April 22, 2024

Review: Shubeik Lubeik

Shubeik Lubeik Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This graphic novel was originally published in Arabic, and the translation to English carries over the same format: reading from right to left instead of left to right. This left me a bit disoriented for a while--I felt like I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I did get used to it, however, and was eventually able to get into the story.

This story explores the effect of one change on the world: if wishes were a real thing that could be refined, bottled, and sold. The world as laid out here has an extensive alternate history weaving the industry of wishes into our world's politics. There are different grades of wishes, regulations around their production and use, and registration requirements. This is interwoven with three separate stories about the use of three "first-class" wishes, the kind that will change one's life. Aziza was thrown in prison because someone thought she wasn't supposed to have her wish and didn't deserve it; Noud, whose story is the longest, is grappling with severe depression and wrestles with whether or not to use the wish to cure himself. The panels in this story illustrating the contradictions and levels of depression are quite clever in portraying the disease. In the final story, Shokry, the shopkeeper who had all three first-class wishes to begin with, is trying to use the last wish to save someone's life. The woman he is attempting to save tells him a harrowing tale of revenge about her life with an abusive husband and how her children die. Decades later, she is dying of cancer herself and only wishes to join her children, and asks Shokry not to use his wish. All three tales explore the Egyptian culture and the culture of wishes in this alternate world.

This volume is quite thick and heavy and alternates color and black and white panels. There is also a liberal sprinkling of Arabic, even in the English translation (in particular, the djinn are depicted as whirling bursts of Arabic characters). It's not the best graphic novel I've read so far this year, but it's worth picking up.

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April 16, 2024

Review: Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, after reading this, I wish Kelly Sue DeConnick could write all the comics.

I realize there are many other talented comics writers, such as Tom King and G. Willow Wilson. But I've rarely seen a better fit between a writer and a world than DeConnick and this Amazon origin story.

This supersized volume tells the story of the six goddesses who went behind Zeus' back and created the Amazons; the human queen of the seventh Amazon tribe, Hippolyta; and the war between the Amazons and the gods that ended with their banishment to Themyscira. Wonder Woman appears at the very end of the story, as a baby freshly created by Hera; the focus is on Hippolyta and the losing war she fought with the gods, and the terrible decision she made so her sisters could live.

Hippolyta is a different, and interesting, lens to view the Amazons' origin story through. She is haunted by the choice she made at the beginning, as a working midwife, to take an unwanted newborn baby girl and expose her to the elements, setting her adrift on a basket in a stream to die. She changes her mind and goes back for the child, but cannot find her; and thereafter runs and runs until she is captured by some marauding men and freed by the Amazons. From there she follows the Amazons relentlessly, meeting up with the goddess Artemis along the way (Artemis is one of the best characters in the book, by the way--a prickly, stubborn goddess-child), repeatedly asking to join them, until she and a group of similarly rescued women are finally taken in to become the Amazons' seventh tribe, and Hippolyta is chosen to be its Queen.

This interweaving storyline of humans and gods is fascinating in and of itself, but it's the art that really elevates this book. It's an oversized book to begin with, coffee-table size, and it needs and uses every bit of the extra room for the glorious page spreads. There are three issues contained therein, with three separate artists, and as much as I gripe about comics artists changing as a series goes along, these three (Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott) mesh better than most. If I had to pick one, Phil Jimenez, who drew the first issue, has simply gorgeous art (if a bit busy--you really have to pause and look over his pages to pick out the many details he offers to expand the story, but the art and colors are so beautiful I didn't mind taking the extra time).

This is an excellent addition to the Wonder Woman world and myth, and is worth seeking out.

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April 13, 2024

Review: The Mimicking of Known Successes

The Mimicking of Known Successes The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella successfully straddles several genres at once: hard science fiction (the setting is a human settlement of Jupiter, with floating platforms and rails that circumnavigate much of the planet), noir (the plot involves a murder mystery), lgbt (our protagonists are Mossa, the investigator probing the seeming disappearance of an academic with many secrets, and Pleiti, a scholar of pre-collapse Earth and its ecosystems; they were past lovers and find their way to each other again in a sweet, understated romance), and post-apocalyptic (in this timeline, Earth was drained dry of resources and rendered uninhabitable, and Pleiti's Preservation Society guards the remaining genetic material of animals and ecosystems). That is quite a lot to stuff into 166 pages, but the author manages it well.

