Fantasy & Science Fiction

January 2007

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 112, No. 1
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This was a generally uninspiring issue. There are a variety of competent stories, none of which failed but none of which grabbed me. Charles de Lint's book column was average, although he did cover The Tough Guide to Fantasyland in depth. That's commonly mentioned in SF reviews, but rarely gets a full review.

John Kessel's book review column was a disappointment. I'm getting very tired of the constant slipstream discussion. Yes, there are stories that blend SF elements with mainstream fiction. Yes, there are stories that cut across genre lines. Yes, this is all very interesting and some people think it's just fantastic stuff. I'm much more interested in hearing about good stories, of whatever genre, and focusing on how slippery the streams are doesn't tell me whether it's a good story.

"The Darkness Between" by Jeremy Minton: This story is a good exemplar of the issue. Minton creates a strong setting of claustrophobia and physical space in this story of trapped explorers menaced by strange underground monsters. The character development is less convincing. There are too many stereotypical pseudo-tribal tough guys and the reveal of the true identity of the wizard, when it comes, wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be. What starts out with echoes of Gene Wolfe becomes pedestrian and disconnected from the emotions of the introduction, and I thought the story fizzled. (6)

"The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold" by David Gerrold: Gerrold can be counted on to do something strange, and this is no exception. This story pretends to be a letter to the editor, telling of Gerrold's adventures in remote parts of Northern California, his encounter with hunters on a private preserve, and his discovery of a mythical human-like wild creature fleeing the hunters. The setup is amusing (and gains something for me by retracing a path that I have driven many times). Gerrold does a good job with description and with snide comments about homophobia. That doesn't entirely make up for a lack of plot and, in the end, very little of substance in the story. (6)

"Kiosk" by Bruce Sterling: This will probably be the consensus choice for best story of the issue. Your opinion of it will likely depend heavily on your feelings about a certain type of cyberpunk story. This one opens with a street vendor with an intuitive sense for capitalism who uses a fabricator (sort of an ad hoc plastic modeler) to draw attention and more customers. His entire kiosk is bought out by a government study group, leading through shady connections to his purchase of a new fabricator that makes things out of indestructable carbon. From there, the economy is undermined, paradigms shift, and governments fall.

Some people love this sort of stories; some people find them way too precious. I tend to fall into the latter camp. The supposed analysis of market economies strikes me as random spewing of buzzwords. The author's sense of irony and understanding of the economic foundations of society strikes me as an affected sort of bragging. I never get the feeling that Sterling really knows any more about capitalism or technological change than I do; he's just more brazen about proclaiming his understanding as true, or at least ironically insightful. There's probably some subtle point about gift economies at the end that I just missed because more fundamentally I just don't care. Those who do, enjoy; Sterling does have a gift for description and entertaining caricatures. (6)

"The Dark Boy" by Marta Randall: A woman goes to Mexico for a whale-watching tour after the death of her lover and is harassed by a local boy who then demonstrates a surprising power. This is emotionally affecting and changes her life. Er, okay. It's not really that bad of a story, and I can see how the emotional pieces fit together if I squint, but it requires filling in quite a bit. My guess is that this story is going to speak deeply to a few people for whom it hits the right emotional chords and leave others, like me, wondering why the character reacted so strongly. (5)

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman: This is my choice for the best story of the issue. The conceit is straightforward once you realize what's going on, but Gaiman plays the straightfaced narrator so wonderfully well that he successfully conveys the collision of the mundane and the numinous and then leaves them walking off in retained mutual incomprehension. Only the reader and one supporting character are in the right spot to understand what really happened, and Gaiman skillfully leaves the impression that encounters like this could be happening all the time. It's a lovely effect that manages to overcome my pure dislike of all stories about teenage romantic angst, which is saying something. (7)

"X-Country" by Robert Reed: Cross-country running is the topic for another encounter between the numinous and the mundane, except this time the numinous is much less well-motivated. There is a typical Reed twist at the end of the story, but it doesn't seem to me to follow logically from the rest of the story and thereby loses a lot of power. Chances are there's some reference here that just wooshed over my head, but without that connection the story was okay but not memorable. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-03-20

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