Fantasy & Science Fiction

January 2009

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 116, No. 1
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

Chris Moriarty's book review column this month is particularly good. Hopefully there will be more of those in the future (even if I disagree about the amount of depth in Saturn's Children, but more about that later). I also enjoyed Kathi Maio's negative review of The Fall, in part for its analysis of the ethical questions raised by the way the movie was filmed. (It's odd that book reviews in F&SF, as in most places, are so overwhelmingly positive, but the movie reviews are at least half negative if not more. It works out for me, though, since I mostly don't watch movies and negative reviews are more fun for things one doesn't intend to watch.)

"The Minutemen's Witch" by Charles Coleman Finlay: Finlay isn't one of my favorites among F&SF's regulars, but he's moving from uninteresting to entertaining. The setting of this one is the very beginning of the American Revolution, not a historical period that interests me much, but there's quite a bit of detail about the mindset of the US militia and believable chaos around armed confrontation. The twist is that the protagonist and his family have a talent for witchcraft, and Proctor gets a vision of the future before Lexington and Concord. As is often the case with such visions, it becomes true but not in the ways that Proctor expects, and the results are deeply tangled with the official history of the battle. Not quite my thing, but nonetheless entertaining and well-paced. (6)

"The Perfect Infestation" by Carol Emshwiller: Leave it to Emshwiller to have a decidedly odd take on a standard alien invasion scenario: aliens that take over the minds of Earth creatures and lurk hidden among us to prepare for conquest. These aliens, however, bypass the care-worn and stressed large creatures with opposable thumbs and instead pick Earth creatures that have a much nicer and more care-free life so that they can wait for the takeover in comfort. This, however, has some unforseen psychological effects. Like most of Emshwiller's writing, it's quietly odd, just a little creepy, and strangely heart-warming. (6)

"Seafarer's Blood" by Albert E. Cowdrey: Cowdrey moves a bit away from his beloved New Orleans with this story and instead focuses on Vikings. Eric, the protagonist, has had vivid dreams for much of his life, but this is the first time that he's been able to smell, taste, and feel inside a dream. He finds himself repeatedly back in the "Dark Ages" watching a siege of a castle through the perspective of the defenders. It's a lot more interesting than his daily life of fights with his estranged wife, but then it gets more vividly real and starts to intrude on the waking world. The concluding twist I saw coming, but Cowdrey handled the ending with panache. Not the most engrossing of Cowdrey's stories, but still enough to keep my mind off exercising. (6)

"All in Fun" by Jerry Oltion: Toby's Christmas wishes almost always come true, and even when he stretches them too far, he gets most of what he wants. This Christmas, though, he wasn't sure what to wish for, so he left the wish at a nebulous desire to have fun. The results are startling and sometimes a bit scary, but mostly a brief catalog of what it would be like to have the day-to-day events of life have a constant extra spark. It's a slight story, insofar as it's a story, but I found it surprisingly fun. (6)

"Rising Waters" by Patricia Ferrara: The reprint story of this issue is, unfortunately for me, straight situational horror. I'm not much of a fan of horror under the best of circumstances, and this brand (an apparently innocuous situation becoming increasingly frightening through unseen malicious things) is probably my least favorite. I'll refrain from specific judgement on this one since it's completely out of both my area of interest and my comfort zone. (2)

"The Monopoly Man" by Barry B. Longyear: It's hard to do the mysterious stranger with a heart of gold and keep it remotely original, but I think Longyear succeeds with this one. The setting is New York around Bryant Park; the protagonist is a druggie at the end of her rope and contemplating suicide by provoking a dealer. But she's drawn to a strangely kind man in the park, who treats her like a daughter and lets her fall asleep in his coat, and when she wakes up she's checked into a rehab clinic. Success of that rehab is perhaps unrealistically optimistic, but it leads into a deeper story when she tries to pay the help forward by helping a starlet. The story comes together neatly in the end, aiming for pure heartwarming kindness. Not the story to read if you're looking for an edge or feeling cynical, but it won me over. (7)

"The Boy Who Sang for Others" by Michael Meddor: Ghost stories are something of a theme for this issue. This is a more straightforward possession story, told from the perspective of a kid and with a bit of a country folk wisdom twist. The plot is entirely predictable and relies mostly on the lack of comprehension of the narrator for its surprises, but for a story with that (rickety) structure, it mostly works. It felt slight after finishing it, though, and had little staying power in memory. (5)

"An Elvish Sword of Great Antiquity" by Jim Aikin: This is another story that takes on well-trodden ground, this time fairy magic and the perils of crossing the fae. It's also a touch predictable, but the combination of a sly sense of schadenfreude, a feeling of shared knowledge with the narrator, and a nicely handled ending lift it above the average story. This was my favorite of the issue; I'm looking forward to reading something longer by Aikin. (8)

"Changeling" by Dean Whitlock: This has a less predictable plot but a more predictable theme. The male protagonist falls partly in love with a strange and initially unattractive waitress who thinks she's a changeling, leading to his involvement in a wild, somewhat unreal attempt to reach some hidden magic in the world. It never quite clicked for me, drifting into a somewhat unsatisfying psychological ending, but the writing is competent and I suspect there are other readers for whom it will click. (5)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-04-28

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