Mossa and Pleiti also have elements of Holmes and Watson, needless to say, with Mossa's single-mindedness and deductive powers (it's never stated outright, but she seems to be on the autism spectrum to me). Pleiti broke off their relationship several years previously, when they were at university, but they get a second chance in this book. There's also a fascinating future history of humanity that could have taken up many more pages, but the author only reveals as much as she needs to.

The mystery is parceled out and dealt with fairly, but it's the worldbuilding and characters that shine here. The author could easily put a full length novel in this setting. Perhaps that will happen someday, but in the meantime do pick this up. It's a quick read, but it has nice depths.

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April 12, 2024

Review: Mammoths at the Gates

Mammoths at the Gates Mammoths at the Gates by Nghi Vo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a gentle, slice-of-life story that would almost qualify as a "cozy"--there are no terrible crises or world-threatening stakes, but rather an exploration of death, grief and the stories we tell each other about our world, to understand it and make sense of losing someone we love. This is the fourth in a series of novellas about the traveling cleric Chih, who collects stories and information and periodically returns to their abbey, Singing Hills, for that information to be processed. The abbey also houses a colony of intelligent birds, neixin, that have perfect memory and serve as a sort of living repository to record everything that happens.

Chih returns to the abbey after a four-year-absence to find something startling: the two titular "mammoths at the gates," war mammoths bearing two military officers that have taken up residence outside the abbey, demanding the return of their grandfather, Cleric Thien, who has recently died. This constitutes the entire conflict, but this story works because a) it's short, only novella length; and b) it concentrates on the characters, including the non-human ones.

At the end, one of the birds, Myriad Virtues, grieving the loss of her cleric, transforms into a doppleganger of Thien:

Chih could see the shape of it now, transformation fueled by grief. In the stories that Myriad Virtues had told Cleric Thien so long ago in Boddo, just a fraction of the explanations for the origin of the neixin, that was always the way of it. Great love or great passion or great vengeance had created the neixin, so perhaps it stood to reason that great sorrow could change them again.

The bird/human ends up leaving Singing Hills to tend the grave of Cleric Thien's deceased wife, and the mammoths and their handlers also depart, leaving Chih at the abbey for a brief stay before setting out again.

As you can see, this is pretty much a comfort read. You have to be in the mood for it, but it's a nice little break if you need it.

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April 10, 2024

Review: Sunbringer

Sunbringer Sunbringer by Hannah Kaner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the Fallen Gods series expands on the worldbuilding and characters, raises the stakes, and in general gets our protagonists in a whole lot of trouble. It has a bit of an abrupt and depressing ending, setting up for a third-volume climax which will no doubt be a helluva (likely quite literal, since the antagonist is a fire goddess) big showdown.

This world is a quite interesting one, since the gods here are brought into existence by the prayers/offerings/shrines of their worshippers. There are thousands of them, from the aforementioned fire goddess Hseth to the sea god Osidisen to one of our protagonists, Skediceth, the god of white lies, and all sorts of large and small gods in between (including a "god of broken sandals"). Three years before the first book, King Arren of Middren and his loyal commander and strategist Elogast fought a cohort of so-called "wild gods" at the city of Blenraden. Arren nearly died, and was saved by one of the very gods he claimed to despise, the hearth god Hestra. He has continued his hypocritical persecution of gods ever since.

Another of our protagonists is the titular "godkiller" of the first book, Kissen, whose family was massacred by the fire goddess. In the first book, she became entangled with a young girl of noble birth, Inara Craier, who has somehow become bonded with Skediceth. All of these characters are now dealing with the fallout from the previous volume, along with the discovery that the fire goddess Hseth is not as dead as Kissen had thought. She is in fact gaining strength as the cult of her worshippers swells, and in this book she begins her fiery march across the land.

This book dwells more on the psychology of worship and faith, and draws some interesting conclusions, since this world runs on faith, both good and bad. The characters grapple with their faith, and what it does to themselves and the people around them. While the first book focused more on Kissen and Elogast, this one shines a greater light on Inara, who finds out who and what she really is, and explores her power. This is a good thing, since obviously that power will be sorely needed in the fight to come.

One other thing about this series is the outstanding covers, which are just gorgeous. Of course, the books have to live up to those covers, which they do quite well. I'm looking forward to the final book.

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April 5, 2024

Review: The Archive Undying

The Archive Undying The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the saga of an alternate world (not Earth as far as I can tell, or has been revealed yet), with giant robots and artificial intelligences sane and insane. It has some of the most complicated worldbuilding I have read in a long time, and is generally a pretty dense story all the way through.

