Final Staff

Editor-in-Chief:
Stacey Janssen

Managing Editor:
Dave Noonan

Editors

  • Mishell Baker
  • Bluejack
  • Amy Goldschlager
  • Emily Lupton
  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

Copy Editors

  • Sarah L. Edwards
  • Yoon Ha Lee
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Editors-at-Large

  • Marti McKenna
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Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

June, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, June 2005

One of the reasons I enjoy writing these reviews, and presumably one of the reasons that others come to read them, is the desire to share reactions and bounce ideas around a little. Although short fiction doesn't get a lot of respect in the world of publishing — certainly not in the form of money, anyway — there are a substantial number of us out there reading the stuff. But there's no single place where the readers end up talking to each other.

Accordingly, I am going use our forums to supplement this column by posting links and reactions to all the other reviews that I happen upon.

For example, by the time this column is online, some of the fiction will already have found response at other venues such as Best SF Net, Tangent Online, The Analog Discussion Forums, The Asimovs Discussion Forums, The Nightshade Forums, SF Site, Locus Online, and others. I wish that single vertex of conversation could be right here at IROSF, but obviously, we are the new kids on the block compared to these other venerable web destinations. Linking to the other discussions, however, may help provide IROSF readers with the opportunity to keep following the short fiction conversation throughout the month.

The Reviews

Abyss & Apex (May, 2005)

Abyss & Apex is a web-only zine, and even by that measure, it's strictly no frills. No illustrations, no snazzy graphics, and not much in the way of typography either. While I'm bitching, let me add that I don't like the color blue they use! What a griper I am!

The editors, however, are doing a good job of keeping their name in the public eye. I do wish there were a little more to the magazine, though. For something that comes out quarterly, two short stories along with a bit of flash and poetry, really don't add up to much.

As for the highs-and-lows of humanity theme, I think this issue would have to be said to dwell on the lows.

Next by Patrick Samphire

Two months ago, while reviewing The Language of Moths, I made mention of the prevalence of autism as a plot device. Here it is again!

Samphire's main character is Keith, an autistic boy with a few other problems as well. His primary "carer" is Eddie. From the outset it's unclear as to whether Eddie is a real, but otherworldly protector (do brain-damaged children get similarly impaired guardian angels?), or whether he is another manifestation of the disturbances Keith is subject to.

Regardless, Keith finds himself more or less abducted from his normal routine, which for an autistic person is a significant cause of distress. His abductors are somewhat over-the-top villains who have lost their previous multiple-symptom autistic child and need another to continue to conduct their experiments in precognition, so that "They won't lose their jobs." This last bit strikes a bit of an odd chord. One imagines that villains of this caliber are dealing for stakes higher than circulating their resumes.

So, inhuman experiments begin.

Unfortunately, Keith simply doesn't see the future. Eddie does, but to Keith's dismay, the bad men keep asking him the questions instead of Eddie.

Eventually, he and Eddie decide to take matters into their own hands, but neither are equipped with any sort of wisdom, practical or transcendent.

This is the most fun I've had reading a story at Abyss & Apex, but unconvincing character motivations, and a very open-ended "resolution" keep this tale from reaching what I think it's full potential could have been.

Or maybe I'm just maxed out on the autism motif.

Abyss & Apex: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Next

Patrick Samphire

5140 wds

[Review] Some very bad scientists believe an autistic kid should be able to see the future. He can't but his invisible friend Eddie can. Too bad they don't ask about Eddie.

The Station With No Name

Justin Stanchfield

3828 wds

A supernatural radio station brings past and future together to help make sure Riordan doesn't goof things up.

Flensing Detritus

Steve Vernon

flash

Reads like adolescent angst.

Mother's Condition: A Caustic Experiment

Laura Cooper

flash

Bad mother-daughter relationship submits to the scientific method. Mom wins.

What They Wanted

M.K. Hobson

flash

Human genetic modifications pollute in unexpected ways. This is flash.

Aeon

Aeon: #3

Aeon (Issue #3)

Aeon is a relatively new electronic publication distributed in standard ebook formats including Mobipocket, Microsoft Lit, PDF, and others. Since its first issue in 2004, Aeon has quickly garnered a reputation for high-quality fiction, and professional production quality. Let's take a closer look!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes a column entitled "Signals." Rusch, a Big Name in the field, waxes sentimental about the passing of some other Big Names in the field. The column is succinct and moving, and I only disagree with one line. She writes: "At some point the giants will be gone, with no giants to replace them." In the cycle of life, the older generations, among whom I number myself, may be reluctant to admit that the younger generations can ever equal — or experience — the greatness of their own, but it simply is not so. Perhaps her final sentence acknowledges this.

Aside from this column, there is a brief editorial introduction to the issue, with a typically forgettable meditation on what it takes for new writers to succeed, and an engaging essay suggesting that humans are "pre-adapted" for alien contact. Using computer models of evolutionarily stable strategies, and current beliefs about the origin of our own species, Dr. Rob Furey suggests that humans have just the right balance of trust and suspicion to handle an alien encounter, whether the aliens are intergalactic benefactors, or predators in disguise. No word on which flavor we'll be when we land at Tau Ceti.

As for the fiction, this issue deserves high praise. Not just for publishing good stuff — good is a relative term when it comes to fiction — but for publishing different stuff. Some material is quite stylized, such as the two quasi religious stories: E. Sedia's strange account of Cane and Abel and Jay Lake's take on John the Baptist and Jesus. Other material brings unique and polished voice, such as Nisi Shawl's Wallamellon and Tom Doyle's astonishing The Garuda Bird. Material ranges from dark to light, science fiction to fantasy, but whatever it is, it's clearly rich, fresh material. Focussing on one or two for special coverage was quite a challenge, as every story seemed to support a thoughtful unwrapping.

Angels of War by Dev Agarwal

There is no question that this is science fiction: the premise for Agarwal's world is that humanity has genetically engineered a super-intelligent breed of human in order to solve the world's toughest problems. Apparently they thought the real problem was the unmodified humans, and took things into their own hands. The story takes place well after this war. The modified humans have fled Earth, and indeed the inner solar system. Those that didn't escape — or couldn't — are worth big money. When not one, but two of these "Salusa" turn up in Bombay, apparently in the possession of an American traitor, a lot of people, including the U.S. Special Intelligence are interested.

What makes this particularly enjoyable is that while it is science fiction in premise, it is international thriller in style: Gritty views of the third world, recovering from the war with the Salusa; vicious, hard-bitten men with intrigue and betrayal on their mind; plausibly imagined and convincingly delivered backstory to give shape and weight to the characters, and their passions.

There's a bit of LeCarre in here, and something much more contemporary: the ugliness of total chaos, recognizable by us all from the snapshots coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Agarwal's Angels of War is very sophisticated, and utterly readable. A real treat.

The Garuda Bird by Tom Doyle

This short story takes place in India also, but although it also involves war and the aftermath of war, it couldn't be more different. The Bollywood spectacular and ancient mythologies drive this tale of legends come to life in a future where military technology is drifting beyond the comprehensible. Invisible, interdimensional weapons are being devised both within India and by India's main enemies, the Islamic states. (China, apparently, has come to nothing.)

