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Publisher: Bluejack

July, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, July 2005

Occasionally on newsgroups and message forums around the Internet, conversation gets going about why people prefer the printed page for reading fiction to venues such as this: the computer screen. There will be some who are adamant about loathing the screen (although apparently they can read message forums without any great objection). Others have gotten over the fascination with paper, and are happy either way. Some, often younger people or those with nice LCD screens, are happy reading screens.

For my part, each has its advantages, both in terms of the actual experience of reading, and in the larger context of convenience and availability of stuff worth reading.

However, there is one time of year when I find it particularly hard to sit at a monitor, even a lovely, flat LCD monitor, and read stories. That's summertime.

I want to sit in the sun and fold open a magazine. I want to listen to birds twittering while lounging in the shade. I want to lie in bed with a breeze ruffling the curtains — and no, I don't want a laptop searing my flesh while doing so.

In short, I failed to bring myself to read Strange Horizons or SciFiction this month. I'll try to catch up next month.


Analog: Sept

Analog (September, 2005)

Stories about first contact, or at least the first moments of communication with aliens, seem to dominate this issue. I guess this is a rich vein of material, always offering the possibility of more invention. None of the type in this issue struck me as being exemplary of the form, but enthusiasts of alien stories will surely rejoice nonetheless.

Outside the fiction, I was delighted to find Jeffery F. Kooistra's column, The Alternate View express the heresy that string theory might not be all the scientific PR machine makes it out to be. String theory is certainly a compelling explanation for what particles are in its simpleton form as analogy: "Particles are like N-dimensional rubberbands intersecting with our three-dimensional plane." But the actual mathematics has always reminded me of the brilliant efforts to explain a geocentric universe in the late middle ages: reasonably accurate, based on a sound common-sense explanation, and so fantastically convoluted in execution that it just can't be the whole explanation.

As for the fiction I will discuss in more detail, there were two other stories that, ahem, resonated with each other:

Resonance by Eric James Stone

This story made for rather unpleasant reading as it does something I particularly detest in political science fiction: it sets up heroes and villains, ties them to particular political viewpoints, uses the villains to discredit the author's political peeve and the hero to promote the author's personal cause. The villains, of course, are mindless fanatics without a shred of rationality — or comprehensible motivation — behind their actions, and yet are fiendishly clever in their attacks upon reason. Naturally, the U.S. Courts side with the villains without any justification whatsoever. The hero is calm, rational, and generally beneficent.

Now I can't read this kind of story without feeling both sick and angry at the same time, regardless of the politics, but when the hero is an Ayn Rand Enlightened Industrialist just trying to prove the value of science and engineering for the common good and the villains are frothing-at-the-mouth environmentalists (a Gaian Jihaad — environmentalists and heretic Moslems at the same time!) — well you can imagine it doesn't endear the story to my heart.

Normally I would let a story like this pass with the micro summary in the table below. However, I actually really liked the science in this one.

Harmonic resonance is a fascinating topic, and seeing it applied to space-elevator technology is a really good idea. My hunch is that the natural frequency of something as large as a space elevator would be much lower than required to make this story work the way it does; but it's a great image and it makes for a fun story nonetheless — and it's a problem that bears thinking about!

Furthermore, we get a rousing defense of hydrogen blimp technology. I highly doubt that this story was written for the All-Star Zeppelin Stories anthology, but here they are again: high tech blimps! And told with plausible science behind them. The engineer's solution to their political problems was fun and entertaining. The ultimate scene in which technology defeats the villains was doubly clever, and any fans of The Incredibles will surely appreciate it.

But I can't like this story. If Stone was trying to change any minds with what comes across as the crudest form of propaganda, it's a total failure simply because there is nothing in here that actually makes the villains plausible. Stone goes so far as to present two forms of environmentalists: the Gaian Jihaad who are total loonies, and the "sane" environmentalists, one of whom is a friend of the main character. Now, I don't like Al Qaeda, I think they are loonies, but I do understand their motivations, their politics, their perversion of Islam, and why young people kill themselves on behalf of their corrupt and venal leaders. But this Gaian Jihaad has absolutely no explanation. Worse, the supposedly sane environmentalists are given even less "air time." There is only the briefest handwaving moment in which they block the construction of an off-shore space elevator platform out of nebulous concerns for marine life. As presented, it's ludicrous. Sure, there are wishy-washy bad-science environmentalists in the world, but most respectable environmental organizations actually have science and specific concerns behind their arguments. You can disagree with the values, and the priorities of environmentalists, but few are either anti-science or anti-technology. If this story had been about a real debate of the environmental merits or demerits of a space elevator, it could have been fascinating. But there's no such discussion — and I still can't imagine any environmentalist objecting to a space elevator on scientific grounds. Since the undertaking, as presented, is using private funds, there wouldn't even be the objection to public funds being spent on a speculative project when more pressing concerns are at hand. Stone, it seems, just wants to tar and feather all environmentalists as mindlessly anti-progress without cause or explanation.

