No fewer than sixteen books reviewed this time, including collections and some non-fiction works about the genre. None jumped out at me as must-reads, although The Race by Nina Allan (who also contributes a column and a short story to this issue) sounds very intriguing. Not a lot for me in the film reviews either, although Guardians of the Galaxy at least sounds amusing and entertaining. On to the short stories.
Marielena by Nina Allan, illustrated by Tara Bush. A refugee from political persecution in a hostile world (which we gradually learn is present-day England), mourning for the woman he left behind. But was she real, or some sort of demon? And the bag lady he meets with items from the future – what does her cryptic warning mean? Intriguing ideas, but frustratingly undeveloped.
A Minute and a Half by Jay O'Connell, illustrated by Daniel Bristow-Bailey. A man goes on the run with a former girlfriend, but taking a pill changes him radically. Again, the concept of metaprogramming pills to provide cognitive enhancement is interesting but the possibilities are left unexplored in favour of the human drama.
Bone Deep by S.L. Nickerson. A woman funds her medical needs by selling space on her body for commercial tattoos, but there is a catch.
Dark on a Darkling Earth a novellette by T.R. Napper, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A future China, in a world in which people have gradually lost their memories; except for the Omissioners, one of whom is trying to make his way home across a lawless landscape.
The Faces Between Us by Julie C. Day, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A young couple constantly hunting for new recreational drugs discover the ultimate hit.
Songs Like Freight Trains by Sam J Miller, illustrated by Richard Wagner. Particular songs may spark memories of the time when they were first heard; what if this could be reinforced so strongly that hearing them took you mentally back in time? The consequences of this are revealed in the relationship between a couple.
Nina Allan's story is the most memorable simply because she is a superb writer, but it is too downbeat to be enjoyable. In fact, there is a distinct lack of optimism or humour in these stories. Does modern SFF have to be so relentlessly dark and depressing? Why should it be so?