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Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, late April


A rare, all-print column, with an anthology and two of the field’s remaining little magazines. Makes me feel all nostalgic. The Good Story award goes to Kiernan’s “Tidal Forces” in Eclipse 4.

Publications Reviewed



F&SF, May/June 2011

Starring a colorful historical novella about Islamic Spain. The zine’s editor suggests that the issue might have an ecological theme, or a theme of music, but I think it is death and the life afterward. There are also two stories by Robert Reed, which is not the boon it might have been.

“Rampion” by Alexandra Duncan

Historical fiction, flavored by fairytale. At the sunset of the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus, the Caliph’s son, Ishaq ibn Hisham, hears the voice of a maiden singing from the tower of her grandmother’s castle and falls in love. But Sophia de Rampion is from a Christian family who take a brutal revenge when they discover her lover. Blinded and believing that his infirmity makes him unfit to rule, Isham turns his back on his heritage and tries to seek out his beloved, who has been taken by her family to the Christian north.

More than anything, this is a story of Al-Andalus as its golden age came to an end, as all empires must, first in civil war, then finally in the Reconquista. Already, a usurper has designs on the Caliphate.

Berber mercenaries ring the plaza, looking out for Northern spies and keeping an eye on our impiety, all at the behest of our vizier, Sanchuelo ibn al-Mansur, who every year tugs another corner of power loose from the caliph. The men speak in low voices of the Christian chieftains’ incursions into Moorish territory, our vizier’s bloody reprisals, and the weakness of the throne.

The fairytale has been historicized and rationalized so that the story has no actual fantasy elements. It fits surprisingly well into this setting, which is not too surprising, as the story of Persian hero Rustam comes from a related tale. What doesn’t seem to fit is the name “de Rampion,” although it does give a new meaning to the phrase “plucking the rampion.”

“The Black Mountain” by Albert E Cowdrey

Alex is a preservationist in New Orleans, doing regular battle with his nemesis Jim Wallaby, whose passion for self-aggrandizement involves demolishing historic structures to replace them with badly-built philanthropic projects. Now Jim has gone missing, and his daughter believes it has something to do with the abandoned Onion Dome Cathedral. Alex recalls this project, Jim’s plan to tear down, for once, a structure of no merit, other than the fresco over the altar.

Khorazin stood stiffly, like an Egyptian pharaoh, his body front-on but his head in profile. His robe was purple, his beard and unbound hair a glistening blue-black. His visible eye — the right — had an ice-blue iris outlined as if with kohl. The eye didn’t look at anything in particular, it just looked, like one of those large staring painted eyes on Greek vases. His hands were pale talons, his wings cataracts of glittering, nacreous feathers. Approaching, Alex could see why they shimmered in Jim’s light. Every feather had been cut from mother-of-pearl and stuck to the plaster while it was still wet.

Then a coffin was discovered in the cathedral, holding the remains of Father Ivan, sometimes identified with the Angel Khorazin. And Jim Wallaby was never seen alive again.

A tale of the occult, oddly more hopeful than horrific, and without the humorous voice that this author often uses. Much of the focus is on Alex and his struggle against leukemia, which imparts a lightly melancholy tone, whispering of mortality and turning this into a human story of faith.

“Music Makers” by Kate Wilhelm

Jake is a journalist with an unhappy job writing filler for a music magazine when he is assigned to do a piece on a recently dead old bluesman. He discovers a house like a living shrine full of memories and old recordings, and the people whom Uncle Bob had loved.

” — that lonesome whistle, dear lord that lonesome whistle….” The clarinet sounded eerily like a train whistle, then overwhelmed her voice. Clarinet and piano dueled, but Luellen refused to be silenced. Her strong voice came through over them both, vehement, passionate, not to be denied. “When the glad eye is done, when the sweet talk is over, you’ll see. He’ll leave you, leave you, you’ll sing the blues.” With anguish and grief she claimed the song. She owned the song.

He has found something that needs to be saved, but the house is encumbered with bills for back taxes, with no way to pay them.

A highly heartwarming, positive story about good people whose influence lingers on in a place even after death. Everything works out so well for everyone, but Wilhelm makes it almost impossible to be cynical, even for me.

