Fantasy & Science Fiction

May 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 110, No. 5
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This issue felt like a good example of the typical F&SF. There are fantastic or scientific (but mostly fantastic) settings, used almost entirely as background for characters and themes rather than for their own sake. There were a lot of strange twists on characters, unexpected motivations, and stories of people becoming something different, transforming in ways that may or may not be good. Sometimes it works; in this issue, unfortunately, it rarely worked strongly.

The Elizabeth Hand book column is good as always, this time featuring an excellent review of Counting Heads. I liked the political satire of the Paul De Filippo piece, and Kathi Maio hit on many of the problems that I saw with the Serenity movie.

"A Herd of Opportunity" by Matthew Hughes: This is one of Hughes's Guth Bandar stories about the noösphere. They're not, in general, quite as good as Hughes's other stories, but I think this is my favorite of the ones I've read so far. The collision of archetypes between humans and aliens is a solid idea for the story, and while the resolution is pat SF, the story arc felt more coherent than some of the other Bandar stories. (6)

"Bea and Her Bird Brother" by Gene Wolfe: A dying man tells her daughter the true story of her birth, a fantastic story of another world that first she thinks is ravings. Wolfe does a great job of showing the emotion of an explorer in another world in a very few worlds. The story is light, but a good entry in the sub-genre of expanding the horizons of characters and showing them they live in a larger world with stranger things in it than they ever expected. (6)

"Passing Through" by Charles Coleman Finlay: This is set on Little Limestone Island in the Great Lakes, apparently a setting for other Finlay stories. It's a ghost story, and like many ghost stories is about hidden and suppressed pasts forcing their way to the surface. I was a touch disappointed in the reveal just because it was not at all fantastic, even if believable. The ghost here is just a plot device to force a character to confront her past. I think it would be an even stronger story if written as a pure mainstream story without the fantasy plot device. (5)

"Show Me Yours" by Robert Reed: Like many of Reed's stories, this one has a nasty twist at the end, turning a bizarre seduction into something much darker. The story left me feeling like I saw a particularly sordid section of someone lowering themselves to another's level of depravity. I never liked any of the people involved. The story does work nicely on two levels, but it wasn't an idea I wanted to read about. (4)

"Diluvium" by Steven Utley: This is another of Utley's stories of time travel to the early days of earth for archeological discovery, and like another of his I've read it features one of the crazies exploring the past for their own reasons. This time, it's a young-earth believer who is trying to find evidence that the distant past is actually slightly after the Flood. The idea and conflict setup weren't bad at all, but then, oddly, nothing happened and the story ended. Very strange. The hand-waving explanation has a nice little barb about people living in their own world, but it still doesn't make this much of a story. (5)

"Billy and the Fairy" by Terry Bisson: This time, Billy discovers a very sarcastic fairy in his room. A fairy who doesn't wear pants. The hook of the story is the surreality of Billy's matter-of-fact reactions played against his parents lack of belief in anything he's talking about and assumption that he's kidding or making things up. The story has a surprisingly dark twist, and then an odd ending that I didn't quite buy. (6)

"Imitation of Life" by Albert E. Cowdrey: In a far future world that has abandoned cities after chaos and destruction and population loss and formed a network of small villages and a style of life that's reminiscent of the 19th century (but with modern improvements, like companion robots), a respectable woman shelters a would-be activist from a mob. This turns into a romance and a comedy of manners as he pretends to be a companion robot so that no one will suspect her of hiding him. The tone is occasionally charming, but the story doesn't really go anywhere. (5)

"Journey into the Kingdom" by M. Rickert: This is the strongest story of the issue. A man reads a story that accompanies a painting in a store, a strange story about ghosts, an isolated lighthouse, and giving one's breath to give a ghost life. He becomes obsessed with the story and the waitress who wrote it, wondering whether it's true. Rickert does a wonderful job keeping the story ambiguous, shifting the rug under the reader each time one things they understand what's going on. The ending was both surprising and fitting. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-09-09

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