Fantasy & Science Fiction

May 2008

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 114, No. 5
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

The non-fiction highlight of the issue is Kathi Maio's review of The Golden Compass movie. It's a very good review that points out the strong parts better than other reviews that I've seen and made me want to buy a copy, if for no other reason than to see to what extent I agree with her instead of other reviewers. The book reviews this issue are unfortunately not as memorable (at least for me, since I'm not much of a horror fan and Elizabeth Hand's review was therefore not as interesting).

"Reunion" by Robert Reed: Of the graduating class of a particular otherwise-unknown high school, twelve of the students have gone on to have a spectacular impact on the rest of the world, and another ten have been completely average. The narrator of this story is one of many who want to find out why, and her reasons are more personal than most. The story follows their class reunion, to which the narrator gets invited as the guest of one of the non-famous ten. As usual for Reed, there are some unexpected twists along the way and a sharp ending (with a final twist that I rather liked). The SFnal content is a bit light, but the puzzle and slow revelation are very well-done. (7)

"Rebecca's Locket" by S.L. Gilbow: Like Gilbow's previous stories for F&SF, this one concerns life and death, more specifically an afterlife of sorts. Personality upload technology has reached the point where the memories of a person can be uploaded into a locket, leading to a classic opening scene of attending one's own funeral. But the technology isn't proving as popular as it was at first. Is the upload not sufficiently faithful, or does bypassing the normal path of death simply not work? Gilbow leaves this ambiguous, instead going for a successful humorous ending, but does a good job of raising subtle questions. (6)

"Immortal Snake" by Rachel Pollack: The best term for this story is probably fairy tale. It has that "once upon a time" feel to it, following the life of the ruler of a country that picks its rulers out of the general population according to portents written in the sky, and then after an unpredictable but priest-determined period, kills them horribly to pick a new one. Pollack builds an interesting mythology around this and then starts to disasemble it with the use of a storyteller sent as a gift by another kingdom and the sister of the appointed ruler. You have to like a fairy-tale tone and Arabian Nights feel, but if that works for you, this is quite enjoyable (and has a surprising bit of history in the afterward). (7)

"Firooz and His Brother" by Alex Jeffers: Another fantasy story with a fairy-tale feel, this one follows a caravan merchant who finds an abandoned child and raises him as his brother. When he and his brother later return to the same place, strangeness enters and touches his world through the child he found. This one has a fae feel of unexpected gifts and an internal dream logic that is consistent without fitting our normal world. I didn't find it that memorable, but it was entertaining while it lasted. (6)

"Thrilling Wonder Stories" by Albert E. Cowdrey: This story of a troubled boy starts looking like a idyllic childhood tale of adventure. But Cowdrey slowly introduces a creature in the sewers, shows how increasingly broken Farley's home life is, and slowly steers the story into darkness and a touch of horror. The genre isn't quite my thing, but as always Cowdrey is very good at telling a story. I think the best part were the ambiguities — is the monster truly there, how much of this is going on in Farley's head, and what is the monster anyway? (6)

"Traitor" by M. Rickert: This is a deeply disturbing and slightly surrealistic story about what appears to be a distopia of some kind, terrorism, and a fascinating but eerie child viewpoint character. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Alika, particularly once she starts demonstrating how smart she is, and the ending caught me entirely by surprise. As is often the case with Rickert stories, I'm not sure I entirely got it, but I found it compelling. (7)

"Circle" by George Tucker: The narrator is the best part of this story. He's works on a construction project in Florida, one of many taking over all the remaining wild space, and all he wants is to get enough money to buy the plot of land where his grandfather is buried. He doesn't want to move up in construction or get involved in the streak of accidents that plague the work sites. But he's never caught in any of the accidents and eventually people notice, leading to him cutting a deal with the developers to find a way to pacify the spirits. The story stays irreverant and humorous and strikes a good balance between that and more serious political issues throughout. Don't expect great discoveries of new ways of balacing between land and development, but it's solid entertainment. (7)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-05-19

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