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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Ideomancer, Volume 6 Issue 1

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"23 Small Disasters" by Benjamin Rosenbaum, Christopher Barzak, Elad Haber, Greg van Eekhout, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Meghan McCarron, and Tim Pratt

Ideomancer's issue this quarter only has one piece of fiction: "23 Small Disasters" by Benjamin Rosenbaum, Christopher Barzak, Elad Haber, Greg Van Eekhout, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Meghan McCarron, and Tim Pratt. The reason there are so many authors is that "23 Small Disasters" is a series of twenty-three linked stories. All the stories have one-word titles (like "Gingerbread" and "Boyfriend"); each time one of these titles appears in the text of a story, you have the option of leaping via a hyperlink to the story in question (going, for instance, to "Dangerous" via the words "It's dangerous to love" in the story "Down").

The stories themselves are flash pieces that appear at first to be disconnected, though some motifs come back—"it's dangerous to love," for instance, or the idea of a flood, whether caused by a hurricane or a tsunami). Some of them focus on two sides of one story: "Newsboy" and its counterpart, "Dud," telling the story of a failed relationship, one from the boy's side and one from the girl's side.
Taken together, these pieces build a strange world shot through with underlying patterns, a world that may be the same one a world where magic hovers on the edge of all things but makes things no better, and yet, while most pieces take place in the modern world, some, like "Headache," seem to be set in another reality entirely. Indeed, the underlying theme (that of disasters) means that most of the pieces convey a strong, melancholy sense of loss that resonates long after you have finished reading them ("Change," for instance, with its emphasis on lost children).

Nevertheless, I thought that while many of these pieces are worthy, the way they are accumulated is not as successful as it could be. The sum somehow seems to be less than its individual, poignant parts, and the way to link from one story to the other via their titles ended up feeling artificial and constrained to me. To be sure, there are links between these, but I felt they were not enough. The only previous attempt at a hypertext story I've read (and reviewed for Tangent) was also in Ideomancer (Ruth Nestvold's "Triple Helix" in the June 2006 issue). "Triple Helix" was a series of linked entries from encyclopedias and reports, and it worked because beneath the various pieces lay a strong story, a puzzle for the reader to gradually uncover—and pass judgment on. Here there is no such link, and overall, the idea seems not to bring enough added value to the stories.