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Publisher: Bluejack

September, 2008 : Review:

August 2008 Short Fiction Review

It's fall double issue time!

And time for a peeve. I often notice when reading the magazines that many of them tend to rely a lot on a stable of regular contributors. This is not always a Good Thing in that it may lead to laziness on the part of both authors and editors. When authors become Regulars at a given market, they may be tempted to submit mediocre work, being confident of its acceptance there, where another venue may not be such an easy sale. And when editors develop a stable of Regulars, they may be tempted to neglect their slush piles full of new and unknown authors, relying instead on the known and familiar names, particularly when they are Big Names.

This is the lesser peeve. What makes me even more peevish is the continuing series by a regular contributor. It often seems to me that a weak story, one that would not stand well on its own, is published merely because it is the continuation of a series. I suspect that authors sometimes continue these series beyond the point of real inspiration, putting the same tired characters through the same tiresome adventures, simply because they feel assured of continuing sales of the same thing all over again.

Of course, I am a notoriously peevish reader, and it may well be that the regular readers of the zines look forward to the same thing all over again, which is why some editors keep serving it up to them. But I note that in this month's reading, my greatest enjoyment came from fresh new works from new authors in new places.

Zines Reviewed

F&SF Oct-Nov, 2008

F&SF, October-November 2008

The annual fall double issue collects a lot of the usual names appearing regularly in this zine, but with a double issue, readers expect something more than the usual—they expect, at the least, a major novella or two anchoring the table of contents, some brilliant and award-worthy works. Instead, there are lot of very short and unmemorable works here—some nice stories, some entertaining stories, some flawed stories.

Inside Story by Albert E. Cowdrey

A return to the strange cases of New Orleans by Police Detective Alfonse Fournet. After Katrina, the force is short-handed, and Fournet is recalled to investigate the mysterious disappearances of citizens from FEMA trailer parks. Witnesses report a thirteenth trailer that sometimes inexplicably appears in rows of twelve, and disappears shortly afterwards, and dauntless Fournet is determined to check it out.

Cowdrey is a versatile author, and this series shows his lighter side. Of less interest than the plot is the character of Fournet, and the descriptions of New Orleans and its incomparable cuisine.

While D. J. nibbled his relatively modest oyster loaf, Fournet used Tabasco and ketchup to complete a monster sandwich comprising a halved French loaf, twenty-four large fried shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and gobs and gobs of extra mayonnaise. Then he devoured it all, down to the last flake of crust.

His meal would have left an anaconda inert for a month. Fournet, on the contrary, felt ideas beginning to percolate the more he ate. That comes, he told himself, from eating brain food, and he resolved to ask Alma to fry him a half-dozen catfish for dinner.

Entertaining light fiction.

Sleepless Years by Steven Utley

The narrator made the mistake of willing his body for scientific research before he committed suicide. Now he has been revived and kept as an experimental subject by the doctors working on the revival process. They deny him what he wants—oblivion, either sleep or death; machines monitor his body while a psychologist probes his mind. Until it begins to occur to the reader that there may be another explanation of his situation.

What scientist ever bothered to explain anything to his laboratory animals? How they found me, why they chose me, what they did to capture the I of me and thrust it back into the meticulously repaired and miraculously revitalized it of me— mysteries, mysteries all.

With a premise like this one, so often used, an author has do something special with it to make it a success. Utley subtly plays his character in this short piece, slowly revealing the shape of his sleepless nightmare. Nicely written.

Days of Wonder by Geoff Ryman

An engineered evolution story. The human Ancestors, we are told, knew that they and their world were dying, so on the Ark they carried in their own genes the genes of the other animals. Their chimerical descendants not only have useful humanish hands and minds, each species carries a portion of the ancestral knowledge base. A stable system has evolved: the Horses migrate seasonally, and the Cats eat the old and weak. The Cats, with the innate knowledge of genetics, understand that the Horses need predators to control their numbers, but Leveza, a Horse so Ancestor-like that she often walks upright and has given birth to a very Ancestrally helpless baby, wants to change everything.

Perhaps it's misanthropic of me, but I'm not at all sure that Leveza has the right idea—particularly if it involves bringing humans back into the mix and upsetting the stability of the ecosystem. I find it inconsistent that, at one point, the Horses speak of their children being eaten, yet this seems to contradict the established order of things.

"The bargain! The one where they don't take children so they grow up nice and fat for them to eat later and we let them take our old and sick. They get to eat, and we get rid of people whose only use is that they are experienced and wise, something Horses can't use, because of course we know everything already. So we don't shoot Cats except to scare them off, and they don't shoot us."
Her eyes looked like the Cats' reflecting our lamps. "That bargain."

Seems like a good system. Why mess with it?

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates by Stephen King

As Annie Driscoll is preparing for the funeral of her husband, killed in a plane crash, the phone rings. He is calling her from a place beyond death, just one last phone call, a chance to say goodbye. For Annie, the moment will remain with her a lifetime, echoing as events foretold by Jimmy come to pass. It is essentially a story of faith.

"Jimmy, did you know?" This idea has been the hardest and most terrible part for her—that he might have known, if only for an endless minute or two. Others might picture burned bodies or dismembered heads with grinning teeth; even light-fingered first responders filching wedding rings and diamond ear-clips, but what has robbed Annie Driscoll's sleep is the image of Jimmy looking out his window as the streets and cars and the brown apartment buildings of Brooklyn swell closer. The useless masks flopping down like the corpses of small yellow animals. The overhead bins popping open, carry-ons starting to fly, someone's Norelco razor rolling up the tilted aisle.

"Did you know you were going down?"

The editorial blurb rightly compares this short piece to a Twilight Zone episode. There is a strong sense of crossing briefly over into another dimension, and the transformative power of such an experience. Effectively done.

Dazzle Joins the Screenwriters Guild by Scott Bradford

Dazzle the dog goes to Hollywood and does meetings.

"As I understand it," Dazzle went on, "you guys aren't trying to produce a major motion picture based on my life. Rather you're buying the rights, and I quote, 'to develop a long-running, multi-format entertainment entity based on the [possibly fictive] events and characters inspired by the legally recognized intellectual-commodity-unit known as Dazzle.' Which leaves me wondering, guys—why so much trouble and expense? Why not just make up your own character and call him, oh, like Harry the dog, or Bozo the cat or something."

I have never discovered the charm of this series about the genius dog and his encounters with the flaws and foibles of the human species, and I find this one just about as tedious as the rest.

The Visionaries by Robert Reed

A science fiction writer seems to have visions about a character he calls Merv, and a mysterious organization takes an interest in his stories inspired by this character. The writer gradually realizes that Merv is a real person living in the near future, and the mysterious organization is using the details revealed by his visions to either manipulate or profit from the information. The writer himself has no interest in doing this, but he has a problem—he has fallen in love with Merv's girlfriend Mary.

