Short Fiction

Jul 29, 16:46 by John Frost
Comments on Bluejack's short fiction column
Aug 1, 09:42 by Mike Bailey
My review of "Moon Wolf" is available on my Tangent Online review of the whole Asimov's issue here.

Here is an excerpt:
Tanith Lee writes some very pretty lines in her short story, "Moon Wolf." Lines like: "For awhile, they did not speak at all. Beyond the seethrough, liquid black, a shark's carapace, space rushed like a sea." Another great section is, "What had it been, that luminously slender apparition--almost like a floating stone, yet light and weightless--borne transparently along by legs of finest glass--and with embers-of-opal eyes?" It is that kind of imagery that lifts this slow story, for me at least, from a listless read to an enjoyable one. In my opinion Lee had to write this story so that it comes across quietly, ploddingly, for her to create the dreamlike effects that complement the fragile imagery. The notion of disconnection, of alienation, of not belonging to the human race is not new. The recent film Lost in Translation has a feel similar to this story. But I feel that Lee added some lovely touches to this story that set it apart from similarly themed attempts. Read it twice. It gets much better the second time, when you can slowly enjoy the images and appreciate the use of foreshadowing.

I think that bluejack hits the nail on the head when he says that nobody should be able to pull this off. But I agree with bluejack that Lee did it.
Aug 1, 09:56 by Mike Bailey
My reviews of "The Water Castle" and "Falling With Wings" are available on my Tangent Online review of the whole RoF issue here.

Here are the applicable portions for "The Water Castle":
Jay Lake's second story in this month's RoF is much longer than the first, and much more intense. War, slavery, murder, and suicide are featured prominently in "The Water Castle," perhaps in order to highlight a message of peace and hope. Atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict in this tale make it difficult to cheer for either, but the sickening head worms and murderous actions of the Poison People tended to turn me against them. Lake wrote a dark story here, one that snuck up on me at odd moments, like here: "Maizie whimpered and cursed, but let herself be seated on a stool and shaved with an eerie gentleness by an old man and a small boy who never spoke to her or each other, yet worked with near-perfect coordination." I found that passage creepy, and a great tension builder, and Lake has several other good ones in "The Water Castle." I would have liked to see this story much longer, and with a less abrupt ending. I was not satisfied with Arcadia's fate. But Robert's swim in the last sentence was poetic, and that helped make up for the odd finish.

I agree with bluejack that the story seems to be missing a lot of information that might have helped flesh it out, and that Arcadia's seeming lack of emotion is disconcerting, but I also feel that Lake's nice touches of imagery manage to save the story.

Here are my thoughts on "Falling With Wings":
In an ugly world of brown clouds, fields of garbage, rotted hills, waist-deep oil, sewage, and burning chemicals, Devon Monk tells a story of tenderness and love. In "Falling With Wings," Dawn and Setham, not much more than children themselves, struggle to survive and raise babies discarded from the skyworld above. "Dead things, broken things, rust and filth, bob in the muck and sewage, stare with tumored eyes, cut, sting, bite." From that muck Setham digs the babies, and his ragtag band of orphans raises them. While Monk's setting and plot seemed unlikely to me (children do not seem to care for each other in real life the way Monk imagines here), I was still touched by the story. The imagery of the toxic world that mutated the children, presumably granting them their wings, seemed both a rant against pollution and a prayer that something uplifting might come from it in the end. The story of deep caring, acceptance, and affection between Setham, Dawn, and most of the other children seemed hopeful, wistful, and was made even more so by the contrasting post-apocalyptic wasteland setting. Overall, in my opinion, this is an excellent story.

Unlike bluejack, I did not notice any hints that Setham had manipulated Dawn into loving him, thereby securing himself a mate who would sacrifice the sky for him. I felt the horrific environment of the muck nursery was dark side enough for this tale, and did not notice overtones of darkness in the relationship.
Aug 1, 10:05 by Mike Bailey
My review of "Shadow Twin" is available on Ellen's BB here.

