Peter David. Bronsky’s Dates with Death.
David evidently has a humongous number of novels to his name, including a lot of movie and TV novels, and his storycraft shows in the ease with which this story sucks you in. It’s an informal narrative, with a number of asides as we find out about the titular character, known by his surname to pretty much everyone. He is a mellow guy, very much at ease, in his increasing old age, with his impending Death. But this ease rather puts Death off his stroke, so to speak, and the pair have to resolve this issue before things can be done correctly. There’s a touching end to the story, or perhaps that’s me in my maudlin middle age!
Peter S. Beagle. The Way It Works Out and All.
Nice homage to Avram Davidson, SF writer and editor of F&SF back in the early 1960s. Beagle relates an adventure with Davidson, which starts with receiving some of his idiosyncratic postcards from him on subsequent days, but from locations across the globe. The answer to this conundrum is a dark and dramatic one, which complements the lovingly described charming nature of Davidson.
Rob Chilson. Less Stately Mansions.
Jacob Mannheim is a successful farmer on Earth, but his grandchildren want him to leave behind the old ways, and, indeed, leave behind Earth. Technological developments have had (some unintended) consequences on the future for farming, even on the state-spanning agribusiness of Jacob’s. But he’s a man who likes to have his feet on the soil of the Earth, and he is loathe to lose the feel of the potato crop between his fingers. The technological and farming developments that are a nice backdrop to the human dilemma.
Robert Reed. The Ants of Flanders.
Reed on top form (and with a great cover image to illustrate the story).
The titular Ants of Flanders refers to what the ants of that region felt when the opposing forces used their land to wage The Great War. No guessing who the ants are in this story! The story starts with the typical Reed touch – starting long, long ago, and far, far away. But the comet that has been wending its way across the universe for aeons has been in stealth mode, and it has a microscopic package that will be the seed for one of the warring factions. The story continues with the reader put slightly off-guard, as a young student gets up close to the alien creature desperate to get hold of the resources it needs to carry on its task. But rather than a cutesy ET relationship, the extent of what is about to happen gradually dawns, and an epic battle for humanity unfolds, with Reed cleverly focussing on the individual human issues as well as the bigger picture, as he does so well.
A shoo-in for a couple of next year’s Year’s Bests.
Joan Aiken. Hair.
Short, posthumously-published gothic horror.
Stephen Saylor. The Witch of Corinth.
The protagonists in this story are Gordianus and Antipater, crime-solving Romans who have featured in a whole clutch of historical crime novels and short stories, and in this story they make their way to the Seven Wonders of the World.
Richard Bowes. Sir Morgravain Speaks of Night Dragons and Other Things.
A story that is short, but passing strange. The knights of Camelot have been slumbering for many centuries, under the spell of Queen Morgana, with only short spells of wakefulness. One less encumbered by sleep is the titular knight, who ponders why this is the case, as the mighty Arthur begins to show signs of wakefulness. Morgravain is troubled also by those who he believes are watching upon those still in Avalon. A touch of ancient magic and noblery from Bowes.
Michael Alexander. Someone Like You.
A tender time-travel story, with a daughter seeking to redress the problems caused by the murder of a father she never had. Nicely structured, popping backwards, forwards, and sidewards through a series of decades-apart events.
K.J. Kabza. The Ramshead Algorithm.
An author new to me, and one whose vibe is in tune with my own. There are some neat stylistic touches in the story, which follows a young man, at first carrying out work in a vary strange world(s), having to beat a hasty retreat to home, to protect his route to the strange planets on which he works.
Back at home he has family to deal with, a brother who doesn’t trust him, a sister who has fallen far below their father’s expectations, and the indominatable pater familias himself. Not all is explained, and there’s a tantalising end.
An excellent issue, with several top-notch stories, well-balanced across the SFFH spectrum.