“The Final Verse” by Chet Williamson

The first music song. Billy Lincoln is a failed country singer whose friend Pete is the grandson of a man who originally collected a lot of the old Appalachian folk ballads. Pete now claims he has uncovered information about a popular ballad involving a murder, that’s missing half of its last verse. He talks Billy into going up in the hills to look for the original family the song was about. They find a ruined cabin.

Pete was in there sitting on that dirty floor, in all the dust and the mouse turds, and sitting right next to him was the ugliest old woman I’ve ever seen. I don’t have much of a gift for words outside of songs, but believe you me, I wouldn’t write any kind of song about that woman. She was like somebody dug her up and barely squirted some juice into her old dry skin.

It’s quite a contrast between this overt tale of horror and the total benevolence of the Wilhelm story, yet they both center on songs sung after the singers have died. I like the way just changing a couple of words can make such a difference in the meaning of the song. Yet I can’t help thinking I would have liked this song better if it had ended before the last verse, with the conclusion less overt.

“Stock Photos” by Robert Reed

Short-short. A guy is mowing his lawn when a couple stop and say they are photographers, will pay him to take some photos. He suspects they aren’t telling the truth. I don’t get it.

“The Road” by Robert Reed

Not much longer. The photographers from the first story stop and talk. One of them doesn’t get it, either, and wants to know what’s really going on. The other one tells him. OK, so now I get it. But it still isn’t very interesting. I have to wonder — if an author with some other name had turned this in?

“Agent of Change” by Steven Popkes

The whaler Mouth of Norway is rammed and sunk by a creature at first unknown, which is soon called “Godzilla” by the sensationalistic press. We follow a series of reports, from the factual to the nutsoid, as various parties view the events through their particular lenses. The kind of thing we’ve seen before.

“Fine Green Dust” by Don Webb

Post-apocalypse. In this case, the “great green heat.” Phillip Leiden is an aging high school teacher when it comes. Most of the animals seem to disappear except the bugs and the lizards, which have grown larger than usual. His neighbor says the lizards are going to take over the Earth and evolve to replicate the dinosaurs. Then he sees a naked girl sunning herself, covered in some kind of green powder that she claims will turn her into a lizard.

Not quite surreal. And a Cautionary Tale. Summer is coming.

“Signs of Life” by Carter Scholz

After an episode of life failure, Jim Byrne is working as a database tech for the Human Genome Project. His boss orders him to investigate the introns and other extraneous junk that litter the human helix. Byrne correctly suspects his boss has ulterior motives, but he takes up the challenge regardless. And finds a pattern.

Finally I record one run after the next. The simulation isn’t stable. Again and again it crashes. In the wreckage is nothing but junk and ruined genes. Most surprising is the junk’s persistence. Some noncoding structures survive longer than genes.
So there’s your message, Sorenson: the human genome is unstable. Junk persists; junk wins. I conclude that human life is impossible.

This is nicely-written science fiction both as science and as metaphor for the human condition, with a bit of maybe-timewarping thrown in. Jim Byrne is an engaging character and every paragraph exhibits his self-destructive struggle.

–RECOMMENDED

“The Old Terrologist’s Tale” by S L Gilbow

This being a terraformer, not one who studies terrorists. The narrator, hoping to sell colonists on her newly-built planet, encounters critics who claim it is too boring. An old terrologist replies with a story about a terrologist who builds a world that is beautiful but useless. Rather predictable.

“Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer” by Ken Liu

A post-Singularity world where the hundreds of billions of posthumans lead immortal digital existences in an Arctic Datacenter, while the rest of Earth reverts to a natural state and human monuments fall into ruin.

No one ever talks about engineering now. Building with physical atoms is inefficient, inflexible, limited, and consumes so much energy. I’ve been taught that engineering is an art of the dark ages, before people knew any better. Bits and qubits are far more civilized, and give our imaginations free rein.

Renée is one of the few with a parent who had once been born in the flesh, but Sophia is about to leave Earth forever to explore another planet. She makes a final visit to Renée, to say goodbye and to show her the three-dimensional world.

What I like about this one is the author’s evenhandedness in portraying both the physical and the digital worlds with their own forms of beauty. Renée is fortunate because she has experienced the best of both. But there is also the moment when their flyer rises high enough that a nearby fjord makes the Datacenter look tiny in comparison, and we realize that entropy will eventually have its way with the digital universe it supports.

