Brian Stableford. The Great Armada.
Stableford is evidently translating a number of classic French scientific romance and SF adventure into English, and has provided a number of lengthy and verbose tales of sixteenth century British coves such as Sir Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake etal. This is one such tale.
Robert Reed. True Fame.
Reed continues to plunder his personal experiences for story ideas, and here he extrapolates from a celebrity sighting in a restaurant. In a fully wired up world, with absolutely no-one a stranger, and full personal info in instantly available, a man in a corner of a restaurant who is very much under the radar attracts the attention of a couple dining together.
In following him, we find out about the couple and the society in which they live.
Kate Wilhelm. An Ordinary Day with Jason.
A mother finds out her son shares some family traits with his father and grandfather. Not run of the mill stuff – like bed-wetting or an interest in steam trains – but a knack of creating staircases out of thin air.
It turns out that not only can he create a staircase, but the staircases do actually lead somewhere..
It’s a short story that intrigues, but only goes up a few treads, rather than to the top of the staircase and beyond.
Chris Beckett. Atomic Truth.
Beckett takes forward a setting previously covered – the steets of London being populated by people wearing goggles which give them access to a different world to the one through which they are walking.
There is one recalcitrant who eschews this technology, who is one the fringes of society, whilst being very much in touch with the real world, and forces behind the real world.
Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick. The Armies of Elfland.
A singular adventure from this partnership. The elves have returned to Earth, to reclaim what was once theirs. This has been very bad for humanity, brutally treated and now a dying race.
It falls to the young to respond to the cruelty of this elder race, and a young girl grows into a role the Elf Queen has established for her – and, in fact, beyond that role.
As with Swanwick’s previous dark/fey fantasy stories, a refreshing take on a genre that is all to often lazy and hackneyed.
Jack Skillingstead. Human Day.
Skillingstead gets all PKDickian, as a scientist holed up in his nuclear bunker has to decide whether or not those left on the surface are human or aliens who have taken their place. But when his robotic dog appears to achieve self-awareness and self-control, he begins to have doubts. And when he does venture above ground, he decides to find out whether he himself is human, or one of them.
Deborah Coates. Cowgirls in Space.
A mashup of Annie Proulx and Stephen King, as the members of a childhood gang meet up many years after one of their number went AWOL to the stars thanks to a glowing green artefact. Two of the gang, for whom the artefact has diminished their opportunities in life, decide to follow their friend to the stars. Those that are left behind have an Ennis Del Mar reaction to having been left behind.
Damien Broderick. This Wind Blowing, and This Tide.
Broderick starts with a Kipling quote, and goes on to provide an SF story just that bit different. The setting – an alien spaceship covered in flowers, held in stasis on Titan. It has been found through dreams that have been plaguing the protagonist, an overweight clairvoyant. He is battling with some inner demons, following the death of his son in psace service, and the disdain of the crew on the mission which is trying to explore the ship. There’s a further layer added, in his belief that dinosaurs had achieved a much higher level of intelligence. And when he has a vision that the pilot in stasis is of that ilk, he falls even lower in the estimation of his colleagues. However…
Nancy Kress. Exegesis.
A very clever piece, which will be in at least one of the Year’s Bests next year. Kress takes Rhett Butler’s closing line from ‘Gone with the Wind’ and follows the (mis)understanding of ‘Frankly My Dear’ through the centuries, as the understanding of the saying gets progressively blurred.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The Spires of Denon.
Lengthy story to close the issue, and great stuff. Rusch follows three perspectives on an archaelogical dig on a remote planet. Millenia hence, with humanity haven risen and fallen several times, a dazzlingly white range of spires on a remote planet is being explored. The main archeologist is trying to keep some of the treasures to herself; a security guard brought in is frustrated by her lack of help; and a third party is evidently trying to get in and out with some booty.
However, not all is as it seems, as Rusch reveals more about the spires, subterranean caverns, and just exactly who the third party is.
An excellent issue, as you might expect with authors of the standing of Stableford, Reed, Wilhelm, Swanwick, Kress and Rusch. Those without that standing (yet) similarly provide top quality. Well, you only have a 400th issue once.