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Publisher: Bluejack

November, 2005 : Review:

Short Fiction, November 2005

October was a trying month for this reviewer, as reflected by the total lack of surprises in this month's reading list.

In the previous issue, I promised that December would be devoted to the small press magazines that have crossed my desk since August and this promise remains. But one word on that: what is a small press? I would consider this month's list of magazines, plus Interzone, as being the definitive list of top tier markets... but these are not exactly international conglomerates. Gordon Van Gelder, Editor, Publisher, and Owner of F&SF probably thinks of himself as a fairly small press.

Nonetheless, a vague combination of reputation, circulation, financial and historical stability, and regular presence of Big Name Authors combines to make this month (again, plus Interzone, which is an off month for them) what I consider the core professional markets for Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories.

One thing about historical momentum and editorial stability: these publications inspire a high degree of confidence that you will get what you expect — plus a few surprises. Analog, for example, may not be for everyone, but for fans of Analog, it does not disappoint.

All of which builds up to this point: a subscription to any of these fine publications (plus Interzone and minus SciFiction — which is free), or perhaps a two-publication combo, would make a very fine gift for someone who likes to read genre books. Or even for someone who might. Magazine subscriptions are generally quite affordable: they fall into that category of gifts that might be best given to further reaches of the family tree, or as a small supplement to someone closer. In particular, younger readers who might be growing out of their Harry Potter phase are good candidates for magazine subscriptions.

No, I am not a shill for the magazine industry, and no one has paid me (or even asked me) to write this. But think about it: you're reading this, presumably, because you are interested in short fiction. Wouldn't it be nice if your friends and family were sharing the best of this stuff? Wouldn't it be nice to have more people to talk to about the latest issue? Wouldn't it be cool if the short fiction markets were growing, instead of gradually slinking towards literary obscurity?

Every month I read dozens of terrific stories, and I always find it depressing to consider that much of this brilliant, moving, important writing is finding an audience of a few thousand people in a world of billions, or a nation of hundreds of millions. So, perhaps I am a self-made shill for the value of short fiction, but think about magazine subscriptions as a gift.

Each intro this month includes subscription information, or click here for subscription information for Interzone.

And come back next month to get some ideas for your more eclectic friends.

The Reviews

Analog

Analog: Dec. 05

Analog (December, 2005)

Analog, of course, is the eldest of elder statesmen in the world of Science Fiction. Founded as Astounding in 1929, this publication has been at the heart of Science Fiction since the beginning.

Although it tends to have the reputation as being "hard science fiction" — which is to say, science fiction involving, uh, science, Analog plays with genre meanings and edges as much as any other publication. It just plays on different edges. Vacillating between science-fantasy tropes such as time travel, and often exploring the territory of what I call "lab fantasy," there's almost always a strong sense that Analog is written, or at least edited, with the ideal reader being a fifteen year old American boy from the late fifties. Analog includes articles of popular and speculative science alongside the actual fiction, and often publishes serialized novels, although none in recent memory have had quite the stature of some of the big names from twenty or thirty years ago.

For many, Analog is the embodiment of what Science Fiction was, is, and will be — and when I say "many" I mean it: Analog stories and authors regularly win Hugo Awards. For others, and I have to number myself in this category, this magazine is important for the exceptions rather than the rule: a few stories each year are genuinely significant and much of it is rather forgettable. And there are those who object to Analog's very survival as though it were some goofball dinosaur wandering the streets of Manhattan munching on cars.

Most science fiction readers already know where they stand on this spectrum.

But for the right reader, it could be the perfect choice. Subscribe here.

Do Neanderthals Know? by Robert J. Howe

This begins as a pretty standard Analog "laboratory fantasy" — an attractive, brilliant female researcher along with a bunch of scientists in their white lab coats stumble onto a mysterious discovery... this setup will be familiar to Analog readers.

Howe loosely connects to the currently-popular notion of the Singularity, but approaches it from a somewhat different tack than many. When Vernor Vinge first conceived the notion of the Singularity, he characterized it broadly as the inevitable consequence of an increase in intelligence, whether that increase happened in machine intelligence by means of iterative improvement in AI technologies and hardware capacities, or whether that increase was biological: the increase and enhancement of the human species.

