Fiction Review -
by Steven Sawicki
To have your magazine or short fiction work mentioned here send a copy to Steve Sawicki, 2824 Furbeck Rd., Altamont, NY 12009. Everything received will be considered. Items not sent will not. Publications Index
In this Column: Cosmic Tales: Adventures In Sol System, T. K. F. Weisskopf, ed., Baen Books, ISBN 0743488326, $6.99, mass market paperback. / Nemonymous Part Four / Issue #335 of Weird Tales / The Locus Awards, Charles N. Brown and Jonathan Strahan,eds., Avon Eos, Trade Paperback, ISBN 0060594268, $15.95, $24.95 Canada.
I like to slide in the occasional anthology between the magazines which make up the bulk of my short story reading. When I first started reading it was not only possible to read all the magazines which were published but all the anthologies as well. Oh yeah you could also, with a bit of effort, read all the novels too. Today you can’t come close to completing any one of these—well, maybe you could do the anthologies.
Anthologies come in three flavors; single author, event specific (nebula awards, editor’s choice, SFWA, etc.) and thematic. I’ve got Cosmic Tales: Adventures In Sol System edited by Toni Weisskopf in front of me right now. The anthology is built around the first true wave of solar system exploration. The first story is “McAndrew and The Law” by Charles Sheffield. McAndrew was a continuing character of Sheffield’s, one that Sheffield considered his alter ego. This is also one of the last stories he wrote before he died. The story revolves around a plausible theory of time travel. McAndrew fans will want to get this anthology just for this story as it makes the complete McAndrew anthology previously published incorrect. James P. Hogan provides “Jailhouse Rock”. It’s a punny story set on the new frontier which just happens to be Mars. The next story is from Jack McDevitt who has become one of my favorite hard SF writers. “Windows” is a story about humankind stuck on Earth and exploring through machines and the young girl who gets a message about how to change that. There’s eight more stories and two non-fiction piece included by authors such as John Ringo, Margaret Ball, Gregory Benford, Wen Spencer and Travis Taylor.
One of the great things about the small press is that editors try things that you would never see in the pro arena. Nemonymous is a great example of this. Nemonymous, according to the editors, is a “megazanthus for parthenogenetic fiction and late labeling”. This means there was no fertilizer used and there’s no credit given anywhere. That’s right, you don’t know who the editors are, there’s no price, there’s no address, there’s no credit given for the fiction. Well, there is actually, but it’s credit for part three which was the previous issue. If you want to know who wrote what in this issue you’ll need to get part five. If you want to get a copy of any of the issues you’ll have to visit the web site. Does this work? Well, it is interesting to read fiction without knowing who wrote it. You don’t know if you’re reading a big name pro or the guy next door. You don’t know, in fact, whether the author is male or female nor can you parse anything from their last name. There’s some interesting stuff here. “Apologising to the Concrete is about guilt and what it will drive you to. “The Death Knell” is about a guy who loses it and ends up watching interesting things on television. “Determining the Extent” is about sticking to tradition and formality regardless of the costs involved. “Embrace” is kind of a weird horror story about a college professor who is confronted and must eventually find a way to deal with it. Kind of strange. There are eleven other stories here as well. All are a bit odd, if you must know the truth but they’re all worth reading too which is more than I can say for a lot of other stuff I read.
I’ve talked about Wormhole Books in the past and about how they publish a catalog which actually contains original fiction written specifically for the catalog. Well they also send out holiday cards which also contain original fiction. The one they sent out for Independence Day contained a short story by John Kennedy. “In The Memory of Dogs” is about starfaring wolves who return to Earth to find.....well, it’s a short-short story so to say more would ruin everything. Contact Wormhole and buy something and tell them you want to get on their card list. You probably have to buy more than one thing but it’s definitely worth it as each card is signed by the author, the publishers, the editor, the art director, and the production manager. Each card is also numbered and the art is quite fabulous.
Dreams and Nightmares 67 is in my hands. For those who don’t know, D&N is the magazine of fantastic poetry which has been continuously published since January 1986. It’s the best genre poetry magazine you can buy. I’m not a poetry wonk but it’s hard to miss when you have poets like Bruce Boston and Mike Allen along with Andrea Schlecht, Maria Alexander, Karen R. Porter, Kendall Evans and illustrations from Allen Koszowski and Chris Friend. Quite simply, if you have any interest in genre poetry you need to be getting this magazine.
