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, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, May 2005

The Nebula awards have recently been announced, so fans of the short form may be interested to know that the 2004 winners are Walter Jon Williams' The Green Leopard Plague for Novella, Basement Magic by Ellen Klages for Novelette, and Coming to Terms by Eileen Gunn for Short Story. Of these, I must confess that I had not read the lattermost, which is particularly egregious since I see Ms. Gunn on a fairly regular basis, and have worked with her on a few projects. As for the first two, I can't say either of them would have been on my nomination list, much less a short list for the award. Not that I think they were bad, just that they weren't the stories that impressed me most over the course of the year. At some point, picking favorites comes down to arbitrary measures of popularity and collective taste, but I guess this goes to prove that my finger is neither on nor near the pulse of popular opinion. Or at least, popular opinion as expressed by those who can vote for the Nebulas. If my past experience recommending or predicting Hugo winners is anything to go buy, however, my finger is not near that pulse either. Well, now that you realize how far from the mainstream this reviewer is, hopefully you will still find something interesting in the following.

Absolute Magnitude (#21)

In his introduction to this issue, editor and publisher Warren Lapine offers some promising words for fans of Absolute Magnitude: there is new distribution, new money, and new life for DNA Press courtesy of their rather startling foray into Rock and Roll publishing with KISS Magazine. Apparently I am out of touch with the music scene and popular culture at large. If you had asked me, I wouldn't have put two cents on any gamble that a KISS magazine would be popular, and if Warren Lapine tells me that KISS is "perhaps the most popular American rock band of all time," my first reaction is to snort my beer out my nose and ask him to pass the bong. However, apparently the KISS magazine has scored DNA publications a bigger and better distributor as well as improved printing deals. Frankly, if science fiction is riding the KISS coattails, I have to think this literature is way dead, and that these reviews are the most colossal waste of time imaginable. However, a more probable — and more hopeful — explanation is that I am simply out of touch with the music scene, and popular culture at large, and Warren Lapine has practiced some very creative publishing. Good for him, and — if it works out — great for fans of the DNA Mags.

As for this issue, it's strictly no frills. No interior artwork, and as you can see the cover art is not particularly inspired. The editing is generally poor: a number of typos including the table of contents, and at least one dropped line mar the issue, and the lack of borders around some of the advertising lead to a confusing layout. The fiction generally represents some lesser offerings by some big names, and the same goes for the poetry (unreviewed). And, although I didn't think I could do justice to Jack Williamson's The Half Men, let's have a big round of applause for the man who is still writing up a storm at 100 years of age!

Sweet Waters by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

This new story will certainly appeal to fans of the Liaden universe, but like most of the short stories connected to this vast enterprise, Sweet Waters does stand alone.

Over at Tangent Online, Thomas Marcinko recently reviewed a set of chapbooks set in the same universe, and I found a lot to recognize in his treatment of the stories. Good reading, but somehow lacking in that kind of fascination that makes you want to hunt down and consume every last fragment. My hunch is that short stories are the wrong approach to this series. Rather than addictive samples designed to lure you in for more, these are ornaments and elaborations written for those already seated at the feast.

Sweet Waters follows a fellow named Slade, who has apparently crashed on a hunter-gatherer world. The people on this world are sufficiently different from Slade that his body chemistry can not metabolize all the nutrients he needs out of the local foods. They are all some variant of human, though: they accept Slade into their community, and he eventually marries and even has a child.

Slade has his work cut out for him though. He sneaks nutrient supplements from a dwindling supply in his crashed ship, and he slips off to use traps to compensate for his lack of strength and hunting skills. Once he is sufficiently accepted into the matriarchal culture to actually marry, he is of course the last chosen, and that by a girl who is no prize herself: struggling to hold together a tent that has fallen on hard times, she is young, inexperienced, and somewhat desperate. She is also psychically gifted. She is also dying.

