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

September, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, August 2005

With the calamity still ongoing in New Orleans, it seems strange to be sitting here writing about science fiction short stories.

Last night, IROSF had a room party at Cascadia Con, and James Van Pelt happened by. He stopped in and mentioned that he appreciates my voice in the reviewing world. It's great to get good feedback, of course, but periodically I have to step back and question the value of this enterprise.

I think it may also have been Jim who said of (TangentOnline publisher) Dave Truesdale: "He discusses short fiction as though it matters."

It's one thing, of course, to write fiction, to work creatively in ways that you believe create something of value, whether it's a moment's respite from the hostile world, or a challenge to the world, a force of change. But is there value in writing about fiction?

In College, I kept away from the English Department. I've always wanted to "be a writer," and I decided that I did not want to expose my mind to the kind of academic scrutiny to which fiction is subjected. I wanted to work in a creative mode, and to engage with the world of ideas as a participant, rather than an observer.

Yet, here I am, regurgitating plot summaries and sharing my occasional observations. Is this the best I can give to an ailing world, a staggering nation?

At some point, I know, I am going to leave off the criticism of short fiction. I began it as a personal study, an analysis of the craft of fiction. I continued it because as much as I may question the value from time to time, I do receive so much feedback from people who say that it is valuable to them that I must believe it is so. Nonetheless, it is an enormous investment of time and energy, and at some point, perhaps some time soon, I hope to hand this project over to someone else. Whether I can find anyone foolish enough to tackle this amount of reading, thinking, and writing, I don't know.

The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of short fiction out there that does matter, and in an age of declining reading, and diminishing circulation of magazines, anything that can be done to bring the stories that matter to the readers who can appreciate them does have value. I simply hope that when the time comes, there is another "voice" out there ready and willing to believe in short stories, and to dedicate some time to them.

The Reviews

Aeon

Aeon: #4

Aeon (#4)

Back in June I read Aeon #3 and found it to be surprisingly filled with polished, original fiction. Here we have #4, and it manages to sustain the pace, as well as continuing to cover a broad range of fantasy, science fiction, as well as some of the less definable reaches of speculative fiction (which term the editors attempt to define in their introduction to the issue).

Beyond finding strong, well-crafted stories, Aeon manages to publish fiction that engages not only at the level of story, but is filled with challenging ideas. This is fiction for the contemplative reader.

The Game of Leaf and Smile by Lawrence Schoen

Kejstvil, a recent Lord of Pain, pairs off against one of the more venerable of the demonic host: Lord Zhole, eldest of the Lords of Disease.

Their combat is not the traditional domain of demons. No tempting and very little torturing. These demons establish the rules of a tournament that could destroy the younger, but so bankrupt the accumulated resources of the elder that he might be forced out of retirement, where he putters in his garden of smiles.

The rules: among the chosen game pieces (humans) in the chosen area (one city block) at the chosen time (Halloween Night), the Lord Zhole pits one second of every smile against each touch of a beautiful autumn leaf. Kejstvil is challenger, so Zhole gets to select the game pieces.

To say the least, this is odd territory for demons to be wagering on, and moments of the story dip into strictly comedic territory. As he realizes the contest will not be a blow out, the upstart Kejstvil irritably declines a water ice: "Keep your damn sugary treats!"

But the humans in this supernatural contest come to life in their small ways, and the personalities of the demonic participants, as well as the stakes, all make this more powerful than mere farce. It's all too easy, however, to forget that the sympathetic Lord Zhole is himself a demon. The outcome of the contest turns out not to be the only factor important in this struggle: a fine ending with multiple twists to deliver a delightfully dark conclusion.

Aeon Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Game of Leaf and Smile

Lawrence M. Schoen

5,600 wds est

[Review] Demons partake of a strange tournament: colorful autumn leaves against childhood smiles. Almost easy to forget these are demons. Too easy.

Blood Pith Crux

Kelly Hale

2,000 wds est

A retelling of Ulysses and Calypso

A Game of Cards

Carrie Richerson

3,750 wds est

In elegant prose, ancient Egyptian gods contest over the gambling table of a Mississippi riverboat.

The Tinker's Child

M. Thomas

2,500 wds est

In the rainy land of Omestas, Ephan has made a golem named Olaz and given it a seed for a brain, and the sins of the creator are born in the creation.

The Knife Birds

Kij Johnson

1,500 wds est

A youth hungry for knowledge, wisdom, and most of all, for something new, pesters Homer for a story. He gets more (and less) than he seeks.

Copper Angels

Joseph P. Haines

5,750 wds est

A chilling cautionary tale, skillfully told, but with underlying politics that turns on some tedious religious stereotypes.