It has typically been the former approach, or some hybrid of machine processing with the biological experience that has inspired writers, led by Charlie Stross (and characterized by his marvellous phrase, "The rapture of the geeks"), to imagine a post-human universe in which intelligence exponentially increases past the realm of the comprehensible.

At the same time, the term Singularity has been muddied by its application to human history. In some circles it has come to mean a simple but profound break with the past, rather than a true transcendence. Was the advent of agriculture a "Singularity"? How about urban life? How about writing?

All these ideas come into play in Howe's story as he considers the possibility of a purely biological Singularity: a biochemical alteration of the human neural circuitry that not only increases intelligence, but puts a person into a fundamentally different relationship to matter itself.

In particular, it's the story of some pharmaceutical researchers who discover something that humanity may have lost: an African plant that, taken in moderation, puts the human neurocircuitry into a different state. At first, they think it's just a mild hallucinogen and the usual (nicely depicted) differences of opinion arise between the characters. But things begin to get strange and the company suddenly takes an unusual interest in what's going on. Not that Big Pharm ever wants its researchers sampling the product, but we're talking about an interest over and above concern for workplace safety.

Combining plausible characters with enough biochemistry knowledge to be convincing; and absent the kinds of lapses in literary style, plot structure, or character motivations that have been known to ruin this kind of tale; Howe pulls off a very nicely done lab fantasy.

Analog Dec, 2005: Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Audubon in Atlantis

Harry Turtledove

nvla

Alternate history / alternate universe: Near the end of his life Audubon hunts a nearly-extinct species for final preservation.

Do Neanderthals Know?

Robert J. Howe

nvlt

[Review] Biochemical researches stumble upon an aggregation of compounds that brings almost supernatural neural enhancement.

A Christmas in Amber

Scott William Carter

short

Michelle always had more in common with grandpa than with her own parents. (Another "asteroid's coming to destroy the Earth story".)

Hotel Security

Carl Frederick

short

A security expert away at a conference becomes enmeshed in technology of his own design after testing the hotel security by presenting a fake id.

The Slow Ones

Larry Niven

short

Moving at a treelike pace, one of Draco Tavern's very first visitors is just reaching the bar.

Asimov's

Asimov's: Dec. 05

Asimov's (December, 2005)

Although this publication bears the name of one of the iconic figures of the field, Asimov's brings fiction of many different sorts to readers. For years now, perhaps from its very inception, there has been no effort to emulate or recreate Isaac's style; rather, the magazine bears his imprimatur and delivers a range of material that begins with traditional science fiction and reaches through the cracks and crevices of genre definitions to touch a number of crossover points from fantasy to alternate history. Unlike F&SF (see below), Asimov's does keep to a science fictional core, but like SciFiction, it does not hesitate to branch out when the editor feels she has something of interest to readers. For many, many years, Asimov's was led by the highly esteemed, multiple-award winning Gardner Dozois, but recently the baton has passed to Sheila Williams.

Asimov's has occasionally gotten itself into a bit of hot water by publishing material "not suitable for younger readers." These days a bafflingly unpredictable number of stories are preceded by warnings about some scenes being disturbing to some readers. To figure out which scenes, which readers and why, you'll just have to read the story and half the time, I can't figure it out. Or why some other story in the issue bears no warning. The point is: Asimov's is science fiction for grown ups, although I can't imagine many American teens finding anything particularly shocking in these pages. If anything, all those warnings are more a setup for disappointment than anything. You get a warning like that and you think there should be at least one steamy sex scene! Maybe a gruesomely graphic beheading!

This particular issue is an example of Asimov's at its best: great adventure writing (Rusch), poignant stories (Beckett), significant political and scientific observations (Sanders), original, vivid fantasy (Williams). I wish I had space to give a proper respect to all the great work in this issue.

Subscribe here.

Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Calling to mind Richard Paul Russo's particularly scary Ship of Fools from a few years back, this story about exploring a lost and abandoned ship is rich and exciting in many ways.

Born on a planet, possibly Earth, the main character and first-person narrator of this tale is captain of a salvage ship. With details taken from deep sea diving, and applied with eerie effectiveness, Rusch imagines a distant future in which the full history of humanity is murky. Stumbling upon an ancient military vessel in deep space may seem a bit beyond the probable, but the fact that this particular ship is far outside any known human space, far beyond the technological capacity to "get this far" available to the remote past from which it came, takes coincidence out of the picture.

