Fantasy and Science Fiction, October/November 2009
A monster 60th-anniversary issue.
“The far shore”, Elizabeth Hand Philip, a former ballet dancer, is let go from his teaching position at his dance company in the cruel reality of the dance business. An old friend invites him to spend the off-season as caretaker at her lakeside campground. What he discovers there is not Swan Lake, but might be something from a related tradition.
“Bandits of the trace”, Albert E. Cowdrey A humorous historical mystery in deepest Appalachia combines cops and robbers, mysterious cyphers, dangerous men and women, and a dash of fantasy for flavor. Very fun reading.
“The way they wove the spells in Sippulgar”, Robert Silverberg A tour-bus trip through Majipoor, with a character study of religious believers as a subthread. Probably more enjoyable for those already familiar with Majipoor, but still worthwhile for readers like me who don’t know the giant planet.
“Logicist”, Carol Emshwiller A schoolteacher is confronted by the harsh reality of war. As usual in Emshwiller’s stories, the emotional pain of the protagonist’s position is conveyed strongly. But the way the protagonist’s rigid thinking is expressed in multiple-choice questions felt more gimmicky than revealing.
“Blocked”, Geoff Ryman Our protagonist, Channarith, a Cambodian casino-owner, and his family are fleeing to a vast underground city along with the rest of humanity. They are afraid of an alien invasion, or a comet, or maybe just environmental collapse brought on by human activities. Ryman pays special attention to Channarith’s relationship with his three adopted children and their mother, who has married him mainly because he can afford to take a family underground. A new look at a not uncommon sf idea.
“Halloween town”, Lucius Shepard Halloween is a town at the bottom of an Appalachian gorge so deep and narrow its practically subterranean. Clyde Ormoloo has moved there after a workplace accident gave him the power to see people’s inner character, if the light is strong enough. In Haloween he encounters an amusing bunch of characters, some of whose inner character is at least as vile as the “topsiders” Clyde hoped to avoid. Definitely an imaginative story in an imaginative setting.
“Mermaid”, Robert Reed There’s no mermaid in the story, just Jake and his pathological relationship with his unnaturally young-looking girlfriend. When Jake runs into another man in what looks like a similar relationship he tries to intervene. It’s not obvious if he’s trying to protect the other girl, or if he sees the other man as a future version of himself. The story had a kind of dreamy what-will-happen next feel that kept me engaged, but I never really figured out what was going on, leading to disappointment by the end.
“Never blood enough”, Joe Haldeman A mysterious death on a lightly populated colony planet full of dangerous and not well-studied fauna. It starts out like a whodunnit mystery, but doesn’t end up that way. In fact, the ending doesn’t resolve or solve any of the mysteries thrown up in the story, making this feel like the introductory chapter of a novel instead of a complete short story.
“I waltzed with a zombie”, Ron Goulart A story about “the only movie ever made starring a dead man.” An fun, atmospheric story about early 1940’s Hollywood, with a plot that feels like a 1940’s film.
“The president’s book tour”, M. Rickert Something has eliminated all vegetation in the p.o.v. narrator’s town, and also caused the townspeople’s children to be born with grotesque deformities. The tone expresses vague political dissatisfaction, and vague unhappiness about the environmental situation. But it’s all vague. The roots of the environmental catastrophe are never explained. Which is a significant distraction from the main point of the story, related to how the townspeople come to accept their children as they are.
“Another life”, Charles Oberndorf As a young soldier, our protagonist met his first love, a woman soldier; and a good friend, a hermaphroditic prostitute, on a base station near the front in an ongoing war. After soldiers die, they’re typically restored to new bodies and returned to the war. But mysteriously our narrator finds himself in a new body, but with no money and no connection to the military. Years later, he recounts these stories to his longtime partner, who’s chosen to forgo restoration and die of old age. A really excellent story, exploring truly speculative space in human relationships.
“Shadows on the wall of the cave”, Kate Wilhelm Years ago, Ashley was playing with her two cousins in a cave on their grandparent’s farm when the younger cousin mysteriously disappeared. She hasn’t been back to the farm since, but now her grandfather has passed away, and she has to return. The best part of the story is excellent characterization of both children and adults. The plot is sensible as far as it goes, but the explanation of the cousin’s disappearance is just a backdrop for those other story elements, not something that can bear any scrutiny or carry any weight in the story.