Unfortunately, that sometimes comes at the expense of characterization. The primary protagonist (though not the narrator; it becomes clear as we move through the story that the person telling it is not human at all) is Sunai, the "relic" (read: human interface) of an AI named Iterate Fractal that "corrupted," or went insane and fragmented, seventeen years ago. During said corruption, Sunai had a copy of Iterate Fractal downloaded into his brain, a silent (and not-so-silent as the story progresses) "passenger" that increasingly becomes a key mover in the plot.

In this world, AI's rule the various cities and provinces, and for the most part, that rule is horrifying:

"Where do you think you are?" Sunai has to catch his breath. That heat flares ever brighter and more sickening. "What do you think happened here? This is where Iterate Fractal ate people, Adi. Every poor asshole who couldn't figure out where they fit in its master plan."


"Oh, sure! Criminals, in a state where the patron AI had integrated us so completely into its network that it could compel us to do whatever it wanted. Criminals who happily got on the boat to this killing field." Sunai scoffs. "If people in Khuon Mo hurt each other, it was because Iterate Fractal let them. Because it was running an experiment, or because it was curious. But it always got tired in the end, and then it got upset. 'Why couldn't you be nicer? Why couldn't you behave? How could you want to leave?' "

Sunai hunts down corrupted "fragtech," the copies of fragmented AIs that constitute themselves into giant and misshapen mecha roaming the wildlands of this world, even though his great secret is that he is "corrupted" himself. He carries a great deal of guilt and PTSD over what happened with Iterate Fractal seventeen years ago, and the revealing of this secret is a major plot point. Along the way, he gets involved with another relic, Veyadi Lut. Veyadi builds a machine to take down the resurrected remnants of Iterate Fractal called the Maw, and Veyadi and Sunai are dragged into a giant fight involving humans, said remnants, and fragtech.

The plot is just as complicated as the worldbuilding, especially at the climax. This is definitely not a quick, breezy read: you really have to pay attention to even halfway follow what is going on. I enjoy worldbuilding as much as the next SFF fan, and probably more than most, but this book got to be a little too much for me in places (which is one reason it took so long to read it). The fact that the characters needed to be fleshed out more--sometimes I could hardly tell the secondary characters apart--didn't help. I appreciated this book for being hugely ambitious in its worldbuilding and scale, but I wish that density could have been pared back just a bit to make the story easier to follow.

Still, this is a debut novel, so I can forgive a lot in such a case. Certainly this author has imagination and ambition to burn, and if they can improve they will be a writer to watch.

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March 29, 2024

Review: Dreadnought

Dreadnought Dreadnought by April Daniels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dreadnought is a combination superhero/coming of age/trans coming out story, and the final element is the best. Our protagonist Danny Tozer's struggles against the people who want to oppress her and deny the reality of who she is are poignant and well-drawn.

That story would have been interesting in and of itself, but it's set against the backdrop of an alternate history/world where superheroes and metahumans are a real thing (and this book excels in depicting the sheer rubble-creating, city-destroying chaos that trails in their wake; honestly, I got to thinking whether it might be better for the world to start nuking any superheroes, bad or good, they come across). Danny accidentally inherits the mantle of Dreadnought, the World's Greatest Superhero, one fine morning as she buys a bottle of polish to paint her toenails, the one expression of her true self she feels safe to display. Her taking the "mantle" of Dreadnought's power alters her body into the girl she has always known she was (although from the description, the mantle actually makes her intersex; she's told she doesn't have a uterus and won't be able to bear children). This completely upends her world, as she is drawn into superhero politics and machinations, and her family life as well, as her nasty father and useless mother try to force her into the mold and body of the son they want.

This is a pretty fast-paced story, taking place over the span of a few weeks as Danny struggles to master her powers, integrate herself with the local Legion of superheroes protecting her city, and reconcile herself to her new reality. Her best (male) friend makes a complete ass of himself over her transformation, wanting to date her now, and their friendship splinters; she discovers another young superhero, Calamity/Sarah, with whom she goes out "caping" at night (apparently superheroes can get by on little or no sleep) to hunt down criminals and stop robberies and such; and oh by the way, she also has to find and stop Utopia, the cyborg who killed the previous iteration of Dreadnought. All the while trying to figure out her powers and attempt to salvage her deteriorating relationship with her parents (who eventually kick her out, saying they "want their son back").

