With this title and an opening line ‘His first night back on Earth after his gig on the Frogships, Bird showed up at Minton’s cleaner than a broke-dick dog, with a brand new horn and a head full of crazy-people music’, Sellar quickly sets the tone of one of the most individual stories I’ve read for some time.
It’s the late 40s, and the war has finished, its course slightly different due to alien intervention. The aliens are cool cats (although more froglike), digging jazz and bebop to the extent that they’re willing to pay top dollar to those musicians to entertain on cruise ships jaunting between the planets. Robbie Coolidge is keen to sign up, despite reservations about those who return being cleaned up, and just slightly different from when they set out. He’s willing to leave his (unfaithful) wife behind, but once on the cruise ship he can see the high price to be paid – the aliens enable the musicians to memorise tunes on first hearing, and to play in a multidimensional manner. However, he decides that he can’t pay the price, as it leads to a lack of inventiveness, and also leaves his new love, to remain true to his real love – jazz.
It’s a story that rings true, and even entertained this old punk whose preference would have been to see Iggy and the Stooges on a punk tour of the solar system. (Mind you, having said that, Iggy does seem to have an almost supernatural ability to resist the signs of ageing and has a capacity to take an inhuman amount of drugs… hmmm)
Steve Utley. The Woman Under the World.
Yet another in Utley’s ‘Silurian Tales’ sequence, going back to the earliest of early days in a short piece in which the first scientist to go through the anomaly to the other Earth in it’s prehistoric times, leaves an echo of herself during a transition which doesn’t quite go right. Doesn’t quite go right in the sense that the echo of herself is very much aware of itself. I’m not entirely sure if it fills in a gap in the overaching story architecture, but in terms of a duplicate having been created from a transfer process, it’s not exackerly breaking new ground.
R. Neube. Cascading Violet Hair.
A recently widowed man puts his meagre finances, and all his hopes, into a relationship with a Red Cross charity-case, a woman with a broken arm, purple hair, and a fierce determination that he refugee status will be a temporary one. The passive widower is eager to make a relationship of it, but its a doomed romance.
Michael Bishop. Vinegar Peace, or, the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage.
Bishop, who we are informed lost an adult son recently, looks at adults who are pre-deceased by their children. In his bleak future, losing all your children in effect makes the parent an orphan, and forfeiture of assets and compulsory removal to a residential care facility is immediately effected. It’s a slightly unbelievable conceit for such a painful subject, as the society is essentially ‘ours’ (First World) as it is now, as opposed to a far future or alien environment, or, indeed a Third World society where elderly adults who lose income-earning children are so threatened. But that is where the story succeeds, albeit bleakly, in addressing current issues (the ‘War on Turrr’) without that distancing of space and/or time – a compacted Catch-22 for our times.
Kij Johnson. 26 Monkeys, also the Abyss.
In which Aimee inherits a circus act involving 26 monkeys which disappear onstage. It’s a strange life for Aimee, but one that is a passing phase in her life, as she must pass on the act, but with it having changed her and her life. More of an F&SF kind of story, than a ‘mov’s.
Brian Stableford. The Philosopher’s Stone.
A third in the series of longer stories set in the 16th Century – the first saw Drake, Raleigh and others journeying to moon – preceding Wells’ ‘First Men in the Moon’ by some centuries. I read this, ‘The Plurality of Words’ (August 2006) but it didn’t really grab me, and ‘Doctor Muffet’s Island’ (March 2007) I started but did not finish and the advice I gave then would appear to hold true: If you fancy a story that has the feel of bygone writing styles, wherein a request to give a quick explanation elicits a page and a half of exposition from one character, then this is the story for you, but 49 pages for this story is a lot of space out of a single issue’s fiction content. I do feel a little guilty, as my 18yr old son is currently most of the way through the very lengthy, and very wordy Count of Monte Cristo!
The opening story is worth the admission price alone, and the Bishop story is an unsettling one. If you’re a fan of alternate history, or historical SF as ’twere, then there’s even more bang for your farthing.