Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Running Tangent
by Dale Ivan Smith
and K.C. Ball

Food, Glorious Food
by Joey To

by Dave Creek

by Siobhan Gallagher

An Island in Your Arms
by James Patrick Riser

Rim’s End
by John Walters

by Holly Schofield

Ooze Love
by Andrew James Woodyard

Shorter Stories

Deus Ex Machina
by Erin Lale

It’s, Like, So Boring at the End of the World
by Amy Sisson

by Robin Wyatt Dunn


Making Sense of it All
by Libby McGugan

Is There Life in Space?
by Peter Cawdron



Comic Strips





Looking Inside Sam’s Head

WHAT GOES THROUGH THE MIND of an editor as he prepares a new issue of a science fiction magazine? Do inquiring minds want to know? Probably the vast majority of writers who submit manuscripts to the magazine would find the process interesting. Many readers might also. This is a topic I have been meaning to broach for quite a while. It seems that summer, when little else is going on and the living is easy, would be a good time to open up.

Let’s start from the top (of the Table of Contents).

Dale Ivan Smith and K.C. Ball are frequent contributors, individually and together. “Running Tangent” is a classic, hard science, action story. When the manuscript first hit my in-box, it was practically a novella; I think so. But underneath the excess verbage lay, I like to say, a “honking good story.” Assorted similes come to mind: a diamond in the rough; chipping away the dinosaur bones from their surrounding matrix. I worked on the first handful of pages to give the authors an idea of what needed to be done, then returned the partially edited manuscript to them with encouraging words. To my great delight, Smith and Ball agreed with me. They set about paring down the story to its fighting weight. The result is a fast-moving, absorbing adventure tale involving AIs gone awry, human/ape hybrids that can’t be trusted, and a strong female protagonist who makes most male space heroes look like sissies.

I also like a good science fiction comedy. Not enough exists today and I’m somewhat mystified as to why. There does seem to be a resistance to funny stories within the community. I’ve noted other magazines come right out and admit that humor isn’t their cup of narrative. Much of the lighthearted stories that I get are lame, or forced, so I can understand a reluctance to consider that sub-genre at all. But many of the other stories I get have their share of flaws, too, and as I only wind up accepting maybe ten percent of the “slush pile,” it’s no extra effort for me to read comedies, or satires. I write mostly satires myself, for goodness sake, and have gotten a few published.

“Food, Glorious Food,” by Joey To, an Australian writer, is spitting-through-your-nose hilarious. It is silly, but silly in a grand and glorious way. It isn’t a good thing when I read a funny science fiction story and find myself sighing, or rolling my eyes, throughout. While reading To’s manuscript, I was actually laughing page after page. There’s no deeper underlying message in this piece. Writers usually trip themselves up when they attempt to weave more profound meanings into a comedy. To’s story is pure entertainment; you can put your brain on autopilot and simply enjoy the hilarity.

“Shepherding,” by Dave Creek, is the kind of story “Perihelion” was resurrected from the print magazine graveyard several years ago to present. With its initial description of intelligent merra who can speak a rudimentary English, doxar, and a living cargo boat, the story looked like it was going to take a fantastic turn à la Doctor Dolittle. It did not. We were being treated to a bit of world-building; after all, the story does take place on another planet. World-building is hard to successfully pull off in a short story; most advice is to avoid it if at all possible. This story handles the task expertly and we are soon whisked off into space on an intriguing mission to manipulate the planet’s rocky rings in order to provide more sunlight to the planet’s agriculture.

I am not an astrophysicist. I couldn’t tell you whether or not all the science portrayed in “Shepherding” is accurate, but it certainly sounds so. That is one of the criteria I use when I read manuscripts of this nature. The science, to me, has to come across as reasonably plausible, if not possible. Writers who spend time doing their science homework impress me.

Siobhan Gallagher almost always impresses me. She’s appeared in the magazine several times. She’s a good writer with a clear voice and a lively imagination. “Froggers” is a biting little satire that takes very non-PC swipes at aliens (in both senses of the word), immigration, and of all things, disease control. I enjoy stories that step outside of comfortable territory. This story delivers a message, without being preachy, and a couple of good laughs at the same time.

The dialog in “Froggers” is crisp and authentic. This is another major selling point that I look at, carefully. An accepted manuscript, if it includes dialog, will sound realistic and natural.