Needless to say, scientifically this entire concept is absurd (during the final battle, for example, Danny flies around downtown at speeds of "two thousand miles an hour"). But the author doesn't hold back, going all-in on their world with no apologies. This makes the reader get invested in Danny and all the characters. At the end, Danny is on the road to accepting herself, both as a girl and a superhero, and the reader is happy for her.

The only knock I have on this book is that sometimes the pacing is too fast and frenetic--I would have preferred a periodic slowing down and a bit of room to breathe. Nevertheless, this is very good, and I'm glad I took a chance on this unknown-to-me author.

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March 21, 2024

Review: The Fractured Dark

The Fractured Dark The Fractured Dark by Megan E. O'Keefe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second volume in the Devoured Worlds space opera series, a sprawling saga of (possibly) intelligent fungi, body printing, mind-mapping, and two complicated, damaged characters who nevertheless manage to find each other.

In this future, Earth is being devoured by the shroud, an alien lichen. Desperate for a home for its people, the rulers of MERIT, the five families that control all future technology, are searching out habitable worlds. But these worlds, called Cradles, are being taken over by the shroud as well. In the first book, we discovered that the shroud is being used to combat a mind-controlling fungus called canus. Canus is used to purify relkatite, the mineral nearly all technology depends upon (including the pivotal technologies of body printing and mind uploading/downloading, which takes up a large portion of this book).

Our two protagonists, Naira Sharp and Tarquin Mercator, found out in the last book that canus is in nearly everyone's "pathways" (the relkatite-based body modifications present in printed bodies) and it is slowly, inexorably taking over the human race. Along the way Naira, a former highly trained bodyguard, and Tarquin, the heir to the Mercator family, fall in love. But at the end of the first book Naira sacrificed herself to prevent canus from spreading, and she was reprinted and uploaded without her last few months of memories, including her feelings for Tarquin.

In this book Naira and Tarquin take the fight to canus, trying either to eradicate it or find an uncorrupted new planet for humans to occupy. The story picks up months later as the fight continues and Naira struggles to adjust to her new body and the shadow of what she had with Tarquin. This book is pretty plot-heavy with plenty of twists. Here, however, the romance is ramped up a bit. The thing I really appreciated about the romance was that it is an adult relationship, with actual meaningful conversations:

This was different. This was deliberate. The start of something hopefully long-lasting, in an environment without the pressures of immediate peril. Once again, she was pushing him to reach for her fire, even if it might burn.

He adored her for that, though he'd keep the depth of his feelings to himself.

"Are you certain?" He half expected her to vanish on the spot and for this to have all been yet another dream. "I'm not interested in something casual."

"I know. I'm not sure of anything these days, but I want to try."

After reading many so-called "romances" where the conflicts between the couple could be solved by just sitting down and talking, you don't know how refreshing this is.

The main technology used here, mind uploading and body printing, is quite thought-provoking, although the ramifications are not really dealt with in this story as the plot does not have the room. For this future, this is an accepted, everyday technology, just as the cell phone is to us. But I couldn't help but wonder: when a new body is printed, is it not conscious and aware until the mapped mind is uploaded? What happens if a newly printed body awakens before then? (This might come into play with the "misprints" of the previous book, which are similar to zombies, only they were controlled by the canus fungus.) This tech would also revolutionize society, as anyone can upload into any body they please (although your mind-mapping will take only so many prints and uploads) and in fact Tarquin is apparently trans--assigned female at birth and now printing into male bodies.

But if you are "double-printed" (another body printed and uploaded before the first one dies) your mind starts to fracture (hence the book's title). This happens to our protagonist Naira at the climax and the result is a race against time for her to save the day before she spirals into permanent insanity.

There's also an interesting plot thread being thrown down, in keeping with the series' running themes of identity and personhood, that I hope will be explored in the final book:

"What if the AIs, after they're infected with canus, what if they do understand?" she [Naira] asked. "What if they're not input-output machines after that? This is important, Kav, because if the AIs learn a sense of self from canus, then that means canus has a sense of self to teach the ship. That means we're not fighting something like a pathogen. We're eradicating an entire sentient species."

This book is a bit more convoluted than the first, as that volume was largely confined to one planet and this takes place on several stations and ships. The excellent characterization and pacing hold true for this book, however, and this series is rapidly becoming one of my favorites of recent years.