Despite all of this, there is very little urgency about the story. Slade sort of hopes that someone is going to rescue him, but is apparently resigned to the fact that they probably won't. There could be cultural tension over his introduction of technological innovations into the traditional hunting methods, but it's all low key: they don't want to use his methods, but don't seem to particularly object to him using them. There could be animosity over the ways he walks the edge of cultural norms to help his afflicted wife, but it these potential conflicts are all resolved early and happily.

The ending is bittersweet, and even moving, but the story as a whole was not particularly gripping, and nor did it leave me in that state of fascination that yearns for more.

As Marcinko pointed out in his review at Tangent, it's entirely possible that familiarity with the setting or the characters would add dimensions to the text that the first time reader does not perceive. Certainly other treatments of the Liaden series suggest this. A quote from Analog, printed on the Liaden Homepage suggests this: "The plot threads are intricately interwoven ... the great excellence lies in the relationships."

Apparently a short story or two is just not enough to bootstrap insight into these relationships.

Absolute Magnitude #: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Half Men

Jack Williamson

5,500 wds, est

More plot outline than actual story, Williamson seems to be getting his ideas out there any way he can.

Veterans of the War

Robert Reed

1,500 wds, est

A peculiar variant of the humanity-as-cattle-bred-for-alien-Gods story.

Sweet Water

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

15,000 wds, est

[Review] A stranded space-traveller attempts to participate in a hunter-gatherer culture.

Triton

Chris Bunch

7,000 wds, est

The remote operator of a one-time weapon finds the hazards of war come in many forms.

Sugerbush Soul

Sarah A. Hoyt

5,500 wds, est

The economics of the American Revolution and the politics of the War on Drugs are re-imagined off world.

Requiem

Lawrence M. Schoen

7,000 wds, est

A hypnotist accidentally breaks an alien protocol, and discovers a whole race of aliens who specialize in coming back from the dead.

Analog

Analog: June

Analog (June)

A generally light-hearted issue of Analog, with several stories worth seeking out. Although I didn't review it in depth, it's worth mentioning that Netpuppets by Richard A. Lovett & Mark Niemann-Ross is a particularly memorable premise — although I found myself spending too much of the story picking holes in their technology or predicting the next plot twists. Richard A. Lovett also has a non-fiction article in this issue which is a lot stronger scientifically, and one of those articles that demonstrates the area in which truth can be stranger than fiction.

The Policeman's Daughter by Wil McCarthy

On his web site, McCarthy declares that he "is particularly interested in stories which, however outlandish, could actually happen."

Personally, I don't think that the The Policeman's Daughter meets this criteria. The underlying scientific premise for this story requires the ability to record sufficient information about an individual to (A) copy, (B) save, (C) merge copies, (D) restore from saved versions. The basic function is "faxing". The Star Trek transporter is frequently used in Philosophy 101 courses to introduce the problem of identity. Is it really the "same" person if the only continuity between original and copy is informational? What if the original is not destroyed? What happens to notions of identity then?

The copy-merge riff is a particularly useful one for this story, and who wouldn't want to be able to spawn ten copies of himself to have ten different days, and then reintegrate at the end of it all? Why, I could read every word of science fiction ever written!

Of course, with all the "personality upload" stories that have been bouncing around recently, the actual science of this story would probably have worked better had it been in digital space, where making copies is trivial. I remain skeptical that — even in theory — capturing all of the information from both atomic and quantum levels required to reconstitute an individual is something that "could actually happen." However, McCarthy manages to explore many of the problematic ramifications of the concept.

His main character is Carmine Strange Douglass, a private investigator of sorts, and well versed in the law of identity issues pertaining to human faxing. Things get complicated when an old friend shows up requesting help. Someone is trying to murder him. In an age of infinite longevity and personal backups, true murder is virtually unknown. Who could do such a thing, and why? Well, not only is it possible to copy yourself, it's naturally possible to make minor adjustments to said copies, emphasizing some quality or attribute in the process. Turns out the old friend ran an early, more aggressive self through this sequence in order to create a highly aggressive version of himself to use for the very difficult job as a theater critic. (I can sympathize!) And this aggressive version has decided he wants to clear out the wimpier versions of himself. Murderously.

