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

Asimov's, March 2007

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"Chainsaw on Hand" by Deborah Coates
"Breeze from the Stars" by Mary Rosenblum          
"Babel 3000" by Colin P. Davies
"The Sanguine" by Jim Grimsley
"Public Safety" by Matthew Johnson
"The Lion" by Bruce McAllister
"Doctor Muffet's Island" by Brian Stableford

In Deborah Coates's "Chainsaw on Hand," Chelley struggles with the bitterly cold South Dakota winter, her regrets, and mixed feelings toward her ex-husband, Bobby, who sees angels, fairies, or maybe trolls.

Coates's evocative descriptions bring home the deadly chill of a northern Great Plains winter, as well as Chelley's uncertainties and regrets. Likewise, her expert use of second person draws the reader into Chelley's world more completely than first or third person might. Coates has made a bold choice in this little-used point of view, and executes on that choice with remarkable effectiveness.

Mary Rosenblum
presents a coming-of-age hero's tale in "Breeze from the Stars." Jeri has just graduated from his training and is looking forward to an exciting life shooting down space pirates and other threats to society. But he is called to a different duty, a calling it seems he was born to heed, although he resists.

This story offers a reluctant hero and a sage-like figure who sets out to help the hero achieve his destiny—familiar fare that seems slow until the climactic scene. Jeri, much like other reluctant heroes, seems petulant and selfish until his proving moment arrives, and offers little to distinguish himself from the many such heroes that have come before him. However, Delfinio the wise Dispatch is a more interesting and nuanced character, and as such, adds some interest to the story.

In Colin P. Davies’s “Babel 3000,” Smith collects “new old words” and presents them at fashionable dinner parties, where they are all the rage. But he’s having trouble keeping up with the fashions, and somehow, the words don't suffice anymore to fill the emptiness inside.

"Babel 3000" is a wistful tale, told with subtlety. The futuristic setting is merely suggested with a few deft strokes, rather than painted in detail. In his society and in Smith himself, Davies offers the impression of a hollow state, of a shiny veneer that covers a core stripped of meaning and substance. Yet there is hope, in a single, whispered word.

Jim Grimsley
's "The Sanguine" takes place following the chaotic political and social aftermath of a devastating earthquake in the American Midwest. Morgan Horton is a Sanguine, a psychiatrist in "human memory management" who oversees "recall" procedures on war criminals and other miscreants. Morgan is surprised—as he is every year—by the prompt that he is due for his own annual recall, a process that is made all the more painful and poignant by the fact that it is repeated, almost verbatim, every year.

Grimsley engenders empathy with his story of loss and the importance of memory. He also offers an interesting view of crime—both the petty and personal, and the serious and societal—and punishment (or is it treatment?). The methods of treatment/punishment employed by the Sanguine are novel and non-lethal, but not without their own uncomfortable consequences.

Matthew Johnson
's "Public Safety" is a detective story set in an alternate reality where Reason is held in the highest esteem. Officier de la Paix Louverture is called upon to prevent a crime presaged by a cryptic note attached to a statue of the Goddess of Reason outside the police station.

It is interesting to follow Louverture as he reasons out the nature of the impending crime and as he explores the idea of Reason itself. This is enough to enjoy the story; however, the mystery is too easy to solve well before the final paragraphs.

“The Lion” by Bruce McAllister was apparently inspired by a legend from the French Revolution in which a lion fights alongside the Swiss Guard to protect Louis XVI. But McAllister's tale is broader, encompassing much more than the battle, and told from the point of view of the "lion" with pathos and grace.

"The Lion" has the quality of an ancient folktale told in its original form, with a pervading mystery that can be penetrated fully by neither the characters in the story nor by its reader. It raises questions of what is right, what is necessary, and by what means, but offers no definitive answers.

Brian Stableford
provides an entertaining adventure with none other than Sir Francis Drake as its protagonist. Drake, fresh from an ill-fated journey to the moon on an "ethership," is now seeking to remake his name by more conventional means—exploring the South Pacific by ship. He is surprised to find that another expedition has beaten him to his intended discovery, and more so when he learns about the strange work and even stranger associations of his former countrymen on "Dr. Muffet's Island."

Set in an alternate version of the Age of Exploration, this story has all the optimistic ambition and thirst for adventure found in historically-based tales of the early British Empire, but with a speculative twist. This, along with its sometimes wordy narrative style, brings to mind late 19th century speculative fiction—charming, if a little unwieldy at times.