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October, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction Reviews, October 2005

It's vocabulary month here in Short Fiction World. Contumacious! Euonymist! Chiaroscurist! Solipsister! Ok, more than half of those come from the table of contents in that spunky little publication Electric Velocipede.

Rather than wax rhapsodic on the timelessly pleasant topic of the apparently endless abundance of new words in the English language, I think I'll dive right into the reviews. A little sparse this month and next month will probably be similar -- not (of course) because there is any dearth of fabulously fantastic fiction, but simply a shortage of this reviewer's own time. In fact, a number of intriguing new publications have been hammering on my door and, although I like what I see when I peek through the fisheye lens, there simply isn't any more room at the table right now. In particular, I want to apologize for the fact that Strange Horizons hasn't been in this column recently. They are a worthy publication and they are having their fall fundraiser. So, if you ever enjoy Strange Horizons, then head on over and donate!

All that said, I'm planning a very special feast in December. Because most of the pro magazines seem to run three or four months early, I will have exhausted most of 2005's publications with our November issue. Thus, look for a small-press special in December where I'll try to get some pretty broad coverage of publications -- many internet only -- but probably some unusual gems in good old paper and ink.

The Reviews


Analog: Nov. 2005

Analog (November, 2005)

With the onset of a new serial (Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder), there are not many pieces of short fiction in this issue to actually review!

Thomas R. Dulski's The Case of the Contumacious Qubit takes a farcical journey from a high school science fair with one very unusual exhibit into a far more extensive sci-fi mystery. Heroes and villains are all scientists, but brains do not resolve anything...just sheer, blind luck. John Barnes' The Diversification of its Fancy is a leisurely tale set in a distant future in which humanity faces a great, but unknown, threat. That threat never makes it out of the backstory. Instead, we have a sort of tour de force of science fictional ideas. Personality backups; instantaneous travel between the stars (The Springers); virtual realities (the Box); longevity treatments; ultra-high-tech Predecessors; the ethics of machine intelligence. It's all here as some interstellar intrigue and alien religion that wanders out of the story midway through to be replaced by a pleasant-but-predictable romance. Finally, shorter and sweeter, Richard A. Lovett's story: 911-Backup. Back up your data, people!

Analog Nov. 2005: Summary Table





The Diversification of its Fancy

John Barnes


A pleasantly meandering space opera filled with intrigue, romance and lots of familiar sci-fi ideas.

The Case of the Contumacious Qubit

Thomas R. Dulski


A dastardly plot to win a Nobel prize by means most foul is foiled by Deus ex Machina.


Richard A. Lovett


Lovett reminds us what we already know: back up your data. All the more true when the hardware is integrated into your brain.


Asimov's: Oct/Nov

Asimov's (October/November)

The cover superbly illustrates M. Bennardo's intriguing Nightmare, a nice way to start off this thick double issue.

It's not so often that you find many short stories that focus on banking, but here we have two finance related tales: Tom Purdom's Bank Run imagines banking on a partially-settled frontier planet where civilization relies on a freeform blend of civil anarchy, unrestrained libertarianism, and good old fashioned feudalism, while in Betting on Eureka, Geoffrey A. Landis heads to the increasingly popular fringes of the solar system for a rough-and-ready recap of why we have insider trading laws here on Earth.

Overlay by Jack Skillingstead

The narrator is a mid-level, mediocre, make-no-waves reporter who makes ends meet by renting out his body. Thus the titular overlay. Now, if there are any legitimate uses for this speculative technology, Skillingstead doesn't dwell on them. But the possibilities for abuse are, well, pretty obvious. And our mid-level, mediocre reporter is a prime candidate for abuse.

But when dark memories lurk out of the haze, he decides to quietly investigate. A lucky break or two, and, reporter that he is, he manages to make contact with someone his rider (played by Sidney Greenstreet) has used his body to befriend.

This may be Skillingstead's sharpest work yet. Firmly science fictional in both sensibility and in construction, yet with the page-turning quality of a good mystery, Overlay gives all of the visceral thrills of a good-fun story, and yet retains all of the characteristics of Skillingstead's introspective, self-deprecating style. On top of all that, it's sexy (with an enjoyably overt, and even more enjoyably unresolved, tension) and populated by characters who don't turn out to be quite what they seem at first.

