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
  • Sherry D. Ramsey
  • Rena Saimoto
  • Paula Stiles

Editors-at-Large

  • Marti McKenna
  • Bridget McKenna

Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

May, 2009 : Review:

Short Fiction, May 2009

There was plenty of fiction to read in April, both in print and online. The prize for the month goes to Interzone, with Clarkesworld and Fantasy Magazine offering strong fiction as well.

Zines Reviewed

F&SF

F&SF, June-July, '09

F&SF, June/July 2009

This issue's theme: the power of belief, including the power of self-delusion.

Paradiso Lost by Albert E. Cowdrey

SF. A lengthy reminiscence by a retired military officer. As young officers, the narrator, Robert Kohn, and his fellow shavetail, Jésus Morales, have been sent on a mission to evacuate a colony planet. The officer in command is murdered partway through the voyage, which everyone considers good riddance. Kohn solves the mystery of the crime and has an affair with the ship's female commander. The expedition arrives at the colony planet, where drastically unexpected events occur. The two young officers learn their trade, become older and wiser.

"We're like the two American generals in the war with Mexico. The soldiers called one Old Fuss and Feathers because he always played by the book. They called the other Old Rough and Ready because he dressed like a peasant and paid no attention to the book. Both won their battles. The point is, either way can work if it's natural for you."

The frame here is Morales' son asking Kohn to tell him about his father, long deceased, but in fact we learn very little of him, and more about Kohn, the protagonist of a series of stories by this author. Essentially it is a coming of age story in which young men learn to measure disillusionment against their own personal morality. The lengthy narrative seems at first to be a couple of almost disconnected stories, but they are tied together by the concluding confession. There is rather too much about Kohn's affair with the ship's captain, given that this story is actually supposed to be about Morales, who wasn't a third in the ménage. The scenes of military life are pretty hackneyed, and it is not clear how the telepath, who hears so very much from distant planets, somehow managed to miss the entire conspiracy right under his nose.

Adaptogenia by Wayne Wightman

SF horror. Eliot works for a scary lady named Vera who runs a secretive agency specializing in weird phenomena. Weird phenomena are suddenly showing up a lot, and they turn out to be insects, clumping together to imitate other objects.

"The tree looks real," Vera said, inspecting the bark. She pulled a low twiggy branch down so the leaves were near our faces. The branch snapped off like the dead stick that it was, the leaves dematerialized, and, with a faint hum, disappeared. Vera looked at her hand: where she had pulled the branch down, the "bark bugs" had mashed across her palm, leaving it brown and gooey. "Some of them are very very small," she said, studying the residue. None of the leaves were leaves.

But primarily the insects eat. Everything. Insecticides only make them stronger. Until there is nothing edible left but Vera, Eliot and Jane.

Evolution in action. This would be more scary if it were more probable.

Economancer by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Simon has been offered a banking position in the emerging Polynesian nation of Tamaroa, but the job is not quite what he had expected. The Tamaroans want him to cast a spell on the US currency and cause the value of the dollar to decline.

"For many decades we believed we were powerless in this new world of interlocking global finance. We thought only Western ways were effective, and so we cast aside our own traditions, to chase after ones that were alien to us. But now we have come to the realization that we were wrong, and our own ways can influence the markets; we just need to learn how to adapt them.

"But still, to challenge the Massachuseti we need more experience. And so we look to you, to Great Britain, where the tradition first began. We look to the ancient London School of Economancy."

Voodoo economics taken literally. And of course the voodoo works because the victims believe in it. I suspect that voodoo accounts for the phenomena of people falling for derivatives and securitization as well any other theory. Amusing, unless perhaps you are a victim of the economancers.

Firehorn by Robert Reed

Fifty years ago, when he was a kid, Gabriel Tanbridge made up a monster to entertain the younger kids. His girlfriend Morgan gave it a name: the Firehorn. The legend took on a life of its own.

Even if they didn't admit it, the most gullible minds began lying awake at night, every little noise catching their interest. Was that the call or grunt or clawed scratchings of this unwelcome creature? The legend was helped when a local cat lost its battle with a coyote, its yellow body sliced up by long teeth and left on the schoolyard. And later, a teenage couple parked on the dirt road south of town thought they spotted a low shape slinking along, the glowing red horn obvious in the moonlight.

Since then, the world has drastically changed. Tanbridge and Morgan are divorced and she is now a cyborg married to an AI. And the AIs are convinced that the Firehorn of legend is still at large, attacking their kind.

The conclusion, while it has poetic justice, doesn't strike me as too convincing. But the interest in this story is in the altered world, the wonder at the things that change and those that stay the same, like the need to believe, even for AIs—if you accept that premise. I find it hard.

The Spaceman by Mike O'Driscoll

In 1994, Freddie, Jenna and Mouse meet a spaceman.

He spun round and saw, rising up over the seaward edge of the crag, the spaceman. Hanging motionless in the air, a big white hulk of a thing, more alien than man, he thought, with his great domed head and the sunlight gleaming off the place where his face should have been.

Captain Paul explains that in 1972, piloting the Apollo Twenty Command Module, he lost contact with the lunar lander and its crew. Ever since, he has been lost and trying to find them, and he needs help. But Freddie can't believe in this story, even after he has seen Captain Paul. The books say there was never an Apollo Twenty mission. And now Mouse and Jenna hate him for refusing to believe.

Another tale about the power of faith. The most intriguing part of this story is the scene where Mouse goes through the graveyard reading the tombstones to the invisible spaceman: People killed in the Martian wars, abducted by aliens. Mouse can see through into an alternate world, and Freddie will always regret that he could not. But there is rather too much about Freddie mooning about Jenna.

The Motorman's Coat by John Kessel

Frantisek is a dealer in antique clothing. He has a passion for his merchandise and his shop, unshared by his wife and the general buying public. When a mysterious woman offers to sell him an authentic Prague motorman's uniform coat, he expends all his resources to purchase it, convinced that it will make his shop famous.

He had worn it all day the previous day. It was by no means a miracle of tailoring—it had been, after all, only a uniform, one of many manufactured in its time. It was not the coat of a rich man, not even as plush as the camel hair jacket he had once worn for three minutes. But the destruction of most organic fabrics had left such items as this so rare as to give them an aura. When he wore the motorman's coat, Frantisek felt taller, handsomer, smarter, and more acute.

This is another story, is about the will to believe, the power of faith. The tone is unsettling, reflecting the uncertainty of current economic conditions, the result of excessive and misplaced faith and people who took advantage of it. The antique clothing is valuable because some earlier biological disaster destroyed organic fabrics; buildings are biological, but vulnerable to blight. There is no security anywhere, yet some people will always profit from the susceptibility of others.

RECOMMENDED

Corona Centurion™ FAQ by Terry Bisson

Advertising the latest model of heart.

Q: Do I have to use Synth™? Can't I keep my own blood?

A: Why would you want to? It's just sea water. Synth™, especially developed for and with the Corona Centurion™, flows better and carries more oxygen and nutrients. And the nanorganic bearings in the Centurion's rotor require its use. Accept no substitutes.

The likely consequences are left as an exercise for the reader in this effective short-short.

Retrograde Summer by John Varley

Classic reprint. Timothy's cloned sister is coming for a visit to Mercury from her home on Luna. They don't hit it off too well at first—Jubilant is altogether too critical about Mercury's environmental engineering, but it is clear even to her that Mercury's internally generated suits are pretty neat stuff. What Timothy has always wanted to know is why their mother left Jubilant on the moon and took him to Mercury. Why he was allowed to be born at all when his mother already had her allotted child. He knows that Jubilant knows the secret, and he is annoyed that no one will tell him.

