Fantasy & Science Fiction

September 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 111, No. 3
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This is an unusual issue in several respects. The fiction I'll get to in a moment, but far and away the highlight is that it contains a reprinting of fairly substantial excerpts from the letters between Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree, Jr. (neé Alice Sheldon), edited by Julie Phillips.

If you've read my previous review, you'll know that I thought Phillips's biography James Tiptree, Jr. was probably the best SF-related non-fiction book of the year. For those who have read it and feel the way that I do, who have come away from it with a fascination with Alice Sheldon, these letters are a pure delight. Phillips included many short quotes in the biography, but nothing this substantial or complete. The letters are still edited for length, but they include more of the marginal drawings, ramblings, and minutia than could be included in the biography.

I'm not sure what people who have not read the biography will make of them. My enjoyment was greatly hightened by having that background context. If you have read the biography, though, seek this issue out; this is fantastic supplemental material.

The other oddity to this issue is a challenge by Harlan Ellison (delivered in an introduction in his typical inimitable, arrogant, and obnoxious fashion). Apparently he came up with a story idea that he couldn't turn into a story and wants to see what other people would make of it. The resulting stories are okay, although I thought only one really captured the feeling of the idea.

The one other notable bit for this issue is that Michelle West reviews Vellum. The more exposure that excellent book receives, the better.

"Señora Suerte" by Tananarive Due: This is the first of the stories inspired by Ellison's seed of Lady Luck and a loser who's fascinated by her. Due takes the unexpected direction of setting it in a nursing home and making the story about bingo. It's not ineffective emotionally, but the story has a feeling of futility about it from the start and even though the first-person narrator moves away from that feeling, I didn't as a reader. Instead, it just felt like he was slowly duped, but that his attitude at the start of the story was still accurate. As a result, the story mostly struck me as depressing. (6)

"The Return of the O'Farrissey" by John Morressy: No matter what he's writing, Morressy seems to do best at flippant, world-wise characters who don't take anything seriously and who treat life like a not-too-serious lark. Accordingly, I like his writing best when that mood fits the story, as it does here. The vagabond father of a wizard's apprentice (who has also become his housekeeper) turns up again, having left the elven court he wandered off with but not having learned any more reliability than he ever had. He wants to take his daughter off again; the wizard and the daughter's fairy godmother take exception, while the daughter is torn between loyalties. Under the light surface, Morressy manages some real emotional depth. I think this is my favorite of the short stories of his that I've read (unfortunately, he just recently died). (7)

"The Song of Kido" by Matthew Corradi: A man haunted by his dreams and his military service interrogating dead souls journeys through the backwaters of an alien world looking for the kigrin, a beast that can remove his curse. Told as a sort of hunting story with intermingled flashbacks at first, it becomes an emotional exploration of despair, suicide, and the afterlife, and several times Corradi surprised me with a change in direction. I found it tedious in places, particularly the long setup, but despite the perils of writing a serious story about the afterlife directly, I found the ambiguous ending satisfying. Part of the fun is figuring out just what the main character is really after, although I think I would have both gotten more out of the story and enjoyed it more if I'd liked him better. (6)

"Poor Guy" by Michael Kandel: The second and, I think, least successful of the stories from Ellison's seed, this one is told as a didactic religious fable about a Brother Anselm in an unnamed order. There isn't much substance, just the bones of a story of someone with horrible karma who gets tangled up with the goddess of luck. It starts with a statement that no one knows what their life is for and then shows it with a story with no clear direction. The one feature is a decent sense of humor, but it didn't carry the story for me. (5)

"Perfect Stranger" by Amy Sterling Casil: This is one of the most haunting stories about genetic engineering that I've read. It starts with a man standing alone and looking out the window of an overprotective house that keeps trying to change things to make life perfect for him, a motif that's carried through the rest of the story as he tells the reader about the life of his son. This is a story about the perils of having things too easy, of fixing everything rather than living through it, of seeing challenges as reasons to become someone else. It's a dark story with a dark ending but a well-delivered point. (7)

"If You've Ever Been a Lady" by Michael Libling: The last and far and away my favorite of the stories done off of Ellison's idea, it's the only one that sticks with the core of his concept. It's set in a casino, a complete loser runs into Lady Luck, and he becomes completely infatuated with her and won't leave her alone. It's humorous and sad at the same time, and while the hero is eye-rollingly dim, his pure oblivious persistance achieves a sort of distinction of its own. I had to root for him by the end, and the ending twist definitely brought a smile. (7)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-12-16

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