Every so often I come across a story during the reading of which it becomes obvious that I am really, really enjoying the story. This is one such story. A rich, inventive, fantasy, set in far-future Britain. Richard Pike, erstwhile Lordo Soho, is an incunabula, a rare genetic throwback who houses some of humanity’s long-lost history. He has an ability to alter the reality which surrounds him, and as such is in the employ of Count Almaviva, his guardian, patron, mentor and suzerain. The Count has a claim of prima nocte on Pike’s beloved which the young man must somehow prevent.
A richly compelling story, with echoes of Gormenghast. The language is melliflous, and may have you reaching for the dictionary at points. Any story which refers to ‘self-defenestration’ has my vote. One of the stories of the year for me.
Angel on the Wall, Catherine S. McMullen
Here is a story to check just how cynical you are. Do you read this story about a girl with magic powers and glasses with special powers and think, ‘What an amazingly mature story for a 11 year old to write!” Or do you say to yourself, ‘This is w-a-y too mature for an 11 year old to write.’ Pre-teen angst, marital infidelity, spells which inflict haemorrhoidal pain, scheming conmen – it’s all here. Did dad, in the shape of Sean McMullen have *no* input into this story?
The Game They Played, Stuart Falconer
Six kids playing dice in the dust are challenged by a stranger, who plays by strange rules, and who raises the stakes. Nicely written.
The Confessional, Zoran Zivkovic
Another short from the Serbian author. A priest in the confessional is visited by the Devil, who poses a dilemma. As with the author’s previous story in Interzone (in which the stranger is none other than God) a fairly obvious tale.
Something Chronic, Dominic Green
Somewhat different to ‘That Thing Over There’ which appeared in Hartwell’s Years Best SF 4. A well-written humorous look at a visitation to the late 20thc by someone desperate to change time-lines in such a way that humanity can successfully challenge their annhilation. Winston, a postman, is brought into a story which appears to require victory in World War II for the Nazis. Extremely well handled – but probably the kind of story you will either love or hate. The British setting and references may leave non-Brits somewhat perplexed.
Alongside the regular reviews, Gary Westfahl ponders the non-appearance of Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions and comes up with a solid case for why this much-awaited volume remains unrealised.