In short, Stone's approach weakens the story regardless of a reader's politics, and offends those of us who are environmentalists. A more plausible candidate for antagonist would have been a radical movement of third-world equatorial nationalists opposed to letting the first world nations profit off their land. With real debate, this could be an interesting look at the power imbalances between first and third world. (By the way, if anyone finds the second world, please let me know.) And the engineers could save the day, and the capitalist/industrialists could make their quarter billion. (Speaking of which, Stone's naive belief that a mere 250 million dollars would make a difference in the cost of a space elevator or the future of a major heavy-industry company is cute, but... inflation man. We can't build a monorail in Seattle for less than 10 billion. Even minor retail companies are capitalized in the billions these days. The greenback just isn't what it used to be.

Search Engine by Mary Rosenblum

It is illustrative to contrast the previous story with Mary Rosenblum's Search Engine. It can hardly be coincidence that two stories with divergent views of Gaians appear together. But these stories don't just diverge in politics: there are more important differences than that.

In the first place, Rosenblum's story is not about politics at all, although it partakes in a dystopian projection of the future typical of the cyberpunk genre it comfortably fits into. This story is about Aman: a man who has lost his son to irreconcilable differences. Aman is an information specialist, a contractor for the feds. He finds people that don't want to be found. And it takes a master criminal to hide in this future. Even if a person rips out the chip embedded at birth, every retail transaction — even the most illicit — is tagged and tracked. And, on the occasion this story narrates, Aman is not tracking down a master criminal.

He's tracking down a Gaian. Someone who reminds him of his son.

But here's the important point: motivations are clear and plausible. Aman is a human: he has a job to do, but his effectiveness is compromised by his all-too-human life. Emotional entanglements conflict with the fact that he likes his work, he takes pride in his skill. The feds are more or less the villains, but they're just doing their job too. And they're doing it well. There's a beautiful scene at the start of the story where, during negotiations with the feds, Aman wins the right to keep his new assistant Jimi in the room. However, as events unfold, we learn that the feds were not exactly set back by this development. They're sneaky, and they're doing their job. They, personally, are not villains. The specifics of justice in the case at hand are questionable, but it's not clear that the agents Aman is dealing with even know the particulars. They are assigned to bring in a suspect, and they have every intention of doing so.

Rosenblum shares with Stone a central lack of faith in the government of the U.S. Except, where Stone's courts are liberal luddites ready to block private enterprise on any whim, Rosenblum's government is a shadowy and corrupt entity out to score political points no matter who gets hurt in the process.

It is also interesting to compare Rosenblum's Gaiists with Stone's Gaians: Rosenblum's are peace-love-and-granola Goddess lovers, barely competent enough to tie their own shoe laces, much less hide from data-mining super-sleuths. They're well-intentioned, but almost pathetically naive. In my own experience, this is completely consistent and persuasive. They are not the heroes here; rather they are simply victims. But the verisimilitude of the details Rosenblum uses to make them part of the story convinces me of their reality as characters in ways that Stone did not. Rosenblum does not go into specifics of Gaiist philosophy any more than Stone does, but that's ok: this story is about Aman's broken heart, and the choices he makes — in fact, we learn that the government doesn't care in the slightest about Gaiist philosophy.

But Rosenblum's story still doesn't live up to the full potential, I think, for a reason similar to the problems I had with Resonance: the villains, although at least comprehensible, never became human. There was no sense of the feds as anything but a mechanical, inimical force. Liberals, I find, do tend to forget that the majority of people in law enforcement are not steely eyed killers, but ordinary men and woman with ordinary lives, families, and problems. It is certainly in the cyberpunk tradition to cast authority figures as almost robotlike beings, but this story could have been more powerful, and could have built up the poignancy of Aman's choice by having humans on both sides of the conflict.

Analog Sept. 05: Summary Table






Michael A. Burstein


A Catholic priest and an alien who seeks his protection to avoid a culturally mandated abortion. Complete with mass.

