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Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, mid-March


March is turning out to be a particularly good month for reading. I found good stories in all the publications reviewed below.

The Good Story Award goes to the Howard and Kiernan pieces from Subterranean.

Publications Reviewed



Subterranean, Spring 2013

I usually look forward to a new issue of this quarterly because it offers stories at a greater length than the usual ezine, as well as authors I rarely see elsewhere. The current issue, though, goes beyond these standard virtues. There are six stories here, dark fantasy of different shadings and tones. All are good, some very good indeed – superior stuff. Subterranean has done itself proud this time.

“The Seafarer” by Tobias S Buckell

In the setting of the author’s “Executioness”, the world is being slowly choked to death by the deadly bramble that sprouts wherever magic is used. An awkward opening line: “The ten soldiers stopped their several days of running at the edge of the red stone cliff . . .” But we soon learn that, rather than jogging back and forth along the edge of the cliff, these soldiers have been fleeing a pursuing force from the army that defeated their own. Alej evades them makes his way to the independent city seaport Rusajka, where he finds work on a ship. It’s different world, but one afflicted with many of the same problems as life on land. They can’t repair their ships or their magical devices for desalinizing seawater without the aid of cities that are falling into chaos themselves.

Alej comes to realize that his hope of leaving the life of war behind is doomed to disappointment. But his story is just a small piece in the larger one of a world collapsing under the consequences of its own excess:

The desperate crowds rushing the dock at Zebari. Thought about open seas with no water. And the creeping bramble slowly choking western cities from the lands around them.

Any small victories that people like him can achieve will only be holding actions in the face of the greater, global disintegration. As such, a Cautionary Metaphor, but one that readers might have already seen in previous installments of this series.

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard

I like this prose:

The white bird flew through the clarion of the cathedral bells, winging its way through the rich music of their tolling to perch in the shelter of the church’s walls. The chiming continued, marking time into measured, holy hours.

Maeve is a painter living in [future?] New York when she sees the bird, who seems at first to be a naked man – because he is, the result of a curse laid centuries ago. Most people can’t see Sweeney’s dual form, so Maeve intrigues him as much he fascinates her. But Maeve herself has a curse, a fear of people in crowds. And also, unknown to her, magical power in her painting. As she creates a new series of works inspired by him, Sweeney finds the world transforming in accord with her vision.

A flock of firebirds had taken up residence in Central Park, and an exaltation of larks had begun exalting in Mandarin in the bell tower of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

He thought he had seen the phoenix, but perhaps it had only been a particularly gaudy sunset.

Magic all unasked for, and stuck about with feathers.

Right from the beginning, readers are going to recognize this pattern and where it’s going. But the course of the plot is secondary here to the tone of the prose, a source of constant delight. And finally at the end, the author confounds reader expectations with a poignant twist.

–RECOMMENDED

“A Stranger Comes to Kalimpura” by Jay Lake

Set in the author’s “Green” universe, narrated by an aging Green who has been promoted to the tedium of administration when she would rather be running the streets again with the other Blades. So she was uncommonly pleased to discover that not only was someone seeking to have her assassinated, a stranger had come to town and terrified the population so that the people began to flee the city. As her older self comments,

Optimism is as fatal a disease as anyone might catch. Optimism exaggerated by pride is like gangrene in an amputated stump, with the power to transform a terrible failure into an utter disaster.

Action and mayhem ensue, along with a certain amount of self-doubt from a matured Green, who correctly assumes she can prevail against the assassins but overreaches in challenging the stranger, against whom nothing human can prevail. Of course we know from the beginning that Green survives the encounter, as she is the one telling the story. Prevailing, however, is another matter.