I'm not generally very fond of stories about being a writer, though this one is a bit more than that. It is still too much about the developing writer's career, his rejection slips, his appearances at cons and panels, his relationship with the mysterious figure who buys the Merv stories—and too little about what seems to really matter to him, his feelings towards Mary.

Going Back in Time by Laurel Winter

A physicist who likes to impress girls at cocktail parties with physics neep falls into his own time loop.

A very short quantum joke.

Private Eye by Terry Bisson

A romantic story. The narrator is a Private Eye, a host for cybervoyeurs who get off on what he sees. He meets a woman in a bar who enjoys being looked at; she is in much the same business as he is, from the other end—a webcam subject. The narrator begins to see her regularly for the sake of his viewers, but finds himself wanting more, for himself.

"I read about it in Wired," she said. "Cyberhosting. Private Eyes. It's the new new thing. And a girl can tell. There's a certain—intensity of regard."

"Well said," I said. "And you don't mind?"

"On the contrary, it's kind of appealing." She leaned forward and the Burberry fell open, just enough. "Especially since regard is all that's involved."

"There are Protocols," I said. There was that lovely intimate little strap again. "Appropriate for just such an occasion."

This one is more than a little erotic. The plot is punctuated by a series of "I should have known" moments, leading the reader to wonder what the next surprise will be and keeping up the interest, if the erotica isn't enough.

Whoever by Carol Emshwiller

A story full of questions. The narrator wakes up in a doorway. She has no memory of who she is but seems convinced that she has left her old life behind to take up a new one. She seems to think she may be occupying a new body. She seems to think she might have come from the future. But she has no money, no ID, possibly no usable skills.

Did I actually wipe out my own mind in order to start from scratch? Did I do it deliberately or was it by mistake? But what a good idea! I'm glad I thought of it. I probably got sick and tired of the way things were back in my former life.

The reader is not so convinced that this was a good idea at all. Or that the narrator is not simply an amnesiac, or a crazy woman.

Intriguing for the possibilities it leaves open, the answer that we never get to see. Of course, some may find this frustrating instead, for cutting away just before an answer might be revealed.

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account by M. Rickert

"When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we'll execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed."
Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue

A dystopian vision of how it would be to live in such a country, with Taliban-style public executions in football stadiums. The narrator is a young girl whose mother has fled to avoid execution for an earlier abortion, and she wrestles with her conflicted feelings, missing her mother and hating her for the stigma her actions have inflicted on her family.

With the example of the Taliban before us, no one can really say anymore: This couldn't happen. Yet it is up to the author to convince us that it could have actually happened, or at least to willingly suspend disbelief and enter into the mutual pact between author and reader in which we accept the scenario for the sake of the message the story is meant to deliver. The problem with such fiction, however, is that the Message can outweigh the story, and I think that in this case it has done so, going too close to the line between chilling and absurd.

Each execution is done individually. She walks across the entire field in a hood. The walk takes a long time 'cause of the shackles. I can think of no reasonable explanation for the hood, beyond suspense. It is very effective. The beginning of the walk is a good time to take a bathroom break or get a snack, that's how long it takes. No one wants to be away from his seat when the criminal gets close to the red circle at the center of the field. The closer she gets to the circle (led by one of the Junior Agents, or, as is the case tonight, by one of the children from the town's various civic programs) the more quiet it gets until eventually the only noise is the sound of chains.


The Scarecrow's Boy by Michael Swanwick

Another dystopian scenario spawned by the spectre of Homeland Security. The scarecrow is an obsolete housebot discarded by the Young Master and put out into the fields to scare the birds. One night, a terrified young boy comes running through the field towards him from the road.

"Well, Pierre, how did you come to be wandering through my field at such an hour? Your parents must be worried sick about you."

"My mother's not here. My father told me to run into the woods as far as I could go."

"He did, eh? When was this?"

"When the car crashed. It won't say anything anymore. I think it's dead."

"How about your father? Not hurt, is he?"

"No. I don't know. He wouldn't open his eyes. He just said to run into the woods and not to come out until tomorrow morning."

The scarecrow realizes that Pierre needs to be smuggled across the border to safety, though this is not quite the job for which he was programmed.

Swanwick effectively evokes a world where the robots know the difference between right and wrong after the humans have forgotten.

Planetesimal Dawn by Tim Sullivan

Science fiction. Nozaki and Wolverton are exploring the asteroid where they are based, when they encounter a huge crater in their way, a crater that wasn't supposed to be on this asteroid at all. It turns out that the crater is the opening to an alien robotic mining operation that occupies the whole interior of the asteroid, inside a bubble of time. They are snatched inside, where we get to see the wonders of the alien system. Wolverton, a nutcase, prefers to remain inside the asteroid, but Nozaki insists on trying to find her way out and back to their own time. She goes in search of an exit and discovers many more wonders.

As she emerged, Nozaki noticed dozens of stringy objects hanging from the walls of this chamber, which had a floor and a domed roof. Upon closer inspection, she realized that these were the same spidery things that she had encountered in the angled tunnel on the way up. Apparently this was a storage space for them.

The room was about ten meters in diameter, and she saw another tunnel mouth on the far side of it. She took a good look at the inanimate spiders, and still was unsure if they were machine or animal. They could have just been hanging here to sleep, like bats in a cave, or they might have needed charging. She had no way of knowing which, or if they hung here for some other reason altogether.

It is clear that the author had a great time imagining this entire setup—robots and aliens and quantums and blue goo and all. It is a fantastic excursion that Nozaki takes us on, although we realize that it is the author pulling all the strings and inventing all this for our entertainment. As a story about actual people, it is less convincing.

Asimov's, Oct-Nov, 2008

Asimov's, October-November 2008

The fall double issue offers two novellas and an array of shorter fiction. There is a common theme among many of them: the human tendency to deny the truth when it is too strange or too inconvenient to accept.

The Erdmann Nexus by Nancy Kress

At St. Sebastian's home for the aged, retired physicist Henry Erdmann has an inexplicable experience.

Halfway across the living room of his tiny apartment in the Assisted Living Facility, something happened in Henry's mind.

He stopped, astonished. It had felt like a tentative touch, a ghostly finger inside his brain. Astonishment was immediately replaced by fear. Was he having a stroke? At ninety, anything was possible.

He is not the only one. Other old people are having similar episodes, something like a seizure. A group consciousness is being born, and it does not understand how powerful it is.

This is a story of characters, as each individual undergoes a different subjective experience of the phenomenon, as they struggle for an explanation, as they finally make their choice. It is also a story of the way most people automatically deny anything outside their prior experience, or warp it to fit.