End of Day

Laura Anne Gilman

2,250 wds est

A mysterious artifact transforms the lives of all it touches in a world that feels like the old Gamma World game.

Andromeda Spaceways

Andromeda Spaceways: #19, 2004

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (June/July, 2005)

The editor for this issue of Andromeda Spaceways was Ian Nichols, and his melancholy editorial sets the pace for the fiction that follows. Sometimes, ASIM (as it is affectionately known in these parts) seems to specialize in light-hearted fare, although it has never been exclusively comedic. This issue, however, runs from serious to dark and even those stories with happy endings or slightly silly premises can't quite be called "light."

The Loneliest Place to Die by Colin Hains

There is a certain kind of science fiction story, not as common these days as it once was, that I call the "Houston-we-have-a-problem" story. People -- in this case a single individual -- in a space ship encounter a technical problem that seems insurmountable. All the Big Science Engineering that went into the ship isn't sufficient to save the day: only creative, human ingenuity can accomplish that.

This story embodies some of the reasons this type of story has become almost an endangered species, but it also demonstrates the full appeal of the type as well.

Peter is on a solo mission to test a privately funded Lunar Shuttle. He reaches the moon with no problem, conducts a week's worth of experiments with nary a glitch. But then he discovers he can't take off again. A critical part of the ignition system, located in the belly of the shuttle, has frozen. Poor design: if it had been in the top of the shuttle, or equipped with a heating system, it would have been fine. But there in the shadow of the shuttle itself, it has frozen solid. Sufficient oxygen reserves to complete the return trip to Earth are dwindling, and the engineers back on Earth seem unable to find a solution.

This is a plausible failure scenario, and Hains does a nice job with the voice of the narrator, and his mission control team back on Earth. Hains also plays very successfully with the politics and economics of space travel on a privatized mission. The astronaut himself isn't quite sure the company he's working for didn't set the failure up just for the ratings -- and to spur funding for a second expedition. Particularly telling is the fact that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the shuttle itself. Although he will die, the shuttle will be in perfectly good shape once someone with a portable heater shows up.

Naturally, Peter's attempt to solve the problem is just clever enough that it might work.

There are realism problems, however. It's hard to imagine that computer simulations wouldn't have turned up a failure this straightforward. If it had been about the freezing point of a replacement tubing material or something, I would have been more able to believe it. Indeed, Hains could well have demonstrated the risk of private space expeditions by having the whole problem be the result of some cost cutting replacement of parts that push the specification envelope or something.

It's also hard to imagine that Peter would be alone. In any vehicle with enough power to get to the moon, adding space and supplies for a second person is pretty small potatoes. They might be a little cozy, but having redundant personnel on the ship is just as critical as having redundant components. If Peter had suffered a heart-attack on takeoff, the mission would have been a bust.

Finally, the solution attempt that Peter comes up with is, again, the kind of thing that a competent team of engineers with a good computer simulation should have come up with in a few hours.

So, this type of story is hard to write convincingly because the kind of readers who are going to enjoy it at all are the kind who actually know enough about NASA and space flight in general to second-guess the author's choice of plot points.

Still, this is a fine story with nice tension, and Hains paints a very convincing -- and pleasingly ambiguous -- picture of the future of privatized space exploration. It's nice to see this kind of hard science fiction in ASIM (or anywhere, for that matter).

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine June/July: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Cast Iron Dybbuk

Lou Antonelli

3,000 wds est

A demon -- or the psychic remnant of an intelligent dinosaur -- escapes from a deeply buried pod during a mining operation.

A Melody of Brass

John Borneman

7,000 wds est

A blind boy and a brass man bring music back to a post-apocalyptic humanity terrified of anything creative.

A Pleasing Shape

Gaie Sebold

3,500 wds est

An amusing account of Satan taking the form of a cute, cuddly kitten in a devious plan to obtain the soul of one of the last saints on Earth.

If Thine Eye Offend Thee

Ken Goldman

2,000 wds est

I do not recommend reading this immediately before going to sleep. This is scary, chilling, effective horror.

Many-splendored

Jay Lake

4,000 wds est

What do you do when your redneck friend is in love with an alien? A hungry alien?

The Big Cheat

R Michael Burns

5,500 wds est

Max Blagden, private eye, is hired to for the usual work: get the dirt on a cheating husband. His employer, the wife, just wants to know who the floozy is. She'll take care of the rest herself. Only thing is, the floozy is herself, or at least, a clone of herself.

Under the Boardwalk

Will McIntosh

2,250 wds est

A new take on "social" diseases: these diseases are fun to get, like permanent drugs.

Bourbon and Blood

Bryn Sparks

2,250 wds est

John Daniels, private eye, is hired for some not-so-legal work, but when the borders between flesh and virtual reality are permeable exactly who is killing who is not so easy to unravel.

