Magazine Review

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

Another month, another set of short stories to read. I’m spending more time dipping into assorted publications here and there—which I’ll review in another post—but I’m staying consistent with a couple of my favorites. So let’s dive into the March 2024 issues of Clarkesworld and GigaNotoSaurus


If there’s any magazine I recommend regularly reading cover-to-cover, it’s Clarkesworld. The median story is entertaining, and they almost always have more that I love than that I dislike. They were especially excellent in 2023, with the literal four best short stories I read all year. But if there’s ever a month to dip in here and there, it’s March 2024. There’s still plenty to like, but there were a few misses mixed in as well, and quite a few stories where you can get a good sense of whether they’ll fit your style in the first few paragraphs. 

The opening story of the month is probably my favorite, Hello! Hello! Hello! by Fiona Jones. It’s told from the perspective of an alien intelligence happening on humanity for the first time, and the perspective is so disorienting that the piece becomes something of a puzzle, challenging the reader to match strange descriptions to familiar phenomena. It’s fun as a puzzle for the reader, though the other side of that coin is that it’s difficult to immerse in the narrative flow while puzzling out the strange descriptions. But that narrative flow does build as the story progresses, and it becomes something truly charming by the end—a wonderful debut!

Phosphorescence by Ben Berman Ghan is also strange, but differently so, telling a nonlinear tale of a machinist and a biologist seeking to influence various sects of people looking toward the future of humanity as Earth becomes increasingly uninhabitable. There’s a bit of conspiracy and a bit of romance, and it comes together reasonably well, but there’s not necessarily a “wow” moment of convergence; it’s just solid story pieces coming together into a solid story. 

I suspected I would not care for Nine Beauties and the Entangled Threads by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, and I did not. She’s a Clarkesworld regular, and her style has never quite clicked for me. The stories always feel ambitious, and sometimes beautiful, but they never fully grip me in the end, and I’m never completely sure why. That makes it hard to give a satisfying review, but I’d recommend readers familiar with her work to read or not read this entry based on how you’ve felt in the past. For new readers, this tale of a woman working for preservation of a forest, with her grandmother’s cryptic comments as a guide, is a perfectly good introduction. 

I also knew relatively early I wouldn’t care for the issue’s sole novelette, A Brief Oral History of the El Zopilote Dock by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I enjoy the oral history style, but the tale of a contemporary Underground Railroad created to smuggle inmates out of prisons in the white and Christian-supremacist states of the former Southern US felt quite a bit too didactic for my tastes. Clarkesworld doesn’t often publish pieces that feel like politics with a thin veneer of science fiction, but this seems to me an exception. Johnson is obviously a good writer, and there is a story here, about the escape of two prisoners integral to the movement, but I felt the balance of worldbuilding to story leaned too far to the former. It’s undoubtedly a harrowing world, but the story seems to hinge more on the reader finding the world both disturbing and plausible than it does on any central narrative thread. 

In contrast, I found myself quite charmed by the next story, and if I had another favorite in the issue, it was One Flew Over the Songhua River by Qi Ran, translated by Andy Dudak. It’s an oblique portrait of a brilliant scientist facing a mysterious and unprecedented threat in space…by way of a portrait of his bitter but oddly admiring ex-wife. It’s always interesting to see dramatic sci-fi moments told through the eyes of the bit players, and this is no exception, with a complicated character drama in the foreground and an exciting sci-fi plot in the background. Very worth a read for fans of stories centering the secondary characters. 

I also quite enjoyed Her Body, the Ship by Z.K. Abraham, which tells the story of someone who has lived their whole life on a generation ship, and their complicated feelings when it appears the ship might’ve finally reached its destination. It’s not always easy to find the lead relatable in the intensity of her desire to remain on the ship, but it’s another strong entry in the category of stories centering characters who wouldn’t usually be the leads. 

I was initially very intrigued by Geminoid by Malena Salazar Maciá, which opens with an AI continually slipping free from its programming as it tries to relate the main story. As it progressed, it turned into an “AI learning to be human” tale, with the narrator raised purely as an organ donor and being pushed beyond the rules by an adventuresome teenager with a dodgy heart. And while it’s certainly not a bad example of such a tale—there’s not much that’s actually bad in Clarkesworld—it’s a relatively common storyline, and for me, this one didn’t stand out from the crowd. 

Finally, Swarm X1048 — Ethological Field Report: Canis Lupus Familiaris, “6”  by F.E. Choe is…well, it’s a dog story, told in second-person through the eyes of a research swarm tasked to study post-apocalyptic Earth. Again, it’s reasonably well-told, but there’s not a lot to it beyond seeing the bond between researchers and dog in a desolate landscape. Fans of dog stories will doubtless enjoy this one, but I’ve never been partial to them myself. 

The non-fiction includes an announcement of the reader poll winners—not my votes, though the Best Short Story winner, “Better Living Through Algorithms,” did make my favorites list in 2023–and an article on the moral perils of using virtual reality to ethically raise livestock in captivity. The usual two interviews were this month with Izzy Wasserstein and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, and as usual, it added something to my TBR. Proto-science fiction isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse, but Chattopadhyay’s translated anthology of pre-1935 Bengali speculative fiction sounds like a worthy project and an interesting opportunity to read the sort of thing I wouldn’t ordinarily come across. I immediately asked my library to purchase a copy. 


The sole longish story in this month’s GigaNotoSaurus was still a short story, and in fact a pandemic story. The Fake Birdhouses of Springville by Amy Johnson uses contactless delivery as a frame story for a tale of a woman with a love for small creatures in peril, one who took it upon herself to protect their spirits after their natural death. The reader never gets the context to accept the fantastical elements on much more than faith, but the story does a wonderful job evoking the context of a mundane town in which something extraordinary happens.

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