Heroic Relics by Catherine H. Shaffer

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 24, 2014 in Reviews

Buzzy Mag
Author Website: http://www.catherineshaffer.com/


Sabrina Smith has settled nicely into her second career as a veterinarian. She finds working with animals much more rewarding than her former paper pushing job as an army intelligence analyst. Her work is intense, yet predictable, that is until she receives the strangest pair of visitors at her clinic:

She was examining a llama in the back pasture of her clinic when she noticed two men, who definitely didn’t fit in, standing at the rail. They obviously wanted her attention, but she let them hang while she decided who and what she thought they were. With their black suits and sunglasses, they looked like government types. More likely, they were lawyers. They didn’t have an animal with them, so that was a pretty big clue they weren’t customers. The taller one looked impatient, like he had some place else he needed to be and soon. The shorter man looked more relaxed, almost like he was enjoying the view.

Curiosity finally got the better of her, and she handed the llama’s halter to her assistant technician. She walked over to the fence and addressed the taller visitor. “If you’ve brought your friend here to get neutered, I’m all booked up until Tuesday.”

The taller man chuckled, and the shorter one flushed. “I’m Roger Sears, NASA mission support specialist. We came about your application to the astronaut corps.”

“What? I filled that out ten years ago,” Sabrina said. Now it was her turn to blush. She’d applied to NASA in a manic period between the army and vet school. It had been kind of a crazy thing to do.

“Well, we have a job for you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sabrina. “I thought the manned space flight program was disbanded, ever since the Soyuz accident.”

“It was,” said the shorter man. He hadn’t introduced himself yet. “But something has come up.”

And something definitely has come up. An alien ship has landed on the moon, and they need Sabrina’s vet expertise and security clearance to help transport the alien back to Earth. Growing up, she’d always wanted to be a veterinarian-spy-astronaut-princess, and if she takes these MiB up on their offer, she’ll be almost all the way there.

This was a fun, lighthearted piece, so I kinda feel bad for poking holes in it, but I had a really hard time suspending my belief for this one. I liked that they picked a vet over a doctor, since vets would be more versed in different physiologies, and it was fun to see someone’s childhood fantasy come true in the weirdest of ways. But everything just seemed too convenient, as if the plot were driving the story instead of the characters. The conversations seemed overly scripted for a laugh, technology failed right when it was supposed to, and worked right when it was supposed to. There were a couple hilarious moments with the alien, (space suits!), but that could have been so much deeper. Sabrina is the first one to meet a person from a different world, but she seems about as excited as she would be setting a dog’s broken leg.

In any case, if you’re looking for something whimsical and space related, give this a read. It’s nice having something to counteract all of the heavy/depressing pieces, but I just wish this had been a little more believable for me.

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Threads of Pearl, Writhing by Gwendolyn Clare

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 23, 2014 in Reviews

Buzzy Mag
Author Website: http://www.gwendolynclare.com/


Elizabeth Felsen is one of just a few uninfected humans left aboard a station at the edge of human space.  She sneaks about in the air vents, trying to do any little thing she can to sabotage the tiny, tentacled aliens that have taken the station’s inhabitants as mindless hosts, pumped full of artificial bliss and happiness. Elizabeth is on the path to finding a cure, along with the aid of her husband–each time risking discovery and infection.

Like always, I go straight for the communications panel while Angelo watches the door. They turned the quarantine broadcast off again since the last time we checked. The parasitized humans aren’t particularly bright or motivated, but occasionally, one of the gossamers manages to steer its host human into the control room and undo all our security measures. The gossamers are content for now, but as they use up the humans aboard the station, they’ll grow more desperate for a starship to take their species to greener pastures. Like a planet.


Jellyfish image by yuxi3200, Creative Commons

As it is, I have to restart the quarantine broadcast and re-engage the lockdown on all docks. I send a quick status update to the xenoparasitologist who was assigned our case, along with a request to resend the last incoming message—which they erased.

Angelo wanders over from his post by the door to look over my shoulder. He plants a soft kiss on my neck.

“No news,” I whisper. “They deleted it.”

His lips move close to my ear. “You know, Liz, those meat puppets are starting to really get on my nerves.”

