Fantasy and Science Fiction February 2001

From A to Z, in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet. Harlan Ellison.

A feature novella, acquired some 10 years ago. Novella is a misnomer, as this is an ‘abecedarian’ – that is a series of theme-related (mythological beasts and deities) but storywise unrelated vignettes in A to Z order – one vignette per letter of the alphabet (pedantic point: surely that should be abcdarian?).

An added interest to this type of ‘story’ is inevitably the process by which is was written or the linking theme chosen : in the window of a bookstore, with patrons suggesting content. Sadly, and somewhat bizarrely as the story was acquried 10 years ago, F&SF say that the footnotes and introductory essay didn’t arrive in time for their deadline. Hey F&SF guys – why not hold the story to the next issue? Or is it simply that Ellison wanted the footnotes and essay to go in the forthcoming 25th anniversay edition of this Deathbird Stories?

The vignettes vary in length from a few sentences (C is for Charon / D is for Dybbuk) of whimsy, to longer and more effective (N is for Nidhoog).

Queen of Thieves. Michael Thomas.

A cyberpunk version of Fagin’s Den, in which Rachel in the teenage leader of a gang of thieves living in the underclass of the future.

She is taken in by a wealthy family, who wish to give her a chance to redeem herself and make an honest life for herself. But old habits die hard.

Fish Story. Harvey Jacobs.

A macabre tail/tale. Bob Aker finds himself in a predicament, locked in pet shop with no way out, and no food. But hang on – he’s in a pet shop..

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly… except in this case, the logical conclusion is not necessarily reached.

Under the Lake. Garth Nix.

This is the kind of story that gives credit to the term Fantasy. A dark, brooding, short tale about the magic of Arthurian legend lying deep, deep under the lake from which the sword was given to Arthur.

Red Flowers and Ivy. M. Shayne Bell.

In many ways a throwback to 1940s/50s SF. An astronaut finds himself in a desperate predicament on a planet where the very plant life threatens his life.

He is in a life and death struggle, with the prospect of rescue far away.

Moorina. M. Rickert.

The Selkie, Hebridaen seal-folk (visit this website if you want further information) are visited by hunters. The visitation brings rape, murder and despair.

The King of New Orleans. Albert E. Cowdrey.

Politics and power in New Orleans, with a very strange vistor – one so strange that he/it even looks out of place in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Can the outlandish Mr. Mo be found a place in this society before his powers deal too much devastation on the populace?

The Place of Roots. Frederic S. Durbin.

Again, more invention in seven pages of short fantasy in this story than in a shelf of Big Fantasy Novels.

A community living in the high, high branches of trees are forever in danger of the Quit Wind which pulls people down, down. When young Kirith rides that Quiet Wind, her friend ventures to dark depths undreamt of.

Foster Mother. Carol Emshwiller.

Another strange, dark, uncomfortable tale, of a strange couple in a strange, strange world. What exactly is the goatboy youngster being brought up to do, and can he escape that fate?

To Kiss the Star. Amy Sterling Casil.

Revisits Le Guin’s ‘The Ship Who Sang’ in looking at a blind, severely disabled young woman who has a once in a lifetime chance to shed her body and to reach fo the skies. But the choice is not an easy one, and not a painless one.

Conclusion.

Ten stories. The lengthy Ellison abcedarian is an interesting read, well told of course, but with too many short short entries. The other novelet, Amy Sterling Casil’s ‘To Kiss the Star’ is a moving tale, and others are all good although perhaps eight fairly short stories and two longer stories isn’t quite the right mix – a big, big platter of hors d’oeuvres which is never the same as a couple of substantial portions of main course.

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