Retrograde summer isn't about retrograde summer at all. It's more about the grotto of quicksilver. And the nifty suits that allow people to swim in it. But mostly it's about Varley's views on sexual and familial relationships.

Then things started to fall apart, as any sane person could have told them it would. I don't know much history, but I know a little about the way things were back on Old Earth. Husbands killing wives, wives killing husbands, parents beating children, wars, starvation; all those things. I don't know how much of that was the result of the nuclear family, but it must have been tough to "marry" someone and find out too late that it was the wrong someone. So you took it out on the children. I'm no sociologist, but I can see that much.

Back in the day when this story was new, this stuff was all very daring and progressive. And if it now seems commonplace, we must remember where and when it began.

Sooner or Later or Never Never by Gary Jennings

The misadventures of missionary Crispin Mobey in the outback of Australia, attempting to bring the Word to the Anula tribe.

The whole tribe couldn't have numbered more than seventy-five souls, each of them uglier than the next. Had I not known of their crying need of me, I might have backtracked. The men were great broad-shouldered fellows, coppery-black, with even blacker beards and hair bushed around their low foreheads, sullen eyes and bone-pierced flat noses. The women had more hair and no beards, and limp, empty breasts that hung down their fronts like a couple of pinned-on medals. The men wore only a horsehair rope around their middles, in which they stuck their boomerangs, music sticks, feather charms, and the like. The women wore nagas, fig newton-sized aprons of paperbark. The children wore drool.

The Anula opinion of Mobey is no more flattering.

This classic reprint enjoys a low sort of humor, involving Ex-Lax in large quantities, which says quite enough.

Asimov's

Asimov's, June, '09

Asimov's, June 2009

A special James Patrick Kelly issue, with a novelette by Kelly and several pieces of nonfiction by and about the honored author. There is an implicit theme about the nature of humanity.

Going Deep by James Patrick Kelly

Teenagers on the moon. Mariska is in a typical adolescent bitchy funk, aggravated by the news that her clone-mother is coming back from space after fifteen years. Mariska has her genes, spacer genes, so she is bound to become a spacer, too. But Mariska, in the manner of teenagers, doesn't like everyone trying to run her life.

She was Volochkova's clone and had been carried to term in a plastic womb, then placed in the care of one Alfred DeFord, a licensed father, under a term adoption contract. Her genetic mother had hired Al the way that some people hired secretaries; three-fifths of Volochkova's salary paid for their comfortable if unspectacular lifestyle. Mariska knew that Al had come to love her over the years, but growing up with an intelligent room and a hired father for parents wouldn't have been her choice, had she been given one.

Kelly deftly captures the teeth-on-edge emotional vortex of the teenaged girl, but there isn't a whole lot more to the story, which seems aimed at younger readers.

Controlled Experiment by Tom Purdom

A future where life-extension has essentially eliminated aging and most of the population has no material occupation. Some young people become 'mischiefs,' freelance troublemakers. Bud Weldon was a mischief, once, but things got out of hand and people were killed. He was sentenced to life without parole, but now, a life sentence could last a thousand years. The governor is trying an experiment. After sixty-six years, Bud has been paroled, fitted with a pacifier implant that keeps him from violent acts. He lives in a community consisting entirely of people hired for Bud to live among, to see if he can adjust. But the experiment has enemies, people who want it to fail. They have hired mischiefs to harass Bud so he will snap.

They had it all worked out. They were already laying the groundwork. I understood the theory. Make something real big happen and it would be the only thing people would remember. It wouldn't matter who had done it, the pros or the antis. Make it big enough and people would have just one response. That's what happens when you try stuff like the Bud Experiment. You're just going to get trouble. The whole project would end right then and there. And nobody would be interested in who caused the uproar.

This is a pretty fascinating and complex premise. While we hear from time to time from the hired-gun mischief, the primary point of view is from Van and Rosa, hired troubleshooters there to protect the integrity of the experiment. There's a lot of technical neepery about the equipment used by both mischiefs and anti-mischiefs, but mostly there is a well-populated setting in which many things have changed and many remain the same, like politics.

RECOMMENDED

Sails the Morne by Chris Willrich

A space mystery. Xenophobic bookloving Captain Brick has a precious cargo, one of the original four Book of Kells, which he is transporting to the Exposition in the alien-colonized Kuiper Belt. But the ship also carries alien passengers, at least one of whom is intent on sabotaging the ship and stealing the treasure.

The worst of it, Brick thought as he regarded the empty box, was that he'd leapt to haul this treasure. Other captains back at Lagrange Four muttered SolGov had gotten giddy about this Exposition . . . that even under-armed freighters ran bloated with swag. But Brick, book-loving Brick, had been too dazzled. He still had connections from his smuggling days, and from the days he'd turned informant. They'd come through for him.

This one is crammed with a lot of skiffy stuff—weird aliens, colorful crewmembers, various cybers, apocalyptic cults, pirate attacks and nested plots. There is also, for readers of the author's Gaunt and Bone series, a certain significant connecting clue. Yet this one lacks the characteristic charm of the best of that series.

Bare, Forked Animal by John Alfred Taylor

Jacyn's locator chip has failed. The system won't respond to him, it doesn't know he's there. And no one can see him through the system's overlays.

His mouth is terribly dry, and he remembers that a person can only survive three days without water. Behind his door there's water from the kitchen faucet, there's juice and beer in his refrigerator, something to slake his thirst inside every cubicle facing on the square. But he could die out here and not be noticed till the stink got bad.

And the system would probably block out the stink.

A brief Cautionary Tale about overreliance on technology. Well-chosen title.

Cold Testing by Eric Brown

Ed discovers friction within his ship's crew, between his jealous engineer Karrie and the new robotic co-pilot, Ella.

I wanted to tell her that I felt affection for her, a warm feeling whenever I thought about her. And I told myself that these feelings had nothing to do with the fact that she looked like a beautiful twenty-year-old Venezuelan Indian, the somatype with which her manufacturer had issued her.

The question is, can Ella develop genuine emotions?

The answer is not exactly what readers might expect, having probably seen too many variations on this story.

The Monsters of Morgan Island by Sandra McDonald

On Morgan Island, where the books never have any endings, there is a pit where they throw the monsters. The monsters are shipped over from the mainland. One day, a monster child is overlooked and Mary Volz decides to keep it in the old deserted winery, bringing it food. The monster child is Mary's only friend.

Mary's father said monsters understood more than they ever wanted you to know. On other points he was vaguer, contradictory. They were dumb but clever. Stupid but cunning. Powerless but dangerous, which was why they had to be cast down. You couldn't let monsters run around in libraries or restaurants or the big department stores they had over on the mainland, which Mary had only seen once.

Morgan Island with its residents is an neat creation, but readers will certainly guess what the monsters are.

Analog

Analog, June, '09

Analog, June 2009

Several shortish stories, too many in which the characters deliver lectures. The tone of this issue is mostly light and humorous, but the best story has a poignant tone of loss and regret.

But it Does Move by Harry Turtledove

A dialogue. Galileo Galilei has been summoned to Rome by the Inquisition, which suspects him of heresy in advocating the theories of Copernicus. His inquisitor has a way of asking questions that seems odd to Galileo, but quite familiar to the reader.