Truth by Robert Reed

Carmen is the interrogator of a very secret prisoner who has admitted to being part of a jihadi group from the future, sent to destroy the twenty-first century world. For twelve years, ever since he was discovered with the makings of a nuclear device, the resources of the US have been devoted to the search for the other terrorists, to find them before it is too late. This, we learn, was the secret reason for the US invasion of Iraq, for the bombing of Iran. The prisoner claims he has no information about the plans of the other terrorists, no knowledge of where they will strike next. Now the original interrogator has committed suicide, and the narrator is brought in as his replacement, to discover the truth that drove him to his death.

No one had ever predicted 'temporal jihadists,' as Abraham's agents were dubbed. Uranium-toting terrorists suddenly seemed like a minor threat by comparison. Collins' first interview resulted in a secret and very chaotic panic roaring through Washington. Black ops funds were thrown in every direction. Ground was broken for half a dozen high-security prisons scattered across the world. But then some wise head inside Langley decided that if time travelers were genuine, then there was no telling what they knew, and if they were inspired, there were probably no limits to what they could achieve.

This is a chilling story made even more horrific by its connection to recent events in our own world. The fact that it has been told before, in different ways, does not blunt its impact; rather, it confirms its truth.


Defending Elysium by Brandon Sanderson

A complicated mystery. When Northern Bell developed cybernetic telepathic linking technology, they inadvertently initiated First Contact. Now the Phone Company is the only point of contact between the aliens and humanity, which resents the PC for keeping secrets from it, such as FTL travel. For Jason Write, senior PC operative, the secrecy is deliberate policy. The aliens are too civilized and passive, and he fears they would become the victims of human aggressiveness. Now Jason has come to the distant orbital station of Evensong to retrieve a missing PC agent, found there in a mental hospital under mysterious circumstances. But when he arrives, he discovers a murdered alien ambassador and unknown figures who seem to be attempting to kill him. Somehow, these circumstances are all connected.

There is a lot of stuff here, and it seems crowded into an insufficient amount of text. It seems cut down from a longer version where there were more characters, more different points of view. I would have liked to have seen these ideas expanded on, and the characters given more room to develop.

The English Mutiny by Ian R. MacLeod

Alternate history. The Mughal Empire has conquered England, and narrator Davey Whitings is a sepoy in the Mughal army. His mate is Johnny Sponson, who has read Shakespeare and dreams of past English glory.

This one is a straight inversion of the nineteenth century sepoy mutiny in India, and offers no real surprises to any reader familiar with this history. It is a bit too conscious of its alternality for my taste.

Listening for Submarines by Peter Higgins

Christopher Ogersby is a naval officer at a coastal Sound Surveillance monitoring station during the waning years of the Cold War. He is a romantic, in love with the sounds of the sea. A naval exercise is held, in which NATO forces come dangerously close to the Soviet subs, but Christopher hears something else on the feed besides the ships.

A voice. Not a whale's voice (he heard them calling sometimes, out in the lonely ocean) but something larger than a whale, sadder, more intelligent, more beautiful. It was imitating the submarines. Another voice joined it. Harmonizing. Both voices were harmonizing with the submarines' monotones, weaving them into complex, beautiful song.

Against all security regulations, he tapes the songs and takes them home to the rented cottage he shares with a mysterious woman who is not quite human, who knows what the sounds mean.

Higgins is retelling a very old legend, a poignant tale of longing for what will always be out of reach, as unobtainable as it is desirable.


Prayers for an Egg by Sara Genge

Life among an alien race where low-caste servants attend to Masters and Mistresses in the most intimate details of their lives. But the servants have desires and ambitions of their own, no matter how modest.

Two weeks later, Mistress Jandala gives Lasa the egg. It wouldn't do for a mistress to become attached to an egg that might grow up to be a servant. Lasa takes it with both hands and places it in her marsupial pouch, daring to glimpse into her Mistress's face from beneath lowered eyelashes. She wants to read something in the way her Mistress carefully wipes the egg with her handkerchief before thrusting it into Lasa's hand, but, no, she is only projecting her own lowly thoughts. Mistress feels nothing but proper disregard for her and for the hatchling.

Unusual and inventive speculation into the ways things might be different and the ways they might be the same.

Money is no Object by Leslie What

Her mother's will has left the magic wallet to Alison. It is, of course, a curse—although her family doesn't see it that way.

The burden of the magic wallet had defined her mother. She spent her life worrying someone would steal it. She got stuck paying the tab every time someone invited her out for drinks. Friends and family depended on it, coveted it, resented it. But you couldn't just give it away because the wallet made you feel that without it, you were nothing. Emptying the wallet was a full-time job.

Insightful wisdom from What.

Dhuluma No More by Gord Sellar

The title means "injustice." The narrator is a filmer of documentaries, recording the wars and injustices of the world. During the wars in Africa, decades ago, he came to know Ngunu, then a child soldier. Now, with designer particulates pumped into the atmosphere, global warming has been halted, but also the African monsoons. Ngunu means to change the climate back by killing the Gulf Stream with a series of nuclear explosions, and he has brought along the narrator to document his actions.

"Trust me," he whispered into my ear. "This is the story of a lifetime."

An old reporter once told me that when someone promises you the story of a lifetime, you should refuse it, no questions asked. The story of a lifetime is almost always a horror, he said, reporting it taints you. Sometimes even just seeing it.

This one is a bit speechy, but the action speaks more loudly. Sellar not only illustrates the Law of Unintended Consequences at work, he casts the tale as a conflict between idealism and cynicism, between words and deeds.

Cat in the Rain by Jack Skillingstead

Daniel Porter is probably going crazy, but then, so is the whole world. Riots and violence everywhere.

Daniel's partner, Jimmy Bair, had a cousin who supposedly worked for the NSA. This cousin told Jimmy that, unknown to the public, alien satellites had appeared in high Earth orbit, and they were, as Bair put it, "Cloaked—you know, just like Star Trek. Sometimes they're there, and sometimes they're not there. For all we know they're shooting us with invisible Hate rays."

And the girl upstairs says the aliens are replacing the humans, taking anyone alone, without relationships to tie them to this world, even as much as a cat. But Daniel wants to be alone. He can't stand to be near other people. And he's allergic to cats.

This is a disturbing ambiguous fantasy that turns to not be so ambiguous after all. Even if you're crazy, they still may be out to get you.

Interzone, August 2008

Interzone 217, August 2008

An entertaining selection, rather lighter in tone than some other issues of this zine.

Africa by Karen Fisher

Long ago, aliens kicked all the humans off Earth and forbid them to set their polluting feet on any other planet. They then staffed an armed space station with a group of humans dedicated to enforcing their edict. But time has passed and the Guardians have died out, until there is only one very old man left—and his young clone, Tomeer. Tomeer has a particular fascination with watching the Earth below him, especially the continent of Africa—the cradle of his species. Tomeer is lonely, and when a human ship arrives at his station, carrying a young girl and her dying father, he is susceptible.