Which is a good thing, because if we had to believe that the foremost expert on the super-secret "stealth" technology that may still exist somewhere inside this deadly military vessel happens to be one of the divers randomly on board would stretch anyone's suspension of disbelief just a little.

The point is: the ship is dead, but possibly deadly. It exists where no ship could possibly exist. It may or may not have any real material value in terms of actual saleable loot, but this crew has come not for loot but for history.

It is only when sensors detect some faint energy signature within, only when their first probe becomes stuck in a strangely impossible way, only then does "Squishy" express the deep fear that the ship they are exploring is not dead at all, but pulsing with an invisible, unknowable danger that every human military has banned and which every human military continues to flirt with. This stealth technology is an interdimensional technology that is extremely powerful, totally unpredictable and generally as lethal to the wielder as to the enemy.

To all appearances, the ancients thought they had it figured out. Quite obviously, something went wrong.

The captain and some of his crew are greedy for answers, but only this "Squishy" apprehends the true danger. Her attempts to talk them out of it are, as in Russo's Ship of Fools, obviously doomed to failure.

Tense and gripping, the interpersonal conflicts kick this story up a notch. The endlessly enjoyable terror of dark, alien, empty spaces brimming with unknowable danger and impenetrable mystery should keep fans of the genre hooked. Best of all, Rusch's skillful handling of critical scenes is perfectly satisfying.

By way of quibbles, I have to go back to all the big coincidences: they didn't resolve themselves into non-coincidences the way I had hoped and expected. If there was a more frighteningly purposeful causality at work, it never quite surfaced. Additionally, Rusch put a lot of time into the character of the captain, but even so, she remained largely uninteresting to me; indeed, one of the odd things about the story, she kept reverting to a he in my mind, and I could never figure out why. Unlike all the other, more vivid characters, the narrator remained out of focus. Finally, the denouement was just a little more protracted than a story of this length justified.

But these are quibbles: fans of scary sci-fi will probably find this to be far more effective and exciting than most attempts to mix these genres.

Amba by William Sanders

One of the eternally fascinating aspects about writing reviews in this small world of genre fiction: you can't avoid confronting the fiction written by people about whom you may have strong personal feelings. Most of the time, at least for me, that means taking a step back to be sure I am being reasonable, objective, and fair when it comes to reviewing a work by someone I very much like and admire. But occasionally the opposite is true. Just because William Sanders has used several public forums to compose personal insults to my name and write ridiculous and barbarous things about my wife, doesn't mean that on rare occasions he doesn't come up with a darn good story. This is one of those occasions.

Logan is a Texan in Siberia, like many, a refugee from the ravages of global warming. He makes his living guiding wealthy big game hunters (permitted to use only cameras for shooting) through the last remaining wilderness. One popular "target" is the Amba, the Siberian Tiger, and it is on just such an expedition that this story begins.

What seems to be a meandering story about a down-on-his-luck pair in a down-on-its-luck world gradually takes shape, becoming a grim and (unfortunately for us) believable projection of the future of the world. There are a surprising number of death-by-asteroid stories these days, but Sanders pegs the far more probable destination: storm, plague, climactic catastrophe, social and political upheaval, all combining to push humanity to the brink of ruin.

What makes this story so compelling, however, is that Sanders never gives in to the temptation to drop gobs and gobs of science, or irrelevant fantasies of future politics. This is pure story, and it is Logan: rough edges, moral quandaries, and financial brinkmanship that drive this piece. It may seem meandering, but appearances can be misleading. Most everything turns out to be quite relevant, and while humanity's future may remain cloudy, Logan aims to see a little bit of Texas-style justice brought to the last frontier town in an increasingly desperate planet.

The Perimeter by Chris Beckett

This is a sharp and finely crafted sequel to Picadilly Circus in the May/June issue of Interzone. It's rare to see two closely related stories appear in different magazines, but then again, it's rare to see two closely related stories that are each, individually, so original and which completely stand on their own. Rarest of all, in my experience, is finding a sequel that is more powerful and inventive than the original.

Picadilly Circus introduced the last days of "traditional" humans. With their perceptions of the consensual field turned off, they are nothing but a scattering of aging, cranky men and women lost in the ruins of London. Tuned in, however, they are in the midst of a vibrant, thriving city. Humanity, you see, has retired from physical reality and is for the most part living in a Matrix-like virtual reality projected by millions of cameras and transmitters over what was once London. Within the consensual field, people are born, they grow, they mature, they have the entire human experience.

