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Stacey Janssen

Managing Editor:
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  • Scott James Magner
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Publisher: Bluejack

April, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, April 2005

If I were better at making lists, I would regale you with my latest observed trend: stories in which from one to several aliens meander the Earth on some strange, unknowable mission. The story might be told from the vantage of the human escort, or some life touched by these aliens, or simply from the perspective of those whose lives are somehow touched by the existence of mysterious aliens. When you get a slew of such stories all hitting in a short period, you can be sure that this is not a copycat phenomenon, but rather the sketchy outline of some dream lurking in our collective unconscious. I have noticed this theme for the past few months, and this month alone I can point to prominent examples of the form in Jack Skillingstead's Bean There, Ian Watson and Mike Allen's Dee-Dee and the Dumpy Dancers, Robert Thurston's I.D.I.D., and Ian Watson's Lover of Statues.

This sort of trend must be distinguished from trends which have an obvious cause, such as the pernicious omnipresence of zeppelins. When Jay Lake and David Moles announced their All Star Zeppelin Stories anthology of original fiction, science fiction writers everywhere rose to the challenge. An anthology being of finite length, however, not all of these stories made it into that particular tome. Many worthy stories have found other venues, however, leading to the impression that the Zeppelin has replaced the rocket as science fiction's favorite mode of travel.

Abyss & Apex (#13)

Abyss & Apex has had its ups and downs over recent years, but unlike most web publications, present company excluded, of course, Abyss seems to be sticking in there. The stated mission is to "examine the depths and heights of human motivation from a broad variety of cultural and social perspectives" — through the vehicle of speculative fiction (and poetry).

The current issue is for January/February, and marks a shift to a quarterly schedule (from 6/year, I think.)

How do these three stories match the vision? Somewhat blurrily, I'd have to say: Matthew Cheney offers a challenging story in Variables, but human motivation is only tenuously decipherable. It's an intriguing literary experiment, taking time travel off in the strange direction where it undoubtedly belongs, but there's not enough stability of character here to examine much of human anything. Likewise, J. Stern's Pan de Oro also has the feel of literary experiment rather than deep study of the human soul. One feels immersed in an Aleister Crowley ritual, as narrated by Leonard Cohen. As for Lisa Batya Feld's The Barrow Man, the main character is not actually human. He's capital-D Death, plodding through the middle ages, and hopelessly besmitten by a saucy girl. He does what he can for her, and in the end, it's a little too much. This is the storiest of the three.

Abyss & Apex #13: Summary Table






Matthew Cheney

2,178 wds

[online] Possibly, a time machine has been built. Possibly it has screwed up the world. Something has.

The Barrow Man

Lisa Batya Feld

4,290 wds

[online] Death falls in love. As if that's not futile enough, he doesn't like his job either. It wears him down.

Pan de Oro

J. Stern

2,289 wds

[online] A cryptic account of an occult life, lacking in narrative arc, but rich in imagery.


Amazing Stories: February, 05

Amazing Stories (February, 2005)

Amazing Stories was revived recently by Paizo Publishing, to considerable excitement in the speculative fiction community. This, however, is the first issue to have found its way into my hands — and sadly, it may already be the last. Paizo announced the magazine is going on "hiatus." There is another issue out in PDF format as I write, and they are not accepting submissions. Next month I'll check in again and see if they have plans to continue. Whatever the merits of the fiction in a given issue, it's hard to get excited about a publication that is all dressed up in funeral garb.

Authorwerx by Greg van Eekhout

Our narrator works in the encounter-entertainment industry. Lifelike simulacra of historic persons are created to offer patrons the experience of meeting people from history. The narrator, however, is not particularly good at his job. He's not at risk of unemployment: his corporation owns him. But he's very much at risk of being knocked down to juice boy. To try to find some competitive edge he tries a little corporate espionage.

Casually strolling into the establishment of a competitor (Authorwerx), he requests an encounter with Nathan P. Horn, hack writer of mystery, and sci-fi pulps.

Turns out Authorwerx' organimechs are more lifelike than most, and this Horn is planning an escape. Walking out is not an option: they are implanted with neurolocks that will disable them if they leave the premises. However, with a willing accomplice, Horn believes it might be possible to smuggle his brain unit out.

The premise for the story is fun, but what really makes this story work is character of Horn. I expect van Eekhout has someone in mind in his depiction of Horn, but I'm afraid I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Grasping at straws, I feel a little bit of Phillip K. Dick, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway. In any case, Horn turns out to be a much more interesting character than the narrator, and it is his voice that drives the story.

One of my favorite lines: "A metaphor is just a condom that keeps you from catching life... ribbed for your pleasure."

Van Eekhout also works in a nice inside joke anyone who has been a bookseller will appreciate.

Overall, this story is a pleasure to read. It makes me wonder why I don't see more Van Eekhout fiction around.

Amazing Stories, Feb. 2005: Summary Table






Greg van Eekhout

6,000 (est)

[Review] Corporate intrigue among manufacturers of historical persons

Steagal's Barbershoppe and Smoke Emporium

Jay Bonansinga

4,000 (est)

A vet returning from Iraq stops off at a barbershop he remembers fondly. Where he's returning to is another question.

A Vampire and a Vampire Hunter Walk into a Bar

Keith R.A. DeCandido

1,500 (est)

About as amusing as most "walk into a bar" stories.

The Woods

Benjamin Percy

6,500 (est)

Son and father try to build some bridges on a hunting trip, but strange events raise the ghosts of their past. And possible worse.

Mortal Dance

David Gerrold

1,000 words.

Somewhat overwrought tale of alien/insect/icky sexual dynamics.


Analog: May

Analog (May, 2005)

The cover is an appropriate one for this issue. In addition to directly illustrating Shane Tourtellotte's Footsteps, it also ties together the mini-theme of moon and sci-fi mysteries represented by Grey Yoolins' Death as a Way of Life and Joe Schembrie's High Moon. Although it's particularly nice to see Tourtellotte outside his usual personality-overlay series, some other stories struck me as being more interesting:

Tomorrow's Strawberries by Richard A. Lovett

Lovett turns the prevailing scientific expectation of life in the universe on its head with this story. The first tentative interstellar expedition discovers that — contrary to all expectations — the universe is absolutely packed with life. In fact, the scarcest commodity is not energy, or time, or ways of exceeding the speed of light. It's real estate!