Papa and the Sea

Sandra McDonald

1,750 wds est

So Hemingway wakes up alone, on a boat with nothing but a day's worth of food, a typewriter, and some paper.

Soo Lin and the Snow Eagle

Lee Emmett

3,500 wds est

An ancient-China evil-stepmother fairy tale.

Thrill

M Lynx Qualey

500 wds est

A vignette in that future in which life is cheap because death is not the end.

The Loneliest Place to Die

Colin Hains

4,000 wds est

[Review] Sometime in the next twenty years a privately funded lunar shuttle runs into trouble. This is a "Houston-we-have-a-problem" story.

Black Gate (#8)

Black Gate is a rare treat: a treat, of course, because it is one of the few periodicals to publish unabashed fantasy stories. Rare, because "periodical" seems to mean once or twice a year.

High Fantasy is a genre that seems more inclined toward lengthy, involved stories than to tight gems of short fiction, which is what makes Black Gate's format so perfect. A nice, thick, perfect bound volume packed with novelettes and novellas that don't have that rushed, book-in-twenty-pages feel that occasionally bedevils stories in slimmer volumes.

Heat Waves by Sherry Decker

Although Black Gate specializes in high fantasy, and offers nice long stories to really spend some time with, it is by no means a monoculture, as Heat Waves demonstrates.

Rachel seems like an ordinary girl with ordinary problems and ordinary fears. For perfectly ordinary reasons, she doesn't like the bathroom at church, and is accordingly anxious to get moving as the line slowly makes its way past the rector. It may seem farcical, but the urge to pee actually makes a pretty good hook, and imparts unexpected tension to this tale.

Rachel, however, is not an ordinary girl. She can hear people's thoughts. Indeed, when the circumstances are right, she can even converse with her father, mind to mind.

On this morning, however, on top of everything else, there is something else out there, talking to her.

Events are in motion, and these voices in the heat waves are excited by the prospect of calamity.

Decker does a careful job of building fact upon fact, providing just enough detail to introduce the reader to the increasingly strange and dangerous position that Rachel is actually in; even as she crosses her legs and begs her parents to get going. But no, they are chatting to the rector about softball and being generally inconsiderate and oblivious, as adults are.

This is the kind of story that benefits from tight construction, and most of all, from just the right authorial tone and distance. Decker gets it right, and the resolution to all the threads of tension works perfectly.

The Nursemaid's Suitor by Charles Coleman Finlay

Finlay's writing is often boundary-bending, rule-busting, norm-pushing and adventurous. In this one, it's just adventure: but sophisticated, fun, and eminently readable. In fact, it's page-turning fantasy from a writer increasingly adept in all corners of the various "speculative" genres.

The story begins as Yvon and Xaragitte make a daring escape from a burning castle with the precious cargo: Lord Gruethrist's infant son. Xaragitte is the eponymous nursemaid, and Yvon the suitor. Yvon is also one of Gruethrist's most trusted knights, in disguise as a common peasant for the escape.

Together, Yvon and Xaragitte must cross dangerous wilderness, avoiding the agents of Lord Gruethrist's sworn enemy, the Baron Culufre, servant of the Empress. Their destination: one of Gruethrist's other castles, or one of this allies.

Although sick and half-starved, Yvon is looking forward to this perilous journey because, as the title suggests, he is most desperately in love with Xaragitte, and hoping to find the right moment to put his feelings into words.

Yvon is crafty, strong, and bold. He is as good with a knife at close quarters as he is with the sword. His skills keep both nursemaid and infant alive through rough terrain and in the face of enemies both natural and arcane. However, his bravery falters when it comes to conversation with the fairer sex, and Xaragritte's total lack of appreciation for the enormity of his efforts to keep them alive even as the odds against them pile up do nothing to help his tongue.

Finlay interweaves political intrigue, combat, magic, and adventure with perfectly delightful characterization and delivers a poignant conclusion. A very fine novella.

Black Gate #: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Turning of the Tiles

Iain Rowan

12,000 wds, est

A curious combination of Chinese names ("Dao-Shi") and Generic Fantasy ("Vor-Rhaghossian") underlay this tale of hawk-and-dove politics, in which the doves are shown to be as ruthless and scheming as their counterparts on the other side of the aisle.

Turn Up This Crooked Way

James Enge

9,500 wds, est

A pleasant fantasy-mystery occasionally studded with some very fancy vocabulary. (First time I've seen the word "sessile" used in a fantasy story!)

Heat Waves

Sherry Decker

3,500 wds, est

[Review] A sharp, detailed contemporary fantasy about a girl who hears people's thoughts -- and the thoughts of some who are not people.

The Carrion Call

Paul Finch

13,000 wds, est

Historical fantasy set in the Anglo-Saxon era: good research, good characters, but a sappy ending.