Pericles the Tyrant by Lois Tilton

Alternate History as a sub-genre is always intriguing, but after a while it can degenerate into an extended what-if session. A few of those, with story as a secondary medium to the author's reinvention of the past, and the whole form becomes rather tiresome.

Fortunately, Tilton is writing alternate history with a purpose.

Tilton takes us back to the birthplace of Democracy: ancient Athens. However, this is sort of Athens II -- because in this story, the Persians won. That's one of those moments in history where truth is stranger than history, because there's really no way the Athenians could ever have defeated the Persians. Put that in a Hollywood blockbuster, with Mel Gibson as Themistocles, and Tom Cruise as Pausanias, and nobody would believe it for a second. Implausible trash.

Instead, Tilton imagines the more probable outcome: the Greek League fell apart and the Athenians fled before the unstoppable juggernaut of the Persian military machine. And recreated their city state in Sicily.

All of this is written with a deep understanding of ancient history, but it's no mere excercise in scholarship; Tilton is telling a more timely tale.

Two young men, friends, rise to prominence together. Pericles founds a naval power that defeats the Carthaginians, and gradually subverts Athenian Democratic traditions to his own ends. Sophocles, the young playwright, finds his first fame in supporting Pericles' unifying tactics, but a more profound strength in revealing Pericles' ultimate betrayal of Democratic principles.

Of course, when one writes political commentary about the demise of Democratic principles, we generally look to the example of Rome. Rome, after all, was a more direct inspiration for the shape of our own institutions and Caesar Augustus was so masterful a manipulator of public opinion that his creation of a centrally-ruled Empire must be the gold standard against which all anti-Democratic efforts are measured.

But again, Tilton is not making the obvious point. Her Sophocles is the main character here, not the charismatic Pericles. Tilton speaks to us of the role of the artist in a time of political turmoil, the importance of stripping artifice out of art and reaching the deepest truths by means of honesty -- and good, honest artistry.

Asimov's (Oct/Nov): Summary Table





Bank Run

Tom Purdom


Action-packed banking story.

Memory Work

L. Timmel Duchamp


Alien invasion and/or abduction narrated by an existentially challenged academic.

Out of the Box

Steve Martinez


Environmental and social deterioration combine with high tech as a father struggles with the intelligence implanted in his own son.

Pericles the Tyrant

Lois Tilton


[Review] In an alternate history of ancient Greece (Persians win), Sophocles angers his friend Pericles by writing pointedly political plays, but Sophocles' criticisms of the decline of democracy have more than a little resonance to our own day.

Back to Moab

Phillip C. Jennings


A collector of antique maps and globes stumbles on an ancient, devastating secret, only to discover her find was no accident.

Dark Flowers, Inverse Moon

Jay Lake


A contemporary fantasy in the classic mode and an homage to Saint Germaine.


M. Bennardo


Bennardo literalizes "confronting your fears" when a father and son visit the Museum of Wraiths.

The God Engine

Ted Kosmatka


A chilling, touching story of mad genius. Kosmatka tackles mathematics and quantum mechanics without flinching and is no less daring with family relationships.


Jack Skillingstead


Letting someone else have your body for a while sounds like a recipe for disaster. And it is.

Betting on Eureka

Geoffrey A. Landis


Cornering the market on scamdium. Correction: scandium.

Cruel Sistah

Nisi Shawl


When sister murders sister, justice will find a way.

Electric Velocipede (#9)

Speaking of unusual gems in paper and ink, Electric Velocipede is always a pleasure to receive. Although first appearances suggest this is just a crudely crafted 'zine, and you will find no wild flights of transcendental typography here, editor John Klima puts a lot of care into the selection of stories in each issue. And if you look closely, you will find more attention to the design and manufacture of this staple-bound publication than you might have suspected.