–RECOMMENDED



Eclipse Four, edited by Jonathan Strahan

The latest in this series of unthemed anthologies features fourteen stories by authors of high reputation in the field. The title suggests that the subject matter will be science fiction, but in fact the range is very broad; even stretching the genre boundaries, I can really only count eight of them as SF. The rest include horror, fantasy, and even the mundane.

While most of this fiction is successful, where the volume stands out is in the number of stories that present fresh, novel scenarios, really original twists on the genre material.

“Slow as a Bullet” by Andy Duncan

A Tall Tale. The time that Cliffert Corbett bet the boys hanging out at the gas station that he could outrun a bullet. Now when he said that, Cliffert was just running his mouth, but the bet was made, so he figured what he needed was a slow bullet, and for that what he needed was slow gunpowder.

First he ground up some snail shells and turtle shells and mixed that in. He drizzled a spoonful of molasses over it and made such a jommock that he had to start over, so from then on, he used only a dot of molasses in each batch, like the single roly-poly blob Aunt Berth put in the middle of her biscuit after the doctor told her to mind her sugar.

All the color and hyperbole expected in a proper Tall Tale, told in an entertaining storyteller’s voice, which is the main point of the mode.

“Tidal Forces” by Caitlín R Kiernan

Charlotte and Emily are watching the ocean when a strange shadow comes towards them across the waves and knocks Charlotte down. It leaves a faint pinprick on her side. But by the next morning it has grown to the size of a dime and continues to grow.

How she stood in the steaming spray watching the water rolling down her breasts and across her stomach and up her buttocks before falling into the hole in her side. Not in defiance of gravity, but in perfect accord with gravity.

As Emily realizes that she is going to lose Charlotte, she tries to hide from the inexorable reality, building evasive card-houses in her mind so that she will not have to face it. Because it seems clear that there is nothing else she can do.

An imaginative premise that might, in the hands of some other author, be treated as surreal. Here, it is it powerfully real. But the heart of the story is love, and how a person reacts to the sight of the person she loves being slowly destroyed.

She smiles for me, and so I smile back. I don’t want to smile, but isn’t that what you do? The person you love is frightened, but she smiles anyway. So you have to smile back, despite your own fear.

–RECOMMENDED

“The Beancounter’s Cat” by Damien Broderick

On an artificial Iapetus, Bonida works in the revenue office, where she deducts body parts from delinquent taxpayers, using certain seemingly-magical skills passed on to her by her mother.

The vivid, secret ambition of this woman, masked by an air of diffidence, was to answer just one question, the cornerstone of her late mother’s cryptic teaching in the Sodality, and one implication of that answer, whatever it might be: What, precisely, was the nature of the ancient Skyfallen Heights; and from whence (and why) were they fallen?

One day she is visited by a smartass talking cat, who offers to escort her to a place where these secrets will be revealed. And so they are.

An example of technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, in a far, far future that doesn’t remember its own origins, and where the gods have grown weary of their existence. What all this has to do with Bonida is rather tenuous and obscure. Despite the cat, I don’t think I would have picked such a person to choose the fate of everyone on the world.

“Story Kit” by Kij Johnson

A metafiction, non-SFnal or fantastic. The author writes indirectly about the pain of her own betrayal by using the story of Dido’s betrayal by Aeneas. She also writes about this process.

• the sound of the words
• what the words mean
• how they string together into phrases, like the linked bubbles of seawrack
• the structure
• the plot
• memories and lies
• the things the author wants to think about — “This is about love and betrayal” — the theme
• the feeling she wants to inspire in readers

This is a writer story. I tend to be dubious about writer stories, but this one has sufficient appeal to nonwriter readers. I never did like Aeneas, don’t know what Dido saw in him.

“The Man in Grey” by Michael Swanwick

The narrator is a combination of guardian angel and stage director, controlling the sets that ordinary people [the talent] think of as reality. Behind it all is the grey:

the roiling, churning emptiness that underlies the world we constantly make and unmake in the service of our duty. The colorless, formless negation of negatives that is Nothing and Nowhere and Nowhen. The calm horror of nonbeing.

A mistake is made when “pregnant, loveless, and unwed” Martha Geissler steps back away from an oncoming train at the last moment. She sees the man step out of the grey; she demands explanations. She doesn’t like what she hears.

An odd scenario, a very Cartesian situation: as long as the thinker/perceiver is unaware that perceived reality is a deception, it is effectively real. Until she sees the grey.

