Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2010

“The long retreat”, Robert Reed A surreal story (like a lot of Reed’s work) about the last days of a bedraggled imperial court, fleeing military defeat. The name of the country is mysterious, and even its high command doesn’t know its borders. Everything, including the characters’ identities, is open to question. An excellent story, probably my favorite yet from Reed.

“Bait”, Robin Aurelian An over-the-top humorous escape fantasy about growing up as a bullied younger brother in a world full of magic and fairies. Great fun.

“Writers of the future”, Charles Oberndorf A small remnant of humanity is scattered across various small worlds in the former orbit of Mars, after the “Minds” destroyed the Earth, Mars, and probably various other major planets of the solar system. The protagonist is on his “worlds tour”, a kind of Wanderjahr, traveling between the human worlds to gain life experience before starting a career, and he is using his worlds tour to attend writing workshops. This sets up a few philosophical debates with the workshop instructors and other students, and some investigation into the state of the world, and humanity’s relationship with the minds. But overall, it was too much of a writing insider’s story to really grab me.

“Songwood”, Marc Laidlaw The further adventures of an animate golem in search of his hand, finding unexpected love along the way. A well-told story, but it probably would have been even better for me if I remembered more of the back story from Laidlaw’s sequence of bard and golem stories.

“Ghosts doing the orange dance”, Paul Park A long, rambling novella, threading together stories about 100 years history of multiple branches of the narrator’s family and a mysterious dystopian near-future in the narrative present, blending the science fictional and the fantastic, with definite echoes of J. G. Ballard. With so much going on, I’m sure this story deserves a second read-through; on the first read it left me enchanted but befuddled.

“The secret lives of fairy tales”, Steven Popkes Cleverly connects a few of our favorite fairy tales, giving each a cynical, but witty, interpretation. Very fun.

“The late night train”, Kate Wilhelm A dark story about a family dominated by an abusive father. The family relationships are so realistically portrayed, the story has real weight. The fantasy elements are so abstract, they could easily be in the narrator’s mind. Another quality story.

“Nosferatu”, Dean Whitlock This story gives cartoon-villain portrayals of the pharmaceutical industry and corporate executives in general; and then brings in an unlikely heroine to wrap up the story. Somehow the mysterious Liliac Sangera is not only a technician in the pharmaceutical research lab run by greedy exec Hugh Graeber, but also a street herbalist known to his Mexican driver, and to his wife and his mistress. Despite hints of her vampiric nature (the only indisputable one being the story’s title), Sangera’s background is not explored, nor are her motivations for her final actions in the story. It’s a capably written story, but it leaves the ball in the air at the end, and doesn’t really explore much new territory.

“City of the dog”, John Langan Another horror story, much more atmospheric than Whitlock’s. The story’s mainly about one of those crazy college relationships, with the protagonist much more devoted to his girlfriend than she is to him. That, and an attack of underground flesh-eaters. I found the story most notable for its setting in 1993, with pop culture references from my own college time. Probably even better for people from Albany, New York, given the numerous local landmarks. It’s very atmospheric, and I found myself imagining the story as a dark, brooding, black & white graphic novel. Overall, pretty good.

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