And, as we learn in The Perimeter, if they're sufficiently successful they may even upgrade to 256 colors.

This story is told from the perspective of one of the "virtual" inhabitants of the consensual field. A curious boy named Lemmy who sees something strange and impossible: a white hart walking the streets of London, impervious to all the activity going on around him.

Lemmy's encounters with the seemingly magical creature lead him to further surprises: namely the strangely disturbing person of Clarissa, whom some readers will remember from Picadilly Circus.

Beckett's deft touch with character turns a fascinating — but not earth-shakingly original — idea into a truly stunning work. What could be pedestrian science fictional info-dumps in a lesser work become pivotal revelations, turning points for characters. Events and discoveries are steeped in mystery and result in epiphany not because of inherent sensawunda, but because of Beckett's outstanding ability to increase the importance through deft storytelling and completely compelling, sympathetic characters. Even his unpleasant ones demand the reader's fascinated attention.

Lemmy is utterly charming, atrociously ignorant, mischievous, good-hearted, and he finds himself coming into contact with a reality that is fading from what is left of human society in ways that are both plausible and frightening. All the more so because in addition to all the other ways this story works, this is a perfectly convincing metaphor for the way in which our own first-world reality is a mass delusion coasting above all the signs of ruin and collapse that we refuse to see.

Asimov's (Dec. 2005): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Diving into the Wreck

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

nvla

[Review] Deep sea, or rather deep space diving into an ancient, terrifying riddle from the dawn of the Human Era.

Amba

William Sanders

nvlt

[Review] You'd think a little global warming could only be good for Siberia, but an increasingly desperate world is good for nobody.

The Perimeter

Chris Beckett

nvlt

[Review] One low-res inhabitant of the virtual reality imposed upon the ruins of London discovers reality: a fascinating coming of age story.

To the East, a Bright Star

James Maxey

short

Tony had things all planned out, but the end wasn't going according to plan. (Another "asteroid's coming to destroy the Earth story".)

Ikiryoh

Liz Williams

short

A typically (for the extremely talented Ms. Williams) subtle exploration of the dark side of the soul.

Earthtime

Damian Kilby

short

Psychological deterioration and disassociation? Or strange science-fictional transcendence?

F&SF

F&SF: Dec. 05

F&SF (December, 2005)

Fantasy and Science Fiction, as its very title suggests, aims for pretty broad coverage of the genre. An even more accurate title for the magazine could be: "Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Satire, Slipstream, and Literary Fiction with Speculative Elements and/or Sensibilities." Even that doesn't capture the whole thing: review columns by various hands, cartoons, humorous contests, retrospectives... there's a wide range of stuff in every issue, which makes it particularly suitable for readers who like a change of pace... every ten or fifteen minutes!

Subscribe Here.

The Cure by Robert Reed

Robert Reed is one of the most prolific short story writers active today, and he is one of the rare authors who seems universally admired by editors. It would not be surprising to see a Reed story in any of the major genre publications. Perhaps there's an editor or two out there Reed has yet to crack, but from a reader's perspective, the man seems omnipresent.

The Cure is representative of the best of Reed's shorter writing: sharp, purposeful, pointed, and entertaining.

In fact, if Plumage From Pegasus weren't a wholly owned subsidiary of Paul Di Filippo's devious mind, this story could easily have flown under that banner. The Cure is biting satire directed at the publishing industry itself.

A mid-list author, after the untimely death of the agent who has kept him comfortably selling under-appreciated novels, is pushed into producing his "break out" novel: a thriller, which sells for six figures, plus film options, merchandising etc. His life seems to be on an upswing: he patches up relations with his son and finds that, late in his career, he suddenly has a bead on what the public likes to buy.

His daughter, however, is not happy. Nobody seems overly concerned about the old man selling out his literary principles in order to make a bundle, not even himself. He doesn't care for his new agent, or the editors he works with, but the money is great and public acclaim even better. His daughter, however, is concerned that the kinds of thrillers her father is writing are genuinely damaging to good causes — contributing to the decline of public trust in the good work that good people are trying to accomplish.

So inspired, this ex-midlist author comes up with a new and wild thriller: forces of darkness allied and controlling the various interrelated media empires with an ulterior motive of destroying the very fabric of civilization.

