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April/May, 2006 : Review:

April Short Fiction

Ed. Note: For the same reason we were running late this month (editor overload), we failed to contact Lois and invite her to bring in a few more reviews given our tardiness. June could be a monster!

This month's column might seem a bit shorter than usual. The monthly IROSF schedule has overtaken the ten-month Dell Magazines year, so that there will be no review of Asimov's until May. There were also no new small-press zines thrown my way to fill in the idle spaces between the regular publications.

Interzone #203, March-April 2006

Top billing for fiction this month goes to Interzone: a superior issue, with more fantasy than usually appears in this SF-oriented zine. In my opinion, the new incarnation of IZ is the most exciting thing happening in the genre today. This issue presents four good stories, a different sort of thing by Paul Di Filippo, and finally the conclusion of Richard Calder's serialized novella.

Among the Living by Karen D. Fischler

In the hospital, dying, Dake's red dream of war turns to black:

He stood in a boat. The water was black and still, utterly cold. The sky was black. A long dark robe covered him. He held a long pole in his hand. He pushed it down and the boat moved forward, toward the hulk of black that showed as land ahead, black against the black sky, above the black water. Nothing around him, nothing, just the black extent of the universe, filling him with terror.

Because of this terror, when the military recruiter offers him the chance to convert to a new body in exchange for his service and experience, he rejects the wishes of his wife, who feels he is deserting her by choosing life over death. Returned to youth, while he adapts easily to the military service he had once known, he finds himself torn between making new ties to his fellow soldiers and the old ties to his wife, which he can not quite leave behind. There are times when the call of death becomes compelling, and he no longer believes that he belongs among the living.



The plotline might sound to some readers like an early Lucius Shepard story, but Fischler's prose is measured and composed, even during scenes of combat:

Pulses of light arced from Boom-Boom's team, invisible under the tuck of the near bank, toward the scouts, who fled, still airborne, toward the far side of the river. Dake zoomed in and saw Boom-Boom struggle up onto the near bank and bring down four of them. But one of the scouts paused in the air, turned, and let out a spatter of green-colored fire toward the team. One of Boom-Boom's men fired back. The scout twisted above the middle of the river, then his pack exploded. As he dropped to the water, he continued to fire, the green plasmatic flame staccatoing out in all directions. Some of the blips caught Boom-Boom. The flames, when they engulfed him, turned from green to orange. Boom-Boom danced like a goblin for a few seconds and then fell onto the grass.

For some time, military SF has been dominated by the purveyors of lowest-common-denominator shelf-product. It is good to see new, literate work in this subgenre.


The American Dead by Jay Lake

In a scene that definitely evokes one of Lucius Shepard's darker visions, Pobrecito lives in the American cemetery of some nameless hell-hole in a dystopian future.

There are dogs which live in the broken-backed jet out in the middle of the current, eyes glowing from behind the dozens of little shattered oval windows. At night the dogs swim across the slow current and run the river banks, hunting in the colonia and up toward the city walls.

They are why he never sleeps in the Cementerio. That some of the dogs walk on two legs makes them worse.

Pobrecito makes a living selling pages torn from a cache of porn magazines left by the dead Americans. He tells his friend Lucia that he will be an American one day, that he will be rich. But there is trouble up in the city, where the rich men live. The guardia are taking girls away, and they never come back. One day they summon Lucia, who is a midget, too small to be used in the manner of a woman. But they don't care. They destroy Pobrecito's goods to force him to obey, and he begins to think he will never become an American.

Lake's vision might seem surreal, but the horrific elements here serve as a magnifying lens that exposes scenes of moral ugliness, disease and cruelty to be found across the world today, in all their reality. Strong stuff.


Ten with a Flag by Joseph Paul Haines

The narrator's unborn child has been tested by the State and rated a ten—with a flag. A ten is the highest rating. The child will be an asset to the State, and the parents will have a higher rank, themselves. But there is the flag, and nobody will tell them exactly what it means. The narrator's husband is nervous. The State allows the option to abort the pregnancy if there is a flag. He wants to take the option.

This story strongly recalls the classic era of SF, evoking a familiar world of unfree dystopian visions and all-controlling States. As was often the case in the fiction of those days, the author spends perhaps a bit too much effort explaining how the system works, but the story packs a punch that today's reader can feel just as well as yesterday's.

