Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fantasy & Science Fiction Extended Edition September/October 2013

In this edition of the periodical has a novella, three novelettes and eight short stories.

We start off with Rachel Pollack's 'The Queen of Eyes', the latest entry in her series of stories featuring Jack Shade. In this tale, Jack's calling card ended up in the hand of Sarah Strand who looked and acted like the typical soccer mom. But no-one who came with his card could be entirely normal and he had an obligation to answer the call of such bearers even when what she was asking for was for Jack to find her mother who'd appeared to have disappeared. Now, Jack knew nothing about missing persons investigations and he had a bad feeling about this one in particular. As he develops his appreciation of the situation he soon realises that he should really have listened to himself. Where the first Jack Shade story was rather horrific and quite suspenseful from the start this one took a while to start getting in to the meat of the story while we get a tour of hidden New York but it did crank up quite nicely though I'm not sure the introduction of so much Supernatural infrastructure is a Good Thing.

Next up is Susan Palwick's 'Hhasalin' takes to a human occupied planet but this tale is told from the point of view of Lhosi one of the natives. The humans had come to the planet in the face of local opposition and it had been going badly for the humans despite their high technology for the natives had the ability to create shapes from the air and they came up with some ingenious devices. The humans unleashed a bioweapon that aimed to destroy the native ability to shape but instead, it killed most of the natives and left the survivors severely weakened. Taken from the orphanage to help Master and Mistress with the children, Lhosi gradually becomes aware of this shameful past that had been hidden from her as she grew up and loses the admiration of her human hosts that had sustained her youth.

Albert E Cowdrey gives us the 'The Collectors', set in present day Louisiana and introduces us to Charlie and his psychic mother Bella. Alex. Charlie's father and Bella's ex, had died along with his current mistress after acquiring some looted artwork from WW2. We get a potted history of Hermann Goering's mass looting of European artwork - not just the odd item, but items by the trainload. One of the items that found its way into Fat Hermann's possession was a superb monstrance. Through the ages this artefact made its way into various hands by varyingly unsavoury types until it ends up in Alex's hands. Alex was aware of the need for security and his safe was a prime example of the state of the art with all sorts of bio scanners stopping people getting in. the fact that getting out was a piece of cake would seem to be something of theoretical interest except Bella is a powerful witch able to teleport herself inside and just open the door to reveal the monstrance to her son. Despite advising him strongly to just return the relic to the nearest church, the genes inherited from his father reared their ugly head and he attempts to sell it off to a collector of dubious morality. The monstrance objects and it takes his mother's powers to save her son from his mess. This was an interesting tale of magic and mystery though I feel it might be felt that Cowdrey was making Goering seem rather nicer than he was in reality.

'Bemused' by Marc Laidlaw takes us to back to the universe of the gargoyle Spar and bard Gorlen. Gorlen and Spar have come to an accommodation and are searching for the magician who had swapped their hands. After a particularly satisfying festival, the duo decided to join up with their colleague Haff and a number of other players who were heading off to the halls of Wollox Hall where the lord held open court for any musician passing through and his sister ran a huge archive so for a while Gorlen and Spar were lost in this apparently benign world. But both gradually become aware of a darkness lying below the Hall. The story was rather neat in the way it gradually managed the change from a rather positive outlook to one of despair and struggle with disbelief.

'myPhone20' by Robert Grossbach was a fun tale about the never-ending sequence of upgrades we are being subjected to in this area of technology. Grandpa was a Luddite of the old school, not carrying a 'phone of any sort, smart or not. All around him, his family and friends were on that ever accelerating cycle of upgrades until we reached version 20, an injectable phone that used nanites to embed the technology in the user's brain. But as the people accessing the Loom grew a new phenomenon made itself apparent as masses of the world's population began losing their ability to hold to their separate identities. I suspect that the love people show about their phones would ever go quite as far as indicated in this story but it was rather interesting all the same.

'Un Opera nello Spazio (A Space Opera)' by Oliver Buckram is a rather fun piece, the libretto of an opera written about the events aboard the Terran warship and its duel with the aliens. It is a bit silly but the opera sounded quite fun (for a change :-)).

'The Shore at the Edge of the World' by Eugene Mirabelli takes us to a time of flux when the messengers of the gods were dispatched to tell us mere mortals that they'd changed their creation (mind, it was fairly obvious when they'd stopped the dogs talking ). Now, the messenger had reached the remote fishing village to announce that the world, once flat, was now round but the villagers were well aware of his message and were still annoyed about the dogs so he got a dunking before being abandoned. Almost. A pair of women remained and too him into their home though the elder woman wasn't sure about her daughter's interest in the supernatural visitor. After all, she knew where that would lead but she had her own plans for unaging Gabe. At first I thought that this was going to be another rather light-hearted piece but the story became deeper as Lucia's plans develop.

'Affirmative Auction' by James Morrow is a rather satirical look at the Charleston slave trade as viewed through a alien's perception of a mishmash of Terran philosophies. I can't say that this was a particularly deep story but there were some interesting points in it.

'After the Funeral' takes us to a time where it's possible to upload personalities to computers where they can continue to develop. Alice found her house empty after the death of her husband Robert, a professor at Berkeley. As she searched for a new focus to her life, Alice is confronted by Professor Sam an uplifted canid and a member of the faculty. At first he just offers his condolences then he starts pressing his suite on Alice and finally attacking her husband for claiming credit on a shared piece of work. Robert's uploaded personality finally returns home for a brief visit that doesn't go particularly well though he's amused to learn of Professor Sam's attempt to court his wife.

