To Catch a Comet • short story by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley ♥♥♥
Pretty Pictures at War • short story by Larry Hodges
Gianni • reprint short story by Robert Silverberg ♥♥♥
Out of Print • short story by Steve Pantazis ♥
C/O the Village of Monsters Past • short story by Dantzel Cherry
Auriga’s Streetcar • reprint short story by Jean Rabe ♥♥
Montpellier • short story by Ian Whates ♥
Prayerville • reprint short story by Janis Ian ♥♥
The Higher, The Fewer • short story by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro ♥♥
The Man Who Saved Manhattan • short story by Sunil Patel
Smokiejoe • reprint short story by David Drake
Shattered Vessels • short story by Robert B. Finegold, M.D. and Kary English ♥♥
The Long Tomorrow (Part 2 of 6) • reprint serial by Leigh Brackett ♥♥♥+
The Editor’s Word • by Mike Resnick
Book Reviews • by Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye
Columbus or Erikson • essay by Gregory Benford
From the Hearts’ Basement: Dreams are the Enactment of the Soul’s Darker Needs • essay by Barry N. Malzberg
The Galaxy’s Edge Interview : David Weber • by Joy Ward
The original fiction in this issue gets off to a good start with To Catch a Comet by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. A story to warm a Brexiter’s heart, it is an amusing account of the representative of a NEO (Near Earth Objects) watch organisation trying to avert a meteorite strike in Europe. The original project has been shut down and she gets shunted around various European departments getting nowhere. Some of the responses stretch credibility but generally this will provide a cathartic dose of schadenfreude to anyone who has butted up against inflexible government organisations in the past.
Pretty Pictures at War by Larry Hodges starts with a man being cured of prostate cancer by a forth dimensional alien’s three dimensional avatar after it surprisingly turns up during the middle of an examination at the doctor’s. The man, rather than being grateful, ends up in a vengeful rage at the aliens as the doctor has been secretly filming his examination and the film subsequently goes viral. He then uses the money from suing the doctor to hire scientists and soldiers to work out a way of going to the fourth dimension and killing the aliens. His expeditionary force does not meet with success.
Why he is angrier at the alien who cured him rather than the doctor is never explained convincingly, the story is told in an irritating narrative voice, and the final paragraphs could have come from a slush pile story of the ‘60s.
Out of Print by Steve Pantazis has an initially promising start with its story of a robot being brought to consciousness by Dan the hacker. The first scenes of it trying to get its bearings are quite good even though Dan is drawn as an one-dimensional slob character. The quality rapidly deteriorates when the robot—Owen, although it would rather be called Shelia—discovers Dan has programmed him to be a serial killer. The rest of the story plays out this scenario, and Owen/Shelia’s resistance to its programming. This one is something of a missed opportunity.
C/O the Village of Monsters Past by Dantzel Cherry is, although I would not have thought it possible, even more twee than her story in the last issue with the added bonus of a mawkish ending. It is a short family letter from a griffin to his hippogriff son informing of the latest news and other family goings on. It has a closing attempt at reconciliation.
Montpellier by Ian Whates tells its story from the viewpoint of an enforcer for a futuristic recreational drug producing company. He goes to a grungy project to see why nine of the customers have stopped using. After making little progress as he trails around the tower block (spoiler) he finally meets the boss behind the gangs, an older woman from his past. They amicably discuss the problem which is sorted out as a win-win for everyone. A complete anti-climax of an ending.
The Higher, The Fewer by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is similar in some respects to the first story in the issue as it concerns a new slant on a perennial problem. This one tells of a man having a 3D printer malfunction in the near future and a corresponding tech call that is quite amusing for the most part. It is let down by a rather clichéd ending though.
The Man Who Saved Manhattan by Sunil Patel is a short squib about a vampire, his sister and their fight against the ‘living monolith.’ It reads like the synopsis of a longer but equally bad story.
Finally, Shattered Vessels by Robert B. Finegold, M.D. and Kary English is a Chaos versus Order fantasy that has a man, Shevirah, the breaker of vessels, compelled by Chaos to destroy the ten people who house the various shards of Order/Creation by killing them with a special dagger. This tells of one particular episode, where he is nursed back to health by one of the ten before (spoiler) he kills her. After this episode he does not let the dagger compel him to kill again, and the final section plays out in the modern day. This is well enough told but is rather too straightforward.
The reprints include Gianni by Robert Silverberg (Playboy, February 1982). This unexceptional story from Silverberg’s later output tells of an Italian composer called Gianni Perglosi who is timescooped into our near-future. It tells of him being cured of his TB and gonorrhoea and saved from death’s door. Once he is healthy he starts to listen to all the music that appeared after his ‘death’ and then starts working on new pieces. However, modern life starts to intrude culminating in his desire to abandon classical music and join an ‘Overload’ band. This tale is, as you would expect, competently done but the future music scene has a dated feel—and is probably less convincing than the time travel stuff.