Klima mentions that this is an unusual issue of Electric Velocipede in that it has already sold out. (Which means if you don't already have a copy on your shelf, waiting to be read, this review could be somewhat frustrating! But maybe he'll print more...) Apparently, headline author Hal Duncan is all the buzz, somewhere or another, and his legions of fans snapped up the issue. I can't say whether the story that prompted such a run on the issue (The Chiaroscurist) is representative of Duncan's work, but I must confess it didn't strike me much, one way or the other: a late Middle Ages / early Renaissance story with elves for aristocrats and hobben as Jews (think gnomes [as in Gnomes of Zurich? ouch!] instead of hobbits), all of which is entirely beside the point. The actual story has very little to do with that, and everything to do with a brash young artist finding himself in the maturing of his craft.

Another Day by Mark Rich

This sharply-written, two-page story cuts a clever path through the expectations of the reader already familiar with the common tropes of contemporary science fiction.

Is Frank caught in some pocket virtual reality? Some micro matrix run by a sadistic machine? Or is this madness? Perhaps Frank is caught in some mental prison of his own manufacture. Or perhaps this is reality, manipulated by some capricious spirit just beyond Frank's ability to comprehend (and well beyond anyone else's ability to detect).

As befits a story of this nature, the ending bears a nice punch, although without quite the twist that can kick such a story into the very top tier of memorable short works. That said, the text has an obvious resonance with the next story in the issue, showing the editorial craftsmanship of John Klima to good effect.

Hard Time by Mark W. Tiedemann

Continuing the prison theme is Mark W. Tiedemann's tale about a reality television show that I don't think will be showing up on cable anytime soon.

The setup is: the narrator is an actor who performs the role of a high-profile convicted prisoner. Cameras are on him for four hours per day while he sits in a mock prison cell doing, well, nothing.

The narrator's voice comes through as the disturbed soul of someone who spends far more than four hours per day in jail. Is this just the result of method acting, or is there more to the story?

When the show is put on hiatus as a result of legal action by some prisoner's rights group, 5159789 meets 6225753, another actor in the show. Women's prison. Against all rules, they go on a date and eventually compare their reasons for taking their respective roles. As we get glimpses of the real reason behind the prison coveralls, Tiedemann takes us on a fascinating trip into the psychology of someone who has good reason for identifying too much with the villain he portrays on TV.

Tiedemann's portrayal of mixed light and shadows makes for a skillful and satisfying story, although sticklers for genre may not find enough speculative here to "count." In the progression of stories, it takes a satisfying place between the darkly humorous story that precedes it, (Another Day, discussed above), and the even darker, and frankly rather icky, story that follows, (A Taste for Flowers, which completes the prison tryptich).

The Euonymist by Neil Williamson

Often enough these days, reading a short story feels like being handed Chapter 7 of some thick novel. The story and characters all trail bits of themselves off the edges of the text and the plot doesn't quite resolve and the details of the imagined world are sketched loosely in, all obviously part of some far more extensive creative effort.

Occasionally, however, a story opens a window onto some broadly imagined world, yet remains, itself, a very specific story with characters and resolutions that all grow to perfect fruition within the space allotted. The larger context becomes a rich and colorful backdrop for the story at hand. Perhaps inviting the reader to a closer scrutiny of the details, but never distracting from the composition of this one piece.

The Euonymist is of this latter sort. Humanity is joining a galaxy of races, all theoretically peaceful but diplomatically savage. Calum is a Scottish fellow who has joined the ranks of the interstellar Euonymists, those assigned to naming the new and unnamed. It's a tough business because not any sound will suffice. Like Supreme Court decisions, there must be precedents and there will definitely be consequences. So, when just a day after humanity joins this interstellar bloc of races, a strange weed springs up in his own mother's garden, Calum knows that the game is afoot. Some scheming race has arranged for a new thing to be found on Earth, a thing with extraterrestrial precedents. A thing that demands a non-human name. And scoring the first non-human name on Earth will greatly enhance the prestige of the unknown schemers.

Williamson has fun with language here, but most particularly, fun with Scottish dialect. The fact that he packs all of this background, plus family dynamics, plus interstellar intrigue, into a scant few pages is practically miraculous.