This is a simple, straightforward story of love and responsibility. Happily, the author spurns the obvious solution to the dilemma he sets for his characters. [. . . and they called the valley Eden.]

The Two-headed Girl by Paul G. Tremblay

The odd thing is not that Veronica has two heads—that would merely make this story science fiction, at the most. Nor is it the fact that her other head talks to her. The really odd thing is that the heads change into other people: Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Marie Curie, Medusa. Or perhaps this is only Veronica's imagination, fueled by the books she is always reading and the fact that Veronica has no real friends. She has problems getting along with her mother and wonders a lot why her father left them, the answer to which her mother will not tell her. A typical teenaged girl and her story.

The Ships Like Clouds, Risen by their Rain by Jason Sanford

Tem is the town weatherman on a very inexplicable world.

Imagine a mudball, packed tight by little kid hands. The hands continually pack mud onto the ball, but the ball never grows larger. Just endless mud, packing round and round, until you wonder where it all goes.

The clouds that come by are ships, and they drop not only rain, but earth, or fertilizer, or metals. Everything comes from the ships, and everything is buried by them; often there are disastrous floods, and people are washed away to drown, so that the weatherman is a hero when he warns the town. And sometimes people leave on the ships, to discover the mysteries of the universe. But what Tem discovers is the mystery of his own world.

A very strange and wonderful creation. I love the poetry of the title.


Concession Girl by Suzanne Palmer

On the Baselle station where Verah runs her hotdog stand, she is lucky to be free, unlike her friend Loo, the sewer girl. Verah gets a break when the Gnestsian ambassadors turn out to love her hotdogs and fries.

Entertaining light skiffy stuff with two spunky heroines.

Little Lost Robot by Paul McAuley

A superbad big space robot, bigger than an asteroid, smaller than a moon. A self-aware, heavily-armed killer machine on a mission of no return, seeking out the enemy wherever the enemy may be hiding and destroying every last trace of the motherfuckers. It's a midnight rambler.

But after wiping out all traces of life in this side of the galactic disc, it has run out of targets. Driven by its prime directive, it sends out radio telescopes to search for any signs of life elsewhere. But it is not prepared for what it encounters.

McAuley is clearly re-imagining the sort of autonomous killer machines epitomized by Saberhagen's Berserkers. But this encounter seems rather anticlimactic and lacking conflict, after all that has gone before.

Comus of Central Park by M.K. Hobson

In an attempt to one-up her obnoxious friend Magdalena Delancy, Pamela brings to one of her parties the faun that she discovers in Central Park. The faun is a great hit, but every party he attends turns into an orgy, until Pamela and Magdalena both confront their own deepest desires.

Farcical fantasy.

Strange Horizons, August 2008

A much more science fictional month of fiction than usual from SH.

Down the Well by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Well is a Time Well, with another unborn Earth at its bottom. After they had created it and the project was over, the scientists had no use for a barren world, so they let Dr. Constance Roya have it. A world of her own, to watch it evolve, entirely independent of the human Earth.

Bug-eyed fish with prehensile fins, meter-thick tree limbs with giant blue leaves for wings and purple fruit for retractable eyes, millipedes as long as my body and thicker than my torso, with each segment differentiated into a cascade of arms.

But now the bureaucrats have taken notice of the possibilities of Roya's world, and they want it back, for their own purposes. The narrator has been sent by his unnamed Sinister Agency to complete the necessary paperwork. But he is too susceptible to the wonders of alternate evolution.

What is improbable here is not the evolution, no matter how odd its wonders might seem, but the bureaucracy. It strikes me as unlikely that any project so important as this one must have been would simply be written off, and that any individual scientist would have had the personal resources to maintain it. The story is quite talky, with a great deal of emphasis on the narrator's existential backstory angst over the theological implications of evolution. Both characters come to understand each other rather more than the reader is allowed to understand either of them.

The Emerald King by J. Kenneth Sargeant

The narrator is addicted to a drug that makes him believe he is in the emerald land of Oz, on an important quest. The drug was apparently created by a vengeful mad genius to allow him to forget the painful truths of his life; the narrator likewise prefers the hallucinations of the drug to the painful truths of his own life.

This premise is highly improbable, the Oz metaphor is labored, and if it is stripped away it leaves only one more story of a person who prefers the world of drugs/fantasy to facing reality.

Sex with Ghosts by Sarah Kanning

Carla works as a receptionist at a sex-bot parlor where the robots are designed and programmed in imitation of actual persons. Carla herself is asexual, although the programmers often try to tempt her into desire with various attractive models of bot. But she is furious when she discovers that they have made a bot in her image—a mirror image. Yet at the same time she has to wonder how it would be to experience sexual pleasure and desire, even through a surrogate.

An intriguing premise, yet I don't think it sufficiently explores Carla's asexuality.

Clarkesworld, August 2008

Clarkesworld, August 2008

Is Clarkesworld expanding? Three stories this month! Ah, but one is a reprint. And they are all very short.

Blue Ink by Yoon Ha Lee

Jenny Chang is doing her physics homework when the blue woman appears, an incarnation of herself from another timeline. She has come to recruit Jenny for the battle at the end of the world because they share the same power, to walk through possibilities. Jenny the student is the last Jenny, the last chance. All the rest have refused, or died in the battle. But Jenny sees a possibility that the blue woman had not considered.

This very short science fantasy offers an freshly nightmarish glimpse of Armageddon, as Jenny's mind interprets what she sees as images from her own understanding.

Then she sees the fallen. Bone-deep, she knows which are ours and which are theirs. Ours are the rats with the clever metal hands, their fingers twisted beyond salvage; the sleek bicycles (bicycles!) with broken spokes, reflectors flashing crazily in the lightning; the men and women in coats the color of winter rain, red washing away from their wounds.

A nicely-done twist on one of science fiction's classic myths—the hero from another reality, recruited to save the world.


Tetris Dooms Itself by Meghan McCarron

The narrator plays real-life role-playing games. Her gaming companions kidnap her, shoot her, and cut off her hands; the blood seems to be real, but her hands grow back. There seems to be sex involved, of the kinky sort, but the games don't seem to be entirely sex games. The narrator appears to be growing tired of the games, or perhaps the fact that she always seems to lose them. She decides to change the game.

This is a disturbing story about the boundaries between reality and pretense, and the fragility of a shared pretense that depends on the will of all the parties to it. Reality is always out there, no matter how realistic you can make the game. The author is playing with some powerful epistemological assumptions, but in the end, what counts are the social relationships. Those remain the same. You still cannot escape from life into a fantasy world.