"And part of what interests me is how you became so extraordinary. Tell me of your parents. Tell me of the family in which you grew up." He steepled his fingertips, visibly composing himself to listen and to absorb whatever Galileo said.

The author is being sly but not secretive. The identity of the inquisitor from Vienna is intended to be obvious. What remains, in a talky narrative, is to consider what difference he can make in Galileo's case. And despite a different in methods, there is not really anything new that this interrogator brings to the dialogue between science and faith.

Chain by Stephen L Burns

The narrator is Groucho, a Sentient Autonomous Android Construct whose purpose is to serve Persons. The Persons tend to be demanding and ungrateful for the service, but in exchange for being abused, the android units earn points towards Perfection.

I must walk behind him to show that I do not consider myself his equal, while keeping his umbrella positioned over his head and staying in its shadow just enough to keep his packages dry, even though they are as rainproof as I am. There is no way for me to perform this task in a way that will satisfy him.

Groucho is unlike most other SAACs in possessing both a sense of humor and curiosity. A Person named Circe Agnes Cypher is inexplicably aware of this fact and seeks him out to be a pawn in her mission—to free the slaves.

This one clearly has a Message and there are the usual lectures on the subject along with a heavy bit of symbolism, but the real point comes in the option given to Groucho. With regard to which, it seems that it plays more on his curiosity than his sense of humor. I like the ideas behind the SAAC androids, but not the extended moralizing in lieu of a plot.

Monuments of Unageing Intellect by Howard V. Hendrix

Humanity has conquered death and old age and other inconveniences. They play, they study, they even work in some noneconomic fashion.

She hurled the ball back into bounds, where it was greeted with the laughter of young gods and goddesses, golden Olympians at play, flashing and moving in waves with the ball and the game.

Only the artist Moira is different. Moira is aging. In consequence, her former lover Hisao goes to Wilena for a lecture on the history of the nano mote thingies that have rendered humanity immortal and perpetually adolescent.

As a rumination on the costs of immortality, this one is unoriginal, and it didn't need the lectures.

The Affair of the Phlegmish Master by Donald Moffitt

Time travel humor, including pun. Harry Brock is a rich bastard with a trophy wife, and he wants her portrait painted by Vermeer. But the art establishment fears that the existence of such a painting, even from an alternate Vermeer, will depress the market, and they have taken steps to prevent it.

This goes about as one would expect, with unsubtle characterization. Harry Brock is a boor, Kimberly is a bitch, there is a weak twist at the end, and the pun in the title.

Harry jumped in, in blustery mode and at full volume. "Let's not beat around the bush, fella. I heard you were the best painter around, and I want you to paint my wife. She's a real looker, like you've never seen, and I can afford to pay top dollar." He glanced at the picture of Leeuwenhoek. "You can finish that later."

Solace by James Van Pelt

Meghan is part of the expedition headed for Zeta Reticuli, a four thousand year journey compressed to two subjective years by coldsleep. Every twenty-five years a quarter of the crew wakes up from coldsleep to do maintenance for a couple of weeks. The second time she wakes, Meghan discovers that her wall display no longer works—the image she'd made just before leaving Earth, a nineteenth-century generator house, is gone. Her tie to Earth has been broken.

Even when we arrive, if everything works, if the planet is hospitable, it will take years and years to grow Earth trees to sit beneath. I'll never see an aspen again. I won't make it.

In an alternating narrative, Isaac struggles to survive a nineteenth-century winter alone in the generator house of Meghan's wall display, and leaves a message for her, across the centuries.

A heartfelt tale about the solace of human connections when all else seems to be lost. The scenes in the winter forest are harrowingly beautiful and the Bible verse apt. It is unusual to find in this particular venue a story in which space exploration is shown to have a downside.

RECOMMENDED

The Cold Star Sky by Craig DeLancey

The gas giant Purgatorio has a mining colony of humans intent on exploiting the self-replicating black carbon matryoshka computronium. There are other species with their own interests in the planet. Due to events described in a previous story, the humans are not popular with the rest of the galactics. Now they have a chance to make up for past errors. A Greete research ship is trapped in the matryoshka layer, and only the humans have a shuttle capable of withstanding the pressure to attempt a rescue. Unfortunately for the narrator, Tarkos, he is accompanied in the shuttle by a human-hating, foul-mouthed Greete gasbag.

There is a dense information load to this fairly light tale, particularly for a reader unfamiliar with the previous story's description of the matryoshka carbon. But in the end, it doesn't really much matter to the story how the stuff works; what matters is whether Tarkos can figure out how it works and free the Greete research ship. In the end, we just have to take the author's word for it.

Attack of the Grub-Eaters by Richard A Lovett

Users on the garden webforum discuss a problem with moles. It seems that they showed up in one member's lawn just after the meteor strike. Oh-oh!

Forum: Lawns and Gardens
Thread: Help needed!!!!

User: Garden Warrior
I've got moles.
User: dermatolojest
Don't worry unless they start to grow weird lumps.
User: Garden Warrior
Ha-ha. They're eating my lawn.

An amusing use of the webforum format, accurately capturing its social dynamics.

Interzone

Interzone, April, '09

Interzone 221, April 2009

Seems to be an unofficial Bruce Sterling issue, with a fine story and an interview, as well as a review of the author's latest novel. A superior issue with a good variety of stories besides the Sterling.

A Clown Escapes from Circus Town by Will McIntosh

Beaners the clown decides to go see the world outside the circus tent and figure out how it works, if clowns are truly made from pigs, as rumor claims.

If Beaners had been more introspective, he might have admitted that he also wanted to breathe fresh air, to gaze at landscapes unclotted by clowns. He was so sick of their giant eggplant feet, their chorus of rolling snores and whistled exhales, the cotton-candy stink of their unwashed armpits and sex-starved pillow ejaculations.

He successfully evades the forces of Management and makes his way first to Medieval Village, where he encounters a Green Arrow from Superhero Cove, searching for his missing wife, who might have been abducted to Sextown. Gradually, as they search, the sinister mysteries of the world are revealed.

The presence of clowns does not make this a funny scenario, but it is a pretty original dystopia, and Beaners lives up to his claim that he can be pretty resourceful, for a clown. Still, it is not clear to me why clowns, in particular, are indentured while superheroes are free to travel from town to town and even attend the circus.

Fishermen by Al Robertson

In an alternate Renaissance Mediterranean where Azantine artists paint only by copying recognized templates, the narrator is captured by pirates and taken to their stronghold, where the headman wants him to paint their church. He is soon caught up in a war between the corsairs and the Fenicians who have vowed to crush them, suffering an alteration in his opinions. He learns that the pirates have their own form of art.

The men of Omis had carved rough faces and bodies from driftwood. "This is Saint Anthony of Padova. He protects against shipwrecks."

This is a story of transformation, redemption, and art—tragic but also hopeful.

Saving Diego by Matthew Kressel

A drug story. Six years ago, Mikal ran out on his friend Diego, when Diego was too stoned to respond to his warning that the police were on the way. Now Diego has gotten back in contact and wants a favor. He forgives Mikal, but he wants him to come to Gilder Nefan to help wean him off the drug jisthmus. Once there, the Nefanesh warn him:

"If you smoke the sweet jisthmus without grounding in faith, it will eat your mind."

Diego's mind does seem pretty eaten-away, but there is more going on. Like the unseen benefactor who brings Diego's meals.