Search Engine

Mary Rosenblum


[Review] In an information-rich future, the feds contract out what should be an easy job to someone who turns out to be exactly wrong for the job.


Eric James Stone


[Review] The race to build the first space elevator is on, but evil environmentalists are out to stop it.

The Speed of Understanding

Carl Frederick


First-contact understanding-each-other alien story. Fun enough.

Take Me to Your Liederkranz

Lawrence M. Schoen


First-contact understanding-each-other alien story. Not fun enough. (The whole thing seems like some sort of misfired attempt at a pun.)

Give Up the Ghost

Grey Rollins


First-contact understanding-each-other alien story. With ghosts. Ghosts are (just barely) fun enough.

Breeding Maze

Larry Niven


Back to Draco's Tavern: some alien dogs are trying to get it on, but an alien prankster is making things hard for everyone.

The Best-Laid Plans

Jerry Oltion


Or would that be "plants" ? A future history in which humanity only goes to Mars to kick the aliens out. Frighteningly believable.

Paradox & Greenblatt, Attorneys at Law

Kevin J. Anderson


A time-travel court drama in which unconvincing and unappealing characters revisit the grandfather paradox.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (#18)

The funniest piece in this issue may well be the editor's introduction; indeed, only a little of the fiction can be termed "light" without any qualification. Even generally amusing stories such as Love at Second Sight and Thingies in the Hills have their dark side.

Overall, this issue of ASIM was generally entertaining, in a mild-mannered way. No stories resulted in any hair-tearing moments, nothing bored me to tears, nothing hurt. However, none of these pieces really generated the belly laughs, or snappy one-liners that compel you to share them with friends. None of the darker pieces inspired the kind of reactions that demand deep discussion. Of all of the stories, only Eugie Foster's The Life and Times of Penguin really managed to stick in my craw. But I managed to get it out, and my craw is doing fine now, thanks. (Foster trots out the usual objections to any sort of loving God, and shoots down the usual straw men. You're either going to agree wholeheartedly, or, if you're to my way of thinking, you'll pound the table grumbling "That's not the point." But if you've ever talked religion with anyone, this will be nothing new. And the story's fine.)

The two other stories already referenced were both quite enjoyable: Love at Second Sight was a pleasing little love story, but marred by a number of false notes along the way and the fact that grunge-fairies have already been done. And done. And done. Thingies in the Hills is a good story for and about teens, and the author captures his main character's voice very well. There is an unfortunate sort of epilogue section, however, that takes most of the punch out of the story.

Conclusion: it's hard for a single reviewer to determine whether it's an off-month for the magazine, or an off-day for the reader. At least, that's this reviewer's experience. I'll keep an eye out for other reviews of ASIM to see whether I missed any gems.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #18: Summary Table





Static Song

Stephen Dedman

8,000 wds, est.

Rambling story about the far future, time travel, Nietzsche and Nazis.

Love at Second Sight

Tina Connolly

5,500 wds, est.

Fairies crash the damn party and are a little too free with their pixie dust.

Sweet Potato Pie

Lawrence M Schoen

2,500 wds, est.

A surreal story about sweet potatoes, zombies, yams, and, of course, pie. Unlike the Analog story, this offering from Schoen is fun... and just a tad peculiar.

Fortitude Valley Station, 2:15 am

Dirk Flinthart

8,500 wds, est.

Ghost / ghost-hunter story, predictable in both style and substance.

Like Clockwork

Stuart Barrow

3,000 wds, est.

A parable for the computer age. Before there were bugs, there were gremlins.


Lee Battersby

4,500 wds, est.

An overcrowded earth leads to serious bloodsport games. Ambiguous ending.

The Life and Times of Penguin

Eugie Foster

3,500 wds, est.

An atheist allegory: Penguin is a balloon animal, made by the Creator and given to a capricious and dangerous (four year old?) Angel.

Just to Talk

Susie Hawes

2,750 wds, est.

Another demon-summoning relationship story, although this is about a goddess.

Thingies in the Hills

Eric Turowski

6,000 wds, est.

A giant fungus is gobbling up cats as it prepares to spore beneath the town of Los Cerros. Something must be done!