Perhaps he should have caught on when his agent stopped taking his calls.

F&SF (Dec. 2005): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Walpurgis Afternoon

Delia Sherman

nvlt

Suburban magic, domestic drama, with all the right nods to Buffy.

The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai

Geoff Ryman

nvlt

At last we have a name for Americanized Chinese magical martial arts fantasies: Monkpunk.

Poppies by Moonlight

Sydney J. Van Scyoc

short

Something has changed the life of Carla's ne'er-do-well stepbrother, and it's making her uneasy about her own rigidly tidy life.

An Incident at the Luncheon of the Boating Party

Allen M. Steele

short

Cute time-travel short with a not-so-twist of an ending.

The Cure

Robert Reed

short

[Review] A writer looks for a blockbuster idea that is not inherently destructive to the fabric of society.

When the Great Days Came

Gardner Dozois

short

A day in the life of a frustrated rat. But not just any day. (Another "asteroid's coming to destroy the Earth story".)

The Last Akialoa

Alan Dean Foster

short

Hunting an endangered (and eerily mysterious, and possibly dangerous) bird in a wild and hazardous part of Hawaii.

Cannibal Farm

Ron Goulart

short

A satirical farce in which mad cow disease's silly younger prion causes mad dog disease.

Realms of Fantasy (December, 2005)

Realms of Fantasy is a slightly bizarre mixture of mismatched elements, and yet the whole thing comes together to look and feel more like a contemporary magazine than any other genre publication. Glossy, full-color pages throughout; top-notch artwork commissioned to illustrate the fiction; chock-a-block full of advertising for fantasy-related paraphernalia (Seemingly the whole publication is underwritten by the SCA merchant class!) and fantasy media; regular feature articles covering video-games, cinema, art, and folklore — plus some of the finest quiet, contemporary fantasies being published.

Realms puts out six issues each year, at least four of which usually have the kind of tawdry romance-fantasy-bondage covers that apparently sell magazines these days, but there's a certain charm in that, too. Despite the occasional cover that hints at some rather unwholesome fantasies, this publication is far more suitable for teen readers than most magazines on the teen shelf in your local newsstand. The biggest cognitive dissonance in the magazine is the combination of Sword-and-Sorcery advertising with a total lack of Sword-and-Sorcery fiction. (Indeed, the only magazine really supporting the High Fantasy tradition is Black Gate, which puts out one or two book-length volumes of short fiction each year.) Well, perhaps I should say almost total lack, given that two of the stories in this particular issue are rather Swords-n-Sorcerish. Exception that proves the rule? Turning of the tide? Only 2006 will tell.

Buy your subscriptions here.

En Foret Noire by Tanith Lee

While reading this, my recurring thought — aside from an appreciation of the beauty of the language, and the particular plight of the main character — was where I had read something like this before. Sure, there's a "Foret Noire" that's more than just a little reminiscent of Tolkien's Fangorn, but without any kindly old ents to rescue the characters. (Indeed, one doesn't embark upon a Tanith Lee story expecting any kindly characters or sudden arrivals of the cavalry.) But beyond that, I thought I had read something of Ms. Lee's rather like this not too long ago.

The increasingly irritated dismantling of my library of magazines and churning of databases eventually surfaced the dimly recollected connection — not Tanith Lee at all, but a story that appeared in the same issue of Realms of Fantasy as Lee's highly regarded Stalking the Leopard, that in June of 2004. The story I was remembering was in fact Karen D. Fishler's Country Life.

They are not that closely related, really: a young man of the new and not entirely respected professional classes finds himself in the French countryside, where he finds himself in a complicated struggle with the local aristocracy, fallen on hard times. Complicated by the different contexts they each bring to bear on honor, wealth, and love; and complicated by dark dreams and secrets in the night. But in the details, and in the characters, and above all in what these secrets imply for all participants, these are two totally different stories.

But one thing is certainly true of both Lee and Fishler: it is no sure thing that the hero will escape a terrible end and a pretty good bet something stranger and darker will transpire.

A Knot of Toads by Jane Yolen

Speaking of fine writers who continue to delight and terrify with their craft lo these several decades since youth first discovered them, here's Jane Yolen!