It gets more complicated: in some drunken evening long past, these old friends promised to help each other. In writing. So, the murderous version of Carmine's client uses this agreement to hire a younger version of Carmine himself to represent him in the dispute.

I know, you're asking where does this "Policeman's Daughter" come in? The younger Carmine had been desperately in love with a girl who dumped him, you see, so when that younger Carmine is revived to represent the murderous client, he promptly resumes his stalking of the girl. It's a bit of a distraction from the pure philosophical and legal muddle at the heart of the story, but probably a necessary one. Without the love interest, I'm not sure any of these characters would end up particularly sympathetic.

I think McCarthy comes close to exhausting the basic issues inherent in transport/copy/restore technologies, whether analog or digital, and it makes me wonder what happens to the topic now. However it's worth comparing this to an earlier, equally implausible science-fictional idea: time travel. I am sure that every possible philosophical permutation of time travel has been fully explored in the literature. Probably decades ago. However, it's still a fun device for telling a story, rich with metaphorical resonance for the artsy types, and good, complicated narrative for everyone else. I expect that human faxing will be a similar device: an inexhaustible vein of narrative potential for writers.

But it's going to take a lot more persuasion for me to believe that faxing live, physical people is actually something that could happen.

Analog, June, 2005: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Policeman's Daughter

Wil McCarthy

nvla

[Review] When humans can copy themselves, restore from backup, re-integrate from multiple versions, the legal grey area is vast.

Working on Borrowed Time

John G. Hemry

nvlt

Time travelling Nazis try to knock England out of the war, thirty years early.

Netpuppets

Richard A. Lovett & Mark Niemann-Ross

nvlt

Some techies stumble on an experimental web version of The Sims that's primitive in interface but profoundly more realistic in consequences.

Improbable Times

E. Mark Mitchell

short

Just in time for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy film, a new take on the Infinite Improbability Drive.

This Little World

Carl Frederick

short

An unpleasant film producer on a space station gets everyone into trouble by cutting corners — and rules.

How Bears Survived the Change

Uncle River

short

Uncle River rambles through a thousand years or so of post-apocalyptic recovery, complete with UFOs and bears.

Asimov's

Asimov's: June

Asimov's (June)

Alert readers will observe that this issue happens to include stories by two authors who together write a regular column for IROSF. As if that weren't coincidence enough, Nestvold's story title (Rainmakers) could easily be the title of Lake's story (actually titled Martyrs' Carnival). The coincidences end there: these two stories are radically different in conception and substance.

The Little Goddess by Ian McDonald

Like many novellas, this is a work in three acts: Three sub-stories tell the history of a girl from youth to young womanhood. The work as a whole, however, does not have much in the way of narrative unity to form a traditional conflict-and-resolution arc. Given the nature of the protagonist, this may be intentional.

In the first sequence we meet a girl with some sort of dissociative disorder, basically a young sociopath in the making. She is apparently the perfect material to fill the role of Goddess in a splinter nation of some future broken-up India. Protected by killer robots, her every whim is law. She herself is also bound by law and by tradition. On the first occasion of bleeding she will no longer be Goddess, but ordinary mortal, cast back into a world for which she has no preparation. As Goddess, she is to have no contact with that world, keeping herself in regal isolation. Her keepers bend the rules a little, however. One slips her some pills that will stave off puberty for years; another gives her a mini-AI that connects her to the global network so that she can prepare herself for that world, even if only by dreaming it.

But eventually she does find herself in this world, without resources or future. Nor is an ex-Goddess particularly marriageable. The middle section, far shorter than the first, follows her attempts to make a marriage, which is, in the end, something of a fiasco.

So she ends up a drug runner. Well, not a drug runner, exactly. An intelligence smuggler. Apparently her unusual psychological make-up is perfect for carrying around intelligences in her head, and in particular for smuggling AIs into AI-free zones. Her last big run, however, is ill-fated. She is carrying dozens of "demons" in her head, but the authorities know something big is going down.