"Shadow Twin" by Gardner Dozois, George RR Martin and Daniel Abraham

"Shadow Twin" had several nice touches. One of my favorites: the cultural references that gave the story an extra dimension for me. The culture on the planet of Săo Paulo was a nice change, as the "colonists were mostly from the Brazilian Commonwealth, Mexico, Jamaica, and Hispaniola." The authors did a good job, in my opinion, of making cultural references in dialog, food, and even mind-set. The feeling was authentic; Ramon was not just the same old protagonist with a different ethnic name, but a legitimate "tough-ass bastard" ready to stomp some alien pendejo into the turf.

I also liked the transformation in Ramon (although, technically, the real Ramon did not transform at all.) I fancied the idea that he had been somewhat purified by his creation in the vat, his punishment with the sahael, and his dream-merge with Maneck). Enough of the hard Ramon remained to do what needed to be done on the river, but he seemed wiser at the end, and kind enough to show some respect for the deceased, something I cannot imagine the original doing.
Somewhere in that flow—eaten by fish, his bones washed out to sea—the other Ramon had by now become part of the world in a way that could never be undone. Ramon touched his brow in a sign of respect for the dead.
The transformation of Ramon was what made the story deep enough for me to enjoy, although I also appreciated the fine writing (of which there was plenty). Some of Ramon's final thoughts again show how he had changed:
And it [exiting the mountain] would be a good thing for the aliens too, for whom he'd gradually come to feel a strange kind of sympathy; no one, not even alien monsters, should have to hide inside in the dark all the time when there was a world like this one to be out and around in.

Another note: The overtones of respect that even the original Ramon had for the pure environment and fauna of the mountainous north suggested to me that Ramon’s true love was never a woman, but the planet itself. I liked that romantic notion. The fact that even the “bad” Ramon loved the wilds kept him from being too one-dimensional.

While there is plenty of good stuff to like in “Shadow Twin,” I still think Ramon was a little too unsympathetic to leave behind the kind of lingering emotion that a reader will feel after reading some of the other SCIFICTION stories, like “At the Mouth of the River of Bees,” by Kij Johnson. That story lingered because of the painful and loving relationship between Linna and her dog, Sam, but the closest thing I can point to in “Shadow Twin” would be the odd dream-merge between Ramon and Maneck, and even then, I still didn’t sympathize much with Maneck, who fried Ramon for the heinous crime of laughing (great way to show a truly alien nature, by the way.) Still, “Shadow Twin” was a good read, and has a lot to offer.

Bluejack is right on target when he says:
As the new Ramon discovers what he is, he also discovers that he is free to loathe himself: the loser, the loner, the violent, hate-filled being that he is being forced to track.

That dynamic is another reason that this story is, in my opinion, a success.

Aug 2, 17:00 by Bluejack
Unlike bluejack, I did not notice any hints that Setham had manipulated Dawn into loving him, thereby securing himself a mate who would sacrifice the sky for him. I felt the horrific environment of the muck nursery was dark side enough for this tale, and did not notice overtones of darkness in the relationship.

The hint I took here were the first paragraphs: Sethem's account of finding her was his side of the story only; there were no witnesses. His actions surprised his peers -- "The raising girls thought it beyond thoughtful of him to bring me in clean and greased thick enough the flies wouldn't bite my tender skin." In other words, he performed the anointing rituals himself that the women usually performed. Why?

The narrator then writes: "Maybe that was how the difference inside of me started. The difference I couldn't push away, sing away, nor carry up Mount Discard and heave over the side to watch it fall into the heaps of junk below."

There are few other hints in the story; however, it remains ambiguous. The ending does not seem to have the darkly ironic twist one would expect if the whole show had been manipulated from the start, so I don't know.
Aug 3, 16:16 by Mike Bailey
Maybe Setham helped her because he was destined to fall in love with her. The fact that love endures or even exists in such a setting is hard to imagine. The notion that mere children could be selfless enough to care for each other in the way described in the nursery requires a very open mind. In fact, it seems to me that the only way love and caring could occur in such a place is if it was involuntary. Maybe you take care of the muck babies because you can't NOT take care of them. Maybe Setham loved Dawn because he had no other choice. Maybe Dawn doesn't really have the option to choose the sky because it is her destiny to love Setham. I'm not sure what the author intended, but I can see how it could be read many ways. The way I read it, I liked it. :-)

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