Green fans should be happy with this one, as it gives us some additional details of the heroine’s later life. But it’s definitely not entry-level stuff, and I can’t imagine a reader new to the series picking up on most of the details without the backstory. Most interesting here, and not requiring backstory, is the mystery of the stranger, what kind of entity it might be. In the end, not even Green comes away fully informed on this score, although she doesn’t seem to much mind. Readerly speculation, activated by authorly hints, will probably run along science fictional lines more than the fantastic. There’s also interest in attempting to decode the stranger’s puzzling utterances. The author is clearly having a lot of word fun with such locutions as “Sophisticated goats are entering slumber for mine.”

So it’s an entertaining read featuring a favorite character. But the essential problem here, as in the rest of the series, is Green herself. The author is too much in love with his creation, to the point of promoting her to the level of divinity. Omnipotence tends to make a character rather less than more interesting, even when that character discovers an obstacle she can’t overcome. So we’ve come to the point of, even the gods can make mistakes and suffer regret. But did we really doubt that Green was going to save Kalimpura? Or did we know all along that the author couldn’t allow her to fail.

“The Indelible Dark” by William Browning Spencer

A very odd ambiguous dark fantasy. Joel is a writer, churning out the sort of hackwork that makes him a living sufficient to dwell in rooming houses. He normally does detective fiction but at the moment he’s writing an SF story featuring some nasties known as Lethe’s Children. Joel isn’t a social sort of fellow; he avoids his neighbors, shops at night when the stores are empty – that sort of thing. Yet we learn that he once had a wife, lovers, friends, many of whom are now dead by suicide. As the story goes on it seems that suicide is stalking him. He remarks that he was morbid as a child and that a friend once said, “you’ve always been sort of…I don’t know…pro-death?”

At last, as his life becomes stranger and more reclusive, a figure appears in what might be a dream to tell him that he has forgotten the purpose of his life.

“Meditate on karma, my friend. The dark gets on us, and it’s indelible and we pass it along. You carry the suicide virus in your heart, and any chance encounter can infect others.”

On the other hand, the evidence of the SF story, which itself seems to be derived from a dream, suggests that Joel’s mind has become unhinged out of guilt after his wife’s suicide. The story features a boy who is probably Joel himself, a figure symbolizing death and understanding, and a heroine named Mary, the name of Joel’s wife. Lethe, of course, is a river of forgetting as well as death.

The author has a good touch with the ambiguity. And the explanations are not quite mutually exclusive. Joel is definitely coming unhinged; the indelible stain in his soul is growing darker. The question is why, and whether we can credit the account of karmic agents at large in the world. I’m coming down on the side that says the suicides that seem to follow Joel through his life are more than either coincidence or his own guilt can account for.

“The Prayer of Ninety Cats” by Caitlín R Kiernan

A film screening, a meditation on cinematic verity. Kiernan’s opening is a masterful linkage of the silver screen and vampires, although vampires are not strictly speaking the subject of the piece – but who cares when we have prose like this?

There’s silver dust embedded in its tightly-woven silk matte, an apotropaic which might console any Slovak grandmothers in attendance, given the evening’s bill of fare. But, then again, is it not also said that the silvered-glass of mirrors offends these hungry phantoms? And isn’t the screen itself a mirror, not so very unlike the moon? The moon flashes back the sun, the screen flashes back the dazzling glow from the projector’s Xenon arc lamp. Here, then, is an irony, of sorts, as it is sometimes claimed the moroaică, strigoi mort, vampire, and vrykolakas are incapable of casting reflections—apparently consuming light much as the gravity well of a black hole does.

While the figure of Countess Elizabeth Báthory has often been associated with vampires, in this account the fantastic element would be witchcraft. The 2nd-person narrator [with no particular person being addressed, so that we take "you" for "I"] is viewing a film about Báthory for the purpose of review. It is not one of the recent productions based on her life but a film we must suppose to be a classic made some time in the last century. The narrator knows its history, which scenes have previously been cut or censored; this viewing seems to feature the unexpurgated version – long enough to test the endurance of the viewer’s bladder. The account begins with the narrator hyperaware of [her] external surroundings, a theater fallen into decrepitude and dust, perhaps even the contemporary of the film. But as it proceeds, [she] loses even the awareness of her bladder’s distress, although not, perhaps paradoxically, all critical distance.

