Ian R. MacLeod. The Master Miller’s Tale..
Based in the alternate setting of his novel ‘The Light Ages’, MacLeod paints a very atmospheric picture of rural Lincolnshire in England as the old ways are making way, reluctantly, for the new ones. The alternate element is that of the magic – the bucolic, rural magic which helps power the windmill on the hill, and the altogether darker magic which is bringing the steam mills and the steam trains to take their place.
The new ways are, as ever, unstoppable, and we follow the last of the Master Miller’s as he fights to the bitter end, refusing to embrace either the new ways or the glamorous young woman in the big house below. Catherine Cookson eat your heart out.
Paolo Bacigalupi. The Tamarisk Hunter.
A bleak, baking hot look at an ecological future in water is at a premium, and some still attempt to eke out a living under the blaze of the hot sun and the gaze of the corporations protecting that valuable resource. The story would have had more resonance had I read it back in April, when we had 2mm of rain over the entire month here in eastern England. As it was, I read it shortly after we had 56mm of rain on one day in May, and the whole of June has been the wettest on record!
K.D. Wentworth. Kaleidoscope.
A middle-aged, spinster librarian (stereotype!) has a potential true love snatched away by a cruel quantum universe which starts playing tricks on her, variously changing those around her. Reeling from neighbours who one day are childless, and the other day very much not, she has to take her chances with which quantum variation on her boyfriend will turn up. Will she have the wherewithal to stand up to such a force, to fight for the right to love the man she chooses?
Don Webb. The Great White Bed.
A psychological horror story – a young man is looking after his elderly grandfather, whose descent into senility appears to be being reversed, until finally the old guy brings him to his knees.
A.A. Attanasio. Telefunken Remix.
The editorial intro warns the reader “..if it seems a bit odd at first, stick with it…” which is exactly the sort of intro I like. The only concern is that it doesn’t appear as often as it should across the various SF magazines, and the story isn’t that complex, so it may be worrying that a story of only modest complexity would appear to need such a public healthw arning!
There’s been a spate of stories featuring branes of late, giving a newer and invariably more hi-tech angle on doppelganger / alternate / quantum universes (choose adjective based on your age), and Attanasio gets a double-A for his contribution, with a 2m year construct based on a genetic relic of a guy in early 21st C Earth (Errth) decides that life in his cosseted Heavinside is less preferable than a swap to the in-your-face reality of his counterpart.
The scientific background is cleverly and gradually explained, in a story that pretty much covers all the bases for SF readers : alternate universes, time travel, special powers, beautiful babes, bucolic far future greenery… the only thing missing are spaceships.
Expect to see this in one or more of the Year’s Bests next year. Dangnabbit, if no-one picks it, I’ll be chasing Attanasio for inclusion in Best SF Presents…
A very strong issue, bookended by stories by Watson and Attanasio which are particularly top quality.