Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’

This edition of what is probably my favourite genre magazine was a little below par. The best stories were the longest ones, but none of them was without its flaws. The highlight of the volume, among the various reviews – which are always interesting to read – was a review of Super 8 that mercilessly painted it as a simplistic rehash of E.T.

‘Quartet and Triptych’ by Matthew Hughes was a novella-length story about an obese professional thief in a far future world that resembled that of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. The setting was well presented and the main character suited it well and was entertaining to follow. However, some of the details didn’t make sense at all; for instance, a patch of alien vegetation had remained in the area it had been planted in the grounds of a mansion for thousands of years. The story was further spoiled when the protagonist was lucky enough to be rescued from certain death by a minor character who had good reason to arrest him, but didn’t.

‘Object Three’, a space opera-ish story (or ‘novelet’, to use the official terminology) by James L Cambias also focused on the theft of an alien artefact, although the characters and writing weren’t as good – but not at all bad. The world hung together better, and the climax of the story was more satisfying, more reliant on the main character. It was also a rather open ending, with the protagonist’s main goal only about to be achieved and the vast Maguffin that inspired the story not explained at all. I had mixed feelings about that. The betrayal and counter-betrayal that formed the emotional heart of the story didn’t quite work for me as the love affair between the two women involved didn’t really come to life.

‘The Ice Owl’ by Carolyn Ives Gilman, the other novella of the magazine, was a well characterised story set in a detailed and believable universe – one where interstellar travel is a reality, but, because of relativity effects, while it seems instant for the traveller, years or decades pass in the wider world. Human settlements are therefore quite independent. The background to the story involved a Holocaust-like episode that has left a legacy of ethnic distrust. The main character explored this through her relationship with a mentor – who entrusted to her a cryonically preserved ice owl, possibly the last of its species. The protagonist, a teenage girl, came across especially believably – her angst was surprisingly not at all annoying. The ending was a little contrived and more or less happy.

The only actual ‘short story’ (according to Hugo Award rules) was ‘The Klepsydra A Chapter from A Faunery of Recondite Beings‘ by Michaela Roessner. Stylistically, this was the most interesting piece in the magazine, being a faux academic paper about a woman’s researches into a water thief – as ‘klepsydra’ literally translates. The story explains that a klepsydra is actually a water clock, but the now-deceased researcher discovered that this name was based on a spider with very strange properties. An interesting read, but not much of an actual story.

There were three other stories in the November/December edition, but, although I have the names in front of me (‘Under Glass’ by Tim Sullivan, ‘They That Have Wings’ by Evangeline Walton and ‘How Peter Met Pan’ by Albert E Cowdrey), I don’t remember anything about them – which is probably review enough.

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I subscribed to F&SF for a time a few years ago and always liked it, but rarely got round to reading each edition – even though they only come out every couple of months. I bought this edition at What the Book? in Seoul. It contains eleven short stories (although they’re actually categorised as one novella, two novelettes (a fairly pointless term referring to an intermediary form between the short story and novel) and eight short stories) and one poem, as well as regular columns.

‘Scatter My Ashes’ by Albert E Cowdrey begins interestingly, with a writer working on a commissioned book about a family only to discover that their wealth was based on malignant sorcery. The credibility of the narrative takes a turn for the worst when the main characters discover the family’s matriarch’s servant is actually a hundred-year-old golem – the problem being that they take it completely in their stride without questioning it at all. The rest of the story was an anticlimax.

‘A Pocketful of Faces’ is an interesting and creepy techno-thriller by Paul di Filippo about identity theft using programmable face-grafts. It too is let down by its ending – which is too abrupt and ridiculous.

‘The Paper Menagerie’ by Ken Liu is the best story in the magazine, and one of the shortest. The narrator is a Chinese-American whose mother was a mail-order bride and who is able to make living origami figures. As the protagonist grows he becomes more and more disillusioned with his family and his heritage until his mother dies and he realises it’s too late to reconnect with her. I found it incredibly moving.

‘The Evening and the Morning’ by Sheila Finch is apparently part of a series of stories in the same universe, although I wasn’t familiar with her work. This is the longest story here – the novella – and contained the weakest writing. It also had some annoying aspects – like an AI that only communicated information when it was convenient to the story and characters who go on a mission to a strange planet (actually, a long-deserted Earth) without means of communicating with each other.

‘Night Gauntlet’ is a collaborative story by several author and was written in the style of H P Lovecraft – or at least as a homage to his work. It was OK – nothing especially memorable. ‘Happy Ending 2.0’ by James Patrick Kelly is a tale of marital lack of bliss with an ending that sits on the corner of interesting and confusing.

‘The Second Kalandar’s Tale’ by Francis Marion Soty is apparently a retelling of a story from A Thousand and One Nights, and is an entertaining odyssey concerning a love affair with an imprisoned beauty and outwitting and finally battling a vengeful demon. ‘Bodyguard’ by Karl Bunker is a story of a man trying to help an alien race on a doomed planet, but who ends up meeting his own doom. A decent story, but nothing special.

‘Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls’ by Kali Wallace is perhaps the most interesting story in the magazine. It’s about a character who appears at first to be a disabled young woman, but it gradually emerges that she is in fact an experimental humanoid sentient plant. Although it’s a little over-long, it’s an interesting tale.

‘The Ifs of Time’ by James Stoddard is another highlight of the volume. It concerns three characters in an infinte house telling stories to prolong their existence – and incidentally freezing time for everyone else. The protagonist confronts them with a true story, breaking their hold on the world. The best part of this story is the stories within the story – tales about time and death. Especially memorable was the one about people aware of their impending death travelling to the countryside to await the end; it turns out that they are, in fact, simulations and their deaths are caused by their processes running out of memory; at the very end they freeze and spend the rest of eternity in one endless final moment.

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