Friday, January 24, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction Extended Edition Nov-Dec 2013

Along with the usual editorial stuff we get a novella, five novelettes and two short stories in this edition. Less successfully for a magazine being read on a phone, there were also a number of cartoons. Personally I would have preferred more short stories but hey, we've got to go with what we're given and at least my kindle app usually remembers where I'm up to in a story these days

The novella is 'Success' from Michael Blumlein. This was a bit of a mishmash in my opinion as we get the tale of Dr Jim who was fired from his university job at the painfully young age of 36 due to his increasingly eccentric way - professors are supposed to be eccentric but there are limits and when he started his search for the Unifying Theory of Life the university reckoned he'd reached them. His wife stood by him almost all the way but when the device in their back yard continued growing over her objections she found her limits - and her own track towards tenure forced her to look at her own priorities. as I said above, I did find it a bit mushy but it worked better as a study of a mental collapse than as a science fiction or fantasy story.

The first of the novelettes is 'Through Mud One Picks a Way' from Tim Sullivan and takes us to a strange future where interstellar travel is possible and some aliens have been found in the Cetian system. Uxanna had been a colonist on the Cetian homeworld where she'd been one of those most successful in communicating with the natives. Returned to Earth many years after she'd left, Uxanna found any skills she'd had before leaving were outdated leaving her able to only pick up low level heavy muscle jobs. As such she falls into the orbit of a petty crook, Hob Dancer, who's managed to get hold of a trio of Cetians and he prevails on Uxanna to try and communicate with the aliens. Uxanna uncovers a number of things through the story, not least, a sense of belonging in this future world.

'Hell for Company' by Albert E Cowdrey takes us back to a potential meeting between a certain Samuel L Clemens and one Ambrose Bierce as the former recounts a tale he'd heard about ghostly goings on New Orleans just after the civil war. As usual from Cowdrey we get a fun and decently scary tale of the supernatural and the way of telling it as a recounted story didn't detract from the horror.

KJ Kabza presents us with 'The Soul in the Bell Jar' taking us to a world where the soul of a creature depends on its intelligence so humans' souls took up much of their physical structure and those souls can be captured and reattached to creatures that leave a more solid remnant though it is generally thought to be really bad form to reanimate forms with souls taken from other species. Lindsome Glass had been given over to the care of her uncle while her parents were abroad. Now, uncle was a leading scientist in this dark art. During her stay Lindsome learns the depths to which her uncle had gone in order to recreate a lost love. Some of the horror of this tale came from how closely this universe sometimes resembled our own but it did feel a bit forced in places.

'Stones and Glass' from Matthew Hughes takes us to a world where magic and some technology exist. Raffalon was a thief, though his skills lay in the area of the grand con rather than the ungentle arts of physical action. In the Freeborough of Tattermatch there existed an association of wealthy locals who collected weft stones only to find the Lapidarions club had ceased to be. This left Raffalon in a quandary for in his satchel he had a fortune in weft stones destined to make his fortune. So long as he could get rid of them of before they reverted back to common rock that is. And just to add to Raffalon's woes he finds a fellow visitor taking an unwelcome interest in his intentions. This was a really fun story in a serious sort of way with well written characters in the main.

'Baba Makosh' by M K Hobson takes us to revolutionary Russia and mixes the tensions between the communists and the pre-revolutionary classes into a classic tale of the Winter King and his conflict with his brother the Summer King. This was an interesting tale dealing with a period that was muddled enough without the intervention of the supernatural though the various elements in this particular story generally come together quite well.

Although also known as a crime/thriller writer, Brendan DuBois has written a number of science fiction stories including 'Hard Stars' where we're taken to a future where the proliferation of drone technology has perhaps gone a little too far. Even worse, the government has totally lost control of its militarised drones so any script kiddy with a beef against a neighbour has the means of redress at hand. Not to mention what hostile organisations might doA group of secret service agents make a final stand as they attempt to get their principle to a place of safety in a disintegrating country. I do have to wonder just how likely such a future would be despite the growing ubiquity of drone technology of all sizes and capability.

James Patrick Kelly presents us with 'Sing, Pilgrim!' presents us with a rather strange little tale starting in the present day and taking us into the future. This tale starts off with the sudden presence of a chair in the high street of Pulaski, Kansas. A bit strange but when someone tried shifting it they found it wasn't having it, remaining stubbornly in place as the local bank's janitor tried moving it. It wasn't the janitor who found the most remarkable thing about the chair but a dental hygienist who decided to sit in the chair as she waited for her bus. As she sat waiting, she broke into song, began shimmering and vanished from mortal ken beginning a long line of people wanting to use the Chair to transcend from this world and, this being America, at least one church. The whole tale is presented as an academic-light paper which provided an interesting style of story and made the story itself more interesting I think.

