Fantasy & Science Fiction

March 2007

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 112, No. 3
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

Much of this issue was devoted to the second half of The Helper and His Hero. While it was more engaging than the first half, I would have preferred more room for other things (particularly given that this issue features another story in a Hughes-like tone). The rest of the fiction was notably good, though, as were the non-fiction entries this issue. Charles de Lint does, I think, an excellent job covering the pitfalls of series tie-ins while reviewing two Buffy books, the sort of thing that gets little play from mainstream reviewers. And I quite liked Kathi Maio's review of two movies about stage magic.

"Dance of Shadows" by Fred Chappell: Chappell here writes in a style crossing Hughes's dry irony and detailed descriptions of the idle rich with a tag team of physical muscle and mental detective that reminded me of Max Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. While Chappell has neither Stout's grasp of banter not a character as strong as Nero Wolfe, this is a solid effort. It also features a great bit of background: the theft of shadows from others, art made from shadows, and shadows themselves as art. The idea wasn't developed as much as I would have liked, and I think the implications of the primary discovery of the story were insufficiently plumbed, but I'd like to read more in this universe. (6)

"Magic with Thirteen-Year-Old Boys" by Robert Reed: This is one of Reed's better stories and a good example of his brand of short fiction. His backgrounds vary widely, but his treatments usually have a distinctive unflinching honesty. Here, with post-coital framing, he tells a sharp and at times painfully recognizable story about porn and the reaction of adolescent teenagers to porn, while admirably avoiding a myriad of land mines. This story could easily have turned into predictable tripe, something too embarassing to read, or an unpleasantly dirty image. Instead, Reed finds an eerie bit of magic in something that people don't talk about and ties it into the uncentered and obsessive confusion and lack of information that so often characterizes the age of his protagonists. Nicely done, particularly for the difficulty of the subject matter. (8)

"The Helper and His Hero, Part 2" by Matthew Hughes: Here is the conclusion of a long, serialized tale about Guth Bandar and the noösphere. We discovery why the Hero archetype is absorbing Harkless, the aliens foreshadowed from the start of the story make their terrifying appearance, and the overall mutifacet storyline that's played a role in most of the recent Guth Bandar stories reaches its conclusion. This half of the story has more action, more excitement, and therefore more interest than the first half, but I was still disappointed. For the degree of build-up, I wanted a stronger resolution to the multifacet arc than this. The conclusion also should have serious psychological consequences and effects on humanity that the story completely fails to show. Not without entertainment value, but deeply flawed. (6)

"Memoir of a Deer Woman" by M. Rickert: Rickert writes weirdly haunting stories that I too frequently don't quite get, and this one holds true on both counts. I liked the story of transformation and liked even more that Rickert doesn't try to explain it rationally. I also liked the odd mix of acceptance and weirdness in the reactions of others. The closing image of the story is powerful and intriguing. The connection, however, between the transformation and the closing image escaped me completely, leaving me vaguely befuddled. A near miss. (6)

"The Devil Bats Will Be a Little Late This Year" by Ron Goulart: This tongue-in-cheek story about a hack horror writer dealing with a haunting and demon summoning is a little too self-conscious and a little too cutesy for me to praise it unambiguously, but I thought it was worth a few chuckles. It's at its best when the characters deal matter-of-factly with standard horror material, or when the demons are trying ridiculously ham-handed ways of warning off the protagonist. I could have done with fewer stupid movie titles and "I used exactly this plot device in my fourteenth movie," but still good for what it is. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-05-01

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