Wane by Elizabeth Bear

Once again, forensic sorcerer Garrett is up to her earlobes in political intrigue. This time, her former lover Prince Henry is visiting the Crown Colony of New Amsterdam when he is implicated in a sorcerous murder. Of course Henry claims he is innocent, and more to the point, the Duke of New Amsterdam strongly suggests that it would not be in the best interests of the Crown if the royal heir were found guilty. While Garrett is loyal to the Crown, the proposed scapegoat, the wampyr Don Sebastian, is not only her current lover, her forensic tests clearly show that he is innocent. The only way out for Garrett is to identify the actual murderer and hope it is not Prince Henry.

Wane is the sequel to Wax from IZ #201, and like the early piece, it is heavily pregnant with a richly detailed backstory. This time, we see less of Garrett's sorcerous investigative techniques, which is unfortunate, and the identity of the murderer should come as no surprise to the experienced reader of mysteries. But the characters of Garrett and Don Sebastian continue to fascinate, the political intrigues of New Amsterdam have only deepened, and the more hints the author drops, the more the reader is likely to want more of this alternate history.

The Furthest Schorr: 32 Fugues Based on the Paintings of Todd Schorr by Paul Di Filippo

The author's note explains that these short-shorts are based on the paintings in Schorr's Dreamland. In a way, they are narrative illustrations of the artworks, which do certainly raise the question: what the hell is happening here? Interzone was not able to include the pictures with the text of the stories, but fortunately, a sample of these are available on the internet:

Like the pictures, these stories are surreal, grotesque, irreverent and above all, vulgar. The themes are those of pulp sci-fi stories and B movies; it is a toon universe, where nothing can be too absurd, too exaggerated, too bizarre. The result is not sophisticated humor. Some of the punchlines may make readers' eyes cross. A couple of representative titles, taken from Schorr: A Goober and a Tuber in an Exchange of Fisticuffs and The Return of the Prodigal Tuang Baby.

Di Filippo hopes his fugues stand by themselves as stories, but I found them of more interest in juxtaposition with the pictures that inspired them. Even then, the narrative sometimes falls short of the pictorial original. To take one example, Schorr's painting The Deviled Egg shows a diabolically scarlet Humpty Dumpty in a fantastic hellish setting, which I found more striking than Di Filippo's tale, in which Monteverdi Vespers invents the SuperEgg but does not devil it.

Encasing the limbless egg-layer in a box fed by a hopper and relieved by an outlet duct, Monteverdi had created the first SuperEgg™ factory. Any organic substance, from grass clippings to oak leaves to seaweed (and including the chicken's own wastes), could be fed into the grinding hopper and directly into the throat-aperture of the chicken. Controls on the box tweaked the chicken's metabolism and hormones and endocrines and proteins, producing eggs of any flavor or nutritional composition.

Other pieces are more successful in capturing the inspired zaniness, such as Clowns and Crusaders, in which

The living tanks in the endless war fought on the planet of Shiloh were fashioned from giant tortoises and helmed by cortico-chimps. Inside the tiny cabins of the carbon-fiber shell, the cortico-chimps continually manipulated petcocks and zaptrodes that directed the enormous flesh-and-blood crawlers by either chemical or electrical stimulation and restraint.

Crazy stuff, and fun, though the pieces are not equally successful.

After the Party by Richard Calder

When the Persians destroyed ancient, holy Babylon, the temple prostitutes of Ishtar used their sex magic to retreat into another dimension, a sacred world of women that became known as Babylon. Centuries later, they returned to replace the male hegemony on Earth Prime, in a literal case of Make Love, Not War. But not all the males accept the degradation of the male principle. A secret illegal society called the Black Order conducts a campaign of assassination against the sacred prostitutes.

A young, low-caste prostitute called Cat finds herself involved in these intrigues when she crashes an aristocratic party and encounters a man named Nicodemus, who is a member of the Black Order. Cat is powerfully attracted to him, and he, unwillingly, to her. But the Security Service has used Cat to entrap Nicodemus, and he must now rely on her to shelter him in her own milieu until he can make his escape.