The end of the story is quite touching, an intriguing resolution to the final segment, and to her complicated psychological nature. Nonetheless, I felt as though I had transferred busses several times just to cross a distance that should have been walkable in the first place.

Asimov's (June): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Little Goddess

Ian McDonald

nvla

[Review] For some, dissociative personality disorder is a serious condition. For a Goddess, however, it's a necessity.

The Edge of Nowhere

James Patrick Kelly

nvlt

Lost love in a pocket reality in a post-human, post-physical? universe.

Bad Machine

Kage Baker

nvlt

A new Alec Chesterfield story: masterful in the telling, but without the resolution that makes a story stand alone.

The Ice-Cream Man

James Van Pelt

short

Sequel to "Last of the O-Forms"? The Ice-Cream Man serves human and mutant alike.

Martyrs' Carnival

Jay Lake

short

A provincial administrator struggles to balance the law with freedom of religion — an impossible conundrum.

Rainmakers

Ruth Nestvold

short

A dark-skinned lesbian diplomat is sent into a situation scrupulously designed for failure: the question is, are they targeting her, or the mission itself?

Electric Velocipede (#8)

Electric Velocipede is of the small-press category of magazines, but in the hand it feels more like a fanzine. Simple to the point of simplistic in construction, there are no frills in this periodical. No illustrations beyond the clip-art cover; no editorials or editorial introductions to stories; the layout is so straightforward, it could be the product of just about any standard word-processor, in conjunction with a photocopy machine. The whole thing is printed on legal-paper folded in half and staples with a slightly heavier colored stock for a cover. There are a smattering of advertisements for other small press efforts: mostly the usual suspects. Wheatland Press, Nightshade, Small Beer Press.

Nonetheless, Electric Velocipede is one of those shoestring efforts that manages to exceed expectations. In part this is accomplished simply by somehow obtaining strong fiction from well-known authors (The "big names" in this issue are Liz Williams and Charles Coleman Finlay — and you know, I keep seeing these two pop up in the same magazines I have begun to think of them as a couple!) But another large part is a certain sensibility behind the publication that establishes Electric Velocipede as a fresh and unique venue in the genre.

There are plenty of publications that focus on the "interstitial" or publish "slip-stream." The love of playing with genre definitions and dancing on the borders is apparently quite prevalent. Some of the results are fascinating and liberating. Some are dull. Many such stories end up feeling as though they are of more academic interest for the use of technique, display of craft, or experiments with style than they are actually fun stories. Some publications end up feeling more like literary magazines than genre periodicals.

Electric Velocipede gives off some of that vibe on first viewing. Certainly, it has the look and feel of some underfunded arts-council production.

But on actually reading the thing, I came to a somewhat different conclusion. Every story in this episode seems to be aiming for the literary expression of genre ideas, rather than sprinkling a little whiff of genre spice into literary approaches. Editor John Klima particularly solicits "the weird" in his submission guidelines, and if this issue is anything to go by, he gets it.

Dinner Shift by Jonathan Brandt

Every now and then I will stumble across a work of genius in some out-of-the-way publication and wonder: how did this end up here? Not that Electric Velocipede shouldn't be honored for their ability to land something like this, but does that mean that the big-name professional magazines turned it down? That seems inconceivable. Or did the author just feel that EV was the best home for it? Perhaps true, but sadly, fewer people will have the opportunity to read this exquisitely crafted work of humorous horror.

A snooty waiter at an elite restaurant discovers a finger in his apron, rather than the corkscrew he reached for. He is disturbed, naturally, but not in quite the way you would expect. He ponders: "Could I be losing it? For over two decades I'd been meticulous. Artful. Traceless. Without craft, I'd be no more useful than an old game bird: one Madeira away from Coq a Vin."

The waiter recovers his balance — and his contempt for the ignorance and crudity of his customers. In the kitchen he bribes information out of a dishwasher, who proffers up a clue even though "It is, after all, The Kitchen. Here, even he is a courtier, and I am but a foreigner of the merchant class."