“Old Habits” by Halo Hopkinson

A ghost story. The narrator is a ghost, one of several who haunt the mall, all of them who died there. Or perhaps it is the mall haunting them. Once a day, they relive the moment of their deaths. The rest of the time, all they can see are inanimate objects and the other ghosts.

I like Black. I can’t touch her to comfort her. Can’t even whisper to her. Not while she’s still alive, which she just barely is right now. In a few seconds she’ll be able to hear and see me, to know that I am here, bearing witness. But we still won’t be able to touch. If we try, it’ll be like two drifts of smoke melting into and through each other. That may be the true tragedy of being a ghost.

I think it is actually being so close to life but unable to touch it, to see, hear or taste it. There is a great deal to suggest that the mall is hell and the ghosts are damned, even the baby too young to do much of anything but cry. An unsettling vision of the afterlife, a fate that might be waiting for us all, without regard for innocence or guilt. That’s horror.

“The Vicar of Mars” by Gwyneth Jones

The eponymous clergyman is an aging Shet, the Reverend Boaaz Hanaahaahn, High Priest of the Mighty Void. His real reason for coming to Mars is rock collecting, but he is a conscientious cleric, so he reluctantly undertakes a pastoral visit to the human Isabel Jewel, who has been suggested as perhaps being in need of his spiritual guidance. Afterwards, however, he suffers from nightmares and the inescapable sense that there is something evil lurking behind him.

That which waits at the gates was taking shape in an empty chair. It waits for those who deny good and evil, and separates them from the Void, forever

The locals attempt to warn him away from the old woman, but Boaaz is firm in his faith and convinced he has a duty to guide Isabel Jewel into the Void.

Despite the offworld setting and alien protagonist, what we have here is a classic horror story, with a very familiar human monster, once we finally see it clearly. It is a story of faith and its loss in the face of horror. I don’t think it makes sense, however, if it is well-known that Isabel Jewel is supposed to be in isolation, that Colonial Social Services would refer her to him.

“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky

Dennis dies. The afterlife isn’t what he had in mind. It seems to be about other people, but it isn’t quite hell, either. It’s still a very dull sort of afterlife, and Dennis and his relatives are very dull sort of people, about whom it’s hard to care, either way they might have gone, or think they might deserve much better.

“Thought Experiment” by Eileen Gunn

Ralph Drumm invents time travel while he’s at the dentist. He tries it out, but his reception in the past is not what he had expected: He noticed that they were muttering in a very unpleasant tone, picking up stones and glancing in his direction.

A clever new twist on the contradictions of time travel. Love the last line.

“The Double of My Double Is Not My Double” by Jeffrey Ford

The narrator’s double is kind of an asshole, but he hasn’t caused him much trouble until the double develops a double who is [the double claims] a real pain. The double becomes obsessed with killing his double. The narrator wants to tell his wife about all this, but she doesn’t believe in doubles.

This light fantasy is played for humor, but it provides some interesting fodder for speculation. If the narrator’s double is created from his bad side, are a person’s characteristics concentrated at each doubling? An inconsistency is bothersome: at one point, the story suggests that doubles are legally recognized [they have to fill out paperwork, and there are doubtless special problems with identity theft], but the narrator’s wife and shrink insist it is all just hallucination.

“Nine Oracles” by Emma Bull

Nine different points of view [only one of them SFnal] on the downside of being right. The model is Cassandra. It’s all too true: they don’t listen.

“Dying Young” by Peter M Ball

A dragon walks into a bar. Wearing a gun. There’s going to be trouble. Paul foresees it.

I can see trouble coming ’fore most folks, even without the third eye. It was Da that taught me the trick of it, the ways of reading a room and seeing who’ll make the first move. The dragon weren’t lookin’ for trouble when he first walked in, but he were waiting for some to roll on by and get itself started of its own accord.

It seems there was a war a while back, when people started working on mutations and augmentations, and most of them are pretty nasty – nastier than the dragon. Now the dragon is in town to kill Doc, the local mad scientist.

Although this is post-apocalypse SF, the scenario is that of a western, as is the narrative voice. While Paul isn’t the sheriff, he takes that role: the figure caught in the middle, forced to choose between bad and worse options, and his sight isn’t going to make the decision for him. Nicely done.