But best of all, this is a story. It has a problem and the problem has complications and it has a resolution perfectly appropriate to a good Scottish Euonymist.

I can hope to find more set in this world of Williamson's, but this story doesn't suffer from the absence of any other. It's perfect the way it is.

Electric Velocipede #9: Summary Table





The Chiaroscurist

Hal Duncan

~ 9,000 wds

[Online] Coming of age in a faerie version of the brutal late Middle Ages.

Another Day

Mark Rich

~ 1,500 wds

[Online] [Review] Clever play with reader expectations in this short, sharp gem.

Hard Time

Mark W. Tiedemann

~ 5,000 wds

[Online] [Review] High-profile prisoners have a right to their privacy... which is why actors portray them on TV. In prison.

A Taste for Flowers

Jay Caselberg

~ 3,500 wds

[Online] Jay Caselberg's version of Nabokov's Lolita. Not a very pleasant story to read.

Braids of Glass

Jonathan Laden

~ 2,500 wds

[Online] A chilling story about a dark and ecologically devastated future. Illustrated admirably, although undoubtedly coincidentally, by the cover of Interzone! (Which illustration does not appear in EV -- just my own connection.)

Strange Incidents in Foreign Parts

Anna Tambour

~ 3,000 wds

[Online] An object lesson for all those children who don't want to eat their vegetables (or possibly for their fascist parents).

The Euonymist

Neil Williamson

~ 5,250 wds

[Online] [Review] In a peaceful galaxy, the linguistic roots chosen to name new things take on political and diplomatic importance far beyond the moment.

The Solipsister

Jason Erik Lundberg

~ 1,750

[Online] I think she's more a girlfriend than a sister, but she's definitely the One.


Interzone: 200

Interzone (#200)

The two-hundredth issue of this venerable British publication is a real beauty. I mean, just holding it is a pleasure, and the cover: a little crowded perhaps, but it's a very effective illustration (by Pawel Lewandowski) and it manages to impose its composition on the page despite all the blurbs. Well done! I will reiterate the observation here, that it forms a splendid illustration for Glass Braids in Electric Velocipede -- but that's just my own imagination; the illustration does not actually appear in EV.

In general, I like the professional, glossy, colorful interior that the new Interzone presents, but there's one aspect I'm skeptical of. The publication is now set up in four sections: "Interface", "Interview", "Intermission", and "Interlocutions." Interface seems to be notes from the editor, plus David Langford's always enjoyable "Ansible Link." Interview, is just what you would expect. Intermission is the fiction and, although in one sense, it's clever -- fiction being the "mission" of Interzone -- in the other sense, it's rather insulting. As though the fiction were somehow a break from the main purpose of the publication. The same term seems to imply two polar opposites. As for Interlocutions, that's just too loquacious for my taste.

Strings by David Mace

I can't imagine it's a new concept, but I've been noticing more "end of oil" stories recently and it's interesting to compare this to Paolo Bacigalupi's The Calorie Man from the Oct/Nov F&SF. These two stories offer two radically different views of the future and are, in one sense, entirely unrelated by any connection other than the fact that someday, this world is going to run out of fossil fuels.

David Mace tells this story from the viewpoint of some ultra-high-tech soldiers on a mission in what seems to be Central America. In fact, I thought it was an alternate-history telling of Nicaragua during the Reagan Era (but alternate histories involving Reagan are dealt with elsewhere in this issue). A Reagan era with nano weapons, power armor, cyborg soldiers.

Fans of Joe Haldeman may enjoy the imagining of the future of military technologies Mace comes up with here. It's nothing stunningly original, but it is well done. All the more so since the soldiers we are accompanying spend the most of the story pinned down, immobile, sweating in their power armor, blending into the scenery, while an enemy camp is established within line of sight. Sure, these six could come out of hiding and probably slaughter the whole camp. Probably. But in so doing, they would fail in their primary mission, which is never closely detailed, and worse, they would not be able to get away without a boatload of bad press.

