The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October/November 2007

Robert Silverberg. Against the Current.

A car salesman leaves work early after a sudden but short-lived migraine. As he makes his journey home he notices increasingly incongruous changes to the road and the neighbourhoods he drives through, until it becomes clear that he is in fact travelling through time. We follow his journey, as with Matheson’s Incredible Shrinking Man, as the salesman finds himself heading backward in time in ever increasing speed. He makes attempts to communicate with people he knew in times past, but this proves frustratingly problematic.

We leave him facing an uncertain future – or should that be an uncertain past? It’s an elegant tale, and is less a time travel story, as more a personal testament to the nature of change. The stabbing pain between the eyes could almost be a stroke, and it is as if the salesman is headed on an Alzheimer’s journey, having to leave behind those he currently loves and his current memories, for those older ones.

I don’t know if Silverberg is writing his memoirs, but this would be a pretty clever way of addressing such a task.

Fred Chappell. The Diamond Shadow.

A somewhat more workmanlike tale, following the characters from ‘The Dance of Shadows’ in the March 2007 issue, of which I said : “If you like your fantasy wordy and with loquacious characters using verbose and flowery language, and with a mystery to be solved, you’ll enjoy this story”. A quick skim suggests this is more of the same, which will be a good thing if you like that kind of story.

James Stoddard. The Star to Every Wandering Barque.

An instant global Age of Reasoning decends upon the planet, as each and every individual has a personal enlightenment that dismisses all negative traits and motivations. A new world order develops, and with everyone being nice to each other, famine, pestilence, war, and even AIDS are rapidly dismissed. Furthermore, freed from the straightjackets of their previous thinking, scientists are enabled to think outside the box, and the protagonist goes from working for a NASA that had been struggling to find a way ahead, to one which is able to laugh in the face of relativity and finally enable us to reach the stars.

The opening sequence of the main character’s personal epiphany is a moving one, but for me the rest of the story goes in entirely the opposite way I would have handled it, in describing a smooth transition to a global peace and harmony. I’d have taken the view that our society has been built for millenia on exactly those vices that are removed, and its too finely balanced to handled such a major change! But Stoddard has the poetry of Shakespeare in his veins (the Wandering Bark is from one of the Bard’s sonnet.) Either that or some illegal substance!

Albert E. Cowdrey. The Recreation Room.

Cowdrey has been writing about New Orleans for some time, and here he takes a look at Hurricane Katrina, through the eyes of a middle-aged man returning to his home after the floods have receded. It’s a strong story, with only the final denouement containing a genre element, although him witnessing his own body being removed from the family home is the kind of twist you would find outside of the genre.

Judith Moffet. The Bird Shaman’s Girl.

A story in Moffet’s ‘Hefn’ series. I noted in ‘The Bear’s Baby’ in F&SF Oct 2003 that a familiarity with the novels would help, and ditto this story. A young girl who has gone against the Ephremite Church teachings to go public as a victim of sexual abuse by her grandfather, is kidnapped by the family, who intend to get her to withdraw her claims. Pam Pruitt, her social services worker is desperate to find her, and the story, which I was expecting to be more of a search and rescue story, ceased to be such when the social services worker suddenly achieves a degree of transcendence, to identify where the girl is through a dream, which Humphrey the Hefn sees as an important stage in humanity’s development.

It’s one of those stories which have various things happening at just the right time, people turning up, and progressing nicely to a key point, that certainly makes sense to the author, and probably works if you are familiar with the backstory in progressing the big picture, but as a singleton read by someone altogether unfamiliar with the big picture, it is a snapshot out of context.

M. Ramsey Chapman. Two Weeks Later.

A neat little ghost story with a twist in the tale. A couple thrown together by their car accident visit their previously putative partners, offering them a final chance to say goodbye. The twist is that having seen the taxi driver being sweetness and light to his bemused wife, we realise that in seeing his female co-deadee being altogether less virtuous than she had been in real life, that the part of their personality that they no longer have is a result of a destination of their immortal souls.

Paul Park. Fragrant Goddess.

I read this story, along with the rest of this issue, a couple of weeks ago, and it clearly didn’t make much of an impression on me. An academic visits an old house, meets and old flame, and seeks an even older mystery. As is of the case in such stories, he gets what he has been seeking, but it offers more than he was wanting. I recall the denouement in the cellar leaving me a bit perplexed as his ex-lover suddenly became somewhat more threatening, and having a feeling that I had missed a trick somewhere along the line.

Daryl Gregory. Unpossible.

A dream/nightmare-like piece in which a mid-life crisis resolves itself from rooting around in the loft for childhood toys, to a full-on breakneck speed breakdown featuring deserted roads, threatening steam trains, and old houses. The character has his epiphany at the end, in realised that he is mourning for something that he feels is lost, when in fact it should have been left behind for others to enjoy – he’s not in Kansas anymore ToTo, he’s a grownup.

Michael Swanwick. Urdumheim.

A creation myth told by a character from Swanwick’s forthcoming novel ‘The Dragons of Babel’, I normally enjoy Swanwick’s fiction, but this left me a little fazed. Clearly something may be missing from not knowing the world which this creation myth is the basis to, so we’re left with a dramatic, and at times blood-curdling tale in which King Nimrod and his people battle a ravaging band of shape-shifting horrors, in which death is introduced to the world.

Conclusion.

For the most part a strong issue.

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