The King was once a movie star, but it is his wife who is the real Macchiavelli. With their son deceased, it is their daughter who, against her will, must carry on the tradition of family politics.

Into this scene comes Lord Vishnu, in the form of a foolish young soldier who has fallen in love with the princess, and would woo her any way possible... even if it means dressing up as a god and flying a new military weapon in the guise of a Garuda bird to her palace balcony.

Yes, it's all a bit silly, but Doyle is adept at intermingling futuristic devices, romantic fantasy, and the age of myth. The story follows a somewhat predictable trajectory, but it is a joy to ride, every twist of the way.

Aeon: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Wallamellon

Nisi Shawl

nvlt

A girl gets a taste of magic — real magic — and just wants to keep her family safe. But as her wise old aunt teaches her, everything has a price.

Angels of War

Dev Agarwal

nvlt

[Review] Agarwal doesn't pull any punches in this tale of the aftermath of war between humanity and their genetically engineered successors. Action/espionage/intrigue at its best, in full sci-fi regalia.

The Garuda Bird

Tom Doyle

short

[Review] Utterly charming Bollywood sci-fi involving interdimensional weapons and the Lord Vishnu and a King and a Princess and a Soldier. Beautiful & brilliant.

You Will Go On

Jay Lake

short

A strange take on Jesus and John (the Baptist) in God's (strange) House.

The Henry and the Martha

Ken Rand

short

Two humans, Henry and Martha, are the last of their species, and a very popular display for all the scaled ones, and especially their cubs. But the Henry is not sane, leading to complications.

The Wrong End of the Stick

Jeremy Minton

short

Delightful story of statistics. Good luck. Bad luck. And extremely bad luck.

Just Chutney

E. Sedia

short

Cane and Abel, with chutney.

Analog

Analog: July/Aug.

Analog (July/August, 2005)

Another "Special Double Issue" — and this is one fat chunk of text. Presumably the cover illustrates Rajnar Vajra's new novelette but — apologies to Bob Eggleton — this has to be one of the ugliest I've ever seen.

Perhaps the most interesting material in here is a piece of journalism by Wil McCarthy on the Mars Society Desert Research Station in Utah. I saw a documentary on this a few months ago: fascinating stuff. I'm ready to sign up! But, there's some good fiction here, too.

Although I didn't have space to review it in depth, I want to supplement the following reviews with the observation that Carl Frederick's Prayer for a Dead Paramecium is the most interesting and subtle work I've seen from his pen so far. I hope he attempts more in this vein!

Of Kings, Queens, and Angels by Rajnar Vajra

For better or for worse, every magazine has its regulars. Vajra is an Analog regular, and I assure you it is for the better.

Of Kings, Queens, and Angels launches into the terrain of science fantasy in the opening paragraphs, which explain that a titan has cast a luxury liner hundreds of leagues across the sea, and disaster has only been averted by contracted action of said luxury liner's resident angel.

Analog's hard science fans may groan, but through a sequence of genuinely surprising twists, Vajra brings this strange fairy tale full circle, within a convincingly rational framework of statistics, alternate realities, and alien psychologies.

The "angel" is Moelqai, in fact an alien: a "Deta" who has extraordinary super-human, trans-dimensional powers. For a contracted number of miracles, the Moelqai conduct cruises for wealthy humans through some set of inimical worlds, many with entirely different laws of physics.

Unlike previous conductors, Moelqai appears intent upon fulfilling his contractual obligations in a cursory manner. Also unlike previous conductors, Moelqai appears to be of an order both more powerful and more arrogant than any the crew of the luxury liner have ever experienced. An "Arch-angel," if you will.

But when the crises that the Mistral Majesty encounter quickly exhaust the contracted number of miracles, coincidentally with the precise number of miracles remaining to get the vessel back to the home world, Captain Elija Cauless is inspired to take risks well beyond the advisable in order to delve deeper into the mystery of why all-powerful entities would accept payment of a rare-but-not-that-rare substance for their services at all — and given that, why they might be trying to cheat the contract.

Vajra's tale takes a number of surprising turns en-route, but the extensive side-track through a game of poker is by no means irrelevant. Vajra manages to weave together a rather impressive juxtaposition of plot devices, character interactions, science-fictional premises, and thematic elements while constructing what amounts to an "early-contact" story. Obviously, this is not first contact, but Vajra predicts there will be a moment at which each race actually puts his cards on the table.

Which moment, accompanied by suitable tension, as well as the appropriately escalated rise in stakes, manifests in a most satisfying manner.

In the Loop by Brian Plante

Plante doesn't break any new ground with his use of the virtual reality / personality upload trope, but that's not the point of this story.

Dave is twenty something. Broke, and at loose ends somewhere between college and grad school, he picks up a job as a Loop Disruptor in a virtual retirement village. Retirement, in this scenario, means death. Dead people "live" on, or software representations do, primarily for the benefit of the truly living. Family occasionally visit these representations of their loved ones, and it's Dave's job to keep the software entities properly socialized to contact with real humans. He's got to keep them from getting stuck in loops.

If you spend much time thinking about it, this premise doesn't make a whole lot of sense: couldn't programmers keep their software from looping? Plante's handwaving in this regard is not particularly effective. But again, that's not the point of the story.

This is about Dave's relationship with reality. He finds a friend in another worker in the virtual reality, and begins to enjoy his time there more than in the real world. In the real world he's broke, he can't meet any women he likes, his best friend is disappearing into the married state, and a luxury meal is anything other than Ramen noodles. Spaghetios, for example.

Dave gradually clues into another problem. Gwen, his friend and co-worker in the VR simulation isn't quite what she has portrayed herself to be. Things get so bad, Dave finds himself paying for a cab ride from Staten Island to Queens, and let me just say that, financially, this represents a dire situation indeed.

In the premise and the characters of this story, Plante has all the material for an insightful examination of the state of being in a rut, or being in a loop. Plante handles the contrast of virtual characters, some of whom are more, uh, loopy than others, with Dave (who is clearly in a rut of his own) with delicacy and skill. The metaphor is not perfect, however: the question of sapience muddles the issue. There are sim characters in this virtual world, and there are "residents" — the uploaded and seemingly sentient personalities of the dead, and then there are the employees, jacked in from their bodies of flesh. The degree to which the middle category are actual people remains unclear, and problematic for both the story and the meaning. Moreover, the conclusion does little to clarify Dave's choice between real life and VR escapism.

It's certainly an enjoyable tale. Dave's plight arouses my sympathy. But I'm not so sure he's made much progress by the end, and nor is it clear that Gwen's decision was necessary, or useful.

Note: Thematically similar to Piccadilly Circus in the May/June Interzone.

Analog July/August: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Chandra's Pup

Bud Sparhawk

nvla

As subtle as a sledgehammer, Sparhawk's barking military commanders, sniveling liberal tree-huggers, and odd assortment of other imbeciles fail to see the patently obvious, page after page. Ouch.

Of Kings, Queens, and Angels

Rajnar Vajra

nvlt

[Review] In it's own peculiar way, this is a first contact story in which the least-common language is not prime numbers but... poker. Five card draw, Texas hold-em, alien's choice.

