Monday, January 10, 2022

Galaxy’s Edge 53 (2021)

Galaxy’s Edge, ed. Lezli Robyn. Issue 53 (November 2021). Online at

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

The latest Galaxy’s Edge is warmly introduced by editor Lezli Robyn, who is excited to share in this issue the winning story for The Mike Resnick Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story by a New Author. In this inaugural year for the award, the prize went to Z.T. Bright, for “The Measure of a Mother’s Love.”

This winning story, which opens the issue’s fiction section, involves a mother in an orbiting station over Guangdong Province. Its occupants are a mother and her “son,” an insectoid alien who has chosen the name Zhuang after her first son, buried on the Earth below. The story follows the mother as she relives her initial struggle to understand her first son’s choices to set out on his own, in keeping with his sense of service to nation and species—and her chance to respond differently now, when her second “son” also presents his own need to move on.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s “O₂ Arena” is also about love, but the kind of love that requires an aggressive fight against relentless oppressions to have any hope at all. Our protagonist is struggling in systems that have made access to air itself contingent on class and finances, which is why our narrator wastes no time in setting out the terms of oppression in which he lives. (He doesn’t have a breath to waste!) A fellow student at his law school, an institution that pretends to offer a real way out (while, in practice, oppressing and exploiting in other ways), is dying faster than he is; and so, he takes up whatever challenge, whatever fight he has to, to try to help them both breathe a little longer in our asphyxiating world.

A posthumous story from Mike Resnick, “Winter Solstice,” then gives us a first-person account of Merlin living backward, which has profound and devastating effects for the being compelled to move at cross-purposes from everyone around him. The past feels like magic to him, even as his memories of the future appear as the grandest sorcery to all around him—and yet, in the disorientation of moving against everyone else’s tides of destiny, he is losing ever so much more than he ever knew. Resnick’s is a story of mourning in all directions, and the futile attempt to stay moored in a world that only sees the Sage, not the wanderer through time.

Next up, Alex Shvartsman’s “The Going Rate” invokes a different sort of ancient tale in the genre: the deal with the devil. He gives the old conceit a clever spin, though, by naming our protagonist Karen, a woman beleaguered by a cranky old man who can’t leave well-enough alone. Without spoiling the ending, the best-laid plans of mice and Karens, to foil her grouch of a neighbour without resorting to out-and-out murder and violence, go… just about as well as any attempt to cheat a cheater ever does. Even winning has its price!

Tami Veldura’s “To Heaven and Back Again” then gives us a naval space story involving rival ships and deep-ether run-ins with distant lunar beasts. English propriety, monarchic reverence, and plenty of steam-era references make this zippy and playful historical-fantasy steampunk adventure, although its offhand dash of stated good intentions to change a racist empire might have used a little more follow-through.

Next, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Substitutions” deals in death, both literally and mythically, though this story about Death’s eclectic helpers is by no means garden-variety. Rather, our protagonist, a seasoned member of a secret supernatural service that helps souls depart their bodies, is trying to enjoy his time off with a little gambling, when a young kid shows up—a new recruit to the industry—and asks for his help with a tall order of deathly task. Silas has had 150 years to grow a bit jaded in his role, but this kid is by no means naïve, and together they face an assignment that could easily be curtains for them both.

Fulvio Gatti’s “Who Smiles Last” follows an artificial-limb researcher whose autism is a problem for everyone around him, though it doesn’t negatively impact his work or his ability to find fun pastimes for himself. We follow his attempts to live his life, pursue his work, and achieve an even more advanced neural linkup than has ever been managed before. His dream is fulfilled by the story’s end, but in an extremely unexpected way that, again, relates to the neurodivergence everyone else has been calling attention to all story long.

Dave Wolverton’s “My Favorite Christmas” gives us a Christmas ghost story, but of a slow-build nature that drops us first into the heart of a certain kind of 1970s small-town America, the sort filled with strong views about communism and US foreign-policy, family politics, and complex approaches to migration and Native-American histories, along with the breathless potential of a young man’s first time with a young woman. The aim of all this detail seems to be to distill exactly what would make this one particular year and moment so worth longing for, if someone could possibly go back in time to live out the best of it again.

Dhew’s “Yang Feng Presents: The Algorithm of Everything” (translated by Ron) rounds out the fiction for this issue with the story of an algorithm, originally meant to predict the weather but sprawling into other domains as various new programmers take the proverbial wheels. As it expands to include all of history, grain futures, supermarket-client behaviours, political data, server stats, and private-user data, the algorithm begins to represent an impossible quest for all involved—and leads to a very different answer than one might expect, at journey’s end.

This issue also includes an interview by Jean Marie Ward, “Grimness, Fear, Loathing, and Irrepressible Humor: Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Charlaine Harris.” Harris is the author of The Southern Vampire Mysteries, perhaps better known as the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood series, along with the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, which have inspired Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel productions. The interview explores her path to writing, her genre choices, her influences within those genres, possible metaphoric meanings in her work, thoughts on the True Blood series, and what guides her series-writing choices today.

The whole issue covers a smattering of classic tropes in science-fiction and fantasy, but with a few distinct lenses. Some of the stories could have used a bit more spit-and-polish during editing, but there’s a lot of heart and some striking voices in the mix.

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