Final Staff

Editor-in-Chief:
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Managing Editor:
Dave Noonan

Editors

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  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

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

  • Marti McKenna
  • Bridget McKenna

Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

April, 2009 : Review:

Short Fiction, April 2009

Several of the usual zines didn't arrive by the deadline for turning in this review. I predict a much longer column in May.

Zines Reviewed

Analog

Analog, May, '09

Analog, May 2009

A collection of pieces at the shorter lengths for this month, and again, no serial. I particularly enjoyed the Steven Gould story.

Among the Tchi by Adam-Troy Castro

Satire. The SF genre seems to produce more than its share of writer stories—stories aimed primarily by the author at other writers. I have my doubts whether this is a Good Thing, but in any event, this is one of them. Author Brian Carlson, "of minimal but undeniable early promise," has made the error of accepting a gig as Author in Residence at the Tchi University Seminar in the Fiction of Human Beings. What he had not known was the fact that the Tchi hold humans in utter contempt and human prose even more so. The entire purpose of the seminar is to give the Tchi academics a forum for mocking and humiliating the human authors. Carlson plans to get his own back, but then, so have the numerous other human scriveners who have come before him.

The setup here is amusing enough, although the humor is often forced. But as with any joke, it must survive or fail on its punchline. And I'm afraid this one has minimal punch.

Quickfeathers by Alexis Glynn Latner

"Planet Green is a geological puzzle wrapped in an ecological enigma inside a planetological mystery." A nice summary, even if the author is so fond of the sentence that she repeats it. It seems that Green once hosted an intelligent avian species which left a written mythos before it devolved. Now humans are colonizing the place and their computer is decoding the myth in its spare time. The text alternates the myth with the narrator's account of colonization activity on Green, coming to a concluding epiphany.

Both strands of narrative here are condensed down so far as to boil away all the storyness, leaving only bare plot skeletons. This is unfortunate, as there seems to be potentially interesting material here—as in a novel's worth. As in, who moved the moon, and how, and why? In fact, several references in the text hint at this being the sequel to several previous installments in a series. Without them, however, this piece is only bone, without flesh or heart.

Rendezvous at Angels Thirty by Tom Ligon

Doyle is a rich guy very seriously into WWII aviation. He not only has his own restored and replicated fighters, he is paying for a hyper-real nano simulation of a specific mission.

"This is personal. The flight leader, Captain Vince Doyle, is one of my ancestors. A few minutes after the snapshot, his whole flight vanished. Never found a trace. The original investigation suspected a big midair collision. Whatever the cause, they never met up with the bombers they were supposed to escort, and those guys got slaughtered.

But the simulation is more real than he had bargained for.

Here is one of the classic SF scenarios, and one of my personal favorites. The text makes it clear that time travel is involved, and I think there are few readers who will not be expecting [hoping for] one of the old Twilight Zone twists. When the narrator finally shuts up about how great he is and how much the author knows about this stuff, the aerial action is cracking good. I will not, however, forgive the author for the gratuitous remark about the librarian engineer with her hair pulled back into a "hideous bun."

Sleeping Beauties by Robert R Chase

When Peter Frondelli was younger, he had applied for a position on the Saturn expedition. But when an unexpected slot opens at the last minute, Peter's life has changed; he is engaged to a singer named Angee and doesn't want to leave her for the five years of the mission. He turns down the offer, but Angee surprises him by breaking off the engagement because of his decision. She is, of course, only thinking of him. While he is in hibernation during the mission, she will be in hibernation on Earth, waiting for him.

This is a sort of SFnal version of the O'Henry story about mutual sacrifice. But here's the problem: The author tells us that the round trip to Saturn will last 5 years. This seems a tad bit quick to me, but never mind that. What I do mind is that it seems like too short a time to call for hibernation. Furthermore, the crew doesn't even hibernate all the way through the voyage; they cycle in and out of sleep, I suspect for the convenience of the author, who could not otherwise advance his plot. In the meantime, Angee, supposedly hibernating in solidarity with her lover, is also cycling in and out, advancing her own career. Yet, as she points out, people have in the past often waited that long for their lovers to return, without benefit of hibernation. Other than the advantage to the author for the title and the final line, I can see no real need for it under the circumstances of the story. Not to mention the little operation that Robert undergoes to make sure he is faithful to Angee on the voyage. These people make sacrifice entirely too easy. It's supposed to be hard. It's supposed to cost more than it does here.

A Measure of Devotion by Shane Tourtellotte

Harris Kensil was once a courageous and eloquent advocate for the starship program, but something has changed. He now suffers from agoraphobia and stage fright, yet despite this he pulls strings to stage a comeback and take part in a crucial funding debate. In the end, Harris is forced to face his limitations, as the author, having withheld the information until the end, tells us the secret reason for them.

There is a real human tragedy here, both in Harris's sacrifice and his mistaken attempt at a comeback, but I wish the author had avoided the debate with the sneering opponents.

A Story, With Beans by Steven Gould

Somewhere out in the US southwest, there is a kind of bug that consumes anything metal. People live there, regardless. Such a place attracts all kinds, the better and the worse. Sometimes the denizens will share a story with the tourists, and by extension the readers.