Far and Deep by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Leilani's mother has been murdered. Pineki was once an elder herself but laughed at their rules; and now the elders refuse to allow Leilani to give her a diver's funeral by fire. Leilani was often at odds with her mother, but now she is determined to give her the funeral she deserves, no matter what the elders say. In the meantime, she decides to find out who murdered her, and in the process learns who her mother really was.

Pineki had lived to offend, to transgress, to break taboos and laugh at the pleasure. And now she had died for it.

This is a lot more than a murder mystery, although it is that. We meet two fascinating women, visit an interesting culture, and experience a wondrous dive in an alien sea.

RECOMMENDED

Home Again by Paul M. Berger

Julia's father pilots a thought-ship, and Julia is always eager to welcome him home. Thought-ships work by recreating reality at their destination.

When my ship jumps out of the world, and I'm alone and adrift in all that blankness, I have to build my destination in my mind, and when I put enough details in, just like that, we're back.

This time, Julia begins to grasp what this really means.

Beneath a warm and loving family scene, we glimpse something disturbing in this effective short-short.

Black Swan by Bruce Sterling

Luca is a journalist specializing in technology. One of his most useful sources calls himself Massimo Montaldo—a mysterious figure who often passes on engineering secrets to Luca, who in turn does certain favors for Massimo, despite his suspicions that his informant may be some kind of spy or information thief. This time, however, the secret is so big that Luca is afraid to touch it. Because Massimo is angry and drunk, he says,

You know who designed that memristor chip, Luca? You did it. You. But not here, not in this version of Italy. Here, you're just some small-time tech journalist. You created that device in my Italy. In my Italy, you are the guru of computational aesthetics. You're a famous author, you're a culture critic, you're a multi-talented genius. Here, you've got no guts and no imagination. You're so entirely useless here that you can't even change your own world.

This tale of parallel worlds takes place almost entirely in Torino's Caffe Elena, a place Sterling realizes so completely that readers can almost see the bits of gristle in the blood sausage. From this fixed center, events spin out while Luca only catches brief glimpses involving such forces as the CIA and Nicholas Sarkozy, who is alternately the President of France and a gangster known as Nicholas the Rat. It's interesting to watch Luca bluffing, pretending he knows what people are talking about, as it becomes increasingly clear to him that he has taken a step further than he had realized. Well done indeed.

RECOMMENDED

Clarkesworld

Clarkesworld, April, '09

Clarkesworld, April 2009

Two of the day's most prolific short fiction authors show up together in different worlds, considering the same question: what is a human?

Rolling Steel: A Pre-Apocalyptic Love Story by Jay Lake and Shannon Page

In an alternate-world dystopia, Topper, a war veteran with only slight remaining shreds of sanity, is driving his modified tank to the Bethlehem steel mill to hijack some ingots. On the way, he picks up Grace, who is either a hooker or an agent pretending to be one. Mayhem ensues.

He wasn't sure which was more annoying: Marie screaming from below or some woman screaming from the crushed cockpit of the aircraft. In either case it didn't matter. The metal yard was ahead, and that was his purpose here.

The point being that vestiges of humanity, somehow, always remain. Or perhaps that the path to True Love lies through the flattened corpses of those who would stand in their way. Or perhaps it's just fun to watch them get flattened.

The Dying World by Lavie Tidhar

Far future fiction, a sort of game for immortals. An old man creates miniature worlds. An assassin kills him to acquire one of the worlds for his client. The old man rematerializes as a flock of butterflies and follows the assassin to get his world back. The assassin takes countermeasures.

He composes a message in Japanese, utilising haiku for its brevity and sincerity of form. It is a quantum haiku, with meanings ranging from Apologies For Disturbing One's Shape to Notification Had Been Sent in Advance. He sends it to the church on Red Square in the biological form of a moth, the poem encoded into rapid wing movements. The moth fails to return.

An intriguing piece of extreme speculation about how human humans might remain if they were superhuman, even possibly the equivalent of gods. Cruel, trivial, capricious, methodical, tedious, obsessive, monstrous? Yeah, probably.

RECOMMENDED

Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons, April 2009

In addition to the original fiction, SH also reprinted Theodore Sturgeon's "By the Sea."

Turning the Apples by Tina Connolly

Szo is a foreigner on this world and he needs the money, so he can't really resist when the local gangsters make him an offer. There's a local infection that puts tourists in a coma, and someone with the right abilities, like Szo, can reprogram their brains to make them zombies, for deadly work like cleaning up nuclear waste. And Szo is addicted to the act of touching their brains. But he can't forget that his mother is a comabody, too.

The premise here is somewhat complicated and contrived to fit the plot of such a short story. There isn't really time to get to know Szo very well.

Husbandry by Eugene Fischer

Gerry's wife Marilyn has early-onset Alzheimer's. The story follows her deterioration and Gerry's deterioration as well, from the stress of caring for her. The SFnal metaphorical twist is that this is a world where animals continue to function for some time after their deaths. Gerry, as a child, was traumatized by his dead goldfish, still swimming around in its bowl. Now, as a veterinarian, he often has to put down dead pets.

The scenes of Gerry's grief and frustration over Marilyn's condition are moving, reflecting the story's title, but the SFnal aspects are a bit strained.

As He Was by Kit St. Germain

Olivia's lover Malcolm goes off to fight the Japanese in WWII, and Olivia does what she can to protect him by practicing her own home-grown form of hoodoo. Malcolm comes home, but he can't remember the horrors of his time as a POW and he can't remember Livvie. She considers what she might do to set things right.

In the next envelope was the Malcolm dollie, in his little uniform. All in one piece. What would it take to break into his memory, put myself in his thoughts again, get past the fool smile he wore nowadays?

Olivia is a somewhat unsettling character who makes this an unsettling tale, not quite what readers might be expecting.

Lily Glass by Veronica Schanoes

A Hollywood fairy tale. Rose Glaser is a young woman whose identity has been effaced to the point of disappearance. Her name is now Lily Glass, and her face is entirely mutable, perfect for the screen.

After the screen test, she went back to the small studio flat she shared with her mirror, sat in front of the vanity, and slowly stripped off her make-up. Her eyes, it turned out, were not black and her cheekbones were not particularly high. When she was finished, her face was clean but she barely recognized it.

She marries an older leading man and falls in love with his daughter, but her hold on her own identity becomes increasingly tenuous.

The author salts the narrative with fairytale tropes, from stepdaughters to magic mirrors, as well as hints of incest. There is also obvious symbolism—Lily's new name, Glass, suggests her transparency, and the mirrors where she creates her face with makeup are likewise glass. As in many fairy tales, the narrative voice is strong—in this case, stronger than the characters she is telling. While the narrator tells the tale in the present tense, the setting is a Hollywood that existed once upon a time.

Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy Magazine, April 2009

FM continues to provide imaginative and unusual stories.

The Most Dangerous Profession by Sergey Gerasimov

A therapist interviews a patient, a poet. Until a year ago, the poet regularly heard a voice in his head reciting the verses of poems, which he wrote down. Then the voice offered a sort of devil's bargain—the line of a poem in exchange for his life. The poet accepted the offer, but soon regretted it and began a desperate struggle to take back the bargain.

"For all my life, I'd been certain that I was unique; that I was the one who heard the real voice; that the choice—a line for a life—was only given to me. The truth was open to me at that moment: it happened to any real poet. That was why the death-rate among poets was higher than among professional stuntmen or extreme sportsmen."

