Fantasy & Science Fiction

June 2007

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 112, No. 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This was a solid, enjoyable issue. None of the stories blew me away, but they were all competent work, including a surprise by an author I normally don't like. The non-fiction was quite good this month, with a better-than-normal book review column by Charles de Lint, excellent reviews by Michelle West, and a good movie review. (To warn, that movie review, of Perfume, does have quite a few spoilers for the book.)

"Sweet Trap" by Matthew Hughes: A return to Henghis Hapthorn and his free-lance discriminations, "Sweet Trap" develops somewhat further the world revelations of previous stories, but mostly it's a science fiction story of sentient ships and dangerous aliens. I liked the combination of Hapthorn's normal dry, almost emotionless investigations and the classic space opera fare, and the ending both amused and surprised me. As usual, the Hapthorn stories are a cut above Hughes's Guth Bandar stories. (6)

"An Eye for an Eye" by Charles Coleman Finlay: Finlay's previous Maggot stories did nothing for me, and I didn't go into this story with much optimism. It's a complete departure, however, and in my opinion far better. Finlay writes from the perspective of a freelance thief in a surrealistic world of body modification, using a fake-hardboiled-detective tone. He takes a contract to steal back certain treasured body parts that are at issue in a messy divorce and ends up neck-deep in a war of revenge and manipulation. The tone of the world ranges from funny to surrealistic, featuring dog-faced personal bodyguards and bizarre personal enhancements. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but the story in general was a lot of fun. (6)

"Elegy" by Mélanie Fazi: This is a haunting psychological short story originally written in French and translated by Christopher Priest. It starts out with resonance to celebrity kidnapping cases, recording a mother's pleading for the return of her children, but then slowly drifts into either fantasy or insanity. It's heartbreakingly ambiguous to the end, balancing between grief and faerie games, with a nicely poetic weaving of a tree into the story. A good disturbing piece. (7)

"Wizard's Six" by Alex Irvine: Another novelette in an issue full of them, this starts as a typical fantasy story of a search for a rogue soon-to-be-wizard who needs to recruit six others to finish his magical power. Irvine does a good job of not over-explaining the world background, but the start, despite a gruesome turn, is mostly stock. Then some mysteries start to surface, Irvine adds some background complexity, and this becomes good story about memory and loyalties. I particularly liked the world's magic system, including realistic exploitation of it. It never went too far away from standard fantasy tropes, but the storytelling was satisfying. (6)

"First Was the Word" by Sheila Finch: I think I would have gotten more out of this if I'd read any of Finch's previous stories about the Lingsters, since this is their origin story of sorts. A linguist whose Ph.D. thesis on underlying language structure was rejected is off climbing mountains to put the disappointment out of mind when he's recruited by a black-helicopter government agency. They've found an alien, a perfect specimen of apparent humanity who just appeared and won't talk to anyone, and they need him to discover how to communicate. Unfortunately, the story doesn't go much beyond that plus random skullduggery and a letdown ending with no revelations (I expect many of the revelations were in later stories and are taken as background here). I also could have done with fewer cringe-worthy obviously bad decisions. Good handling of the alien, though. (6)

"Lázaro y Antonio" by Marta Randall: This is the strongest story of the issue. It starts out as the story of a couple of sleazy friends in a spaceport slum, stealing from tourists and spending the money in drinking binges. But there's more going on than it first appears, particularly in their relationship and personal connections. This is a change of pace from the expected happy ending. Hard personal choices give new depth to the loyalty shown by the characters and turn this into more than the typical buddy story. Recommended reading. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-08-25

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