Winter's Touch

Justin Stanchfield

8,500 wds, est

Another fantasy with a historical feel to it, two sisters find a young man, wounded and unconscious. One with healing powers restores the young man to health, but their destinies are not entwined.

Mortal Star

Aaron Bradford Starr

16,000 wds, est

A big fantasy in large strokes: magic, inimical creatures out of the spaces between worlds, complex social customs. A real adventure!

Fat Jack and the Spider Clown

Jay Lake

4,000 wds, est

Surrealist science fiction in the form of comedic fantasy? You may have to decide for yourself on this one.

The Nursemaid's Suitor

Charles Coleman Finlay

25,000 wds, est

[Review] Awkward romance interwoven with a not-quite-quest adventure in a high magic/medieval setting.

F&SF

F&SF: Oct/Nov

F&SF (October/November, 2005)

When the lesser works in a magazine are by the likes of Joe Haldeman and Gene Wolfe, you know you're holding something special in your hands.

The cover illustration is for Two Hearts, which is a short story by Peter S. Beagle bridging from his enormously popular classic The Last Unicorn to a new book. This is big news, as I discuss below, although it's by no means the only remarkable story in this double issue. In fact, what's remarkable is that there are no misses. If there weren't other magazines being published out there, I could easily devote this entire column to the contents of this magazine alone. Naturally, however, some stories lend themselves to discussion more than others, and it is those I will focus on.

Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle

The great danger in picking up a new work that is a contemporary sequel to an old and beloved story is that the new work will fail to achieve the iconic power of the original. It is a natural phenomenon for those stories read in our youth to have a special power, and even the most accomplished efforts by the author to return to that place are doomed simply because there is no way to reach that child's heart in a mature person. Not in the same way, not with the same force. Often enough, the author does not return to the work with the same power either. Among the "noble efforts" I think of Ursula LeGuin's return to EarthSea after the first trilogy, or (tempered by the fact that he did not finish the job), Walter M. Miller's return to the world of A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Fortunately for me, Peter S. Beagle's much loved The Last Unicorn doesn't have quite that stature in my own life, and his return to the world of that story is immensely successful.

As a result, I devoured every sentence of this new story with astonishment and pleasure.

Two Hearts introduces Sooz, a brash girl in a village plagued by a griffin. When the griffin takes her friend Felicitas, Sooz sets out to find King Lir. The King has sent heroes to slay the griffin, but the griffin has made short and horrible work of them. Sooz believes that if only she can explain to the King about their troubles, he will come set things right.

Along the way she (apparently coincidentally) runs into the wizard Schmendrick and his friend Molly. They too are on their way to see the King.

Now, one of the things that makes this such a strong work of fantasy is that there is none of that "magical system" stuff. None of that carefully plotting out as to how magic works, and why, and what the rules are. Magic, in this world, is, well, magical. Schmendrick the wizard doesn't seem to do much magic at all, and yet strange and wonderful things happen around him. The confidence in Beagle's handling of Sooz' mixture of wonder and suspicion as she interacts with Schmendrick is a thing of beauty.

We soon learn that King Lir is no sprightly young hero, and his readiness to go gallivanting off to slay a griffin is certainly a cause for concern around the castle, but after being woken to the need of his people, he sets off in the company of Molly, Schmendrick, and Sooz to meet his fate.

Throughout, Beagle handles moments of subtle character and vivid setting with a very confident hand, and it is a joy to encounter something that is simple, traditional fantasy written with unblemished joy for the noble and the beautiful.

It must be noted, however, that like so much traditional fantasy, there is a powerful resonance to Tolkien here. In fact, the entire story has a point-by-point corollary to Tolkien's subplot of King Theoden of Rohan. In Beagle, King Lir is sleepy, almost drugged into a safe but honorless life within the castle. Not by the evil machinations of Grima Wormtongue, but by the overprotective love of Lisene. The wizard Schmendrick takes Gandalf's role in waking the King from his stupor. In a slight crossover between Tolkien subplots, Sooz takes Merry's role, although her interactions also resonate with Pippin's role as inspirer of Denethor, a childish presence that motivates him out of his comfortable routine. And, as the cover of the magazine suggests, when the King goes off to meet his fate, there will be tragedy as well as triumph, just as Theoden falls victim to the Nazgul, but his choices help stave off evil. (I could strain the analogy by trying to put Molly in Eowyn's garb, but I don't think the robes quite fit.)

Comparison made, it is hardly significant in light of the real role of this story as a bridge between The Last Unicorn and, the editors tell us, a new novel involving these characters to be completed next year. If Beagle continues in the bold, beautiful manner he demonstrates here, it should be a sequel his fans will rejoice in.