This work is not what it first appears to be. While ostensibly about sex, there is no actual fucking. Cat, a working prostitute, is hymen intacta. In this universe, fellatio has replaced genital intercourse as the article of sexual commerce, but the only overtly sexual act in the story is the tongue-rape of the heroine's navel. Whether all this constitutes an erotic work is left as an exercise for the reader. I suspect that opinions will be divided.

What this is, is a work of sexual politics, and as such, it strongly recalls the author's earlier novel, Dead Girls. To further complicate the matter, it also seems to be an out-take of sorts from his upcoming new novel Babylon, with which it shares this setting and in which, I would hope, some of its apparent contradictions are explained—such as the fact that the Black Order operates on Babylon, a world on which men are forbidden.

Clearly, Calder takes a great interest in the image of the female as a sex fetish. The question is how readers should take this interest, whether they will believe that this work is misogynist, or if the author is exposing misogynist attitudes: the commercialisation of the female as sex fetish. Readers should not ignore the irony in which a world ruled by females has as its central sacred symbol a figure that denies womanhood. Cat and her fellow catgirls are precisely that: girls, not women. They dress themselves up as sex dolls to reflect a distorted male image of the desirable female, and thus they retain a perverted childishness. As Cat experiences epiphany, she reflects:

Nicodemus had warred not against whoredom itself, but because its relationship to the sacred had been corrupted. For millennia, Babylon had sought the power that had formerly been the political, cultural and spiritual prerogative of the human male. It had succeeded too well; world domination had come at the cost of reifying male conceptions of femininity.

The catgirl is a sort of female Peter Pan who will never grow up to be, among other things, a lover or a mother. In fetishizing sex as an act of commerce, she precludes the possibility of love.

On the other hand, it seems to be Calder who is creating the false dichotomy on which this world is based, in its assumption that sex in the form of prostitution is the natural manifestation of a female ruling principle, where, as Nicodemus complains, the elimination of the male exterminating principle has also eliminated "the great Apollonian civilization" with its art, philosophy and music, where Newton, Mozart, Hegel and Goethe can never flourish. If Nicodemus, at the end, discovers the possibility of love, it never seems to occur to him that women, too, might possess a creative power unconnected to their organs of generation. If he can now see Cat as his lover instead of a sex object, she is still only another kind of object for him. What Cat might be for herself, apart from what she is for a man, we never know.

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F&SF May, '06

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2006

The magazine features more fantasy than SF this month, but as usual, it offers a greater variety of genre material than other zines.

Billie and the Fairy by Terry Bisson

There is a fairy sitting on Billie's bed.

The fairy does not wear pants.

The fairy appears to be incontinent.

Bisson does not say that the fairy has a penis, but I'll bet it does.

The fairy is not nice.

Billie's parents say that fairies are make-believe.

Billie's parents had better be more careful what they say.

Imitation of Life by Albert E. Cowdrey

Miss Emma Smythe-Denby resides almost contentedly in the tranquil village of 1220 Alpha, where

Everything needful to human life lay close at hand. Lined up along faux-stone streets and well-raked earthen lanes stood some two hundred neat houses, the Micromarket, and those eternal elements of British life — a tea room (the Lemon Tree) and two pubs (the Gnashing Tusk and the King's Evil).

The only thing wanting in her life is a lover, but Emma finds the notion of a love-bot just too distasteful. Her chance finally comes when the peace of 1220 Alpha is disrupted by a group of local protestors who believe that even the presence of the tea room and pubs are too much activity; a counter-demonstration turns violent, and the leader of the protestors, Mr. Ffrench-Dobbyn, is threatened with arrest. He takes refuge with Emma, who proposes to disguise him as a love-bot, with unsurprising results.

An amusing retro-future comedy of manners.

Passing Through by Charles Coleman Finlay

Roberta Bumgartner is haunted by a secret and a ghost. Since running away from home at age sixteen, she has lived a live of perfectly conservative propriety on Little Limestone Island: "a cul-de-sac, a crawdad trap, someplace people found themselves stuck in. A place people ran away to, to hide from something." So when the young interracial couple tells her they are "just passing through," Roberta doesn't believe them. She can't help thinking they are there for a reason—a reason somehow related to her, and to the ghost of her past, which she can no longer ignore.

Roberta is a sufficiently interesting character, caught up in her own denial, that the Message doesn't overwhelm Finlay's story.