Auriga’s Streetcar by Jean Rabe (Space Stations, ed. Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers, 2004) is a story about an elderly astronaut scavenging in a university space station that is shortly to burn up on re-entry to Earth. A story of two parts, this starts as quite a good mood piece about an old woman on an old station even if it does start to drag a little when she starts to look at the stars through the station telescopes. After that it then becomes rather too busy and a little unconvincing. First of all (spoiler) she finds a ‘pirate’ has released her ship and docked his. After coming to an accommodation with the pilot she then notices something strange about one of the telescopes as they are completing the salvage operation: it has strange markings and is targeted on Earth. Cue alien ships entering the solar system….
Prayerville by Janis Ian (Women Writing Science Fiction as Men, ed. Mike Resnick, 2003) concerns the visit of a military notification officer visiting an alien family of ‘Joeys’ with the remains of a husband. The first part of this is a fairly well done human/alien interaction; the second part is less successful with (spoiler) its somewhat over-extended and unconvincing dialogue as to why the notification officer then kills the surviving spouse.
Smokiejoe by David Drake (More Devil’s Kisses, ed. Linda Lovecraft, 1977) is several pages of sordid and graphic gangster activity loosely draped in ‘deal-with-the-devil’ clothes. Why anyone would want to reprint such repellent unpleasantness as this beats me. The worst story in the issue by a country mile.
In the second part of The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett, Len finds out that Esau has stolen a radio from Mr Hostsetter, and his peace of mind is once again destroyed:
Great vistas of terrifying and wonderful possibility were opened up in Len’s mind. He stood there on the bank of the Pymatuning, while the gold and scarlet leaves came down and the crows laughed their harsh derisive laughter, and the horizons widened and shone around him until he was dizzy with them. Then he remembered why he was here, or rather why it was that Pa had sent him into the fields and woods to meditate, and how he had made peace with God and the world just such a little time before, and how good it had felt. And now it was all gone again. p.94
They can’t get the radio to work, so Esau subsequently steals books from the teacher’s house to see if he can figure out how it operates. However, they do not make any progress and, later, there is a night-time argument where they scuffle and drop it. During this they accidentally unwind the spool of wire and as they adjust the length of the aerial they hear voices….
Esau approaches Mr Hostetter when he arrives at the Strawberry fair and asks him about Bartorstown. Hostsetter later betrays them to the council and the boys are beaten by their fathers to the point of repentance. After the beating Len decides to leave. He tells Esau this when they are both taken to the council and sentenced to a public birching. They meet up that night and head for the river on their way to the west.
A good second instalment of this classic novel.
This non-fiction in this issue starts off with The Editor’s Word by Mike Resnick which is a composite of recent comments (about the start of the magazine’s fourth year of publication) and an older book review column (Forgotten Treasures, F&SF March 1998).
Book Reviews by Bill Fawcett and Jody Lynn Nye covers four books by Rollins, White, Weber and de Camp/Pratt: the first couple don’t sound like my cup of tea but I was semi-interested in the third, the initial ‘Safehold’ book Off Armageddon Reef, until they mentioned its several hundred page length (life’s too short). The fourth, The Incomplete Enchanter, I’ve read .
Columbus or Erikson by Gregory Benford (2005) is a short article about going to Mars and the human need to explore.
From the Hearts’ Basement: Dreams are the Enactment of the Soul’s Darker Needs by Barry N. Malzberg starts off with a good anecdote:
My Friend, John Lutz, would come into New York City (from Florissant, Missouri) once a year to catch up with Broadway. He told me that on his way to a musical, kicking his way through the shabbier carnival of Times Square in the eighties, he spotted a homeless man backed against a building, shouting to the skies. “Entropy is a myth!” the man cried. “The mythology of entropy is only self-hating projectivity. The universe is not running down. We are running down.”
“You have a very high quality of homeless,” the author of Single White Female observed to me. “You don’t get that kind of stuff from the bums in St. Louis.” p.85
He goes on to talk about the writers and works of the fifties and sixties and, if I understand him correctly, how he finds their despair more comforting than today’s. I wish his column had been a bit longer and he had been more specific with his examples.
The Galaxy’s Edge Interview: David Weber by Joy Ward is less an interview and more a rambling monologue. After the first question there are two pages of response; after the next question, one; after the third, half a page. Three questions in four pages (three and a half thousand words) isn’t an interview.
In conclusion, there are several poor quality stories in this issue, and not really enough of the good stuff to compensate.