Asimov's: August

Asimov's (August, 2005)

Before Harry Turtledove's story in this issue, Asimov's offers the following cryptic warning: "There are scenes in the following tale that may be disturbing to some readers." Um... what kind of scenes? Which readers? The story was a retelling of actual events in the civil-rights era south, but with races reversed. There's some mildly strong language. Someone gets buried alive, but that scene is mitigated by a context that takes some of the tension out of it. I guess the warning is good to have, if you're trying to be safe, but it's not a very useful one. However, the very next story in the magazine (the table below does not necessarily reflect the order of the stories) is Neal Asher's Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck which has graphic violence, near-explicit (ordinary) sex, and less-explicit incest. No warning. Hey, Asimov's, whom are you trying to make happy here? Maybe you should drop the whole warning business as silly, or else tag the stories the way some websites review films for concerned parents: actually citing the scenes that might be objectionable, and why! Plus, it would help the rest of us find the juicy bits.

The Summer of the Seven by Paul Melko

Melko continues his series of humanity's successors with The Summer of the Seven. Asimov's readers will remember this world from his Strength Alone story in December's issue.

This tale involves two pods of teens who don't quite get along. The more people in a pod, the conventional wisdom goes, the better and stronger the pod. Six is the largest pod yet achieved until Clarice, a Seven, comes to visit.

If you swap out the pod stuff, and replace the material with two precocious children you will find that this is a fairly ordinary young adult story. Melko handles it well, however: even without the science fictional element, it's a moving tale with a didactically moral heart. Although the story gets off to a slightly slow start, it picks up when the new girl arrives: The slightly older, slightly less brilliant child is resentful of the newcomer. For her part, the newcomer probably just wants to be appreciated, but she's arrogant and not very good with the social skills. Moreover, she has a meddling father who is pushing her not just to be great, but to be the best — at any cost. The two kids engage in competing science fair projects.

Metaphorically, these pods represent the many selves that war within us. As it is about teens, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say the possible selves. In the viewpoint-pod, the narrator is a sort of super-ego, trying to maintain balance within the pod, trying to stand up for what's right, while more primal selves simply detest the newcomer. In a concession to the traditional telling of this kind of story, the viewpoint pod is more loosely organized than the newcomer pod. It's more like the viewpoint of a tightly-knit clique in opposition to a single "new kid in town." By contrast, the adult pods make no real use of their multiple-body natures at all. For all intents and purposes, they are just adults.

So, the question must be asked: is the pod-nature really necessary? Why dress this story up in science fictional clothing at all?

Certainly, from the perspective of a teen reader, Melko's telling is going to make an all-too familiar tale a little more interesting with the change in material. Moreover, since Melko seems to be doing a series of these stories, it must be acknowledged that there's a lot of potential for subtle views on our own world through the mechanism of his premise. This particular story may not make the best use of the tools, but it still makes for a touching story, and one that's well worth passing on to the teen reader nearest you.

Asimov's (Aug. 2005): Summary Table





Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck

Neal Asher


The rich and immoral go hunting on a dangerous alien planet. They're hunting humans, but the discovery of the near-mythical Gabbleduck throws everyone a curve.

Point of Origin

Catherine Wells


Firefighters with science-factional toys track an arsonist through wilderness in the near future.

The Summer of the Seven

Paul Melko


[Review] Melko continues with his pod-people series: traditional teen problems, but not traditional teens!

Kath and Quicksilver

Larry Niven & Brenda Cooper


In the distant future, when the sun is bloating toward red gianthood, the last girl to leave Mercury misses her ride. Survival will not be easy, but she has a whole planet to work with.

He Woke in Darkness

Harry Turtledove


More short-but-timely political stuff: a retelling of the 1964 murder of freedom riders, with races reversed.

A Shadow over the Land

Liz Williams


A geologist on a desert planet connects with the spirit of the world.

Bottom Feeding

Tim Pratt


Interesting contemporary-fantasy allegory about relationships, salmon, and catfish.

A Birth

Carrie Richerson


Blood can make family out of natural enemies: the predator and the prey, the human and the alien. Pleasantly surprising, but not entirely convincing.


F&SF: August

F&SF (August, 2005)

The cover may or may not illustrate Maze of Trees. I didn't actually pick up on the butterfly motif in this story.

Thwarting Jabbi Gloond by Matthew Hughes

Fans of Henghis Hapthorne will be delighted to encounter this unexpected backtrace into the formative years of the far-future super-sleuth. Here, Hapthorne is a sharp young student with an uncanny — but not yet professional — knack for hitting the nail on the head.

Both regulars and readers unfamiliar with Hapthorne will find much to enjoy in this tale, another puzzle for the enterprising detective to unravel. This time, Hapthorne has no extra-dimensional assistance, and he has to rely on public Integrators to help him mine for data. Limiting his resources, naturally, helps give new life to the story.