I throw an annoyed glance over my shoulder. He knows I don’t like it when he calls the hosts meat puppets. Our friends are still in there somewhere. But I get what he means; I never imagined an alien invasion would be so soft and tedious.

That last line was the one that made me smile, and maybe salivate a little. That’s the point, a mere few hundred words in,  when I settled into the story and prepared myself for how awesome this was going to be. Well played, Gwendolyn. The aliens in this are perfect. I thought we were heading towards a menacing Borg infestation, but in this story we have something even more sinister: aliens that make you happy. The hosts go about their daily routines (with scrawny alien jellyfish lodged in their throats) in a blissful fog, barely any motivation, thank goodness. A little gumption, and this infection would have spread so much more quickly. But the gossamers seem to be content with their slow and monotonous invasion…or are they?

This story is full of tension, and will have you on the edge of your seat. The twists and turns are amazing. Nothing goes according to plan, and there’s just the right balance of emotion and action. Though the ending is somewhat telegraphed, it’s still a good one, and deeply satisfying. If you’ve got a tentacle fetish, this one’s definitely for you. And if you don’t have a tentacle fetish, come closer, dear one, and open wide.

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Primrose or Return to Il’maril by Mary McMyne

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 20, 2014 in Reviews

Apex Magazine
Author Website: marymcmyne.com


Virginia Booth is a noted xenoanthropologist well past the end of her career, during which she held a deep connection with the people of Il’maril, a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. She is called there out of retirement by Vierro Casstratil, a powerful Il’marilian shaman, who she must convince to leave their homeworld due to the impending supernova of their star. Despite the threat of extinction, it will not be an easy task. The people of Il’maril hold tightly to myth and beliefs:

I’d awakened that morning with a particularly germane line of scripture on my tongue. All day, as the caravan led me to this cave, I’d been repeating it to myself, worried I would forget without the memory chip I’d refused out of respect for the taboos. “‘Without the sun we are nothing.’”

He nodded. “Your teacher taught you well. And yet you advocate for evacuation?”

“No matter how much I love this place,” I hoped he could hear the regret in my voice, “I must.”

From the surface, the Il’maril sky was enchanting, the crimson sun bathed in rose–coloured light. Only from space was it clear the planet actually had two suns: a tiny white dwarf and its companion, a rosy red giant blooming petals of dust. Probe ships had been making passes over the system ever since convection began in the dwarf star, which accreted enough mass to go supernova long ago. This year, after their annual pass, the astrophysicists projected the disaster’s date: one month from today. Only a splinter group of Il’marillians had agreed to evacuate so far — the emigrants, they called themselves proudly, though the word for the concept was considered obscene. My mission was to convince Casstratil and the rest to go.

I gestured at the floor, the traditional place on Il’maril for discussions of state. “Should we sit?”

Casstratil nodded almost imperceptibly beneath his hood. I still couldn’t see his face. Somewhat further down the tunnel, I was certain now, I could see a light glowing on the wall. Orb–shaped, it glowed a vague silver colour with hints of purple; it wasn’t very bright. In my first pub, I’d speculated that they kept some kind of ancient tech in these caves, which ran on the mysterious geothermal energy the shamans referred to as zim–zivat. It had only been a storytelling device; now, I wondered if I was right.

The superiority complex of humankind extends well into our future in this piece. With all of our science, tech, and knowledge obtained over artificially lengthened lifespans, we know what’s in the best interest of a planet in a galaxy far, far away, right? Our calculations and predictions could never be wrong. We are infallible, after all.

It does not take much to draw modern-day parallels to this story, so this is an important tale to take to heart. It’s sad to think that in half a millennium from now, we’ll still be making the same bull-headed mistakes we are today, so it’s good to read a story that puts humanity in its place. This piece does so, and gives us great characters to cling on in the process. Virginia gets  a glimpse of how despite our ability to skip across the stars, we are still toddlers in our knowledge of so many things–going confidently about our lives, completely unaware of the danger lurking in the pretty fire upon the stove top, of the hundreds and thousands of small lives extinguished beneath our oblivious footfalls on the sidewalk.  And yet, I don’t think this story was meant to disparage us, but to encourage us to grow. It’s okay to be born not knowing everything, and learning doesn’t have to be a race. Sometimes it’s important to just stop and smell the primroses.

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