A dark, powerful story to open the issue.
A young mother is strugging with life – struggling with a chronically/terminally ill daughter, struggling with poverty, and struggling in the city of Acheron, which, as its name suggests, is a gateway to the underworld. In this contemporary city the fires of hell burn the other side of a chain link fence, and the city has officers of the state in various dark uniforms who are to be avoided.
She bumps into one on the subway, and then finds another one in the restaurant where she waits tables, who offers her the chance to rebut another offer coming her way. In fact there are two offers, one from the owner, who finds out she has her hand in the till, and one from an altogether darker figure, who offers her a chance to leave this all behind her. All she has to do is to sign on the dotted line. The story concludes with her finding out with true horror just what that dotted line is for. It’s not her signature….. it’s another name, and the reader is left to consider which name it is she writes down.
James L. Cambias. How Seosiris Lost the Favor of the King.
Richard Chwedyk. Orfy.
Further adventures of Orfy and his ickle dino colleagues. Somewhat worryingly, they first appeared in 2001, and last appeared in 2004. Where does the time go?
Rick Wilber and Nick DiChario. Blind Spot.
Originally appearing in a baseball magazine, this is a strong mainstream story about an adult reflecting on his childhood and his long-estranged but recently deceased father’s role in it. The speculative element is minimal, but effective.
Michael Swanwick. Steadfast Castle.
A police officer arrives at 1241 Glenwood Avenue, the residence of James Albert Garretson, who has disappeared. The House AI is initially unco-operative, and when the full force of the law is threatened, grudgingly provides as little information as possible.
The story follows the conversation between the two, as the policeman puts together a picture as to what has happened through speaking to the AI, and from observations of the house, and the application of good old-fashioned sleuthing. It transpires that the relationship between master and AI has been quite an intimate one, and when a third party joined the equation something had to give. And in a neat twist, the policeman finds the tables turned on him.
Alexandra Duncan. The Door in the Earth.
Remote countryside horror, as a teenage boy and his younger brother are driven by their father to the estranged mother’s new residence. She is sharing a cottage-cum-cave with her new partner, having gone back to a much simpler life.
Trouble is, there’s a small doorway at the back of the cave, and at night the boy hears voices from behind it, and as you might expect, nothing good is going to come of looking behind the door.
David Gerrold. The F&SF Mailbag.
Wry humour in a series of letters purporting to be from Gerrold to F&SF Editor Gordon van Gelder in which he chides him for his increasingly radical steps to source fiction for his magazines.
Ken Liu. The Literomancer.
A young girl living with her parents in another country, her father a diplomat, is struggling to settle in and find friends. The decade is the 60s, the location is Taiwain, and the story charms as it describes how she finds friendship from an elderly gentleman and the young boy who is his relative, through the elderly man’s way with letters.
However, the story takes a much darker tone as the reason for the man being in Taiwan, his losses, and the losses of the young boy, come to light as the political background is slowly revealed. And the true horror is at the end, when her mentioning her friendship leads her to find out much more about her father’s role in the country in which they are living than she would want to, and the repecussions for her new friends are fatal. A powerful, harrowing story.
Terry Bisson. About It.
Surprisingly affecting short. A janitor in a scientific establishment recounts the time he spent with one of the creations the lab guys allowed him to take home with him – “..they could save the autopsy ritual as they call it, plus the paperwork..”
The creature which has limited time left, is something hominid, and the janitor relates how, despite its lack of language, and limited interaction with him and the neighbourhood children, it quietly became very much part of their lives.
The narration reads true, and the subtle understatement of its telling gets across the dignity of the creature, and the final paragraphs as the DNA used in its creation finally falls apart, is quite heartrending.
Fred Chappell. Uncle Moon and Raintree Hills.
Suburban Halloween shivers, as two young children have to face up to the death of their grandma, with an evil (or at least emotionally cold) step-mother and her strange brother to content with.