The Calorie Man by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the pages of F&SF with this tale of a future without fossil fuels. It's bound to happen at some point -- certainly a lot more likely than any "singularity" -- so it's a little surprising we don't see more like this.

In this future, the wealth of the world is in the hands of the copyright owners of genetically modified grain, pretty nearly the only energy source remaining on earth. Natural food sources have all died out, the victims of plague vectors that all hint back at the global companies who own the new, sterile seeds.

At the start of the story, before we encounter the agents of these corporations, the story has the polished feel of a fine medieval fantasy. In part, this is because Bacigalupi conveniently leaves out solar, wind, and water power as energy sources of the future. But while this omission is a bit puzzling to the future historian, it makes for a very evocative collection of technologies to convert the energy in grain to mechanical or electrical power.

One of Bacigalupi's most effective techniques in this story is to deftly set expectations, and then overturn them in clever and plausible ways. This adds complexity to the world and to his characters. For example, his main character Lalji opens the story by entering a strange village. Here his encounters with beggars and rapacious traders establish him first as a thoughtful, possibly sensitive fellow; but then as an experienced and hardened traveller; and only then does Bacigalupi let the gentle side back in. His depiction of character through amusing, intriguing, and compelling action is masterful, and highly successful.

The story is about Lalji on a sensitive mission into the heart of corporate America, which in this future means the wheat fields of the plain states. But, as many of the best stories do, this includes another story as well. In this case, a story about a man with a deep shame in his heart, a guilt that he believes can not be righted, while still helpless in its distant grasp. He wants to be a good man, but he cannot believe he is a good man. He wants to be a tough guy, but he cannot see hard actions through to their worst consequences.

A beautiful and timely tale.

F&SF Oct/Nov: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The Calorie Man

Paolo Bacigalupi

nvlt

[Review] The future of genetic modification; and an all-too-plausible one at that. Petroleum is gone and the world's food - and energy - supplies are in the hands of global enterprises that manage the sterile seed crops.

Help Wonted

Matthew Hughes

nvlt

Guth Bandar tackles the noösphere. Or, rather, the noösphere tackles him: demonstrating the very sense of purpose and long term planning that has ruined poor Guth's reputation.

Two Hearts

Peter S. Beagle

nvlt

[Review] Sequel to The Last Unicorn! Moving, masterful short fiction.

Helen Remembers the Stork Club

Esther M. Friesner

short

Like any mortal, the aging demigoddess Helen (of Troy) reflects on her youth from her place of wealth and luxury in present day NY.

Foreclosure

Joe Haldeman

short

The rightful owners of planet earth return to find an unexpected bunch of squatters (humans) on the property. They open negotiations with a real estate agent (at random) to reclaim their rightful property.

Spells for Halloween: An Acrostic

Dale Bailey

short

This is more of a cartoon-in-text than a short story, but it's cute enough for Halloween.

Billy and the Ants

Terry Bisson

short

Billy kills ants, but each time he kills one, the next one is larger. You'd think even a cruel careless boy would catch on to this pattern.

The Gunner's Mate

Gene Wolfe

short

While on vacation to some island retreat, Muriel has more than the usual desire to throw the towel in, back in the big city, and take up island life. And something on this island feels the same way about her.

Fallen Idols

Jaye Lawrence

short

"Zeus showed up one night at the sex addiction meeting in the basement of Christ Lutheran Church." Some first lines say it all.

Silv'ry Moon

Steven Utley

short

Dr. Canepi visits Utley's Silurian Era with the intent of sending a radio signal to the universe from the past with the hope of a response back in the present. His plan is not well received.

Echo

Elizabeth Hand

short

In retreat from an affair that fell apart, she watches the decline and fall of civilization from a remote island. A melancholy meditation on loss and the memory of loss.

Boatman's Holiday

Jeffrey Ford

short

Charon's work is never done. There are always more souls to be shuttled across the Styx. But once a century he gets a vacation, and lately he's been planning something subversive.

Interzone

Interzone: #199

Interzone (#199)

There's no escaping this rather ridiculous cover. Turn the magazine over and the same woman, with the same basketballs strapped to her chest continues her pensive pose: apparently this painting from Jim Burns is also the cover of his new book, advertised on the back of Interzone.

The interior brings all the usual Interzone material, including a very enjoyable rant from John Clute on the decline of culture. ("The culture of the West in 2005 is an unction. It does really seem to me that, over a fairly long life, I've been inhabiting a death-aria.") Clute's "breakfast in the ruins" rant may be a few years premature, but it's certainly entertaining.

This, My Body by Jeremiah Tolbert

Something about the strange religion here reminds me of Dune: perhaps its the fact that there's no apparent theology or spirituality inherent in the religion itself: just strange practices.