The military tech we are experiencing, then, is not the blaze-and-blast stuff; it's the stay quiet, stay hidden, stay in secure comm-mode stuff. Mace deftly holds the nature of the conflict in reserve for the opening pages (thus, my little confusion as to what & when), so the reader has already begun to identify with the main characters once we learn that these several humans and one robot represent an illegal offensive on the part of those with the oil to ensure that those without oil are in no position to generate energy from any source other than oil.

And this is where the resonances to Bacigalupi return. These are men who consider themselves hardened to all morality, but when the robot declines to do their dirty work for them... well...

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

The opening passages of this story are a tad offputting. The narrator seems pathologically obsessed with rating the attractiveness of every woman he encounters -- and yet, surrealistically, he is moving through a broken and crumbling cityscape. Environmental collapse (yeah, yeah, more dystopian stuff, whatchagonnado?) has led to a steady deterioration of civilization.

Down but not out; dying, but not dead. And in the meantime, life goes on.

Jasper has an appointment at SpeedMatch. He has broken up with his last girlfriend and is ready to get back in the game. This speed dating is all virtual, technology-mediated, etc. To McIntosh's credit, he manages to pull off this transition from an unsavory character in an unwelcoming world to the interpersonal dramas of trying to find a date. Jasper gradually becomes a little more likeable and the decaying world recedes from immediate memory.

Despite the rather implausible melodrama of Jasper and his ex meeting on screen, the story takes a compelling journey toward its inevitable conclusion. Jason has something of an epiphany about himself, and his place in the world, and he gives up (too easily, perhaps) on the compulsive ranking of female bodies. Nonetheless, Jasper's confrontation with himself, in the midst of this broken world and this lifeless matchmaking game, is a genuine moment and McIntosh's handling of it makes what could otherwise be a trite, predictable tale.

Interzone #200: Summary Table






David Mace

~ 7,750 wds

[Review] Nanowar, as those holding the last reserves of petroleum attempt to ensure that the rest of the world remains dependent on it.

Soft Apocalypse

Will McIntosh

~ 7,250 wds

[Review] Speed dating in the Last Days.

Guadalupe and Hieronymous Bosch

Rudy Rucker

~ 6,000 wds

A universe-collector is thinking about adding ours to her collection, but first helps kidnap Hieronymus Bosch on the whim of the narrator.

Saving Mars

Jason Stoddard

~ 20,000 wds

Or: "Variations on a theme by Kim Stanley Robinson." Or, possibly, "Redder Mars."

Third Day Lights

Alaya Dawn Johnson

~ 9,000 wds

Post-humans take on demons -- only to realize the true meaning of eternity.


Edward Morris

~ 3,500 wds

Alternate history of a skewed 20th century as written by Lester Bangs.


SciFiction Sept

SciFiction (Sept)

Another very strong month at SciFiction. Datlow's been cranking out the winners this year and no mistake.

Parallax by Laird Barron

Laird Barron is quietly building a reputation for closely written, very-dark tales of speculative, science fictional horror. Some of his works have been explicitly in the Lovecraftian tradition, but, at least in that sense, Parallax marks a departure from that.

This story begs for comparison with The Imago Sequence (F&SF, May, 2005) because the two stories have a great similarity in style, tone and character and yet very different subject matter. If there is any thematic connection, it might be the tragedy of cruel, capricious action of an uncaring universe.

Jack Carson is an avant-garde artist in the Pacific Northwest and could well have appeared as a minor character in The Imago Sequence. Very much like life here in the Pacific Northwest, there's a cramped feeling in Barron's communities, a sense that everyone knows everyone. Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland: these are places that were scarcely more than small towns just one or two generations back and there's a very-real smallness to the communities here matched only by the grandiose, world-class ambitions of those who scrabble their way out. So whether there was any intentional connection between the two stories, both convey a sense of claustrophobia, which, juxtaposed, becomes almost oppressive.

So, we have the globe-trotting artist, whose whole career is more marketing and fraud than actual talent, and we have the small-town cop who was a high-school sweetheart of the artist's wife. And we have a stylized construction that puts these two on a collision course of mutual-assured destruction. The cop is convinced the artist killed his wife, that Jack Carson is another serial killer in the mold of the Green River Killer. Carson wonders, idly, if the cop was the real murderer, although he has more exotic speculations about the disappearance. There was never any body, no signs of foul play. She just disappeared from the living room of their locked, guarded estate. Perhaps in a flash of quantum magic; perhaps the result of some supernatural seizure. (It is also interesting to read this in close conjunction with Jason Erik Lundberg's The Solipsister in Electric Velocipede.)

