Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 117, No. 5 (December 2009) edited by Gordon van Gelder
Dragon's Teeth by Alex Irvine
Hell of a Fix by Matthew Hughes
Inside Time by Tim Sullivan
I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said by Richard Bowes
Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan
Farewell Atlantis by Terry Bisson
Illusions of Tranquility by Brendan DuBois
The Blight Family Singers by Kit Reed
The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas
Iris by Nancy Springer
The Man Who Did Something About It by Harvey Jacobs
Full review: The December issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a collection of mostly ordinary stories that tantalizingly seem to hint that they could have been better, with a few highlights that seem to mostly take the form of writers attempting to imitate more prominent and better writers. Overall, this issue probably would have been considered quite good twenty years ago, but now a lot of the ideas just seem a bit worn and tired.
Dragon's Teeth by Alex Irvine is a somewhat interesting fantasy about a soldier sent to kill a dragon marred by its aimless nature and the fact that all of the seemingly interesting things about the story take place entirely off-stage. The story starts and ends in media res and the background of the main character (in which he was transformed into a dog for his own protection by his brother) seems to be more interesting than the story itself. The story seems somewhat influenced by Gene Wolfe's style, but just misses the mark. Dragon's Teeth was frustrating, because it seems like it could have been a more interesting story if it had included more of the stuff that poked in around the edges. Another story that shared this somewhat aimless and pointless nature was Bad Matter by Alexandra Duncan. The story tells the tale of a woman uncovering her father's legacy, which turns out to be potentially interesting, but the finish is so vague that the story turns out to be fairly bland. I know lots of writers want to make their stories deep and philosophical by building ambiguity into their writing, but there has to be some sort of point. Just starting and then stopping in a slice of life without there being some reason why this part of the person's life might be important or interesting turns out to be pretty dull.
Another story in which the author seemed to be attempting to emulate another author's style is I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said by Richard Bowes, which seems to aspire to be a Philip K. Dick story. The protagonist is an elderly surgical patient plagued by what appear to be supernatural visitors who have an agenda that is both confusing and somewhat frightening. The story is told in a disjointed style, which seems to me to be effective at catching the disorientation and confusion of a patient alternatively in shock from serious illness and then subjected to anesthesia and a variety of hallucinogenic medications during their treatment. Through the story (in the best Philip K. Dick tradition) the reader isn't sure whether the information being passed on by the narrator is real or a delusion caused by his illness and the drugs that have been administered to him.
Inside Time by Tim Sullivan is a sort of twisted morality play in which time travelers (both intentional and accidental) get caught in an inter-temporal way station for unknown and unexplained reasons. The characters deal with moral choices which they must later face up to. The story is quite confining, taking place in a constrained space in the middle of a vast expanse, which gives the story both a claustrophobic and agoraphobic feel at the same time. It is interesting, but the morality of the story seems fairly basic, and the arbiters of that morality are so vague that the story is somewhat undermined.
Interestingly, this issue contains two stories about lunar colonization. In the first, Illusions of Tranquility by Brendan DuBois, a second generation lunar dweller undertakes an assignment to bring needed money into the impoverished colony. The story paint a fairly grim picture of lunar colonization, with a sort of Potemkin village feel to the story. It seems to me that there is something of Heinleinian or Campbellian influence in the story, as brave humans battle the harsh environment using all the means at their disposal. Illusions of Tranquility ends on a hopeful note, which makes it markedly different from the other lunar colonization story The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas, which details the sad story of the first lunar colonist who ends up abandoned by humanity as it descends into chaos, and then later betrayed by her would-be rescuers based upon the repugnant application of religious dogma.
The best story in the issue was probably Hell of a Fix, in which an inadvertent demon summoning results in an infernal crisis that affects everyone, and ends up revealing an unexpected aspect of God. The story is lighthearted and funny, and has the added bonus of having a comic book fan as the protagonist. Farewell Atlantis by Terry Bisson is also a fun story, with an interesting twist on the shaggy god subgenre (which was refreshing given the vast disappointment that the ending of the new Battlestar Galactica series, which was a bad version of the shaggy god story). The Man Who Did Something About It by Harvey Jacobs humorously puts an auto mechanic in the position to potentially save the Earth from destruction, although I found the ending confusing and not particularly satisfying. Less well executed, but amusing in a different way is The Blight Family Singers, which is a sort of science-fictional cross between the story of the von Trapps (famous from The Sound of Music) and the religious fundamentalism of various polygamous sects of Mormonism that have splintered away from the mainstream church.
It seems that just about every issue of a genre magazine these days has at least one story that seems entirely out of place. Iris by Nancy Springer fills that role in this issue. Though Iris is a somewhat interesting story about being old and alone, there is no real fantasy or science fiction aspect to it. I was left wondering why this story was included. While the story was told well, I kept waiting for something interesting to actually happen and get the ball rolling on a plot. Overall, this issue as a whole seems to be a lot like Iris as it is fairly uninspiring with mostly pedestrian stories punctuated by a few tepid highlights.
Previous issue reviewed: October/November 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: January/February 2010
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