One of the rangers, silent until now, said, "That's right, miss." He slid the sleeve of his khaki shirt up displaying a scarred furrow across the top of his forearm. "Bug did this. Was helping to dig a new kiva at Pojoaque and didn't see I'd uncovered the base of an old metal fencepost. Not until the pain hit. There weren't many bugs around, but they came buzzing after that first one tasted steel and broadcast the call. I was able to roll away, under the incoming ones."

A nice short piece full of good storyness.

RECOMMENDED

The Brother on the Shelf by Philip Edward Kaldon

It's 2882, and Earth is at war with Enemy Aliens. Billy and his little Brother Connor go every week to the store to pick up the new war trading cards. Billy likes the big cruisers.

Later, at age seventeen, Billy volunteers to serve on one of the cruisers while Connor is still too young to go to war, but he can keep in contact through the trading card of Billy's ship.

Pulling his last card out of the pouch, Connor sat quietly in the cold winter afternoon. It had been hard to find one specific warship out of the thousands of ships in Fleet, but he had a strong reason for having this exact card and so sought one from a dealer off the net. He stared at the image of the black and gray wedge, the notation FFL- 2890 in crisp Fleet lettering.

A cross between Starship Troopers and Bazooka Joe, for readers who can accept the premise that it's still 1959, after nine hundred years.

Clarkesworld

Clarkesworld #30

Clarkesworld, March 2009

Two relatively conventional tales for this venue. I sort of miss the wildly experimental stuff.

Herding Vegetable Sheep by Ekaterina Sedia

Anita is a cloudherd, the employee of a totalitarian government that controls all information. She cherishes the freedom of her hours up in the sky, but otherwise her life is not happy.

At night, I lie awake listening to the rain's whisper outside, thinking of love. I believe it is my failure that my daughter would not talk to me, and my granddaughter treats me as a child. I wish I knew how to fix it, how to fit into the snug world of the people I care about. Instead, I leave them behind, on the ground, as my plane sputters and spits jets of dust into too-warm, moist air.

This is primarily a story of family relationships and freedom. Yet there is quite a bit of other stuff going on and left to puzzle readers. Like, is the rest of the world still there? Why is it necessary for it to rain all the time? What is the bit about Anita's face showing her age? Is this piece actually an extended rant against the Evils of Copyright? I recall that Clarkesworld has a rigid limit on word length, and I can't help suspecting that too much stuff was thrown out of a longer work in order to fit it in.

The Loyalty of Birds by Rachel Sobel

There is war in the land, and the protagonist, a woman of high birth, has retreated to her old home in the country to hide her wizard lover, broken and almost killed in some combat. She nurses him, he very slowly heals, coming to terms with the fact that his power is gone. He scatters crumbs on the windowsill and waits to see if his birds will come back to him.

But he is quiet still, so reserved that it is sometimes hard to remember his presence at all, and much harder to remember the young man she first met, a wizard as strident as ever his crows were. Sometimes she thinks that it would be polite to ask the fate of his birds, but she is not sure even he knows. If they were not destroyed by the wizard he fought, they may have starved by now, or fled to some other wizard's hand, perhaps even the one that ruined him. She has never been assured of the loyalty of birds.

This is a story of love, a romantic and somewhat poetic tale with such a close focus on the lovers and their current domestic situation that the rest of the world and its urgent concerns are glimpsed only at a distance: we learn almost nothing about the wizard's role in the war and a great deal about the poems that he used to read.

RECOMMENDED

Fantasy magazine

Fantasy Magazine, March 2009

A month of tales that threaten to send me to my thesaurus to locate synonyms for "enigmatic."

Chemical Magic by Katherine Sparrow

A rather callow magician falls in love with a more accomplished alchemist. He hopes that she will be the long-awaited girl who allows him to cut her in half, but when he does, he sees more than he should.

The magician turned to look into the tops of her thighs. At the center of it, a green python pulled back its head and struck at the glass. In her left leg sat a naked man, almost a boy. Hairless and shy, he peeked out from behind some tendons. The magician liked the boy, and felt like they could be friends. In the other leg, he saw two people, a woman and an androgyne. They sat perched on the pelvic bone, whispering to each other and laughing. He leaned close, but he couldn't hear any of the words through the glass. Their tiny, delicate hands danced about. He had never seen anything quite so beautiful.

Weird and surreal visions, attractive and repellant at the same time, in this cautionary tale about trespass.

RECOMMENDED

White Stone by Genevieve Valentine

Soviet soldiers in WWII make a girl out of snow, and many of the men fall in love with her, young Piotr most deeply of all.

Her face was no saint's face but something more, something safer and more beautiful, a face suffused with love. Through the falling snow her eyes shone for me, the mouth Mikhailov made parted to invite me.

I kissed her so gently it hardly left a mark; with such girls as my Snegurotchka, I knew, a man had to be very careful. If you loved them too much they melted away to nothing.

Effective evocation of the frozen horror of this war on humanity, and how humanity tries to keep a spark of itself alive. No fantastic element outside the narrator's imagination, and I do have to wonder in what condition he is telling this story, and to whom. The most straightforward tale in the batch.