Show Me Yours by Robert Reed

An odd and disturbing short piece by Reed, in which a man, a sexual opportunist without a conscience, is made to face the consequence of his deeds.

Journey into the Kingdom by M. Rickert

Alex is grieving after the death of his wife when he reads a story by a strange young woman: of a girl whose father was a drowned lighthouse keeper who often returned home as a ghost, bringing other ghosts.

So passed my childhood: a great deal of solitude, the occasional life-threatening adventure, the drudgery of work, and all around me the great wide sea with its myriad secrets and reasons, the lost we saved, those we didn't. And the ghosts, brought to us by my father, though we never understood clearly his purpose, as they only stood before the fire, dripping and melting like something made of wax, bemoaning what was lost (a fine boat, a lady love, a dream of the sea, a pocketful of jewels, a wife and children, a carving on bone, a song, its lyrics forgotten). We tried to provide what comfort we could, listening, nodding, there was little else we could do, they refused tea or blankets, they seemed only to want to stand by the fire, mourning their death, as my father stood sentry beside them, melting into salty puddles that we mopped up with clean rags, wrung out into the ocean, saying what we fashioned as prayer, or reciting lines of Irish poetry.

Until one night he brought home the ghost of a young man, more solid than the others, who did not melt away. She fell in love, despite her mother's warning that the ghost would steal her breath and life away, as he eventually did, making her like himself.

Upon reading this tale, Alex finds himself in love with the author, Agatha, despite her protest that the story is only fiction, that she is not really a ghost. But Alex does not believe her.

Rickert has given us two fine, darkly fantastic stories in one. Agatha's tale reads much like folklore of a previous century, set into a contemporary frame in which Alex pursues his obsession beyond the limits of sanity. The fairytale image of Agatha-of-the-story clashes with the Agatha who works in the coffee shop, with her green and red spiked hair. The reader has to wonder: which one is real and which is a lie? Yet in the end it is Alex who surprises.


Diluvium by Steven Utley

Jack is a paleontologist on an expedition to the Silurian Era. While making camp, he notices the presence of an unauthorized person nearby, camped at the bottom of a wash with a thunderstorm threatening. When he investigates, he discovers the stranger is a notorious creationist advocate with a broken ankle. How did he get there? What is his purpose? Despite his misgivings, Jack helps the man to high ground, and while the rain pours down, the two debate the issue of creation vs. evolution. But by daybreak, the stranger is impossibly gone—as he had impossibly arrived.

The twist at the end of this tale is thought-provoking, but even the author seems to find the debate that takes up the middle of the story too dull to keep him awake.

Bea and Her Bird Brother by Gene Wolfe

Bea's father wants to tell her the truth about himself —and her—before he dies, but his story is too fantastic for her to believe.

I usually approach a new Gene Wolfe story warily, expecting that it will involve some clever puzzle or symbolism that I will be too dense to grasp. But no, in this case what Wolfe presents is the literal truth of the story's title.

A Herd of Opportunity by Matthew Hughes

When F&SF readers last left Guth Bandar, he was a captive of humanity's collective unconscious, unable to escape back to his own conscious life. But rather than continue this saga, Hughes goes back to an earlier episode in Bandar's life. He has traveled to the world Gamza as the assistant of Preceptor Huffley, his master in the Institute of Historical Inquiry, which maps and studies the human collective unconscious and its archetypes. Huffley has come to Gamza to investigate a previously unheard-of case of cross-species transference. Normally, between the collective unconscious of two species stands an impenetrable barrier, but between the human population of Gamza and the native Bololo a breach in this wall has occurred, so that the archetypes of the human mind have crossed over to contaminate the minds of the telepathic Bololo, with unfortunate consequences.

Here was the archetypal Landscape of the Bololos, which Bandar was not surprised to find looked exactly like the surface of Gamza in the waking world: a level plain of rock, sand, and grit broken here and there by dark patches of lichen. He was surprised, however, that there was no crowd of Bololo archetypes such as those that populated the human Commons. Instead, he saw but one figure in the Location: a large, placid Bololo of indeterminate gender who stood, apparently bemused, and watched the human archetypes that had come through the barrier.

Huffley's interference has placed him and Bandar between an unscrupulous gangster bent on exploiting the Bololo and the wrathful patriarch of a religious order—both suspicious of his true intentions. At the crucial moment, Huffley's nerve fails, leaving Bandar to try to save them both.

