Saturday, August 01, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction - August/September 2009

“The Art of the Dragon” by Sean McMullen – A two-mile long dragon appears from nowhere and begins destroying all architectural works of art across the world. With the credentials of an art historian and survivor of the attack on the Eiffel Tower, Scott Carr is selected for an elite group in Britain who try to understand the dragon’s origin and purpose.

The opening was strong and compelling, but I found the concept behind the dragon disappointing and implausible, even for a speculative story.

“You Are Such a One” by Nancy Springer – The middle-aged protagonist is driving to a funeral for one of her distant relatives. Plagued by a recurring dream of wandering through a strange house, she is startled to discover the house of her dreams along her route. When she inquires of the caretaker, she discovers something even more peculiar than her dreams.

The second-person narrative is refreshing, and I think it works well for this story. I was hoping for more closure, but perhaps I simply failed to grasp the ending.

“A Token of a Better Age” by Melinda M. Snodgrass – An imprisoned centurion awaits his chance to fight for freedom in the morning. He meets a patrician sentenced to death who asks the centurion to listen to his fantastic tale and report it to his mother.

I enjoyed this story until it became so outlandish that it turned sour. The historical settings and characters were well written, but once the plot became laughable, I lost a lot of interest in this piece. I think the enjoyment of this story will depend upon the reader’s personal theological views.

“Hunchster” by Matthew Hughes – Out of the small group of poker players in Lee’s garage, a young man nicknamed “the hunchster” has an odd way of playing, relying upon hunches rather than trying to read the other players.

Simple, surprising and humorous. Hughes presents an interesting tale that’s a quick read.

“The Bones of Giants” by Yoon Ha Lee – After years of existing in the rim of the Pit with the undead as his caretakers, Tamim despairs of life and nearly commits suicide. He postpones his plan when a young necromancer asks him to accompany her as she attempts to overthrow the sorcerer who rules the rim. Should they complete her quest, she promises him the death he desires.

An appropriate amount of creepiness and dread sets the tone, and I really enjoyed how Tamim and Sakera (the young necromancer) interact. I think this has been my favorite story by Lee that I’ve read so far.

Icarus Saved from the Skies “Icare suavé des cieux” by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (Translated by Edward Gauvin) – A man discovers to his horror that he begins to grow wings on his back, and he takes whatever measures necessary to hide them from everyone. His love interest, whom he eventually marries, sees his curse as an impressive gift and hopes to see them grow so large that one day he’ll be able to fly into the air in plain view of everyone.

I kept thinking of the scenes around Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand as I read this. I empathized with the protagonist, which is a sign of good writing when I consider how fantastic his condition is.

“The Others” by Lawrence C. Connolly – Clone iterations of a woman named Cara explore a new world, one clone at a time. The third clone, Gamma (who thinks of herself as Cara), was injured while defending a village of intelligent natives from a deadly fang-claw. Alpha, who orbits the planet, creates more clones to assist Cara in destroying a nest of thousands of fang-claws in order to save the villagers and prevent the fang-claws from overtaking the entire island.

This was my favorite story of the issue. I’d read Connolly’s prequel to this, “Daughters of Prime,” and this is a great continuation of that story. It isn’t necessary to read the other story before reading this, but if you have the chance, I highly recommend it as well. I like the action and tension throughout the tale, and I’m hoping Connolly might keep this series going.

“Three Leaves of Aloe” by Rand B. Lee – Amrit’s daughter has caused too many problems in her school and is facing permanent expulsion unless she’s implanted with a nannychip as a safeguard against disobedience. Amrit faces a great deal of opposition from her daughter at the thought of being chipped, and Amrit isn’t certain about how she feels about the idea until she has an insightful and disturbing conversation with her uncle’s young wife.

The setting and culture of India seemed unique to me, and I think the freshness of the scenery kept the story moving more than the actual plot. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the story; I just don’t think I would have liked it much if the author had tried a similar plot set in America.

“The Private Eye” by Albert E. Cowdrey – JJ Link has psychic abilities, talents he uses at the local casino until he’s banned due to his winning streaks. When a local girl is kidnapped and held for ransom, the local police and FBI run out of leads and turn to JJ for help. The young man learns how far his powers can go towards solving mysteries, but JJ’s interest is to simply retreat and live a life of solitude.

I don’t know how Cowdrey consistently writes so well. Honestly, I’m dumbfounded. If he hasn’t run a writing clinic yet, he needs to. And if such a clinic takes place, I need to find a way to attend. Yes, this is another good story. Read it.

“Snowfall” by Jessie Thompson – Harlan Ellison’s pick for the 60th anniversary of Fantasy & Science Fiction is “Snowfall,” and I can see why he picked it. This was a really moving, artful piece, and I won’t even attempt to summarize it. I highly recommend reading this if you can.

“Esoteric City” by Bruce Sterling – Achille Occhietti’s lifetime of successes are a result of his prowess as a dark magician, particularly in the art of necromancy. A long-term associate named Djoser, an ancient Egyptian priest he raised from the dead, comes to escort Achille to hell in order to meet with Achille’s former boss and master. Achille’s master warns him of a dreadful encounter he must soon face.

The humor around Djoser carried this piece for me. I wasn’t that interested in the main plot of the story, but I’d like to read other stories featuring Achille and Djoser.

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