This very short piece is as much to be savored for the many perfect touches as it is for the story. A note on the story: what is actually transpiring here, the precise nature of this waiter and some of the other participants in the drama, remains just out of focus, while Brandt lingers lovingly on the vivid, vibrant details of an expensive restaurant. This unexpected technique works perfectly, adding strangeness — and verisimilitude — to the story. He renders the politics of Kitchen vs. Floor beautifully. The difference in voice from waiter to dishwasher to cook is outstanding. And all of it is so simple, Brandt makes this look very easy.

This is the kind of story that makes me hunger for more... even if I would undoubtedly read it with the wrong wine.

Electric Velocipede #: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Ghost Dance

Daniel Braum

6,000 wds est.

Native Americans and hippies undertake the magical overthrow of the fascist United States.

Horny in the Underworld

Charles Coleman Finlay

1,750 wds est.

A prose poem about the last moments of an ancient man-made space station plummeting into the atmosphere of a gas giant.

A Cheap and Frugal Fashion

Heather Martin

2,500 wds est.

Possibly the most gross-out story of the year. A woman takes frugality to extremes — and her own body develops some extremely nasty ways of helping.

Endings

Catherine Dybiec Holm

5,500 wds est.

A woman with great psychic powers resists her calling, but with the help of her dying dog she finally reaches her potential.

Dinner Shift

Jonathan Brandt

2,500 wds est.

Intriguing behind-the-scenes story in which the hijinks in the kitchen are stranger than they seem, and any kitchen where a practical joke is slipping a severed finger in the waiter's apron is pretty strange.

Sunvolt

Frank Byrns

5,500 wds est.

The Sunvolt didn't used to be a super-villain. Once upon a time he was just a hired thug. But a benefactor grants him powers, and although he uses these powers for eeevil, it's only to keep his family safe.

Mad Dog & Dusk

Carole Carmen

3,750 wds est.

What begins as lush fantasy becomes yet-another-Jack-the-Ripper story, and ultimately suggests itself as science fiction.

Serpent's Tooth

Liz Williams

6,000 wds est.

Anthropomorphism nearly does in a touchy-feely alien anthropologist.

F&SF

F&SF: June

F&SF (June)

One of my favorite regular features in F&SF, and one that I don't believe I have mentioned here in the past, is the concluding "Curiosities" page, in which different writers, reviewers, or other well-informed individuals offer a short review and historical analysis of some lesser known genre piece. Only rarely have I been inspired to seek out and read the work in question, but it is always fascinating to get a glimpse of some of the lesser known influences on our genre, or what obscure books were influential on the writer-of-the-month. This month David Langford (always a fascinating commentator on the genre world) takes a look at a mystery novel with a science-fictional premise by Margery Allingham, and considers the 1965 story something of an early predictor of the Internet.

The Gist Hunter by Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes has exploded into F&SF in a big way. It seems like just about every issue brings either another installment, of Guth Bandar and the noösphere, or as with this issue, a new Henghis Hapthorne story. Hughes' stories are fun, humorous, and unabashedly cerebral.

In The Gist Hunter, Hapthorne's problems with his integrator, which have been brewing through several previous stories, have reached new heights. An integrator is a software interface to the communications network, and generally helpful artificial intelligence. Hapthorne's integrator, however, has been showing signs of surliness, and now, to top things off, has been transmogrified from a machine into some sort of cat-monkey (see cover illustration).

Readers new to the series may find the absence of context weakens the story somewhat, but this installment is further weakened by far too much verbiage throughout. Don't get me wrong: the grandiloquence of Hughes' characters is a selling point. But unnecessary, aimless dialogue remains a weakness, whether the words used average 1.3 or 4.8 syllables. Perhaps worst of all, the basic dynamic is identical to the previous story: Someone hires Hapthorne, but really intends to trap him. Hapthorne, through his bumbling arrogance, falls for the trap. Things work out in the end.