In the Loop

Brian Plante

nvlt

[Review] Virtual Reality. Dave has a job shaking things up in a virtual retirement village.

Endeavor

Robert R. Chase

nvlt

A sequel to a story from 1990: annoying irrational villains, beset would-be heroes trying to save an exploration ship from a supernova, and a true hero, mutated to become part machine.

Telepresence

Michael A. Burstein

nvlt

A sequel to a story from 10 years back, but reads like a less-compelling version of Rajnar Vajra's popular Viewschool.

The Keeper's Riddle

Joe Schembrie

short

Deep space scavengers need to unravel the mystery of a rogue ship AI before Aryan Nation wackos blow them out of the void.

The Time Traveller's Wife

Scott William Carter

short

As time travel stories go, this is about as substantial as it's length warrants. (3 pages.)

Prayer for a Dead Paramecium

Carl Frederick

short

This story appears quite aware of the conundrum at its heart: that death is part of life. Yet that problem, that paradox, simply adds complexity to this central question of life.

The Pain Gun

Gregory Benford

short

Our Soldiers in Iraq (or somewhere like it, but after a nuclear conflict in the region) get a new weapon for minimizing casualties. Observations on military hardware, tactics, and torture.

Climbing the Blue

Stephen Baxter

short

A sequel to "Periandry's Quest" — but disappointingly, it explains something of the mystery of Old Earth.

Asimov's

Asimov's: July

Asimov's (July, 2005)

In addition to the usual mix of fiction that will appeal to a wide variety of tastes, I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that James Patrick Kelly's On the Net column has at last recognized IROSF. Indeed, he has nominated us for a fictional Hugo: "Best Opinion Site." How that differs from "Best Non-Fiction Site" and "Best E-Zine" is a trifle unclear to me, but Kelly acknowledges that the categories are a little blurry. In this fantasy world where science fiction awards keep up with science fact reality, we are up against Ansible, Best SF, Emerald City, and Tangent Online. Tangent and Best SF are, specifically, review sites. Emerald City and Ansible are, specifically, fanzines which, like many fanzines these days, happen to be available online. (For many more online fanzines, including another of my favorites, "Chunga," see efanzines.com.) And we're a non-fiction magazine on the web, or at least we like to think we are.

While I may dispute Kelly's categories — or at least his assignments of sites to categories — I laud him for thinking in this direction. It would be great if the Hugo awards managed to keep up with both the reality of contemporary science fiction culture and the spirit in which the award was instituted.

Now, as for the fiction, I must remind readers that the stories I review are not necessarily my personal favorites in any issue. Sometimes it's hard to actually pick favorites; ranking stories on some arbitrary scale is often comparing oranges with orangutans. I review the ones about which I imagine I might have something to say. This issue is a fine example: I absolutely loved Michael Swanwick's Boys and Girls Come Out to Play... and yet I have virtually nothing to say about it. It's wonderful, masterful, vivid, creative. It will probably be nominated for many awards, as Swanwick's stuff generally is. It may well win some of them. Great story. If you like his stuff, you will probably love it. More discussionworthy, at least in my mind, were two stories that take some pretty tired old chestnuts out of the science fiction chest and give them life in new ways.

RAW by Daniel Grotta

I don't know which is more science fictional: a camera that takes pictures of neighboring parallel universes, or the possibility that, in the future, Catholic priests will be permitted to marry.

Either way, anyone who has ever done serious shopping for a digital camera will be familiar with much of the groundwork for this story. Our narrator is a professional camera reviewer, as the author apparently is in real life. Grotta's expertise with the minutia of testing cameras provides almost more verisimilitude than necessary, as he takes his assistant, a brand-new experimental camera, and of course, the reader along on a test shoot. There's a fair bit of insight here into how cameras are tested before the inevitable happens. Lightning strikes the experimental camera producing a mutant monster!

Well, almost.

In fact, after the lightning strike, in RAW (manufacturer's proprietary unprocessed data format) mode, one channel of the camera's image contains stuff that isn't there — or fails to show stuff that is. Soon enough, Dave realizes that it's taking pictures of a slightly different reality. And that image-taking is sufficiently intrusive that the people in that reality see it happening. To make things more interesting, Dave realizes he's taking pictures of his dead sister.

A couple of interesting family and philosophical discussions later, as they inevitably must, things start to go awry.

Grotta structures the story in a traditional framework: Dave is recording these events for us, or for posterity, because he doesn't think he's going to be around for long. His son Tom, party to the magic camera, has disappeared. His assistant, Brady, also gone. The company that loaned him the camera? Gone.

Grotta manages to combine his deep personal familiarity with one subject with a time-honored science-fiction trope to form a compelling, intriguing story.

The Real Deal by Peter Friend

The cultural interplay of humanity and an ultra-advanced alien race is a common trope of science fiction. Another recurring plot premise is the examination of artifacts left over from some long deceased ultra-ultra-advanced alien race. Friend combines these two to good effect, and his playful, inventive creativity breathes new life into the mix.

Jayk, our narrator, is human — a "monkey" to the aliens. The aliens, each a unique jumble of body parts due to a highly accelerated rate of mutation, are called "picassos" by humanity. Jayk is in the employ of a picasso named Flegg. Picassos who are in the line of work called "Collecting" hire monkeys to do the dirty work of exploring ancient Artifacts, hunting for valuable goods.

Friend gives the relationship between monkeys and picassos a delightful and humorous twist, somewhere between parent/child and owner/pet. Flegg has a charming manner of speech, a kindly and gently mocking manner. When she's in a very good mood, she lets Jayk pilot their ship a little, if it's especially safe and boring. And when they discover the Big One, an ancient Artifact loaded with good stuff, Flegg is in a very good mood.

Jayk a tad less so: a big find means Flegg will be able to retire, and he'll be out of work.

They meet up with Flegg's three fiancees, two of whom Jayk is pleased to discover, also have monkeys. Attractive young women monkeys. After mysterious alien rituals, exploration begins.

At first, it couldn't be better. This find is almost too good to be true, and the picassos, in a generous mood, make the very rare offer to share some of the wealth. Maybe Jayk won't be out of a job after all.

But, as the reader may suspect, this tomb has a curse. Moreover, it turns out that picassos don't just hire monkeys for the extra pair of hands. These monkeys are canaries, and it turns out there's a good reason this Artifact hasn't been plundered already.

There are a few peculiar sentences along the way that lead me to think the text may retain artifacts of an earlier, slightly more complex draft: it's always a shame to see a fine story flawed by sloppy editing. Still, a puzzled expression or two is a small price to pay for such a pleasing story overall. The conclusion is perhaps a little happier than it has good cause to be, but there's enough bittersweet to make it work.

Asimov's (July): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

RAW

Daniel Grotta

nvlt

[Review] A camera that provides views into alternate realities.

Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play

Michael Swanwick

nvlt

A new Surplus and Darger story, delightful & masterful, as inventive as any that have gone before. Nice nods to Frankenstein, Cthulu, and others.

The Children of Time

Stephen Baxter

short

Humans have been around for about 100,000 years. Our oral and written history reaches back maybe 5,000. Through the eyes of children, Baxter gives us the next billion.