The Jungian landscape of Bandar's universe is a unique and fascinating SFnal setting, and this episode adds a new dimension to Bandar's story, displaying the receptiveness to new ideas that will later have him thrown out of the hidebound Institute to play some greater role, as yet undisclosed by the author. As such, this work is likely to be appreciated most by those readers who have already been following Bandar's adventures.

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Analog, May '06

Analog, May 2006

Analog regularly publishes serials, and the May issue begins a new one that takes up a large proportion of the space for fiction, leaving room for only four shorter works

The Scarlet Band by Harry Turtledove

Many are the imitations, homages, pastiches, burlesques and other alternate versions of the notable fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Here, Turtledove gives us a parody. Athelstan Helms and his sidekick Doctor Walton are embarked upon a case in the brash upstart nation of Atlantis, where things are not done in the proper English way. They have been commissioned to investigate a crime: several opponents of the Freemason-like sect, the House of Universal Devotion, have been murdered. The local authorities suspect the sect's head, The Preacher, but have not been able to locate or pin the crime on him. Helms, of course, like his fictional model, succeeds in solving the case, whereupon he and Watson return with relief to England, where things are the way things are supposed to be.

This novella is a hybrid: part mystery and part comedy. Unfortunately, it is a successful example of neither. As a mystery, it lacks not only tension but mysteriousness; the plot fails to twist, the clues are sparse, the suspects step forward with no effort on the part of the detectives. Lovers of mystery will too easily be able to identify Whodunit. And as a comedy:

Dr. Walton sighed. "Well, we're here"

Athelstan Helms nodded. "I could not have deduced it more precisely myself," he said. "The red-crested eagle on the flag flying from yonder pole, the long-shoremen shouting in what passes for English in the United States of Atlantis, the fact that we have just complete an ocean voyage . . . Everything does indeed point to our being here."

There is a very great deal of this banter, most of it involving the prejudices of the two heroes against all things not English; as much space is devoted to it as to the mysterious murders which are the ostensible focus of the story, and it quickly grows as tedious as the mystery half is dull.

Farmers in the Sky by Rob Chilson

Or more specifically, farmers in the asteroid belt. Shanda has just returned to her home farm from agriculture college on Earth, where she fell in love with Charles; but Shanda's home is in space, and Charles feels his own future is on Earth. She never expected to see him again, but now Charles has unexpectedly come to space to find her, and her family agrees that he will fit in well. But has he changed his mind about leaving Earth?

This is true science fiction, exploring the ways human beings might actually live in space. Readers can feel for Shanda's dilemma, caught between two lovers—Charles and her long-term fiancé from a neighboring asteroid. Chilson's characters are all polite enough not to overindulge in tedious polemics about the superiority of life in space, but they are perhaps too polite, too perfect to be quite real.

However, the real attractions of this piece are the farms, bioengineered on the surfaces of small asteroids not much larger than a house. I did have a moment of initial confusion at the opening, when what was supposed to be a wheat field was described as "a dark green blob of elephant-ear leaves," until I realized: a metaphor! Chilson has done his work on this premise; the space-farming techniques are quite interesting and seem plausible. I sort of wonder how the asteroid holds an atmosphere and manages to supply the plants with carbon dioxide, but I have confidence that the author knows this and just doesn't want to bore me with a prolonged infodump, for which I gratefully thank him.

Lazy Taekos by Geoffrey A. Landis

"Once there was a boy named Taekos who lived on a heart farm."

Thus we recognize this as a science fiction fairy tale. And indeed Taekos proceeds as any good fairytale hero must: he leaves home to seek his fortune. Because he is lazy, he does not succeed, but he is also clever and ingenious. When he meets [via projection] a beautiful heiress who has been locked into a tower by her cruel stepfather, he has little difficulty with the impossible tasks required before he can win her hand.

This is a charming and entertaining story, faithfully following the classic fairytale mode yet entirely science-fictional—and with a modern twist to the happily-ever-after ending.


Slide Show by Jerry Oltion

When Nathan discovers that manufacturers will no longer be producing slide film, he is aghast and buys up a lifetime supply before it is all gone. As an amateur astrophotographer, he prefers the old technology, even if the rest of the world has gone digital, replacing slide shows with Power Point presentations. If only he could find a way to make slide shows popular again—to discover a new use for them, the way rap artists found a new use for record turntables and kept that technology alive.

