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

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2006

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“Show Me Yours” by Robert Reed
“A Herd of Opportunity” by Matthew Hughes
"Billy and the Fairy” by Terry Bisson
“Bea and Her Bird Brother” by Gene Wolfe
“Diluvium” by Steven Utley
“Imitation of Life” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Journey into the Kingdom,” by M. Rickert
“Passing Through” by Charles Coleman Finlay

Robert Reed
begins his story with a childish game of “Show Me Yours” between a girl and her roommate’s new lover.  However, the title of the piece, and the game, take on a much darker look as Reed expands its meaning to include a look at the players’ souls and their future.  Neither of Reed’s characters are what they seem, and their secrets and anonymity make the story very dark.

“A Herd of Opportunity” by Matthew Hughes suffers from too much exposition near the beginning of the story and the sense that Hughes reached for his thesaurus a little too often.  In fact, the use of long or obscure words does add to the texture of the story and so serves a purpose.  The exposition, presented as a master explaining to his pupil, however, stops the story before it really gets started.  Once Hughes gets it out of the way, however, he does present a rich tale against a Jungian backdrop as the humans, who can tap into the Jungian consciousness of humanity, come face to face with the Bololos, a telepathic group of aliens.

“Billy and the Fairy” by Terry Bisson looks at the fantasy so many children have that their parents aren’t really their parents.  In this story, Billy is visited by a fairy who plants the seed into Billy’s mind that he might have a different father.  Through repetition, Bisson carefully shows how Billy views his family, particularly his exasperation with his father.  The story works, in part because Bisson knew when to end it and didn’t attempt to pad the story to a longer length.

Gene Wolfe’s “Bea and Her Bird Brother” provides the flip side of the coin to Bisson’s “Billy and the Fairy.”  In Wolfe’s tale of a woman coming to terms with her father’s impending death, we are shown a woman who is also told that everything she has believed of her life is a lie.  Bea can write off her father’s comments as the rantings of a man who has slipped into dementia, although the thought of her father dying insane comforts her no more than having to consider the story he spouts.

Steven Utley presents the divergent views of creationists and evolutionists in “Diluvium,” a time travel tale which places the discussion on a Paleozoic earth.  Someone waiting for the forces of evolution to give a knockout punch to the creationists in this story will wait in vain as Utley decides to take a different tack.  While Utley presents an interesting idea, which could easily lead him to a more philosophical discussion on the topic, its presentation in “Diluvium” almost seems like he’s taking the easy way out of a controversial topic.

Albert E. Cowdrey creates a future world reminiscent of Edwardian British country life in “Imitation of Life.”  In the years after big cities lost their feasibility due to weapons of mass destruction, society centered around small towns.  The most clear reference of the title is the fact that many people in this future world use love bots, which can be programmed to act like real people, rather than interact with real people.  In fact, as the story opens, there is speculation that Emma Smythe-Denby, the main character, is planning on purchasing one.  However, it becomes clear that the title really refers to the entire society in which the people live.  While normally the distance Cowdrey uses in his narrative voice diminishes the effectiveness of the story, in this case, it helps create a world which has strictures in place to govern the way people interact.

“Journey into the Kingdom” by M. Rickert is, in some ways, three stories in one.  Rickert begins by telling the story of Alex, a man in a coffee shop.  When Alex picks up a book, Rickert shifts the story to the one told in the book, about a girl named Agatha who lived on an island tending a lighthouse.  In Agatha’s tale, she meets Ezekiel, a ghost who tells his story, and once again the story shifts its focus.  Eventually, Rickert works her way back up the hierarchy, focusing again on Agatha and then Alex.  All three of Rickert’s stories work and her characters are interesting.  If Agatha’s story works better than either Ezekiel’s or Alex’s, it isn’t a problem, especially since the synergy between Agatha’s tale and Alex’s is what causes the emotional involvement at the end.

The main character of Charles Coleman Finlay’s “Passing Through” is reminiscent of Ofelia, the protagonist of Elizabeth Moon’s novel Remnant Population.  However, while Ofelia lives in a science fictional frontier, Roberta lives on a small island in Lake Erie in a ghost story.  Roberta is not a particularly likable character, although as the reader comes to comprehend her background, her attitudes can be rationalized, if not understood.  The setting of "Passing Through" is also similar to the setting of Finlay's “Lucy, In Her Splendor,” opening the possibility that Finlay is considering an open ended series of stories set on the shores of Lake Erie.