The narrator is a slave in this religion, bought as a child and raised to be a part of the sacred rituals. A very special part.

The rituals involve sex and food: and the narrator has been genetically modified to be a part of the meal. Although not eaten in the cannibalistic sense, he is the dining surface for one participant in this strange ceremony: his skin imparts special, heady flavors to the food. And, typically, the meal is followed by a long night of sensual and sexual pleasures.

None of this seems to have any spiritual purpose in, say, the Tantric tradition. It's more or less a hook to draw people into the faith.

The story begins with the narrator being contracted out of the temple to a wealthy family. The woman of the house is permitted to enjoy her religious ceremonies whenever her husband is away on business. There's only one rule: our celebrant is forbidden any contact with the daughter.

With that gun loaded and set conspicuously on the mantle, there's plenty of background tension for the more subtle blossoming of character to unfold.

The narrator, you see, is no more a believer than the hedonistic supplicants. He has been genetically and physiologically modified to feel nothing: no pain when burning hot foods are served on his skin; and no particular pleasure in the long nights of sexual performance. He might as well be an android, locked away in his own body. But he longs for humanity, his one goal is to buy his way out of slavery, reverse the alterations he has been subjected to, and rejoin the human race as an ordinary member.

Of course, since he has been trained from earliest youth in the ways of both food and sex, he also has a somewhat condescending view of ordinary humanity, as particularly demonstrated by his relationship with the house chef.

Although I wanted there to be some deep insight into the nature of our dehumanized, over-stimulated culture, ultimately, I came away from this one with only the satisfaction of a fresh, original, intriguing story. And perhaps that also is what reminds me of Dune.

Interzone #199: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

The House of Beata Virgo

Steven Mohan, Jr.

4,500 wds est

Legal issues, not to mention the nature of celebrity, get complicated when recombinant DNA techniques allow the living to transform themselves into effective clones of others.

Garp and Geronamid

Neal Asher

11,000 wds est

An AI is sent in to improve the situation on a viciously corrupt planet. Reminder to self: don't piss off an AI.

Sunset

Jay Caselberg

2,000 wds est

Interstellar colonists find they cannot bear normal, human children. Things get darker and darker as this sun sets.

Bird Songs at Eventide

Nina Allan

4,000 wds est

A melancholy, introspective story set on an alien world where a research team is studying the local dragons.

This, My Body

Jeremiah Tolbert

9,000 wds est

[Review] Intriguing story of food, sex, religion, and love.

SciFiction (August)

All three of the stories this August are profound and powerful in their own way: Pat Cadigan looks at recovery from a whole new angle: what if you have been cured against your will? M. Rickert brings her photo realistic grasp of ordinary lives to bear on an abstract conundrum. And Lucius Shepard? Shepard takes his readers on a journey that starts gently but gets stranger and stranger all the way down.

Abimagique by Lucius Shepard

Abimagique opens with a complex character study that shifts gradually into a second person present tense story. And by present tense, let me emphasize tense.

This is Shepard at the top of his powers, weaving together a mysterious and haunting tale of a relationship between "you" (a 23 year old in Seattle's University District) and a woman who's somewhere beyond strange. Where strange borders on divine, or possibly demonic.

But you are so ordinary, and everything is so plausible, every development has so persuasive an explanation, and Abimagique is so compelling in that certain way that borderline women can be, and Shepard captures everything about it so perfectly, with such plainness and realness and subtlety that you can't help but fall deeper and deeper into her spell.

The use of second person present tense is often a tedious exercise. Occasionally it is a fine stylistic device in a very short, pointed work. Shepard shows his utter mastery of the form, however, by effortlessly using this to put you into his story. Now, it's entirely possible that his "you" will not work for some readers, but for my part, it's like Shepard has seen my very own life, my very own mistakes, my very own struggles coming to terms with difficult relationships, and it's all there, on the page, except that there's something even darker, weirder, and more extraordinary going on than I have ever suffered.

Soon enough, however, the story moves beyond anything that anyone has ever suffered and evolves into another of the recent spate of 2012 end-of-the-world stories. (The Asian tsunami plays a role, and a "major disaster in Mexico in 2007" is predicted. I suppose Shepard was being conservative: New Orleans is closer to Mexico than 2007 is to today, but neither are very far off.)

Favorite Line: "Life is the reasoned exercise of passion. When it's not, it's death."

A tragic, cryptic tale of Tantric sex, death, passion, and, of course, the destruction of the world.

SciFiction Aug: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Anyway

M. Rickert

6,674

[Online] Imagine a mother's choice: would you sacrifice your son to end all war on Earth? Or, would you let things continue as they are, knowing your son will not die in war?