Hapthorne is a student, and events begin when a friend asks for his help in figuring out what hold a strange and unpleasant entity has over his father. This is Jabbi Gloond, and he seems to be an unwelcome guest, leaching off Gresh Olabian. Hapthorne looks into matters and then sets a trap for the strangely stupid Gloond. The trap springs, but the quarry is not quite what Hapthorne expected.

Interestingly, this story returns on several occasions to one of the central themes in the previous story (The Gist Hunter, reviewed last month): that Hapthorne's own nature encompasses both a deductive "scientific" self, and an alternate persona, an intuitive "magical" self. Hughes may have been planting this concept subtly through all his stories, and it was only when it emerged as an explicit plot point in The Gist Hunter that I picked up on it. I wouldn't put it past him: the trouble with Hapthorne's Integrator was brewing for a number of stories before coming to fruition in a total physical transformation. But something about this order of reading the stories gives the impression that Thwarting Jabbi Gloond is more sequel than prequel to the previous. I understand that all of these stories will be coming out later this Summer in a collection: it will be interesting to see what order they are arranged in, and the way these themes emerge on rereading.

The Woman in Schrödinger's Wave Equations by Eugene Mirabelli

About a year ago, Mirabelli first appeared in F&SF with a story entitled "First Known Jump Across Time", a charming semi-scientific romance. When it came out, many of the usual genre purists were as offended as you might expect: apparently the story failed to meet the exacting criteria of formal science fiction. Well, here's another one for the propeller heads to argue about: although informed by scientific history, and infused with a deep appreciation of science itself, the "speculative element" so crucial to some readers remains ambiguous at best.

The main character is a grad student in physics, and he's running low on enthusiasm for his chosen profession. The grind of academia is burning him out. He feels he's getting nowhere, and his passion for equations is wearing thin. His girlfriend, a savvy artist and extremely hot California surfer babe is more of a draw than the complexities of quantum physics, or the glacial pace of research at the university.

But things start to change when he meets the girl downstairs in the laundry room. She's a waitress, although it turns out that she's an artist also. Not so savvy, perhaps, and not so media ready. But their encounter sparks a curiosity about physics in her, which causes her to ask a curious question about Schrödinger's Wave Equations, one that slowly works its way into our physicist's life.

This is not a story about scientific breakthrough, it's one about personal and emotional breakthrough, but set to the tune of scientific mystery. Mirabelli has a magnificent touch with character and plot: the subtle shift in the physicist's world is completely convincing, heartwarming, and right. His portrayal of the supporting cast is deft and delightful. The concluding connections to theoretical physics, while not particularly surprising, are so beautifully executed that all but the most curmudgeonly sci-fi fans should be more than satisfied.

F&SF August: Summary Table





Thwarting Jabbi Gloond

Matthew Hughes


[Review] An episode from Henghis Hapthorn's early years.

Maze of Trees

Claudio O'Keefe


Contemporary dryad story, but the variations on the original are neither convincing nor satisfying.

Gypsy Tail Wind

Mary Rosenblum


Outer system space opera with freaky tentacle people and space pirates.

Refried Cliches: A Five-Course Meal

Mike Shultz


Cute collection of darkly humorous flash pieces putting some nasty spin on genre cliches.

A Very Little Madness Goes a Long Way

M. Rickert


... towards weirdness! An ordinary Joe and his not-so-ordinary wife have lost a child. When her brother Corvus comes to console her, it is not he who arrives, but a crow of a very different order. Note to fellow crow-friends: this is an anti-crow story.


Bruce McAllister


Creepy tale of a boy, his beloved grandmother, and his kinda creepy mom.

Pure Vision

Robert Reed


Neat premise: glasses that allow the wearer to see the human soul. Anti-hero narrator didn't do much for me.

The Woman in Schrödinger's Wave Equations

Eugene Mirabelli


[Review] A charming scientific romance.


Paradox: #7

Paradox (#7)

Another beautiful issue of Paradox, with a particularly eclectic mix of stories.

A Monument More Lasting than Brass by Steven Mohan, Jr.

Steven Mohan, Jr. offers an alternate history with a twist. Several twists, actually, and most (but not all) are good.