There is a decided antique sensibility to this piece, most of which is an extended monologue on the price of creativity. The fantasy is unambiguous, no matter what one might think of the poet's sanity.

Shades of White and Road by Camille Alexa

The narrator decides to run away from home taking nothing but herself [and an apple to eat on the road], so she does. But things appear along the road and follow her, needing to be useful to someone.

This is quite reminiscent of Disch's "The Brave Little Toaster," reprinted in F&SF's April/May issue, except that it has a more hopeful ending. It is one of those stories that strains a bit for an effect of striking and original prose, which sometimes works, as in the title, and sometimes doesn't, as in this line: "I turned the lining of both pockets inside out until seams screamed their violation and balls of lint fell to earth like evicted tenants." Unless the tenants in this world are routinely evicted by defenestration, the simile doesn't work.

Early Winter, Near Jenli Village by J. Kathleen Cheney

Li-huan's house is haunted.

The priest told Li-huan's father that the house's previous owner, a wealthy merchant, had died with no one to remember him and so sought their attention. The family dedicated a small shrine to the merchant in the corner of the inner hall and, so appeased, he left them unmolested…until Lili came.

Lili is Li-haun's bride and he loves her, but the ghost is determined to protect her from his attentions.

A sad and quiet tale about wounds that even kindness and love are not enough to heal.

RECOMMENDED

Garkain by Samantha Henderson

European settlers in Australia, over the centuries, have fatal encounters with a local monster.

While this story is clearly horror, the setting might almost be some alien world, a place inimical to the settlers, where they do not belong. Neither the settlers nor the natives seem to recognize any common humanity in each other, and the land itself seems hostile to the settlers' presence.

Winter was dry and hot while summer was wet and gave lie to the promise of rich farms ringing Victoria Settlement like a ring of pearls; crops were planted with the summer rains in mind and winter killed them with its omnipresent, near-windless heat. Trees that grew straight and strong-looking, forged by God for first-rates' masts and roof beams, splintered at the kiss of the ax.
Shimmer

Shimmer, #10

Shimmer 10

The publishers of this little fantasyzine are celebrating their tenth issue by making it available free in .pdf format. There are twelve stories, most very short, many of them stories about stories and storytelling.

Blue Joe by Stephanie Burgess

Just before WWII, Joe and his half-brothers have big plans for their band. They're a team. But Joe's long-missing father has other ideas.

Joe looked the man up and down and knew it to be true. They shared the same crazy golden eyes, the same jet-black hair, though Joe's was slicked back into fashionable lines, and the same great, hooked nose, about which Joe's brothers had always teased him.

Joe's father is a shapechanger, a powerful force who can stop time and influence draft boards. He offers to teach Joe what he knows, but this would mean that Joe would have to leave his brothers.

Joe's father is an intriguing but secretive character, one who remains a mystery even at the end. Readers might still be wondering what it is that he fears, more than loneliness.

The Carnivale of Abandoned Tales by Caitlyn Paxson

The carnival where the denizens of the freak show are recruited from fairy tales. The star of the show, asleep in her golden tent, is the Beauty, the center of all their hopes.

The Big Barker is certain that no one will ever wake her up. It's his job to be certain about things, to huff and puff and convince the world that they are seeing magic. He doesn't believe in magic. He believes in teeth, and axes, and dinner. He believes that he looks sharp in his suit and hat, and never mind the tail. Without him, there would be no show. All of them would wander the world, alone and broken and without an ending. And they know it.

A look at the transformative nature of fairy tales and the twisted ways of wishes coming true. Neat fantasy idea.

RECOMMENDED

A Painter, a Sheep, and a Boa Constrictor by Nir Yaniv, trans by Lavie Tidhar

The narrator has somehow been abandoned on a space station, a member of an outlawed class of persons forbidden to use the drawing technology called a Creator. But a small boy keeps asking him, "Draw me a sheep."

There will be many who would claim that me and mine deserve death, and who would be happy to settle the claim with no accusations of murder. How can you catch someone like me, if not by using someone like me? A drone? Drawn?

The narrator seems to be Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's prince taking the place of his maker, a made thing given a life of his own, making others in his turn. Intriguing thoughts about the nature of artistic creation.

One for Sorrow by Shweta Narayan

Schoolgirl Lainie befriends the old woman that the other children call a witch, who tells her a story about a magpie-maid, one of three sisters, whose feather cloak was once stolen by a lad.

The others laughed, but nor long nor loud. One pulled a black feather from her cloak, and the other pulled a white feather, and together they gied them to their sister. "Keep them by," said one. "We'll be seeing you," said the other. Then with a flutter of cloaks they shifted and were flewen away, aff o' the tree and over the heather.

Nice twist on the old fairy tale, with a look into the nature of true friendship or sisterhood.

The Bride Price by Richard S. Crawford

The Bride of Frankenstein goes to high school.

We all thought Signe was never going to come back to school because she's, like, all dead and stuff, you know, but when junior year starts, she's right there with us in home room. But she's all pale and gross looking and no one wants to sit next to her because her skin is like all slimy and blue and she has all these gashes all over her.

I wasn't amused by the author's overdone teenspeak.

Jaguar Woman by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After the conquest, the jaguar's self has been stolen from her. But sometimes it returns in her dreams.

Bound inside the stiff dresses, under layers of velvet, ruffs, embroidered roses, it is easy to forget how to shift her shape, how to move sleek and elegant on four legs. They speak new words to her and the words drive away the words she used to know. They even give her a new name and she watches as her old name is trampled under the hoofs of their horses. The magic is lost.

A sketch of what could have been a story.

Firefly Igloo by Caroline M. Yoachim

Marta's parents are always watching TV, so she decides that the witch next door would be more interesting to live with.

Another sketch.

The Fox and the King's Beard by Jessica Paige Wick

The king of foxes takes revenge on a human king by taking advantage of innocents in a rather nasty fable.

River Water by Becca de la Rosa

Allison, cab driver and storyteller, drives to the underworld by a very circuitous route, passing through many fantastic scenes to retrieve her dead sister.

Drift, drift, drift, drift,
driftwood, driftwater,
swallow the waves
as they swallow you over.
Sing, sing, sing, sing,
singsong, kingfisher,
sing to the drowned
in the bed of the river.

A highly imaginative look at love and death and storytelling.

RECOMMENDED

What to Do with the Dead by Claude Lalumière

At first, people had no idea what to do with their dead. If you just left them lying around, they started to stink, not to mention all the vermin they tended attract. So that option was ruled out pretty quickly.

A variety of solutions, some more successful than others.

The Spoils of Springfield by Alex Wilson

The flesh-eating zombie decides to check out the world of the Unspoiled but becomes disillusioned after encountering the local youth.

Counting Down to the End of the Universe by Sara Genge

The drawbacks of immortality.

His cells don't die, but they occasionally fall off. Thanks to his distributed consciousness, he can still feel them, strewn around the world with him at the center.
Lone Star Stories

Lone Star Stories 32, April 2009

Three stories of people caught in traps.

People, Unnoticed by Patricia Russo

A pair of cities, separated by a river. In the poorer one, the streets begin to go soft, so that people sink into them and disappear. The richer city destroys the bridge connecting them, to prevent the spread of the problem. People are trapped inside single blocks, hoping the sidewalks do not also go soft. Then an old woman appears.