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March 19, 2024

Review: Damsel

Damsel is a Netflix fantasy film that takes the "damsel-in-distress" cliche and turns it inside out: Elodie, as portrayed by Stranger Things and Enola Holmes star Millie Bobby Brown, not only saves herself and brings about the downfall of those who tried to murder her, she does it without a romance in sight. She fights the dragon to save her sister, and in the memory of all the other innocent girls who have been sacrificed to the creature over the years. 

Needless to say, Brown is the best thing about this movie. She saves herself through intelligence, tenacity and planning, not so much physicality, even though she wields a sword at the end. (And her character has a fair amount of upper-body strength, as evidenced the first time we see her, when she is chopping up firewood and splitting fairly thick logs in half with an axe. This comes into play with the ordeals that follow, which include her pulling herself out of a cave via a dangling rope and using a crown abandoned by a previous sacrificial princess to climb a cliff face studded with crystals.)

Unfortunately, the plot has a fair amount of holes in it, of the kind which propel the action along fine while you are watching it, but make no sense at the end. For example, the island kingdom of Aurea sends out people each generation to find outland brides for its princes--three of them--because this is the price demanded by the island's resident dragon after a long-ago king slew her three infant dragonets just as they were hatching. This has been enabled by the kings and queens of Aurea for generations, and in fact the hapless Prince Henry, who our protagonist Elodie is unwittingly roped into marrying, protests when confronted that after he has worked his way through his three sacrificial lambs, he will be free to "marry who he wants." This is of course sick, and there is nothing at all redeeming about Henry or his mother the queen (played by a rather wasted, if suitably nasty, Robin Wright)--the viewer is happy to see them get their comeuppance at the end, when the dragon burns down the castle. But I wondered: why in the heck didn't the dragon do that in the first place? 

(The answer, of course, is if she had, we wouldn't have a story.) 

As far as that goes, the dragon is not a terribly sympathetic character either, even though Elodie sort-of befriends her and exposes the deception she has labored under for all those generations. You see, she demanded sacrifices of "royal blood," and to fulfill that demand, the kings and queens of Aurea devised a workaround ritual at each wedding--the new bride's and groom's palms are cut and their blood minged, so when the brides are thrown down into the dragon's cave (and that fall alone, frankly, should have killed them, breaking their legs and/or backs, taking them out long before the dragon got to them) they smelled like royalty. Which is plausible enough, I suppose, but it doesn't change the fact that the dragon has been hunting those girls down and killing them for generations, exacting a revenge far beyond the original offense. (In fact, one scene has Elodie finding a cave chamber where all the previous girls have written their names on the wall, and there's at least thirty or so names there. The cave is also riddled with skeletons and charred bodies. The fact that the dragon is pretty much absolved of all this at the end left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. The dragon also kills Elodie's father after he changes his mind about what he has done and lowers himself into the cave to rescue her, and Elodie says nothing to the dragon about this. I mean, really?)

Another thing that bugged me is when Elodie went back into the cave at the end to rescue her sister and picks up her father's sword to fight the dragon, the dragon doesn't, you know, stand back and flame her? Instead she allows Elodie to get close enough to do some damage with said sword? I kept thinking, for crying out loud, why are you letting this puny human run up to you? Especially when earlier in the film the dragon pursued Elodie down the cave tunnels and sent gouts of flame after her (which also should have killed her, sucking up all the oxygen). Of course, this was the third act final confrontation, and we had to have a bit of suspense here, but it seemed way too transparent and manipulative to me. 

(The dragon is voiced by the great Shohreh Agdashloo, late of The Expanse--which frankly you would be better off watching than this--and the creature CGI wasn't too bad, considering how much there was of it. The cat-and-mouse scenes in the cave with Elodie and the dragon are well paced and shot, and are the best scenes in the film.)

To the extent that this film impresses, Millie Bobby Brown carries it. Angela Bassett is completely wasted in a thankless role as Elodie's stepmother, which is another thing that bugged me--you've got Angela Fucking Bassett in your movie and don't use her? *headdesk* It was a pleasant enough way to pass a Saturday night, but I'm glad I didn't see it in the theater. It's already fading from my mind, and I'm not going to remember it at the end of the year (unlike, say, Dune: Part Two, which I saw on an IMAX screen and loved). 

If you subscribe to the "stars" ratings theory, this would come in at two. Barely. It was okay, nothing more. 

March 12, 2024

More Stories I Have Read (And You Should Too!)