Everyone plays the same game. I'm not just talking about the trends that go around—cartwheel contests, speed eating, naked relay races. Those games are sham games, fakes for people with nothing better to do. But when you find a naked roommate giggling to herself outside your building for the fourth time in a month, and she's not even running with a baton, or running at all, it's more like a jog, you get suspicious. If you can play a sham game wrong and it still gets called a game, what the hell kind of system is this?

I think it might be more effective if the characters ever seemed to be having fun at what they do; they have obviously chosen for some reason to play these games, but I can't see why.

Fantasy Magazine, August 2008

Fantasy Magazine, August 2008

Some strong stories here this month.

Penguin and Wren by Christie Skipper Ritchotte

As a boy, Dale buys a magic kit, and his disabled sister Sonia begs to learn the magic, too. He eventually grows out of it, but for Sonia, magic becomes an obsession. Real magic.

This plot is unoriginal, leaving its merit to rest on its characterization&mdashthe developing interaction between the sibling characters—but it is too sketchy and hasty to succeed.

Gods of the Spiderhole by J. M. McDermott

Out behind the dumpsters at the edge of the San Diego strip malls, the illegal immigrants live in spiderholes and under cardboard, unnoticed by the suburban prosperity surrounding them. They have come from Mexico and they have brought their gods with them—gods who used to be at home in this place before the Anglos took it over. An anthropologist wants to study this community, but he sees what he can't understand.

In this piece of magic realism, the inexplicable rests comfortably alongside the mundane, with the juxtaposition remarkable only to the anthropologist. He is fascinated by the patterns made by the insects on the walls, the gods manifesting themselves, but the old man only wants to get drunk and talk about the marriage he has abandoned, the sort of mundane affair that might concern any man. The author effectively contrasts the two worlds: one without gods and one so familiar with the presence of its gods that it barely notices how remarkable it is.

The ants undid the tacks and adjusted the images. A green lawn mower pushed away all the women. Images of golden wheat—all from the photographs of magazines and the packaging trash that blew around from the open dumpsters and the road litter—images of food and corn and vegetables exploded on the walls.

The Things in the Box by Ursula Pflug

The protagonist's lover steals things from the Salvation Army box and sells them. He convinces her to take something from the box as well, for herself. This may or may not have triggered a series of psychotic episodes where she has hallucinations.

. . . the watch, it was suddenly obvious, was her soul. It was so obvious, in fact, that she wondered how she'd missed it up until now. Suddenly, and without prior notification, she also knew Grey was the devil. His face altered, seeming to reveal his true features which waited just beneath. The utter wickedness of these heretofore hidden features was, in fact, sickening. She stared, unable to remove her gaze, her heart pounding. Told herself her imagination was overheating in reaction to too many deadline filled days at work following sleepless nights at the speakeasy.

She hallucinates that her lover Fred is Jesus, and he proves her salvation, talking her through the episodes when they occur. He reads poetry to her throughout the night. Yet it is possible that it is Fred himself who causes her visions; it is possible that she is causing them in him. It is possible that it was the things they took from the box.

A surreal and ambiguous fantasy that hovers near the margin of insanity and reality, passing from one to the other, dwelling in both.


Gravity by Peter Higgins

Richard Carter's plane has been shot down by an ME 110, and he is falling.

Knowing himself about to die, Carter was laughing. He was high and mighty, alive and shouting with the fierce joy of flight. He loved it. The whole world was spread out below him, and he was free: free from people, free from rules, free from the need to make up his mind. He might have been the last man left alive in all the world. Only one rule applied still, but it was the big one. Gravity was coming to smack him, hard. Every attempted escape must be punished.

A capricious local divinity sees him fall, loves him for his joy, and saves him. A local farmwife finds him, brings him home, and Carter plans to give up the war and remain on the farm, rejoicing in his restoration to life. But Death has been robbed, and Death does not mean to be thwarted.

Higgins is a fine writer with a sure touch for mixing the mythic with the ordinary lives of memorable characters, in evocative prose.


Jim Baen's Universe, August 2008

Jim Baen's Universe, August 2008

A mix of weak stories with some stronger ones still makes for an unimpressive issue overall.

Discards by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Rosetta and Scorpion live on ReWork, the artificial world where the sixty-three other worlds discard their junk through some kind of matter-transport chutes. Naturally, the economy is based on salvage.

She could sell [the cleanbomb] to the Wreckers. They were always looking for ways to sabotage the Enclosed, the people who lived in the cities and worked at the recycling factories or the air and water plants and aped the ways of life on other planets. A cleanbomb could wreck something at Central Transport, or some kind of support system for the Enclosed, destroy a water purifying plant, a power plant, a library, a supply chute from another planet, or even the central computer system that ran the dumpchutes.

There isn't a particular plot to this story. It is a glimpse of human nature, revealed in the sort of things that people discard and the sort of things they choose to save.

Shopping Spree by Beth Bernobich

Rhonda visits the Better Marriage Prescription Corner online and places an order.

Rhonda shook with silent laughter at product names like PleaseAndThanks, AfterYou, and YesDear. The descriptions were even better. ClutterNix promised to turn your husband into a neater mate. Memor-eeze claimed he would never forget an important date, from back-to-school night to the tenth wedding anniversary. (Some patients require multiple doses. Do not use in combination with alcohol.)

Complications duly ensue when she discovers that her husband Tony also has an account there.

Amusing, though predictable.

Tribute by Todd McCaffrey

Seven years ago, when Annogi was three, her mother was killed in a freak accident at the space station where she was working. Annogi, owing to a lame device of the author, must remain in zero-g space, so she was adopted by Tanuro, head of station security. Annogi was a product of artificial insemination, so she has never known who her father was, but now she has hacked the station files to find out.

Images of her mother disturbed her. They were different from her memories. And all her happy memories were hidden behind the last frightening minutes of her time with her mother.

Everything about this piece is clumsy and lame. The prose. The plot. The awkward backstorying. The clichéd and affectless characters. The coincidences. The forced sentimentality. Everything..

The Super by Bud Sparhawk

A sea story. The title refers to the Vendee Globe sailing race [I don't know why the author has changed its name], a grueling and sometimes fatal solo circumnavigation of the Earth. Louella and Pascal are both sponsored by the corporation developing the habitat of Jupiter; if they win, they will have a chance to sail a race on Jupiter itself. But the risks are extreme, and Louella finds herself in trouble.

The wind was northerly, which allowed her to cut across the waves at a thirty-degree angle. It was a difficult tack. On each climb up the face of an onrushing wave Mistrial would heel dangerously to starboard just before cresting the wave. She could hear the whine of the ballast pumps as they filled the portside tanks to offset some of the heel. She heard the screams of the servos as they adjusted the mast to compensate for her attempts to correct. At times like this she felt Mistrial was alive, as living partner in the race, but even her help wasn't enough to make the ride comfortable. Louella had to keep the rudders hard over just to maintain her heading.

