Beneath Ceaseless Skies
"The Sacrifice Pit," Brian Dolton: Some gods keep the people free of monsters--or do they? I found this story pretty uninteresting, charting the predictable fall of one of the priests. However, I do like the image of a society that is killing itself off in an attempt to save itself.
"The Second Gift Given," Ken Scholes: Post-humans come to Earth to harvest genetic material and, in the process, enhance the intelligence of one of the post-industrial beast-humans, who tries to save the rest of his tribe but fails. Interesting, though the religious allusions sometimes make it seem like a scavenger hunt, what with the apples of knowledge, achieving enlightenment under a tree, etc.
"Herding Vegetable Sheep," Ekaterina Sedia: A touching story of a grandmother who works as a cloud-herder and her issues with her daughter, which culminates in her breaking her grand-daughter out after she's arrested for breaking copyright laws. That last part is the only thing that seems out of place.
"Rolling Steel," Jay Lake and Shannon Page: A crazy guy in a mech meets a woman guardian who decides to join up with him. There's a heart-warming ending that doesn't seem earned or really all that warm, but there's a fun, rollicking tone that helps move this along, even when people are dying.
Escape Artists (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod)
"Perspective," Jake Kerr: A close-minded dad eventually learns that his graffiti-creating son is making a giant anamorphic portrait of his dead mom over the city. Nothing comes as a surprise here and it's pretty quiet.
"Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions," Saladin Ahmed: Like in the webcomic Single Female Protagonist, which features a superhero who realizes all the stuff that superheroing can't help, Diablo is a supervillain who goes through the motions while recognizing how little it matters. It's a very short story, which fits well with the single-note message.
Lightspeed and Nightmare
"The Streets of Ashkelon," Harry Harrison: A classic rationality vs. religion story: a priest comes to proselytize with some aliens, against a trader's wishes, and pretty soon the little aliens are nailing people up to see if the miracles are true. A little old-fashioned in its depiction of the dangers of religion.
"The Seven Samovars," Peter Sursi: Less of a story than a sketch of a magical Russian tea room where each of the seven samovars has some magical power. Fun, but slight.
"Blackbirds," Norman Partridge: Some monster menaces a town by turning all the people into birds, and a young boy fights back, but ultimately is turned into a bird-servant of the monster. Interesting and menacing, but not quite clear.
"The Sign in the Moonlight," David Tallerman: A mountain climber gets lost and discovers some monks who open a bridge to the moon, which horrifies him. A Lovecraftian-style story without any bells, whistles, or interesting changes to the stand Cthulhu tale.
"Art of War," Nancy Kress: An art historian doesn't get along with his military-minded mother, though his statistical analysis shows that the aliens only make war when they aren't making art. Interesting and very Kress-ish, I'm discovering. (See Goodreads for my review of her other works.)
Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project Pulp, Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa)
"Crystal Spheres," David Brin: A story I've read before but that I find growing on me: human exploration is constrained by crystal spheres that makes it impossible for us to know our neighbors in space, but grants these neighbors the time they need to become intelligent space-faring races. Melancholy but with a dollop of hope. Interesting themes, but not very interesting characters or plot--a classic version of an idea story.
"How Pappy Got Five Acres Back and Calvin Stayed on the Farm," B. C. Bell: Pappy's a necromancer, see. Told with just enough dialect to keep the story moving and enjoyable, even when that's all it boils down to.
"Is There Anybody There?," Kim Newman: This week's stand-out story: an evil hacker gets caught in a spell placed by a mystic who thinks she's contacting the dead. It's hard to know who to root for throughout, which ends up working in its favor--when bad things happen to bad people, even then we feel a little sad for them. Lots of brilliant little touches, like the confusion between the Ouija board-style of communication and the hacker-style of chatroom speak.