The good news is that the, ah, gist of this story is fun philosophical stuff. Hapthorne is, basically, an empiricist. He is interested in what can be experienced and measured. His genius arises from applying piercing logic to careful observation. His arch-enemy, in this story, is a Platonist. Mitric Gevallion and Turgut Therobar seek the 'gist' underlying the universe, the essence of things. To grasp this essence, they believe, will be to control it. And, to Hapthorne's astonishment and dismay, they are making rather good progress. To his greater discomfort, they are planning to make him a part of their final assault on the gist of the universe.

Still, a 'twist' towards the end implying some sort of magic v. technology spectrum at work in the universe — which concept I have never found particularly compelling — combined with some of the other disappointments in this story, left me hoping that The Gist Hunter is just Hughes on a slow day, and not a sign of things to come.

Fortunately, even Hughes on a slow day provides rich material and an enjoyable story.

Eating Hearts by Yoon Ha Lee

You may recognize this author's name as belonging to one of our editors here at IROSF. When I picked up this story, it was with a certain sense of trepidation. And lo and behold, the worst has come to pass.

Yes, there is no way I can write a review of this story that you, dear reader, will believe. You'll think I'm just praising my co-worker in order to preserve peace around the (virtual) office. You'll say to yourself: "Well, what else could he say about the story?" You'll cluck about the insiders club. Other authors will probably tut about a conflict of interest.

What can I say? You will be doing yourself a disservice if you draw that conclusion, because for those who like short, mysterious, moving fantasies may find yourself loving this gem as much as I did.

Horanga is a tiger who is trying to be a human. She already walks upon two feet; she already has straight, black hair. But the final magic has not been accomplished. To that end she seeks out magicians. (Asked why she seeks magic, she ominously informs the magician Chuan: "I am not interested in magic so much as I am interested in magicians.")

Horanga believes the final transformation will come by devouring whole and live the heart of a magician, perhaps so that it will become her own heart.

The anonymous narrator warns us: "A tiger can only eat so many hearts before they start to taste bitter, then sour, then like nothing at all. By that point, even a tiger's own heart, that rarest of delicacies, loses all savor."

The ultimate interweaving of the metaphorical and the literal results in a profoundly moving conclusion. Eating Hearts shows a confidence and a wisdom beyond Yoon's years.

I don't know what she's doing goofing off with us. She should be writing more stories like this instead!

F&SF June: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Of Silence and the Man at Arms

Charles Coleman Finlay

nvlt

Kuikin and Vertir are back, and they're in trouble, and blood sniffing Imp is on their trail. More Faffrd & Grey Mouser style fun!

Chester

David Gerrold

nvlt

A horror story about bad dreams, children, and puppies. I found it emotionally manipulative, and a bit unfinished. But it was scary, even so.

The Gist Hunter

Matthew Hughes

nvlt

[Review] Henghis Hapthorne is back, and his integrator is crankier than ever.

Poet Snow

Robert Reed

short

Begins like a tribute to Andy Goldsworthy but it ends up in madness.

Eating Hearts

Yoon Ha Lee

short

[Review] The secret of becoming human.

Bedfellows

Harry Turtledove

short

Satire: in Boston W (pronounced Dubbaya) and O (as in Sama) hook up in a civil union. I've seen variations on this before, but Turtledove does it nicely!

Sweetmeats

Marc Laidlaw

short

Willy Wonka goes to hell.

The Legend of the Whiney Man

John Morressy

short

A fairy tale about three brothers, three princesses, and monster in the forest. A whining monster. Cute, I guess.

SciFiction

SciFiction April

SciFiction (April, 2005)

SciFiction publishes one story per week. It's a little tricky to comment on an "issue" when there is no such beast. There are no reviews, illustrations, commentaries, essays, or editorials. Just one story a week, regular as clockwork. I clump them together, monthlike, but that is quite arbitrary. So here we have a month of stories, four short pieces: two surreal, one non-genre, and one a fantasy. Of these four, the most inherently discussionworthy seemed to be Rocket Fall.

