the Little Red Reviewer

Clarkesworld, Year Four, part one.

Posted on: September 16, 2013


I was lucky enough to get a copy of Clarksworld Year Four, which includes 24 pieces of original short fiction the digital magazine published during their fourth year of publication.  Never heard of Clarkesworld? Please, allow me to enlighten you,  because these people simply rock it.  A digital magazine featuring original speculative fiction, interviews, and editorials, Clarkesworld published their first issue in 2006 and their original  short fiction has been winning awards ever since. The magazine itself has even picked up a few awards along the way (can you say three Hugo’s!!).

So I don’t have to tell you how awesome this magazine is.

You know how usually when I review an anthology or collection, I only talk about a handful of stand-out pieces, my favorites? Not this time.  The handful of short stories I’ve read so far (or listened to. Yay podcasting! I love you Kate Baker!) are some of the strangest, most out-there fiction I have ever come across. We’ve got McDonald’s terrorists, interstellar runaways, reincarnations of people who aren’t dead yet, the end of the universe, and an AI who thinks she’s a fairy tale.  Because everything in here is just so damn weird, I want each piece to get some much deserved attention.   I’ll review 3-4 short stories at a time, so you, dear readers and followers, can get the full treatment.

Want to make a comment on my review? By all means, comment here. I’ve linked each story back to Clarkesworld, so you can read the whole thing (or listen to the audio) and comment over there and give the magazine some direct attention.

Let’s get started:

Alone with Gandhari by Gord Sellar –  Kenny used to work fast food. He used to be a fat guy. But now, after a therapy that finally worked, with his taut belly and his clown-like facial tattoos, he’s a high ranking follower of Guru Deepak. Like all the other followers, he answers to the name Ronald, even though he prefers Ron. This opening paragraphs of this story were completely off-putting and disorienting to me, which makes the story hard to get into, but I’m happy I kept reading because I really ended up enjoying it, or at least I enjoyed the mental mind-fuck aspects of it.  Guru Deepak wants to help people change for the better, his followers will help him change the world. He is especially welcoming to people who need to stop eating fast food all the time. All are welcome, the blessings of Ghandhari are available to anyone who chooses to listen. The vegetarian lifestyle and meditation is probably good for Ron/Kenny’s health, but he’s unwittingly joined a cult. The hyped up Ronalds commit “Mac Attacks”, terrorizing patrons of fast food restaurants.   Ron/Kenny has been chosen by Deepak to lead an important mission to a corporate farm.  Far worse than eating a cow is abusing one on a farm, but what the Ronalds find on the farm isn’t exactly a cow. Is this a commentary on Fast Food or on food in general? A nightmarish satire? I’m not sure.

The History Within Us by Matthew Kressel  – Betsy Haadama is one of the last humans in the galaxy. Most of us have been hunted down, killed, destroyed like the parasites we are. So she is very quiet about what she is. The Milky Way is dying. Planets no longer grow crops, stars are dying, there is very few of anyone, or anything left. But this is not a natural death. Our galaxy is trapped inside a bubble of decay, caused by the Onyx Horde. And the Horde was caused by humanity.  So Betsy awaits the inevitable, spending her last few hours of existence on a ship that orbits a star that’s about to collapse in on itself into a black hole.  The aliens onboard the ship pass the time by relating their histories and how they came to be on the ship. Betsy carries the digitized memories of her entire family. If she dies, now, all of that dies with her. Is there hope beyond a black hole? Is it possible to start again, fresh? Betsy has a secret connection with the Onyx Horde, if she survives, knowledge of the Onyx Horde will survive too.  This is a very tragic and sad story, but it is peppered with hope, and best of all, with humor. The aliens Betsy converses with are so wonderfully alien, she kindly explains to them how a human child is different from a rhinoceros, and she very tactfully declines a group sex invitation. She doesn’t judge the aliens for their oddities, and if they guess that she’s human, they don’t judge her.

