Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 2002

Robert Reed. The Majesty of Angels.

Occasionally, very occasionally, you come across an SF short story that stands out ‘head and shoulders’ above others. This is one such.

Reed is at his best here, in giving the reader just enough, and no more. The narrator is one of an alien race, whose job it is to help salvage human souls after death. Piping them through a wormhole to another plane of existence is the usual routine, but that routine has been broken by the total annhiliation of humanity by a malfunction in the wormhole.

The story manages to create that sense of almost ungraspable ‘unknowable’ which is at the heart of the best SF – echoes of Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’, Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘Riverworld’ series, and, bizarrely, Ballet Rambert’s ‘Ghost Dances’ in which dead South American peasants are ushered into the afterlife.

Bruce Sterling. In Paradise.

An all-too-rare story from Sterling, and one which highlights just what we have been missing.

A touch of near-future technology, but it is the circumventing of the darker side of that technology, in its capacity to monitor and inform, upon which the story hinges. A love story, would you believe, in which East meets West and love is seen to be possible at first sight. And an evocative one at that. Top quality.

John Langan. Mr. Gaunt.

Another traditional horror story from the author whose ‘On Skua Island’ (F&SF August 2001) delivered the goods.

With more than a nod to Henry James, we have a past horror related by means of the almost final words of the recently deceased father of the main character. Spoken into a cassette recorder, the son listens to a tale of a brother who is the black sheep of the family, who is so much in league with the powers of the dark that he is willing to sacrifice….

And the butler, Mr. Gaunt! Gaunt by name, gaunt by nature. The description of the butler sans skin is chilling.

The only slight flaw for me was the length of the story, which I felt was a tad too long.

Greg van Eekhout. Will You Be an Astronaut?

An interesting narrative device which is extremely effective – the story is presented as if a brochure designed to recruit school children.

The background is chilling – humanity struggling to defend itself against an alien force which has the power to destroy huge swathes of Earth. The spacemen are combat pilots, brave men and women who face the incoming alien vessels and have to take them out before they get within range of our home planet. And just what price are they prepared to pay to prevent Earth being devastated?

Esther M. Friesner. Why I Want to Come to Brewer College.

Written as an application to a college. The applicant is somewhat out of the ordinary – a long-lived oriental kappa, for whom unrequited lurve has been the bait which has reeled him into said college.

Gently humorous, although, to my mind, somewhat overlong.

Jack Cady. Weird Row.

As with the Reed story, the length is just right – just enough to satisfy. Almost Bradbury/Harlan Ellison-esque – a slightly, every so slightly lopsided view of where we are now. A book packing plant, a group of slightly strange characters, and their desire to set free some of the words which pass their way.

Albert E. Cowdrey. The Boy’s Got Talent.

Cowdrey returns us to New Orleans (if it is one tenth as interesting in real life…)

Here a young man develops a talent which promises to be the answer to his many problems – he can walk through walls. Unfortunately, he cannot take his clothes with him on said journeys, and he has not got the intellectual wherewithal to make the most of his gift. His journey through several walls is particularly entertaining, although his final wall is his undoing.

John Morressy. The Game is a Foot.

Kedrigern the wizard is faced with a ‘locked-room’ murder mystery.

Conclusion.

A mighty fine issue.

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