Chet Williamson. The Final Verse.
The missing final verse of a classic c&w/bluegrass song is the unlikely conceit behind a slow-burning horror story. Two musicians head into the Catskill Mountains to find the fambly who may be the inspiration behind the story of a husband-to-be who meets an untimely end. And, as you might guess, the fambly ain’t the Waltons. There ain’t no mention of duelling banjos, but they were playing in my head whilst reading the story. Excellent.
Robert Reed. Stock Photos.
Suburban lawn-mowing is interrupted by a nice young couple wanting to take some photographs. Will the mystery be resolved in the subsequent story in the issue?
Albert E. Cowdrey. The Black Mountain.
Another macabre tale from New Orleans from the seemingly Duracell Extra-powered Cowdrey. A deserted cathedral on a hill has lain undisturbed for many years, and it seems the charismatic leader of the church has lost none of his powers, despite being dead for several decades…
Steven Popkes. Agent of Change.
A whaling vessel is sunk after colliding with a monstrous Gojira. Through meeting notes and media clippings, in a light vein, we find that the event doesn’t have that much impact – plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.
Don Webb. Fine Green Dust.
Climate change is making it very hot in Austin, Texas, and a middle-aged teacher is struggling, as with many, to deal with the impact on his daily life. Unlike others, particularly the young, who can see a way of coping with the change, of evolving to deal with the heat. In a wry tale, the green dust enables them to be much more cold-blooded about matters.
Alexandra Duncan. Rampion.
Duncan has had a series of well-wrought stories in F&SF of late, and this is no exception. It’s a historical tale, set in the medieval Mediterranean, and has a heroic, perhaps doomed quest, set against a complex society, with politics and religion playing strong roles. The only thing missing is a fantastical element – the opportunity is there, as alchemy plays a part, but Duncan avoids any magical element, to keep the story as mainstream historical fiction.
Carter Scholz. Signs of Life.
An excellent story with a strong central character (strong as in complicated, three-dimensional), who struggles with personal relationships with co-workers, whose career, and indeed his life, is slowly slipping away.
There’s a huge amount of science in the story, revolving around DNA sequencing, and research into understanding what is in our DNA, what isn’t, and more importantly, why.
Scott Bradfield. Starship Dazzle.
Further adventures of the wisecracking canine, who first appeared way back in 1988.
S.L. Gilbow. The Old Terrologist’s Tale.
A newly terraformed world, ready to be opened up to colonists, is the subject of criticism from a bureaucrat. A cautionary tale by an elderly terraformer ensues – be careful for what you wish.
Ken Liu. Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer.
In the far future, teen angst still prevails, as does homework, even if that homework takes place in a bedroom that is a multi-dimensional Klein bottle. Young Renee Tae-o Fayette, like all children of her generation has the world(s) at the tip of their fingers, as there is little that is not possible.
However, her mother is an anachonism, someone from before the Singularity, someone who believes that the touch of something real is to be cherished over a virtual life. And she has chosen a path that will take her a long, long way from her daughter. It’s a touching story, as the pair spend a final day together, a day that they will both cherish.
Robert Reed. The Road Ahead.
Follows on from ‘Stock Photos’ earlier in the issue, and sort of explains about that story, but opens up a whole range of new questions about just exactly who/when the photographers are, and why.
Kate Wilhelm. Music Makers.
A journalist in a dead-end job finds more from what would otherwise have been a routine obituary of an aged musician. I have to admit to skipping through to the end of the story. It lurches between points of view quite disorientatingly, and then starts to pop back in time, leading to some awkward grammar, and introduces a heap of characters at breakneck pace. I’m hoping that it’s written in this style as a counterpoint to the jazz stylings of the the music to which the story relates, with members of the band overlapping, swapping and taking over from each other etc.
Two problems though : I hate jazz (way too cerebral for me), and Wilhelm’s last story in F&SF (The Bird Cage) also suffered from perspective shiftage.
As ever, a strong collection of stories.