Birds by Jean-Claude Dunyach, translated by Sheryl Curtis

Once, a war came and took away the men of the village. Then Clara asked the Magician for a miracle, and he transformed the birds of the sky to take the place of the village men, but there has been a price. The village now lives in a cage of its own volition, closed away from the outside world.

The houses have not been rebuilt; the trucks carrying the building supplies can no longer cross the river. Those who work in the fields are too weary to look up once their day is done. And those who knit in the shadow never speak of what they feel and seldom of what they have seen.

But now Clara's son by a man from outside the village is growing up and may break the spell.

The story is puzzling—the village does not seem to be a happy place, so I am not sure why breaking the spell, now, would be such a bad thing, or just what is the cage that seems to hold the Magician.

Jane by Nicole Kornher-Stace

The narrator became the follower of a destructive goddess-prophet-rebel who called herself Jane. Jane's purpose was unknown, even to her followers.

Occasionally you wondered if this might be how the men who'd fought under Joan of Arc had felt, swallowed whole by someone else's cause, believing because she believed, enthusiasm by contagion, never really knowing why.

Jane blows up the bridge, in the course of which the narrator is burned and blinded. We find him in what seems to be a mental hospital, talking to himself about these events, unless it is Jane, talking to him on the inside of his head.

To call this one "enigmatic" would be to overstate its comprehensibility. It has something to do with sacrifice and salvation; it has something to do with the city, which is first described as a golem, then having Jane as its beating heart. The narrator claims, at the last, to understand, but then the narrator is on some really heavy drugs.

Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons, March 2009

In which SH returns to its usual fantasy fare.

Diana Comet by Sandra McDonald

Dauntless Diana Comet has come to the great city of Massasoit, which greatly resembles 19th century New York, in pursuit of her missing lover James.

"You claim to be on assignment from New Dalli's largest newspaper, but anyone who's been to the country knows its notoriously cheapskate editors would never fund a trip this far. As a journalist, you seem unaccountably wealthy and accustomed to the habits of the stuffy upper class. You've already told me you have no intentions of traveling beyond Massasoit. I ask myself, what could bring a wealthy, beautiful, independent woman halfway across the world except true love either thwarted or pursued?"

Everyone claims that James has eloped with an actress, but Diana knows that James would never betray her, for he knows her shameful secret.

This light steampunk-flavored piece, more amusing than outright humorous, does not end the way most readers will probably expect. There is no overtly fantastic element, but it counts as fantasy because of its secondary world, the resemblances to our own being the fuel for much social commentary.

Nira and I by Shweta Narayan

Shaya and Nira live in a world of mist, the mist of fear. They belong to the caste of rememberers, who are not supposed to feat the mist, but they do.

We know each corner, every cobblestone. The mist cannot tempt us into a street that never was, can never make us think that we are home, or that we are kittens or fish. We are the city's traders, its messengers; we know it from wharf to hill. We roam through the dead market, piled high with bananas and seaweed but smelling only of age; we cross the tricky bridge, whose planks dissolve underfoot when we aren't there to remember.

They are guided by the ghost of their cousin Hemal, victim of an honor killing for loving a boy of the wrong caste; Hemal teaches them songs to dispel the mist. They form the nuclear of a mixed-caste group called Sunbringers that works against the mist, even while the law attempts to repress them.

The mist carries a heavy metaphorical burden in this tale, as the author has heaped a whole lot of Message onto it: caste, tradition, honor killings, patriarchy, gender roles, all feed the oppressive, mutagenic mist.

The Spider in You by Sean E. Markey

In which everyone keeps a spider god in a home aquarium. If a child survives three bites, it will have good fortune all its life. The narrators have lost three children to their god, but they are very hopeful for their latest.

This is not the most credible premise, and I am not convinced that the rewards of the spider bite are worth the risk. The spider does not work either as a god or as a spider.

The bugs rained down on the spider's fat body, and it turned on them in a rage. While it ate, while its mouth made dark, wet sounds, we broke down.

Nope. Not a spider.

Flurb

Flurb #7

Flurb #7, Spring-Summer 2009

Hold on a minute while I shift my linear, literal brain to sideways before opening the files of this zine. Generally, these pieces are all pretty short and weirdly amusing.

Off-Track Betting by Madeline Ashby

When Xian was young, her family sold her to the People's Colonial Circus. Now she is living on the ice miner Tian Hou and has sold her body to the Motes, nano-sized aliens that attempt to communicate to humans by contorting the bodies of human Dancers into messages. Like everyone else, she bets on the outcome of the messages, but the government has been tracking her bets and now it is suspicious about how much she knows.

In the hours after the Mote broadcast, the net flooded with piecemeal re-edits of the footage that emphasized specific portions of the Dance: the agonizingly-slow transition from one pose to another in the measure-words sector, the violent jerks and flips in the adverbs. Xian paged through the footage, skimmed comms.

Pretty original premise. Despite her connection to the Motes, Xian's concerns are essentially human.

RECOMMENDED

A History of the Internet by Charlie Anders

The narrator Makes It Big on the internet.

We kept making up fake sites, and we changed the URL around every time we told someone: nasalsex.net or nononotthehair.edu or bucketofthumbs.com and by the time we found out there wasn't any acid, just blinking lights and NLP, some guy had bought us all those URLs in exchange for a teledildonic lapdance. (Never do those, they suck.)