Spar by Kij Johnson, is one of the more famous pieces in this collection, both for it’s shocking nature and for all the awards it was shortlisted for. Neil Clarke goes so far as to warn readers that this story is not for children. I found this story to be aggressively disturbing, yet addictively readable. To give you an idea of the shock and awe happening here, the opening line is

“In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.”

This might not be for everyone. An unnamed narrator finds herself in an escape pod alongside an alien. Her ship had collided with an alien ship, and bodies and escape pods were scattered. She’s ended up in an alien escape pod with this creature.  She can’t help but focus on the Ins and Outs, the protuberances and orifices of the alien and herself, as they probe and explore and push themselves on each other. Even the words “In” and “Out” consistently have their first letters capitalized, to add weight and intensity to what those words mean to the narrator in this story of sexual dominance. An Out is as much a finger or other kind of protuberance as it is a means of escape for whatever is In. Even when she tries to remember Gary’s face, she always comes back to her fucking the alien and that she sometimes secretly enjoys it. She’s not sure if the creature is conscious,  if it sees her as conscious. Are they just things, or verbs to each other? In whatever way they attempt to communicate with each other, it is always, and only through fucking. In a way, the alien keeps her alive in the strange environment, in a way, it is saving her, so she can be saved by her own kind. This is one of those stories that sticks with you, that forces you to think about it, that makes it’s mark on you. If you have the opportunity, listen to this story on the Clarkesworld audio podcast.  Kate Baker takes it to a whole new level. I also highly recommend reading Clarkesworld’s interview with Kij Johnson, if only because it makes the story a little less horrifying.

Torquing Vacuum by Jay Lake – Domitian Spanich is the only drive technician on Estacada Orbital, and as such, he gets to work on the really crappy ships that dock there. Like the Mare Imbrium {13 pairs} , a tiny little yacht, but one with engines in such bad shape Spanich wouldn’t dare take a trip on it himself. He’s great with drive engines, but not so good with the flirting.  Half the men on the station swing his way, but Domitian only has eyes for Austen – young, hot, and a pro at playing hard to get. One evening, Austen sits with Spanich at the bar. They go home together. Spanich awakens to a priority call from the leadership of the Orbital, he’s required at the Mare Imbrium, now. Afraid that Austen has somehow gotten them both in trouble, Spanich drags him along to the auspicious and surprising meeting on the yacht. It isn’t just anyone on the ship, and Austen isn’t just any run away kid who can fake a rural accent.  I loved the names and the world building in this story. We start out with just what’s in front of Spanich, just the drive engine he’s working on, and our worldview very slowing gets larger, until we learn about the ruling class, the “Flash Brass”.  And the names they have! Names that take up entire lines of text, names that are a mish-mash of ethnicities, names that make me think of all the genetic strains that went into these supposed superior beings. I run hot and cold with Jay Lake, but this story was a definite winner.


Stay tuned for the next Clarkesworld Year Four post!

8 Responses to "Clarkesworld, Year Four, part one."

[…] Clarkesworld, Year Four, part one — A review that covers my short story, “Torquing Vacuum”. […]


Hey, a book review today on a book review blog. Imagine that. Clarkesworld is one of my favorite stops for short fiction — I often listen to it on my morning commute. I haven’t picked up any year’s best, but it is a great way to read short stories since it is nearly impossible to stay current.


Okay, I’m just going to add a totally random and a tiny bit fickle comment – I love the covers. Clarkesworld – every time I see an edition the covers are amazing. There! I said it. Phew.
Lynn 😀


[…] fiction the magazine published in their fourth year. This is the second post in the series, click here for the first […]


If only these collections were IN PRINT instead of just electronic files. Phooey.


they are in print! 😀

scroll way down to the bottom.


[…] Clarkesworld Year Four, a volume of all the original fiction they published in their fourth year. (part one, part two) And Yes, all of these volumes are available as print editions, click here and scroll to […]


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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