Galaxy’s Edge #43, March/April 2020
“Life is too Short to Drink Bad Wine” by Gerri Leen
“Thank You for your Service” by Andrew Peery
“The Opposite of Ghosts” by Morgan Welch
“Blood Wars” by Larry Hodges
“The Starry Night” by Eric Leif Davin
“The Altar” by Eric S. Fomley
“Cadmus P.I.” by Philip Brian Hall
“I am Salvador” by George Nikolopoulos
“Eventide” by J. Scott Coatsworth
“Lux Nocturna” by Eleanor R. Wood
“Gods Playing Poker” by Alex Shvartsman
Reviewed by Geoff Houghton
The March issue of Galaxy’s Edge #43 is a tribute issue to the memory of its founder and editor, Mike Resnick (1942 – 2020). The new editor, Lezli Robyn, opens her first editorial with a very personal eulogy that is well worth reading, even if you were never acquainted with the writings and other work (he edited many anthologies over the years, and contributed non-fiction work to many publications, both fan and pro) of Mike Resnick. There is also a published interview and several tributes to Mike. Finally, there is the bonus of a reprint of one of his short stories; the 2007 romantic fantasy, “Distant Replay.”
This tribute issue contains a generous sixteen stories in total. Eleven of them are original and have been reviewed here.
The first piece of new fiction is “Life is too Short to Drink Bad Wine” by Gerri Leen. This is an end-of-the-world story that is entirely set on a quiet ocean-side dock during the last evening of the planet Earth. The technology and general background probably place this story in the present-day USA.
Only the end-of-world scenario qualifies this as SF at all. The fact that Earth is about to be demolished by an asteroid collision is merely the backdrop to a gently-paced story of a pair of ex-lovers who separated many years before but who choose to spend their final hours with each other. Readers should not expect any sudden desperate attempt on the parts of our two protagonists to circumvent their demise. What is delivered is a slow but deep exploration of the past history and current motivation of two flawed but likeable and eminently believable characters.
The second original offering, “Thank You for your Service”, by Andrew Peery is an SF story set in the USA of the extremely near future. The narrator is a tough, self-reliant teenager with a rather ineffective father and a terminally ill younger brother.
The premise of this story is that a race of physically fragile but highly advanced aliens have landed upon the Earth and have co-opted human volunteers as soldiers in a galactic war. These volunteer soldiers are modified into radioactive supermen who are simultaneously lauded and shunned by the rest of mankind. Their selfless service has earned humanity use of the mysterious “Chimney Machine,” an alien artefact that cures 98% of all cancers, regardless of the stage of the disease.
The fact that two percent of users vanish without a trace means that only the truly incurable who are nearest to death’s door opt to pass through the machine.
Since there are nearly 5,000 new cancer cases reported each day in the USA alone, this would be an incredibly busy machine, even if it is only for the use of US nationals. The author describes in gritty detail the procedures, queues and personal tragedies that would be associated with transporting such large numbers of terminally ill patients to a desert mountain location.
Next is “The Opposite of Ghosts” by Morgan Welch. This is “Space Opera meets The Living Dead” set in an interstellar Union of Worlds, thousands of years into the future.
The protagonist is a psychically endowed female investigator working for the Government of the Union. A Union spacecraft has reappeared many light years away from the point of its disappearance and in a decrepit state that resembles hundreds of years of natural decay.
Our heroine meets the survivors of this experience and gets the worse of their initial encounter. Their second encounter is equally disastrous for the forces of good. This tale rattles along at a fast pace which sacrifices deep characterisation for action. There is undoubted excitement in the writing but the story as a whole and most especially the second encounter between the psychic investigator and the sole survivor of the lost ship’s crew is uncomfortably full of plot-holes. Most notably, the author never addresses why it is incumbent upon the investigator to abandon all normal procedures and attempt to perform a single-handed elimination of the survivor.
“Blood Wars” by Larry Hodges is a fantasy set in an alternative reality where vampires rule the world. The narrator is a board-level vampire executive in a blood producing company whose evil-tempered chairman and proprietor is Dracula. The concept of a reality where humans are farm animals, securely caged and regularly bled to supply their vampire owners may appear to be repugnant, but the tongue-in-cheek style of writing converts it from a potential horror story into a light-hearted poke at Corporate America.