“The Panda Coin” by Jo Walton

On the mining colony Hengist, a rigger helps out a lost Eritrean tourist who pays him a ten in coin, with a panda on the face. He doesn’t know why a panda, but “Eritreans are weird.” The coin passes rapidly from one hand to another, in and out of lives – human, android and AI – observing them all.

A nice notion, an interesting way to take a look at some of the strata of this artificial world, in which ordinary humans are struggling not to become obsolete. I’m surprised, though, that there weren’t twelve episodes, as the author makes rather a point of Hengist being divided into twelve sectors.

“Tourists” by James Patrick Kelly

A sequel. Mariska has spent most of her young life in a state of resentment, determined to thwart her overbearing clone-mother’s plans to make another interstellar spacer of her. But her first attempt at independence ended in tragedy and left her back in her mother’s orbit, on the starship base where preparations for their next voyage are well underway. The base is also in the orbit of Mars, and one of the spacers is a young [gene-modified human] Martian. Mutual attraction ensues, and Mariska grows up.

The trouble with sequels. As far as I know, there are two previous stories in the sequence, both published by Asimov’s. Subscribers to that zine might be expected to be familiar with Mariska’s backstory, but I’m not sure it is the case here. As I mentioned in my review of the second installment, it lacked closure; here at last we have the resolution of Mariska’s story. We see her become a mature young adult, we see the power shift in her relationship with her mother, but we can only properly appreciate this development if we are familiar with the original. This one is too much part of the whole to stand successfully alone.



On Spec #83, Winter 2010/2011

This Canadian little quarterly of the fantastic has been around for over two decades, featuring mostly Canadian authors. This issue’s editorial characterizes the zine as “unpredictable.” There are eight works of fiction in just over a hundred pages, which also include some interviews and editorials.

“Chorus of Final Sighs” by Andrew Boden

Robert Tavenstock has spent his life resenting his older brother Peter, Great Peter, who inherited the family gift for music, when all Robert did was paint. And, later, drink and lose money at cards. Peter has died and WWII is about to break out when he is called to his uncle’s deathbed and given a sacred charge: to make sure his last breath is preserved. It seems that only the collected final exhalations of the Tavenstock family can avert some apocalyptic future war. But Robert can only think that it was originally Peter who was supposed to be the last Tavenstock.

The premise, involving the last breaths and the organ, is not really credible. But the story is really Robert’s and could be summarized: how a man realizes he is an asshole only when it’s too late. On Robert, the author has done quite a job at that.

“Something to Remember You By” by Terry Hayman

The Earth is about to be invaded, and because his father was military, Kenny and his mother are on the evac list. A lot of people aren’t. A lot of people seem to be in denial. But Kenny has promised one of his father’s old friends to help leave the invaders a parting gift before it’s time to leave.

This is a story about deception. Exploitative deception, loving deception, and self-deception.

“If Truth Be Told” by Louise Moon

Quentin is a Truthseeker, but his ability is barely marginal. He works in a village that can’t afford a better one. His services are called upon when someone impregnates the tavernkeeper’s simple-minded daughter. Suspicion falls on the young man engaged to the village heiress, and she demands the Truth. The result is more truth than anyone expects, and a tangled web that catches everyone.

An entertaining tale, with a nicely self-deprecating narrator.

“Dreaming of Jerusalem” by Michal Wojcik

Miranda has been dreaming of a Crusader named William, on his way to Jerusalem. She has gone with a few friends following the route of the Crusades, but she doesn’t tell them about her dreams. At last, as she approaches the city, she begins to see it as it was, full of corpses and ashes. And finally meets up with the Crusader of her dreams and they look up the city.

Sir William gave no scream of triumph. All he could do was stare. At last, his face crumpled into a smile. He laughed. He sobbed. He dropped to his knees and offered prayer.

Despite the impaled villagers, this is a romantic fantasy, a time-travel romance.

“The Man Who Loved His Work” by Kate Riedel

Elwood is the resident ranger at a park where a college girl was lost many years ago. He is a rather lonely man, who keeps the framed newspaper clipping of the girl’s disappearance, with her photo, in his bedroom. But she has not actually disappeared.

But the leaves, the grasses, the bones and flesh of birds and animals, the dust itself, were alive with uncounted living things that were invisible to the human eye, but alive for all that. Nothing could be more alive than she was. In the midst of death we are in life.