Earth was off limits until life proved itself to be capable of advancing sufficiently to achieve interstellar travel and thus join the galactic society, but as soon as that barrier is lifted, all the galaxy descends on the rarest of the rare: unspoiled land. You thought eleven billion people was a lot for the planet to sustain? You aint seen nothing yet. There's no shortage of food, or energy, and there's no need for anything as archaic as natural resources any more. Within years Earth is remade as another Trantor, just one more 100% urbanized planet in a massively overcrowded galaxy.

Obviously, this vision is riddled with problems, both logical and practical. But Lovett is not seriously attempting prophetic science fiction here, nor would he be the first to imagine that just outside our range of vision there are complex galactic societies carefully following some "Prime Directive" to allow humanity to evolve without interference.

No, this story is all about contemporary urbanization, the sacrifices we make in the name of progress. What makes this particularly worthwhile is that Lovett carefully examines his subject through the eyes of one man who has seen the total transformation of Earth. Some authors would be tempted to turn this into a heavily moralistic tale about ecological preservation. (Jerry Oltion, for example, came very close to doing just that.Tainted, in this same issue is more in that line). But although the backstory is huge, and the topic heavy, Lovett keeps the story firmly grounded in the experience and psychology of one old man who likes to grow strawberries (or their heavily modified successor species) in his tiny apartment.

The story comes with a cute twist at the end, but it is the exploration of connections between human purpose and the land we live on that really makes this story work.

Analog, May, 2005: Summary Table






Shane Tourtellotte


Tourtellotte sets aside his personality-overlay series for some good, old-fashioned Murder on the Moon.

Death as a Way of Life

Grey Rollins


Jack Sawyer's back to solve the murder of a man whose very career involved committing suicide on a weekly basis.

High Moon

Joe Schembrie


Occasionally this Moon Western walks the line between intriguing story and pure farce. The rest of the time it's just silly.

The Inn at Mount Either

James Van Pelt


This vacation spot lies at the crossroads of the universes. Not a good place to get lost.


Jerry Oltion


An alien intelligence scours the galaxy for company, but finds only the remains of the Earth that humans destroyed.

Tomorrow's Strawberries

Richard A. Lovett


[Review] Earth has become Asimov's Trantor. Indeed, every planet in the Universe is nothing but a dense urban hive.

Smiling Vermin

Ekaterina G. Sedia & David Bartell


Gus and Jessie return with another new species, part dolphin, part hamster, all trouble. Especially when the Yakuza take an interest.

Andromeda Spaceways

Andromeda Spaceways: Feb/Mar, 2005

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (February/March, 2005)

It's a catchy cover, but hideous. I mean, it's supposed to be hideous. It can even be said to illustrate a story, although for reasons you will understand if you read the magazine, I can't tell you which one.

Ordinarily, ASIM is a light-hearted sort of publication. But each issue has a different editor, and it seems like Sally Beasley's tastes run dark. The only story that can legitimately be termed humor is Constance Cooper's The Team-mate Reference Problem in Final-Stage Demon Confrontation. It's not that everything else is high tragedy or bleak horror, but this is simply weightier, darker material. And, for the most part, it's really good!

Trouble Leaves A Scent Trail by Constance Cooper

This is a memorable murder mystery set in a world of insects, or insect-like creatures (Ian McHugh's catchy illustration helps set the visual tone from the start). CitrusPeel is an old fashioned model, a Gimel, a soldier, one not often cloned any more now that civilization and technology are taking root. She does police work, usually just making her intimidating presence felt to prevent violence. However, when an advanced-model architect, and politically sensitive individual, dies under mysterious circumstances, she is called in as an unbiased officer to handle the case. Her mission: was it accident, or suicide?

Mystery readers, of course, implicitly tack on the inevitable, or murder?

This is not exactly a whodunit, although it draws on some of the standard elements there. Nor is it quite a political thriller, but it pulls in those elements as well: the architect, you see, was designing an entirely new kind of bridge that would span the ocean, connecting the land to another, wholly unknown place. The No-Bridgers and the Go-Bridgers were equally passionate. Moreover, one of the deceased's creations recently collapsed, casting doubt on her skill, and on the promise of the great bridge.

What makes the story so much fun is Cooper's richly imagined insect world: where new models of clones are tested in society, and subject to recall if found defective; and where communication and navigation are conducted primarily by scent. Not only is there a mystery to solve, but CitrusPeel has her own worries: are her bulky soldier genes obsolete in this slimmer, faster, sleeker world? Is she even competent to undertake so important an investigation? How will it reflect upon her type, and her clone-sisters if she fails? And, what does the bridge mean for her?

One element that works particularly well is the tension between the communal good and the individual. A world where a whole sub-species can be recalled and destroyed obviously does not give much weight to the individual, yet we view this story within the perspective of a single mind. CitrusPeel has individual desires and fears, and although she thinks in larger terms than just her own personal benefit, she remains an individual who must make individual choices along the way. Indeed, she even bucks authority while pursuing that favorite of crimewriters everywhere, the hunch!

This is truly a fine, fun story — and another indication that Andromeda Spaceways has the potential to join the first tier of publications.

The Memory of Breathing by Lyn Triffitt

It doesn't get much darker than this.

Triffitt imagines a not-too distant future in which America's death penalty practices are out of control. Not only do we murder the murderers, but we make them pay for their crimes as well. That's right, we animate the corpses and set them to manual labor.

The science here is worse than dodgy, it's utterly incomprehensible. Best to read this in the tradition of zombie stories, rather than as science fiction. Because aside from the particulars of animation, which I am afraid Triffitt spends a bit too much time trying to rationalize, this is a very compelling, scary story.

Holyoake, you see, is just a little girl. Nine years old, when she killed her brother and was sentenced to death. What's the sense of animating a nine-year-old girl? What kind of labor can you expect from her?