As the story begins, we find her boat capsized, while she clings to the keel with a hallucinatory orca nearby requesting the backstory.

I wish the orca hadn't asked, because the backstory is rather dull, involving financial negotiations with the sponsor and his tightwad son. The good part is the sailing, and Sparhawk handles this with sufficient authority to make for a rousing read. The only thing that really raises a moment of disbelief in my mind is the notion of a deepwater sailor afraid to go aloft. The science fictional element is minimal; the Jupiter development is something the characters speak about but we never encounter. For the most part, this story could take place today.


Dragon's Tooth by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tara is a retired troubleshooter for Abracadabra, Inc, now an owner of her own small magic shop and in Paris on a shopping trip. She does not expect to find a real dragon's tooth in a small curiosity shop. But there it is, endangering anyone who comes in contact with it.

Instead of answering him, she turned back to the relics, and continued studying the ivory dagger. Its surface was uneven, chipped slightly, and lined. Most ivory was smooth, even after hundreds of years, and it had not turned yellow at the base.

She peered into the hollow end and started. No one had removed a hilt. Instead, there appeared to be organic material inside, dried and molded to a hollow center that went halfway down the ivory itself. Not a dagger then.

A tooth.

What is worse is what she finds in the back room behind the shop, spells that the present owner has no way of controlling. Something must be done.

There is a point when this one could have gone either to the horror side or to the light fantasy side, but it takes the lighter path. The story is entertaining, but the character seemed to penetrate magical defenses without the difficulty that would have made it more interesting and raised the level of tension. The setting reminded me strongly of those cool Discovery Channel shows about exploring ancient tunnels and catacombs beneath European cities.

Twinkletoes by J.A. Howe

Fantasy baseball. Which is to say, the Red Sox vs. the fairies.

What was it about that game, I still wonder. The rocket Jack Glavine got in the eighth when the score was tied, and Loki was pitching curveballs that reminded me of Pedro in the old days? Those broken-bat pounders from Thor before the fight, that went everywhere except near a base?

OK, it's supposed to be humor. It's not supposed to make sense. But dammit, Thor and Loki aren't fairies, and a team with Thor, a vampire and Thistle the fairy just isn't right. I suppose this is me being cranky and pedantic again. Maybe it's because I'm not a baseball fan.

Letting Go by David Walton

The NSF contest winner, sponsored by Baen and the National Space Society. This one is based on a Neat Skiffy Idea:

Four hundred years ago, Robert Hooke proposed the perfect transportation system to Isaac Newton: a straight tunnel through the Earth from any two points on its surface. A frictionless sled dropped down the hole at one end would arrive at the other side forty-two minutes later with perfect conservation of energy. For Hooke and Newton, it was a thought experiment—a puzzle on which to apply the new laws of geometry and gravitation. On the Moon, however, with modern drilling techniques and no atmosphere to cause friction, their idea had become a reality. In a few months, when the train capsules were completed and put into service, a thousand pounds of helium-3 a day would be scooped up from the vast deposits around Farside and transported by gravity train to the near side.

The narrator is an engineer on the tunnel project, the climax of a career spent in space to the neglect of his wife and daughter, with the usual guilt complex about this. His daughter Rachel has now joined him on the project, choosing his life over her mother's. With the tunnel almost completed, Rachel is working inside it when there is an accident and she is trapped inside the shaft with only a limited supply of oxygen. Rescue ensues through the usual ingenuity of science fiction.

The neat part about this one is the tunnel. The familial guilt is the standard stuff grafted onto stories like this to provide an emotional resolution, but it doesn't substitute for real characterization.

Playing Nice with God's Bowling Ball by N.K. Jemison

A detective story.

"I didn't mean for anything to happen to Timmy." Jeffy Hanson sat before Grace in a chair big enough to swallow him, his head bowed and hands limp in his lap. "I told him not to feed it like that. I told him what would happen."

Jeffy had swapped Timmy a black hole for a trading card, and Timmy wasn't careful with it, like Jeffy told him to be. Now Timmy has been sucked inside, and Jeffy has gone to the police, worried that he is responsible.

With such a premise, this is a surprisingly unsilly story. Jeffy's suffering is serious, as is his mother's poverty, although it's harder to feel sorry for Timmy, as he does not seem to have been a very nice boy. And Grace the detective exhibits real compassion.

Quality of Life by Benjamin Crowell

The space station where Lee has been living is falling out of its orbit and has been hastily abandoned, but Lee remains behind—with Guillan-Barre syndrome, her quality of life is much better in space than on Earth, even if she dies there. But it seems that the asteroid believed to be approaching Earth is actually an alien spacecraft, and it is emitting dangerous radiation. It is also headed directly for the abandoned station. The authorities on Earth ask Lee to go EVA and detach the solar panels in order to slow the station's descent.

It was when they got to the final, big one that she ran into problems. She had to lift off an access plate, and the damn thing was in the most awkward possible location: in a cavity set into the hull, surrounded by radio doodads. She just wasn't flexible enough to thread her body into the cramped space, especially with the suit so rigid.

This one has a nicely-done character in Lee, but I find the premise a bit inexplicable. If the alien probe is uncrewed and on a trajectory to intercept the falling station, how will slowing the station's rate of fall change the probe's trajectory? And if the gamma radiation emitted from the probe is strong enough to harm Earth's population from space, surely it would fry Lee in the station long before that. One of us—the author or I—is confused.

Lone Star Stories, August 2008

Lone Star Stories 28, August 2008

This zine is one where the same contributors reappear often, although I don't recall Hal Duncan being here before. His contribution for this issue makes an excellent case for more frequent appearances of new names.

Remember the Allosaur by Jo Walton

The director has bad news for Cedric the Allosaur. But that's Show Biz.

You were an awesome Caliban. And you made Othello work, you really got that sense of alienation in, that sense that you were different and having trouble with knowing if people loved you for yourself because of that. Moor, allosaur, same difference really. Even the New York Times loved you.

The idea of this short-short is clever, but I'm not so sure that the second-person monologue is the best way of doing it.

Seeing Other People by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Gina is tired of always living with Stress. She wants to see other people. Shopping, for example. Stress scoffs at the notion—Gina would fall apart without her.

Another clever idea, and insightful as well. Hoffman handles the personifications with a deft touch in another very short piece.

A slender woman with coffee-colored clothes was sharing pastries with House Payment, and a frazzled-looking redhead with cat's-eye glasses was arm-wrestling with Deadlines. A very fat woman and her extra-large stress stared at a plate with one cookie on it, both of them miserable and wanting.