Not quite a ghost story, but close enough. There is nice prose here, and the author makes good use of the traditional folksongs about men and women who died for love. A sensitive human story.

–RECOMMENDED

“The Wind Man” by Scott Overton

An Irish Tall Tale. Skelly Gilgoohen was cursed at birth with a traditional Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back. . . .

In consequence, he has spent his life wandering Ireland, going where the wind blows him, not as he wills, and telling stories along the way. And sometimes he thinks it might be good to settle down in one place, but the wind always blows him away. Until he meets a fine lass with a curse of her own.

A fine, entertaining tale, well-flavored with the Irish.

“A Kidnapping” by Marcelo Adrián Lillo

A boy wakes in a dark place, knowing hunger.

The room is small, somber, cavelike; a hug of concrete that splits him from the world.

But all is not as it might seem. Except it does not seem as the author would have it seem, because we recognize it as a false seeming, a trick ending we have seen too often before. The prose strains too hard for effect.

“The Crystaiad” by Bruce Barber

One day, with a thunderclap, Michael’s world suddenly turns to glass.

smooth or clear or mirrored or fine-faceted, all of it suited to its function, with an obvious internal logic as precise and considered as that of the original objects, whether those of nature or those of human device.

And within the facets of the glass and gems, there is a female face, always the same face, that he imagines to be a nymph of crystal.

A prose poem, really lovely, with every word chiming harmoniously.

–RECOMMENDED



Shimmer #13, 2011

This quarterly is all fiction, ten stories, most of them quite short, with no editorial matter. The fantasy here definitely has a darker tint, offering some disturbing images. A good issue.

“Bullet Oracle Instinct” by K M Ferebee

Martin is a journalist covering a nameless, endless war. The others speak of instincts, of knowing somehow which window across the street has a sniper behind it, but Martin doesn’t seem to have instincts; he formulates equations, instead.

This is what they did, the early humans, he thought. The ones who had no instinct evolved math to make up for it.

But it is possible that he is already dead, and this is hell. You never know. Martin may never know, if the bullet gets there first. That’s modern war.

“Labrusca Cognatus” by Erik T Johnson

The narrator’s father had an obsession about dying in certain ways that would cause him to be reincarnated as a being of power. When the narrator finally found his dead body, a strange plant was growing from his heart.

It was like a child’s drawing of a decapitated tulip, bright green with two narrow leaves on either side of the base of its stalk, suggesting an arrow pointing into the earth saying This Way.

A short short piece with a jolt at the end, a very weird tale.

“Gutted” by L L Hannett

Erl doesn’t believe in selkies, but his wife told him she has to leave him: It’s over. Let me go. So every night, he goes out in the boat, fishing for her.

Some unsettling, bloody imagery, particularly the fishwives skinning and filleting the mermaid tails.

“Frosty’s Lament” by Richard Larson

A variation on the Pygmalion legend, in snow. Frosty’s creator forms her as a substitute for his unfaithful wife. Sensuous language, inevitable conclusion.

“All the Lonely People” by E C Myers

Sophie calls them “faders,” people worn down by the city to the point where they want to become invisible.

The woman turned away from the window and closed her eyes. She was suddenly less substantial, washed out by the brighter natural light. I looked through her at the tops of buildings racing past us, the hazy Manhattan skyline, the orange and red of the sun dipping towards the horizon in a swirled wake of pink and violet clouds.

Sophie has made it her mission to help these people, but this has consequences.

A depressing look at urban existence. It raises the question of how much our lives depend on the regard of others; judging from Sophie’s experience, it’s surprising anyone exists at all. I’m not sure that firing someone from a job that is wearing them down is the best way to help them, even if it does keep their ghosts from cluttering the office.

“Haniver” by J J Irwin

Vic calls his creations “jenny hanivers,” after the chimerical mermaids and dragons that sailors used to make. Mel is one of Vic’s hanivers, although seemingly a young human woman. But now Vic has disappeared and other hanivers are turning up dead; Mel is determined to find her creator and learn what’s going on.

This one fails to satisfy because we see too little of Vic’s motivation, his reasons.

“Dogs” by Georgina Bruce

The narrator is now barking mad with guilt after she ran off with her friend’s husband and his dog, who were then killed in an accident. In the mental hospital, she has made a dog head mask – “my very favorite thing in all the world,” which she likes to wear outside the hospital.