Next up is Charles de Lint's 'Books to Look For' as he examines the latest books to come under his scrutiny. The first of these are '' (Hard Case Crime) by Stephen King and '' (Gollancz) by Graham Joyce. Before he gets to the meat of the books de Lint takes a look back at the history of bookselling (well, the last decade anyway) to the point where e-publishing is now an expected part of the process. So King only goes and puts out a paperback only version of his latest opus as an attempt to get people interested in hardcopy versions of books, which then leads de Lint into a discussion as to whether such series as Harry Potter or Twilight, etc. get people reading more widely - he reckons they do and we'll see if he's right. 'Joyland' itself is a framed as a mixture of crime and fantasy though de Lint sees it more as a lyrical discussion of the protagonist's inner self. 'The Year of the Ladybird' takes us to another holiday camp though this is set in Skegness in eastern England rather than North Dakota. It's also, from de Lint's comments, far darker though both books share thematic similarities. The next book to be come under de Lint's scrutiny is '' (Concord Music Group) by Stephen King, John Mellancamp and T Bone Burnett, a play/musical based on events at one of Mellencamp's properties with King's libretto making up a hundred and something page book containing the CDs of the music and a DVD of the production's behind the scenes activity, though not one of the play itself. After the King comes a Gaiman with de Lint taking a look at his '' (William Morrow). After that is '' (Improper Books) by Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose. When Child is ordered into the estate of a wizard to take something shiny that her gang could sell for food, or face dismemberment for body parts, she finds the wizard making what a more traditional science fiction book would call robots and a more traditional fantasy book might call golems. Rather than do something nasty to the intruder the wizard offers to make her his ward though there are darker deeds in train. Both the writer (Read) and artist (Wildgoose) have combined, in de Lint's opinion, to produce a gem of a book. De Lint's final book is '' (Vanguard Productions) by Stephen D Korshak and J David Spurlock and it opens with the rather damning statement that this is the first time that he's liked the text in an art book more than the art that it's supposed to be celebrating. However, this isn't quite as bad as it seems. Apparently Brundage was a major force in early science fiction/fantasy artwork and produced some stunning artwork but that was also the period when the main bulk of the artwork demanded scantily clad, and well-endowed, young women clasped to the breast of a mightily thewed warrior or the slimly skin of the endemic bug eyed monster and it's this subject matter that de Lint finds uncomfortable rather than the artwork itself.

Chris Moriarty, looking after this edition's 'Books' column finally gets around to a look at Daniel Abraham's 'The Long Price Quartet (A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter, A War in Autumn, The Price of Spring)' (all Tor) which have all been republished in two volumes called '' (Orb) and '' (Orb) and '' (Candlemark and Gleam) edited by Athena Adreadis. Most of the column is taken up with a discussion of how genre, story classifications and people's expectations can come together to make what those people get out of a books completely different as to what's actually in it that they might as well not have bothered. Moriarty then goes through a number of books that defy the deniers after having a bit of fun at the expense of an essay in the 'Jewish Review of Books' asking where the Jewish Narnia could be found - the main thing about the Narnia books being they were written from a fairly narrow view of Christianity that wouldn't find an easy translation into a Jewish perspective. 'The Other Half of the Sky' edited by Athena Andreadis was used as a counter the question as to where are the female SF writers, though Moriarty also uses it to refute an assertion that SF has succumbed to a degree of intellectual inertia. Moriarty really enjoyed the world building in Abraham's quadrology after an initial reluctance to read it due to the formidable length of the series and its lead is anything but the young male lost-heir-of-the-kingdom of traditional extruded fantasy product, being elderly, lame, a scholar and female. There is also a reasonably decent economic setup.

Kathi Maio takes a look at the summer blockbuster releases (which does feel a bit odd as we gear up for the Christmas holidays) and musing on the viability of non-franchise films to succeed - we had a sequel Despicable Me 2), a prequel (Monster University), the third in a series (Iron Man 3), the sixth entry in a franchise (though number seven in the case of Fast and Furious may have been slowed a bit by the death of the male co-star), and finally, the Light-knows how manyth reboot of the Superman universe (Man of Steel). Maio takes a look at two non-franchise movies; 'Pacific Rim' which has clear roots in the old Japanese creature features of the fifties and sixties but ups the game by having giant pilot driven robots opposing the creatures on their home ground. Maio is less sure of her next film's ability to find a warm spot in anyone's hearts, once the patriotic joys of its Boston setting had worn of. R.I.P.D. does have a moderately interesting take on the afterlife when cop Nick Walker is gunned down on a drugs bust by his partner only to find himself back in a precinct house dedicated to hunting down deceased souls refusing to move on.
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