Rocket Fall by David Prill

Imagine a counterclock world in which the occult was our science, and in which the darkest and most juvenile figures of medieval Europe ruled. Now, play this for laughs. Toss in some satirical barbs, and maybe a little mescaline. Stir vigorously.

The Baron lost his beloved Madeline, and is pushing a space program to bring her soul back. He has her body cryogenically preserved in his deepest, most secure dungeon. The painships, driven by the agony and despair of the victims secured by Those Who Wear Darkness Like Lederhosen, rise into space and seek out the world that Madeline's soul may have washed up on.

They find strange counter-counterclock worlds: "A world of wolf-creatures who turn into humans once a month when the Earth is full in the sky!" Or: "We're on a world where the machine is in the ghost!" Or: "We're on a world where things are always exactly the way they seem." But they don't find Madeline.

The Baron is not pleased, and this has certain, ah, repurcussions around his domain.

Ultimately, the characters in this peculiar romp are judged not by their standards but by ours. The Baron gets what we think is coming to him, and our tormented heroes, such as they are, are given the opportunity to get out of the torture business and try their hand at the clown business, although the balloon puppies still come out more like "a man being dismembered by a ripsaw."

Prill shows amazing confidence in assembling this absurdist sci-fi fantasy. He liberally applies the standard tools of formulaic fiction, while turning just about everything on its head. Yet, this is not meta-fiction: Prill is not satirizing the traditional story, nor playing with technique for the sole amusement of theorists: he's still telling a good story. It's just that everything is shifted an uncomfortable seventeen degrees or so. And then cast into a simple, childlike voice that keeps a playful distance from material that could veer towards worlds of fetish, self-important occultism, or creepy horror if it weren't rock solid right where it is.

I still don't know whether I like this story; many of the puns and jokes are pretty bad, and the whole thing ends up being just silly. But I have to admire Prill for managing to be "just silly" when handling such peculiar and sophisticated stuff.

SciFiction April: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Rocket Fall

David Prill

7,016

[online] Played for laughs using the form of coverage for a NASA launch, "occult rocketry" painships using psychic energies of tormented prisoners go into space to seek the Baron's dead wife.

Guys Day Out

Ellen Klages

3,913

[online] The life story of Tommy, a Downs Syndrome boy. A moving piece, but genre purists will find no speculative, fantastic, scientific, or philosophical elements.

Passing of the Minotaurs

Rjurik Davidson

7,455

[online] A young woman struggles to buy her freedom from the New Men by violating the ancient laws protecting the Minotaurs on their annual pilgrimage; unfortunately, she also comes to befriend one.

Heads Down, Thumbs Up

Gavin J. Grant

5,285

[online] Some seriously surreal stuff; it follows its own logic, but to what end I cannot determine.

Strange Horizons (April)

One ongoing work worth paying attention to is Jenn Reese's Tales of the Chinese Zodiac. Each story is proving to be an intriguing little gem of the sort Bruce Holland Rogers also excels at, but the thematic connection (as well as Reese's very smart looking graphics for the series) really kicks this up a notch. Each story is quite simple, and more in the vein of a traditional folk tale than genre fiction, but for fans of the form, these are certainly worth checking out.

Archipelago by Anil Menon

Menon imagines a post-human, pre-singularity future in which the early adopters of radical brain-body modification create refuge islands in the Pacific, there to live and raise their families in an environment where the organic, the mechanical, and the digital are practically indistinguishable. Brain implants wire each individual into a network of direct mental communication and shared virtual realities. But — we are informed — this is not true telepathy; and nor does it result in group-mind organisms. Individuals remain. There are just fewer barriers to communication.

For Tommy, however, it all falls apart.

A smart, well-educated visitor to their island captures his interest, and soon he shows something of a fetish for the "old humanity," a fetish his group-mates laugh at him for, and watch voyeuristically. The visitor is Miranda: open-minded, but not open-brained.

But, coincidentally, at just this time their little paradise is shattered by a virus. Brought in via the trojan horse of a shared virtual experience, the malware is released into their mindspace. Some are killed; some will recover; but Tommy has had his interface permanently burned out of his brain.