Yup.

Billy and the Flying Saucer by Terry Bisson

A Billy story. Billy learns why it is bad for you to get hooked on cigarettes.

"Looking for something?" Vernon asked. He was smiling.

"A cigarette," said Billy.

"I thought so," said Vernon. "Now you are hooked. Now you have to do anything I say."

Sometimes I appreciate the Billy stories and sometimes I don't, but this one had me grinning.

Squonk Hunt by Cody Goodfellow

On a moonless, fog-swaddled Indian summer night, Daddy Huntoon took his best dog and his worst boy into the vast brackish swamp south of Mergatroyd County, hunting for the Squonk.

The Squonk being a sort of swampish siren/succubus, it is Daddy's intention to Make A Man of Jupiter, but things do not go quite according to plan.

Hilariously and overhyperbolically gross.

Initiation by Robert Guffey

The narrator is taken to a labyrinth and told to return with the heart of fear.

To the right stood a door. It was wide and rounded at the top, painted green and made of vertical wooden slats with splinters sticking out of it; it had a dirty brass handle, no knob.

He passes through a nightmare landscape and relearns who he has always been. The reader is not quite so enlightened, not having the advantage of knowing it in the first place, but the visions, if not enlightening, are fascinating.

Clouds in the Night by Alex Hardison

Lux the geek hasn't liked to go out much since she lost Charley, but Miranda talks her into going to a party.

Everyone there was lensing, which made me glad that I'd made the effort to dress up my cloud even as I was annoyed by the affectation. I doubt that many of the people there really understood the potential of ubiquitous computing; they just knew that it was cool to have a bunch of symbols and links floating around your head and pretend that the Collapse never happened.

No real plot conflicts, just a date at a party and a lot of cyberneep.

Trembling Blue Stars by Richard Kadrey

Arkady the cosmonaut meets his former lover in the cafe.

"And all you had to do was let them gut you like a fish and fill you up with an alien parasite. Were you really that anxious to get away from me?"

"The alterations are necessary. Humans can't function in deep space. Our guests are the only thing that makes it possible. It's a symbiotic relationship."

Valentina both hates the changes in Arkady and wants to share them, or to be with him even if she can't. It is an awkward moment and a sad story.

Cobalt Imperium by Kek-w

Clementine has been dumped by Ignatz for a Coal Gurl, so she buys a gun and shoots him. But Clementine is a loser; she can't even do that right.

She shook her head with a mixture of sadness and numb self-loathing, acutely aware of how this would be interpreted by the CCTV cameras whirring overhead. My God, what have I done? I'm not thinking straight. I should have organised a media-deal before I killed him. Now no one will want to represent me.

Cyberpunk is not really a new subgenre. It's been around for a couple of decades, long enough for what was new to become old. This piece is trying real hard to be new, but its new is too stale, and that's all it's got, as opposed to a story.

And They Will Not Be Stopped by Simon Logan

Dariuz and Lina are infoterrorists at war with MegaMart for the minds of the masses, literally injecting truth to counter the corporate lies.

He waits until she picks one of the cartons and then plunges the syringe into her back, pressing on a metallic button on its top and there is a pneumatic hiss as the serum is injected into her. The woman jolts but makes no sound, turns to her right, probably thinking that some other idiot has merely bumped into her with their cart and he makes his escape to her left, unseen.

Heavy-handed on the propaganda.

Growth Industry by Adam Rothstein

The construction biz has gone biological. Structures are grown, not built, but the technology is a closely-guarded secret.

They could see the effects of the DNA programming now, all over the new building. The bones were settling as they gained weight, their hollow cores filling with support tissue. Ribs were extending and fusing to form the floors and walls of the building. Red membranes were secreting to cover the empty spaces; it would harden to become the exterior surface of the building exposed to the weather.

This one is a Neat Skiffy Idea and watching the building grow is fun. I'm not sure about the red herring that the author starts out with, though.

All Hangy by Rudy Rucker and John Shirley

Three people so far, a diver and a pair of aerialists, have gone all hangy, transcending the limits of physics, whether deliberately or accidentally is not clear. Roberto tries to map the moves on his computer so he can duplicate them.

The underlying mathematics had to do with tensors, spinors, and higher-dimensional flips. Orientation entanglement. Roberto had snarfed that part from a physics professor's site. The surprising thing had been how readily he'd been able to turn the equations into computer code.

Wish-fulfillment stuff.

Subterranean

Subterranean, Winter '09

Subterranean Online , Winter 2009

A mixed issue, ranging from the farcical fantastic to the mundane bad streets, and a pair of very fine stories indeed.

A Four-Sided Triangle: A Lucifer Jones Story by Mike Resnick

More of Resnick's neer-do-well adventurer in 1930s Latin America. The bad reverend has decided to court the richest and ugliest widow in Boliva, but his perennial rivals Major Dobbins and Rupert Cornwall are also on the hunt.

The amusement value here depends entirely upon the reader's appreciation of the narrative voice, as the plot is thin to transparency.

