The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2007

Matthew Hughes. Sweet Trap.

Further adventures of Hengis Hapthorne, in a story previously in the limited edition of the first novel in which he appeared. Those of you who enjoy the Hapthorne tales will doubtless be looking forward to a further novel, The Spiral Labyrinth, which is due out shortly.

Charles Coleman Finlay. An Eye for an Eye.

Another F&SF regular provides a singularly black take on the sf private investigator subgenre. The story starts out promisingly – provided that a guy with an eyeball surgically grafted into his back passage is your kind of humour (hey, it work’s for me). What he has added out back compensates for his lack out front, as he is cojonally challenged : his ex-wife has his balls in her possession (on her mantleshelf in fact), and the PI has to get them back. Unfortunately for the detective, not all is at it seems, or whom they seem, and he gets into some very deep water.

Melanie Fazi. Elegy.

Translated from the French by Christopher Priest, a ‘story’ with very European sensibilities. A mother’s elegaic lament for her lost children – who disappeared from the bedroom several years ago, to those natural powers that have taken them from beyound our ken.

Alex Irvine. Wizard’s Six.

A very strong take on the fantasy genre, with a questing wizard central to the tale. As the story unfolds Irvine’s realistically grim take on life (and death) becomes clearer, leading to a powerful ending that definitely does not see the wizard riding off on his white stallion into the bronzing sunset.

Sheila Finch. First Was the Word.

As regular readers will have spotted by now, stories featuring xeno-linguistics invariably fail to tickle my fancy. Finch has written several stories and novels featuring her Lingsters, so there’s obviously a market out there. Here, we are told, Finch found the inspiration to write a story setting out the beginnings of the Guild. For me, it’s a weak story. It starts off the regular trope of a single scientist with specialist knowledge being called in to help with a problem. Said problem is someone who has appeared on Earth and would appear to be of alien origin. So, somebody who is very much a maverick, is brought into what would in reality be the tightest of tightly controlled scientific studies, and given access to the alien.

The maverick scientists then tries to get to grips with the alien language using techniques no more specialist that anyone who has gone through Linguistics 101 would have. And – duh! – the maverick scientist is allowed to take the alien out to a shopping mall, as this might help understanding the language.

And when the alien escapes, the conclusion is ‘we need to set up a xenolinguist guild’. Like, duh!

Hmm, a real head-scratcher and cheek-puffer. It just feels like an average tv movie that passes itself off as science fiction, but really has so little in it which I would call ‘science fiction’. It features an alien, yes, but it’s a very, very un-alien alien, and almost 50 years after (off the top of my head) Walter Tevis’ ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ it just feels so safe and middle of the road and generally average sf, as opposed to best sf.

Marta Randall. Lazaro y Antonio.

Now, in contracts, a story that delivers much more. Its inventive sf, in which Randall shows us a nearfuture urban setting through the eyes of latino Lazaro, who struggles with some degree of intellectual challenge, as he ekes out a living in The Curve. It’s linguistically well-handled, the background is described well enough to give a solid backdrop, and we find out more about Lazaro and his history, and of his time in space. It builds to a climax but the ending is neatly low-key, providing something out of the run of the mill.

Conclusion.

The Hapthorne/Lingster stories tread well trodden ground, whereas the rest are more challenging and inventive, and the stronger for it.

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