Fantasy & Science Fiction

December 2005

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 109, No. 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

The James Sallis book review column this month was particularly good, I thought, although that's partly because I was already interested in all of the reviewed books. Lucius Shephard's panning of The War of the Worlds was also rather amusing. The stories, unfotunately, are a mixed bag and mostly an uninspiring one, although there are no bad clunkers. Geoff Ryman is, unsurprisingly, the highlight of the issue.

"Walpurgis Afternoon" by Delia Sherman: A light-hearted fantasy about two new neighbors mysteriously appearing in a high-class historic neighborhood, complete with a new house, overnight. The slightly snarky tone of petty day-to-dayness with which the narrator reacts is the most memorable part of the story. It turns into a rather neat portrayal of magic and witchcraft, the good sort. Surprisingly fun. (7)

"Poppies by Moonlight" by Sydney J. Van Scyoc: Another story about the fantastic intruding on everyday situations, although this time it's the down-and-out brother of a tax accountant who feels obligated to try to clean up his life. This time, though, his life is already surprisingly good, much to her surprise. She's even more surprised when she discovers who's sharing it. The story never achieved a lot of depth (not helped by using a somewhat overdone idea), but the descriptions and settings were well-written. (6)

"An Incident at the Luncheon of the Boating Party" by Allen M. Steele: If I knew more or cared more about painting and the history of painting, this one would probably have meant more to me. A time traveller ends up posing for a painting, without intending to. That's the full story; the punch line is obvious from the start. Not badly written, just not something that interested me. (5)

"The Cure" by Robert Reed: As neat as the idea of meta-fiction about the publishing industry sounds (and once upon a time, it sounded like a great idea to me too), it too often ends up being a bit self-indulgent. Reed is a good enough writer that this one isn't too bad, but I'm not particularly thrilled by another exploration of the idea that cynical literature and movies rob people of their caring and trust. Reed adds a twist to the end, but it's one that I saw coming some distance away. Not really worth it. (5)

"When the Great Days Came" by Gardner Dozois: It's a story about a rat. It is amusing mostly because it really is a story about a rat, not about a super-rat or an altered rat or an unusual rat. Just a rat, a short portrait of a few hours of rat life. Not memorable, but cute. (6)

"The Last Akialoa" by Alan Dean Foster: A pure adventure story of the old type, following a band of intrepid explorers in a strange, foreign land. In this case, the foreign land in question is a swamp high on a Hawaiian volcano, a real place and a particularly strange one. Beyond that, it doesn't stray from the adventure mold; even the ending, which I was hoping would have a bit more flair, broke no new ground. Eh, but I'm not a huge adventure story fan. (5)

"Cannibal Farm" by Ron Goulart: Apparently Odd Jobs, Inc. are frequently reused characters, although I don't really get the appeal. This read like a parody of Bond-style spy stories crossed with private detectives, but it was so cliched and self-aware at the same time that I never settled into the story. The whole thing felt extremely artificial. No real risk, no real suspense, and the jokes weren't as funny as the author intended them to be. Not my thing. (4)

"The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai" by Geoff Ryman: This is a hard story to categorize beyond "I liked it." At the start, it seemed like it was going to be a parody of an Eastern hero story, and there is some of that. But the stereotyped world background gains more and more complications as the hero attempts to save it, growing realistic complexities and the sort of trouble that happens in the real world without "happily ever after" endings. The result is a story about the end of heroism in a way, yet the maxims about heroism still work in a twisted sense. Thoughtful and interesting. I may read this one again some time. (8)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-03-27

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