The alternate history is that Armstrong did not land successfully on the moon — at least, not successfully enough to return, or even to broadcast his first steps. After accidents with Apollo 10, 11, and 12, the Apollo series was cancelled, and it remained to Ronald Reagan to turn the knobs up on the cold war, returning to the moon with intent to bankrupt the Soviets, with a successor "Artemis" project.

Alternate history as a genre likes to take some critical moment in history, tweak some tiny element, and track the imaginary consequences. It's hard to point to many historical moments more important than the first lunar landing. Nonetheless, alternate history seems to have a pretty strong affinity for history, in its more remote senses. It's quite refreshing to encounter so recent an alternate.

Mohan makes the most of his idea, too. The story works as an alternate history, hands down: Mohan's portrayal of Armstrong's doomed landing attempt resonates with the other NASA tragedies familiar to all of us, yet is completely convincing — and chilling — on its own terms. His imagined consequences are all quite plausible, including the technology of a Reagan-era lunar effort. All very plausible and persuasive.

But that's not all there is to the story: it also functions as very contemporary take on the political, social, and global issues surrounding space exploration. And it's not a simplistic take. The two guys landing on the moon come at it from entirely different perspectives and personal motivations, each of which are inherently authentic, yet totally at odds with each other:

The narrator, Banks, is a civilian: his faith in space travel lies in the conviction that, on Earth, humanity has all its eggs in one basket. Reaching beyond the planet is a moral and spiritual imperative to guarantee that life will survive the vagaries of a single planet. His team member is Jaroszynski, a transfer to NASA from the Air Force, a Viet Nam vet, and a believer that we Have To Beat The Russians. And, being of Polish descent, he has extremely powerful, personal motivations behind this. These two engage in a dialog that is as relevant today as it ever has been.

The only flaw in the piece, to my reading, is the ending. It's an intriguing twist, and it gives an unexpected dimension to the title, but after the subtlety, complexity, and conviction of everything that lead up to it, I found it a bit disappointing. (Click for serious spoilers.)

Armstrong Is Missing!

So, Banks reaches the site of the first mission's crash landing and finds a mystery: Armstrong and Aldrin are missing. They are not in the capsule, there are no tracks leading away from the capsule, their corpses — or suits — cannot be found. The implication is that they won't be, that Armstrong and Aldrin, out of communication with Earth and knowing that there was no hope for them, staged their own disappearance as a sort of pointed practical joke. This is the eponymous monument: a mystery that would galvanize the public to further space exploration.

Unfortunately, Armstrong and Aldrin "covering their tracks" is not very convincing, especially over any distance. Imagine walking over sand that the sea has swept clean at high tide, and then trying to restore that sand to its pre-walked-on state. Not bloody likely! What about the high-res cameras that are surely on the module orbiting the Moon during the expedition that is narrated? This twist just doesn't work, and it doesn't really add anything to the story.

> Hide This <

The Gods of Green and Gray by Paul Finch

As a longtime enthusiast of Roman history, any story about the first great European Empire is always going to appeal, and Paul Finch establishes credentials as both historian and storyteller in the first pages. The scenario is tense: a young, green officer striving to make a name for himself is paired with a civilian engineer to map and tame some wild fens in Britain. Their guide is a descendant of the followers of Boudicca, some eighty years after the Celtic rebellion. Nobody trusts him, exactly, but the engineer takes a pragmatic view, while the military man takes an ideological view. Plenty of resonance here to contemporary military actions to spice up the story.

This is all good, and Finch's masterful use of detail really draws the reader into a time and place remote from our own in all the ways a fantasy or history reader could want. I am sure this is a point different readers will take in different ways, but to my view, amidst the telling the story stumbled away from its true potential.

Finch shifted the point-of-view during the story, bouncing between Livius, the military commander, and Ursus, the engineer. Livius held center stage for most of the story, but was largely portrayed as a villain, or at some sort of anti-hero. Ursus was clearly intended as the more sympathetic of the two. However, as the story progressed they moved from nicely shaded characters into clumsily sketched caricatures.

It was clear that Livius' background and ambition were setting him up for folly, yet his persistence as the point-of-view character and the fact that Finch gives the reader sympathetic motivations behind his regrettable choices, at least early in the story, sets up a fairly strong desire that Livius might eventually redeem himself. Regrettably, Livius sort of wanders off into Hollywood-villain la-la land, and the whole ending plays out in ways that disappoint the expectations Finch's delicate opening pages prepared.

Despite my own sense of disappointment, there is so much vivid historical and sensual detail, and so much fine fabulous monster fun, many readers will probably have a ball with this story.