Sitting here, there is nothing but the film, another’s fever dreams you have been permitted to share. And you are keenly aware how little remains of the fifth reel, that the fever will break very soon.

Intercut with the narrator’s commentary are extensive scenes from the film, partly in screenplay format – which, of course, the narrator isn’t reading as she watches. The story told is a version of Báthory’s life in which two witch-like characters play prominent roles, and it features the cat prayer of the title, which actual tradition has ascribed to her. If the author had presented this account as a story in itself, it would have been quite worthy of interest. Instead, she raises the bar to make it the centerpiece of what has to be considered a metafiction, critiquing her own creation as full of historical errors, then objecting that such critiques are irrelevant to the film as story, that “Pedantry and nitpicking is fatal to all fairy tales.” But of course we can’t help ourselves. It’s the difference, which this piece illustrates so effectively, between the totally absorbed reader/viewer and the critical one, standing apart.

–RECOMMENDED

“The Syndrome” by Brian Francis Slattery

The narrator is a psychologist to the undead, who have dominated the Earth for several generations.

But the undead have no use for narratives, or any stories, at all. The idea of a beginning, a middle, an end. Of teleology of any kind. They don’t do it. But somehow they have psychological problems all the same—I suppose it will be my life’s work to understand why—and they come to me, whenever it is they come, for help.

She has a patient named Derek who keeps trying to kill himself, although the narrator claims he’s instead trying to recreate what it means to be alive, facing death. She gets the undead to try creating things. Some of them do. Derek suggests this represents a change in which the undead begin to replicate the problems the living used to have.

Existential crisis in spades. At first, the very notion that there is meaning to existence strikes the undead as a joke. But no longer. The narrator speculates a lot about the significance of these changes and discusses them with her patients. This is in fact more a speculating story than a plot or action one. A philosophical story, in fact.



Interzone #245, March/April 2013

IZ continues to evolve, with three of this issue’s five stories definitely fantasy – about which I have no complaint, as they are the ones I prefer this time.

“The Animator” by Chris Butler

Returning to a unique world in which people emit spores that identify individuals and mark them as dominant or subservient, with the strongest at the top of the order, a repressive one.

I would have preferred to pass by, but the Duke’s men were stationed throughout the crowd, and they pulled me in. Their spores were strong and dominating. I found myself wanting to see the men dead for their crimes, even before I knew what they were.

Powell is an apprentice clockmaker whose shop has gotten into the phenakistoscope business, a primitive form of animation. He is also involved with Eleanor, niece of the powerful Autumn Duke, who doesn’t approve of her involvement with a poor man with no future. So Powell takes the animation device to a new, successful level. Which unfortunately earns the wrong kind of notice from the Duke; the phenakistoscope is a kind of theatre, and theatre is considered subversive.

The spores may seem at first like an odd premise, but the author uses them skillfully to define this society; the implications of such a system are many and profound, and Butler takes excellent advantage of them. Animation devices give off no spores, yet they can manipulate emotions in a powerful way, which threatens the existing order. It’s clear why Powell got into trouble.

“Hypermnemonic” by Melanie Tem

An opaque work, the sort that makes readers slog through the text as the incomprehensibility level rises, desperately hoping for a moment of enlightenment that, in this case, fails to arrive. The narrator is Belle, who relates this account to Deanna, Mickey’s daughter. Belle was once a girl, now a hermaphrodite with a new name, now also a hypermnesiac, who has come with her enhanced memory to confront Mickey, an old abuser from long ago. Belle also exhibits synesthesia: “His voice still smelled gamey, like venison roasted rare.”