Well, there's some international law at work, and the parents emigrated to Australia with the corpse of their daughter. So she is reanimated in an Australian camp, under particular international laws. And, unlike adults, her childlike nature takes on decidedly more lifelike characteristics than the other Corpses.

So much so that the Warden forms an emotional bond with her, and gets her assigned to off-base servant duties in a wealthy home. She'll never grow up, eventually the chemical cocktails that keep her mobile will fail, but for now she has all the appearance of a reasonably healthy nine-year-old girl. She acts like one, talks like one. For purposes of the story, she's not dead at all...just doomed.

Naturally, that doom does manifest, but not quite as expected. Opponents of the Corpse program have it overturned, and all Corpses must be laid to rest. Even little Holyoake. The grimmest part of this tale, and where Triffitt shows the most sensitivity, is in the girl's realization of and reaction to her fate. Even as the warden and her patron attempt to fight for her, long before the life-loaning chemicals are withdrawn, Holyoake's life drains from her eyes. It's a well-written and touching conclusion.

Andromeda Spaceways, Feb/Mar 2005: Summary Table





Trouble Leaves a Scent Trail

Constance Cooper

7,500 wds, est

[Review] Although it is an insect world where communication goes by scent, the age old question remains: Was it suicide? Or murder?

Impractical Magic

Gillian Polack

3,000 wds, est

A Jewish mother summons the King of Demons. And scolds him.

The Team-mate Reference Problem in Final-Stage Demon Confrontation

Constance Cooper

900 wds, est

If a demon knows your name, it can do nasty things to you. So, when fighting demons, how do you refer to your coworkers?

The Red Priest's Homecoming

Dirk Flinthart

16,500 wds, est

Hong Kong supernatural cinema and good, old-fashioned European occultism combine in this action thriller set during the height of Venice's glory years.

An Alien Abduction

Mark Patrick Lynch

4,000 wds, est

Internal monologue of a man in mysterious circumstances who finds himself abducted by aliens. Soon, the aliens find themselves in mysterious circumstances as well.

A Game of Knight Court

Jason D Wittman

4,000 wds, est

Some sort of chess/tic-tac-toe hybrid settles the destiny of kingdoms.

The Memory of Breathing

Lyn Triffitt

9,000 wds, est

[Review] Murderers and suicides are reanimated to carry on as zombie workers; but one little girl still has some life in her.


Asimov's: April/May

Asimov's (April/May, 2005)

No, not the most memorable cover you've ever soon. I don't think it illustrates anything in particular. Aside from the long novella Shadow Twin, which is a reprint from SciFiction, only two stories really stood out for me in this issue:

Bean There by Jack Skillingstead

Burt and Aimee run a coffee shop, but the business in decline. Everything is in decline, with the advent of the aliens. Miracles suggesting a next-stage of evolution (à la X-Men) have disrupted everything normal. Some embrace this evolution; some fear it. Aimee with her pixie pink hair embraces; surly Burt fears.

This evolution hints at two directions. First is the spiritual dimension of change, a sort of short-form take on the issues presented in the film What the Bleep Do We Know. The aliens, who are not entirely concrete, appear to be bringing about change in order to protect humanity—and the Earth—from our worst impulses. They are a catalyst for change, and the change is as more a matter of personal revelation and transcendence of the limits imposed by established ways of thinking than it is a matter of genetic manipulation.

Secondly, however, this evolution suggests itself as externalization of personal evolution. Aimee is ready to grow; Burt just wants the comfortable routine of their domestic existence. Aimee wants to explore, to travel; Burt wants security and predictability.

Unlike most of his previous stories in Asimov's, Skillingstead takes a lighter approach with this one, and it suits him. There is perhaps more tension in the growth-versus-domestic-bliss axes of human experience than Skillingstead lets on: the reader is encouraged to side with Aimee. Or at least readers partial to pixie pink hair are. But the humorous tone and the imagery of Aimee's evolution are sufficient to defuse any accusations of authorial moralizing.

I am not quite sure I can fully accept the conclusion, but that may be due to having shared too many pints with Jack down at the pub.

California King by Michael J. Jasper and Greg van Eekhout

There's a lot to love in California King, not least of which is the delightful voice in which it is told. The narrators, a sort of Greek chorus following and praising their hero, attempt to stay out of the action, but they do not completely succeed.

The story: The California King has been called to Oregon to deal with a child molester. It's a minor job for a King from such a large country, but he supposes it must be done. However, once there, he finds that the whole business was a ruse. Someone has lured him out of state in order to organize a coup d'état.

There's more than a little of the Tim Powers California Magic in this story. I can't quite read this without Earthquake Weather coming to mind. But Jasper and van Eekhout get both voice and specific detail so dead-on there is no sense that this is derivative stuff.

The interactions between the imperfect King and his imperfect family are delightful, but it really is the casual lines of humor that keep this tale on track.

That and a touching conclusion that the authors handle just right.

Asimov's, Apr-May 2005: Summary Table






Walter Jon Williams


Further adventures of Lady Sula: you don't need to have read earlier works to appreciate this, but still, this is just a chapter in a much longer work.

Shadow Twin

Gardner Dozois, George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham


Originally published in SciFiction, Previously Reviewed

Dark of the Sun

William Barton


An "interquel"—the events here take place during Barton's "Moments of Inertia" from 2004. This story does not stand alone particularly well, and very unlikable characters don't help.

Dallas: An Essay

Robert Reed


This does feel like a personal essay about someone who is possibly a paranoid schizophrenic. But you know what they say: "Just because I'm paranoid..."

Mason's Rats

Neal Asher


When a farmer's cats go missing he learns the hard way that the rats are getting smart. Both the ones in his barn, and the ones selling pest control products.

La Gran Muerte

Liz Williams


A Mestiza woman braves the border—the border between worlds—to bring her daughter home; but is it truly her daughter she seeks?

Down Memory Lane

Mike Resnick


Alzheimer's story: a man's wife has it, and he can't stand to lose her that way. He finds a strangely compelling solution to the problem.