The Behold of the Eye by Hal Duncan

"The Behold of the Eye," Flashjack's laternal grandsister (adopted), Pebbleskip had told him, "is where the humans store the imagos of their appetencewhich is to say, all the things they prize most highly, having had their breath taken away by the glimmering glamour of it. Like a particular painting or sculpture, a treasure chest of gold and jewels, or a briefcase full of thousand-whatever notes, or the dream house seen in a magazine, a stunning vista seen on their travels, even other humans. Whatever catches their eye, you see, she'd said, is caught by the eye, stored there in the Behold, all of it building up over a person's lifetime to their own private hoard of wonders. The humans say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you know, but as usual they've got it arse-about; what they should be saying is something else entirely."

"Beauty is in the Behold of the Eye," Pebbleskip had said. "So that's where most of us faeries live these days."

Flashjack is a new faery, and he takes up residence in the Behold of a new human, Toby at nine months of age, as he is captivated by the image of a golden sun in a blue sky. Toby's Behold is at first full of pleasing wonders, but as he approaches adolescence, the nature of the imagos he stores reveal his sexual orientation towards other young males. His subsequent rejections, his torments at the hands of schoolmates, cause Toby to reject and then to destroy all the beauty and wonders that once gave his mind joy. Flashjack, in his inexperience, still does what he can to save his Beholder.

I have for some time admired Duncan's wordplay, and this one caught me with the charming introductory paragraph. While this particular story is, to my knowledge, not directly connected to his various series, it reflects his interest in the human psyche, the conscious and unconscious mind, and the function of archetypes.


electric velocipede #14, Spring 2008

electric velocipede #14, Spring 2008

I've liked what I've seen so far of this zine devoted to weird stuff, steampunk preferred. The issue at hand crams a lot of fiction into its hundred pages by means of tiny type, but it is relatively mundane this time; none of these stories actually lifted up my head and turned it around sideways, although a number are rather obscure. Most are quite short although this zine laudably publishes works at the novelette length, as well.

Hermit Crabs by Elissa Malcohn

An oversensitive girl named Mandy meets an outcast kid called Noah. They become soulmates and speak of moving on to other lives, like hermit crabs inhabiting new shells.

When Mandy died, her spirit would rise to the heavens and meld with the galaxies. She'd be cosmic dust whirling aimlessly, reborn as a planet under the pull of gravity. She would harbor life, inert to the petty squabbles and power trips of mortal beings. No pressure. No one to answer to. Just existence.

They form a suicide pact, but there are things about life and death they do not know.

A surprisingly positive fantasy in the end.

Waiting at the Window by Erzebet YellowBoy

A very old woman, who may already be dead, hides in her house away from the world and the afterworld, which arrives in the form she most fears.

Each moment is to her the only moment—she moves from present to past and back again.

Nicely written vignette.

Them by Michelle Scott

"They say." The protagonist of this tale works for They, disseminating what They Say. He has always been proud of his work, but now things have changed; They are starting to say what isn't true, disseminating propaganda.

A clever notion—who hasn't wondered who "They" are? Also a commentary on today's political climate.

The Last Tiger by Tracie McBride

A glimpse into the mind of a tiger. The military has cloned supersoldiers using animal genes, but the Greenies had the project shut down. One subject escapes into the wild and a scientist seeks to exploit her for his own gain.

Neat ending.

The Artificial Sunlight of Memory by D.E. Wasden

Household Nandroids on Mars are patterned after Impressionist painters. The narrator is a Dali, who cares for young Maddie. His partner is a Matisse, who cares for Melissa, two houses down the street. Matisse is overly proud of his origin and considers Dalis to be common. Both Nandroids are worried that other Nandroid models are being scrapped.

"I do dislike him, but I wouldn't want him to be reclaimated. Van Gogh and Goya were paired. Matisse and I are paired. They haven't come for the Dalis. Maybe they won't come for him." My logic tended to go a bit soft when I didn't want to hurt Maddie or disappoint her.

Interesting speculation on the nature of identity and humanity. The children keep trying to remake the Nandroids into real humans, as they are the primary human contact they have, although they appear to have been designed in a form that emphasizes their artificiality. Or perhaps not, as Nandroids sometimes escape. The author has been obscure about a number of points, which make it hard to get a very clear picture.

Sashenka Redux by Jennifer Pelland

When aliens invaded, Sashenka invented a plague to attack them. Now the clones of Sashenka are forced to work on a cure. If they fail, they die, and a next generation takes over the task. Sashenka wants to live.

A horror story.

Your Blood by Lesie Claire Walker

Tom breaks up with his girlfriend in a magic shop, which may or may not be the reason for what happens next. He meets a woman, makes love with her, and finds himself trapped in a Learning Experience, rather like Ebenezer Scrooge. It's possible that everyone could use such a traumatic lesson, but the problem is, it's hard to see why Tom in particular was in need of it, or how he was improved by it.

No Bubblewrap for Little Guys by Sara Saab

An encounter with death for the narrator and a child. Not a fantasy.

Bull by Sharon E. Woods

A cast bronze [I think] bull encounters a notable figure of the mid-nineteenth century, the eccentric suffragette Tennessee Claflin. The author provides a number of hints to help readers identify Claflin, but I can't help suspecting it is also necessary to identify the bull as well as the widow who sells it to her, in order to fully grasp the point of this one.

#1 by Leslie What

The narrator is a self-absorbed woman determined to resist the efforts of her half-sister to convince her to donate a kidney to her daughter. A study in selfishness.

Perfect Tense by Lisa Mantchev

The narrator comes back in time to warn her younger self not to become trapped into motherhood.

I know the stupid bitch didn't listen to me, because nothing had changed. My life (upon my return from the past) still consisted of a dusty house, a disobedient pack of shedding dogs, a teething child and an absent husband.

Amusing piece, notable for switching back and forth between present and past narrators.

Stepsister by Melissa Mead

A new twist on the Cinderella story, which has been twisted more times than I would want to count, but I haven't seen this variation before. The stepmother is still wicked, but it is her own daughters who suffer from it.

Mother thought we ought to be living in London, making calls, going to balls and parties, and meeting eligible young lordlets.

Black Gate #12, Summer 2008

Black Gate #12, Summer 2008

Black Gate began as a home for adventure fantasy, particularly longer stories, but I have lately been deploring its apparent transition to a venue for series Sword and Sorcery, with a worrisome reliance on a stable of Regulars. At the bottom line, however, what counts is good writing, and there are some strong examples of it here.

Oblivion is the Sweetest Wine by John R. Fultz

At first glance, this one has a promising S&S premise: a city that is home to a nest of giant spiders. Taizo of Narr has come to steal the spider venom, a poisonous intoxicant. Unfortunately, the promise is dashed at about the third sentence, when it becomes clear that the author's prose is so clumsy, clichéd and filled with malapropisms as to make it impossible to take the storyline seriously; it seems almost like self-parody.

