Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2010

“Why that crazy old lady goes up the mountain”, Michael Libling Its hard to sum this story up in just a few words. There’s a lot going on: A high school romance, the grave of God, family illnesses, an amoral hick sheriff, suicide, smart-alecky narration, gun battles … Even if the dramatic elements get lost amidst the entertainment, somehow the mishmash all works, coming together to make a good read.

“Thief of shadows”, Fred Chappell A new entry in Chappell’s series of stories about Falco, the apprentice shadow-thief, his master Astolfo, and his nemesis Mutano, Astolfo’s multi-talented servant. In this story, we go back to the first meeting between Falco and Astolfo, and Falco’s early days of apprenticeship. As always, the narration and dialog are dryly witty, and Falco’s predicaments mix humour and adventure.

“A history of Cadmium”, Elizabeth Bourne Cadmium was artist Cassandra Ross’s greatest painting, one of a lost series on the theme of “rare earths”. The painting is only a rumor until her daughter, Caddie, narrator of the story, finally decides to show it publicly. The showing, and Julia’s pregnancy lead to a series of revelations about the painting’s genesis, and Caddie’s, from Cassandra’s old friend, Julia. It’s a tightly woven story (maybe too tightly: at one point Caddie says she sold all the Cadmium series of paintings; in another, Julia says that she burned them), and the fantasy and human plot elements are nicely intertwined.

“The real Martian Chronicles”, John Sladek This is apparently a work discovered in Sladek’s estate after the author passed away in 2000. It’s the whimsical diary of a new migrant to the latest frontier.

“Dr. Death vs. the vampire”, Aaron Schutz A twist on the superhero story. Here we have only “almost-superheroes”, like our narrator, whose almost-superpower is to be able to read the emotions and feelings (but not the thoughts) of people around him. He was once a member of the League of Almost-Superheroes, but left to pursue his own interests, following his own morality. But now he’s discovered a vampire, a kind of almost-supervillain that lives off the emotions of his victims. Vampires are more in the League’s line of work, but nonetheless the good doctor sets off in pursuit. A well made story that simultaneously shows the lighter, and the darker sides of almost-superherodom.

“Remotest mansions of the blood”, Alex Irvine Arthur Lindsay has retreated from his western life to a small town in Central America, where he spends his time drinking and wishing he could connect with a local 19-year-old beauty. Her allure is as much that of breaking down the cultural barriers between himself and the locals as her simple physical attractions. When the town is damaged by a strong earthquake, his connections to the place grow stronger, but not enough to win the attention of the girl. He goes out seeking the mansions of the blood, rumored to lie decaying in the swamps around the town, but “the geography of the mansions is all related to whoever’s looking for them.” An excellent dreamscape of a story.

“Seven sins for seven dwarves”, Hilary Goldstein Turns an old fairy tale on it’s side, and manages to not totally re-tread old ground. Which is pretty good for a story with “seven dwarves” in its title.

“Silence”, Dale Bailey A story about a nerdy and picked-on kid in high school, and a visitor from (presumably) another world. It’s a well written story, but thematically it didn’t connect well for me.

“Forever”, Rachel Pollack A goddess, or something near to it, loses a wager and ends up spending a lifetime living among mortals, not even aware of her true identity. The presentation is all drama, and rather dry, but not stultifyingly so.

“The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe”, Robert Onopa A toy train set, depicting an early-20th-century railroad, and controlled by a remarkable AI, obsesses a young boy. The description of the toy’s capabilities, and its evolution, is magical. The ending, though, is a bit of a set-piece, that seems out of place attached to this story. That may be symptomatic though of what is essentially a “big dumb object” story writ small — it’s hard to imagine wrapping up the story without some kind of break from the tone of the main body.

“The Gypsy’s boy”, Lokiko Hall The magical romance between a young blind man and an elemental spirit. A well-told fable.

“The crocodiles”, Steven Popkes A memoir of vile human medical experimentation in the Nazi death camps of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The narrative style is completely modern, with none of the tendentious and convoluted prose that would give the feel of the 1940s. This may make the story in some ways more readable today, but it gives the story so little gravity that it seems to belittle the monstrous events it’s based on. I don’t think the story was meant to offend, and the narrator’s utter lack of moral introspection in relation to his work is probably the main point of the story. But somehow the story just read too easily to support its momentous theme.

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