I promised a review of Helix #5 and it's taken me ginormous (to use a recently approved word) time to get to it, as I am in the middle of starting up a new job and trying to make it appear as though I'm worth employing.
To cases then, and I'll report that I'm still impressed with "The Center of the Universe," by Eugie Foster. I also have to report a very odd thing. For some reason, probably because I was interrupted for some reason, the first time I read it I stopped well before the actual end of the story, at the lines:
"Sleep tugged at my eyelids, although I knew if I surrendered to it, I would wake to Marc's flashlight and the beginning of our estrangement. As consciousness reeled away, I wondered how I knew."
I apparently then, for some time, forgot that this was not the actual end of the story. This made it a substantially different story that it is, but not a worse one, just different, more poignant, and less uplifting, so to speak. One the other hand, once alerted to this oddity, (and having finished the story) I found three other potential endings, at least two of them major downers. I know this is about at writer-knurd as it gets, but it enhances my appreciation for the story as it is. And, as I noted in my previous mention of it, it's entirely possible to read this story as purely realistic; there isn't a single fantasy element to it that cannot be explained as taking place in the POV character's head.
By contrast, "A Mighty Fortress" by Brenda Clough, has science fiction elements aplenty, none of which are necessary to the story. Even more than in "The Center of the Universe," all the real story takes place inside someone's head (a pretty creepy head, it's true) and the story itself isn't really tied to a time or place. The setting could have been historical, contemporary, or set in some magical fantasy universe rather than a science fictional one. So I'm given to wonder how this story would work without the distancing effect of science fiction.
By contrast, and again, this is probably and idiosyncratic reading, in "The Shadow Postulates" by Yoon Ha Lee the distancing effect seems central to the story. In fact, distance is created on several fronts, a fantasy universe with echoes of ancient China, several plot elements based on mathematics (with the shades of Riemann and Poincaré raising eyebrows at the folderol), plus the solution of an old mystery concerning persons long dead (a nod to The Flanders Panel, perhaps?). By contrast, the unrequited (and forbidden) love seems very touching.
There's not much to say about "A Sacred Institution" by Esther Friesner, except that it is both literally and figuratively a shaggy dog story, and its caricature of a bible thumper with political ambitions did not, to me, have the ring of satirical truth. A story such as this stands or falls on the quality of the humor, and I'm falling back on the advice of Woody Allen: Tell funnier jokes.
It's probably unfair to group the last three stories together: "Monsters of Abiding Grace" by Samantha Henderson, "The Brides of Heaven" by N.K. Jemisin, and "Funeral Games" by Margaret Ronald. Yet there is a similar feel to all of them, with thematic echoes of dead children, apocalypse, and mass murder. It's pretty easy to identify the sources of inspiration here (and pretty easy to be wrong about it, of course). However, the only one of the three that deals with Islam or even religion, directly is the Jemisin story, and curiously, it is the most optimistic of the three. There may be a lesson in that, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the guy to interpret the syllabus.
As it happens that's also the case for the poetry, in this or any other issue. I believe it's good to have a place to publish it, and I may read it when I care to, but I don't write it and I don't review it, so my apologies to anyone who might think my lack of a stated opinion reflects on them in any way. I assure you all that it does not.
Finally, another nod to Guest Editor Melanie Fletcher and Senior Editor William Sanders, the former because I think it's cool that she took her own staff photo, and the latter to reassure myself that I can, in fact, learn to spell his name (and don't y'all love inside jokes?).
Helix is viewer supported, just like public television, but without all the Rockefeller money. But if anyone out there has money, you should give them some, especially if you're a Rockefeller.