She was sitting on the sidewalk. It was the eastern sidewalk. Possibly this is not relevant. She was sitting close to the middle, in terms of distance from the corners. Possibly this is not relevant, either. She was sitting very close to the curb, and that, as it turned out, was most definitely relevant.

Strongly-drawn images. I am reminded of flooded New Orleans, where armed police blocked the bridge to keep people from escaping the city. In such a setting, a tale of responsibility to others and reliance on self.

RECOMMENDED

Off the Path by Nichole Kornher-Stace

Melissa has been trapped in fairyland.

They had said: touch nothing here. The apples, redder than your shoes—the berries dark as drowning—eat of them and they will eat of you, as sure as teeth, as hungry for your heart as flame for tinder, and you'll waste for want of them, your heart as hungry for them as tinder for a flame.

Melissa did not heed the warning, and although she has made her way back home, she is unable to eat; she is placed into a hospital for girls with anorexia.

This is a very short ambiguous fantasy, as the events in fairyland could be a metaphor for anorexia. Melissa's disobedience strongly suggests the film The Labyrinth of the Faun.

Gone Daddy Gone by Josh Rountree

Another version of the old Animal Wife tale. Back in 1959, Moon Doggie spotted Priscilla surfing with her sisters.

Six leather jackets lay sunning on the rocks. Moon Doggie braved the crashing waves and found the one he knew was hers. Still couldn't say how he knew but he knew. Snatched it up, took it back to his T-Bird. It smelled like the earth and the sky. The leather was cracked and ancient.

They have had some good years, but as long as she is trapped in his world, time is stuck and can't move on into the future. Priscilla warns him that one day she will have to leave, and so she does.

A kind of fun twist on the old story.

Jim Baen's Universe

Baen's Universe, April, '09

Jim Baen's Universe 18, April 2009

Fewer, longer stories this time.

Calculating Minds by Edward M. Lerner

Aareehl is the Earth-based AI trading agent for the Moby homeworld at Tau Ceti. A backup copy of Aareehl has just come online to receive the information that its original version was destroyed, along with much of Earth, in an asteroid strike. Slowly, however, it comes to suspect that it is the object of an elaborate scam to steal Moby technology. But how can it determine the truth without revealing its suspicions? In the meantime, on the moon, an investigative reporter is following the trail of some fishy dealings.

This is a long and devilishly complicated plot involving fraud, data piracy and insider trading. In many ways, it is a fascinating mystery, especially from the point of view of the AI, as it slowly comes to realize that the information it is receiving may be entirely compromised. Unfortunately the text is laborious going, particularly at the beginning with multiple points of view that are seemingly unconnected. Dense thickets of infodump slow the reader's progress. There are multiple entries from an "Internetopedia," and at one point a stockbroker explains at length to the reader the risks of naked short selling, of which her client is certainly quite aware. At the end, there is not only a lengthy final scene Revealing All, an epilogue actually follows it where even further revelations are presented. I give pretty high marks to the plot, but I could have wished for a less lumpy narrative.

Riding the Drop by Graham Edwards

The worlds have edges, after all, where it is possible to drop off. The Drop is a sort of portal through space.

The slices rushed past like floors in an elevator shaft, one after the other, each slice a hole in the bulk, a gateway to another place. Most were blocked with flotsam: shattered cities, mountains of soil and slops, the crammed bodies of hapless refugees. The worlds were shrinking out of the bulk and this chaos was the result. I let Tumbleweedfall, ignoring the dead, and the creatures that fed on them.

Tanager pilots a dropship, making deliveries between the worlds, but this time, there is trouble. She has a stowaway, who has brought her a troubling gift.

I think this one has to be called science fantasy. While the author employs scientific terms like "brane," the scenery of the drop is entirely fantastic, even including a river Lethe. The description of this fantastic terrain is imaginative, but the premise, if prodded, doesn't really hold up. If Tanager is delivering wormhole portals on which entire worlds depend, this is an awfully unreliable way to go about it. And the concluding revelation is likewise too far-fetched to be credible. Neat setting, needs a better story to put in it.

Storming Hell by John Lambshead

In an alternate world with some resemblance to our early nineteenth century, Sarah Brown is a neophyte pilot [a warrant officer, although the author does not say so] newly posted to Her Majesty's Aethership Cassandra. Pilots guide the ship through the equivalent of a jump, known here as metastasis, but from Sarah's point of view, she is being led through space by a spirit guide, who is in her case a highwayman known as Captain Hind. The Cassandra's mission is to eliminate piracy in the vicinity of a world named Lucifer. They engage a much larger pirate ship, but it is employing a sorcerer as a pilot, leaving the battle largely in Sarah's hands.

Sarah noticed ghostly figures on the edge of her vision that vanished as soon as she looked at them directly, like trying to see a dim star at night. She enthasised and was horrified to see goblin-like forms lurching around the bridges like small boys who had got out of their governess' control. The spirit world was overflowing into the natural realm and something was psychically boarding the Cassandra.

In essence, this is a comedy of manners in the guise of a naval adventure. The primary story is of Sarah's struggles for acceptance in the sexist, class-obsessed milieu of a naval warship. In some ways, it is reminiscent of Weber's Honor Harrington series, which is in turn based on the adventures of Horatio Hornblower in the milieu on which this story is modeled, but Sarah, while competent at her position, is not an ubersuperwoman. I was enjoying this one until the conclusion, when I was Not Amused by the lechery of Captain Fitzwilliam, which left a really bad taste that ruined all the fun.

The Queen of Sheba's Diamonds by Paula R. Stiles

This girl is the Queen of Sheba, though none today will show her scepter its due. Soon, though, they might. They might bow their heads before her throne and prostrate themselves on her marble floor and count themselves very fortunate to leave the balance of her scales alive.

A day in the life of a retributive goddess who carries out her business in the marketplace of an African town. The narrative of this short piece has an unusual voice, told in the future tense, but the conclusion is obvious from the initial paragraphs.

Unpronounceable by Susan diRende

Earth hasn't had good luck with the diplomats it has sent to the homeworld of the Unpronounceables, so it holds a lottery for the position and Rose Delancy wins. Rose is just an ordinary girl from New Jersey, and it is not a coincidence that her middle name is Bellicosa. It doesn't take her long to figure out the secret of Unpronounceable communication.

No wonder they think humans are crazy, sticking our butts at their butts and "farting" ideas. I explain that humans eat and breathe here—and I point to my mouth—and we eliminate waste and pass gas through another hole at the other end. And just to make my point I let fly with a small but fruity one.

Gross humor. Fart jokes.

Black Gate

Black Gate, Spring, '09

Black Gate 13, Spring 2009

224 pages, most of it fiction. In recent issues, this zine has shifted its emphasis toward the Sword and Sorcery end of the fantasy spectrum, and every piece of fiction here could be described to some extent as Dark Fantasy. But there is dark Dark Fantasy and light Dark Fantasy, and most of the stories here are on the lighter side. I am pleased to see fewer obvious installments of story series.

The issue also completes Mark Sumner's serialized novel "The Naturalist," alternate-history horror about hordes of mutant ants, a scenario more truly frightening than most of the demons of fantasy, because more familiar to us.

The Beautiful Corridor by Jonathan L. Howard

Kyth is not exactly a thief, or so she claims. She does claim to be an expert in breaking-and-entering, and in this capacity she has been commissioned by the high priest of the mausoleum-temple of the dead god Maten Shaul to test the difficulty of gaining its innermost sanctum. It is a timed test, Kyth is running out of time, but the final corridor is a real piece of work.