Apparition Lit is a literary speculative fiction magazine that I did not know existed until a little while ago. Out of curiosity, I became one of their patrons to check them out. This is the first issue I received, guest edited by Brendan O'Brien, and I have to say I was rather impressed. The magazine features speculative fiction, poetry and non-fiction articles. 

In particular, the story "The Plague Collector" by Tom Okafor caught my attention. This story has an edge of horror, but it is beautifully written:

In that moment, the sky wears dusk. The garden freezes, unhearing the buzzes of wild insects with which it is swathed. You look into the garden, chills carve crisscrosses into your skin, and your eyes glint with a salient light as they behold Oke Ala standing fifteen meters away from you in the center of the garden. Your fingers clutch the stalk. She is mighty, tall, and thick; her skin is the black of rich loam; her hair is full, darker than the silence of the night, braided at both sides of her head; innumerable golden rings occupy her earlobes, gleaming with hues alien to your eyes; and her lips shine red like a bleeding dream.

It's also done in second person present tense POV, which is not easy to pull off (although I've been seeing that point of view more and more lately). 

"Everything, Nothing At All, and All That's In Between," by Rebecca E. Treasure, is another story hovering at the junction of fantasy and horror. I don't want to spoil it too much, but the further you get into it the more horrific it gets. But for all that, at the end the protagonist manages to break free from her jailers, and help her friends as well:

She gasps, hesitant, not quite believing. The fingertip of her pinky splits, a little black hair poking out. Fear comes into her eyes and I’m sorry for that, but now they won’t want her--she’s free to want for herself. Up and down the rows, we who would run are freeing the rest.

“You cursed me,” she whispers, but her hand comes up to meet mine.

I nod, helping her from her holes. “Pass it on,” I say.

We are unrooted, cursed, the ruination of their plans. We need only ourselves.

"Bringing Down the Neighborhood," by Bernard McGhee, is more of an SF horror story, about a son returning to his childhood home to see a father who has fallen under the sway of a alien plant, woven with the background of a gentrified neighborhood where the people who have been there for years can't afford it any longer: 

“You haven’t been around much these last 15 years, so you don’t know what it’s been like,” James said. “They all say they want to make the neighborhood better. But they never seem to notice all the people they’re pushing out while they do it. Calling us a ‘blighted neighborhood’ as if that’s something that just happens and now we’re all a disease. Like the people who lived here chose to have the funding cut to the school and the police station; chose to have BunleeCorp close down the warehouse and move all those jobs to Wyoming. But it’s ok. It’s ok.” He pointed to the gray pyramid. “Our friend here came all the way from the Helix Nebula to help us turn it all around. Watch now. You’ll like this part.”

"This part" being at the end of the story, the neighborhood is "de-gentrified," all the other houses old and broken-down (a bit of delicious reversal of fortune, that) and the protagonist's house suddenly new and restored along with the protagonist now having enough money to help all the old neighbors rebuild. 

The final story in the issue, "The City and the Styrofoam Sea," by Mar Vincent, is a post-apocalyptic tale of a rather creepy future Earth:

The city had started it all.

She was hardly old enough to recall the world a different way. Blue sky had been commonplace then,
rather than the rarity it was now. If there weren’t others in the Bunker old enough to confirm this memory, she’d almost believe it a fancy of her own imagination. 

A time before black plumes spewed relentlessly into the sky, and with them the metastatic material—no longer organic or synthetic but a messy mix of the two—which infected the landscape in all directions, devouring what existed, natural and man-made, and repurposing everything into new and illogical growths. Fungal lampposts. Fields of waving copper-wire weeds. Once-suburban neighborhoods gnawed down to slumping cave mouths in a shingle-shale wasteland.

This story definitely has a Last of Us vibe to it, if a slightly happier ending. 

There's also four poems in this issue. I usually find SF poetry to be very hit-and-miss, but these poems weren't too bad. Finally, there is a non-fiction article, "Let There Be Blight," by A.J. Van Belle. In keeping with the issue's theme, this article talks about fungi--in particular "terrestrial decomposer fungi"--and makes what seems like a yucky topic pretty interesting. 

This is a pretty interesting little magazine, as well. You can subscribe here , join their Patreon, or buy the issue at Smashwords. (Just to be clear, nobody from the magazine contacted me and asked or paid me to sing their praises. I just enjoyed their magazine and think they deserve to be more widely known.)