Magazine Review

Tar Vol Reads a Magazine (or Two): Reviews of Clarkesworld and GigaNotoSaurus (February 2024)

I said I was going to scale back my cover-to-cover magazine reading in 2024 so that I could leave more time open to dip in to various publications here and there, and February is the first month where I’ve actually scaled back. Which is perfect timing, because I’ve used the extra time to catch up on lots of great stories from various Best of 2023 reading lists. I’ll have more to say about those later, but for now, let’s dive into the February 2024 issues of Clarkesworld and GigaNotoSaurus


I usually read each Clarkesworld issue in order, but that wasn’t going to be possible this month, as Why Don’t We Just Kill the Kid in the Omelas Hole by Isabel J. Kim was already viral (at least in SFF circles) by Groundhog Day, and there was no way I wasn’t moving it to the front of the line. 

I’m a big fan of Kim’s writing—I believe she and Ray Nayler are the only authors who have appeared multiple times on my annual favorites list two years running—so I had high hopes for this one, and it delivered. It’s helpful to have the context from having read Ursula Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (which, fortunately, is both short and easy-to-find), but this is an incisive and darkly funny response. While it spends a lot of energy lampooning social media responses to injustice, it’s not a story that leaves the reader with a pat conclusion—a feature it shares with Le Guin’s original that doesn’t always come out in other responses. I think Kim has written other stories that are just as good, and the interaction with an already-famous story probably greased the wheels for the response, but this one is absolutely worth sending to the top of your TBR. 

So then I circled back to the beginning, and I realized that this issue is far more than just one great story. The opener, Scalp, is a debut short story from H.H. Pak, and it’s a very impressive one, told mostly through the eyes of a janitor’s apprentice in a facility for those whose brains have succumbed to something that comes across as both disease and addiction. It uses its limited space of less than 3,000 words to focus on the human fallout, with the malady itself left vague in a discussion between grunt workers just trying to take care of ailing family members. Combine that with a short framing story that provides a true punch on the way out, and this story packs a lot into a short space. 

The Flowers That We Intend to Share by Rajeev Prasad follows the second son of family who has grown rich selling orchids whose scents are engineered to alter emotions. Frustrated living within the family’s strictures, he’s all too happy to jump onboard when his brother begins talking to the mechs that grow the flowers and convincing them to step outside their programming. It’s an engaging story that touches on machine sentience and hoarding resources, but the heart is simply about choosing something different. 

The Enceladus South Pole Base Named After V.I. Lenin by Zohar Jacobs is a fascinating story of religion in space, as a Christian revival on a Soviet research facility on one of Saturn’s moons leaves leadership flummoxed. And their difficulties only increase when they hear a ship of reinforcements is on the way. This isn’t a story that offers a lot in the way of answers, but I’m always intrigued by space religion stories that don’t fall into the simplistic “atheism as normative” box, and while the lead here is a committed atheist, this story definitely doesn’t. 

The issue’s first novelette, Kardashev’s Palimpsest by David Goodman, is a wildly ambitious tale on a truly staggering time scale, featuring a post-human intelligence on the fringes of the universe trying to remember life before all the changes. But in those memories were myriad epicycles of one story of love and loss and difficult decisions. This is one that I think will bowl over the right audience with the combination of ambition, scale, and personality, but I’m not especially partial to “after humanity” stories, and I personally found this one to be (merely) good. 

The other novelette, The Peregrine Falcon Flies West by Yang Wanqing, translated by Jay Zhang, hit me much harder, despite an unusual (at least, unusual in English-language SFF) narrative structure that didn’t lead with the hook. It’s a story of a young woman running away from a steady boyfriend in search of adventure, and also the story of the love of birds shared between her and her mother, and also a first contact underneath it all. It’s not a story that’s afraid of coincidences or one that necessarily wraps everything up in a neat bow, but I found myself enthralled by the whole thing, and there’s easily enough narrative cohesion for a satisfying ending. 

As much as I love first contact, the one story in this issue that didn’t totally grip me was The Beam Eidolon by Ryan Marie Ketterer, which tells of human incursion into a new world through the eyes of a strange local intelligence that’s none too pleased with humanity. So much of what I like about first contact comes in the struggle to understand, and this one fell instead into the classic adversarial style, though admittedly from a different perspective than usual. 

The capper on the issue is Lonely Ghosts by Meghan Feldman, and like so much of the issue, I liked it a lot! It’s a short piece that imagines a pair of AIs controlling exploration drones in space, spending the time talking to each other long after human contact has ceased. It’s a compact and humanizing piece that makes for an excellent ending to an excellent issue. 

The non-fiction section includes an announcement of the Reader Poll finalists—including many of my own favorites—along with a science piece on (literally) listening to nature and interviews with Wole Talabi and Bogi Takács. I’ve already read (and enjoyed) plenty of Talabi’s work, but as usual, the interviews put something else on my TBR, as Takács’ novella “Power to Yield” sounds fascinating. 


The longish story in this month’s GigaNotoSaurus is the novelette “A Dance for the Dead” by R.J. Howell. It features a warrior with a body broken from fighting for his people’s imperial overlords, trying to offer whatever he has left in his people’s traditional (and dangerous) dance with their departed ancestors. There may be moments that come together a little neatly for my tastes, but it’s an engaging novelette with plenty of exploration of trying to find meaning in life after everything you thought you’d be is taken from you. Worth reading in general, but especially for those who want to explore stories on despair and finding reasons to live. 

February Favorites 


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