Not a personal visit, this is an assignment, a mission, on the authority of we know not who for a purpose equally unknown, even by Belle. We know it involves Mickey, a brutal character. Mickey reminisces with Belle about the past they share – which in his case seems sinister; everything about Mickey is sinister. He obviously has evil intent; Belle obviously means to go along with what he plans; this is her mission.

Feeling, smelling, tasting his rage not far beneath the surface, I allowed myself a tiny, risky satisfaction. It occurred to me that maybe, instead of or in addition to protecting society from Mickey’s now-pointless aggression, the Authorities intended to study or harness it for who knew what purposes. Like a suicide bomber from the free-form violence early in this century, except without the passion of martyrdom, I had nothing better to do than to be sacrificed.

More brutality comes, more revelations, hints and explanations that provide no real understanding, no real conclusion that I can discover. The function of Belle’s supposedly hyper-memory in all of this is unclear, for it seems that there are crucial scenes she didn’t remember properly at all, or that she remembers without comprehension. It seems that Belle as a narrator is more unreliable than infallible. Through a glass darkly, visions of a blind woman – that’s what we get, with a foul taste of violence and corruption.

“The International Studbook of the Giant Panda” by Carlos Hernandez

The American Panda Mission is all about reproduction – a task at which its captive panda population is not adept. The mission is there to help, using remote robotic simulators.

[Robots] Avalon and Funicello simulate coition in front of a live panda audience so that the reproductively challenged bears can learn where babies come from. That’s our mission today, in fact: to demonstrate for APM’s male pandas the proper way to impregnate a female. And playing the female lead in today’s performance is yours truly.

Unfortunately, religious fanatics have decided that the robotic surrogates constitute bestiality; terrorist attacks on the facility have occurred. Because APM needs good PR, reporter Gabrielle Reál is being allowed an intimate view of the operation. Very intimate.

The sensory details of life as a panda surrogate are interesting, particularly the mating scene. Unfortunately, this in itself is not a story, and the terrorist premise is very unconvincing. The APM director also lapses into infodump, when I would rather see more of her panda thumb.

“Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion)” by Damien Walters Grintalis

Andrius Kavalauskas, the last magician of Lithuania, couldn’t save his wife from the Soviet occupiers and can’t cure his dying daughter; magic is too dangerous now. The Soviets have arrested all the other magicians they could find. Andrius can’t afford the risk of leaving Laurita alone if he is arrested, yet he can’t resist the temptation to augment the stories she loves, of the old Lithuanian gods and spirits.

Andrius let a little magic slip free. Just a touch of the salt tang of the Baltic Sea and a darkening of the air near the ceiling to resemble a storm cloud.

A fitting though unsurprising conclusion wraps this one up. The real interest is in the old folktales.

“The Face Tree” by Anthony Mann

Davison is failing to make a living off the tourists in Oxford, so he retreats to the peace of the forest – to find it broken by a bunch of unruly kids assaulting an oak tree. A woman chases them off and tries to keep Davison from seeing what they were whacking on.

It wasn’t a knot at all, not as he had thought. Three or four feet off the ground, there was a face, jutting out from the trunk. It was of a man. Arising from the bark of the tree itself, it bulged out just as a knot might. It was as though there had been the stub of a thick branch there, and someone had come with a knife and a gouge and fashioned the likeness out of the living tree, then gone away and let the bark grow back over.

Sarah claims that she carved the face. Davison believes her at first, but readers will not.

A profoundly sad work. Davison is a loser, self-destructive and full of self-pity, but he’s also a man who can still write a poem, who can still hope a woman might love him. I have to think he doesn’t deserve what happens. Not the last bit, at least. The cruelty makes me suppose that Sarah belongs to that branch of the sisterhood whose houses have gingerbread walls and run about in the woods on chicken legs. The author also displays a strong misanthropic streak, a disgust for either British teenagers or humanity in general. I have to wonder whether Davison is actually the loser that he appears, or perhaps a too-sensitive soul unable to survive amongst such a population of brutes and bitches.