Although no hint of the Cthulu mythos makes an appearance here, the style still has the rich, heavy quality of something out of the thirties. Fate comes not from the deterministic clockwork of a predictable universe or from the hand of a just God; it comes from the grim, inevitable psychology of all-too-fallible people.

This sense of the inevitable pervades Parallax. It seems impossible that cop and artist should escape each other's suspicion and fury without some final, bloody confrontation. Just as inevitable is the ultimate conclusion, the explanation for all this tragedy, although here we must return, not to the angry, irrational choices of broken men, but to the tragically random actions of a universe beyond our comprehension.

Panacea by Jason Stoddard

This must be Jason Stoddard's month. Everywhere I turn, I see his name on a meaty, juicy story. In addition to this story, he does Mars for Interzone and makes an appearance in Strange Horizons

Panacea is an alternate history and there've been a fair few of those this month, as well. This one has an intriguing premise: an elixir of longevity was discovered in the late 1800's, leading to the (infinitely?) extended lifespan of men such as Thomas Edison. This latter, in fact, is a major character, among many famous personages, in the story.

Now, others have done stories about longevity and the cultural dynamic that might result. When it comes to alternate history, Stoddard handles this extremely well: his alternative takes on World War II and on the first use of nuclear weapons are particularly persuasive -- and extremely chilling.

Stoddard handles his characters, and their various motivations and complexities, with enormous confidence. His main character, Grace, is a military woman who was in the African Corps (a fact which immediately silences all the patronizing men she encounters). Now, she is working for Edison in the field of computer science.

And this is where Stoddard's story weakens for me, a bit. There seems to be an irresistible temptation, when writing fantastical history or alternate history, to write with the smug confirmation of hindsight. With Edison maintaining a personal stranglehold on information technologies, it is entirely plausible that computer technologies would stagnate. Indeed, in our very own history, it was Ken Olsen, founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), who in 1977 said, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." (True.)

We can laugh at the poor fool now. We see how short sighted and unimaginative this pioneer of top-line computing equipment was. But the way he thought about the machines -- the way businesses used machines in 1977 -- that was a perfectly true statement.

Stoddard has those words coming from Edison and, predictably, the refutation that springs to the lips of the narrator and her risk-taking friend, Bill Henry (ugh, more on this in a moment), is the refutation of 2005. She is imagining cell phones and blackberries and laptops and all the rest. Far more interesting to me than the voice of contemporary wisdom would be the voice of alternative wisdom. What would someone in Edison's world really be imagining? What different, unexpected paths might they be exploring without the accumulated experience of our own 2005 to guide them?

Okay, the big peeve: Bill Henry. Stoddard picked the wrong man for the role. Our own Bill Henry was no "common man" -- he was a son of wealth and privilege and a techno-fascist very much in the tradition of Edison. In Edison's world, Bill Henry wouldn't be nipping at Edison's heels or working in Edison's intellectual coal-mines. Indeed, Edison's view in this story represents the New England old-school technologies represented by IBM and DEC in our world and Microsoft ate them for lunch. Bill Henry wouldn't be pleading for any freedom of knowledge; he would be stealing it and using it to build his own empire.

No, Stoddard should have gone with Richard Stallman (if he wanted to be old school and clever), or Linus Torvalds (if he wanted to be new school and clever), or Steve Wozniak (if he wanted to be old school and delightfully obscure), or even Steve Jobs. Jobs would have made an intriguing character, actually, because he loves to play the freedom-for-the-masses theme song, even as he nails intellectual property to the floor with a hydraulic bolt gun.

Yes, Stoddard managed to hit my pet peeves at just the wrong angle.