"Ah, Señor," he said sadly, "Nature has not been kind to her. Her eyes do not always look in the same direction. Her nose… well, it reminds one of the proboscis monkey. She is missing her two front teeth on the top, and the Baron shot the only dentist in La Paz six years ago."

Clinic by Kris Nelscott

Back in 1970s San Francisco, the narrator works the midnight shift in a street clinic where bad shit happens.

It's easy to walk away. It's harder to stay. Old Doc Hartspall knew that. And he probably knew that if I had the stomach to stay here, I had the stomach to bend over a dying baby in the middle of the night and fight—even if I knew I was going to lose.

Grim. Non-fantastic.

Grail-Diving in Shangrilla with the World's Last Mime by Ken Scholes

The Great One-Sided War lasted three days and at the end of it, hobgoblin hordes, electric harnesses humming a cheerful hum, ran mop-up on the scant leftovers of the human race.

Little Elvis Sanchez and Reverend Sparkle Jones are two of the leftovers, and so is young Timmy Gallahad. With a motley band, they embark in their Winnebago on a quest to Shangrilla where they will find the grail and use it to defeat the invaders. So God has instructed the reverend. So it works out, more or less.

A survivalist farce.

Three Fancies from the Infernal Garden by C. S. E. Cooney

Variations on Russian folklore. The garden of Koshchei the Deathless is the home to many interesting denizens, beautiful and dire, and the object of many quests, chief among them the melancholy firebird.

How a bear chased a swan. How a swan wore a crown. How a queen was a cat. How a witch loved at last. How a turnip in an oven begat a dozen children. How an Ivan slew a dragon who used to be an Ivan. How all Ivans become dragons. How all dragons become Ivans…

This is delightful. The three stories form a single strand, told in a lively and engaging narrative voice.

RECOMMENDED

Her Voice in a Bottle by Tim Pratt

The narrator reminisces about his vanished lover Meredith.

I remember we looked at stones and broken colored glass in the stream by the steam plant, and she told me about being a little girl and wishing she could shrink down to explore river rock islands and the insides of rabbit warrens and the interior of hollow trees. Peaking on mushrooms, the world a vivid continuous flow of color and shape and sensation, that sounded perfectly reasonable to me. "Why didn't you do it?"

She said, "Maybe I did," and then she disappeared again. Just another hallucination, a bit of lost time, my distractible eyes deceiving me, but when I found her again minutes later her hair was wet and her pockets were full of damp stones.

This is a very fine story, told in clear and luminous prose, about the effect that a woman of magic has on a man's life, about the fragile region of the mind where perception, memory and invention meet. The fantastic element is unambiguous, even if the narrator sometimes doubts it.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Apex

Apex Magazine, March 2009

In which we find a theme of vivisection and human/animal chimeras.

The Mind of a Pig by Ekaterina Sedia

Joel learns the reason that he is different from everyone else. He is an experiment at the institute where cloned human organs are grown in pigs.

"What personality? He's a pig. He's just keeping this brain warm, in a manner of speaking. It's a blank slate. A person who receives Joel's frontal lobe will eventually develop connections between his brain and the transplant, and gradually claim it as his own, regaining function as the time goes by. Brain tissue is just tissue until a human mind shapes it into something grander."

Desperately, Joel writes messages attempting to convey the fact of his sentience to his friend Cassie.

As SF, this strikes me as a tad bit improbable, but as fantasy, it's sort of a cross between "Flowers for Algernon" and Charlotte's Web. Like the latter, the author veils the tragedy with a heartwarming conclusion.

The Puma by Theodora Goss

In this sequel to H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, we learn that the Puma Woman did not in fact die on the island but cohabited with Edward Prendick until he made his escape. Now, calling herself Catherine Prendick, she has followed him to England.

A derivative work tends to assume that readers are familiar with the original. Given this, I find that the Puma repeats rather too much of the events on the island, even if they are not quite the same events as in the book. This is otherwise a rather unsettling evocation of the original tale, suggesting that the consequences of evil continue to propagate long before the original evildoer is gone.

Head Music by Lon Prater

All his life, Diego has heard music in his head. Tonight, the music takes control and calls him to the beach, where he finds the creature that makes it, stranded on land and in trouble.

It had slick, warty gray-green skin flecked all over with lambent orange jewel-like scales. There were no eyes to speak of. Either end of its tube-like body presented a fleshy pucker of skin surrounded by a forest of supple whips and barbed tendrils. Near the center of its girth there were three great vein-lined fans pressed close against its body.

This is a reprint from a horror anthology, which raises the question, What exactly is horror? The creature's appearance would be regarded as horrific by most people who saw it—indeed, the resemblance to Cthulhu is probably not a coincidence. And the images of what comes later could certainly be called viscerally extreme. But is it evil? And is evil a requirement for what we call horror? I suspect that in the end, this depends on whether Diego acted out of free will as well as the creature's intentions, and of this, we can not be quite sure.

RECOMMENDED

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 2009

A variety of fantasy premises, finally including elves.

The Orangery by K.D. Wentworth

The Darcy children, Sophia, Reg and Phylly, are growing up in boredom on their father's estate in England, attended only by servants. When Nanny falls asleep at night, they leave the nursery and go to play in the orangery. But there is a portal in the orangery to a dark and exotic world, and a small feathered serpent with a venom that compels Sophia's return when she is bitten.

