Fantasy & Science Fiction

October/November 2008

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 115, No. 4 & 5
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 242

There's nothing particularly notable in the non-fiction in this issue. As usual, Michelle West's book review column is probably the non-fiction highlight. Lucius Shepard disliked Iron Man intensely, an opinion with which I completely disagree, but he's fairly entertaining about it.

"Inside Story" by Albert E. Cowdrey: Despite setting nearly all of his stories in the south, normally around New Orleans, Cowdrey has an impressive range. One can get anything from dark, effective horror to regional humor. This story is on the humor side, but this time using alien abductions rather than Cowdrey's normal day-to-day sorts of magic. It's light and entertaining, the sort of humor where you know nothing is intended to be taken that seriously and nothing that horrible is going to happen. (6)

"Sleepless Years" by Steven Utley: My feeling on this one is probably predictable. I'm not much of an Utley fan. The SFnal premise has more ongoing impact on the story than most of his stories, but it's still primarily a psychological study. The first-person protagonist is participating in a scientific study, against his will, in which he's unable to sleep. Over the course of related conversations with the scientists, who treat him more like an animal subject than a person, more and more of his background comes out. None of it makes him very likeable, and the ending is a sharp downer. I came away from it with a vague sense of distaste. (4)

"Days of Wonder" by Geoff Ryman: This long story is a substantial chunk of this issue. It's set in what appears to be the African savannah, among what one gradually realizes is a band of very intelligent wild horses. They migrate based on the weather, band together against cats, and tend not to think about the past. All of that Ryman drives home through effective first-person narration that eases you into the differences in mindset. But this is a genetically engineered band of horses in what appears to be the far future, horses that, as one discovers as the story progresses, hold genetic material for the recreation of humanity after some sort of disaster.

Partly this story is an adventure, driven by an unusually thoughtful mare (the friend of the narrator) and her throw-back human-like child. There are fights with predatory cats, a somewhat gruesome forced attempt to learn from another species, fights within the herd, and quite a bit of herd behavior and politics complicating matters. Underlying that is an SF concept about the re-emergence of civilization stored in different animal species as sort of a disaster recovery plan on a massive scale.

Neither the setting nor the SFnal concept were quite my cup of tea, but Ryman is a good enough writer (as always) to keep me entertained anyway. This wasn't, for me, in the same class as his novels, or even his previous stories that I've reviewed, but it's still solid writing. (7)

"The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" by Steven King: This is an oddly quirky story about a woman who receives a call from her husband, who had died two days ago in a plane crash. He paints a strange but intriguing picture of an afterlife that is more like an exploration than a typical heaven or hell (reminding me just a bit of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce). Then the story shifts to the wife's hope that he'll call again and becomes considerably less interesting. More of the afterlife would have been fun; as is, it felt like a half-finished story idea. (5)

"Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter's Guild" by Scott Bradfield: Dazzle is a talking dog who sells his likeness to the movie studios and is teamed up with a famous screenwriter to write his own movie. It's mostly an excuse for extended (and occasionally funny) cheap shots at the motion picture business, at screenwriting, and at script review, mixed with the basic absurdity of a talking dog. Nothing that memorable, but nothing too objectionable either. It meanders along and manages to be entertaining along the way. (6)

"The Visionaries" by Robert Reed: Robert Reed brings his sharp plot twists to metafiction about writing SF short stories. The first-person narrator is a writer who's trying to break into the field who's offered a surprising contract that involves keeping the character of a story secret forever. In return, he gets funding and a leg up in the field. He slowly finds out why his story was purchased, an explanation with a lot of satisfying SF twists along with some nicely ironic humor. I usually find Reed's perspective on the world amusing and surprising, and this was no exception. (7)

"Going Back in Time" by Laurel Winter: Uh... huh? It's a three-page story about quantum physics and a time loop at a cocktail party, so I expect it's intended to create a mental impression more than make sense. The only mental impression it managed to create in me was confusion. Maybe this is an impressionistic interpretation of what quantum physics sounds like when you're drunk out of your skull? (3)

"Private Eye" by Terry Bisson: The concept of paying voyeurs hitching a ride with people is a growing thematic trend. This is another entry in that category, with the interesting twist of following a relationship between two people who both host such audiences. One of them is something like a walking web cam; the other has a more traditional web cam setup in her apartment. The romance is a mix of sweet and creepy, and it's never clear to what extent they're both playing for an audience or doing this for themselves. The prominant smoking was a bit of a turn-off for me, but otherwise I found it quite effective, with a nice ending twist. (7)

"Whoever" by Carol Emshwiller: Emshwiller's normal topic of marginal people slipping between the cracks of humanity finds its focus this time in a woman without a memory. Much of the story is her internal running speculation about who she is and what she's going to do, all in an oddly calm and curious tone that's strangely appealing. Emshwiller leaves conclusions open to the reader, but the event at the end of the story provides a strong hint towards one conclusion that resets the rest of the story in a much different light. Very well-constructed stuff, although a bit slow. (6)

"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account" by M. Rickert: This is one of the creepiest stories that I've ever read. It's set in a nasty 1984-style dystopia built by fundamentalists around the punishment of anyone who has gotten an abortion. Both the effectiveness and the terrifying creepiness are hightened by a thoroughly brainwashed first-person narrator who believes every word of it. Rickert pulls no punches in portraying the anti-abortion horror show, complete with execution of women as mass spectacle. Like all dystopias, it's an extrapolation of a position to extremes that probably would never occur, but I found it chillingly effective. I'm not sure I really wanted to read it, though. (6)

"Planetesimal Dawn" by Tim Sullivan: The classic, even retro, exploration SF of this story is a bit of a weird contrast with the rest of the issue. This felt more like an Analog story, complete with the wooden characters and extended dry descriptions of alien machinery the characters are exploring. There's nothing here of interest apart from the scientific puzzle, which as puzzles go is not a very compelling one. (4)

"The Scarecrow's Boy" by Michael Swanwick: Leave it to Swanwick to combine a classic SF trope of intelligent robots and their obedience to human masters with a modern refugee story of governments and legal borders. It's nicely understanded, covering its sharp political jabs with a good, straightforward story told around a kernel that could have formed an Asimov robot story. Even if the ending was a bit predictable by the time we get there, this is the best short story of the issue. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-02-23

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04