Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
There's coincidentally a science fiction theme in this issue of Lone Star Stories and the authors manage to squeeze a lot of mileage out of this genre.
On the fiction side, first up is "Chandra's Game" by Samantha Henderson and the story combines science fiction elements with the pulp noir genre. A typical focus of the latter is the haunted character and this is no exception. Perhaps what's remarkable in fact is Henderson's attention to her protagonist who clearly has her own moral code and motivations. Another praise-worthy element is the faithfulness of to the trappings of the private investigator story and that is transparently the goal of the author. This was an enjoyable mystery in that sense and lives up to expectations.
"Eko and Narkiss" by Jeremy Adam Smith might be dressed up as science fiction but it's certainly as mythical as the source material it draws inspiration from. This is the shortest piece among the three but it seems like the most vast thanks to what it sets out to do. It succeeds in being a science fiction retelling while adding something new that touches the reader's heart. There's one flaw though, a detail which becomes crucial: a key line is "Let a machine die in place of a man!" but unfortunately, in the scenes preceding it, it is established that the machines are perceived as gods and spirits rather than robots. Barring that omission, this was a well-crafted tale.
A story that really got me excited--and this is arguably the best among the three--in just reading just the first few lines is "On the Human Plan" by Jay Lake. It got me hooked, whether it's the concept of the narrator as a digger--and in this case he digs for stories--or Lake adding details commonly found in epic fantasy that hint at a bigger and wider universe. There's a lot going for this piece and I like how the author tackles the theme of death, not only uncovering the various forms of such a state but delving deeply into such subject matter using only a few lines. This is a favorite as it's wild and fresh and there's never a dull moment.
The poems are equally noteworthy and there's little room to breathe as we run into "Migration" by Sonya Taaffe which wins me over through her well-crafted wordplay and vivid images. It's not particularly long but each stanza is rich and must be savored.
"By Their Spaceships Ye Shall Know Them" by Jo Walton is less of a struggle to read and more straightforward. It somehow strikes the balance of having an easily understandable narrative and lines that are dying to be read aloud. I enjoyed the beat but otherwise it was simply okay.
"When Her Eyes Open" by Shira Lipkin is a poem with a clear narrative and it's that aspect that I was drawn to. In so few lines, Lipkin conveys character and dramatic tension. That's not to say it's not devoid of other qualities such as apt metaphors and stylized repetition but it's the previous qualities that makes this my favorite poem (mostly because I'm not really a poetry connoisseur and those that are will probably prefer Taaffe's "Migration").
I very much enjoyed this issue of Lone Star Stories and each story and poem was striking in some way.