In 'The Game Room' from KKJ Kabza we are introduced to a house that has a mind of its own and after the siblings' parent died, House's tendency to lose - exchange, rather - its rooms starts growing out of control and while some of the siblings thought the locations the new rooms opened up were great, others feared House's abilities. This was a fairly scary story if you really think about what it's doing.

'Rosary and Goldenstar' by Geoff Ryman takes us back to Shakespeare's London and the household of Thomas Digges an Elizabethan amateur astronomer [check bio details] and it details the meeting between Digges and a pair of Danish travellers who just happened to find their way into one of Shakespeare's plays. We also meet a young Shakespeare and Dr John Dee. It was bit of fun at the start but I felt it got a bit muddled in the middle and the introduction of Dr Dee introduced a darker note.

'Half as Old as Time' by Rob Chilson takes us into the far future where the remnants of those still on Earth have reverted back to a primitive nature and Wrann has committed an act he feels was unforgivable so he wanders his nearly deserted world until he reached the mounds that marked Babdalorn the Last City, home of Crecelius, the Last Man. As he walked amongst the ruins he finds that Babdalorn and Crecelius are not as mythical as their legend would make you think. He also finds an absolution for his tortured soul. A rather nice tale though I do feel that Crecelius was rather a silly character.

Charles de Lint's 'Books to Look For' column opens with a basically positive review of Freda Warrington's '' (Tor), the third in the Aetherial sequence - no official word on whether this is a series yet. Although de Lint feels that you should have read either '' or '', and preferably both, to get the best out of this book, the story is sufficiently standalone to allow you to enjoy it on its own merits. '' by Jo Rioux (Kids Can Press) tells the story of Suri, orphan tagalong with a merchant caravan, well enough liked by most members of the crew to survive the disapproval of the caravan master. Suri claims to be from the mountains and dreams of becoming a monster tamer, one of those whose duties keep the monsters from raiding the lowlands. '' (Abrams) by John Matthews and Matt Dangler should have been a book de Lint liked but he appears to have found Dangler's illustrations just too surrealistic to really enjoy and he found them a bit lifeless and the appreciation isn't aided by the use of other artists' work. The book as a whole makes a good starting point for the newcomer to folklore and has a facsimile map of fairyland (). Phillipa Bornikova' '' (Tor) appears to be yet another entry in the vast population of books dealing with vampires/werewolves and elves - in this world, the supernaturals are out and in charge with the vampires in the law, werewolves in the military and the elves absent from the scene in this first book of the series. In de Lint's opinion, this is entertaining but seems to lack focus, swapping from genre to genre between sections for little apparent reason. Next up is '' (Night Shade Books) from Carol Wolf which, rather suitably, deals with werewolves and though this sort of book is becoming far too common, de Lint reckons Wolf manages a new angle on the genre. Next up is '' (Archaia) by Charles Soule & Greg Scott takes us into the murky world of university PhD programmes, in particular the world of Chaos Theory where Heller Wilson starts working for Dr Brownfield, either a genius or insane and familiarity doesn't help Wilson decide which - apparently Brownfield believes New York is a complex machine that he has kept running since 9/11 but now another disaster is looming and he needs an apprentice to help him stop it. The final book in the column, '' (Philomel) from David Levithan and Andrea Cremer brings us the story of Stephen, born invisible and living alone in a New York apartment since his mother's death. No one's ever seen him. Not even himself. And apparently the authors manage to answer the questions as to how this is possible reasonably sensibly. The story starts moving when Elizabeth, her brother and her mother move in to an apartment just down the corridor. Her brother had been beaten up for being gay and Elizabeth had been abandoned by her friends. Elizabeth proves to be a special person in Stephen's life when she turns out to be the only person to be able to see him.

Michelle West provides us with her 'Musing on Books' with looks at '' (Orbit) Kate Elliott, '' (HarperCollins) by Joe Hill, '' (Tor) Hannu Rajaniemi and '' (Harper) by Soman Chainani.

In his column, 'Beam Me UP, J.J.', Lucius Shepard takes us on a tour of one the most famous TV and film franchises ever. No, not that on, the other one, the one that boldly went where no man had gone before, 'Star Trek' in all its seven series (Original, Animated, Next Gen, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise Reboot [check]) incarnations and twelve films. Although he some (very) limited nice things to say about it, in the whole, I have the feeling that Shepard wouldn't be very welcome at the next Star Trek convention, nor very happy at going to one. Although he spends some time slagging off the series, some of his ire is reserved for the various films as they pushed the acting skills of (especially) the original cast beyond their abilities. I have to say Shatner as Kirk, especially in the films, really did overact rather badly - I believe he'd done some stage work between TV series and films and didn't realise he needed to cut back on the gestures for the cameras. His full blown ire is reserved for the two latest films from JJ Abrams, especially the last and I have to agree that the second of these in particular is very little more than a series of set pieces with little or no character development (even by ST's limited yardstick). He's even more scathing of '', M Night Shyamalan's latest not very good release (and he was even less complementary about the lead actors, Will and Jaden Smith).
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