In a way, Oltion's story is also a fairy tale, for Nathan's idea turns out happily ever after for everyone in a way that, however desirable, is not really plausible. Call it wishful thinking, close your eyes, and blow hard at the candles.

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Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons, March 2006

March: feminist-awareness month?

The Purple Hippopotamus Wading Pool by Joanne Merriam

After her young daughter's death, Sherrie is overwhelmed with loss and guilt, so she punishes herself by taking a job in a strip club, where she uses the dead child's wading pool as a prop in her self-degradation.

When the faded velvet curtains were swept open and the lights came up, Sherrie danced into the wading pool, keeping her movements a little clumsy, a parody of innocence. The music squealed from the broken speakers, just shy of painful. Sherrie began dousing herself with water as though she'd been dying for a shower for weeks. Such a dirty, dirty girl.

Rather than fantasy, this sort of story is mainstream women's fiction in which some character has a dream-like experience, ambiguously fantastic. In too many cases, the quasi-fantastic element seems gratuitous, as if it were grafted on to the mainstream root in order to make the piece marketable to a genre zine. Often, like this time, the story might have been better off without it.

Towers by Leah Bobet

The morning after the fairy tale has ended happily ever after, the princess wakes up to discover that her new husband has left her, gone off on yet another quest. Of course that is what a hero does; she knew it when she let him take her from her tower. But she finds that a single night of happily-ever-after isn't good enough, isn't worth it. So she takes off on a quest of her own, to find him, to get him back.

She wove a cloak, and it was tough and light and flowed green in the wind. She wove a dress, and it was sturdy and brown and unbecoming a princess, but strong enough to withstand days upon the road. She wove a satchel of rough fibres that blistered her fingers when spun, large enough to hold rations to keep body and soul together. And she wove a winding-sheet, white and long and filmy, in case she did not find him after all.

It may be that I am getting tired of fairy tales. It may be that I have read too many of them, all revealing the same basic homely truth that happily-ever-after isn't quite all it's cut up to be. Bobet's tale is not flawed, its prose is charming, its symbolism is apt, but I can't help thinking I have been down this road with too many princesses before. I much preferred this author's tale in last month's SH; it brought new depth and understanding to the fairy tale model.

The Flying Woman by Meghan McCarron

A tale of unrequited love. The narrator loves the flying woman. She keeps her photograph on her wall and recalls the times when they would get drunk together.

At that point, we'd decide to go to bed, and she'd ask me to sleep over, to hold her down for the night. I slept with her coiled in my arms, this close to happy. When her body floated up, I held her closer, and dreamt of the moment when I would sit up and cover her lips with my own.

But the flying woman loves a guy in bike shorts, instead, even when he leaves her. The narrator gets a bike of her own, but the flying woman has flown, and only the memory of her, and the photograph, remain.

This story is told in a series of vignettes rather than as a linear narrative. It is not so much the story of the flying woman, who was granted a miracle, as it is the narrator's, who wishes for one. The author deliberately grounds the flying woman in literal reality: this is fantasy, not mere metaphor. She is no angel, but a supermarket checkout girl; she drinks beer and burps; she has to use a wheelchair after a fall from on high. And if one might suspect fond memory of inventing its own reality, surely the image of the flying woman aloft with her wheelchair strapped to her back is the antidote for such suspicions. It is an odd and jarring image, however—I can't stop wondering why the flying woman needs to carry her wheelchair, if she can fly, and it keeps me from taking the story as seriously as I might.

Wayfaring Girls by E. L. Chen

Joyce's baby was stolen by the fairies and replaced by a changeling. The changeling grew up to be a disagreeable teenager, who ran away to Faerie to find her Real Mother. Rather than cry Good Riddance, Joyce and her husband follow, bickering all the way.

I like Chen's literalization of this fairy tale standard, the very mundane Joyce and Phil encountering the fairy tale archetypes as they drive; they take along a cooler full of food in the trunk of the car, because everyone knows you can't eat fairy food if you ever wish to leave. When they meet Queen Mab, she complains that modern medicine keeps changelings these days from dying as they used to; instead, they come back to Faerie and cause trouble.