California King

Michael J. Jasper, Greg van Eekhout


[Review] California's protector and benefactor discovers a plot against his throne.

Bean There

Jack Skillingstead


[Review] One man is reluctant to evolve, even though his lover has taken the first step without him.

Lover of Statues

Ian Watson


This alien didn't come to Earth just to admire the statues. She came to love them.

They Will Raise You in a Box

Wil McCarthy


Short, cryptic, 2nd-person exercise in style.


F&SF: May

F&SF (May, 2005)

One thing I'd like to see more of in F&SF is discussion of the cover art. This very attractive cover presumably illustrates Laird Barron's deeply disturbing The Imago Sequence—but was it painted with that purpose or is it just a close match? The picture is not at all like anything I envisioned reading that story, but more on that in a moment.

Perhaps to balance out the long, gruesome novella at the heart of this issue, most of the other fiction tends toward the light-hearted: Robert Reed plays with football politics and religion, Steven Popkes joins those wondering what happens when nanotech gets out of control, K.D. Wentworth wonders what clones of Jesus might be like. This is all mostly just fun stuff (although I think there are probably more challenging stories to be written on the topic of Jesus clones). Alex Irvine's golem story —an excerpt from a forthcoming novel —could be much darker than it is: something about golems lends itself to somber stories. But undoubtedly the stand-out story is the longest:

The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron

A couple of years ago, Laird Barron's Old Virginia caught my eye. A little bit thriller, a little bit character-centered mimetic fiction, and more than a little bit of horror. The Imago Sequence raises those stakes in a very big way.

Marvin is a lead-pipe and knee-cap man. A failed wrestler who does rough work here and there, but often for friends and acquaintances in the blue-blood networks around the Pacific Northwest. His mother was a sculptor, however, and he has a certain appreciation for the arts.

When an old college buddy comes into possession of a very expensive, very disturbing work of photography, Marvin is put on payroll to unravel the mystery surrounding the work—and the disappearance of the uncle who purchased it.

The photograph itself is disturbing in ways that are very hard for any of the characters to pin down, but Barron does a truly beautiful job of conveying the sense of disquiet it imparts. He describes it with both specificity and evocative suggestion. Around this one work (actually one of a trinity of pieces), Barron crafts a magnificent work of mystery that grows more intriguing and more terrible as it unfolds.

This is not a long short story: this is a true novella. Slowly, over the course of some seventy-five pages, Barron creates a work of large-scale horror that transcends his earlier references to the Lovecraftian tradition. In fact, the way Barron consistently keeps his language focused on specific, manageable, concrete detail catapults the true terror of the story well beyond any of Lovecraft's abstract hyperbole. There is much debt to the close, specific horror of Patrick McGrath and the outlandish psychological horror of Jim Thompson.

Barron also brings in some fascinating, and to my reading, original ideas that really invigorate the text. For example: there are certain mystics who wax rhapsodic about how life is everywhere, in all things; a global—even universal—sentience, bathing us in love. Well, aside from that last point, Barron seems inclined to agree. His take on the essential nature of life, and the purpose of evolution, chills and compels contemplation.

From a strictly technical perspective, Barron shows enormous chutzpah in writing this in the first person. It is often observed that first person narrative defuses the tension because the reader can safely assume the survival of the narrator. Barron dismisses this truism and shows that not only can he sustain the tension, but that he can use that very first person narration to increase the stakes, and reinforce his theme. This is bold, confident, memorable writing. I read it twice, and found the second reading even more rewarding than the first.

Finally, there is an absolutely brilliant recursive angle to the conclusion, one that leaves the reader not just with a lasting chill, but with a quizzical expression that will recur for many days whenever one stops to ponder it.

This is the kind of story that lingers and grows in memory. Horror readers, and horror award committees, should not let this story pass unread.

F&SF, May, 2005: Summary Table





The Imago Sequence

Laird Barron


[Review] One disturbing photograph starts a trail from the colonial blue-bloods to the very pits of hell.


Robert Thurston


A rambling tour through a sexist future. Plus aliens.

The Great Caruso

Steven Popkes


A confirmed smoker gets lung cancer. No surprise there, except she's been smoking nano-produced tobacco-like materials, and the "cancer" is no human genetic abnormality. In fact, she's growing herself lungs of greatness.

The Golems of Detroit

Alex Irvine


Superb dialogue, waaay too much backstory, and only the faintest smattering of story build to a passable punchline.


K.D. Wentworth


Imagine the shroud of Turin yielded enough genetic material to clone Jesus. Wentworth does a marvelous job with the teen voice, but barely scratches the surface of the idea itself.

The New Deity

Robert Reed


In some parts of this country, a football coach is like a local god. Thus Reed's satire.


Interzone: Mar/Apr 05

Interzone (March-April, 2005)

Interzone seems to have settled comfortably into its new format. One of the most enjoyable continuities from the old Interzone, besides the fiction of course, is David Langord's "Ansible Link" column, which always provides a wide collection of newsworthy items with Langford's wry commentary.

The interior art, although exclusively black and white, is clean and professional in a wide variety of styles. Unlike TTA's other publication, The 3rd Alternative (reviewed below), Interzone does not come across as a thematic whole. Instead, each story receives illustrations that are uniquely appropriate to the text.

The Kansas Jayhawk Vs. the Midwestern Monster Squad by Jeremiah Tolbert

At first blush, I didn't think this was going to be much of a story. A house full of nerdy gamers in a post-scarcity economy where the destructive combat of real, genetically engineered giant monsters is the sport of choice. Sounds a little stupid, really. As if the use of the phrase "post-scarcity economy" wasn't enough, the style feels a bit like Cory Doctorow, as well.

And yet, something in this story connected with me in a way that no Doctorow story has. The story turned out to be fun. Maybe a little stupid, but in a charming, forgivable way. The Big Monster Fan Club's local monster—the Kansas Jayhawk—has been a bit of a disappointment. Basically a giant chicken with some kind of radiation superpower that only works at distances of a few feet at best. Kind of a loser.