Clipper's Last Ride

Richard Mueller

short

Cowboys 'n' Injuns on a mining planet: nice detail and well told, but painfully formulaic plot.

Killing Time

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

short

Domestic drama about an adventurous, aging Mom, her clingy daughter, and the unappealing retirement options of the future.

Waking Chang-Er

Samantha Ling

short

Fanciful sci-fi fantasy involving Chinese gods, the moon, and the essential tragedy of mortality. Touching, but not quite convincing.

The Real Deal

Peter Friend

short

[Review] Advanced aliens and their human helpers find a Really Big Artifact. It will make them all rich... unless maybe it was left alone for a reason.

The Compass

Edd Vick

short

Moral quandaries abound on an interstellar refugee ship carrying the last survivors of humanity. Problem: the navigation system requires a human fetus.

F&SF

F&SF: July

F&SF (July, 2005)

This cover illustrates Bruce McAllister's Hero: The Movie, reviewed below. Not a very memorable illustration, I wouldn't say, but it gets the job done.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this issue: Utley with more Silurian Era; Cowdrey with more (but different) New Orleans material, Morressy with more Kedrigern, and Robert Reed with more... well... Robert Reed...

Then there's the postmodern element. Angry Duck by Scott Bradfield embodies this in its purest form, but personally I took more pleasure in reading:

Hero: the Movie by Bruce McAllister

If this weren't such a fine story, it would unquestionably be an agonizing exercise in stylistic excess. Loosely structured, at least in the opening pages, as a proposal to a film studio for a movie that will take up where 50's monster movies left off, the tone comes across as chatty — often flippant — while the premise hardly seems groundbreaking. With a lengthy subtitle ("What's Left When You've Already Saved the World?") and a series of quotations preceding the first paragraph, this thing screams its pretensions from the get-go.

As an actual movie proposal, it's a guaranteed flop. The whole fifties thing is pretty much beyond either mockery or homage at this point, both having been done ad nauseam. Except, perhaps, in the childhood memories of those who suffered youth or adolescence in that era, the Fifties are rapidly passing into history. The time period is more and more suitable to the Merchant-Ivory treatment than some dryly self-mocking wink-wink, nudge-nudge business by the day.

But get past the framework, the stylistic hoo-ha, and you'll find quite a surprise.

David Letterman is often used as an example of the post-modern put into pop-culture practice. Letterman's self-deprecating manner defuses not only criticism but also accusations that he might, actually, you know, care. Everything's a joke, most especially the jokes. His squinty almost-wink puts the viewer at ease: we're all in on this, it's all show-biz, don't take it — or anything — personally. We know television is absurd, it's all talking dogs and stupid human tricks, no matter what it looks like.

McAllister's hero, or rather, his ex-hero, plays against this mood. Like the rest of us, he's lost the purity of his convictions. Back in the fifties, or in the town that, by action of cinematic magic, preserved the mentality of the fifties into some relatively contemporary Hollywood space-time, he was a simple guy, a good-hearted greaser. And when the giant locusts threatened to devour humanity, he saved the day. His quick thinking, decisive action, and fundamental understanding of the bug-mind led to humanity's fortuitous victory over bug-beast. And, once that movie's over, it all falls apart.

Loaded up with honors and with money, he leaves his throwback small-town. He marries the scientist's daughter, and ends up in L.A. But he was made for a simple life, and the intricacies of high society, or even mid-society, give him no satisfaction. Perhaps it's post-traumatic stress disorder, or perhaps he just doesn't like his job as gofer for the scientist's daughter's father (yes, that would be the scientist). Things fall apart, and soon he is (rightly) convinced that everyone is making fun of him behind his back. He tries to go home, but they don't want him there. Celebrity has ruined the magic of his innocent youth.

The mockery of everything he desires is, quite literally, killing him.

In addition to stylistic excess, McAllister takes a rather meandering path to reach his destination. Subplots involving Viet Nam vets may add a certain symbolic weight to the proceedings, but this stuff only works against the power of the conclusion.

Finally, the hero is called upon to save the world again. Not in jest, but in truth. However, inside the apparent truth there are layers of truth, and in the end the hero will find that in order to recover his own confidence and innocence, he will have to turn everything he thinks he knows upside down, and side with, what in a fifties movie would invariably have been portrayed as another monster threatening humanity.

Despite all the convolutions, overwrought symbolisms, and excessively clever touches, this story is, ultimately, in dialog with The Incredibles. Of course, I have no way of knowing what was written first, or what McAllister's intentions were, but this feels very much like a response to that film in which McAllister says: "Yes! Yes! The heroism of Save the World must be subject to the domestic impulse, but you cannot declare that impulse without acknowledging that the alien Them is the very family we must protect!"

Old as Books by Mike Schultz

The first job I ever held that wasn't pure misery involved working in a library. My job was shelf-reading which involves running your finger down the spines of the books, checking each call number against its neighbors to make sure that are all in perfect order. If books are not in perfect order, naturally, they can't be found except by sheer blind luck. I have a hunch that Mike Schultz has done this work as well.

Old as Books tells the story of Sagitta, an ancient librarian in a vast and ancient library in which at least one requirement for the job is being able to run your fingers down the spines of the books and know exactly what they are, and exactly what is out of place.

If I were a more organized person, more of a librarian if you will, I would keep cross-referenced lists of every story and every book I have read, with careful annotations on theme and significant symbols. Were I that person, I would now put this story in the proper context with the zillions of other stories about libraries that appear and reappear in speculative literature. (Fortunately, James Gunn has already done this, although his essay is a little dated now.) Apparently, the vast, wonderful, and mysterious library is an image with endless fascination. Even before re-reading Gunn's essay a number of prominent examples roll out of my memory: I think of Umberto Eco's labrinthine library in The Name of the Rose, Jorge Luis Borges' geometrical library of random texts that is The Library of Babylon, Gene Wolfe's archetypal library in The Shadow of the Torturer, and, more recently, Sean McMullen's Souls in the Great Machine. Readers should chime in with more examples. Let's make a list!

Well, Old as Books fits right into this tradition. There appears to be no cataloging system in Schultz' library other than the enormous, and somewhat magical minds of the librarians themselves. A competant librarian can "feel" a book out of place reverberating through the stacks. Old Sagitta is one of the best. Once, he was the Nexus, the Head Librarian. As soon as another was competant to succeed him, he willingly passed the torch. At the time of this story, he is the oldest living "Codexer", the third oldest in history. His body is starting to betray him, but his mind, and his Librarian superpowers, are as sharp as ever.

This makes it all the more painful when the current Nexus, who happens to be his son, accuses him of misplacing a book.

Perhaps you may not think that a minor dispute among librarians is enough conflict on which to base an entire story. Schultz, however, has no such doubts and by the culmination of the story, neither will many readers. Schultz handles this drama in a manner that sensitively shows delicate intergenerational miscommunications, and always reveres that love of books that brings so many of us deeper and deeper into stories.

F&SF July: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Tournament at Surreptitia

John Morressy

nvlt

A Kedrigern story. Begins with a fine and intriguing mystery, but doesn't quite deliver.

Hero, The Movie

Bruce McAllister

nvlt

[Review] What happens after the action is over? The hero marries the professor's daughter... and then what?

