Magazine Review

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

I’ve spent a lot of May being caught up in Hugo reading, but I’m still plugging away with my regular magazines, and I’ve found at least one story that I expect will be in the front of my mind when thinking about Hugo nominations for next year. So let’s get to it!


The May issue of Clarkesworld features three novelettes wedged in the middle of five short stories, opening with Fishy by Alice Towey, which features a woman combing through her late father’s office for information about a research breakthrough he’d been hiding from a predatory business partner, all told through the eyes of an underutilized AI fish-finder. It’s not really a story that’s going to surprise an experienced genre reader, but while it may play close to type, it’s an entertaining way to spend a few thousand words, with a satisfying ending. 

Next, Fiona Moore returns to the post-apocalyptic world of “The Spoil Heap” and “Morag’s Boy” with The Portmeirion Road, a third functionally standalone tale about a woman with a knack for fixing up old tech in a world that isn’t producing anything new. This installment sees Morag traveling to a nearby city in search of a group of archivists whose pharmaceutical knowledge may help a sickly child, but remaining leery of the archivists wanting something from her as well. The immediate medical concern may make this a tad less slice-of-life than “Morag’s Boy,” but it continues the trend of pleasant reads focusing on making everyday life work in a radically altered world. 

Next, In Which Caruth is Correct by Carolyn Zhao imagines a world in which people relive their past regrets by entering—and sometimes forever disappearing into—time loops. This story features a lot of therapy, as the lead tries to respond to the singularities that seem to arise so regularly in her life and have been responsible for the disappearance of so many of her family members. With a twisty and wildly creative sci-fi premise and plenty of time spent digging into difficult relationships with an absent mother and present father, this was a real pleasure to read. 

Also a pleasure to read was the issue’s first novelette, the slow, contemplative The Brotherhood of Montague St. Video by Thomas Ha (incidentally, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the video store was on Montague Street and was not in some way saintly). In a world where almost everyone experiences their lives filtered through some measure of augmented reality, the lead is baffled to find an old book that doesn’t seem to engage with any tech. A trip to the restoration specialists working on his late mother’s old videos is enough to warn him that there are those who don’t take kindly to such artifacts, kicking off a thriller-shaped plot that is anything but a thriller in tone and mood. Instead, there’s lots of reflection on memory and preservation, particularly surrounding the bittersweet or defective. There were moments where the thriller plot felt a bit too hard-to-believe, but the uncanny atmosphere, messy familial and romantic relationships, and fascinating themes make this my early leader for favorite novelette of 2024. 

The Texture of Memory, of Light by Samara Auman also features a world with augmented memory and a character driven in large part by the memory of her late mother. But unlike the previous story, it’s less about preserving memory and more about working through it, with the lead struggling to bear her mental burdens and figure out how to live in light of her past. There’s a lot of messy interiority here, as well as a significant organized labor subplot, and it makes for an interesting read, though one I found myself wishing had been fleshed out more, especially toward the end. 

The issue’s final novelette is The Blinding Light of Resurrection by Rajeev Prasad, another tale located pretty firmly within the familiar, though quite a bit less upbeat than “Fishy.” Instead, this is a cost of obsession story, as a brilliant pioneer of medical technology breaks all the rules to keep his wife from succumbing to terminal cancer, no matter what the cost. Veteran genre readers have surely encountered stories like this one before, but it’s an engaging one that makes it easy to see both the lead’s perspective and the wrongheadedness of it. 

The final two short stories were some of the highlights of the issue, beginning with The Weight of Your Own Ashes by Carlie St. George, which starts with the stunning opener:

Alice wants to hold a funeral for me, which is disconcerting because I’m not dead.

What follows is some delightful alien strangeness, centered on a person whose species lives their lives spread over multiple bodies. There’s a pretty overt message here about accepting those who are different, with an explicit tie to gender minorities, but the delicious messiness of the relationships offers plenty of tremendous complexity underpinning a straightforward theme. 

Finally, Our Father by K.J. Khan is a very short story told in second-person to the narrator’s departed mother. The description of present-day family is interspersed with memories of a lengthy and difficult journey through space, a journey fraught in ways revealed to the lead only through hindsight and the wisdom of age. Tremendously affecting for such a short piece, it reminds me something of a complement to Thomas Ha’s “For However Long,” another compact and deeply family-oriented story that was one of my favorites in 2023. 

The non-fiction section includes a fascinating editorial diving into Neil Clarke’s attempts to fight AI-generated spam. It’s very much not a solved problem, but Clarke offers lots of information on what has worked so far and what the downsides are, in hopes that it will help spur the industry into ever more effective strategies. 

There’s also a piece on bees in real life and in science fiction, along with interviews with Andrea Hairston and Andrea Kriz. This is one of the rare months where neither author interview added to my TBR, but they’re still a lovely window into how writers see their own work and a great opportunity to get a sense of what’s out there beyond the handful of books getting the biggest marketing pushes.


This month’s longish short fiction from GigaNotoSaurus is the short story Lacquer Box Trick by Eris Young, a story about feuding magicians thrown together against the societal prejudices plaguing them all. There’s no single element here that truly steals the show, but it’s an all-round solid, enjoyable story that will be of particular interest to fans of period English settings and tales centering racial or gender minorities. 

May Favorites

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