–RECOMMENDED



Eclipse Online, March 2013

Of the two stories, the Owomoyela is especially strong.

“Loss, With Chalk Diagrams” by E Lily Yu

A story of friendship and grief in a world where rewiring techniques can erase emotional pain. Rebekah and Linda were close friends in school, though quite unalike, Linda volatile and Rebekah emotionally closed-off. When Linda’s mother died, she refused rewiring, valuing her pain as part of her attachment. She demands of Rebekah,

“Do you love that man? Dom? If he died, would you cry over him? Would you spend years looking for him in the morning and expecting his presence in every room of your house and feeling your heart crack each time you realize he’s not there? Or would you go straight to the needles?”

Then Linda commits suicide.

The characters are the strength in this rather predictable piece. I’m reminded of Sense and Sensibility, with Linda feeding her excessive feelings like Marianne, except that Rebekah does not control her emotions like Elinor; she numbs herself to them. In this case, both women occupy the extremes, while sense would suggest a mean between them. The reference in the title to chalk diagrams suggests both the notes the girls used to leave for each other on the school pavement and the outline often drawn around a dead body in cases like suicide.

“In Metal, In Bone” by An Owomoyela

Mortova has been in civil war for a long time, which has resulted in a lot of dead people, now bones. Benine is able to read “the history in things” and so has been recruited to read the bones, “to pacify the dead”, which in practice means identifying them. Benine can do this because many of the bones hold the memory of the dogtags worn by the soldiers and those others who feared they might be lost in the war.

Buried in it was the certainty that the rebels would take his tags, cut off his head, his hands, and no one would know he had died here, no one would know his bones were his.

Benine’s skill is needed because the other side takes the tags from the dead. I have to wonder if his side does the same. There is no suggestion that one side is any different, any better than the other. Still, the soldiers cling desperately to their tags. No one, it seems, is hoping anymore that they will live.

The author has delivered something real of the essence of these conflicts, the wars where there aren’t rules, the wars where there is no escape even in death. It’s particularly noteworthy that it’s foreigners from outside the conflict who dig up the bones from the mass graves, but when the danger comes too close, the foreigners are taken away to safety. This, too, is today; this is now.

–RECOMMENDED



Lightspeed, March 2013

The story by Jake Kerr is straight SF, more Sfnal than a lot of the fiction I usually find here.

“Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” by Jake Kerr

The first thing readers will notice about this piece is the format. Back when HTML first emerged from the swamp, we were told that fiction would never be the same, that stories would be revolutionized with hypertext and multimedia elements in all directions. In fact, hypertext fiction online has turned out to be quite rare.* Here, however, is a story that seems at first glance to fulfill some of that promise, being largely in the form of a Wikipedia page, complete with numerous links, footnotes and even the occasional [citation needed].** This is a Neat Idea and a potentially useful one for SF, as infodumpfery could be shifted to outside the primary text, available only if wanted. Alas, the piece here does not fulfill that promise, as the links appearing in the text are only cosmetic, leading nowhere, providing no additional information. Too bad.

So, on to the story, in the form of a biography. It seems North American was devastated by a major asteroid impact in the 2020s, with most of the population killed. A relatively few survivors, including Julian Prince, escaped to Africa, where Prince became their voice, called “the conscience of a generation”, and the founder of the Impact Nihilism school of literature. The text contains several excerpts from Prince’s writings, which received major literary prizes.

From “Coming Home”

No one knew of anyone left behind.

To know was to be a participant in their death sentence, and that was too painful, too sad, too horrific. But the guilt existed, nonetheless. So they did what they could to avoid it. They didn’t look West. They didn’t watch sunsets. They never called or messaged North America, even as it still lived. They cut off their former lives and looked ahead to their new ones.

