Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
This month's issue of Clarkesworld is shaping up in the sense that each piece provoked a strong reaction from me. Let's get on with the show, shall we?
The feature story is "Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story" by Jay Lake and Shannon Page. It alternates between two perspectives although what caused some confusion here is that the initial point of view is that of a seemingly-omniscient narrator, as opposed to the second one which is first person. There's a couple of witty lines here and there, especially from that of the heroine, but by the end I feel that this is a ho-hum story. It clearly has that dystopian war atmosphere, a lone tank against the world, and the authors admittedly create two compelling characters, the mad Topper and the slightly-less unhinged Grace. The interaction between these two characters is hilarious if you're playing close attention. In the long run, I don't think the authors were attempting anything other than a fun romp. What can be detracting to new readers is that the alteration between the two points of views is not immediately evident and I actually missed a few nuances which I noticed only upon listening to the podcast.
The audio version is read by Shaun Farrell and Mur Lafferty. In certain ways, I think the podcast is clearer as the two podcasters alternate between the two characters. Farrell's voice for the most part is neutral as befits the omniscient narrator. Lafferty seems to be a perfect fit for the bitchy heroine and one can detect the emotion behind the words. In certain ways, Farrell plays second fiddle to Lafferty, although that's not a fault of his skill but that of the text (aloof omniscient narrator vs. personal first person). Lafferty's tone makes the comedy of the piece come alive and reminds us of that there's somebody human underneath the story.
Then there's the "other" Clarkesworld fiction, "The Dying World" by Lavie Tidhar. I really like this piece and reminds me of the stories being run during the first year of Clarkesworld. It's short, the pace is upbeat, and there's a unified central idea tying the entire narrative without being heavy-handed. This is a futuristic spy vs. spy story and while that might sound simplistic, Tidhar manages to throw in a lot of campy but effective elements such as a famous Russian personality. There's never a dull moment and the language is quite accessible with just the right amount of weirdness to stand out.
Next we move on to the nonfiction and first off is "From Dead Gods to Guys in Lizard Costumes: Six Questions for James Morrow" by Jason S. Ridler. The advantage--or disadvantage, depending on how you see it--with this particularly interview is that it's focused on Morrow's latest book, Shambling Towards Hiroshima. If you've read it, the interview provides insights into Morrow's craft and how it shaped the narrative. Otherwise, there's not much general information here although curious readers might be interested enough to pick up a copy of the book.
"Where's My Flying Car? The Future of Personal Aviation" by Joyce Frohn is all about flying vehicles and is quite an entertaining read. What's impressive is how Frohn makes the most out of the medium by attaching video clips. This is how nonfiction in the age of the Internet should be presented! There's even a couple of aviation technology that I didn't know even existed, such as ParaPlanes. Frohn is pretty informal, making the text not only accessible but funny as well.
Last but not least is the cover art "Torturing Poor Mushroom" by Blaz Porenta. Suffice to say, it looks like something from Pixar--in a good way--while retaining a certain element of perversity. Still as far as Clarkesworld covers go, this is probably the cutest, although the only reason I can think of why the magazine would use such an illustration is because of April Fools.
Overall, I did enjoy this issue, especially Tidhar's story. In retrospect, Lake and Page's story gets better when you reread it while Frohn's nonfiction hooked me from the very start. Readers will either love or ignore Ridler's interview, depending on how familiar they are with Morrow's work. Not the best of Clarkesworld but we're actually getting there.