Paradox #7: Summary Table





A Tear Like a Rainbow

Meredith Simmons

3,250 wds, est.

A sweet — but rather obvious — tale from the U.S. Civil War.

The Avowing of Sir Kay

Cherith Baldry

5,000 wds, est.

Arthurian melodrama: an evening of vows gets out of hand, and bitter Sir Kay makes a vow that leads him toward an emotional confrontation with his peers.

A Monument More Lasting Than Brass

Steven Mohan, Jr.

4,000 wds, est.

[Review] Alternate history of the present: humanity does not reach the moon until the Reagan administration.

The Tiger Fortune Princess

Eugie Foster

2,000 wds, est.

A Chinese fairy tale. No idea whether it's a retelling or an original composition. Cute, either way. Between Jenn Reese, Whats-His-Name, and Eugie Foster, I think we have the China angle covered.

A Taste of Ashes

Ilsa J. Bick

7,500 wds, est.

Time travelers attempt to stop Hitler.

A Hand in the Stream

Darron T. Moore

5,500 wds, est.

Peculiar mix of compelling historical situation, godawful science fiction, and awkward emotional drama as the military bungles an attempt to preserve the library at Alexandria using time travel.

The Gods of Green and Gray

Paul Finch

13,000 wds, est.

[Review] Romans taming the fens of Britain encounter something even more terrifying than Boudicca's rebels.

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.


Jul 4, 23:43 by IROSF
Let's talk about short fiction!

Bluejack's reviews are here.
Jul 5, 06:35 by Carl Frederick
Shortest review I've ever gotten on a story (two words). And yet, despite the brevity, I'm still trying to interpret it.
-Carl Frederick
Jul 5, 07:41 by Bluejack
"Fun enough" should be taken as a thumbs up, although the fact that there were so many similarly-themed stories in the same issue dampened my enthusiasm for all of them.

I will add that the alien fish forming themselves into a massive mirror broke the suspension of disbelief. I mean, I guess alien fish could be shaped right to accomplish this, and form a watertight bowl as well, but my reaction was... "I'd have to see how that was done."

"Fun enough" should definitely be taken as better than "Not fun enough" or "Barely fun enough".
Jul 5, 07:41 by Bluejack
And I'll post links to other reviews of the magainzes reviewed in this article later today.
Jul 5, 07:53 by Carl Frederick
Thanks, BJ. I appreciate the clarification. I'll happily take my thumbs-up where I can get them.

As for the fish: the bowl wasn't intended to be watertight; the mirror was underwater. I'd intended the fish-mirror to be like one of those solar ovens (for power generation) made from a large number of flat mirrors. If you were confused about that, then it is my problem not yours; the writing should have been clearer.
Jul 5, 14:10 by Gordon Van Gelder
Thanks for the reviews, Bluejack. As always.

The August F&SF cover, "Fairy Falls" by Max Bertolini, does not expressly illustrate "Maze of Trees."
Jul 5, 16:05 by Chris Cevasco

Thanks for another set of insightful reviews.

Regarding Eugie Foster's "The Tiger Fortune Princess" in Paradox, the tale is a re-telling of "Snow White" from a Far Eastern perspective, inspired by Chinese cultural traditions and superstitions surrounding such themes as pregnancy, child rearing, and ancestor veneration.

Jul 5, 17:25 by Bluejack
TangentOnline has a review of the August F&SF online.

Highlights: Henghis Hapthorne - Sherlock Holmes comparisons ... good thoughts on "Refried Cliches"
Jul 5, 17:34 by Bluejack
Tangent Online also has a review of the August Asimov's.

E. Sedia's favorite story is Pratt's "Bottom Feeding"... and I'll have to confess: I'm not sure I got this story. After reading Sedia's review, I get it even less. I agree that the prose is great, but the significance of many of the pivotal plot points and symbolic elements left me, uh, floundering.
Jul 5, 21:03 by twosheds
I've enjoyed both of the Henghis Hapthorn stories I've read in F&FS. Sure, I think the character is starting out two dimensional and clichéd, but we know that in the future, his integrator and his hidden side add challenges (and hopefully conflict) to his life. This will force the character to reveal some of his own flaws and make him more believable and interesting. I enjoyed all of the stories in this issue (a contrast to my whining about last issue). “Maze of Trees” was my favorite. I’m a fan of simple descriptions, and I know there might be some who’ll say her descriptions of the wilds of West Virginia could have been shortened, but in this story, I think they were perfect. The premise was a connection between the character and the wilds, so to understand her and the source of her magic, the reader had to understand the untamed parts of WV. I thought it was wonderful. I’ll admit that I didn’t fully grasp “A Very Little Madness…” although it certainly held my interest all the way through. I guess this is a literary style. We see the character’s disjointed thoughts through the writing style. I also enjoyed “Pure Vision” but there was such effort put into the set up of the glasses and what they might do, the ending doesn’t seem to match.

