The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2008

James L. Cambias. Balancing Accounts.

A strong SF story to open the issue, and one with an interesting POV character – an AI shuttling salvage and cargo amongst the asteroid belt. With very few humans this far outof the system, most of the trading and dealing is AI to AI. ‘Annie’, autonomous and incentivised, has a range of contacts with whom ‘she’ regularly deals, indentured to The Company. When an opportunity which appears almost too good to be true presents itself, ‘she’ decides, after some thought, to take it.

However, before long into her trip carrying a valuable cargo, she finds that of course the deal is too good to be true, and the cargo she is carrying is human, and under threat from another human. There is a dramatic denouement as she uses all her cunning and equipment to protect the cargo, and her ethics.

It’s a clever idea, and well-handled.

Ann Miller. Retrospect.

At an auction, an agent acting for a client fails to make a winning bid on an expensive first edition Copernicus, disracted by advice not to bid by the guy in the seat next to him. It appears his future on the auction circuit is ruined, until the book is proven a fraud. Some days later Sam finds himself in a basement bookshop, amongst whom is the character who gave him such sound advice. He becomes part of the small group who regularly visit, biblio-philosophing, and wondering which book they would give to which historical person, given the chance, and how they might make right the worlds wrongs.

However, this is not idle chatter, and the story shifts subtly but massively – the kind of shift that isn’t signalled, and if you’re not giving the story a full soccer-style 110% attention, will catch you out. It very much appears that things have changed, although those involved are not clearly aware of the changes.

It’s a clever piece on the power of the printed word, and a story that manages to stick in the mind.

Ron Goulart. Memoirs of the Witch Queen.

Somewhat broader in tone, as we follow a writer who finds the odd helping hand from a putative ‘white witch’ sucks him deeper into a darker magic, against which it becomes increasingly, fatally, difficult to resist.

Matthew Huges. Petri Parouisa.

A scientist finds a way to separate historical DNA – enabling individual ancestral DNA to be extracted. As the technique goes back beyond a few generations, there are few who want to go back to locate the DNA of Jesus Christ, at the best of a shady network (a la Da Vinci Code). So what happens when the DNA of JC is identified? SF readers familiar with the works of AC Clarke, Asimov etc will guess straight away.

Steven Popkes. Bread and Circus.

Saurian soccer fun, that rather missed my funny bone by a long way.

Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald. Philologos; or a Murder in Bistrita.

A murder mystery in the Carpathian mountains, with the local count very much meeting his match with an American visitor. OK as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go anywhere not gone severally and variously previously.

Richard Bowes. If Angels Fight.

Now, unlike the previous three stories, a story that is original, and almost too clever for its own good – like one very bright student in a class of otherwise average students. It’s one difficult to describe and to do it justice. You could spend a lot of time studying the story in order to fully appreciate its workings, in the way it subtly and sneakingly moves the reader through time, and different perspectives, and always gives the literary equivalent of seeing something from the corner of an eye, as opposed to clearly in 20-20 vision.

The story is about that certain, undefinable something that some people have, and draws upon American politics, with a Kennedy vignette, and a family of several minor politicos.

The angels to which the title refers are (inasmuch as the story makes such things clear) is the power that can lie behind the eyes of such people, and which can move between people, and which are there are important times. A man approaching retirement is brought in once again by the family of his old school friend, long since dead from drug-induced suicide, but whose influence remains strong, and quite palpable.

I could go on, but I think I’m going to read the story again. It’s a standout.

Conclusion.

Three strong stories – one proper SF, and two other clever, clever stories – and three other stories which pale in contrast.

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