Fantasy & Science Fiction

November/December 2010

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 119, No. 5 & 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 258

The non-fiction in this issue was a disappointment for me. De Lint does step a bit outside his normal range, but only to review several books by authors who I already know I don't like (and to add further incentive for me to mistrust his reviews as a guide for my own reading). Elizabeth Hand spends her entire column on a book that didn't sound very interesting to me (The Four Fingers of Death). And Lucius Shepard provides the normal grumpy and dismissive movie review, this time targeting Inception.

"Plinth without Figure" by Alexander Jablokov: I love the whole concept of an urban space planner (the profession of the protagonist). It brings to mind the fascinating work of Jane Jacobs. I wanted to hear more about it. I wasn't interested in the protagonists being increasingly dismissive of how quiet and unartistic it is, which to me seems to miss the entire point.

Unfortunately, the focus of this story is instead on a relationship told partly through flashbacks and with somewhat confusing sequencing. I never cared about either of the people, their affairs, or the somewhat random ghost nearly as much as I cared about the missed opportunity to explore that profession. Competent enough, I guess, but not the story that I wanted to read. (5)

"The Exterminator's Want Ad" by Bruce Sterling: This is an entertaining bit of political satire supposedly written by an ex-con who was in prison for astroturfing on behalf of corporations. The story is set after an environmental collapse and popular revolt against the rich, and is mostly about an amusing attempt to rehabilitate those sorts of white-collar criminals of the revolution. Sterling's political jabs lack subtlety, but they're still entertaining in spots and have a dark sarcasm that I appreciated. Good for brief entertainment. (6)

"Crumbs" by Michaela Roessner: Fractured fairy tales are a minor trend these days, but I haven't seen many about Hansel and Gretel and none from this angle. This is a delightful short story about a diabetic witch in a modern-day setting. She specializes in baking for children, but the children she's trying to draw aren't the typical fairy-tale heroes. It's full of inversions and twists and has a great ending reversal. One of the better stories of the issue. (8)

"Dead Man's Run" by Robert Reed: Reed has the long novella of this issue, a story about a running group (exercise, primarily, but partly competitive) in a near-future world that features partial personality uploads. One of their long-time members has been murdered, and now survives only as a backup running on a computer somewhere. His interactions with the rest of the group are now through frequent phone calls and a simulated voice. It's a murder mystery, and like most good murder mysteries there is a wealth of suspects, including the protagonist, and a wealth of possible motives. Over the course of the story, one learns a considerable amount about the backgrounds, motivations, and lives of the members of the group, interwoven with some of the better descriptions of the physical sensations of running that I've read. The resolution was a tiny bit disappointing, in that it lacked that sense of surprise inevitability that convinces the reader that the mystery's solution was the only possible one, but it was still effectively twisty. Well-written and enjoyable throughout, and worthy of the length. (7)

"Venues" by Richard Bowes: Like the rest of Bowes's work that I've read, this is decidedly odd. It purports to be the account of a gay writer, participating in some bizarre publicity stunts and some BDSM-tinged sexual play, meandering through the New York SF scene and encountering some strange ghosts. It doesn't really have a plot, and it doesn't end so much as stop. I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of things that are happening under the surface. (4)

"Planning Ahead" by Jerry Oltion: A man who misses out on sex at the end of a date due to a few missing household items becomes a hoarder through an off-beat bit of logic that Oltion does a great job making plausible (and humorous). It's not a serious take on the psychological phenomenon currently being exploited for a reality freak show; it's more of a gentle poke at the inherent limitations of being prepared for anything. I rather liked the ending, even if it's nearly as psychologically implausible as the start. (7)

"Free Elections" by Alan Dean Foster: Subtitled "A Mad Amos Malone Story," this is apparently the latest installment in a long-running series of tall tales mostly published in the 1980s and 1990s. Mad Amos Malone is a giant mountain of a man in the sort of indeterminate frontier setting of so many American tall tales. The problem he discovers is a man who is sitting on the town's only water supply, cannot be moved, and is demanding ransom. Amos takes up the challenge by getting into a sitting contest with the interloper, which is described in typical legend fashion. There's an odd bit of technobabble at the end of the story that I think was aiming at a tall-tale version of physics; I think it mostly misses, but the rest of the story is still entertaining. Pretty much lives up to what it says on the tin. (6)

"Ware of the Worlds" by Michael Alexander: This issue seems to be long on quirky humor. This is an alien cornucopia story; I think I've seen enough of those now to give the subgenre a name. A device falls from the sky into the backyard of a man who lives by himself at some distance from human society. On investigation, he discovers that it gives him whatever he wants. These devices apparently have landed all over the world, and the story cuts between the man's quiet uses of the device and the news from elsewhere that follows. It's a story about quiet practicality and being content with what one needs, with a barb in its tail worthy of a Robert Reed story. (7)

"The Closet" by John Kessel: This is an extremely short story (three and a half pages), about which I can say very little since there's almost nothing to it except the ending twist. Not that I thought much of the twist either. Pointless. (4)

"Swamp City Lament" by Alexandra Duncan: Another post-collapse story (the genre seems to be full of them these days), although this one at least takes a slightly different angle than I've seen before. The protagonist is the daughter of one of the many mistresses of a king in this post-collapse society, and she thinks she has an inside track on becoming the next queen. Unlike nearly all women, she's fertile, and has suffered much less than most from the pollution. The daughter is both rebellious and spoiled, but she's quite curious about the world. The story follows her mother's rise, but the emotional arc concerns the possible discovery of a living plant. The plot is a bit unsatisfying, but the voice is strong and the closing moments of the story do a good job capturing a sense of wonder. (6)

"Teen Love Science Club" by Terry Bisson: This is rather bizarre, which is typical for Bisson, but somewhat more charming than I find most of his stories. The first-person protagonist is a girl who joins the science club at a school where things not covered in the Bible generally can't be discussed. But the science club is extracirricular, and can build a Black Hole out of car batteries. Various equally implausible things then happen, leading to a rather unexpected journey. The pokes at religious education were enjoyable; the rest is too random to hang together for me. (4)

"Death Must Die!" by Albert E. Cowdrey: George Martin is a psychic investigator who's hired to rid a house of the ghost of a hangman. The story is straightforward and uncomplicated, livened largely by Martin's collabration with his deceased mother in solving his cases, but Cowdrey can't hardly write a bad story. It's full of his usual charm and style, if not as compelling or memorable as some of his stories. (6)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-04-22

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