The July issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is the special all-American issue. The first story is “The Battle Of York” by James Stoddard and it’s a reverse archeological fiction. Or, if you prefer, a fractured historical fairy tale. It’s about General Washington and his battle axe, Valley Forge. Need I say more? Fun and funny. Charles DeLint and James Sallis then tell us what books to read, or to avoid, if you are so inclined. “Nine Whispered Opinions of the Alaskan Secession” by George Guthridge is the next story in the issue. This is the result of a writing bet and while it’s an interesting exercise I’m not sure it’s worthy of inclusion in the magazine. John Morressy’s “A Day In The Life Of Eb And Flo: An American Epic” is just a bit longer than the title and for all I know is also the result of a writing exercise. I guess the editor had an extra page open and just couldn’t sell advertising space. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile” by Garcia y Robertson is a story about the second confederate submarine told in a style reminiscent of Jules Verne, who, oddly enough, appears in the story. It has its moments but in the end is just too pat and reliant on coincidence and circumstance. Paul Di Filippo brings us all back to reality (hah) with his non-fiction column “Plumage from Pegasus” which is told in a fictional manner this issue. I wonder where he might have gotten that idea from? “A Balance of Terrors” by Albert E. Cowdrey is easily the best story in the issue. It’s about a woman who’s in biomedical research but who’s got revenge on her mind. She sets her scheme in motion and Cowdrey does an excellent job laying it out for us to watch. Does she succeed? I’m not telling. Esther M. Friesner provides us with “Johnny Beansprout” which fits right into the previously acknowledged writing exercises. It’s interesting in that way. Kathi Maio’s Film column talks about robots this issue. The last story in the issue is “The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy” by Daryl Gregory. The story chronicles the growing up of a boy and his friend as they write and shoot a film about a rocket boy. The story is bittersweet to say the least and, while very well written, a tough story to end the issue on.
Issue #335 of Weird Tales starts with a great cover by Rowena Morril. After the editorial and book review column, which takes up 20 pages, we get to the first story, “Lambert, Lambert” by Ian Watson, which is a first person creep tale. This is followed by the Weird Story Reprint which, in this issue, is “The Coffin Merchant” by Richard Middleton. It’s a Victorian story with a not much action and a down story which is pretty representative of the genre. Tanith Lee gives us the next story, “Midnight” which is a Cinderella rendering. It’s okay, if not what I consider up to Lee’s standard. This is followed by a somewhat longish Terry Pratchett interview. “Fig” by Robert Ferrigno follows and is a story, self told, of the original tree of knowledge. The final story, “The Sacerdotal Owl” by Michael Bishop is about a young woman who travels to a foreign land only to become embroiled in local politics and ancient rituals. It’s a bit dry but in an interesting way.
There are any number of anthologies which purport to be the best or to contain the best or to have collected the best, with the best being whatever that particular editor decided was the best. Likewise anthologies that contain what others have voted to be the best fall just a tad more toward the line of possible realities. The Locus Awards collects thirty years of the best science fiction and fantasy as voted by the readers of Locus. Or, more accurately, as voted by those readers of Locus who choose to vote. Like the Hugos we end up with a real minority deciding what is best represented for the majority. Unlike the Hugos though, which can be voted on by any chimp who buys a ticket, these awards tend to be voted on by people who actually read. Whether or not the stories that make up this anthology are actually the best can be fought by others. The stories here are most certainly worth reading and would probably make most people’s top ten or top five list for their respective years. How can you argue against Harlan Ellison’s “When Jeffty Was Five” or John Varley’s “Persistence of Vision” or Gene Wolfe’s “The Death of Doctor Island.” The anthology also includes such classics as George R. R. Martin’s “The Way of Cross and Dragon”, Joanna Russ’ “Souls”, Pat Murphy’s “Rachel in Love”, and Lucius Shepard’s “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter”. And we have not even gotten to the stories by Leguin, Bisson, Willis, Kessel, Egan and Gaiman. If you’ve read any less than 80% of these stories this is a must buy.
To have your magazine or short fiction work mentioned here send a copy to Steve Sawicki, 2824 Furbeck Rd., Altamont, NY 12009. Everything received will be considered. Everything not sent will not be considered.