Fantasy & Science Fiction

December 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 111, No. 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

Nothing particularly notable in the non-fiction this month, and the fiction largely featured endings that escaped me, struck me oddly, or didn't feel like they resolved the story. A bit frustrating, that, but at least the stories had interesting setups.

"Bye the Rules" by Matthew Hughes: Lack of satisfying resolution is a common problem with the Guth Bandar stories for me, and this was no exception. Hughes ends the basic plot and resolves the initial conflict, but these stories rarely feel like they have a conceptual resolution. Given that they're all about manipulation of archetypes, this is odd. I like the recasting of the story through running commentary on the archetypes involved, and Hughes has a dry, understated style that makes for good casual reading, but I wish this overall plot about the collective unconscious would go somewhere faster. (6)

"The Christmas Witch" by M. Rickert: The best part of this story is the way it alienates an apparently normal life by recasting it through the eyes of a child touched by a bit of magic. It's a dark, frustrating tale of failed communication and failed understanding. It's never quite clear whether Rachel really does have some magic or whether she's delusional. The ambiguity adds strength to the story; everything is quite logical, if frustrating and strange, from Rachel's perspective, but the adults have a completely different take which might also be plausible. Unfortunately, it doesn't so much end as trail off after introducing the most obnoxious character of the story and showing her in an apparently good light. It's likely I missed something completely, but I think this could have been a much better story with a stronger, or at least more obvious, resolution. (5)

"Dazzle the Pundit" by Scott Bradfield: It's hard not to like the setup of an intelligent dog invited to guest-lecture, on philosophy, at a German university. Particularly a self-effacing and not particularly academic dog who has no answers for a student obsessed with German philosophy. There's not much to the story besides the setup, and this one too had a bit of a weak ending, I think (although the philosophical moral is valid), but it was entertaining. (6)

"Damascus" by Daryl Gregory: The strongest story of the issue, this is another dark one, even more so than "The Christmas Witch" because it's so plausible. A woman falls in with a group of strongly religious local women who help her with her daughter, but whose behavior is deeply baffling and occasionally scary. Until, that is, she's initiated, with a truly nasty twist (although I saw it coming a bit in advance). Then the story becomes a very disturbing portrayal of the boundary between medicine and religious faith. It's readable as a parody of (or an attack on) religion, but I think it's better read as a tale of just how fragile the boundary is between body and thought and just how scarily subject we are to the whims of biology and disease even in those things that we think make us the most human. I wasn't fond of the ending twist; I think Gregory left the reader too much of an out, too much opportunity for a tragic but happy ending in a situation that wouldn't have that emotional cleanliness. But the rest of the story is excellent. Not something to read if you want to be cheered up, though. (7)

"Pills Forever" by Robert Reed: This is a type of medical life extension I can see happening. It's not magical future rejuvination technology; it's an extension of current health fads, involving lots of work, lots of vitamins, and the devotion of an ever-increasing amount of time to personal care. Reed explores that sort of increased longevity both through the eyes of the narrator and through that narrator's cat, who he is similarly trying to keep alive long past its natural span. The ending twist of the fight against mortality explores the same instinct as cryogenic advocates, but from a more realistic perspective. A workman-like idea story on human obsessions. (6)

"John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" by Susanna Clarke: This is a short story (taken from Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories) set earlier in the same universe as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (it even elaborates on a footnote). In tone, though, it's not much like Clarke's novel. It's a more straightforward fairy tale, a variation on the old story of the proud being brought low after blundering through the life of a simple but honorable person. A good story, but it was a bit disappointing not to have any rambling footnotes or Victorian atmosphere. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-02-09

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04