A steward shows me onto the cruise ship’s bridge and introduces me to the Captain, who reaches out to shake my hand. “You’re that science journalist I’ve been hearing so much about.”
“Science-fiction book-blogger, actually. I’ve heard your ship’s library has a copy of Space and Time Magazine that I’d like to read.”
“You know, I bet you’d like to write a story about the AI we use to manage the ship.”
“Not really, everyone has a HAL-9000 series these days.”
“You wouldn’t believe the things our computer can do. Adaptive steering to keep the deck level and prevent seasickness among the passengers …”
I’m bored, and I zone out whatever the captain is saying. I look out the window to the decks below. Two young girls climb over the railing and leap into the ocean. A third girl, running at full speed, vaults over the rails without touching them. I look back at the Captain, but he’s preoccupied with his droning on.
“… and its weather prediction is flawless, allowing us to steer clear of storms. The computer really does everything you could imagine.”
“Then, what do you do?”
“I’m glad you asked. My job is to make sure the passengers have the times of their lives, and maybe – just maybe – find love. This voyage is my toughest challenge yet, since the passengers are students and teachers at an all-girls’ school, but I think I’ve come up with something that just might work out.”
“Glad to hear it. So, about that magazine …”
A light flashes on the Captain’s console. “Ah, one of our passengers is calling up here now. It’s Melissa, from cabin 1342. Let’s put her on speaker.” He flips a switch. “Hi Melissa, how can I–“
“Security! I need security down here right now!”
“It’s perfectly natural to get a little excited your first time at sea–“
“You idiot, there’s a serial killer in the room across the hall, draining out a girl’s blood — Wait, I hear something … In the room next door … It sounds like a hyaena. A hyaena with rabies! Oh my God, it’s coming through the wall!”
“Melissa, I did some reading on the subject, and what teenage girls really want is a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf.”
“What I really want is Marines with a lot of guns, you ass–“
The captain flips off the intercom and winks at me. “It sounds like Melissa is about to make a love connection.”
“Could be. So, about that magazine …”
The Sadly Only Mildly Dramatic Tale of Sijo Uthwen by Scott Andrews. Two down-on-their-luck storytellers visit a cursed city. Unfortunately, the title is accurate.
The Pick-Up by Justin Lawfer. Modern-day descendants of mythological Greek creatures walk into a bar …
Adelio’s Window by James O’Brien. The story is set in Cuba, and alternates between annoying and confusing writing. “Sunlight shattered against his teeth.” I called that character ‘rainbow tooth’ for the rest of the story.
State of the Union by Michael Haynes. An OK time-travel story featuring the President of the United States.
They Came Bearing Dangerous Gifts by Christine Lucas. Ancient Egypt meets steampunk.
Frank’s Head by Wess Worth. The main character finds that his boss’ head has been replaced by a fishbowl, but nobody else notices. I suppose this is a story about the delusions of a crazy person, but then it isn’t SFF.
Xed by Robert Pritchard. I thought this would be about an alien named Xed, but it’s X-ed as in ‘crossed out’. This is a time-travel / alternate-reality story, and I liked how it would briefly travel down both branches of an alternate-reality path, but I felt a story with such a weird structure needed a more profound ending.
The Sound of Breaking Glass by Thomas Broderick. A girl goes back in time to raise herself, masquerading as her grandmother. This is supposed to be the big reveal at the end, but it’s obvious.
Jack Liberty’s Son by DJ Cockburn. This story is set in England, I’m guessing around the Napoleonic era, and it has some nice little historic details, like surgeons acquiring the corpses of executed criminals, and some extremely brutal boxing matches. There is some magic use, and a twist at the end that caught me off guard. This story was a contender when I was choosing my favorite short story of 2016.
A helicopter lifts me and a few of the younger teachers to safety. It turns out that predators really do target the young and the old. A Coast Guard cutter pounds 57mm shells into the cruise ship’s waterline, sending it to the bottom. The cutter’s faster than the cruise ship, so I should be ahead of schedule.
The stories in Space and Time were about half hits, half misses. That 50/50 record puts it in the top 3 of the 32 magazines I’ve ranked so far — not a strong endorsement for this planet’s SFF short stories.