The Pitiless Stars

Jim Young

short

A gravitational anomaly leads humanity to their first alien contact — with a race from before the Big Bang!

Angry Duck

Scott Bradfield

short

Postmodern farce about a duck-poet.

Twilight States

Albert E. Cowdrey

short

Cowdrey returns to New Orleans, but in a darker more somber mood than his earlier romps.

Think So?

Robert Reed

short

A delicious satire about copyright law and intellectual property rights in the not-so-distant future.

Promised Land

Steven Utley

short

Utley returns to the Silurian era, this time to conduct an illicit funeral.

Old as Books

Mike Schultz

short

[Review] The old Librarian's body is failing him, but his mind is as sharp as ever. A meditation on aging, of course, and an homage to libraries.

Interzone

Interzone: May/June

Interzone (May/June)

Interzone has a number of regular features worth checking out; my favorite is probably Dave Langford's Ansible Link. There are also plenty of interesting reviews, Nick Lowe's film column (including a discussion of Constantine that almost makes me think I might be able to sit through the film). If anyone can explain the Steve Aylett/Jeff Lint thing to me, go for it.

Go Tell the Phoenicians by Matthew Hughes

You can't pick up a copy of F&SF these days without running into a Hughes story or two, but this story shows us an entirely different side of Mr. Hughes. More traditionally science fictional, Go Tell the Phoenicians also comes across as somewhat less polished than Hughes' other work. However, given the recent transition of Interzone to a new publisher, it's entirely possible that this story does, in fact, represent an earlier phase of Hughes' writing.

The gist of the story is this: an expert troubleshooter drops onto a planet that appears to have a sophisticated alien culture ripe for plundering. The trade teams on the ground, however, have been entirely unable to make progress with the technologically advanced locals.

Kandler, the narrator and aforementioned troubleshooter, tells us early on that "They sent me in because I got results." However, the character that comes across on the page does not do a good job of backing this up. Oh, by the end he gets some results, of course, but in most all his interactions, he seems to lack confidence. Not only that, he seems to be possessed of an inexplicable loathing for his work.

Sure, you or I might balk at bilking native peoples of their natural wealth, but there is no explanation for the fact of a man who has apparently built a long and successful career on doing just that suddenly hitting an existential crisis. I can believe that a man might eventually find himself confronting the morality of his own life, but not without some cause, and that cause does not appear in this story.

Nonetheless, the story is driven by that tried-and-true device, the mysterious alien species. Humans on the planet have been contacted and directed to land by an intelligence that speaks perfect English. Their communications satellites have been knocked out. But like some original series episode of Star Trek, once they land they find nothing but giggly, free-love aliens, neither interested nor able to communicate anything beyond the basics.

As Kandler explores this strange species, all the while sparring with the local trade negotiators who have all but given up, the reader naturally formulates some hypotheses about what could be going on. In a stroke of genius, a culminating debate with the local director brings all these hypotheses out on the table, and shows them already considered and refuted by the first team to arrive: "Maybe [those] we see are the mentally deficient. Maybe they're just the pets of the real dominant species. Or the whole place is run by supercomputers their great-great-granddaddies built while their descendants have declined into idiocy. For all we know, they're just a planetful of practical jokers having a good laugh on us."

But, again, the story stumbles a little on the character of Kandler. His choices at the end don't seem to make good sense in light of what we know of him; or perhaps his character remains sufficiently out of focus that its hard to believe anything about him. The conclusion, however, does nicely justify the title of the story.

The Court of the Beast Emperor by John Aegard

(Warning, some spoilers in the last paragraph of this review.)

This is an intriguing work of fantasy: Aegard imagines a world in which the choices of governing are born by those who rule. The punishments given by judges are visited upon themselves. The horrors of war are visited upon the Emperor who commands it. Although just in its own way, this mechanism appears to result in a government no less dysfunctional than any other.

Into the center of this government rides Evan Spandos, son of a Border Lord. He has come to plea for the woman he loves to be released from duty in the frontier guards. Their love, he argues, is more important than the unjust rules that have brought her to serve in the guards.

What follows is a long series of trials for young Spandos as he attempts to push his suit through the Imperial courts. Eventually it reaches the Emperor himself, half mad under the psychic burden of the last war. Aegard paints this court with its strange customs and labrinthine justice vividly, even if it is a dark and colorless place.

The story is something of a coming of age story for lawyers. Spandos strives with the merciless logic of the courts, and is slowly made to realize the pettiness and superficiality of his suit. The peculiarities of justice in this land suggest to him that he is acting not selflessly, on behalf of his beloved, not out of some transcendent love, but purely out of self-interest, purely for his own comfort. What if the woman is reveling in the power and freedom of life among the frontier guards? What if she has forgotten their adolescent infatuation? Would she thank him for bringing her out of this glorious life?

With a new and grim sense of maturity, Spandos looks askance at his younger self, and instead of returning home to his Father's border court, he joins the ranks of the Equiton, the judges of the Imperial Court. He metes out the hard justice. He lives with its painful consequences.

Of course, all of that is only based on what-ifs, and just when you think Aegard's justice can't get any grimmer, a young woman comes to court to plead for knowledge as to the whereabouts of her beloved.

Interzone #: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Piccadilly Circus

Chris Beckett

7,500 wds, est

In a sim-London, most of the citizens are digital constructs. But a few humans have been "left behind" turning the illusion of the populated city on or off at will. And then there's Clarissa, who's just a pain in the ass to the virtual and the physical alike.

Bastogne V.9

Christopher East

6,500 wds, est

In a sim-WWII, most of the soldiers are non-awares. A few privileged digital constructs have a glimmering of their context. And then there are the tourists.

Go Tell the Phoenicians

Matthew Hughes

7,750 wds, est

[Review] Mysterious aliens confound human attempts to plunder their riches until special agent Kandler arrives to unravel their secrets by unorthodox means.

The Court of the Beast-Emperor

John Aegard

8,500 wds, est

[Review] A world in which the punishments meted out by judges are visited upon themselves.

The Clockwork Atom Bomb

Dominic Green

7,500

Not so much an atom bomb, and I don't know what the clockwork is, or why it prefers watches to human flesh, but actually it's a black hole in a Dalek costume. Cool.

Realms of Fantasy (June)

Poor old Realms of Fantasy, they just can't win with their covers. Not with me anyway. If I'm not complaining about the cheesy chicks-in-chainmail covers that look like playboy poses juxtaposed over 1980's hairdresser posters, except with that chainmail airbrushed in, then I'm complaining about covers like this one: banal Hollywood stills straight out of the press packet. Good thing for them I don't buy this magazine for the cover. (And buy it I do: they don't comp me this one.)

While I'm being grumpy, let me observe that there's a certain prevalence of stories in this issue that, while they contain elements that go beyond the ordinary understanding of physics have, at the heart, a sensibility that is anything but fantastic. Question: if it includes fairies, ghosts, or ghouls, does that make it fantasy? Even when the fairies, ghosts, and ghouls talk, think, and act like ordinary people? We have had our shares of the "What defines genre?" debate here at IROSF, and this isn't the place to take another stab at answering it. I will simply confess that as a reader, it takes an exceptionally moving, powerful story of this ilk to capture my lasting interest.