Kilroy, president of this club, is also on bad terms with an ex, who appears to be organizing the ultimate humiliation for the Jayhawk. So there's monster trouble, and there's old girl trouble. Tolbert could possibly have raised the stakes by having the historical girl trouble turn into contemporary girl trouble, but Kilroy's relationship with the punky Brit Toni does not seem at risk here.

All that turns out to be enjoyable reading, but at some point I realized that the spirit driving this story was simply a reckless enthusiasm for the new and wonderful consequences of scientific understanding. Tolbert captures the spirit of early science fiction more truly than any homage I can think of. Sure, golden age tributes may evoke the style, substance and sensibilities of the sci-fi of old: but Tolbert taps into the vitality of it, and he makes it new, and even relevant. I know you are scratching your head: come on, how can giant monster combat be relevant?

At a time when politicians are debating how many strains of stem cell to confine researchers to using, and whether or not Terry Schiavo was in a permanent vegetative state or merely brain damaged to such a degree that any recognizable humanity was lost, Tolbert imagines a no-limits approach. (For those of us who remember the Poindexter of the '80s, his choice of President Poindexter is a little confusing at first. No relation, I eventually determined.) Here's what the future is like under President Poindexter:

Finally, DARPA had been given the license to do in reality what we had been doing on paper since the beginning; create our dreams. Under Poindexter, our budgets quadrupled. The halls of our research facilities rang with laughter that would not have been out of place in a 1950s Sci-Fi movie. It was disturbing at first, but you eventually became accustomed to it. You were too busy trying to perfect a mobile weapons platform or grey-goo nanobot swarm of your own.

This exuberance for the possibilities of the future knocks aside the cautious realism as easily as Oregon's Sasquatch pummels the Californian GoldFist.

Interzone, Mar-Apr, 2005: Summary Table





Dee-Dee and the Dumpy Dancers

Ian Watson & Mike Allen


Downsizing economics bring blight to a South Carolina town. Aliens inspire strange antics.

Threshold of Perception

Scott Mackay


In 1910 Percival Lowell, after arguing for canals on Mars, begins spreading rumors that Haley's Comet will hit Earth. A scientific friend doesn't believe the evidence. Until it's too late.

A World of His Own

Christopher East


AI pets reproduce and things spin out of control.


Dave Hoing


The narrator, prostitute and traitor, is not appreciated for the sensitive soul she really is.

The Kansas Jayhawk vs the Midwestern Monster Squad

Jeremiah Tolbert


[Review] The Kansus Big Monster Fan Club has important work to do...and old girlfriends to deal with.

Realms of Fantasy

Realms of Fantasy: April 05

Realms of Fantasy (April, 05)

The word estimates in my chart are likely to be more speculative than some. RoF is always creative with the typesetting, which makes for a lovely publication, but plays havoc with my methods for attempting word counts. Any given story may appear in as many as three different column-layout patterns. That said, the production staff at RoF always makes sure that the layout and typography do not overwhelm the text itself: layout is clean, clear, and usually accompanied by beautiful illustrations. This issue is no exception, and with another lovely cover, it has been a long time since I could air my usual gripes about being seen in public with this magazine.

The Language of Moths by Christopher Barzak

Autism, as a literary device, seems all the rage these days. If I were notching my desk every time I encountered another story or novel in which an autistic character played a central, possibly poignant role, my desk would be nearly shredded by now.

Fortunately, the medical particulars of autism itself aren't really the point of this story. Although Barzak informs us that Dawn has the condition, we perceive her more as a magical creature, only partly in this world, than as a broken, baffled human. Dawn, it turns out, speaks the language of moths. Not just moths, but other insects as well. Lightning bugs, for example. Perhaps this at the expense of English and the mundane human world.

There is considerable charm in Dawn's conversations with the insect world (Barzak's bugs are quite entertaining), but the story has a darker heart. The unhappy parents, for example, selfishly chasing after dreams that seem ultimately empty, pointless, cruel. More central, really the main character in the drama, is Dawn's brother Eliot. Fourteen, but older in spirit. This strange lepidopterist's vacation brings Eliot his first tentative and frightening taste of love, and his first heartbreak.

What makes the story most intriguing, I think, is that in the end the selfish parents more or less achieve their dreams for their little get-away, but it is obviously a futile accomplishment. Dawn remains Dawn, more catalyst than actor, a fairy creature, vulnerable and powerful, granting wishes in her own cryptic way. But Eliot who (arguably) loses more than he gains on this trip, is the one who gets the most from it—even if it may take years for that realization to materialize. Barzak should be specially credited for delivering an ending that is moving, and which delivers multiple, credible epiphanies.

Realms of Fantasy, April 2005 : Summary Table





The Vampire Kiss

Gene Wolfe

2,000 wds, est.

A boy can't quite bring himself to slay the slayer of his family.

The Wooden Baby

Graham Edwards

6,000 wds, est.

A few twists on the changeling tradition.

Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White

Richard Parks

6,500 wds, est.

Death offers aid to a young man in love with a terrifying and deadly spirit. Death may be reliable, but that doesn't mean he's trustworthy.

The Language of Moths

Christopher Barzak

12,000 wds, est.

[Review] An autistic girl, her distracted parents, and her tired brother go camping.

Blackthorn and Nettles

Liz Williams

4,500 wds, est.

Two women, "close enemies," possibly rivals, circle each other warily.

Dancing in the Light

Jay Lake

500 wds, est.

A coming of age ceremony for a young giantess.

Christmas Apples

Margaret Ronald

6000 wds, est.

Genevieve is a pagan who's good at finding anything except her own way home.

SciFiction (March)

Although I don't review it, more often than not I can't help myself from reading it. I refer, of course, to the short fiction classics that SciFiction publishes every other week. SciFiction is quietly doing short fiction enthusiasts an absolutely wonderful service: making some of the greatest, most enjoyable fiction from the history of Science Fiction available to all, for free. Unlike many of the "Best Of" anthologies, it's pretty hard to quibble about what may or may not be included in this fabulous archive because you never know what the next fortnight will bring. But—and this is as true, if not more so, for a jaded reviewer as it will be for the enthusiastic fan—it's always wonderful to be reminded just how good short stories can be!

