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

InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February/March 2019

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InterGalactic Medicine Show #67, February/March 2019

"The Gilga-Mess" by Alex Shvartsman

"Reading Dead Lips" by Dustin Steinacker
"All the Things You Want" by Andrew Peery
"Dayshift" by Brian Trent
"The Cost of Wonder" by Leah Cypess

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The surprising editorial of the February/March InterGalactic Medicine Show announces that the magazine will be ending with the June/July issue. So this turns out to be the antepenultimate issue and it's a pretty good one. It includes a novelette and four short stories, three of which are fairly science fictional and two of which are more like science fantasies. The strongest part of the issue comes in its middle three stories, which include two of the more science fictional tales and one of the more fantastic ones.

"The Gilga-Mess" by Alex Shvartsman

The protagonist and narrator has been placed in charge of a counter-deity unit despite only being a magic programmer "desk jockey" in this semi-humorous semi-Lovecraftian blend of SF and fantasy. When his group goes to Israel to confront "Gilgamesh" and the followers he's converted into worshipers of Enki, the narrator also has to deal with a group member who does not respect his authority (or him). When the protagonist figures out Enki's nature, he also figures out how to better deal with the situation.

Making the group a hacking team, then showing there's nothing to hack, and then having to manufacture a thin reason for them to still be on the case seems a poor move which does nothing but allow for "java" jokes. Its inconsistent approach to its religions was odd. To me, it all seemed a bit silly without being correspondingly funny. That said, others may enjoy the mish-mash of genre and, as humor is in the eye of the beholder, may respond to it favorably.

"Reading Dead Lips" by Dustin Steinacker

Nouelle is a Czirash heading back home to search for her younger sister, though it means she will be among the West Noratians who have taken it over. To help guide her, she occasionally digs up corpses and uses her technology to make them speak. (All the while, she's also accompanied by the remainder of her therapist from Draeles, whose essence she's gathered into a container.) Along the way, she picks up Alex, a West Noratian who seems to want to help her. When she finally gets to the hole that was her home and goes through the mass graves and finds one particular important West Noratian corpse (victim of a counter-massacre), she finally gets some answers.

This could have spent more effort attempting to rationalize its "science" or, better, could have been an outright fantasy. As is, it falls between two stools. As what it is isn't entirely clear, so where it is isn't, either. I assume the reference to "Earth" was a generic or accidental one and this is some secondary/colony world. It's also likely that this issue's sole novelette could have been shorter without any essential loss. But what this story does well is portray the horrors of a Bosnian-type war without going overboard and get its nuanced message across while mostly keeping the primary focus on telling a story. This is a substantial tale with some flaws and some power.

"All the Things You Want" by Andrew Peery

Marley was a pilot before he had an accident and now he's a controller on an AI project. And he's an AI starship. The AI starship is a little too much like the original when it comes to Marley's wife and son. When Marley's upset by this, a conflict escalates toward catastrophe while the starship tries to get the family scanned. The wife has another idea.

This is a pretty good, if fairly familiar tale. (I'm speaking in general terms of AI starships but also of odd specifics: the remote-viewing of the wife on the planet below reminds me strongly of something else—I'm not sure if it's Charles Sheffield's Tomorrow and Tomorrow or something else but I've definitely read that before.) The pace and tension through most of the story is insufficient and the conclusion felt a little off-center but there were interesting elements throughout (the bit about the itchy shoulder was striking) and the conclusion does make a sort of sense.

"Dayshift" by Brian Trent

A woman arrives from an arcology to the dump where the "junkpunks" such as Neil live. She's set to interview him and the others to find out about their way of life and report back home with what she's found to perhaps improve their lot. The Morlock junkpunks scrabble through the gigantic mounds of trash in which various precious metals and other things which help the Eloi arcologies maintain their standard of living can be found when that society no longer has the capacity to make them or when they can no longer be found on Earth otherwise. Competing companies claim parts of this garbage and sometimes get into conflict. When one such fight breaks out, we learn more about the woman.

The "tale of two societies" has innumerable antecedents but the "garbage riches" reminds me of "Another Man's Treasure" (Tom Greene, Analog, May 2014) and "The Forest Eats" (Santiago Belluco, Compelling #12, Winter 2018). This is not bad but falls short of those. While the milieu is interesting and the plot is active, everyone's fascination with the male character and his concern for the woman isn't convincing and, more importantly, the story's twist isn't inspired, points the (apt) "moral" too much, and doesn't fulfill the story's promise.

"The Cost of Wonder" by Leah Cypess

In the shortest tale of the issue, a mother creates wonderful memories with her daughter at the fair but, to get the money for the kid's medicine, she has to sell the memory, which is a common practice for her and others. I, uh, can't remember how many times I've read stories on this concept and theme, but it's a lot and, while there's nothing particularly wrong with it, I don't think I'll remember this one for long, either.


More of Jason McGregor's reviews can be found at Featured Futures.