Ultimately, I thought there were three stories that felt like fantasy: Moments of Grace, by Aaron Schutz, which slotted rather too neatly into the contemporary fantasy category; Karen D. Fishler's Stones in Winter, which is sure to please the many fans of world mythologies whom Realms caters to; and Susan Yi's Midnight Hunt which has the honor of being the weirdest in the issue.

Midnight Hunt by Susan Yi

Weird, but not without disappointments. The first paragraph had a number of peculiar passages that lowered my expectations dramatically. Consider the first sentence: "In the daytime, the courtyard arches hung with clumps of purple wisteria, feathery leaves, and vine." A sentence like this makes me deeply suspicious: it sounds like the author is talking about any daytime, or every daytime, and yet wisteria only bloom for a week or two each year, and it's an exceptionally good year (or well-tended wisteria) that actually comes out in proper clumps of purple. I ask myself, are we in some timeless state, some mystical otherworld where it's eternal spring? Or is the author simply being lazy in the very first sentence?

Following this line of thought the rest of the paragraph does nothing to resolve the question. Additionally, the first name encountered is "Mother," yet we are in third-person narrative. Soon enough we meet the subject of our standard third-person tight focus, but since I'm expecting a first person narrative, or at least a narrator who knows Mom, things take a while to fall into place. Then the end of this paragraph includes a contradiction that is either subtle or sloppy, but I'm already expecting sloppy: "Kyle wished he could freeze those moments for her.... But of course, he couldn't.... Nor did he want to."

Well, did he wish that he could, or didn't he? What is Yi trying to get across?

Subsequent paragraphs do little to build my confidence in Yi's vision. Still on the first page: "Father.... looked every inch the lord in command." Every inch the lord in command? Cliches can have their purpose, and their place. This is neither.

Fortunately — and surprisingly — this painful opening transforms into a compelling, multi-faceted story that is a pleasure to read. This more or less happens when the weird gets going.

Mother, we learn, is human. But Kyle's father is not. His Mother is a timid, terrified creature, a hothouse flower in a world of terrible, dangerous creatures that, human in appearance, actually hunt humans for the psychic emanations of their fear, their terror, their anguish, their despair. Why is Mother here? Why was Kyle born? Who are these nasty things?

Intriguing enough, that's only the context. Kyle is himself torn between his love for his mother and pride in his Father. This correlates to the human side of his nature warring with the desire to prove himself to his clan. He has some of their powers: his fine sense of smell can track the scent of terror almost as well as any of his siblings. However, he also has the weaknesses of humanity: he exudes the scents of his emotions, and he is neither as strong or as ruthless as his father's other children. His dominant desire, during a raid on a human village, is to shelter and protect the weak and the innocent. He does what he must to avoid the worst of the ridicule, but — like most adolescents — he is not strong enough in himself to stand up for his own instincts, yet nor is he strong enough to properly hold his own among the clan.

It looks like a no-win situation, and his mother decides to run away, to abscond with Kyle and try to get far enough to re-establish her own contact with humans. She has tried to impart humanity to Kyle, and decides she has not done enough.

During the flight, Kyle acts in a convincingly contradicted manner: he supports her, he revels in seeing the world from a human perspective, and yet, out of loyalty to his clan, he also betrays her.

In sharp contrast to the hobbled opening, Yi handles the ending exactly right. It's not exactly heartwarming, but it's entirely human. I conclude that this particular story could have benefited from one more draft, or more careful editorial scrutiny, but I also expect to see more from Susan Yi, and I expect it to be good.

Realms of Fantasy June: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Storyteller's Wife

Eugie Foster

8,500 wds, est.

Will she let her painfully disabled storyteller husband dance off to a restored body in fairyland? Even if it means he won't remember her?

Deliverance

Jim C. Hines

6,250 wds, est.

An unappealing story about unappealing people, one of whom is a ghost pregnant with a living child.

Foxtails

Richard Parks

9,500 wds, est.

Contemporary detective style with maybe a little hard boiled set in a fantasy Japan with maybe a little China.

Midnight Hunt

Susan Yi

6,000 wds, est.

[Review] Humans share a world with... something else. Something dark that feeds on the terror, the anguish, the pain of human life. And does what it can to maximize those emotions. Told from the predator's point of view.

Moments of Grace

Aaron Schutz

9,500 wds, est.

A sort of mime/angel drops in on a country family with domestic problems. Nicely puzzling at the outset, but a bit tidy by the end.

Stones in Winter

Karen D. Fishler

8,000 wds, est.

A Norsewoman's man is lost to battle, taken by the Valkyries. She seeks to gain his return, and takes on the Valkyries themselves to that end.

SciFiction (May, 2005)

SciFiction maintains a loose grasp on reality this month with four stories that all cross the borders into madness and/or a chaotic para-reality. Is this the New Wierd making its way into science fiction?

The Scribble Mind by Jeffrey Ford

The Scribble Mind bears comparison to Laird Barron's The Imago Sequence. Incidentally, I ran into Jeffrey Ford at an event a few weeks ago, and he mentioned the Barron story as one of his recent favorites. Clearly there's something similar percolating in these guys minds.

The premise behind this story is that there are people who can remember life before birth. Perhaps it is memory of the womb, or perhaps it is a connection to a transcendent reality from which our lives derive. Significant for these people is an image, an apparently random scribble.

The story approaches this premise with something of the feel of Thomas Pynchon's classic conspiracy theory romp, The Crying of Lot 49: a couple of mostly-ordinary art students happen to recognize the prevalence of this scribble, and begin to pursue its meaning. One of them is mathematically inclined and discovers unexpected patterns in the nature of the seemingly random knot of lines. Soon enough they stumble not only onto the "conspiracy," but also onto the anti-conspiracy: the attempt to crack the network open for nefarious purposes.

The more interesting of the two characters is the girl, Esme. She's the near-genius mathematically inclined, massively multi-tasking art student who puts all the elements together. She recognizes the pattern, divines its significance, assembles a persuasive theory about its meaning. The first person narrator seems mostly an observer in the major plotline. He has a plotline of his own, however: despite being a mediocre artist, and next to useless in the role of sleuth, he finds himself falling in love with this Esme, whom he has known for years.

But Esme isn't the sort to let emotions get in the way of a good mystery. She wonders about the causal connection of the image to the pre-birth memories. Is the scribble itself a glyph of power? Will the accurate, free-hand rendition of this glyph unlock the buried memories?

This is where the comparison with Barron's novella gets interesting. Barron posits a photograph which exists as a sort of recursive depiction of the universe through both time and space, a fractal snapshot past the barriers of ordinary sensory perception which, to the right viewer, will unlock a (very nasty) understanding of the meaning of life. A photograph implies both a specific image and a particular focus. So was Barron's story specific and focussed. Ford's The Scribble Mind is more inspired by the nature of a scribble. It wanders, takes seemingly random turns, giving free reign to the subconscious.

On my first reading of the story, I was not entirely satisfied with it. The story begins as a mystery, becomes (briefly) an action film, transitions through the love story, and at a certain point completely walks away from all the plots and subplots of intrigue. The final pages, in fact, wander a good distance from the heart of the story before bringing it to a conclusion.

