I wipe the dragon’s blood from my axe as I enter its lair. Everyone in the business of dragon-slaying knows that killing a dragon is the easy part; the real work is searching through its disorganized treasure hoard.
I expect an open cavern, but the lair is subdivided into rooms. One room is full of gold coins, but not in piles; the coins are rolled in labeled paper tubes, and the tubes are stacked in neat rows. A second room is nearly identical, but the tubes of coins are labeled “silver”. Rows of cabinets with short, velvet-lined drawers fill a third room. Each drawer, labeled with gemstone type and carat weight, holds gems of the same color and size. Racks of magical swords, ordered from shortest to longest, line the walls of a fourth room. Now I understand — this dragon suffered from OCD.
I find a library, and walk down the aisle labeled “Magazines, A-F”. I pull out a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and head for the exit, which is of course marked “Exit”. The neatness of the place bothers me, and I consider tipping over racks and mixing up treasure. No, this much unattended wealth will attract another dragon soon; I’ll let its new owner make a mess.
This magazine contains a novella, 4 novelettes, and 6 short stories. I’m not reading novellas during my magazine quest. This might sound crazy, but I have my reasons. First, one of my goals is to find a source of stories for quick bedtime reads, and novellas are a bit long for that. Second, if I can’t trust a magazine to find good short stories and novelettes, then why should I trust them to find a good novella?
I need something more than “here is a novella” if I’m going to invest my time in a 20,000 word story. I want a friend’s recommendation, a compelling story blurb, or an author whose work I’ve enjoyed. (If I someday go back and read the novellas in the magazines I’ve purchased, I’ll make a new post or posts about them.)
We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss by Nick Wolven. This novelette has a handful of interesting near-future technologies representing an excessively internet-connected world, but the story ultimately fizzles out.
Monsieur by David Gerrold. I didn’t read this, because it’s the opening portion of a novel, rather than a stand-alone story.
The adventure of the Clockwork Men by Ron Goulart. This is a steampunk detective story. Stilted language in the dialogue makes sense, but it tends to bleed into the non-dialogue writing as well. The plot is too straightforward for a mystery; there don’t seem to be any twists or turns at all.
Rascal Saturday by Richard Bowes. This story consists mostly of infodumps, with little else happening. People travel to another planet/dimension/time/something by dancing (come on, at least build a machine with lots of pointless blinking lights and electrical arcs) but the other planet/dimension/time/whatever is just another infodump.
Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water by Marissa Lingen. Two sisters, avoiding most human contact due to a plague, learn about the outside world through letters.
A Hot Day’s Night by Paolo Bacigalupi. There’s not much to this plot-wise; it really just lays out a dystopian setting (driven by climate change), which is an acceptable goal for a short story. Most, but not all, of this was accomplished through showing rather than telling.
A House of Her Own by Bo Balder. A human-alien symbiosis … that includes sex … and something darker.
Don’t Move by Dennis Etchison A spooky paranormal tale.
The Bone War by Elizabeth Bear This story is about magic and a dinosaur skeleton in a university/museum. The conflicts between PhDs are far too civil, and resolved far too easily, compared to those I’ve witnessed in real life.
None of these stories were bad enough to make me take a break from short stories, but on the other hand, none of them were good enough to make me say “wow, I’m glad I picked up this magazine.”
I’m beginning to doubt my quest. If an obsessive-compulsive dragon couldn’t collect the best science fiction stories, what chance do I have?