Is There Life After Rehab

Pat Cadigan

6,381

[Online] Wisecracking ex-vampires, cured against their will, face life after undeath and don't like the looks of it. But looking back ain't so much fun either.

Abimagique

Lucius Shepard

16,796

[Online] [Review] What if your new girlfriend is so good in the sack, all her exes have broken backs?

Talebones

Talebones #30

Talebones (#30)

The somewhat banal cover belies some top notch fiction from Talebones regulars and newcomers alike. Talebones, in case you don't know, is a digest sized magazine of "Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy" published in the Pacific Northwest. It comes out about twice a year these days, although the editors aspire to returning to a thrice-yearly schedule. Most significantly, Talebones is one of a select number of small press magazines whose reputation outstrips their size and circulation numbers.

If you pick up this issue, you'll see why.

Still Life With Boobs by Anne Harris

When I saw that Ray Vukcevich was on the cover of this issue of Talebones, I thought for sure his would be the weirdest story in the lot. I was mistaken, however. Anne Harris out-Vukceviches him with this extraordinary, surrealist farce.

Gwen's life has been downshifting of late, and neither George nor Gracie are content with the situation. George and Gracie are Gwen's breasts, and like unruly teen-agers, they are getting out at night, causing mischief.

Gwen's getting over a divorce, and she's rethinking a life that took her from promising young artist to accounts payable clerk in a design firm. Even as she tries to retain control over her wayward body parts (including assorted slapstick hijinks and situational comedy moments), Gwen seeks the life changes that will restore her own personal wholeness. There's a certain natural expectation that Gwen will quit her job and resume the life of creativity she once aimed for, but while that's not ruled out completely, Harris doesn't play such an obvious game.

Of course, the fact that her boobs have brought home a cylindrical "friend" does suggest that there are some issues she's going to have to deal with first.

One Day in the Middle of the Night by James Van Pelt

One dark night when all was bright,
Two dead boys got up to fight
Back to back, they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other
Two deaf policemen heard the noise
And came and killed the two dead boys
And if you don't believe this lie is true,
Ask the blind man, he saw it, too.

From such silliness as this children's rhyme, comes a clever story from James Van Pelt. Each line heads a scene aboard an interstellar colony ship. Two brothers, ruthless competitors, rivals, and ultimately enemies, have brought themselves out of cryogenic stasis to settle their differences once and for all. With the rest of the ship frozen between repair and course correction cycles, the "two dead boys" have the run of the ship. Both are brilliant, and each have laid traps for the other, and each knows that what seems to be one trap is almost certainly some other trap entirely.

In fact, while elaborately and entertainingly filling out the verses above, this story works as a tense little thriller. Part of the duel between the brothers involves manipulating the onboard computer system in ways that Van Pelt doesn't quite make work for the software engineer in me, but he's in such august company on that front that I can hardly hold it against him. In fact, in all the particulars that are important, this is a very smart piece of work.

A Whole Man by David J. Schwartz

While the character Gwen is having trouble with her body parts in Still Life With Boobs, the narrator in this story is having trouble with his clothes. It starts with his jacket rebelling, and things soon get out of hand.

It must have been a great delight to the Swensons to be able to publish these two stories of personal disintegration in one issue.

This deterioration begins with the security check at an airport, and Schwartz follows the strange disassociated placeless nature of airports to its spiritual conclusion: total breakdown of the human mastery over the inanimate world of clothes.

Clothing, of course, is a projection of personality, a facade that declares "This is me!" -- when each of us is little more than a structurally complex, electrochemically dynamic sack of water. Schwartz' character is on the border of the nowhere/everywhere that is the airport, and the static, encapsulated nowhere of the plane itself. And this is when his clothes abandon him. First the jacket and the tie, then his shoes, and before he knows it, they're trying to get on the plane without him.

You can imagine that, while a silly story in its own way, there's enormous power here, because who hasn't sipped beer in an airport bar under the blissful anonymity of being nobody, nowhere, nowhen, and wondered at the possibility of simply stepping into another life. Instead of walking onto the aeroplane, shifting into another plane entirely.

Talebones #: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Still Life With Boobs

Anne Harris

10,000 wds est

[Review] Very surrealist story about a woman whose breasts are enjoying the night life without her.

Treats

Nina Kiriki Hoffman

2,000 wds est

Sweets make some kids hyperactive. For Lisa, and those around her, the consequences are far, far greater.

One Day, in the Middle of the Night

James Van Pelt

6,000 wds est

[Review] On a thousand year interstellar voyage, two men with a vendetta duel among the cryogenic capsules of their peers.

Take the Stairs

Ray Vukcevich

1,250 wds est

Vukcevich's take on the fundamentalist War on Science.

A Whole Man

David J. Schwartz

2,500 wds est

[Review] Elegant surrealist meditation on the strange mental state of being in an airport.

