The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2013

fsf13112Striking cover image by ‘Modolithic Studios’.

Tim Sullivan. Through Mud One Picks a Way.

Not a story that really grabbed me – it felt more like an Analog story than an F&SF story. If it was a song it would be by Aerosmith, rather than Patti Smith, and my preference would be the latter.

Uxanna is back on Earth, having given up a lot – she went through a tachyon transmitter to go to Cet 4, and on that planet watched the indigenous, mud-dwellers having their space taken from them my the settlers. Having returned to Earth, she has missed a couple of generations – whilst it itself is instantaneous, there was something about the process pre-tachyonisation that took a long time (I wasn’t quite sure about that!)

She’s called in by an acquaintance called Hob Dancer (Hob not being a name we have in the UK, it took me a while to realise it was just a name, and not related to an activity). Hob has three of the Cetians wallowing in his mud and he needs Uxanna to use her skills to communicate with them. For a species with whom communication is problematic, Uxanna is able to quickly exchange complex ideas an emotions (ruff ruff – What do you mean Lassie? Grandfather’s fallen down the well and broken his leg and needs help?)

There’s a revelation, and a surprise involving who’s doing what and why, but it just misses a bit of subtlety and texture to move it above a fairly routine story.

Albert E. Cowdrey. Hell for Company.

I which a Famous Author and a Less Famous Author sit, and the one relates a story, about heaven and hell, and never the twain shall meet.

Michael Blumlein. Success.

The longest story in the issue, and it’s a good one. It’s a story about scientists and science, but the scientists are well drawn, believable people with characters and quirks, drives and desires, weaknesses and foibles. And the science is intriguing too.

Dr. Jim loses everything – academic career, house, wife, everything – as his obsession with a Unifying Theory of Life takes hold. His obsession and mania become such that he is finalised hospitalised, the psychiatrists probing him mentally and, erm, physically. But out of this comes a new Dr. Jim – literally.

Once more unto the breach, and is investigating genes, epigenes, and perigenes. He’s a mix of Dr. Frankenstein/Dr. Jekyll (keeping his monster in the basement) and with his Igor being his wife, a similarly driven scientist, in search of tenure, rather than the Universal Truth.

Dr. Jim’s focus on epigenes/perigenes drives him to the conclusion that there is an alternative to the slow creep of evolution, and that humans can make quantum leaps if the environment is right. And the story reflects this.

The interplay between Dr. Jim(s) and his wife(s) is clever, well-handled, and altogether it’s a subtle, rounded and substantial piece of writing.

K.J. Kabza. The Soul in the Bell Jar.

Young Lindsome Glass has been sent to stay with her great uncle, a reclusive scientist in a remote, crumbling estate. There are dark secrets in the dusty, crumbling building, as the uncle explores the limits, and the boundaries (scientific and ethical) of the vivificaton…

Kabza gives full rein to a fulsomely fetid description of the characters, the settings, and the science.

Matthew Hughes. Stones and Glass.

Further adventures of the wizard Raffalon.

Brendan DuBois. Hard Stars.

Science thriller from DuBois, in which the USA is reaping what it has sown. The evils of drone warfare has been visited upon the States, with the country paralysed by the next generation drones with AI that is drawing on a vast array of data sources to find, and neutralise, its targets.

Those targets are military and political (there will be collateral damage of course) and this dark, taut thriller sees a small group of soldiers protecting a very important person, and the steps that they have to outwit the death from above, and the sacrifices they have to make.

James Patrick Kelly. Sing, Pilgrim!

It’s a long time since I’ve read a story by Kelly, and I was anticipating the story at the back of this issue, thinking it was the last story and about 20 pages long. Imagine my disappointment when I got to it and realised that it was the penultimate story and only three pages! D’oh!

‘Every age gets the chair that it deserves’ is the key sentence to the story, I reckon. Although working out where the key goes is another matter.

Kelly postulates an old-fashioned chair appearing in a bank. With tongue in cheek, Kelly explains ‘..some semioticians … have argued that its construction is a modality that encodes the chair’s ultimate meaning..’

The chair is unmovable, although what does move is the person who sits in the chair, who immediately begins to sign a song (a random, only ever sung once in the chair), appears to go through a state of bliss, and disappears. Forever. And there are no shortage of people willing to sit in the chair.

And pretty much, that’s all he wrote.

But he wrote it nicely, and like the story pondering the nature of the chair, the reader is left pondering the nature of the story. The Rapture sponsored by La-Z-Boy?

M.K. Hobson. Baba Makosh.

Good to see a fantasy story where the author has put a fair bit of effort into creating a setting, and a palpable sense of place, and people, and history, and background, rather than a cod medieval fantasy setting.

The story is set in the midst of the Russian Civil War, right in the midst of it, with Comrade Pudovkin part of a three-man forward party, his comrades, Blotsky and Lvov a brutish pair. They find what they were looking for, which you would expect to be good, except they were looking for Hell, and they do find themselves there, are the forces of the Red Army, in the shape of their brutal commander, Tchernov, are challenging the Russian gods of folklore.

There’s a confrontation under the ice mountain, with politics, folklore, human spirit and human depredation all in the mix, and it’s a rich and rewarding read from Hobson (M.K. to her friends?)

Conclusion

The strongest stories in a strong issue from Michael Blumlein and M.K. Hobson.

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