Unfortunately, once the author reaches the end of the archetypical journey, she succumbs to the urge to deliver a Lesson on the True Meaning of Motherhood. It appears that it is her motherhood that Joyce really loves, not her daughter.

I had another problem: Joyce and Phil encounter several of the standard fairy tale figures on their way, but also one who seems out of place in Faerie, right alongside Red Riding Hood: Joyce's younger self. Yet the journey is as much Phil's as it is Joyce's. Why do we see no younger version of Phil?

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Copyright © 2006, Lois Tilton. All Rights Reserved.

About Lois Tilton

In the past, Lois Tilton's fiction has been nominated for the Nebula, Sturgeon and Sidewise Awards. She is now reviewing the fiction of others.


Apr 24, 16:57 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of April's short fiction.

The reviews are here.
Apr 25, 04:43 by Mario Guslandi
Do people really want to be told in detail what a story is about before actually having the opportunity to find out themselves? Don't you think you're giving away too much about the reviewed stories? Who wants to go buy those magazines once almost every aspect of the plot is revealed beforehand?
Apr 25, 05:04 by Lois Tilton
This is the balancing act always facing the reviewer: how to say anything meaningful about a story without saying too much.

I do think it's important to suggest what a story is about in a review. I think in general a reader wants to know two things: what is the story about? and is it any good?

I also think that there is much more to a story, particularly one worth reading, than the plot.

The question of how much and too much to reveal tends to be subjective. Some readers are so sensitive to the possibility of plot spoilers that they avoid all discussion of a work they are planning to read. However, this is hardly possible for someone reviewing the work.

I'm sorry if you feel that I have revealed too much. Is there any particular piece where you think this revelation has gone too far?

Apr 26, 10:16 by twosheds
I like to read the stories first and then read the reviews to see if I agree with the reviewer. (OK, I'm weird). I think that leads to more interesting discussion. I don't think Lois reveals any more than the reviewers in Locus.
Apr 26, 12:46 by Lois Tilton
Twosheds, I'm with you. I prefer to read the reviews after I've read the story, and I'd much prefer to write for readers who can be assumed to have read the story.

But convention seems to dictate the contrary practice, and accordingly I do make a point of trying to avoid what people call spoilers. IF there is a strong reader preference for less revelation, I would try to accomodate it.
Apr 29, 06:17 by Gregory Feeley
Lois posts much data in support of the thesis (though she does not come out and state it) that Analog is increasingly a magazine of nostalgia, casting backward glances -- with regret, defiance, or wishful-thinking denial -- upon the loves and preferences of its middle-aged readers' (and contributors') youth. (Story titles that riff of old Asimov or Heinlein works -- such as "Farmer in the Sky," the example from this month -- are a conspicuous symptom.)

For the magazine that has for decades prided itself on the idea that it presents bold forward vistas, it's a touchingly deluded self-image.
Apr 29, 08:05 by Lois Tilton
Yesterday's futures?

I think it is the relentless optimism that often makes Analog's futures seem out of date and irrelevant. The insistence that humans can indeed solve the world's problems, preferably in space.

Apr 29, 12:44 by Carl Frederick
Re: Analog:
Many Analog readers and contributers are working scientists and engineers--people engaged in the hunt. Scientists are, in general, an optimistic lot. Many of them (us), perpetually imbued with youthful (regardless of actual age) optimism, hope to make lasting contributions to the body of scientific knowledge. Science (at least my speciality, theoretical physics) is bewilderingly exciting. I like my speculative fiction to echo this excitement. It is not surprising that Analog is my magazine of choice.

I, for one, don't like to see SF that has given up on the future, that denigrates the values of scientific inquiry (or for that matter any kind of inquiry). For that matter, I don't like to see _people_ who have so given up. It's a common problem: science & engineering have become complicated of late. It's a frequent human response for a person to regard something he/she can't understood as unimportant.

Optimism is irrelevant? Gosh, what a jaded sentiment!
And if humans can't solve our problems, who can?
Apr 29, 13:39 by Lois Tilton
I think the optimism in Analog may seem outdated because the proposed solutions don't seem to change much. If science is becoming more complicated, shouldn't science fiction reflect this?
Apr 30, 09:25 by Bluejack
I find Analog to be a frustrating but special case. As Carl knows, my own reviews of the magazine were often discouraged. However, each year, a number of my top picks from the year came from Analog.