Mama's Lightning Bugs

Brian Scott Hiebert

6,500 wds est

Survivors of lightning strikes have a very different relationship to electricity.

Ask Not for Whom

Jason D. Wittman

750 wds est

The clockmaker takes his revenge on the bourgeoisie man who wants only to outshine his peers, without properly appreciating the clock itself.

The Wooden Mother

Michael Poore

3,500 wds est

A lovely twist on the traditional fairy tale. A sort of Hansel & Gretel get the tough love they deserve story.


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!

Sep 5, 20:22 by IROSF
Let's talk about short fiction!

Bluejack's reviews are here.
Sep 5, 22:42 by Celia Marsh
You've got a title/author mismatch in the Talebones reviews. I assume that the author of "A Whole Man" is David Schwartz, as it says in the table, not Jason Wittman, as the review says?
Sep 5, 23:01 by Amy Sisson
Hi Bluejack. I like reading your short fiction reviews and certainly do find them useful. I also like the format of the summary tables of each publication.

I noticed that for some of the publications, you don't note in your summary table which stories you "reviewed" further up the column, while for other publications you do point out which story(ies) was reviewed. Is there a distinction I'm missing, or is that an oversight?

Thanks,
Amy Sisson
Sep 5, 23:02 by Bluejack
You are quite correct, Tanaise, and correction made. I must say that Sherry, currently our lone copy editor, did yeoman work on this monster of an issue, and any mistakes are my responsibility and mine alone. I have a nasty tendency to always try to cram one more magazine into the review at the last minute.

Each month I vow that it will not happen the next month, and then, once again there I am.

I should add that Asimov's and Analog both arrived on Thursday last, and I seriously considered trying to get them into this review. Thank goodness I didn't or who knows what might have happened.

Oh, and thanks Amy. Undoubtedly another oversight. For October? I cut myself off early. I swear. No rushing! Haste makes waste!
Sep 6, 10:13 by twosheds
Couldn’t agree with you more on F&SF. Every story in this issue kept me reading. And yes, Haldeman’s and Wolfe’s stories paled in comparison to most of the others (but I enjoyred them). I was ready to hate the “Helen Remembers…” story once I realized it was mostly narrative, but by the end I was loving it.
Sep 6, 16:31 by Joseph Haines
Hey Bluejack, I look forward to these reviews every month and think you do a valuable service by providing your insight on these stories. You are absolutely correct. Anything to promote the continuation of short fiction is a good thing. Not to mention the fact that you keep the writers honest. :-)

Joseph Paul Haines
Sep 6, 17:42 by Bluejack
Thanks Joseph. I wasn't fishing for compliments, however. If anything: more for a successor! But I'll be doing this for a while yet.
Sep 6, 19:31 by Joseph Haines
Not really a compliment. More an agreement. But hey man, take 'em when show up.
Sep 6, 20:06 by Jim Van Pelt
Hi, Bluejack. Beside my reluctance to see you stop reviewing on a personal level (I like your approach to stories), I think my default position is that no one should ever stop reviewing. So much short fiction goes unnoticed and undiscussed. Even the Analog, F&SF and Asimov's discussion boards hardly ever seem to spend time actually talking about the fiction.

When you stop reviewing and write more stories, the world of speculative fiction will improve, but the world of critical reaction will be lessened.
Sep 6, 20:57 by Lois Tilton
Maybe the unknown authors have to try harder.
Sep 6, 21:29 by Bluejack
We did talk about this a little at CascadiaCon, Jim, and I certainly agree with you about the value of discussing short fiction. I also think that covering short fiction is an important ingredient at IROSF, and don't plan anything precipitous.

But at some point, I will be doing other things. I put a lot of time into reviewing right now, and while I don't anticipate *not* reading short fiction, and while I'll always think and want to discuss the short fiction I do read, my involvement and commitments will undoubtedly shift over time. As with everyone.

Hey, one day I'll be in the ground, as will we all. Nothing lasts forever. It's good to have a backup plan.
Sep 7, 00:07 by Richard Lovett
Hi Bluejack,

To the best of my knowledge we've never met, but I'll agree with Jim. Though it's obvious you put in a lot of hours at this, and it has to demand a huge fraction of your time. I was at CascadiaCon, but missed the IROSF party. Too bad. Among other things, I'd wanted to find out whether (based on one of your long-ago comments) you were a cyclist. FYI, yes I am.
Sep 10, 09:40 by Dario Ciriello
Bluejack,

Short fiction does matter; your sincerity, and the fact that you care deeply about it has always been clear to me. Of course you'll need to move on, but the thoughtful, precise insights you bring to the field will be missed when you stop reviewing.

The upside is that we'll get to read more of your own work ;-)

Dario

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