The powder had had time to settle and to stick to the walls, the floors and the carvings in the corridor and they glowed now with that eldritch blue-green. As, indeed, did the mass of hair-thin trigger wires that crisscrossed the breadth of it for much of its length. It was like looking into a spiders' nest.

Watching Kyth navigate the deadly maze and out-think the architect makes this light Dark Fantasy entertaining.

The Good Sheriff by David Wesley Hill

Charles Duke, in a previous installment of this series, has found himself in another world, where the gold he has accumulated is worthless. Here, the local currency is grains of good. Duke locates a sorcerer who agrees to send him back to 1879 Texas in exchange for a fee, and since he has just killed the local sheriff, he takes over the job and finds several ways to make it pay. But of course there are complications.

"Ah, crap," Duke muttered, and sprinted for the constable's office, where the three deputies were standing on the porch rail and goggling at the energy display.

Duke's first instinct was to take down "Old Reliable" from its peg on the wall, but instead of the shotgun, he armed himself with his Henry repeater.

This light fantasy is pretty fun to read and stands quite well on its own. Duke is an interesting character, well-suited to this sort of tale.

RECOMMENDED

The Face in the Sea by John C Hocking

Norse fantasy. It seems that the chieftain's daughter Asdis has been rescued from captivity by her brother and several of his followers, including the narrator Brand, a musclebound warrior in love with Asdis. But the enemy is in pursuit, overhauling their smaller vessel, and worse, his shaman is also pursuing them by more arcane means.

I seized the gunwale with both hands and stared into the sea. A blade of ice seemed to pierce my belly.

It was a face. The dark mottlings were eyes and nose, flowing beard and open mouth. The luminous face, huge as God's, moved beneath the knarr.

Here we have dark Dark Fantasy, along with a great deal of weapons-play. The primary interest is in the clash of swords and other edged things, but Hocking has also done a good job evoking the world of the Norse myths. Despite the plot, beginning as it does in medias res, there seems to be no prior installment of this series.

Naktong Flow by Myke Cole

There are brigands called Waegu, some human and some demonic, who lay waste the countryside along the course of the river. Ch'oe is leading a force of chrysanthemum knights to escort an adept in ancestor magic, a yangban, to confront the evildoers. They are towing a large, spider-like machine that seems to function as a sort of pump or watermill, which the magician claims will wash the Waegu out to sea. But something goes wrong. The river's current is flowing in the wrong direction, and Ch'oe is left facing a terrible choice.

One of the darkest stories in the issue, but also somewhat confusing. At first, it seems that the expedition is headed upstream, or inland, but in fact they are going downstream to the mouth of the river. I can't help thinking that the expedition is not really necessary, that the machine could function just as well and more safely from at home, upstream. It doesn't help that so much of the time the characters are literally in the dark, where unseen menaces lurk.

In a few moments even those were gone, and the darkness crept ravenously inward, until it hovered about the edges of the light cast by the cooking fires like a black fog.

The Murder at Doty Station by Matthew Bey

Easy and Gonzo stop at Doty Station to take on fuel for their steamwagon, but when Gillian the ogre goes out to fill them up, he is trampled and killed by a giant clockwork manikin.

The huge, wooden head leered at her. A lurid grimace stretched from eat to ear. Jaws like vices clacked. From somewhere in its cavernous, clockwork belly, a phonograph played a recording. "Snip, Snap, break their backs. Snip, Snap, break their backs. Snip, snap—"

The local constable, however, being prejudiced against witches, decides to jail Easy for the crime, instead.

One of the pieces in this issue not at all in the S&S mode, simply light fantasy. It seems that murder is allowed to be humorous when the victim is an ogre.

The Evil Eater by Peadar Ó Guilín

While working the night shift at the hotel desk, Toby sees that a parting guest has left behind a reservation for the most exclusive restaurant in the world—Ahriman. Unwisely, he decides to impress his girlfriend by taking her to dinner. The food served there, called Erda, is not what he had expected, a brown, lumpy mass in an earthenware bowl, but the results make up for its appearance.

The best moments in his short life paraded before his eyes, hitting him in a flood: his first beer with dad, sitting proudly among the men; six candles on a cake, the doorbell ringing and presents arriving; Eloise again, Eloise . . .

But of course Toby can not pay the bill, and when he is sent to work off his debt in the kitchen, he finds where the Erda comes from.

This one is pure horror, featuring a kitchen straight from hell.

Bones in the Desert, Stones in the Sea by Amy Tibbetts

Aleem has received an urgent summons from his sister Yenna, but by the time he reaches the village where she lives with her husband, it is too late; she has died giving birth to a monster. The uttuk had attacked the village, looting and raping, and Yenna refused to abort the result. In consequence, she was shunned and now the villagers will not even tend her body.

His sister lay supine, half-clothed, the sand bloody beneath her. The birthing-pit under her bare legs had not even been covered over.

But the half-breed child still unexpectedly lives.

This is a story of reconciliation. Aleem knows that he should have come to visit his sister long ago. All he can do now to make amends is carry out what he knows her wishes were.

The Merchant of Loss by Justin Stanchfield and Mikal Trimm

Galen has apprenticed himself to the merchant who calls himself Rook, hoping to learn profitable secrets. Rook's wares are arcane.

This is the bile of a dying goddess. She lay bleeding in an abandoned orchard when I found her, struck down by her own children. There was little I could do save site beside her and listen to her curses as she succumbed to her wounds. Before she died, she bid me take of her humours and capture the last sparks of her spirit, so that she might at least exact revenge upon her merciless brood.

But as the years pass and Galen watches Rook bottle up spittle and blood and breath, he begins to fear that this business will never yield any profit at all, for despite his master's claims, there are few buyers for the contents of his vials.

Here is the stuff of dark Dark Fantasy—curses and plots. The plot, or plots, seem overly contrived, requiring much postmortem explanation.

Return of the Quill by John R Fultz

The city of Narr, once called the Golden, has decayed under the rule of the Sorcerer Kings. Masked animated corpses patrol the streets under the control of the necromancer Grimsort. Now Grimsort has discovered that Artemis the Quill, an exile previously condemned to death, has returned to Narr with a company of players who intend to put on a public performance, aided by some sort of magic. Grimsort and the other sorcerers naturally conspire to betray and destroy him.

While this is a sequel to a previous tale, it takes a completely different point of view in Grimsort and stands quite well on its own. Set in a city named Narr, this can only be a light Dark Fantasy, with a conclusion that readers will probably find quite satisfying. I do have to wonder why Grimsort was searching the catacombs for ancient corpses when in a city the size of Narr, there would certainly be fresh ones available every day. And if not, the Sorcerer Kings could certainly produce them.

Spider Friend by L. Blunt Jackson

Ch'bib, as a boy, liked to feed spiders. In consequence, he earned the blessing of the Spider Queen and has become a rather prosperous young man who attracts the interest of several young women. But now the girl he really wants to marry refuses to live with spiders, leaving Ch'bib with a difficult choice.

Whether readers find this short tale to be a light or a dark fantasy will depend in large part on their attitude towards creatures of the arachnid kind. As an arachniphile, I think it's kind of neat and amusing, albeit shaggy, but the phobic may have a different reaction, and the very effective illustration is not calculated to assuage their unease.

