I've decided to try to be more positively critical in these brief notes; the point is to recapture something of my college class with Richard Ford, a writing class I took my senior year. While I was drowning in my senior project and unable to read any other work fairly, in that class, Ford melted each story down to find one nugget of good technique in each. So, let's do that.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
"System, Magic, Spirit," T. D. Edge: A cynical wizard finds hope in a love-struck prince who isn't as foppish as he plays in public. The story ultimately doesn't work for me--at the end, the prince's rival turns out to be a good guy, despite using evil magic in his fight with the prince?--and the language is often ridiculously out of place for this sort of setting. But... try, try to be positive... it's interesting how the story make a narrative issue (character's growth and change) into a speculative element: the cynical wizard absorbs a bunch of other wizards' energy and then he becomes hopeful.
"Haxan," Kenneth Mark Hoover: A weird western with a supernatural US Marshal comes to the town of Haxan and solves a murder mystery. Honestly, a few days out from the story, I can't remember the plot, but I enjoyed the writing and some ways that Hoover is working through western issues. But here's the lesson I'm taking from Hoover's website, which includes a very nice and simple compilation for this setting: short bios of main/recurring characters, notes on historical objects, links to where these stories can be found.
"Spar," Kij Johnson and "Spar (The Bacon Remix)": "Spar" is a story about a woman who gets on board an alien lifeboat after a spaceship crash and her and the alien spend the rest of the time having sex. It's very adult in content, but I think the theme is all about the difficulty of communication and the problems of grief/trauma. It's excellent and short, my two favorite things. It's especially interesting to me since I wrote a very different version of the "isolated astronaut" story and Kij Johnson's version is much better: she writes with a certain distance, but a very visceral feeling, even when discussing long sections of time. "The Bacon Remix" is a more safe-for-work version KJ did for a charity anthology with the theme of bacon. It's very funny to read in contrast, since, the whole story is them eating bacon rather than having sex. But that change also makes it a little upsetting if you contrast it: what a way to reduce the human to the raw meat equivalent.
Escape Artists (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod)
"Cerbo un Vitra ujo," Mary Robinette Kowal: Girlfriend tracks down boyfriend, who has been sold for parts in future space stations. Involves quite a bit of sexual violence. This story has inspired an interesting discussion over at the EA forums; and while I agree with many critiques that this story doesn't make sense as science fiction, I think it's an interesting example of recasting a story (Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen").
"The Colors of the World," Paul Willems: A story for Belgian author and fantasist about a fisherman's widow whose child is stolen by mermaids and how she gets her daughter back. Fairy-tale-like, which keeps the feeling light even when the issues are life and death.
Lightspeed and Nightmare
"The Suicide's Guide to the Absinthe of Perdition," Megan Arkenberg: An afterlife fantasy where a guy who has "let" a friend commit suicide has to come to terms with that, with the repetition of fallen angels--whom mortals can't help--and different recipes for drinking absinthe. An interesting use of the interstitial fragment (recipes for absinthe) and fragment (different moments of this guy's life).
Cast of Wonders (Protecting Project Pulp, Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa)
"Sown from Salt," Gemma Files: A weird western where an unkillable stranger comes to town, turns out to be a harbinger of local judgment. Even if the melancholy end feels odd, some of the writing here is beautiful, cf. "song of the flies."