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Summary: Subterranean, 2009

Summary: Subterranean, 2009

Subterranean has settled into a regular schedule of 4 quarterly online issues. The online stuff appears piecemeal, with a new story being added every so often over the quarter (and with some stories being serialized). It appears to be one of the most successful online magazines. Certainly it publishes some very strong fiction. And (from the outside) it seems to pay its authors well. And the publisher is happy to keep doing it -- I believe the business model is to attract business to Subterranean Press's excellent line of limited editions and chapbooks.

In 2009 there were a total of 28 stories: three novellas, 11 novelettes, and 14 shorts (one a short-short). Over 240,000 words. The editor is Bill Schafer. Gardner Dozois acted as guest editor for one issue, Spring.

All the novellas were enjoyable. The slightest was "Moon, Moon, Moon" by Kim Newman (Summer), a Diogenes Club story about a rather fantastical moon mission. I liked Jay Lake's "Chain of Stars" (Fall) quite a lot. It's set in his Mainspring universe, and features a pirate captain who gets involved in a mission to build a spaceship, the while mourning her disappeared lover. And my favorite novellas was "Crimes and Glory", by Paul McAuley (Spring), one of his Jackaroo stories. Emma Davies, a technology control unit cop -- her job is to prevent dangerous misuse of alien tech -- ends up in a starship chasing a scientist -- a crackpot and a criminal, in Emma’s eyes, but in his eyes searching for something like glory.

Subterranean featured a raft of excellent novelettes. Lucius Shepard's "Sylgarmo's Proclamation" (Spring), was also in the Jack Vance tribute anthology Songs of the Dying Earth. I thought it married Shepard’s voice and an imitation of Vance’s voice to very good effect. It's a Cugel story, with the protagonist naturally bent on revenge against Cugel, and Shepard is suitably inventive as to the complications that ensue. Tim Pratt's "Troublesolving" (Fall) is a sweet time travel story about a man having a lot of trouble in his life and the woman he meets who promises to solve his problems. Alex Irvine's "Seventh Fall" was my favorite story from the "Special Alex Irvine Issue" (Summer): it's a familiar sort of idea, an old man trying to keep the memory of literature alive by memorizing and performing Shakespeare in a post-Crash environment that is hostile to learning. Familiar, as I said (the basic outline is not dissimilar to any number of 1950s post-Atomic War stories), but very nicely executed. Ted Kosmatka's "The Ascendant" (Spring) is set in a very odd prison, apparently part of some sort of arcology, and tells of a child born to a woman prisoner, and his growing awareness of his world. It's quite involving, though only too obviously the beginning of a longer work, and not really a finished story. Also from Spring I liked Carrie Vaughn's "Conquistador de la Noche", about a Spaniard in Coronado's party who ends up sticking around in Mexico, looking for wealth but eventually following that dream to a horribly deserted village, and finding something quite scary. It turns out, intriguingly, to be related to Vaughn's ongoing Kitty stories -- but it's very enjoyable standing by itself. Novelettes by Kris Nelscott, Ken MacLeod, and Liz Williams were also worthwhile.

The best of the short stories, to my taste, was C. S. E. Cooney's "Three Fancies from the Infernal Garden" (Winter), which plays ecstatic games with Russian fantastical traditions -- a Scarecrow, the Firebird, Koshchei the Deathless, Baba Yaga, and lots of Ivans. Gleefully imaginative, and very fun -- with rather a sinister edge. From Fall I liked David Prill's "Five Dispatches from the Third Word War", sharp work about a literal war (or wars) of words; and from Summer I enjoyed Garth Nix's French-set fantasy "The Heart of the City", about an angel that sustains Paris and the Irishman who is led to the angel for its own reasons. Other nice short stories came from Lewis Shiner, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Alex Irvine, Tim Pratt and James P. Blaylock. And I always enjoy, as light entertainment, Mike Resnick's Lucifer Jones stories, a regular feature of the 'zine.

8 of the 28 stories were by women (29%), consistent with Subterranean's history. And 12 of the 28 stories, 43%, were SF by my definition. (A couple, Kris Nelscott's stories (which is to say, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's, as "Kris Nelscott" is an open pseudonym she uses mainly for some of her mystery novels), were not SF or Fantasy: mainstream or mystery, instead. Both nice work, I should add.)
Tags: 2009, webzines, yearly summaries
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