Its mouth opened in a hiss and its feathers rose in a ruff behind its head. Within its throat, I saw concentric rows of glimmering green, as though it had swallowed emeralds. Then it struck, fastening upon my hand. Oddly, I felt no pain, but rather a flooding warmth that rocketed through my veins.

A sinister and exotic vision. I only wish the serpent had not been called a strega, which is the Italian for witch, because this creature is something else.

RECOMMENDED

Unrest by Grace Seybold

Kulosep and Hado are at war, the Esh live between trapped between them, and the trolls hide in their caves. And in the city lives the magician who traps souls. Each of their voices tells its own tale of the war, from which parts the reader can catch glimpses of the whole. In these events, Tekel of the Esh is conscripted and killed and trapped and freed, and the tale continues; the war is only part of it.

I wondered where we were going, and if I would see the walls and towers of Kulosep tomorrow or in days to come. I had never wanted to leave the farm, but if this was to be my life, let it at least be filled with marvels. Let me yield to fate and be borne up by it, like a plucked leaf that soars far from the tree. It is no disgrace, to yield to fate.

An intriguing series of glimpses into a world we can not see quite clearly enough to fully understand. I think I would like to know more of the Esh. They remind me in a way of the Etruscans.

The Five Days of Justice Merriwell by Stephanie Burgess

As a child, Justice was taken by her father on his campaigns of extermination against the Others and the heretics who followed them.

I remember riding in my father's arms onto the village green just before dawn, while the dance was still wild on the grass. I remember the colors that scarred themselves into my astonished eyes, the garish whirls of gold and green. I remember the figures that mingled together, the human heretics with the Others. I remember the yellow eyes that flashed in shock as my father's men encircled them, the wings that sparkled iridescence.

Now he has named her his successor as the Lord High Protector of Albion, but her brothers move in rebellion against her, and the half-breed heretic prince is leading an invading army, bringing with him the lost sun. Justice stands alone, between them, her only certainty that her father must have had a reason for choosing her.

This one evokes the harshness of the English Civil War and subsequent rule of Cromwell, with a Witchfinder General thrown into the mix. But there is never really any doubt which is the better cause, when the sun itself takes sides. The narrator hints that during the original rule of the Others there were great abuses, but these are given short shrift in the immediate crisis.

Haxan by Kennth Mark Hoover

John Marwood is a sort of immortal, a man called out of time to do what has to be done. This time he has been called by a dying man who needs him to protect his daughter from the evil that has attacked him.

I found the old man nailed to a hackberry tree five miles out of Haxan, New Mexico. They had hammered railroad spikes through his wrists and ankles. He was stripped so the westering sun could peel the flesh from his bones.

Marwood proceeds with brutal efficiency, despite a couple of lapses, to do his job.

This one is apparently part of a series, and Marwood has the attributes of a series hero. He narrates the tale in a flat, affectless tone that suggests there are many things he knows and will not say. But I was expecting more of a revelation when it came to the conclusion and the discovery of who was behind all the evil; all the buildup fizzled out into banality like the climax of a lame Perry Mason TV script.

Zahir

Zahir 18

Zahir 18, Winter/Spring 2009

An unusual issue of this small printzine, with fewer, longer stories than the norm. In all, there is some kind of journey.

The Indifferent Stars by Priya Sharma

Eradie is living with a human lover among humans, making a mark for himself as an author while he awaits the invasion ship. The reviews say:

Mark Eradie has a unique vision and singular voice. His dissection of culture and relationships is unrelenting. It is as though he is foreign to the human experience and he forces us to question our perspectives and see the world anew.

But he has become in the process foreign to his own kind, to the approaching ship with people counting on him to release the bomb that will alter Earth's atmosphere so they can breathe—and humans can not.

The contrast between Eradie and his lower-caste partner Hamma does not make the aliens more attractive, or Eradie more sympathetic. Readers may wonder, with Hamma, if Eradie is betraying his own kind. But then, so does Eradie.

Notes from the Island by Diana Swift

The narrator has voluntarily gone into exile with her [I assume] musician lover on a deserted island where there are ruins of a vanished city. Her lover is not much of a companion, so she has begun a diary and fills it with the quotidian details of her existence, with which she seems fairly contented. Their imprisonment has freed them, she remarks, from the ideology that ruled their homeland.

This is an idyllic vision of coming to terms with existence for its own sake, for the present and not the future.

It's sad to think of rescue when it is possible, and it doesn't come. In fact, it is unbearable. But when it is no longer possible, it is no longer sad.

But despite their rejection of the principle that some are born to rule and some to serve, the [female?] narrator seems to be doing all the work.

Ice for Pangi by Mark Rich

A sea journey. Global warming has altered the world, and the village where Juaz lives is short of water. When he wins the lottery, he decides to use the money to rent a hauler tug and bring an iceberg home. He plans to be there for the birthday party of his daughter Pangi, so the children can have an ice slide for the day. But while he has bribed the officials to raise the vast causeway crossing the Pacific for his passage, his ice is now melting while a more important shipment is crossing the causeway, the topsoil from the Napa Valley being shipped to vineyards in China.

