Fantasy & Science Fiction

October/November 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 111, No. 4 & 5
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 242

This fall giant issue has a rare editorial by Gordon van Gelder, looking back briefly on his time as editor. I was glad to see that. I like editorials in magazines, even if (as with Sheila Williams in Asimov's) they don't have a lot to say. The non-fiction parts of this issue were otherwise unremarkable (I've heard the story of electricity too many times before) except for Elizabeth Hand's book column. It's devoted entirely, and deservingly so, to the recent biography of James Tiptree, Jr. It's a fantastic book.

As for the fiction, the novella was a bit disappointing, but an excellent novelette from Geoff Ryman more than makes up for that.

"Revelation" by Albert E. Cowdrey: The patient of a psychologist friend of an English professor turns up in his creative writing seminar, convinced that the world is an egg for a baby dragon and trying to deal with this obsession by writing. The same class features a sharply-focused black writer who brilliantly captures an image of the inner city. Neither of these people are quite what they seem, and the story turns into a wryly humorous look at truth and imagination. I expected the ending, but Cowdrey still worked up to it in a satisfying and entertaining fashion. (7)

"El Regalo" by Peter S. Beagle: The kid brother of the twelve-year-old female viewpoint character is apparently a witch. He keeps it quiet and she and their housekeeper are the only ones who know. It doesn't do much to improve a stereotypically contentious sibling relationship (rather too stereotypical — I got tired of the cliches and pointless conflict) until Angie sends a love letter that she doesn't want to and her brother volunteers to get it back. That gets them both in quite a bit of magical trouble.

The setup wasn't bad, but the character dynamics were annoying and I didn't like the direction Beagle went with the ending. I came away unsatisfied and not much caring about the characters. (6)

"Killers" by Carol Emshwiller: This is a short, tight story about a world destroyed by global warming and constant war, packing some pointed and ironic observations about war and ideology into a small town horror story with a post-apocalyptic twist. The ending has a nasty sting, full of the darkness of human nature. (6)

"Abandon the Ruins" by Charles Coleman Finlay: I'm just not a fan of Finlay's style or his subject material. This is another story of Maggot, the human raised as a troll, and his adventures in a vague medieval setting. Apparently there's a novel about this world as well. The story, like the other Maggot story I read, is full of straightforward narration, action, and matter-of-fact description that clunks in my ear. I can't put my finger on what bothers me about it, but Finlay's prose style isn't up to holding my interest. Combine that with not particularly liking Maggot and not finding troll culture amusing (as I think it's meant to be) and despite a not-bad adventure plot, I didn't care much about this one. (4)

"...With/By Good Intentions" by Carrie Richerson: As advertised in the introduction, this is pure tall tale about a paving job with some truly spectacular hazards. It's a shaggy dog story whose punch line I saw coming a mile off, but Richerson pulls it off with flare and I found it funny all the way through. A good laugh, and a nice twist on the deal with the devil concept. (The actual title has "With" crossed out.) (8)

"Pop Squad" by Paolo Bacigalupi: Stories about population control don't get much darker than this. The first-person narrator is a cop responsible for tracking down those who have gone off of the rejuvination treatments that also prevent fertility and killing their children. Bacigalupi has a talent for world-building in short fiction and it shines here. A hint, a quick description, an emotional reaction, and the world forms behind the story. He does a great job portraying the disgust and revultion the narrator feels towards children, breeding, and dying in a world where the first two are inextricably linked to the third and where dying is entirely unnecessary. There is the predictable emotional transformation at the end of the story, which I thought was a bit pat, but the atmosphere was excellent. Horribly dark, though. (7)

"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)" by Geoff Ryman: This is an exceptional story, the best one of the issue. It is, as the title says, about Pol Pot's daughter, her life in the bizarre fantasyland of the rich in Cambodia, and about ghosts. It's about a love affair, and about trying to come to terms not just with the past but with human contact and all the emotions and realism that they bring.

If this story has a flaw, it's that it's an idealized story of healing and reaching across class divides in a way that alas rarely happens or has any opportunity to happen. But within that structure, it's a fascinating portrait of class distinction and the human propensity for ignoring or pushing responsibility for the past off on other people. Ryman's narrative voice strikes just the right touch, taking a light-hearted and amusing tone that matches the attitude the viewpoint character tries to take to her whole life, letting the contrast of what has truly happened stand on its own without belaboring or excessive drama. Despite an ending that's a bit too easy emotionally, this deserves a Hugo nomination. (9)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-01-17

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