Fantasy & Science Fiction

April 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 110, No. 4
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This issue had a larger than normal number of longer stories, and therefore fewer than most. As much as I like to see more of a market for longer short stories, it does have the drawback that unless the longer stories grab me, the issue as a whole suffers more. One of them was good; the other two mostly left me cold, leaving the whole issue a bit below average. The non-fiction parts were about normal — nothing exceptional, nothing horrible. Although I really could have done without yet another explanation of relativity. Are there really SF readers who haven't heard this dozens of times before? If there are, they should read Brian Greene's excellent The Elegant Universe, which covers the same material but far more compellingly.

"Gardening at Night" by Daryl Gregory: I like the idea of a story about problem-solving robots that rely on emergent behavior through training of genetic algorithms, although this is an area where I may know too much about the underlying technology to appreciate the generalizations that a science fiction treatment brings. (Chances are, genetic algorithm breeding as described here wouldn't work well enough for this purpose. But hey, it's fiction.) The debugging problem setup was also intriguing. Unfortunately, the resolution did nothing for me. I can see where the author was trying to set up an emotional resonance and reaction, and it just didn't work. The outcome felt futile. (5)

"iKlawa" by Donald Mead: I'm not a fan of the retelling of history with a few fantasy elements unless the author is remarkably good at capturing characters and emotions. This one at least doesn't suffer from the most common problem — getting lost in a maze of historic detail that I just don't care about — but the point of the story seems to be its connection with history and counting parallels. Apart from that, it's a fantasy about a few warring types of fairly hideous tribal magic, none of which change the basic facts of the situation. Combine that with unmemorable characters doing unpleasant things to other unmemorable characters and I never found anything here to get interested in. (4)

"Starbuck" by Robert Reed: Here's another sub-genre that usually doesn't do anything for me: the sports SF story. In this case, though, it works. The SF element comes from an extrapolation of the current steroid business in baseball. Reed in his typical fashion adds a sardonic twist on how a pitcher could thrive in that environment, and while the observation behind that twist ending isn't anything new, I quite enjoyed the execution. (7)

"Cold War" by Bruce McAllister: Uh... so instruments that detect Sputnik also detect something else, and isn't that scary? I think I needed some more content in this story. It's clearly an idea piece, but the idea is only half-stated and so clearly counterfactual that I didn't get the point of presenting it. It didn't seem to go anywhere. (4)

"The Moment of Joy Before" by Claudia O'Keefe: O'Keefe is proving herself to be a reliable favorite. This is the third story of hers that I've read in F&SF and the second that I considered the highlight of the issue. That's a pretty good track record.

This story is once again set in rural eastern places, this time at the onset of a nationwide plague. It's the story of a mother trying to protect her daughter and her own mother, trying to make her way as best she can in a place that doesn't feel like home, and trying to understand the strange visits she has with a man she can't remember afterwards. The onset and course of the plague build a mingled sense of horror and unreality that I found quite effective and set up an ending that I wasn't expecting at all, one that recasts everything that came before it in a different light. It's slow in places in the middle, and I could have done with a bit more explanation, but overall well done. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-08-28

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