Despite the vast scope of the changes, what matters to Juaz are the small things, primarily his love for his small daughter. An interesting character, who considers himself a small man yet accomplishes a great thing.

He knew this, that her tears were like the tears of any other; yet he could not take it like any other man.

Finding Sanctuary by Anne M. Pillsworth

A trek through the jungle. On the planet Donora, a group of humans have founded a tech-free settlement, Sanctuary, where they live in relative harmony with the indigenous species. Now Merthir, who seems to be an ethologist, has decided the Primitives need to be studied. Local administration agrees to let her make the attempt but insist she carry a stunner and comlink on her journey. Merthir frets that this use of tech will cause the prims to reject her.

What I find most interesting about these sorts of journeys is often not the dilemmas that obsess the characters but the neat creatures they meet on the way. I have to wonder if the author has read Bill Peet's Wump World.

Bygones by Sandra Maddux-Creech

A road trip. For most of the 70s, the band was strung out on drugs but now, near the end of the decade, they have come more or less clean. "Now they're road-tripping the no-more-needle blues away." They are following the signs, e.g.: Light Prima Moon 78. Their destination is unclear to them, and Rekky thinks he would like to end the trip, but he's afraid of what comes next.

The road signs are the key to the nature of this journey.

Below the Triangle by Joseph Hirsch

A small group of soldiers, including a general, comes to a backwater base in Iraq to solve a mystery. The mystery is Pvt Gates, who claims to have had a vision predicting a terrorist attack. Now the army wants to know how he got the information, if he is collaborating with the terrorists or is actually a psychic.

Most of this narrative is occupied with the details of life on this base where nothing happens and there is nothing to do, and third-world slave labor does most of that.

A stray mongrel dog crossed their path at the hand-washing station. Fur sprouted randomly from where it hadn't been ripped or rotted away from the beast. It was thin, legs stilts and ribs skeletal fingers.

I fail entirely to see why this interrogation had to take place on this distant and improbable base, as opposed to anywhere else in the war.

Dark Worlds

Dark Worlds #3

Dark Worlds 3, Winter 2009

I'm not sure if this is a magazine or an anthology. I'm not sure if the publishers have made up their minds on this point, either. It may be an anthology series; I don't intend to do anthologies in this column, but at any rate, I have it here so I'm taking a look. It's a Canadian effort, the product of a club which prints the works of its members. This issue does not convince me that this is a very good idea.

There are two good dark stories, the Ehart and the Thomas, a few that are OK but don't generate excessive enthusiasm, and a couple not very good at all. The subject matter, despite the title, is also all over the place. Some stories are grim, others light, a couple non-SFnal. Noncopyediting errors are rife.

There are apparently illustrations, which didn't come with the text files I was sent for review, but I'd strongly suggest that the publisher would do better to acquire a copyeditor, instead [hint: an arrow is not "knocked"].

The Tomb of the Amazon Queen by Michael Ehart

Another installment in the author's ongoing series about an accursed immortal swordswoman. Ninshi continues her quest for liberation from her curse, but she has incurred the enmity of the Temple of Ishtar, which unwisely keeps sending soldiers in pursuit of her, despite her warnings.

"Go quickly, and tell your mistresses what you have seen here. Tell them that Nin-Sinuss, Lady of the Song, Servant of the Manthycore has no desire to continue killing the servants of the Temple of Ishtar, but has no fear of it, either. And if they continue sending companies of men after me, I will burn every Temple of Ishtar from Great Ur to Carcamesh."

On the road, she and her daughter/apprentice Miri join forces with a small company of Amazon warriors on a quest of their own. Mayhem ensues.

I am familiar with this series [imagine irritable comment about series here], and it seems that the author is shifting the setting closer to the historical Bronze Age—which of course I approve. The title suggests a more pulpy tale than this one turns out to be. It takes place about a decade after the fall of Troy, in which the queen of the Amazons and most of her followers fell, and this remnant band has come to retrieve her crown from her tomb. If I were the sort to quibble about that sort of thing, I would wonder why the author gives them Greek names when they come from the east, but I assume it is because Homer did.

RECOMMENDED

Roadblock by Jack Mackensie

Eddie and Schachter are the two-man crew of the Anubis.

Schachter . . . was short and slightly pudgy. He had four arms and two stubby legs that ended in another pair of hands. His skin was pale and he had two huge eyes that worked better than most of the ship's sensors. He was quiet most of the time. He was a great guy to work with.

They have just delivered an illicit cargo of porn and are therefore evasive when they encounter a space cop ship. But they find their way blocked by a large collection of derelict spacecraft, all showing signs of having been attacked by piracy. It soon becomes clear that the pirate ship is the renegade cop. How to escape?

Despite a bit of queasy-making, this tale is essentially a lite space opera.

The Storming of Big Spree by David A. Hardy

Sub-inspector Thomas Gatewood of the Northwest Mounted Police has been sent to clean up the whiskey smugglers at the Big Spree trading post.

"There are perhaps a dozen gunmen at Big Spree. Bill McGregor will accompany you as guide. You can have the four-pounder cannon too. I doubt you'll need it, but it never hurts to fire a salute or two. It gets everybody's heart racing and makes you think of the Queen."