Taizo had been walking the streets near the great temple a few days after entering the city, when an elephantine arachnid lumbered by, its back-born pagoda crowded full of purebloods on their way to a ceremonial banquet. Taizo withdrew, along with the streets crowd of busy peasants, to let the holy beast pass. Some irregularity in the cobblestones caused the humongous spider to shift its bulk abruptly, spilling Syyra from its overloaded back.

Not an auspicious beginning to the issue, nor is the editorial promise of more from this author.

Payment in Full by James Enge

Another in Enge's series about Morlock the Maker. Morlock has come to the city of Sarkunden with a crowd of extras from some previous episode, in search of a golem-master named Charis who is supposed to have information for him. However, Charis appears to have been replaced by a golem, and the message from him appears to have been a trap. Many plots, treacheries, adventures and escapes ensue.

I recall enjoying the first of this series quite a bit, primarily because Enge is a good writer. That is, it is not so much the series character of Morlock that makes this stuff worth reading, but the author's prose and his skill in creating characters. Indeed, it seems to me that this is not quite the same Morlock I recall from the original story. The problem here is one of episoditis—these events follow directly from the previous episode and depend greatly on the characters brought along from that episode, particularly the character of Fasra, the young girl who narrates. In fact, it is more Fasra's story than Morlock's. For a reader unacquainted with what has gone before in this series, it is rather disconcerting, even with all the catching-up that Fasra gives us. This is definitely a case in which, while the story is still a good enough read as part of a series, I find myself wishing for a more self-contained tale.

Houses of the Dead by Martha Wells

More of the Giliaed and Ilias series, an episode from the beginning of the career of the curse-hunter and his sidekick. Giliead has been summoned to a godless part of the country to investigate the supernatural disappearance of an entire settlement full of miners. Not only were the miners so foolish as to settle in a place unprotected by any god, the place is infested with guls [ghouls, not birds]. Even worse, the miners apparently punished their criminals by staking them out for the guls to devour. In short, they clearly invited their fate, but Giliead can discover no signs of a curse in the deserted settlement, until a ghost tells them the answer.

This series, with its peculiar theology, is one I never really cared for, and I've never warmed to its characters, but I found this episode to be an intriguing mystery, and Giliead making a good arcane detective.

The Wily Thing by Constance Cooper

Yonie and her cat LaRue make a meager living as Seers in one of the cheaper districts of Wicked Ford. Actually LaRue is the Seer, having been nearly drowned as a kitten. It is prolonged contact with the waters that make an object or a person guileful. Now a fisherman has brought Yonie an object, a ship's gong taken from a wrecked vessel, that has some very dangerous wiles, but the fisherman has disappeared before she can warn him about it—and be paid.

An absolute delight. The setting is fascinating and original, every detail crafted in prose with real charm.

Now the Petty [Canal] could be scenic, up in the high side of town where it slid between steep flowered banks, and the ladies clustered like petals around dainty café tables. The petty could bustle, down near the High Road by the inns and the water market. But where Yonie lived it was not lovely or lively. Dry land never showed even in the midst of summer, and the rickety buildings roosted up on wooden pilings that would have rotted long since but for the water's high concentration of guile.

RECOMMENDED, even if it is likely to become Yet Another series.

The Soldiers of Serenity by Todd McAulty

A Deal with the Devil story. Christopher McNamara is a salesman fighting for his survival on the corporate battleground. The CEO is looking to make big cuts, and Chris's project is headed for the chopping block. Complicating matters, it seems that he might have died this morning on the way in to work, and the devil and the opposition are both making offers for his soul. The devil is pretty confident. The devil is a salesman, too.

I was getting an appreciation for why my buddy Parker was so confident I'd be wearing his team jersey by the end of the day. And as much as I felt a certain professional kinship with him, I had few doubts about which side he worked for. Parker could spin his firm's reputation anyway he liked, could paper over the difference with his competition with a lot of language about "differing philosophies," but at the end of the day, he took the elevator to the bottom floor.

While McAulty is a regular contributor to this zine, this story is an independent work and one of the standouts of the issue as well as the longest piece. The corporate wars are as fraught as any swordfight in the warrens of a sorcerous dungeon, and Parker is devilishly well done. But above all we have the character of Christopher on his day of decision.

Was I a good person? What was a good person? At the moment I hadn't a clue, but I knew the fact that I couldn't even formulate an answer didn't bode well.


Knives Under the Spring Moon by Ed Carmien

Kris the outrider is flushed with success after the last episode of this series when her enemies within her tribe of Windriders were killed or exiled. Now she is ready to celebrate when the tribe is raided by Riders looking for women. Kris is captured, but she chooses to fight instead of submitting to rape by her enemy Slew, who has joined the raiders.

I didn't think much of the first episode in this secondary world series, and I see no reason here to change my opinion. There isn't really much to the story without the previous one; both characters and action are pretty shallow.

Whispers from the Stone by Howard Andrew Jonas

Another episode in this S&S series, this one where swordsman Dabir and scholar Asim first meet. They are both on an expedition that Jafar, the vizier's son, has made to the ruins of ancient Ashur. A Greek has promised that there is treasure to be found, but Asim discovers signs of sorcery that make him suspicious. Sure enough, it seems that the Greek has made a sorcerous bargain with an ancient Assyrian king.

Typical S&S fare, heavy on the sorcery, that does not seem to be particularly informed by the historical setting. The characters are more flat than in previous episodes featuring them.

Copyright © 2008, 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.


Sep 2, 05:33 by IROSF
Post your thoughts about the reviews or the fiction itself.

The review can be found here.
Sep 2, 16:53 by Nancy Beck
Just wanted to alert you that the story in Fantasy Magazine, The Things in the Box, doesn't have a byline.

As always, very interesting reviews. Thanks for doing them. :-)

Sep 2, 17:56 by Lois Tilton
ooops - it should be Ursula Pflug
Sep 2, 18:36 by Bluejack
Fixed :) Tx!
Sep 2, 19:57 by Sam Hamm
Speaking of lazy editors: what you're describing is a "stable" of writers, not a "staple" of writers.
Sep 3, 01:31 by Marti McKenna
Ah, yes, we're all very lazy around here.
Sep 3, 15:49 by Eric Marin
*waves a lazy hello*
Sep 4, 15:55 by Bridget McKenna
Wait a minute, you guys put out a monthly magazine full of essays, features, editorials and reviews, mostly using volunteer labor from people with families and day-jobs, and you allow ERRORS?

That's it. Cancel my sub. I'm through with you. I'm so OVER this lazy-ass mag.



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