I was momentarily surprised to find a passing name in common between this story and the previous in the magazine: Liz Williams and Yolen both make mention of an Anstruther! Hardly a common name. In the one, this is the main character, in the second the passing name of an educational institution, but it had me taking a closer look at both stories to see if this was wild coincidence or if there was some subtle resonance, some marvelously planned interplay across different stories... and I think it is just coincidence. Perhaps in some places, Anstruther is not as rare a name as it is here. But if I missed something beautifully clever, I trust readers will call it forth!

In any case, Yolen's story is a traditional sort of tale about reluctant homecomings. A daughter is called back to the remote land of her birth — her ancestral country — by the sudden death of her father. She had not known her mother, and she had never felt the love of her father, and so this is not a particularly happy return, but neither is the death of her father a deeply felt tragedy.

But back in the house she grew up in, back among the voices and the rocks and the shores she knew from youth, she finds dark secrets reaching out of the distant past to cast a grim shadow over her life. She also finds unexpected allies, and forgotten friends.

The biographical blurb in this issue declares that Jane Yolen is the author of over 170 books — a staggering number. This story suggests that her voice is as fresh and relevant as ever and her storytelling honed to a very sharp edge. With a keen ear for the rhythms of language, and an observant eye for detail, Yolen turns a A Knot of Toads into a delightfully gripping story.

Realms of Fantasy (Dec. 2005): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

En Foret Noire

Tanith Lee

short

[Review] The dark forest: Tanith Lee has a slightly darker take on Tolkien's Fangorn, set in the French countryside of an earlier age.

Empty Places

Richard Parks

short

Parks turns his talents in a new direction: A thief and a black magician have their reputations to uphold, though neither particularly trusts the reputation of the other.

Mortegarde

Liz Williams

short

Wild interplay of faith, science, and compassion. Magic! Wyverns!

A Knot of Toads

Jane Yolen

short

A rebellious young woman returns to her Scottish homeland to bury her father; and finds strange events afoot (and stranger toads underfoot).

Lavender's Blue, Lavender's Green

Patrick Samphire

short

Mum disappears and provokes a family crisis, not least of which is a dispute over whether Mum was queen of the fairies.

SciFiction

SciFiction Oct. 05

SciFiction (October, 2005)

So, of all the publications considered this month, SciFiction must be considered in a separate category. It is the only digital-only publication and it is free. The world of digital media — including fiction — is still an evolving thing. Different publications are experimenting with different models. Some are subscription-supported, some have fundraisers, many ask for voluntary donations, some exist as labors of love on the part of their publishers. Among all of these, SciFiction is unique.

Not because they are web-based, of course. Not because they are free. Not even because the fiction is usually top tier stuff. SciFiction is owned by, hosted by, and funded by SciFi.com, the web presence of the Science Fiction channel, itself one of a host of very lucrative cable channels. SciFiction has a special reputation among writers as being the highest paying professional market. Moreover, SciFiction's editor Ellen Datlow is widely respected as one of the very best short fiction editors of the last few decades. At least since her time at Omni, Datlow has insisted on substantially higher-than-average pay for authors, and she has accordingly maintained substantially higher-than-average quality.

Although this is all under a Science Fiction banner, Datlow's tastes run toward horror (although this is not evidenced in this month's fiction), and she will run fantasy or pieces of ambiguous genre affiliation.

So, each week SciFiction publishes one original story (which, as is the case this month, is sometimes part of a longer story, serialized). Additionally, every other week, SciFiction prints a "classic" story. And this growing archive of truly classic science fiction is a service to the community of almost inestimable value.

No subscription necessary, but you might want to bookmark this.

The Serial Murderers by Kim Newman

Richard Jeperson is a sort of Sherlock Holmes of supernatural phenomena, and with his team "The Diogenes Club" he solves supernatural mysteries. This novella has the feel of being part of a series, but I haven't encountered the series and the story stands on its own.

We find this set in a 1970's England — a very English England, complete with over 100 footnotes to explain the Britishisms and local references used in the story. (Hypertext works passably for this kind of thing, but I still found it mostly unnecessary, mildly intrusive, and only occasionally of sufficient interest to warrant the extra information.)

A soap opera has consumed the public attention, enough that for the hour it is on twice a week, the ordinary business of England grinds to a halt. However, this soap opera becomes its own eerie form of reality television when strange events depicted on television actually occur at the same time in the real world.

Scotland Yard is concerned, and brings in the Diogenes Club to get to the bottom of the mystery.