The biography is certainly the correct form for this story, which isn’t about the catastrophe itself but its effect on a single individual, his reaction to it, and the world’s reaction to him. Julian Prince’s subsequent life was entirely formed by the event. His epitaph, the last line of the story, is aptly poignant.

I do have a hard time with the notion that in Europe a New Optimism movement developed after the impact, a movement to which Prince stood in opposition. The obliteration of all life on the North American continent would certainly have had catastrophic effects in the rest of the world, so I wonder what they had to be optimistic about. Was it a “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” moment? The story never examines this, so it stands as a distraction from the biographical storyline, without improving our comprehension. A flaw in an otherwise well-conceived work.

[*] It’s impossible to read this piece, in which an essay titled “Coming Home” is a central element, without recalling Le Guin’s novel Always Coming Home, another post-apocalypse tale of North American that offers a true multimedia experience, albeit not in hypertext.

[**] Which assumes there will be a Wikipedia as we now know it in the last half of this century. As well as, for that matter, the prestigious publishing house Knopf.

“Let’s Take This Viral” by Rich Larson

On some kind of station in the far future, Default has decided to go down to the nocturns for some partying to get over the equivalent of a recent divorce.

When the dilating doors spilled him out on mainstreet, Default resisted cranking up the brightness in his optic implants. To do the nocturns right you had to do them dark. Flyby lights poured grainy orange on streets still wet from a pheromone-laced rainshower. Swirling neon advertisements tugged his gaze in all directions, icy blues, radiation yellows.

He knows he can count on his buddy Schorr to give him the current spit, and she introduces him to the latest cosmetic viruses, purveyed by a vender called Plagueman, who tells him, “All you have to do is override your immunity buffer.” Readers, recognizing the virus in question, will by now be convinced that Nothing Good will come of it. But that’s a matter of perspective.

What we have here is one of those futures where humans are virtually immortal and find it too boring to live. At least, some of them do. In fact, it takes a while to determine that these characters are indeed humans or even biological organisms. Overall, this is a place we’ve been before, although I do like the last line.

“The Dream Detective” by Lisa Tuttle

The nameless narrator is set up with Grace the dream detective – a fact she doesn’t normally mention to strangers. They don’t hit it off at all. But afterwards he starts to meet her in his dreams, which makes him uneasy, as if she thinks he’s committing dream crimes that she needs to combat.

Another night, another dream: I was in a theatre, up in the gods, where the rows of seats kept morphing into chutes and ladders, and every time I tried to get out, I ran into a little blonde girl in a blue dress, blocking the exit. She looked like Disney’s Alice, but when she trained her eyes on me like a twin-bore shotgun, I knew who she really was, and knew I was in trouble.

Then his dreams suddenly include his ex-girlfriend’s body, concealed in the trunk of his car.

Like a dream, this story makes no literal sense. The question is what symbolic sense it might make, and that, too, is clouded in obscurity. It seems that something real has happened in the narrator’s dream to Grace, which may or may not have been a dream shared by her, of which she may or may not have been aware. It comes down, as far as I can tell, to the question of who is in control of the dream. And while it ought to be Grace, everything seems to suggest that it is in fact the narrator. That the narrator must, without being aware of it, possess some very powerful psychic power with which he has drawn Grace into his own dreams to disturb and threaten himself. At least, that’s the best I can do with this mystery, but as a solution it doesn’t satisfy, and thus, neither does the story.

“The Bolt Tightener” by Sarena Ulibarri

Chaun has just begun what his predecessor has described as the most important job in the city – tightening the one thousand, eight hundred bolts on the inside of the seawall that protects it from the ocean. The old man’s parting comment is a warning: “be cautious around bolt 841.” The job pays well, but it’s strange that it has to be performed in secret, at night. There’s a menacing creature in the water around bolt 841. And there are strange crashes against the wall from the ocean side, as if something is trying to break through.

