Aliette de Bodard’s “The Breath of War” has a really neat science-fantasy premise: women in this world breathe people into life from stone, people who then become their companions and are necessary to breathe life, in turn, into children. Rechan is a somewhat rebellious woman, who abandoned her stone brother in the mountains as war broke out – and now that the war is over she climbs back to the place she left him. There’s a secret, of course: the true nature of the Stoneperson she gave life to, and it’s an interesting secret leading to a moving resolution. This, I suppose, is science fantasy at its purest: a rational-seeming world with mostly SFnal imagery, with a thoroughly implausible, but very fruitful, central conceit.
The best story in this issue is probably Aliette de Bodard’s “The Days of the War, As Red As Blood, As Dark As Bile”, another in her long series of Xuya stories, taking place in the far-future of an alternate world where a high-tech conflict is going on between spacefaring Mayan and Chinese empires. This one is a direct sequel to her 2013 novella ‘‘On a Red Station, Drifting’’, taking place on an embattled and somewhat rundown space station whose inhabitants are faced with the prospect of evacuating in the imminent threat of an advancing alien fleet. It centers on a young girl struggling against but finally being forced to accept a peculiar kind of apotheosis; the scene where refugees are trying to escape the station during an attack is quite harrowing, so be warned.
*happy writer* (and a shout-out to Benjanun Sriduangkaew, who gets called an “exciting new writer” and gets her story “Autodidact” recommended by Rich Horton. It is excellent, you should go read it–Benjanun is a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, and stories like this are an excellent showcase as to why). Meanwhile, I shall go back to knocking my head against the wall to work out my novel ending.