All well and good: this could be a minor piece of fluff entertainment, if it weren't for Newman's savvy look at how television is made, complete with a resonant and often explicit look at the impact television has on our world. The scenes on the set of the soap opera are quite funny, but — Buffy-style — the use of slightly silly supernatural elements to stand in for the complexities of human dynamics pushes this into a somewhat more substantive realm.

The idea at the core of this story takes the whole thing to the next level. First of all, independent of the metaphorical power, it's just a great idea for magic. If belief is what gives magic its power, the argument goes, then what kind of power might be granted to a villainous but small-time television producer with a large audience who believe (or want to believe) in the unreality of a soap opera story?

Naturally the things this says about the very real power of contemporary media moguls over reality is serious stuff, and there are many moments which, while amusing to read, make for some thoughtful material that lingers after the story is gone.

I just wish the authors of The West Wing had figured out how to work this voodoo on our real White House.

SciFiction (Oct. 05): Summary Table

Title

Auth

Length

Summary

Bears Discover Smut

Michael Bishop

short

[Online] A randy vicar with a minor bigotry against genetically enhanced worker bears comes face to face with all his worst fears. Lighthearted, but not emptyheaded.

The Serial Murderers

Kim Newman

nvla

[Review] [Online] An interesting twist on "Reality Television" — soap opera as voodoo magic!


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!

Nov 9, 22:31 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of recent short fiction... or other gift ideas.

The article is here.
Nov 10, 07:59 by Carl Frederick
It is good of you, Bluejack, to elucidate your reading biases--and to state that you generally don't care for 'Analog' stories.

I've long noticed a C.P. Snow like, 'two cultures' phenomenon in speculative fiction: a clash of tastes between the 'scientists' and 'non-scientists'.

Many of us Analog readers (and writers) are scientists and engineers (geeks, perhaps). I think we, as a whole, have rather different tastes in science-fiction than have the 'civilians' (as the physicist I.I. Rabi called non-scientists). The stories we like, I suggest, are neither better nor worse than those preferred by the 'civilians'--just different.

You aver (in a deprecatory tone, if I may say) that Analog seems aimed toward fifteen-year-old boys. I'd rather describe the aim as toward those who have not lost the 'sense of wonder' about science, to those who perhaps prefer idea over style, to those who are at home with science and technology--and who are not afraid of it.

That there are magazines that appeal to each of these 'two cultures' is, I feel, to the good. I only wish that there were reviewers similarly attuned. It appears to me that those who are inclined to write fiction reviews are drawn almost exclusively from the 'civilian' population. Too bad. I'd like to see Analog (the SF magazine with the largest circulation) reviewed by those sympathetic to Analog's particular sub-genre. But then again, SF has traditionally been a subversive literature--a literature for 'outsiders' (including fifteen-year-olds). Perhaps then, it would be better if those reviewers not sympathetic to the ideals of Analog would just not review the magazine. There's something to be said for being an outsider.

-Carl Frederick

Nov 10, 10:33 by Bluejack
Hi Carl,

One interesting data point is that I *am* pretty geeky, although many scientists consider "software engineer" to be a contradiction in terms. One of my ongoing beefs with Analog is that I don't find the *science* part of the science fiction nearly as insightful as I wish for, most of the time. When the people *I* consider civilians discuss Analog and "Hard SciFi" I have to kind of snort: just because stories have aliens in them, or space ships, or scientists, isn't sufficient to qualify a story as classic hard sci-fi in my book. I want some intriguing scientific speculation, served intelligently. It happens, just not that often.

The deprecatory tone was not meant to be applied to the "fifteen-year-old boys" part of the sentence: I wish there were more science fiction being written for young adult audiences. The tone was mean to be applied to the "from the fifties" part of the sentence. Kids these days are dealing with different problems than they used to, and the ones reading science fiction are likely to be a bit more sophisticated.

All that said, if I didn't think Analog was worth reading, and I didn't find material worth discussing, I wouldn't review it. But, my point remains: for me it is the exceptions that make Analog worth subscribing to, Analog generally publishes five or six stories per year that are in my very top tier of important fiction. That's as good a ratio as almost any other venue in my reading list. I don't think I unfairly slam or denigrate material that is not in my area of interest.