Jul 5, 22:00 by Bluejack
Hey Twosheds, thanks for the minireviews! I hope more people post stuff like that. With regard to "Pure Vision" what did you think of the main character? I thought the story would have been more fun if there was someone I could care about in the piece.

The reviewer at Tangent Online, however, thought "This is a not man who is out to make a better world, and, to be honest, I like that about him. There is an escapist pleasure and, in this increasingly censorious age, subversive thrill in his mild misanthropy that makes this story a fun read."

I guess I didn't experience the subversive thrill :(
Jul 6, 01:34 by Richard Lovett
FYI, and totally out of context, I believe that I have an answer for you on "second world". It's a Cold War reference: Us, Them, and the Third World (everyone else). That's how I understood it, anyway. So the "second world" is the old Iron Curtain, plus China, Korea, etc.

At least that's how I understand it. I collect that sort of useless information, but your should double-check it before using it in any important manner, since my neurons are olde enough that I actually think I remember when the term was invented ...
Jul 6, 09:42 by Tim Pratt
Thanks for the mention, Bluejack, and for pointing out the other review, which I hadn't seen. It's not my place to explain the story (it's out there, and that's the best I can do), but I will say that I wasn't trying to be deliberately obscure! It's about someone encountering and messing with something fantastical that they don't fully understand, so I couldn't very well explain everything. Sometimes I like my fantasy to have some capital-M Mystery.
Jul 6, 10:01 by twosheds
The anti-hero in "Pure Vision" didn't bother me, but I'm not sure it enhanced the story (for me). With anti-heros in books (Thomas Covenant or the Black Company, etc.) they eventually reveal their own flaws and become redeemable and likeable. But you can't do that with a short story; what you see is what you get. I like it in that the author gives us something out of the ordinary. We know these people; let's write about them.
Jul 6, 11:35 by Bluejack
Tim... that's a perfectly fair comment, and the dynamic of the author relating to a reviewer is always tricky.

I will clarify that I wasn't sure how to interpret the last line. It was intriguingly ambiguous, both on what it meant, and -- depending on what that meaning was -- how a reader might interpret it. However, the gnomic utterances contrasting the salmon with the catfish led me to expect some more conclusive twist at the end that would provide an example of this difference.

And, perhaps it did: perhaps I merely failed to put the dots together.

Regardless, definitely a story worth reading... and better: worth discussing!
Jul 6, 17:10 by Eric Stone

I'm glad you liked the science, even if you didn't like the politics. And I'm particularly pleased you liked the ultimate method for defeating the villains (which was written pre-Incredibles, in case there was any doubt.)

> I highly doubt that this story was written for the All-
> Star Zeppelin Stories anthology, but here they are again:
> high tech blimps!

Actually, it was -- which accounts for the "Ayn Rand Enlightened Industrialist" as the hero. Since the Zeppelin anthology guidelines said they were looking for "retro-pulp" stories, I decided to make my character a D.D.-Harriman-type (Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon.") I was trying to write the type of story that might have appeared in Analog back when it was Astounding Science Fiction, which were the kinds of stories I enjoyed reading as a kid.

I'm afraid I can't argue that the villains are fully developed, three-dimensional characters -- you're right, they're fairly stereotypical. But considering that there already are Islamist terrorists and eco-terrorists, and looking at the strange political bedfellows you'll find at anti-globalization and anti-war rallies these days, I don't see the development of a Gaia Jihad movement as any more implausible than, say, a "pro-life" terrorist bomber.

As for the $250 million, you're correct, the number was too small, even without my forgetting to account for inflation. I figured $250 million was about right in relation to the $10 million X-Prize for suborbital flight, and that it was unlikely anyone would offer much more than that merely as a prize. Subsequent to my writing the story, the X-Prize was won and people began talking about the possibility of $100 million prizes for achievements much less substantial than a space elevator, so I definitely underestimated the possibilities for prizes. (I suppose I could explain it away by claiming there was a substantial period of deflation, but that would really be implausible.)
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