I’ve been picking bones with other editors over dialog my entire life. Some editors, when they proofread, give the speaking parts equally rigorous attention, making certain all the infinitives are not split and every double negative is expunged. But ... nobody speaks that way! Unless you are a robot. No matter how erudite you think you are, I’ll bet you a six-pack of my favorite brew (Guinness Extra Stout) that you talk with plenty of false starts, dangling participles, and run-on sentences. We all do. Our brains can’t keep up with our mouths (or vice versa).

“An Island in Your Arms,” by James Patrick Riser, is about as “soft” as the stories we publish get. Not very soft. The tale has plenty of heart, but at the heart of the tale is the science of creating an AI with the personality of an actual individual. Plenty to think about here. “Are we just memories?” the story asks. The answer is left up to the reader to decide, as it should be. I was won over by this very “Twilight Zone”-like scenario.

“Rim’s End” takes us back into hard science fiction with a vengeance. Competitive ski jumping on a low-gravity planet, symbiotic relationships with alien beings, intergalactic law. There’re a lot of threads woven into this piece, yet the author maintains careful control and delivers a tight, economic narrative. Something else I value in a short story. Like I mentioned previously, in a novel you have the space to wander, to stop and enjoy the view. This is not a luxury afforded in a short story. Extensive pitstops along the narrative, especially taking ten pages to get to the starting line, are open invitations to having the story rejected. “Rim’s End” moves along at a good clip.

“Technicality,” by Holly Schofield, examines the future of a “nanny state.” The libertarian’s nightmare. I have my own views about what a government should and should not provide its citizens; maybe I’ll discuss that in another editorial. For now, through the eyes of its protagonist, “Technicality” is a solid action yarn, clearly driven by the science of the story’s environment. The story takes many twists and turns, both literally and figuratively, with a deeply satisfying ending.

Endings are something else I weigh with a very critical eye. Stories need not conclude on a happy note, but conclude they must. I read too many manuscripts that come to saman abrupt end, read like they are chapter one of a novel in progress (which I think they are), or have an ending that feels tacked on, like the author had no exit strategy so reached for something off the shelf.

[Left, portrait of the Editor as a young man.]

“Ooze Love,” by Andrew James Woodyard offers one helluva ending. But I certainly won’t reveal it here. You are going to have to read the story for yourself. I can assure you that it is worth every word. You may have guessed the topic from the title: extraterrestrial sex. If humans are going to explore the universe, encountering a wide assortment of aliens, sex becomes a huge part of the equation. This is a droll little story that fascinates simply by its inventiveness. And then there is that kick-in-the-pants ending which you gotta read to believe.

Flash fiction, we refer to it as Shorter Stories, has become a genre unto itself recently. There are now a number of magazines, online and on bookshelves, that specialize in this highly condensed form of storytelling. My guess is a combination of our busy modern lives and shortened attention spans have resulted in a demand for the art form. Whatever. The challenge of relating a whole story in under two thousand words can be a thrill to read as well as write. I also think the Shorter Story is a good venue to experiment with narrative styles that would be problematic in longer formats. I’ll often buy the strangest things in a couple of pages that I wouldn’t touch if they were in a couple of dozen pages. It seems to work well that way.

We offer three Shorter Stories this month, for a variety of reasons. Erin Lale’s “Deus Ex Machina” mocks fundamentalist religions, terrorism, and politics deftly in less than two thousand words. Amy Sisson writes, “It’s, Like, So Boring at the End of the World.” And I have to agree with her character’s point of view. Nicely done. Lastly, we present “Dreamboat,” by Robin Wyatt Dunn. His style, a combination of experimentalism, stream of consciousness, and poetic outbursts, is always a treat. Like a rich cheese cake or fudge brownie, a small slice is perfect.

On a final note, I do not like titles that begin with the word “The.” It has long been a personal avoidance of mine. I am not sure how it all began. Probably, I surfeited on an incoming tide of manuscripts at one time bearing nondescript titles like, “The Door,” or “The Job,” or “The Alien.” I just now made up those titles. So any resemblance to real titles is purely coincidental, but it would demonstrate how insipid they are. A title that I do not like is never the sole reason I would reject a manuscript. Be aware that I would insist that you change it.

Sam Bellotto Jr.













benday About Our Coverthumb Carlos Valenzuela is a professional illustrator and comic book artist from Chile. For this piece, he wanted to do an illustration set in space, with an empowered “hot chick.” The image was done from a very loose pencil drawing, scanned, and then fully colored in Photoshop. The initial shapes and values were in b&w. The last step was coloring over a very finished gray-toned image.benday