Little Faces by Vonda N. McIntyre

In Little Faces, Vonda McIntyre creates a future in which women live largely solitary existences, in symbiotic relationship with both their ship—a cryptic intelligent spacefaring vessel—and their companions: little snarling, yapping menfolk, embedded in their very bodies, hissing and bleating like baby hawks.

Occasionally, however, for great events, or on great adventures, women come together, to socialize, to sensualize, to procreate, to trade companions. Their ships, too, exchange genetic material.

McIntyre uses imagery, both sweet and profane, from sources as diverse as Sleeping Beauty, Farscape, and H.R. Giger to tell this story of a violent kind of rape and the complex consequences. This is rich, rich fiction. Rich with inventive ideas; rich with important subject material; rich with vivid colors and texture.

Naturally, McIntyre's depiction of men as childlike parasites: charming, pleasing, and pathetic, is as insulting as it is accurate. Her vision of the bafflingly alien, but wonderful, loyal ships is inspiring. I am not sure there's a single element in this story that cannot be traced back to some prior work of science fiction, and yet McIntyre has wrought something very new and very original here, even so.

Although it is a very different story, Little Faces bears comparison to La Malcontenta, below.

Hidden Paradise by Robert Reed

How many connotations can Reed pack into this title?

Vick is on vacation with Uncle John and Aunt Katherine while his parents try to put their marriage back together. Vick is an energetic, perhaps overenergetic eleven year old. However, things change for him when the stripper comes to town.

Vick's Aunt and Uncle run a roadhouse there in the town of Hidden Paradise, a place that feels like it's in the South somewhere. Somewhere you can find cowboys and Confederate flags and a river worth tubing in. To drum up enough business to get by, John and Katherine occasionally hire a dancer into town to draw the local men in for a few extra drinks. But they get more than they bargain for when Sally Ann arrives. She's not the blond they had asked for. In fact, she's small and dark skinned—hardly the kind to get the local rednecks hot and bothered.

Sally Ann, however, is a lot more exotic than anyone expects, and soon enough she has the whole town enchanted. And Vick more than anyone.

Sally Ann is no Pied Piper, however. Nor is it sex she's selling. No, Sally Ann is from much farther away than Jamaica, and the life that burns in her breast shows ordinary lusts for the pallid shadows they are.

SciFiction, March 2005: Summary Table





Little Faces

Vonda N. McIntyre

12,588 wds

[Online] [Review] Fascinating matriarchal power struggle, sex, violence, loyalty and betrayal!


Steve Rasnic Tem

6,757 wds

[Online] Tragically, Ray and Janice are invisible. Socially invisible. You might hope that having each other would be enough. This is a bleak, bleak story.

The Spear Carrier

A.M. Dellamonica

7,863 wds

[Online] Moral quandaries and political intrigue abound in this story of a human woman unfairly overlooked for an Ambassadorship to semi-hostile aliens.

Hidden Paradise

Robert Reed

7,328 wds

[Online] [Review] An exotic dancer comes to a small southern town during the height of the cold war. How exotic, local residents cannot begin to imagine.

Vanishing Act

E. Catherine Tobler

8,095 wds

[Online] It's a hell of a circus. Into it comes a crash-landed alien. The man who vanishes, he wants to go home, but he's afraid.

Strange Horizons (March, 2005)

It's fund drive month at Strange Horizons (donate now!), and I have to wonder if that's why the fiction is completely kick-ass. They must have saved their very, very best for this occasion, because doggone it if every story I read this month wasn't super-top quality stuff.

The Jenna Set by Daniel Kaysen

Jenna is having boy trouble. Or, rather, she's not having boy trouble, and that's the trouble. Her sister, Kelly, is no help. Kelly's such a science geek Jenna can hardly stand talking to her. Seems like all they have in common is their family, but at least they can band together against that.

When Jenna signs up for a trial cell-phone service, things change. What this service does is assign an A.I. to take Jenna's part of a conversation when she's not inclined to bother with a conversation herself. To her surprise, it works pretty well, although she has some trouble setting the appropriate filters to keep it from raising the topic of Jenna's desire for oral sex when her mother is on the line.

In fact, it's so good it hooks her up with a guy on the phone-dating lines, and although he turns out to be something of a disappointment in bed, at least he's sensitive enough to know he was a disappointment.

So, all things considered, the phone service seems pretty good to Jenna. Kelly, however, has other feelings on the matter. Kelly is baffled that such a service exists—except suddenly, it doesn't. Kelly is confounded by what the service means for human intelligence: if an A.I. can simulate us, she panics, it must mean we're not very complex. (Actually, managing human language processing is the most difficult artificial intelligence task we have attempted—we're going on fifty years of total failure in that regard, thus placing this story mostly in the realm of fun scientific fantasy.)

Kaysen's portrayal of Jenna and Kelly, and his eventual foray into the mathematics of human-set and human-space modelling is just good, smart fun. Grown up sensibilities, and grown up themes, and a completely childlike joy in imagination mark this fine tale.

Magic in a Certain Slant of Light by Deborah Coates

I didn't think I was going to like this one. I mean, the first word in the Strange Horizons teaser was "Zeppelins." Not another Zepplin story, I thought to myself. I mean, we have been awash in Zeppelin stories for the past year, thanks to the All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories anthology that everyone was writing for last year.

Once I got into it, though, I realized this was no old-fashioned Buck Rogers Zeppelin extravaganza...this was probably going to be another yawner of pretentious slipstream stuff—the downside (from my perspective) of Strange Horizons. In this, too, I was mistaken.

It turns out Magic in a Certain Slant of Light is a remarkably intriguing story of a scientist who denies magic, and yet quite obviously possesses supernatural intuition: precognition, if you will. From subtle clues she can scarcely name, she knows just what is going to happen. She knows when her students are up to hijinks without looking up from her notes. She knows when a woman at a party is about to throw a tantrum. She knows that her current line of research is futile, although it will be two months before she can prove it. And she knows that Jeff is going to leave her.

Jeff wonders what she would do with magic, and she answers: a talking dog.

