io9 Newsstand: Stories for the week of July 28 - August 1

The last of the July short stories put a nice pin in the month. A couple of long reads, a few recurring characters — and a dinosaur, just to spice things up. Monthly magazines will start putting out their new fiction this weekend as well. It's a smorgasbord of prose!

image credit: Wesley Allsbrook for Tor.com

A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star by Kathleen Ann Goonan | Tor.com

Excerpt: "Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future." —Walt Disney

Tor calls this one a "novelette that's science fiction by association," meaning it has no speculative element, so it's not usually what we'd call SF. It is fiction about science and scientists, though. Does that count? Even if you don't think so, this piece is so lovely you really should read it. Especially if the Lightspeed special Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue got you all riled up.

It's about how the events of the twentieth century shapes a girl's ideas about who she can be, who she wants to be, and what she wants to do. It's a story that reminds us of uncomfortable truths that we often only ever confront in fiction, anymore—how many Nazi scientists got a pass and American citizenship in exchange for their ideas and plans? You think that's just the plot of Captain America 2? Nope. The best historical fiction makes us reconsider the past in a new light, as this story does.

Sixty Years in the Women's Province by Benjanun Sriduangkaew | Giganotosaurus

Excerpt: So it is that Jinhuang follows Zhang Xiaoli home, much to the disapproval of everyone save Xiaoli's family, who holds out the hope that not only will she move back into the Zhang compound but also secure an outsider bride. A coup, and already Xiaoli's Fourth Aunt is wiping her eyes with pride. To bring the clan such a prize! Far better than being top of the class or being very good indeed with bees.

If you're a fan of long reads and enjoy sinking into a good novelette or novella every month, you should bookmark Giganotosaurus. It's a webzine of nothing but longer stories started by Ann Leckie (of Ancillary Justice fame) and recently passed on to Rashida J. Smith. Judging from this story, Ms Smith's taste is just as fine-honed as Leckie's, and I look forward to seeing more of her picks.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew's name may be familiar if you're into the Hugo and Campbell awards, since she's one of this year's nominees for best new writer. Sriduangkaew is clearly skilled, but her stories don't always resonate with me in the end. This one did. A combination of the worldbuilding, the protagonist's voice, and confident way the narrative moves forward in time ensnared me, and I loved every word of the story.

Allosaurus Burgers by Sam J. Miller | Shimmer Magazine

Excerpt: Barely a day since Mr. Blecher made his big announcement, and everyone in the world was coming to Hudson Falls. Scientists and men with giant cameras, and lots of soldiers with lots of guns, but not the mean soldiers and scientists from movies. Everyone I saw had a smile so big it could have been their birthday. Everyone is coming to Hudson Falls, I thought.

And then: a treacherous, wicked, horrible thought.

Maybe my dad will come.

Reading this story right after the last one highlighted some (unintentional) synchonicities between the stories. They're both about small communities filled with people and families who have known each other since forever, a fact that drives the character's motivations more than they might know. Both stories feature a beast that disrupts the normal course of life, though in this one the disruption is far more evident, and more parable-tastic. And once again I love the voice in this one.

Sam J Miller's name should be familiar to fans of the dark fantastic since he recently won a Shirley Jackson Award for this story.

This is a good time to let you know that Shimmer, formerly a print only magazine, is now digital.

The Panda Coin by Jo Walton | Lightspeed Magazine

Excerpt: ...this morning, on my way to work, I helped out a bod from Eritrea-O, a lost tourist, not much more than a kid herself. She'd wandered up out of the tourist regions and wound up in November somehow, and anyway, she tipped me a ten from her home. Cute as anything, some kind of animal on the back. So it's something a little special, and it's money. Aliya probably won't know whether to treasure it or spend it, and learning to save wouldn't be a bad thing.

Jo Walton takes on a tour of an alien city by following a coin as it changes hands. A fun conceit. Though what is up with Walton and her obsession with coinage?

She manages to pack in a ton of worldbuilding in a small amount of space and even gets the reader to care about characters we only spend about two pages with, if that.

The Only Known Law By William Alexander | The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Excerpt: He tore the sinuous creature from Yaretzi's face and tossed it back across the lab. He heard it move, checked to make sure that it wasn't trying to come any closer, and then ignored it once the Messenger crawled back into its tank.

"Die, malignant space germs," she said. "You shall not survive."

"You shall not survive," said the Messenger, using Yaretzi's voice, having reshaped itself to mimic her vocal cords.

She laughed. "What a delightful choice of words for first contact!"

Then she handed Nicolao his flask and listened to the Messenger mispronounce "delightful." She laughed again.

This story is about partnership and marriage and alien first contact and all three are related to each other. While I wouldn't characterize this as humorous SF, it's got some lovely, funny moments that lift the dark stuff up just enough to coast to a balanced emotional ending that doesn't come off as sentimental or cruel. Alexander's quite good at hitting this balance.

Harry and Marlowe Versus the Haunted Locomotive of the Rockies by Carrie Vaughn | Lightspeed Magazine

Excerpt: They were searching for innovation. For something new. As was their wont, the Americans had taken Aetherian technology like locomotive engines and made them faster, cheaper, and more efficient. They had adapted the Aetherian engines to the paddlewheel ships that plied the Mississippi. They had also done things like build an entirely mechanical elephant, billed as Jumbo from the Stars, which currently performed in a specially built arena at a place called Coney Island.

If you're not familiar with Vaughn's Harry and Marlowe stories, don't worry. You don't need to know the history to enjoy what's going on here. I've only read one of the stories, and it was long enough ago that I didn't remember much about these two. The story does a good job easing you into the world and introducing the characters without falling over into tediousness for those who aren't new to these two. The only unfulfilled twinge I got came at the end, as it's clear I'll need to read more stories to know what is ultimately going on with this alien technology. Vaughn is so sneaky that way!

Have you started in on the August stories yet? Let me know if there are any I must read this coming week.