Cleaning up is accomplished, despite a few complications, murders and other crimes.

When a story is set at places named Fort Whoop Up and Big Spree, when one of the characters is Sweetgrass Bill McGregor, "half Scots and half Blackfoot," who speaks with a distinct highlands brogue, readers should be quickly clued in that this is fiction in a humorous mode. As there is no fantastic element, it probably belongs among the Tall Tales of the frontier.

Bayou Mirage by E.P. Berglund

The narrator is spending the summer fishing at a friend's cabin in Bayou L'Mirage, the mirage in question being the apparition of a long-dead young woman. He becomes obsessed with her.

I arrived at the island with the sun just beginning to touch the horizon with its orange flames. Before me stood Silana, as beautiful as I had remembered her. The setting sun was directly behind her and her form was in complete silhouette. Her arms stretched over her head gave enticing curves to her lithesome body. The bright green vines that climbed her body could not dispel the enrapturement that I was under at that moment.

This one is awfully clumsy. Also, "L'Mirage" is wrong in French.

Laocoon by G.W. Thomas

Horror. Brett Hope, former lawman, is riding on his own business when he comes across a set of tracks—three horses and a strange set of tracks on foot, dragging a chain. He decides to see if wrongdoing is involved, but soon comes across two eviscerated corpses, seemingly attacked by some monster. And then he finds the monster—or perhaps two of them.

The three fell in a heap with the woman on top and Hope on the bottom. He had to fire his pistol at the woman who savaged his face with her teeth. Butchard ignored her claw-like hands, went for Hope's leg instead with the skinning knife. He almost succeeded, if not for the gunman chopping downwards with the barrel of his gun in time to knock away the blade. He lost his grip on the pistol, dropping it under the scuffling bodies.

A strong sense of implacable evil here. If I were the sort of person who quibbled about that sort of thing, I would take issue with the comparison to Laocoon, who was, after all, quite innocent, as Butchard definitely is not.

RECOMMENDED

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Nick Andreychuk

The narrator has been hired to tail a cheating husband, only to see him murdered. But the P.I doesn't tell the cops what he knows, for reasons of his own.

I'd become smitten with the cheater's lover. And not just because of her beauty, her short skirt, or her plunging neckline. There was something about the way she moved—like she had a soulful jazz band playing in her head. When I watched her, I heard the music in my heart. I loved her. Simple as that. So I lied to my client to stay close to Sherry.

Not really so much a murder mystery as a sort of joke told in P.I. jargon. No fantastic content.

Communications Delay by Lee Beavington

Science fiction. Paul is on a single-man mission to intercept a mysterious object in the outer solar system.

Spotted three years prior a curious astronomer, the object heading towards the solar system was too uniform in shape and too large being Pluto-sized to be a comet. Not to mention defiant of the laws of gravity. Ten months ago it disappeared. Then Neptune's spacescopes picked up the object several thousand kilometers closer than it should be. It appeared to skip through space, similar to how his communications utilized Kaysenberg's space-hopping ansible for FTL transmissions.

For some reason, Paul's ship has run short of fuel. His only chance to get back to Earth is to hitch a ride on the mysterious object, which has skipped over his position and is now closer to the planet. Then he sees what the object really is.

This one starts out as a sort of hard-SF tale of danger in space, then comes to the revelation and abruptly ends. Too abruptly, alas.

Immortals of the Cannibal Coast by Joel Jenkins and Martin Edward Stephenson

Sword and sorcery. The pirate ship is going down and the vicious sea nagas are waiting for their prey. Tarajel is determined to survive in the only boat, and to take their treasure with her after murdering the captain.

Tarajel saw the tattered sails hanging useless from the broken masts. The savage wind howled in her ears, biting at her lithe form, and whipping out across the spume-tossed seas. Long brown hair splayed about her face, her sloe eyes scrying the rain swept night for some sign of salvation. From foot to neck she was clad in dark leather, a cuirass of tortoiseshell mail bound around her chest and back.

Many further adventures ensue after they land on Cannibal Island with its blowgun-wielding pygmies and gods demanding human sacrifice.

Typical S&S fare with overly-purpled prose.


Copyright © 2009, Lois Tilton. All Rights Reserved.

About Lois Tilton

In the past, Lois Tilton's fiction has been nominated for the Nebula, Sturgeon and Sidewise Awards. She is now reviewing the fiction of others.

COMMENTS!

Apr 3, 00:37 by IROSF
Comment below!
Apr 3, 05:40 by Michael Ehart
Thank you Lois, for the kind words! You are right. I struggled with the Greek names, found some substitutes, but finally decided on Homer's names because they are the names by which the characters had become real to me.
Apr 3, 16:00 by Jason Sizemore
Thank you for reviewing Apex Magazine. I was wondering when we would hit your radar. :)

Jason Sizemore
Apex Magazine
Apr 3, 16:37 by Tim Pratt
Thanks for the nice words, Lois. I'm glad you liked the story -- it's one of the most personal and honest things I've written.
Apr 4, 01:49 by Tom Ligon
Oops, sorry about the bun! Too much description has its drawbacks! ;)

Apr 4, 16:34 by Lois Tilton
Tom, I've probably saved you from mobs of enraged females wielding rolling pins.

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