective owners from doing something bad or stupid, like committing murder or killing deer when it’s not hunting season. Some terrible tragedies are successfully prevented.

There are a few things to like in Lovett’s story. Using AI as a solution to senseless gun violence is an clever idea — perhaps unrealistic for a real world implementation, but clever nevertheless. On the other hand, the plotting and characterization leave a lot to be desired. The first two vignettes were dull and forgetful, grossly overshadowed by the author’s obvious attempt at a message. The third vignette works a little better. The alternating points of view between Ethan and the cops went a long way into keeping the tensions high. I only wish the final twist (AI conversing with itself) was not there, as it accomplishes nothing but enforce an already heavy-handed message.

REVIEW: "Birds of Feather" by Gregor Hartmann

Review of Gregor Hartmann, “Birds of Feather”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February (2020): 152–158 (print) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Frank, a distinguished astrophysicist at the local Institute of Technology, has a developed a new kind of telescope that will revolutionize space exploration as we know it. The theory is sound, but there has not yet been any experimental verification of Frank’s ideas. Unfortunately, neither the Space Agency nor Frank’s own department will approve the deployment. With the aid of Rivo, his carefree brother, Frank must resort to more illicit means to get his revolutionary telescope up in space.

It’s always nice to read an author who has a distinct and recognizable voice. Hartmann certain fits the profile. His sense of humor and casual-yet-precise style of narration stands out in most of his stories, including this one. In “Birds of Feather”, the plot has a few moments that are a bit hard to swallow and seriously test the readers’ willing suspension of disbelief. For example, the obstacles placed in the way of Frank’s research are not particularly believable — and neither is his extreme reaction to them. However, as the story focuses mainly on the relationship between Frank and his brother, I find the aforementioned flaws rather easy to forgive. Especially since the main characters are so well realized.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable story even though it’s not one of the author’s most memorable.

REVIEW: "John Simnel’s First Goshawk" by Tegan Moore

Review of Tegan Moore, “John Simnel’s First Goshawk”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 297, February 13, 2020, Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

It’s rare that I read a story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and find it wanting. Nevertheless, while I’ve liked other stories of Moore’s–particularly “The Work of Wolves” in last year’s July/August issue of Asimov’s–this one doesn’t quite work for me. It reads more like a character sketch than a fully realized story. It does, however, offer a striking comparison between the breaking of a young boy’s spirit and that of a hawk’s. As Moore puts it, both involve “the shaping of a free mind into a tamed one.” 

Again, not the best story of Moore’s that I’ve read, but your mileage may vary. 

REVIEW: "The Moneylender's Angel" By Robert Minto

Review of Robert Minto, “The Moneylender’s Angel”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 296, January 30, 2020, Read online, Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

Gareth and the story’s unnamed narrator are dockworkers sharing their lives in a bleak, violent town named Siltspar. Each has had a difficult past filled with violence neither feels able to atone for. To pay off a large debt owed by his father, Gareth was coerced into using his healing touch to torture people. The narrator, given by his parents at an early age to a cruel priesthood, was made to slit a hundred throats in ritual sacrifice.  Both quit these gruesome practices as soon as they were able, but the guilt each feels is unrelenting. When, completely by chance, a magically powerful necklace used in the priesthood’s ritual slaughter falls into their possession, a very different kind of sacrifice is called for. Done out of love, this sacrifice, too, brings guilt, but also the hope of a brighter future for at least one of the two main characters.  

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is one of my favorite magazines. Evocative stories like this are one of the reasons why.

REVIEW: “Star Tipping” by Jonathan Coolidge

Review of Jonathan Coolidge, “Star Tipping”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 163-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Contemplation of suicide, explicit descriptions of pain and injury.

This story starts in media res with a crash and a bang — literally: Church, the first-person present-tense narrator is in a pretty gruesomely described car crash. What follows isn’t much more pleasant, as we’re taken on a trip down Church’s memory lane, filled with unhappiness and hurt.

Just at the point where I was wondering “what is speculative about this?” the story takes a sharp turn into superhero-land as Church discovers — via unexpectedly using them — he has achieved superpowers.

This story wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can still appreciate the quality of its crafting.

REVIEW: “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz” by Taylor Cook

Review of Taylor Cook, “Kankydip & the Kcheevitz”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 149-161 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The prose of this story has a very biblical — or perhaps children’s-story is a better way to describe it — rhythm to it, which unfortunately jars constantly with the names of the main characters, Kankydip and her sidekick Dooble. The story was peppered throughout with characters that sound like they’d be at home in Dr. Seuss — in addition to the titular Kcheevitz, we encounter spantz, blottlebugs, Vorgos, and a Doolyworm.

It was a very strange story.

REVIEW: “Particular Poisons” by Fiona West

Review of Fiona West, “Particular Poisons”, in David G. Clark, Callum Colback, Joe Butler, and Alex Hareland, eds., Beneath Strange Stars, (TL;DR Press, 2020): 111-123 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Summary in a sentence: The Warlord-in-Chief of Gartha’s apprentice Frieda is in need of an illusion potion to entrap her erstwhile coworker Jax into thinking she is Violet, whom he is about to marry.

There was a moment when I thought this story was intended to be a love story, but if it was, then it was a very problematic one. When the Warlord-in-Chief reflects,

It is said, really…the lengths she is willing to go to for love (p. 114),

it is really hard to see how this is love, and not obsession. But despite the Warlord-in-Chief’s thoughts here, he clearly does not approve of Frieda’s desires, and he’s going to teach her a lesson. But Frieda has a lesson to teach him in return…