A few observations:

I find a lot of second rate writing in Analog. This is not too surprising when you observe that many of the contributors are not really writers or even interested in become professional fiction writers: they are scientists, writing fiction that is foremost about being scientists, and in particular the wish-fulfillment fantasy of scientists: they guy gets the girl; the girl is gorgeous; the girl is rich; the scientist saves the day, etc. etc.

I find a lot of the ideas in Analog to be ho-hum. As Lois observes: science is become more complicated, but the Science Fiction in Analog tends to be rather simplistic. Of course defining categories is always an exercise in futility, but the "hard" sci fi of Analog tends to feel pretty soft to me: fantasy science, space opera, and single-idea stories that work from a single scientific discipline.

Analog seems to hammer away at a lot of the same story themes. Time travel and alien contact alone feel like they probably constitute more than 50% of the fiction in Analog, and it just gets boring. Not to mention, questionable science (at best) -- and that's without even touching FTL!

Another peculiar thing, Analog often feels like it is published for a young adult audience -- which would be great: I would love to see a young adult science fiction publication that had a chance of bringing younger readers into the field. But then... sometimes it's not. The mixture of adult themes with juvenile stories just doesn't seem to make any sense to me.

But despite all of these gripes, every few issues there's a standout story that's a standout not just among the other Analog fare, but across the whole field.

I'd have a hard time saying I like Analog, but I believe it remains one of the most important publications.
Apr 30, 11:35 by Lois Tilton
I think Analog probably satisfies the core Analog readership, but this is because they are satisfied to get the same sort of thing over and over again. Indeed, they probably demand this.

But I have a hard time supposing they are likely to attract a lot of new readers with this approach, not when other zines are delivering more innovation in science fiction. "Gardening at Midnight" in one of the recent F&SF issues strikes me as an example of the sort of thing a zine like Analog ought to be printing - sciencey science fiction that isn't just the same old.
May 2, 09:41 by Jim Van Pelt
Besides appearing every so often in Analog, and discovering it first among the magazines when I first started reading, I think Analog is valuable for numerous reasons.

Maybe its most important function is as a gateway to science fiction for many people. I agree with Bluejack when he says that the magazine sometimes reads like it is written for young adults, young adults who are not already deeply read in science fiction and who are attracted to accessible, often idea-driven stories. There are a lot of adults who like that publishing philosophy too (as is reflected in Analog's subscription numbers). Because of that philosophy, Analog is the only science fiction magazine the high school library, where I teach, subscribes to. Not only are Asimov's and F&SF both inappropriate for a public high school's audience because of the adult nature of some of the work, but they also are difficult to read for a beginning SF reader. Their stories often require a much deeper background in SF than a newer reader can bring to the task.

Analog is the home of "appropriate" science fiction. For non-SF folks and traditionalists, Analog is where they can find the stuff they're looking for when they go science fiction hunting. Asimov's and F&SF are edgier in both their ideas and their approach, and sometimes not as accessible.

Lois suggested that Analog might have a hard time attracting new readers with this approach, but I think it's more likely to attract the "new" readers than the other two. When high school students who are interested in SF for the first time ask for a suggestion of what to read, I send them to Analog first. Of course I talk about Asimov's and F&SF too, both whom I love, but I've had too many new readers come back from those magazines baffled.

[MAJOR DISCLAIMER--I get nervous when I make anything that looks like an overarching description of the magazines. All three surprise me by what they will print. Great stuff appears in them constantly, along with work that doesn't catch my attention as well. But that's why I read them. Every new story, potentially, is going to rattle my day.]
May 2, 11:20 by Lois Tilton
You make an interesting point, Jim.

I think when I speak of new readers I am thinking of those with more advanced skills in reading fiction, for whom many of the stories in Analog might seem clumsy. For high school students, particularly those from the less literary end of the culture, this might indeed not be a problem.

Of course when I was that age, Analog [or Astounding, under Campbell] was THE science fiction magazine, the only one I read, the only one I knew of. The one to which I sent my dreadful early attempts at fiction - modeled, alas, after the Analog template.

I do suspect that this was more common then than now. But I will always retain a nostalgic affection for the zine, even if I think that science fiction is leaving it behind.

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