Fantasy & Science Fiction

April 2008

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 114, No. 4
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

The non-fiction this month is entirely unremarkable except for one "book" in James Sallis's review column: Nicola Griffith's And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, an autobiographical collection of objects, slender volumes, a notebook, and even a CD. Since it goes for $75 with an extremely limited print run, I'm unlikely to buy a copy despite loving Griffith's fiction. But I enjoyed hearing about it.

"The First Editions" by James Stoddard: This charming fantasy story features a magician who entraps people by turning them into books of their lives, reminding me a little of the scene of Death's library from Pratchett's Mort but more perilous. These books are more than just the stories of the people they represent; they are the people, in transformed form, and can move a little on the shelves and whisper to their neighbors. And, with the permission of a neighboring book, they can read each other, an act of extreme intimacy. Against this well-explored background, Stoddard writes a solid romance story and avoids any pure villains. Entertaining stuff. (7)

"Five Thrillers" by Robert Reed: This is the highlight of the issue. Reed tells five linked stories about a man, Joseph Carroway, who is brilliant and psychopathic, willing to do whatever he thinks is necessary and extremely good at manipulating people. This is a perfect protagonist for Reed's style of sharp-edged story, full of twists that pull the reader up short and disbelief that Joe is willing to do that. It's cynical and entertaining at the same time, with excellent pacing and a solid overall plot. I expect this one to be nominated for a few awards. (8)

"Render unto Caesar" by Kevin N. Haw: This very short humorous story shows the IRS coming after a World of Warcraft boss for a cut in the treasure that she's taken from the players who have tried to kill her and failed. There's not much more to it than that, but it's a funny quick idea. (6)

"The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D" by Tim Sullivan: An odd entry in the genre of after-death explorations of famous meetings, this story plays coy with the identity of Dr. O and Mr. D throughout while they muse on the purpose of life and what they want to do next. Being the sort of person who is almost entirely deaf to this type of literary trick (and unwilling to read the story repeatedly to understand the subtlety), it was largely lost on me. I had to do later research to even know who Dr. O is, due to my almost complete lack of exposure to certain angles of popular culture. I have no idea if this is good for people who like this sort of thing. (4)

"The Fountain of Neptune" by Kate Wilhelm: The protagonist is dying of an inoperable brain tumor and decides to live out the rest of her life in Italy, where she knows no one but which captured her imagination. The rest of the story is a tale of hope, illusion, possible hallucination, and questioning whether illusion versus reality truly matters in a situation like this. There wasn't quite enough to it for me and the ending was obvious, but I still found myself caring about the protagonist due to the quality of the writing. (6)

"The 400-Million-Year Itch" by Steven Utley: Utley's time-travel stories have always felt like mainstream short stories about working scientists slightly displaced into a different setting, and this one is strongly in that category. It's about the semi-abusive relationship between a famous scientist and his companion and research assistant, her feelings of being smothered by him, and her search for personal identity, and it has one of those frustrating unresolved conclusions that seem so common in mainstream short stories. I like stories about people, but I like them to not feel quietly pointless. (5)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-04-11

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