The sense of menace in this dark fantasy begins subtly, but readers will be sure from the outset that something is going to go wrong. Nicely done tension, but a lot of it is artificial, based on a secrecy for which we can not only see no good reason, there seems to be great reason against it, except that it serves the author’s purpose.



Strange Horizons, March 2013

Another month for interesting fiction here. Some of it, anyway.

“I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You” by Karen Tidbeck

This starts as a typical SH story, ambiguous fantasy, heavy on the metaphor. But it’s more than that, and unambiguously fantastic, despite the mundane setting. Anna has suffered most of her life from depression impervious to traditional treatments when her therapist hands her an unconventional treatment in the form of a pygmy goat. Based on the notion of a scapegoat, this one is called Sadgoat. Anna is instructed to take it home, where her depression will be transferred to the animal.

The goat bleated. It was standing next to me on the floor. I looked down at it. I started swearing at the goat, too, but it only stepped a bit closer and gently butted my leg with its head. I gave it a scritch behind the ear. It leaned into my hand, closing its eyes. Something uncurled inside me.

It soon becomes apparent that something unnatural is happening when Anna, almost immediately, begins to improve in a manner that can’t be attributed to the goat under any mundane psychological explanation. It can only be some sort of magic, which is even more clear when, as Anna improves, Sadgoat deteriorates. The problem is, Anna has grown attached to her – which anyone familiar with the cuteness of pygmy goats will readily understand. [I'm not so sure about the full-sized variety.]

The author manages to avoid an excess of sentimentality in this unhappy scenario, which does seem to call out for the hankies. The therapists’ office insists that the scapegoat serves only as a mundane object of transference, a symbol and a metaphor, but Anna knows, as we do, that they are lying. They also insist that the therapy goats have only been trained, not magically manipulated. Oddly, Anna never openly makes the obvious connection, which seems to be left up to the readers. I get the impression that the author doesn’t want to mention it out loud.

Many readers may rightly find here an indictment of the use of animals in medical research and treatment, but this isn’t an overtly political work, rather an emotional one. Anna knows she owes her mental recovery to the goat and feels that she owes it something in return. Yet the story doesn’t go so far as to raise the question whether she would be willing to give her illness back in exchange.

“Town’s End” by Yukimi Ogawa

The narrator, for lack of better opportunities, has taken a job at a marriage agency that doesn’t seem to have clients until a supernatural woman shows up looking for a man to impregnate her. The narrator, for whatever reason, doesn’t refer her to a sperm bank, which would seem like the sensible thing to do. Complications ensue.

I have quite a hard time taking any of this seriously, or any of these characters, except that hidden in the corners of the text is a remote, monosyllabic courtship that intrigues a bit – the one character we never actually see. I’m wondering if the marriage agency was really just a blind.

“A to Z Theory” by Toh Enjoe

Math weirdness, and more.

At a certain instant, on a certain day, in a certain month, in a certain year, twenty-six mathematicians simultaneously thought of this simple but beautiful theorem, affirmed it would be the ultimate theorem that would make their names immortal, wrote papers to the best of their abilities, and all submitted their papers to the same academic journal at roughly the same time.

It seems that Somebody is messing with people’s minds, putting theorems in them. Or maybe with the entire universe. Not only do these mathematicians simultaneously conceive/receive the theorem, but everyone who reads it is immediately convinced of its brilliance. Until the effect reverses, as it always does. Because the almost-same thing keeps happening, again and again. Concerning which, the narrator proposes a theorem.

Audaciously imaginative thought experiment that blows through genre boundaries, folding a literary mystery into pure mathematics and even cosmology, a plunge down a conceptual waterfall into a roiling wonderland of the mind. Much fun, which is something I rarely say about stuff with so many mathematical formulae. Adding to it is the question some readers might consider as an additional exercise: just who is the narrator? Someone we know?

–RECOMMENDED

Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Editors can send electronic files of magazines and original anthologies to: loist a*t sff.net

For print materials, please query me by email for the address.

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


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