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

Absolute Magnitude, #16, Summer 2001

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"Buffalo Dogs" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"Selected Letters Of The Master Astronomer To The Science Adviser" by Terry Franklin
"The Man Who Smelled Of Death" by Chris Bunch
"Dear John" by Sarah A. Hoyt
"Forgotten Causes" by John C. Wright, Esq.
"An I For An I" by Rajnar Vajra

Absolute Magnitude is one of the few quality hard science fiction publications on the market today, along with the likes of Analog and Artemis. The Summer issue is no exception, with six tales set in the near to far future of humankind. As you would expect, I found them a mixed bag, ranging from so-so to wondrous.

"Buffalo Dogs" by Lawrence M. Schoen is reminiscent of those early wonder stories of Asmiov and Clark that I grew up on. Mr. Conroy is a stage hypnotist who travels the far flung outposts of deep space entertaining the residents with a fairly standard stage show. Can he make a victim bark like a dog? Or think they are a chicken? On the planet Gibrahl he soon finds himself in trouble. The natives read minds, and absolutely believe whatever they see in another's mind. When he uses hypnosis to convince an audience member that they are a creature which is strictly regulated by the natives, it becomes interesting. How did he come into possession of the prescribed animal? They story evolves from there as he turns the natives' obsessive acceptance of what they "see" to his advantage.

"Selected Letters Of The Master Astronomer To The Science Adviser" by Terry Franklin is an odd tale that takes the standard first contact story and stands it on its head. An alien race has detected the radio and TV signals from Earth and realizes they are not alone. The entire culture of this race is then bent as they learn that they are way behind us technologically, but are able to learn simply by watching and interpreting the transmissions. Over the course of a century, the entire world becomes a rough copy of Earth. Why bother inventing things when Earth already has it? Add to this fascinating tale the odd style, which is presented as e-mails back and forth between the astronomer and the science adviser, and you have a wonderful tale.

"The Man Who Smelled Of Death" by Chris Bunch is another meandering tale that never jelled for me. Proudhon is a graves registration officer during an interstellar war. His job is to recover the bodies of the soldiers killed in battle for burial or return to next of kin. The story revolves around the fact that his commander can't find out who he is or how he became assigned to the job. Various sad tales are explored but none proves true. The bulk of the tale examines the horror of war and its impact on those involved. In the end, Proudhon goes AWOL with a war orphan and is never found. And that is where the story ends. Unfortunately, I have to say that I never did determine the point of the tale.

On the other hand, "Dear John" by Sarah A. Hoyt is a dark delight. All of us have dreamed of dating, or even sleeping with our favorite movie star. In this future, famous people are being cloned for use as prostitutes. Imagine if you could have Marilyn Monroe for the night, for just sixty credits. One such unfortunate meets another of her kind, the clone of Lee Harvey Oswald, and they fall in love. But they are property, and have no right to a life of their own. And so the tale goes as they steal time away from their "duties" to be together, until they reach their very short and bitter life spans.

"Forgotten Causes" by John C. Wright, Esq. is another rambling tale of interstellar war. Marshall Lamech is the sole invader from Earth on a colony world that destroyed Earth a thousand years ago. Lamech was sent by Earth at the end to wreak vengeance, and has been in transit ever since. Part human and part super weapon, he tries to learn why the colony attacked Earth as he is repeatedly blown up. He heals and responds with his own mass destruction until the enemy are destroyed. Other than the fact that he won through some interesting high-tech tricks, I didn't see the point to the tale.

Last, and best, is "An I For An I" by Rajnar Vajra. An interstellar trader is accused of murdering a traveling companion he picked up on route, and is assigned a computer generated public defender. The prosecution has the videos of the murder, recorded by the trader's own computer, along with other physical evidence also recorded by his computer. Sound like an easy conviction? The problem is the "victim" never existed, and the trader is adamant that he was alone onboard his ship the entire trip. And so the virtual lawyer's job is to figure out how it was done and save his client's life, while dealing with his own computer generated reality.

This issue of Absolute Magnitude is just out, and will make excellent Summer reading. I recommend it to you.

Jim Reichert has been a reviewer for Tangent for the last year on such periodicals as Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Talebones, Dragon, Weird Tales and Space & Time. He's a government lawyer specializing in the field of child abuse prosecutions, and lives with his wife and family in a rural area of southern Delaware. He's been an avid fan of speculative fiction all his life, and has been writing short stories and novels for 5-10 years on a sporadic basis. His first fiction was published last June in the e-zine Dark Matter Chronicles.