Of the spiders, there, K'zell said that they were the size of a grown man, or larger, and they had legs as thick and as furry as the trunk of a hairbark tree. He said their eyes were like clusters of wet, black eggs, glittering in the torchlight, and their fangs were the size of a fisherman's forearms.

Silk and Glass by Sharon E. Woods

The land of the Dule is famous for its glassblowers, and they jealously guard the secret of its production. Jas is a sort of serpentine shapechanger, a succubus sent by the rival city of Saria to seduce the master glassblower Yullo and deliver him to Saria. But Jass has come to love Yullo and regrets that she is betraying him with false promises.

A mistake, she thought as he came to her, his arms circling her thin rib cage. His lips tasted of silicon and fire as he kissed her. She gathered his curls in her fingers, drinking in the smell of soot and sweat as she licked the roof of his mouth. Oh, my very worst mistake.

Despite the betrayal running through this tale, it is definitely a light Dark Fantasy. Even, in fact, a romance.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 2009

Driftwood by Marie Brennan

There is a slow, ongoing cataclysm in which the worlds fall apart, become Shreds, and finally disappear, along with their people. One man, the last survivor from one long-gone world, has inexplicably survived with his identity intact, which causes desperate people from newly-afflicted worlds to pursue him, begging for the magic-bullet answer that will save their own people.

This appears at first to be one of those stories where the reader has to plow through to the end to find out what has actually happened, what the Driftwood phenomenon really is. But in fact, no one knows, not even Last.

But I don't remember how Driftwood began. I'm not that old. For all I know, it's gone on forever, and never had a beginning; maybe there have always been worlds out there, having apocalypses and falling apart and eventually fetching up against the ever-shifting face of Driftwood. Maybe Driftwood is an agreement among the gods, a final mercy, giving their worlds a chance to come to terms with death before it finishes happening.

The story is told in alternating points of view, by Last himself, and from the point of view of a survivor from a newly-shredded world. The emphasis on racial/cultural identity and purity can definitely be read as a metaphor for life in today's Earth, where local traditions have been shredded by the inexorable grinder of the global economy—and who of us can claim to comprehend that?

Stormchaser, Stormshaper by Erin Hoffman

Ruby is the daughter of a pirate queen, pirates who tattoo themselves with the images of the enemies they have killed.

"Ruby." Mother's voice was cold as the north sea in winter. She would not say in front of the gathered crew what she had said so many times behind the thick door of the captain's cabin. "You are sixteen and unmarked. It shames me." Mother, who carried more marks than any freebooter on any sea in the world, not just the West, where she ruled.

Ruby also has a natural gift for controlling the waters of the sea. The gryphons are masters of this power, and when a wounded gryphon takes shelter on their ship, it agrees to teach Ruby. But this act proves to have complications, leaving Ruby with difficult choices.

There is a lot of fresh and original stuff here, the gryphons and the sea magic, and the descriptions are well-crafted. At the heart of the story is Ruby's inner conflict between piracy—making her mother proud—and her inner magic, which involves a strong empathy for her victims. The author loads the moral balance by justifying the pirates' activities as self-defense, about which I have my doubts. Making your mother proud is not a good reason for murder.

More than Once upon a Time by S.C. Butler

Hubley is a young sorcerer invited on an adventure by an older version of herself. Things do not go as she had expected.

As if guided by deliberate malice, her older self stepped into the path of Hubley's spell. There was a burst of fire and, where the older Hubley had been, now stood a column of white flame. For an awful moment Hubley saw herself frozen in the terrible brightness, a grim statue encased in a writhing cone. Then there was only the fire, her body consumed and gone.

She'd just killed herself.

Hubley attempts to fix things in a do-over. And another.

A Sorcerer's Apprentice tale in a stereotypical D&D setting. Hubley is a rash and arrogant character, and I'm not quite sure she's worth all this trouble of saving.

Where Virtue Lives by Saladin Ahmed

The ghul hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood goes in search of an abducted bride, and Raseed the Dervish is in search of Adoulla, to become his apprentice.

As Raseed followed through the throngs of people, his soul sank. Despite years of training he felt like a small boy, lost and about to cry. His long journey was over. He had made it to Dhamsawaat. He had found the man Shaykh Aalli named the Crescent Moon Kingdoms' greatest ghul hunter.

And the man was an impious slob.

A partnership of colorful characters is formed in a likely setting for entertaining adventures. It is too much to hope that this is not the start of a story series.

Apex

Apex, April, '09

Apex Magazine, April 2009

This issue has a guest editor, Michael Burstein, who has announced that the theme is memory. I would say that it is more exactly loss, remembered.

Waiting for Jakie by Barbara Krasnoff

The narrator is an old woman, a Holocaust survivor who fell in love with one of the American soldiers who liberated the camps. But he was ordered away, and later she married another man, had a child, both of them died, and now she lives alone with her pills and memories.

And sometimes, if I've taken just a little bit more than I'm supposed to—not much, only a few more milligrams, nothing, an extra pill or more, who would begrudge it?—then, if I squint my eyes a little and let the living room furniture blur a bit, then sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can see Jakie. Not very clear, I admit, and usually only a little, but it's him. It's him.

It is Jakie, the soldier, she imagines, not her husband Samuel.

A sad tale told in a strong voice, with no real fantastic element.

The Last Science Fiction Writer by Jamie T Rubin

"The last science fiction writer sits in an all-night diner," complaining to the ghost of his agent. SF is dead. Writing is dead, because reading is dead. The great old stories are forgotten, and even the great exploits of space exploration that they inspired.

I know exactly how the old fart feels.

Love, Dad by Jeffry D. Kooistra

An epistolary tale. Ken has gone off on the first starship to Alpha Centauri, fulfilling his lifetime dream and leaving behind his wife and baby daughter, Dorothy. Both have regrets but realize it is too late for them now; all they can do is wait for each other.

This reprint has more propaganda for space exploration than I prefer.


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!

May 7, 05:35 by IROSF
Comment below!
May 7, 15:25 by Jim Van Pelt
Thank you for the kind comments and recommendation, Lois.
May 8, 00:28 by Lois Tilton
I noticed the discussion on the Analog forum, Jim.

I would say that the subject matter of your story, space travel and colonization, certainly puts it within the core material of the magazine. What I found atypical for that venue is the way you explore the regrets, the negative feelings consequent on forever leaving the homeworld.

Which isn't to imply that I think the story didn't belong in the magazine, but that I'm happy to see different points of view expressed there.
May 8, 04:30 by Jim Van Pelt
Hi, Lois. I didn't think you were saying it didn't belong. I really appreciated the comment. I felt you were pointing out that a lot of folks might find it atypical (as you did), and that it was a change of pace. As with all you reviews, I enjoyed your take on the stories.

You really thought the James Patrick Kelly piece in Asimov's was YA? I haven't read it yet.
May 8, 09:30 by susie hawes
as usual, on point and a good, tight read.

And if not, the Sorcerer Kings could certainly produce them.


:D so true.
May 22, 17:24 by Lois Tilton
I've noticed that Elsewhere, Mr John Lambshead has expressed dissatisfaction with my review of his story in the April issue of Baen's. Which, of course, he is perfectly entitled to do.

But he also claims that I have previously "accused him of poor spelling" for words like "colour." I tend to doubt this. Certainly I have not done so in this venue, where all my reviewing of the Baen magazine has appeared, and I have not been able to discover that Mr Lambshead has ever published fiction anywhere else.

I would be interested to see if anyone could actually produce such an accusation.

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