However, as Ford's scribble has a profound but undefined connection to life before birth, so the whole of this scribble, the various loops and curls is revealed in the final passage to have a rough, but real, unity of purpose. In the end, although his conclusion in no way qualifies as a happy ending, Ford's theme couldn't be further from Barron's (or Pynchon's). As some of his most successful stories have been, this story is about the simple-yet-unfathomable love between parents and children.

SciFiction May: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

And the Deep Blue Sea

Elizabeth Bear

7511 wds

A deal-with-the-devil story on a motorcycle ride across a post-apocalyptic Nevada.

The Girl in the Fabrilon

Marly Youmans

7197 wds

Victorian gothic in style, the text navigates surrealism, madness, and poetry. More lush than the story can sustain?

Song of the Black Dog

Kit Reed

6035 wds

Overly stylized story about Death in the form of a kindly black dog... and an unpleasant man with a mentally disturbed fascination with this same dog.

The Scribble Mind

Jeffrey Ford

11,487 wds

[Review] A "The Crying of Lot 49" for the art-student set.

Strange Horizons (May, 2005)

Another top-notch month for Strange Horizons. May's short fiction was diverse, sophisticated, intriguing. Some great reading there. Of course, fiction is only part of what Strange Horizon publishes every week: they are another destination for well-informed intelligent reviews as well as essays. But it's the fiction I'm going to talk about.

Liberty Pipe by Sarah Prineas

Punctuated by the irony of inspirational slogans that the company doesn't even bother paying lip service to ("No Compromise on Environmental Excellence!"), Liberty Pipe comes complete with just enough persuasive detail on the internals of big industry to help me suspend disbelief and revel in the story. The eponymous company manufactures metal pipe, and damn all environmental and/or human impediments to making quota. But when a hole opens up in a pool molten steel, and sunlight and green grass can be seen on the other side, the blue-collar supervisor can only shake his head. "There's no place on the report form for Unexplainable Weird Shit."

Prineas juxtaposes the images of working in an environmental disaster zone with the speculative elements in clever ways: "I couldn't tell if I was dead or not. Maybe it was heaven, I was thinking. It couldn't be hell because after working three years at Liberty Pipe I was pretty sure hell was going to be soot, noise, heat, and paperwork."

In an inevitable industrial accident, the supervisor falls through this inexplicable portal, where creatures like angels, or perhaps like fairies, request his help in dispensing with a troublesome dragon. He's the right man for the job, as this dragon appears to be made of the same toxic substances and industrial equipment that are in use back at Liberty Pipe.

Indeed, we realize our narrator has fallen through a pipe of a very different sort, and is being offered a form of liberty he could scarcely have dreamed of.

The expectation that doing battle with the toxic-waste dragon in one reality would be either metaphor for, or have literal causal connections with, the bad industry in our own reality is never clearly resolved. Prineas doesn't take this connection in any of the directions I anticipated (ironic twist, character transformed, villains humiliated, etc.). The supervisor's choice at the end, while consistent with his character, seemed strangely unaffected by the miraculous experiences he had undergone.

Nonetheless, a highly enjoyable tale. All too often one reads 10,000 word stories and wishes they were half the length. This one left me with the opposite feeling.

Strange Horizons May: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Liberty Pipe

Sarah Prineas

4888 wds

[Review] Working in a corrupt, old-industry steel mill hardens a man. Hard enough, perhaps, to fight dragons in the land of Faerie.

Emlas

Lisa Carreiro

2832 wds

A drifter and snake oil salesman shares his secret with an unappreciative girl.

Planet of the Amazon Women

David Moles

10,609 wds

Sophisticated tale of an acausal universe where you can walk across the border to another reality on the back of a camel, or in Galactic Marines drop-pod.

Rat

Jenn Reese

382 wds

Chyou, high priestess of rodents, calls upon ancient forces to keep peace in her realm. Tip: always take care when summoning ancient powers.

She Called Me Baby

Vylar Kaftan

4874 wds

Mom and clone-daughter with a typically celebritized antagonized relationship confront each other as one is dying and the other is building a career out of parodying her mother.


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.

COMMENTS!

Jun 6, 19:54 by Bluejack
Let's talk about short fiction!

Bluejack's reviews are here.
Jun 6, 21:00 by Bluejack
And, as promised, here are early links to other reviews of some of this material:

BestSF reviews Interzone: Interesting observations on "post-first contact" stories; prefers Hughes' Phoenicians over the F&SF stuff; likes most all the stories.

TangentOnline reviews "The Scribble Mind" (from SciFiction): Michael Fay reviewing. Mostly a plot summary.

TangentOnline reviews "Planet of the Amazon Women" (from Strange Horizons): Lois Tilton reviewing. A lengthy and spot-on consideration of Moles' story with historical perspective and analytic rigor.

TangentOnline reviews "Song of the Black Dog" (from SciFiction): Michael Fay reviewing. A little more than a plot summary, but Fay is more interested in asking questions than answering them.

TangentOnline reviews "The Girl in the Fabrilon" (from SciFiction): Michael Fay reviewing. Summarizes plot, and observes that the ending lacks impact.

Analog Discussion Boards discuss the big double issue: Everyone has favorites but Carl Frederick and Rajnar Vajra get a lot of kind words.

Asimov Discussion Boards discuss the July issue: More talk about the cover than anything, mixed reviews on the Swanwick. More enthusiasm for "Clipper's Last Ride" than I managed to muster.

F&SF Section on Nightshade discusses the July issue: Actually, there's not much discussion yet, but it could start at any minute!
Jun 7, 13:59 by Bluejack
I must also mention Locus, although their June issue hasn't made it here to Seattle yet. Nick Gevers and Rich Horton both regularly review a wide range of publications. I enjoy reading their reviews immensely because, while I almost never focus on the same stories that draw their eyes, I respect their views enormously. Nick often captures just what I wanted to say about a story in a single concise gem of a sentence; and Rich often articulates insights about stories I didn't care for in ways that make me want to go back and reread them. Should that June issue ever show up, I'll post more particulars.
Jun 9, 10:33 by twosheds
Concerning questionable covers, I used to write for martial arts mags. The big ones "Black Belt" would run covers with Bruce Lee maybe 4 to 6 times a year. Most of the time, those issues didn't even mention Bruce Lee, but they knew that they would get a bump in sales with a Lee cover. Is a mag editor wrong in creating an eye catching cover? Babes in chainmail with great hair might work for them (I'm from the 80's so I think the hair was great). I don't think they're especially straying from their content with those covers. I say: "more hot babes in chainmail for me."
Jun 9, 11:04 by Bluejack
Well, if the only alternative is ratty pictures of lesser Orlando Bloom films, I'm with you.
Jun 11, 14:02 by Bluejack
I finally got my hands on a June issue of Locus. Here's the overlap:

In addition to fiction I don's see (Argosy), and some publications reviewed in earlier editions of IROSF, Nick Gevers reviews the July F&SF, and May's offerings at SciFiction.