Jeff answers: "You know, Dexter made a dog talk once and it didn't work out like he figured it would. That dog was annoying."

Nonetheless, Jeff keeps on about the talking dog, offering to trade her one if she can come up with a Zeppelin.

Coates twines the silly and the mysterious to achieve a subtle and sublime story of desire, and fear of loss. Real, provable magic remains beyond reach, but that doesn't mean that a talking dog can't bring unexpected resolution to this very sweet story.

Moons Like Great White Whales by Charles Coleman Finlay

Speaking of sweet stories about difficult, intimate matters of heart, Charles Coleman Finlay's Moons Like Great White Whales is a very nicely written piece.

This is not Finlay at his most adventurous, experimental, challenging, or exciting. But in keeping with its poetic title, the story reads like carefully wrought (and well-polished) silver, all sparkling and clear and beautiful. Two pilots fly on organic wings over an ocean world, pristine and unsettled as the too-close moons float overhead.

These are posthuman scouts, exploring the galaxy for colonizable worlds. They are partners, lovers.

But with this one mission coming to an end, they think and converse like a couple in their seventh year of marriage. The woman just wants some peace, to appreciate the world they soar over before the rest of humanity arrives and ruins it. The man, he's thinking, doing. He's thinking he might like to have a child—he'll bring it to term, he hastily offers as he senses her opposition.

Finlay masterfully portrays a couple whose harmonies are all at odds, all a-jangle. Everything spoken is spoken just at the wrong time, in just the wrong way, and even the exquisite beauty of the moment is marred by their awkward attempts to resolve the bad energy.

Although science fictional in setting, this is domestic in tone, and may not appeal to those who read for strong sense of genre. Finlay skillfully interleaves the science fictional text with the relationship material, but aside from vaulting the imagery of the moment into a breathtaking beauty (and perhaps that is enough), the science fictional elements don't fully connect with the meat of the story.

But it is so beautifully written, I just floated along with the two fliers and enjoyed the view.

La Malcontenta by Liz Williams

If Finlay combines science fiction with domestic drama, Williams combines it with high fantasy in this post-scientific fantasy set on Mars.

As with Vonda McIntyre's story reviewed above, Williams imagines a future in which women not only rule, but through genetic manipulation have reduced men to something less than human. Where McIntyre takes a somewhat affectionate view of her hapless little men, Williams imagines them as something darkly sinister, something dangerous outside the pale of civilized society.

On the night of Ombre, the woman called Shorn is let out of her prison. They call her that, for she is shorn of her real name, as well as citizenship, and all freedom. The only right remaining to her is to dance with the others at the winter festival. Indeed, it was one long Martian year before that she got herself into trouble this very night.

For, at the edge of the city she met with a man-remnant, and such contact has no excuse. She scarcely knew what she was doing; she had barely even held his strange two-fingered hand, barely gazed into his foxlike eyes. But it was enough, and the scissor-women took her away. You need not dwell on what happened to the unfortunate man-remnant.

The world-without-men is a common enough trope in science fiction, and whether such fantasies are intriguing or uncomfortable, it is certainly a matter of record that they are endlessly interesting. On the other hand, I have never heard of anyone imagining a world without women. Perhaps such a fate is too terrible to contemplate. Or perhaps I don't read the right magazines.

At any rate, Williams' matriarchy is a brooding place, although perhaps that is simply due to the fact that events take place in the dark of winter. Williams' writing is always evocative, and this story tosses floats imagery around the reader that places this Mars firmly in the realm of fantasy. But at the heart of the haunting and beautiful winter city is an oppressive ideology that doesn't appear to be about whether men are or were good or evil, but about ensuring a controlled and obedient populace. It feels as though there is much more to be written here, and one can only hope Williams feels the same way.

Strange Horizons, March 2005: Summary Table





Moons Like Great White Whales

Charles Coleman Finlay

1,642 wds

[Online] [Review] A delicate love story in a distant future.

La Malcontenta

Liz Williams


[Online] [Review] Midwinter on Mars, in a post-scientific matriarchy, to be seen with a man-remnant is the ultimate crime. (Aside from being a man-remnant, that is.)

The Jenna Set

Daniel Kaysen


[Online] [Review] Kaysen concocts some enjoyable, if not entirely probable, A.I. for use in new cell phone technologies.


Jenn Reese


[Online] Hsien trades his saggy old body for that of a nice healthy dog. He has some concerns, but few regrets.

Magic in a Certain Slant of Light

Deborah Coates


[Online] [Review] A physicist with uncanny intuition seeks scientific explanations for why Jeff will leave her.

The 3rd Alternative (#41)

Funny story. I was carrying TTA around with me and happened to be at a meeting of some sci-fi folks. One of them saw the cover of the magazine and realized it was genre-related stuff. "Ooh, I've never heard of that before. The Bad Alternative, sounds cool."

The typography deciphered, the fellow leafed through it. Horror? he asked.

Well, yes. It says "Dark Fiction" on the cover, and that's quite accurate. Some of these stories have no speculative element at all, and those that do are almost exclusively traditional horror motifs. I don't know if this is simply a horror-themed issue, or whether, now that Interzone is in the TTA family, they are disambiguating the two by more clearly focusing The 3rd Alternative on horror rather than the fantastic. Watch this space for developments.

In other TTA developments, in his editorial Andy wishes "there were more places where fiction magazines could get reviewed properly." What am I, chopped liver? Wait. Don't answer that. (In fact, we did miss issue #40 due to an apparent lapse on the part of the U.S. Postal Service. Andy kindly sent a replacement, but by then any review would have been months out of date.)

SS by Nathan Ballingrud

I found the most interesting story this month to be the one without even a hint of genre in it. It was also the longest.

Okay, there was definitely some weirdness. Nick's mother has been in an accident and she can't stand light. They keep the house dark, and she appears to be eating her own flesh, or something grotesque. These are only part of Nick's worries.

He's dropped out of school in order to get a job in order to try to keep things together. His Dad left long ago and isn't coming back to help. His girlfriend Trixie is a neo-Nazi follower, and she's goading Nick towards actions of hatred and violence that aren't in his nature.

