Magazine Review

Tar Vol Reads a Magazine (or Two): Reviews of Clarkesworld and GigaNotoSaurus (June 2023)

I’m halfway through my year of being a regular with three sci-fi/fantasy magazines, and I have to say, I’ve been having a good time. As an even month, there was no new issue of F&SF in June, and this review is slightly shorter as a consequence, but I had no shortage of things to talk about in my other reading, and I might’ve found a new 2023 favorite. 


The June issue of Clarkesworld featured one absolutely fascinating short story that will be in real contention for my favorite of the year. But it certainly wasn’t just one tale deep, and there were a couple interesting thematic convergences. 

For instance, a pair of short stories meditated on religious themes, starting with the issue-opener, “The Officiant” by Dominica Phetteplace. Its lead experiences miraculous visions that have led to mass conversions to Christianity and heightened tensions between humanity and the dominant species on the planet. And those visions are quite the bargaining chip in diplomatic engagement with the secretive Strangers. It’s an intriguing, not especially plot-heavy story about family and estrangement, belief and unbelief. 

Later in the issue comes another story with faith in the spotlight, “The Moon Rabbi” by David Ebenbach. This one is even quieter and more contemplative than the last, featuring an itinerant rabbi undergoing a crisis of confidence seeing all the horrors of the world, working out her own faith with a Moon contingent suffering a deep spiritual hunger. While “The Officiant” saw believers all around an unbelieving lead, “The Moon Rabbi” puts the lead’s Jewish faith at the center, as she reflects on familiar rituals and a few names for G-d while processing the enormity of evil and the ineffable vastness of space. A short, but touching piece. 

The issue also features a pair of stories in which a pregnant woman comes up against the alien—one from a human perspective and the other from the point-of-view of the extraterrestrial. The first, “. . . Your Little Light” by Jana Bianchi sees the lone survivor of an accident aboard a generation ship process the insurmountable odds against her survival while preparing to deliver a child, with no comfort outside of a strange, six-legged creature removed from its home planet by scientists aboard her ship. A tense piece, but no less touching for the tension. 

Pregnancy is again a main theme in “Mirror View” by Rajeev Prasad, in which an enormous dying alien comes to Earth disguised as a giant mirror mysteriously appearing in Chicago. Unsurprisingly, it gets plenty of attention, but one frequent visitor catches its own attention: a young woman processing all the changes that come with the baby growing inside her. There’s not much dialogue, but lots of reflection on beginnings and endings. Another winner for fans of plot-light stories on very personal scales. 

And “Mirror View” isn’t the only first contact story in this month’s issue that captures that small-scale, personal tone. “Vast and Trunkless Legs of Stone” by Carrie Vaughn does the same despite a very public spaceship landing that sees all the nations of Earth scrambling to determine how to react. But the extraterrestrial visitors demand to see a sole interlocutor, one without high political position, for a quiet conversation that may or may not be a test of an entire planet. If you’ve followed my reviews at all, you’ll know that this is exactly my speed, and Vaughn writes it wonderfully. It would be my favorite of the month, if not for the story that directly follows it. 

“Day Ten Thousand” by Isabel J. Kim is nearly impossible to describe, but it’s excellent in the sort of way that really demands a reread. It loops across multiple times and stories—from prehistoric single combat, to a college reporter processing the suicide of a classmate, to a young man in the far future learning he possesses some remarkable DNA. It’s meta and disorienting, telling the same stories over and over in various ways and from various angles, with reflections on storytelling interspersed. 

The difference between a story and facts is that a story makes sense and facts just exist.

It’s a tremendously thought-provoking piece, the sort that I immediately want to hand to other readers to ask what they make of it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to reread at the end of the year and decide that “Day Ten Thousand” should win all the awards. But even if I don’t, it’s very much worth a read or two. 

“Imagine: Purple-Haired Girl Shooting Down the Moon” by Angela Liu is the sole novelette in this month’s issue, a dystopian tale that leans heavily on the worldbuilding. Starring a woman who scrapes out a living via a combination of prostitution and reprogramming memories, it features plenty of intrigue, but the memories—many related to a purple-haired girl shooting down the moon—that break into the present story don’t manage to lift it beyond my standard expectations of dystopian cyberpunk. But for those who love world-heavy dystopian stories, there’s a lot here. 

Last—not in the magazine, but in the review—is another world-heavy story, “To Helen” by Bella Han (translated from Chinese by the author). It’s another small-scale story, of two old friends meeting up for dinner in a city that ruthlessly excludes those who cannot or will not shell out the money for artificial youth. They talk about their lives, their relationships, and the aging hobos that seem to be popping up everywhere. I tend to enjoy small-scale stories when they feel very character-driven, but this is another where the worldbuilding is at the center. But it’s a well-written piece bound to be of interest to fans of world-heavy stories (especially world-heavy stories not coming out of America). 

The non-fiction section of the issue starts with “Life Without Water, and Where to Find It” by Julie Nováková, a deep dive into the science behind water’s importance for life, other substances that could serve similar roles in alien life, and how those substances might be found in the right sort of conditions. If that is your kind of nerdery, you’ll doubtless love it. If not, then check out the author interviews with Vajra Chandrasekera and Kemi Ashing-Giwa, both of whom released debut novels this year after early writings focused on shorter forms. And after months of fighting with Amazon and AI, the letter from the editor is short and sweet, highlighting Clarkesworld stories that found themselves on award shortlists this May. 


After a novella in April, June was the second straight (longish) short story from GigaNotoSaurus, with “Her Suffering, Pretty and Private” by Aimee Ogden offering an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty tale, presented from a perspective outside the royal family. 

In Ogden’s tale, the king elects to condemn an entire town to a hundred-year slumber in order to save his cursed daughter. And so a dressmaker wakes up to a world in which her skills are obsolete—no one pays for handmade dresses when the simpler factory products are easily affordable—and the king’s charity is barely enough to keep her alive. 

The ultimate direction of the plot wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was an enjoyable read and a fun take on a fairy tale from a perspective so commonly ignored.

June Favorites

  • “Day Ten Thousand” by Isabel J. Kim (short story, Clarkesworld)
  • “Vast and Trunkless Legs of Stone” by Carrie Vaughn (short story, Clarkesworld)


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