But if you know any reviewers who are better tuned in to the Analog frequency (there's a sciency joke in there, if I had time to tease it out), send 'em our way. I don't need to be the only person reviewing short fiction here.
Nov 12, 10:30 by Sherry Decker
Hey Bluejack,

I have a recently published short fiction story (major magazine) that I'd like you to review. Any chance of that? I live near Seattle.

Nov 13, 10:48 by Bluejack
Well, if it's in a major magazine that I regularly review, then there's certainly a chance. For a variety of reasons I don't really take "requests" -- the most important reason being that I simply don't find something interesting to say about every story I read. And that's not about stories being good or bad, that's just about my own limitations as a reviewer.
Nov 13, 13:32 by Bluejack
UPDATE: Very sad news for short fiction fans:

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/


... SciFi.com is shutting down SciFiction.

First FarScape and now this. My affection (lukewarm at best anyway) for the SciFi channel is fading fast.
Nov 13, 19:22 by Sherry Decker
Do you ever read Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine?
The story isn't a 'mystery.' It's dark (admittedly weird) and more of a suspense tale. If you need a review copy sent, just let me know. The reason I asked is that I don't want to waste your time and my postage if you're not interested.
Nov 14, 09:10 by Pat Lundrigan
Hey,
is that your home address on the mailing lable in the scan of Asimov's?
Nov 14, 10:47 by Bluejack
Nope! You think I'd give my home address out to you crazy stalkers???

Ah, Hitchcock's... no I don't read that one.
Nov 15, 05:23 by Sherry Ramsey
UPDATE: Very sad news for short fiction fans:

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/


... SciFi.com is shutting down SciFiction.

First FarScape and now this. My affection (lukewarm at best anyway) for the SciFi channel is fading fast.


What I really dislike is the notion that "exciting new ventures utilizing the newest technology" mean there's no room anymore for great fiction. I detect a discouraging choice being made here.

Sherry
Nov 15, 09:00 by Bluejack
UNLESS... the exciting new ventures utilizing the newest technology mean they're going into producing fiction for digital ink devices or something. However, you wouldn't think they would need to shut SciFiction down to do that... you would expect it to be a transition.
Nov 18, 07:10 by Daryl Gregory
... SciFi.com is shutting down SciFiction.


Well, this is depressing news. I guess a dozen awards don't matter.

I'd always hoped that sci-fiction was such a small part of scifi.com's budget that it would be allowed to persist through benign negligence, with Ellen Datlow cultivating her own private garden. But it sounds like the corporation needs that money to run Tremors 3 again next week.

But that's the risk when you're part of a corporation. Thank God at least Gordon van Gelder owns his own magazine.

--d
darylgregory.com
Nov 18, 11:34 by Bluejack
"benign negligence" great turn of phrase.

I think the SciFi channel is on a lease-to-own plan w/ regard to the Tremors franchise, it's ridiculous how often they show that stuff.
Nov 19, 20:07 by Sherry Decker
In business the only thing that matters, ultimately, is the bottom line. Awards mean nothing, sadly.
Nov 24, 07:45 by Tony Pi
Hi Bluejack,

Do you include e-zines in your list of small presses? On that matter, do you have a top-tier of e-zines?
Nov 24, 13:20 by Bluejack
I do, but it's not nearly as well defined as the printed pros. The problem is there's simply too much out there for me to keep tabs on. I regularly cover Strange Horizons (fairly regularly) and Aeon, and I also try to check in on Abyss and Apex. I want to, but have generally not been able to, read Full Unit Hookup, and ChiZine. I have a soft spot in my heart for Quantum Muse -- they really can't be called top-tier, but they have a delightful sense of humor, and there are some occasional gems there. I am probably forgetting half a dozen off the top of my head, so if anyone else wants to help compile a best-of-ezine list, post your favorites!
Dec 3, 07:52 by Tony Pi
The top free e-zines that I read are Strange Horizons, Abyss and Apex, Ideomancer, Lone Star Stories, and Flashing Swords. I don't read horror (much) so I can't say what they're like, and I haven't ventured into the paid e-zine territory yet. Strange Horizons and Lenox Avenue used to be on that list before they folded.
Dec 3, 11:35 by Bluejack
Great additions! Anyone else?
Dec 6, 13:14 by Dotar Sojat
Hey Bluejack, what's the story behind you and William Sanders? The human drama behind the written words, that's where the real story is.

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