The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2012.

Stories by Andy Duncan, Chet Arthur, Richard A. Lupoff, Albert E. Cowdrey, Ken Liu, Peter Dickinson, Grania Davis, Richard Butner, Michael Alexander, Lynda E. Rucker, Rand B. Lee. Reviews to follow.

Peter Dickinson. Troll Blood.

A second Scandinavian troll-love story in a year – if’n you enjoyed Eleanor Arnsason’s My Husband Steinn in Asimov’s late last year, you’ll doubtless enjoy this.

By way of a semi-nonsequiter, I can recommend the film Trollhunter from 2010 – if you see it in the bargain bin of your DVD store, or want to get the max out of your Netflix subscription, worth 90minutes of your time to see what a low budget film can provide by way on entertainment.

Lynda E. Rucker. Where The Summer Dwells.

Short, sensual story redolent with the oppressive heat of the southern States, of youth, longing, love and an abandoned, deserted railway track, which of course, whilst the trains no longer run, doesn’t mean that journeys can’t be made. Or not made.

Albert E. Cowdrey. The Goddess.

The Goddess Kali plays a pivotal role in the financial ups and downs of a selection of characters – Justin Lamarck, mulatto son of a cotton plantation owner; his Hindoo friend Ganesh Srinavasan; and the young wife that Ganesh procures for Justin. The Civil War is approaching, and there is only one person left standing at the end, in a well told and structured story that oozes the usual Cowdrey class.

Rand B. Lee. Theobroma Valentine.

A psychotherapist on a psych-ward orbiting a cacao-farming planet has aliens of various persuasion to treat, some of whom have taken to drastic measures in sim-therapy. She has her own issues to address, but is able to reach a resolution, albeit as a passive victim.

Gently humorous, with the characterisation of the various aliens just a bit different, and Rand B. not overdoing the xeno-language stuff this time…

Ken Liu. Arc.

The last three stories I’ve read by Liu haven’t really grabbed me, two being more SF adventure than he normally writes. This is more like his best fiction, looking at how scientific changes will impact on individuals.

His protagonist is a woman who had her youngest child 100 years after her first child, whom she had at 16. The story follows the arc of her life, starting as a rebellious teen who falls pregnant to her boyfriend, but who decides that teen motherhood is not for her, and leaves the baby with her parents.

She’s a driven character, not entirely likeable, and Liu cleverly looks at how her working for Bodywerks, plasticizing cadavers, leads her to a form of immortality. With the technology to extend life not available to all, there are societal issues, and with the technology not able to work on her husband, there are very personal issues for her to come to terms with.

The image of her immortalizing her recently (very recently) departed husband is a strong, if chilling, one, and the story avoids (just) the sentimentality of her dealing with her son’s death of old age.

Michael Alexander. A Diary from Deimos.

A dryly tongue in cheek look at a future civil war which has remarkable similarities to historic events. The diary is that of Mrs. Doris Chestnut, a lady living out a respectable life on the frontier that is Deimos. When those on Earth press for robot and AI emancipation, she and her community are horrified, I say, horrified.

It’s a treat to watch her in steadily reducing circumstances, with her own domestic robot being emancipated enough to make his true feelings known.

Richard A. Lupoff. 12:03p.m.

The first story in the sequence, 12:01pm, appeared in 1973. 12:02pm appeared in 2011. And mere months later comes this third in the sequence, which reveals much, much more about why the protagonist is repeating himself, with only himself aware of the deja vu. I’m looking forward to the next story which should appear, on the same progression, in about 4 months, and the fifth in the series, which would be due, er, yesterday.

Chet Arthur. The Sheriff.

Nicely realised Western, in which the bad guys at the Lazy Eight Ranch get brought to justice by the new Sheriff in town, their having previously taken care of the previous holder of the star of office. The Sheriff is ably assisted by 10-year old Jimson, not the brightest boy in town, but with a spark about him.

Grania Davis. Father Juniper’s Journey to the North.

Short which follows the titular holy man who heads into California in the 18th century, to bring christianity to the natives. It doesn’t go to plan – due to the troublesome local god, Coyote.

Andy Duncan. Close Encounters.

A heart-warming take on the the final years of one Buck Nelson (wikipedia) who evidently achieved some degree of fame/notoriety for his visitation by men (and women) (and dogs) from Mars (and Venus), and who spent time out on those planets, and had his lumbago cured.

Nelson died in 1982, and the story is based around them, with him giving short shrift in his remote farmhouse to a reporter that comes a-calling. Duncan gets into the character of the crotchety old farmer extremely well, and manages to stay just the right side of maudlin sentimentality at the end.

Richard Butner. Give Up.

With a bit of a midlife crisis going on (43?? still a youngster!) Jim treats himself to a simulation chamber, that is installed in the garden. Beauty of this is that by taking out a package, he can climb in there and wire himself up and spend several weeks on a virtual Everest, getting ready for the climb of his life.

Or in fact, the climb of his death, as this simulation isn’t (not really addressed in the story) 100% virtual, as injuries occurred whilst in the sim translate to the flesh and blood back in the sim-tank. And of course Jim gets in trouble on Everest, and has to find the inner wherewithal, and help from some other sources, to avoid ending up another frozen corpse in a crevasse.

A particulary strong issue with only a couple of the eleven stories not quite doing it for me

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