The narrative intercuts between this story and some years in the future. Tommy has married the Miranda. They have a daughter. She is going to school for the very first day. Her first day out of the safety of her family.

The concluding connection of a little girl, bravely going to school for the first time, with Tommy's more unusual launch into individuality makes this a surprisingly moving story. As philosophical fiction, however, it very much plays into the American myth of individuality: ultimately, this seems to be saying that only in healthy freedom from the group can we find the self, whether that group is some yet-to-be invented broad-band mind-meld, or whether it's just the nuclear family.

Conclusion, a moving story, but with a somewhat disappointing return-to-Earth in solidly suburban sensibilities.

Strange Horizons April: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

On Our Street...

Donald Barthelme

1,455

[online] Reprinted from The New Yorker: A street has a rat problem. It's not all fun and games for the rats, either.

The Diogenes Robot

Mark Rich

3,714

[online] Evangelist for a company that makes truth-enforcing brain interface software objects to a rival who creates Diogenes Robots. I can't like any of these people, or their products.

Survivors

Elizabeth H. Hopkinson

1,367

[online] A strange and compelling premise takes a disappointing turn when the weird rescued children turn out to be the survivors of the Pied Piper's trip into the mountain.

Pig

Jenn Reese

494

[online] Year of the Pig: a man resorts to magic involving pig parts to strengthen his son for labor on the farm. The only thing strengthened is his son's sense of smell.

Close to You

Meghan McCarron

3,060

[online] An empath, escaped from her monastery, finds contemporary life difficult and unforgiving.

Archipelago

Anil Menon

5,381

[online] [Review] Islands of telepaths live outside the law; telepaths due to massively broad-band wireless networks built into people's heads and monitored by sophisticated softwares.


Copyright © 2005, Bluejack. All Rights Reserved.

About Bluejack

Bluejack resides in Seattle. In addition to publishing the Internet Review of Science Fiction, he herds cats for an Internet startup, designs and develops distributed software applications, and dabbles in a broad range of less useful endeavors.

COMMENTS!

May 2, 21:54 by Bluejack
As usual, all discussion of recent short fiction is welcome.

Bluejack's reviews are here.
May 3, 21:53 by Pete Blackwell
Haven't gotten around to reading my copy of F&SF yet. Now, I'm looking forward to 'absorbing' it, thanks to the review.
Jun 5, 19:26 by twosheds
Sorry I'm coming in late on this, but I finally got around to reading F&SF. To say that "Chester" was unfinished is an understatement. I was completely caught up with this story, but the finish (wise-crack from the little girl and a literary wink from the author)left me feeling cheated. The same comment for "Poet Snow." What was the author's point? To poke fun at those obvious endings where the crowd comes to lynch the misunderstood character? Again, as a reader, I feel cheated.
Jun 6, 08:20 by Bluejack
Well, of course not every story is going to please every reader. I never feel cheated if I buy a magazine and run into a couple of stories I don't care for ... only if I don't find any I *do* care for.

Of course, it depends on how much time you spend reading it, too: if I had spent an afternoon on a story people told me was superb, only to end up thinking it was total nonsense, then I would feel cheated.

Was there anything in the issue you did like?

(Other stories in that issue that I might caution people against, if their time is limited and the subject matter doesn't seem like their cup of tea include: Bedfellows (although if you like political satire, and loathe W, and haven't already read satires like this one elsewhere, it may bring a chuckle), Sweetmeats (although some have praised this story), and The Legend of Whiney Man (although apparently some like John Morressy's stories a lot more than I seem to).

In addition to the stories I reviewed, I do also recommend Finlay's tale to those who like a good romp. I don't think it's his best romp, but it's plenty good fun.
Jun 6, 10:07 by twosheds
Agreed, it's a matter of personal preference. For example, I really enjoyed Sweetmeats, The Legend of Whiney Man and the tiger story (I forget the name). I just started the Gist Hunter. Could be I'll love it.

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