Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
This month's issue seems huge with four non-fiction articles but that can be deceptive as I'll discuss later in the review. I'll start the review with the cover, then progress to the fiction and finally the non-fiction.
When it comes to the Clarkesworld covers, I find it handy to click on the images for a larger picture as there are some details that I might miss out and "Signs of Life" by Geoff Trebs is no exception. What seems like an innocuous artwork is actually eerie thanks to those staring blue eyes. Other than that, it's not as striking as other Clarkesworld covers, most likely due to the neutral colors. The only bright colors seem to be blue and yellow but they're too little to make the entire image pop out. Not bad but I'm not too crazy about it. Oh, and for once, I'd like the covers to actually relate to the content of the magazine.
"The Second Gift Given" by Ken Scholes starts out slow and alien but it quickly becomes evident what this piece is about. Scholes is clearly aiming for some emotional resonance as the main conflict stems from the protagonist's dilemma of freedom and choice. It isn't particularly original but for the most part, I feel the author handles it competently although clearly you're not reading this story for the language as it tends to be functional and direct. What I particularly enjoyed about this piece is the way it parallels the Christian Adam and Eve story. I do feel Scholes earns the right for the title which becomes evident with the ending.
Mike Allen does the reading for the feature story and in line with the previous podcasts, he is quite eloquent. His persona is that of the omniscient narrator and the story comes out clear and concise. There's no room for doubt who's speaking when it comes to dialogue as Allen does distinguish between the various characters. The tone isn't exaggerated but rather controlled and carefully neutral most of the time. If the reading lacked that "personal touch", I feel it's because the story itself is too distant in terms of language and the dialogue is all too brief (which is in the service to the story's conceit).
If you're familiar with either Japanese or poetry, the ending of "The Jisei of Mark VIII" by Berrien C. Henderson should come as no surprise. As far as the technical craft is concerned, I don't really have much to criticize Henderson on. Nothing that particularly stands out but nothing to chide him either. What rubs me the wrong way however--and this is a personal preference--is the story itself. For me, this type of story is indulgent especially in the way the author's agenda is to reminisce the glories of the dead-tree medium in a futuristic society (and this isn't a case of Fahrenheit 451). This is an example of geeks writing for geeks. Of course having said that, this might be the type of story that appeals to you. Other than that complaint, the story was fairly traditional.
The part I honestly look forward to reading is the non-fiction. Neddal Ayal's "An Interview with Jeff VanderMeer" is one of the best solo interviews yet. VanderMeer knows how to elaborate and expand on his answers, making sure that each question Ayal asks is a treasure trove. For the most part, the interview focuses on VanderMeer's craft of writing, specifically his novel Shriek and later on in the feature, his upcoming book Finch. I think those who've read Shriek will get the most out of this interview, although there's an excellent section where the interview utters a word or phrase and VanderMeer informs us his thoughts on them.
"The Most Important Genre Novel You'll Never Read" by by Robert N. Lee is quite political in nature and by the end, actually draws the dilemma of encouraging you to read a book but not to support or purchase it. Lee draws a fascinating comparison between two books that aren't usually classified as genre but should: the Left Behind series and William Pierce's The Turner Diaries. The author's analysis is rich and Lee gives examples that are scary to ponder, especially if you're living in America. Definitely an eye-opener for the insular genre fan but otherwise compelling reading.
"Change the Hugos? Yes You Can!" by Cheryl Morgan is aptly labeled as an editorial as for the most part, it's propaganda (albeit a well-written one!) for you to vote at the Hugos. But aside from encouraging you to participate in such awards, Morgan does point out some fallacies regarding this particular competition. This editorial was fairly quick and easy to read and the title honestly shouldn't leave you with any surprises as to what to expect.
Speaking of expectations, "2008 Clarkesworld Reader's Poll" is just that so don't really expect content here. Post-election season, you get two entries from Clarkesworld asking you to vote!
Overall, I think this month's issue of Clarkesworld has a strong non-fiction section. Again, while it might seem that you're getting four articles, I'd probably gauge it as two and a half but honestly, anything beyond two is more than what Clarkesworld promises and so far, the magazine hasn't failed me in that sense. Scholes's story is clearly the superior of the two fiction pieces and Allen's reading was terrific but as far as personal preferences goes I'd say the fiction section this month was ho-hum.