From F&SF, Gevers seems to have favored Albert E. Cowdrey's "Twilight States." He writes: "Cowdrey limns psychological disturbance and ontological uncertainty like a fevered hybrid of Robert Bloch and Philip K. Dick; this dark fantasy will linger in the mind." I thought the story was fine, but it definitely didn't strike me that way. Like myself, he also thought Bruce McAllister's "Hero, the Movie" was particularly noteworthy. As usual, Gevers does a much better job of concisely unveiling the heart of the story than I seem to.

In SciFiction, Gevers joins me in lauding Jeffrey Ford's "The Scribble Mind." I'm not sure we read it the same way, though. Gevers sees the story expressing an "opposition of art and science, of philosophies of life." We agree on the crucial role of the final sentence in tying the scribble together, but I'm not sure we both see the same knot.

Also reviewing short fiction is Rich Horton. Rich also reviews SciFiction. His review of "The Scribble Mind" was less analytic, and his reaction was that the choice of POV lead "to a certain distance and lack of focus that may have been necessary but that seemed to rob the story of some intensity." I will agree that the choice of POV was necessary to the story that Ford actually told. Because I liked the "other" character more than the POV character (until the end), I might have enjoyed a story that focussed more immediately on her -- but that would not have been this story.

Rich also read Realms of Fantasy, and only found "Fox Tails" by Richard Parks sufficiently interesting to review. I enjoyed this one, too... it was certainly a smoother story overall than "Midnight Hunt" -- but I just couldn't find much to say about it, beyond the blurb I put in the table. Rich concludes: "a touching love story, with a satisfying slight twist at the end." Fair enough.
Jun 13, 11:44 by Bluejack
Tangent Online has posted a review of the July F&SF (online here), Aimee Poynter reviewing.

* Liked John Morressy's "Tournament at Surreptitia" quite a lot. I don't know what's wrong with me that I just don't groove on Morressy -- I'm clearly in the minority.

* Less enthusiastic about Jim Young's "The Pitiless Stars" -- objections included "stilted dialogue," "mechanical characters," "difficult to connect with," "a little preachy." But she moderated this with some analysis explaining how some of this sort of worked. Conclusion: "Overall, I enjoyed the story, but was not blown away."

* Enjoyed "Angry Duck" as a sort of "mockumentary."

* Initially uncertain about Cowdrey's "Twilight States" -- but won over in the end.

* Appreciated Reed's satire on intellectual property laws. "It's short, sweet, and well worth the ten minutes it takes to read."

* Particularly liked Utley's "Promised Land." I wasn't sure whether Poynter has read any of the many prior paleozoic stories, but I suspect not: I wouldn't have pegged this as the best story to pick up as an intro to Utley's growing oevre, but it sure worked for Poynter.

* Favorite of the issue was Mike Schultz' "Old as Books." She doesn't analyze this one much, but then again, neither did I. Sometimes when you just like a story a whole lot, there's not much you can do but praise it.

* As for "Hero, the Movie," Poynter summarizes and concludes: "The ending is surreal, but somehow appropriate." I think she took the structural format of the "movie pitch" a little too seriously, but then again, I thought that structure detracted from the story so perhaps I didn't take it seriously enough.
Jun 13, 11:49 by Bluejack
Also, a lively discussion of Interzone #198 over on the TTA Forums.
Jun 13, 12:54 by Bluejack
Also just discovered a new venue for discussing short fiction, a multi-author livejournal account called "shortform." (Top page is here.)

One recent entry is yet another consideration of Jeffrey Ford's "The Scribble Mind." Although responses are not all enthusiastic, this is definitely a story with buzz! The reviewer ("the_flea_king") describes this story as "one of the first serious Nebula/World Fantasy/Hugo award contenders that I've read this year." High praise... and the subsequent analysis gives some weight to this praise.
Jun 13, 18:56 by Bluejack
And, another collaborative blog which spends at least some of its time discussing short fiction is Dark Cabal.

They also have a review of "The Scribble Mind" (located here). This one is less gushing, although the author (Onyx) seems to com around in the end. Makes you wonder, though: what weird conspiracy is actually bringing so much attention to this particular story? Sure it's good, but how does that buzz get going?
Jun 14, 10:04 by Bluejack
Speaking of Dark Cabal, there's a fun thread on it over at the Ratbastard's section of Nightshade. Topic: are anonymous reviews worth reading? Are the authors cowards? Are they hyping their friends? Do "new" writers deserve to be treated differently than established writers? Good stuff.
Jun 18, 12:08 by Bluejack
Jeff Spock has a very smart review of Interzone #198 posted at TangentOnline. Good, insightful take on all the stories.
Jun 18, 12:14 by Bluejack
Also, about the same issue of Interzone, Lavie Tidhar has a review posted at a zine called Whispers of Wickedness, online here.

Seems like everyone grooved on "Clockwork Atom Bomb" more than I did, but one story that's getting thumbs up across the board is John Aegard's fantasy piece "The Beast Emperor".

Jun 19, 13:49 by Bluejack
ShortForm has posted an analysis of the hugo nominees in the novelette category. I have not read the Kelly Link or Benjamin Rosenbaum stories, but "coalescent's" discussion does not warm me to either overmuch. Of those I did read, I think my ranking would be just the opposite of the author's: I thought "The People of Sand and Slag" was beautiful and brilliant, and it is my number one pick. I did like "The Clapping Hands of God" a lot, and it's a worthy nominee. I must confess to a lot of sympathy with Coalescent's reaction to this story, and his/her reactions to it being an Analog story. The Voluntary State didn't leave the impression on me that the other two did -- or that it apparently left on other readers.
Jun 22, 10:32 by Bluejack
And now for something completely different, a market for short science fiction I don't normally review... The Onion has published an issue from 2056! And it's bloody brilliant!
Jun 23, 12:18 by Bluejack
Ahmed A. Khan has reviewed the July F&SF on his blog. Pretty much a rave, the nearest thing to a pan was "Jim Young: The Pitiless Stars - A fairly good story about AI in space but in my opinion the weakest in the book."

I have been quite surprised not to see more objections to "Angry Duck" -- I really didn't expect this to be a hit in the genre crowd.
Jul 5, 17:20 by Bluejack
Tangent Online has now reviewed the July/Aug Analog.

One quibble. Brit Marschalk and/or Douglas Hoffman writes: "Plante does not explain why someone would pay for a virtual reality "existence" after physical death if his consciousness would not survive, or if in fact it does." ... in fact, Plante does address this question: the post-mortem digital constructs are kept around for those who live on. The living like having convenient visiting hours with Mom. This is not the usual "upload" premise, and I thought it was a lot more plausible, in its way.

Jul 10, 09:11 by Brit Marschalk
in fact, Plante does address this question: the post-mortem digital constructs are kept around for those who live on.

This is certainly the case with two of the characters, but I got the distinct impression that most people put themselves in the Shady Rest.

Besides, if the relatives really visited that often, why would the community need "disrupters"? IIRC, the protagonist at least does not observe any visitations.
Jul 10, 21:49 by Bluejack
My recollection is that the "disrupters" are rather wry on that point: the relatives go to all this trouble to put people in, and then they hardly ever bother to visit.

I guess I'd have to reread it carefully to see whether my quibble is fully justifiable, and then provide page citations! I'm stickin' by my point, though!

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