He wants to belong to something, he desperately wants family of some sort, and—frankly—he wouldn't mind finally getting a little nookie. But we know that neo-Nazis are never good family, and we learn soon enough that Nick is about the only one in the club who's not getting some nookie from Trixie. Clearly, this is a path toward destruction, and Ballingford doesn't let us down.

Nonetheless, the culmination of all of this is surprising and offers some hope of redemption.

If this were a novel, I doubt it would find any genre label at all, so it will be interesting to hear what other TTA readers think of it. But to my reading, it was an exceptionally moving, and polished, story.

The Western Front by Patrick Samphire

A young Captain, in that bold, foolish way the Brits so admire, goes into the trenches of WWI, somewhere beyond Ypres. Samphire tells the story through letters to his wife and entries in his journal. Naturally, the idealism that marks his entry into the conflict quickly sours.

For much of the story, this seems like another tale without any speculative element, and when it is finally revealed, whether that element should be construed as madness or not remains in the hands of the reader.

However, the conflict between a green, hastily trained Captain and his battle hardened men is always rich material for a story, and Samphire handles this very well from the first scenes. When the Captain backs down before the brutal and dangerous soldier who is really leading the men, we know that somehow or another he is either going to have to recapture the loyalty and confidence of the squad, or he is going to have to die trying.

And, in the end, that is what he sets out to do; or, if not that, then at least to prevent what he has come to believe is treasonous activity on the part of the scoundrel. What he finds, however, is something very different.

As mentioned, this twist ending may be attributed to madness, or to magic. Either way, I don't think it quite lives up to the promise of the story. This is in part because there is never any explicit resolution to the conflict between Captain, the villainous Bird, and the rest of the men. Instead, the initial momentum of the story is entirely deflected by the revelation near the end.

Now, as for this revelation, it is not written as though Samphire intended the reader to conclude that it was simple madness, but I am afraid it quite failed the suspension of disbelief test. In the first place, there is an obviously intentional connection between the magical ending and the first paragraph of the story: a rose from the Captain's wife that he carries into war. "It is easy in this war to forget that which matters; with your rose, I shall never fail to remember it."

This rose disappears in the course of the story. But if there is a causal connection between this rose and the ending, I am afraid I cannot find it. What explains the reappearance of the rose at the end? What explains the dramatic change in the character of Bird? Why do these men believe what they do about the rose?

Or, perhaps I am simply overthinking the whole thing, and I should simply come away with the conviction that war is bad, and it is the flowers that really matter, not our brutal human concerns.

The 3rd Alternative, March 2005: Summary Table






Nathan Ballingrud

10,000 wds, est.

[review] A young man in difficult circumstances is targetted for recruitment by British neo-Nazis.

A Drop of Ruby

Cody Good fellow

6,500 wds, est.

Reverse vampire story: it's the blood that sucks you!

In the Family

Scott Nicholson

4,500 wds, est.

A funeral home director, third in the family line, will not let his mother close it down. No matter what.

Going the Jerusalem Mile

Haze Branchlet

8,000 wds, est.

Walking the cathedral maze on All Soul's Day is a dangerous pilgrimage indeed.

The Return

Conrad Williams

7,500 wds, est.

Sequel to a novel, this story of a serial killer might be more intelligible to those who have read the book.

The Sixteenth Man I Killed

Martin Simpson

5,500 wds, est.

An assassin finds himself haunted by the ghost of the sixteenth man he killed. Interestingly, the ghost tries to dissuade him from killing a seventeenth.

The Western Front

Patrick Samphire

7,000 wds, est.

[review] A British Captain during WWI, new to the front, finds a shocking lack of discipline among his men and eventually a mission greater than defeating the Germans.

Copyright © 2005, Bluejack. All Rights Reserved.

About Bluejack

Bluejack resides in Seattle. In addition to publishing the Internet Review of Science Fiction, he herds cats for an Internet startup, designs and develops distributed software applications, and dabbles in a broad range of less useful endeavors.


Apr 4, 21:32 by Bluejack

As usual... a thread to discuss recent short fiction, Bluejack's article, or related topics.

The reviews are here.
Apr 5, 06:30 by Gordon Van Gelder
Cory and Catska Ench's illustration for "The Imago Sequence" was specifically created for the story.

Keep up the good work.

---Gordon V.G.
Apr 5, 09:31 by Brett Savory
There's a wonderful little alien story up at ChiZine, too. It's called "Alienation and Love in the Hebrew Alphabet" and can be read here: .
Apr 5, 19:06 by Ellen Datlow
Hey Bluejack,
Thanks for the reviews of our stories. Vonda and I would like to know what you felt was influenced by Cinderella? Neither of us can figure it out.
Apr 6, 05:16 by Richard Horton
The cover for the April/May <I>Asimov's</I> surely illustrates "Solidarity", don't you think? The woman seems to be Sula, and the alien is apparently the artists conception of one of the several species in the Praxis universe.

I really enjoy your reviews!

Rich Horton
Apr 6, 10:48 by Bluejack
Vonda and I would like to know what you felt was influenced by Cinderella? Neither of us can figure it out.

Good catch. I meant Sleeping Beauty, of course. I'll correct my review.
Apr 6, 10:55 by Bluejack
I expect you're right, Rich. It's so far from my mental image, I didn't make the connection. Thanks for the kind words.
Apr 6, 13:55 by Jed Hartman
Thanks as usual for the reviews!

I'm in a rush, but wanted to mention that Liz Williams's "La Malcontenta" is apparently set in the same universe as her novel Banner of Souls (though I haven't read that yet).
Apr 7, 07:07 by beverley hixon
Enjoy the reviews.

It's a while since I read it, but I think Bujold's Ethan of Athos may be set in a world that's tried to eliminate women. It doesn't work of course.
Apr 10, 05:25 by Christina Francine
As an avid reader of Speculative Fiction and a reviewer myself, your reviews are one of my favorites from 'IROSF.' When an issue first comes to my mailbox, it's the first thing I read.

Keep up the good work.

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