Locus Online










Nine Stories for May 2000

These reviews by Locus Online editor Mark R. Kelly are adapted from his column in Locus Magazine.

Barrington J. Bayley, ''The Sky Tower''
(Spectrum SF April 2000)
A fantasy set inside an artifact that resembles a SFnal space elevator or beanstalk, except that this one is built of stone. A mercenary named Ussquiss, pursuing a legend of immortality, enters the tower and ascends a spiral staircase from level to level. He makes an alliance with a woman and rules over her band of residents for several years, but eventually leaves her to pursue his goal of reaching the top, and eternal life. The story’s mix of fantastic and SFnal elements keep you off-balance; it’s a parable about human nature more than a literal genre piece. Yet for a story about a tower and achieving life, it has a suitably climactic ending.

Eric Brown, ''Destiny on Tartarus''
(Spectrum SF April 2000)
Chronologically the first in the author's ''Fall of Tartarus'' series, set on a colony planet whose sun is due to go nova in 100 years, the story follows young man Sinclair Singer as he comes to Tartarus to track down the fate of his father, who abandoned Sinclair and his mother when Sinclair was a child. He follows his father's trail cross-continent, is robbed by a con-man, becomes involved with kidnappers of a winged female 'messenger', and meets a mysterious member of the esoteric Guild of Blackmen. The climax involves a harrowing sailboat race and Sinclair's discovery of the truth about his father. It's not necessary to have read the other stories in the Tartarus series; as a tale of a young man emerging into the world and coming to terms with his father, this tale is stands on its own, and is colorful and satisfying.


Stephen Baxter, ''Cadre Siblings''
(Interzone March 2000)
Alien Qax have conquered the Earth, and induce humans to live in social units called cadres, groups of friends and lovers periodically remixed and living in huge conurbations (which recall the urbmons of Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside). A woman whose job it is to excavate ancient human artifacts, like the ancestral library in a place called Solled Laik City, and destroy them, is called upon to seek out an old cadre sibling of hers, a man called Symon Suvan who is experimenting with superheavy elements in a place once known as Mell Born. A colorful, busy Baxter story that is most compelling in its depiction of a self-destructive future society, where little pills help you remember what you’ve forgotten, in a nod to Philip K. Dick.

Darrell Schweitzer, ''The Fire Eggs''
(Interzone March 2000)
A thoughtful SF story about luminous ovoids that appear all over the world one day in 2004. Thirty five years later, the story follows Glenn as he comes home to visit his uncle and dying aunt, who in her decline has begun talking to the fire eggs. Schweitzer does an excellent job of sketching the societal reactions to the appearance of the objects, in between scenes of Glen and his uncle dealing with Aunt Louise’s final night. The story is perceptive as extrapolation, and insightful into human nature. The mystery of what the eggs are may be insoluble, but it’s the effects on people, the story suggests, that is more important.


James L. Cambias, ''A Diagram of Rapture''
(F&SF April 2000)
An uncommonly mature and insightful story (and it's a first sale!) about a female scientist whose research into sexual dysfunction has led to the marketing of a controversial drug, Efracol, that enhances female sexual arousal. She faces personal consequences when she discovers her 16-year-old son in possession of some Efracol pills. (Oddly, but perhaps not surprisingly, her husband isn’t as concerned about it as she is.) The story takes the scientist/mother to a college hangout to observe how Efracol has affected dating behavior. Though the pills affect only women, they’re bought mostly by men, often to administer to women surreptitiously. So women in public know not to drink from open cups, or leave their food or bottles uncovered around guys...unless they want to send a certain kind of signal. The story makes the sophisticated insight that what alarms one generation is taken for granted as part of the social fabric by the next -- a refreshing contrast to the tendency of most SF stories to, if only for dramatic reasons, take the most alarmist positions about such things.

Bradley Denton, ''Bloody Bunnies''
(F&SF April 2000)
A journey to pleasantly strange Twilight Zone territory. The narrator, Mr. Denton himself, recovers from a car accident on a Texas highway only to discover odd discrepancies: his cat Rufus, whom he recalls being killed by an emu, is alive; his toothpaste tastes like peppermint, not cashews; and his wife acts like she’s never seen an emu pistol, with its distinctive flared end, before. Amusingly, Denton sketches an alternate Texan universe in which the collapse of the emu (meat) industry led to dangerous herds wandering the countryside, and the development of special ultrasonic emu pistols to bring them down. And Denton has some fun at his own expense: the books in his office are all unfamiliar, and he’s particularly put off by the idea of a book called One Day Closer to Death, the contents of which are familiar to him except for the last story -- “Blackburn Bakes Cookies” -- which in his world was a story called...“Bloody Bunnies”.

Scott Westerfeld, ''The Movements of Her Eyes''
(F&SF April 2000)
The first 35 pages or so of the author’s just-published novel Evolution’s Darling, and one of several recent stories that focus on a human and an AI companion. Rathere travels with her father Isaah, a roving reporter, from planet to planet. Though he insists she wear her AI for protection, he worries that Rathere’s interaction with it will raise the AI’s Turing Quotient so high that it will become its own person, no longer his property. Though not terribly persuasive as a depiction of a developing intelligence, the story is compelling for the rivalry that develops between father and daughter, and for the series of exotic locales described during their travels: huge alien lithomorphs on one planet, a culture of spoiled children of the wealthy on a mining planet.

M. John Harrison, ''The Neon Heart Murders''
(F&SF April 2000)
Set in a five-mile long city along the west coast of a nameless island, full of neon and cars and jazz and bars, a detective named Aschemann hangs out at one jazz bar during his investigation of a series of murders against women, whose victims are found with lines of poetry tattooed into their shaved armpits. There's no conventional narrative leading to an 'explanation' for these murders, but the story suggests through analogy and rhythm that cities, like music, operate from unseen motives to both create life and take it away. Harrison’s visionary telling, alternating dimly lit bars with sun-drenched suburban streets, reads like a heady combination of William Gibson and J.G. Ballard.


R. Garcia y Robertson, ''Bird Herding''
(F&SF May 2000)
A new novella set on the same world as ''A Princess of Helium'' from a couple years ago: the planet Ariel, colonized by humans and various enhanced races including SuperChimps, Neanderthals, and rocs. The story follows Defoe, a human supply pilot, as he flees a raging band of SuperChimps who went crazy and killed a human station crew. He calls for help but is interrupted by a visitation from Elvis, cyberspace leader of a local religion, who instructs him to seek out a man named Uncle Ho. Defoe's adventures are but part of a grand plot by factions on the planet against an approaching colony ship whose cargo would double the human population on the planet: this novella, though crackling good adventure on its own terms, is but a part of a grander story that, when assembled in one place, will be more than the sum of its parts.

© 2000 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.