Nonetheless, it's a good story, and Stoddard kicks the whole thing up a notch when, midway through, he takes a flying tackle at the premise. What is this longevity treatment? How does it work? Just when you thought this was Stoddard doing Neil Stephenson like he did Kim Stanley Robinson in Interzone, suddenly, the silly premise takes on a new dimension. And good for him, because that, in conjunction with smooth, skillful style, is what makes this story work in the end.

SciFiction Sept: Summary Table





The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Home From the Stars

Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold

8,300 wds

[Online] The first interstellar space flight may or may not be a complete success. We won't know until the anomaly in a Canadian lake completes its slow transformation.

Long Cold Day

Elizabeth Bear

5,400 wds

[Online] Contemporary urban fantasy involving a watch that stops the seasons, a drunk dad who has stolen a magic blanket and two very sharp pool players.


Jason Stoddard

13,700 wds

[Online] [Panacea] Alternate history in which the secret of longevity is discovered back in Edison's era.


Laird Barron


[Online] [Review] Avant-garde artist Jack Carson's wife disappears under mysterious circumstances, with grim consequences for everyone.

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.


Oct 10, 20:11 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of short stories or Bluejack's Reviews.

The article is here.
Oct 11, 10:46 by Jetse de Vries
Klima mentions that this is an unusual issue of Electric Velocipede in that it has already sold out.

Indeed, but John's made the contents of EV9 available online here: Electric Velocipede.

I can't say whether the story that prompted such a run on the issue (The Chiaroscurist) is representative of Duncan's work, but I must confess it didn't strike me much, one way or the other: a late Middle Ages / early Renaissance story with elves for aristocrats and hobben as Jews (think gnomes [as in Gnomes of Zurich? ouch!] instead of hobbits), all of which is entirely beside the point. The actual story has very little to do with that, and everything to do with a brash young artist finding himself in the maturing of his craft.

Niall Harrison thought something along similar lines. However, I think there's much more to it, so check out this link to Niall's review and my comments.

Also, the author -- Hal Duncan -- seems to agree with my analysis, as witnessed in his blog.

Just FYI.
Oct 11, 11:14 by Bluejack
Hmm. Well. I didn't do an in-depth review of the story because my reading of it didn't invigorate me the way some of the other stories did, and that, of course, is an entirely subjective thing. Not just the interaction between myself and the text, but the occasion and circumstances of my reading, etc. etc.

I must say that reading Duncan's blog entry on the topic is less than inspiring: the grandiosity of his nihilism/anti-nihilism is in stark contrast to the insightful maturity suggested by "The Chiaroscurist" -- but I don't demand that artists speak intelligently about their own material, only that the material itself stand on its own.

With regard to the "God is Dead" motif, sure, it's there, as it's there for everyone who matures out of their first, primitive view of the world -- and that applies to Christians as well as atheists. I didn't take that as the whole message, but only one aspect of the artist finding himself.

As for the Caravaggio parallel, I think I preferred Wendy Shaffer's take on him in "Portrait of an Unidentified Angel" which appeared in Realms of Fantasy, April 2004.
Oct 11, 13:42 by Bluejack
Apparently I was not clear in the article... the cover illustration of InterZone does not appear in Electric Velocipede! I was just imagining that the illustration would fit very well as a visualization of the story "Glass Braids" ... I am going to update the article to reflect that clarity.

Also, since Electric Velocipede is all online now due to the fact that they sold out, I'll put links to the stories in the table.
Oct 12, 10:03 by Jason Stoddard
Thank you for the very in-depth and thoughtful review of Panacea (Sci Fiction).

I think your points about the benefits of hindsight are well-taken; defining another path besides ours is difficult. I am sure there are other paths, but I believed that the need (in this world) for more open means of communication far outweighed (our world's), hence there would be more effort towards twisting computing to that function.

I also struggled with who to put as the counterpart to Grace (who I feel to be the real hero of the story), and actually considered Woz and Jobs. I had to conclude that Bill would be the only one privileged enough to see the things he did. And, although he might be comfortably ensconced within the power structure of this world, I don't think this precludes him wanting to reach the very top, or doing so by pretending to care for the masses. Perhaps I didn't emphasize his boorish qualities enough.

Again, thank you. I'm always interested in honest feedback.


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