Fantasies narrated by the mentally unsound are usually ambiguous at most, and this one certainly is, as it is established that the narrator suffers from hallucinations and strange dreams. Indeed, I have my doubts that she could have been of sound mind even before the accident; I am not convinced that these events alone could have driven her so far around the bend.

“Barstone” by Stephen Case

Barstone hadn’t always been a hill in the park. He hadn’t always waited under his cloak of dirt. Once he stood like a man, walked about even, probably ran and talked. Not that he didn’t talk now.

It was all because of a woman. He was big and slow, she was fast and slight, but when they kissed, he grew even more slow until he never stood up again and turned into a hill.

This one has all the material for a Tall Tale, but it isn’t told as one. There is poignancy instead of humor; there is friendship and love. An unusual tale.

“A Window, Clear as a Mirror” by Ferrett Steinmetz

Malcolm came home late from work one day to find a note from his wife Julianne, who had deserted him through a magic portal to the Sunlit Lands. She left him a magic mirror. Malcolm is crushed with grief and sets out to find her, or understand her, or something. He learns a lot on his quest and provides the reader with some notable insights about the nature of yearning for what we can not have and may not make us happy if we get it.

“Four Household Tales” by Poor Mojo’s Giant Squid

A set of short anthropophagous fables, composed by a committee.

Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Materials for review such as magazines and original anthologies can be sent to the following address:

Lois Tilton
POBox #4617
Wheaton, IL 60189

Electronic versions can be sent to: loist a*t sff.net

For an index of Magazine Issue reviews posted on Locus Online, including Lois Tilton’s, see Index to Magazine Reviews.

Comments

Comment from Adam Smith
Time May 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

Lois,

Thank you for all your extensive reading and your always-insightful reviews. There are just too many great magazines publishing spec fiction these days to catch them all, and your reviews really help me catch the very best of what there is to see on a monthly basis! Thanks again!

Comment from lito
Time May 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm

It turns up to be obvious this critic is a woman, as the outstanding adjectives are “lovely”, “poetic”, “nostalgic”, very meaningful words in female language. Instead of analyzing the structure of writing, I have read nothing but subjective labels of emotional criteria. Seriously, I don’t think this entitles for professional judgment.

Pingback from Good Things :: Shimmer
Time May 9, 2011 at 11:35 am

[...] fantasy here definitely has a darker tint, offering some disturbing images. A good issue. -Lois Tilton, Locus Online « Shimmer #13: Interview [...]

Comment from Jonathan Strahan
Time May 10, 2011 at 1:24 am

Dear Lito -

I confess to being…puzzled by your comment. What do you mean by female language? What do the words “lovely”, “poetic”, and “nostalgic” mean in “female language” that they do not also mean in English? And why do you think providing a subjective analysis of an emotional response to a work of art is in some way invalid grounds for professional judgement (assuming that I agree that this is what Lois has provided)?

I would agree that structural analysis of a piece of writing is one way to address it, but it is far from the only one. I, for one, have happily been reading Lois’s reviews for some years and, while I don’t always agree with her taste, I’m always interested in her opinion, which is typically intelligent, well-reasoned and exactly what we might hope for from a professional reviewer/critic.

You are, of course, free to disagree and feel differently, but are the criteria outlined in your comment really reasonable ones for assessing a piece of criticism or review? I suspect not.

Best,
Jonathan Strahan

Comment from Sean the Bookonaut
Time May 10, 2011 at 1:49 am

I would have thought it was bloody obvious that the reviewer was a woman because they are called Lois. Can you point me to a “female language” text so that I may brush up on which words I might use to make my fiction more masculine or perhaps to a review site where I can find some dry, analytical, emotionless reviews written only by men.

*headesk*

Comment from lito
Time May 11, 2011 at 9:08 am

Dear Jonathan:

You’re right about what you said. I probably let myself carry on, and I take what I said back. But I must insist on something: these critics, most of which I don’t agree with (but that’s just my opinion), can work as spoilers for those we haven’t yet read the stories in question, and by critizicing them one can reveal what the author wants to keep at hide for the reader, so the story can work for the purpose. I have never heard of Lois Tilton, I don’t know what extent of authority she has for qualifying these writings, but I’d ask her to be careful about telling too much about the stories, because they were not made to please the critics. Just the readers.
Sincerely,

Lito.


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