December 1st, 2008

Summary: Tales of the Unanticipated, 2008

Summary: Tales of the Unanticipated, 2008

Tales of the Unanticipated is a very nicely produced and generously sized magazine, that now officially calls itself an anthology (well, actually an "antholo-zine" -- shades of Jim Baen calling Destinies a "bookazine" back in the day). It looks just the same as ever, though. As a yearly magazine, calling it an anthology does make sense, but I still think of it as a magazine. (Though I should note that it does have an ISBN.) The editor is Eric M. Heideman.

This year's issue, #29, is dated Autumn/Winter 2008. It features 16 stories, 1 of them a novelette, 15 short stories, for a total of a about 80,000 words of fiction. Two stories were reprints. The 14 new stories totaled about 71000 words. TOTU also publishes a lot of poetry, some quite good.

My favorite stories included Mark Rich's "Dead Man Come A-Calling", a gentle zombie story set in a small Kansas town, about a man who comes back from the dead and finally has a chance to marry the woman he loves; Tony Pi's "Come Frost, Sun, and Vine", a story with a Russian fairy tale flavor, about three brothers who each woo the Tsar's daughter; and Patricia S. Bowne's "Kindling", another of her stories set at a magical university, here featuring a grumpy bachelor professor who gets stuck tending a sort of zoo at the university. Other good work came from Naomi Kritzer, Eleanor Arnason, Lyda S. Morehouse, and Katherine Woodbury.

I'd call perhaps 6 of the 14 new stories SF, or 43%. And 9 of 14 new stories were by women, 64%, rather higher than the 50/50 totals of the past two years. (However both reprints were by men, so the whole thing was close to 50/50.)

Summary: Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, 2008

Summary: Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, 2008

This online magazine has reached its fourth year, and this year put out four issues. It has become a steady source of interesting fiction, a mix of SF and Fantasy and Horror The editor is Edmund R. Schubert.

The four issues included 35 stories, almost 230,000 words of fiction, plus part one of a story to be completed in 2009 (so I will consider it there). (One story was a completion of a 2008 piece.) There was 1 novella, and there were 9 novelettes, and 25 short stories, with eight of the latter short-shorts. Seven of the short-shorts, were nasty little horror pieces by David Lubar, most of which did awfully little for me. Besides the fiction, the site is stuffed with features, including movie reviews, essays, interviews, and book reviews.

The novella, David Farland's "Sweetly the Dragon Dreams" (December) was OK but not special. The best of the novelettes was Peter S. Beagle's "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri" (July), a Japanese-set fantasy about a commoner who advances in his master's household with the help of his shapechanging wife. Another novelette I quite enjoyed was John Brown's "From the Clay of His Heart" (April), in which a golem comes to stay with a single Jewish woman in an Eastern European village, causing problems both because of its thieving ways (though it is something holy), and because of the interest it engenders in a local lord.

Two short stories stood out. James Maxey's "Silent as Dust" (January), a curious ghost story in which the (main) ghost is actually a living man who has hidden in the house of a longtime friend; and Marie Brennan's "A Heretic by Degrees" (December), a very strange and original piece set in a constricted world among numerous different very small worlds. I also enjoyed short stories by Sharon Shinn, Dennis Danvers, Ken Scholes, Ami Chopine, and Mette Ivie Harrison, plus a very cute short-short, "Accounting for Dragons", by Eric James Stone.

I should add that Card himself contributed two decent Ender novelettes (each related to recent books), and that more are promised, and another may show up before the year is over.

I think the overall quality continues to improve. Last year I asked for more stories that really stand out, and I think the top four I mention above (one per issue, as it happens) fill that bill nicely. By my count the stories were divided almost evenly between SF and Fantasy -- 17 of 35 seemed SF to me (a couple being borderline cases): 48.6%. 11 of 35 stories were by women, 11 of 28 if you discount the David Lubar stories, 11 of 26 if you also discount the two Card novelettes. (As both those sets of stories seem to represent reserved slots, it might make sense to leave them out of such counts.) So, 31% of the total, or 42% of the more restricted set.