Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction - October/November 2009

It took me a while to read through the gigantic sixtieth anniversary issue. Congratulations to all of the staff over the years for keeping the magic alive for so long.

“The Far Shore” by Elizabeth Hand – After his termination as a ballet instructor, Philip finds sympathy from his friend Emma. She suggests that Philip should spend some time at Camp Tuonela, a rustic camp that Emma and her husband own. Philip hadn’t returned to the camp since his youth, and he decides that perhaps the change in scenery might clear his mind of his recent dismissal. Though Philip is supposed to be the only one wintering at the camp, he soon discovers an aloof, adolescent boy of unknown origin.

This was a little predictable, but it moved at a good pace. I couldn’t really identify with the protagonist, so I never felt connected with the story.

“Bandits of the Trace” by Albert E. Cowdrey – Professor Keyes has been trying to find a hidden treasure, but his sleuthing skills are rather limited. When one of his students displays a knack for crossword puzzles, he decides to see if the student can decipher a decades-old clue to the treasure’s location.

This reminded me of “The Overseer” in the telling, with a story written within the story. “Bandits of the Trace” is not as engaging as “The Overseer,” but it’s still a good read.

“The Way They Wove the Spells in Sippulgar” by Robert Silverberg – The narrator tells of his investigation into the mysterious disappearance of his brother-in-law, Melifont. He journeys to the city of Sippulgar, a place filled with so many religions that he finds it difficult to traverse the streets without becoming blocked by ceremonious parades. His investigation takes him to the temple of a religion Melifont co-founded, but he’s unable to accept the eye-witness testimony of the religion’s new leader. To believe the leader’s story would mean that Melifont had some degree of authenticity, a point that the narrator finds implausible.

This was my favorite story of the issue. I guess I’m a sucker for a good sleuthing tale, but there’s just something about how a detective story unfolds that I find appealing. Yes, this is a fantasy tale, but it’s an investigation in fantasy, and I really enjoyed the narrator’s voice.

“Logicist” by Carol Emshwiller – When an instructor takes his students to watch a battle, he unexpectedly finds the enemy coming after them. During his retreat, the instructor wanders into an alien land, the land of the enemy, where he tries to use his logical skills in understanding his predicament and the people he meets.

I was a little jarred by the protagonist’s constant list-making, but it fits with his character. My main qualm was that I never felt grounded in the setting. I just felt lost. Maybe that was the intension, but it just made me apathetic about the characters.

“Blocked” by Geoff Ryman – A casino owner in Cambodia prepares for an imminent alien attack (according to the world governments) by selling his business and moving his family underground. Relocating causes the children to reminisce of a time when their father abandoned them and their mother moved them to Cambodia from Europe, and these negative emotions affect the former casino owner, giving him doubts about sealing them away in the confinement of the underground.

This tale had great tension. I could feel the protagonist’s dilemma in hiding in the cramped quarters of an electronic advertisement overload. Very intriguing.

“Halloween Town” by Lucius Shepard – Clyde Ormoloo tries to escape from the world after a head injury causes him to peer into the dark makeup of each person. He becomes a citizen (probationary for six months) of Halloween, a town that lines a river at the bottom of a deep gorge. The longer Clyde stays in town, the more oddities and dangers he observes, especially in those who run the town.

I haven’t read of such unique scenery for quite some time; it’s highly captivating. The overall tone of the story was that of morose depression shadowed in gloom, but it works. At times, I got tired of the protagonist’s nihilistic philosophy or dark view of humanity, but overall, I could tolerate him. I would have enjoyed this piece much more without the explicit scenes.

“Mermaid” by Robert Reed – A young man’s car breaks down outside Jake’s home, and though Jake has no interest in helping the young man, he does have an interest in the young man’s companion, a girl who seems underage. Jake learns what he can of his unexpected visitor, leveraging the help of a retired detective. He pursues his investigation relentlessly, but what is Jake’s true motivation?

This was a pleasant Reed piece, but not one that will likely stick with me for a long time.

“Never Enough Blood” by Joe Haldeman – Xenobiologist Travis Dobb wears many hats in his authoritative role on the planet Runaway. When he’s called in to the scene of a young woman’s apparent murder, he finds himself inadequate in the role of solving the crime, but that doesn’t stop him from trying.

A quick read, “Never Enough Blood” has a great science-fiction world and an unpredictable plot. I hope to see more of Haldeman’s work in future issues.

“I Waltzed with a Zombie” by Ron Goulart – Hix, a B-movie scriptwriter, meets with actress Marlys Regal after she asks him to do some detective work. She informs him that well-known actor named Alex Stoner died and was brought back to life in order to complete the shooting for a new film. Hix hopes to uncover this scandal in order to bring publicity to his idea for a new musical titled I Waltzed with a Zombie.

There’s a lot of humor in this story, especially around Hix’s character. I found it really amusing.

“The President’s Book Tour” by M. Rickert – In a small town, the survivors of war only give birth to children suffering from extreme physical disorders, likening them more as monsters than people. When the president stops in town to promote his book, they try to find the good in his speech, of the beauty he sees in their children. The president then decides to live in the community, though his motivations for doing so are not as benign as they appear.

I felt like Rickert was trying to make a political statement, perhaps about environmentalism (based on statements about “green” and destroying vegetation), but I couldn’t discern any clear statement. Perhaps this piece spoke against environmentalism, perhaps for it, or maybe it was about war or the deceit of politicians. Even when I wasn’t searching for a point to the tale, I couldn’t get a sense of what was happening – why these children were misshapen or why the president wanted to marry one of the children. I suppose the whole thing was just over my head.

“Shadows on the Wall of the Cave” by Kate Wilhelm – When Ashley and her cousins Nathan and Joey are children, they often play in a small cave near their grandparents’ home. One day, while the three of them are pretending to be in a pirate cave, Ashley finds herself enveloped in darkness. When she finally escapes, they can’t locate Joey. Ashley and Nathan have no explanation for Joey’s disappearance, other than what she experienced, and years later, Nathan is determined to reenter the cave to search for clues and prove his innocence. Though Ashley is terrified of what might await them, she agrees to return in hopes of understanding what happened to Joey.

This story took an unexpected turn, one that I found refreshing. I really felt pulled into the story and the struggles of the characters. It’s a great tale.


ResAliens said...

Thanks for your comments on these stories - I found myself agreeing with you often and going back to what I wrote in my review at Tangent Online to make sure! haha -

At any rate, I thought Rickert's story was a bit obscure as well. And Shepherd's was one of my least favorite. I see you didn't comment on Oberndorf’s “Another Life” - Like "Halloween Town" it was too explicit for me as well.

Best Wishes, Lyn

Matthew Wuertz said...

Normally, Gordon Van Gelder puts warnings in front of explicit stories, and when I inquired about this issue, he said that omitting a warning for "Another Life" was an accident.

I'll be sure to check out your review sometime soon. Thanks for posting, Lyn!