“The Starry Night” by Eric Leif Davin is a piece of Flash Fiction (only 1362 words) that is neither SF, fantasy nor horror. The narrator is a deeply disturbed but talented artist temporarily housed in a private French Asylum in the year 1889. The artist, the painting he describes and the Asylum are all historically attested people, places and things. Only the troubled thoughts of the artist at the time are speculation.
“The Altar” by Eric S. Fomley is an SF story set in present-day rural America. The point of view character is a Carpenter hired at an outrageously high fee to build a precisely specified structure with utmost urgency. The structure is revealed to be an Altar upon which a specific sacrifice must be made by the very next day. When our protagonist is informed, in the most matter of fact tones that the sacrifice is to be the lives of the family who commissioned the work, he is left with a real dilemma. It is a sacrifice that would be entirely justified if what the family believes to be true is real. However, their story appears to be so outlandish that it seems more probable that the whole family is as mad as rabid March Hares. Allowing them to exercise their free will appears to be a crazy option in this case but the protagonist must choose now.
The only non-spoiler statement that can be made in addition is that this story has not been incorrectly classified when it is labelled as SF!
“Cadmus P.I.” by Philip Brian Hall is a light-hearted and deliberately inaccurate retelling of the legendary founding of the City of Thebes by the hero Cadmus. In this retelling, Cadmus is a Private Investigator rather than the brother of the unfortunate Princess Europa. However, as with the classical story, he accepts the thankless task of pursuing Europa and her abductor, the God Zeus, who is not too cunningly disguised as a White Bull.
Europa never does get rescued, and never really wanted rescue in the first place, but Cadmus finally gets to found his city. The deliberately anachronistic writing is part of the amusement and even readers who have never read this Classical Greek fable will chuckle at some of the most outlandish anachronisms.
“I am Salvador” by George Nikolopoulos is a straight horror story set in the Kingdom of Spain around the end of World War I. It is a matter of record that the young Salvador Dali believed himself to be a reincarnation of his dead elder brother. This piece of Flash Fiction proposes that he was not wrong. It is more than adequately scary, but even within its own parameters it contains a gaping plot hole. Given the end-point, why would the wraith of his dead brother train the living Salvador at all?
“Eventide” by J. Scott Coatsworth is a gentle SF story of first contact with an overwhelmingly advanced yet benign race during the last moments of the existence of their universe. Our 20th Century protagonist is a gay American male, although his sexual orientation is actually almost entirely irrelevant to the story. He is in the terminal stages of cancer when he awakens from what appears to be a near-death experience. It seems to his very fallible senses that he is in the company of an unfeasibly perfect young woman in a familiar and homely place. In reality, he is in an exact facsimile of his home that is not even in the same Universe.
Eventide is the alien interlocutor who spends time with our hero and learns much of his life and humanity. She finally grants him healing for his cancer and knowledge far beyond anything known to humanity, content that the legacy bequeathed by her ancient race will not go entirely to waste.
These aliens are complex, gentle and entirely benevolent and our protagonist responds to that in a most civil and appealing manner. It is a pleasure to read the work of an author who does not automatically assume that all aliens are ravening monsters or that our species will turn everything that it learns to evil uses and all that it touches to ashes.
Next in this Special Issue is “Lux Nocturna” by Eleanor R. Wood. This horror story is set in small-town America in the present day. The narrator, Alethea, is a musician and music teacher who lives alone in an old, rambling house on a hill at the outskirts of her small community. She has recently inherited this classical location for a horror story from her aged grandmother, and it comes with an unwanted sitting tenant.
Every October, in the month before All Hallows Eve, the old house is visited by an apparition and it is the duty of Alethea’s family to prevent this demonic force from escaping its bonds into the world of light. Alethea appears unaware of this history but the reason for her unawareness emerges naturally with the progression of the story, as does what she must do to hold back the darkness.
The last fantasy offering is “Gods Playing Poker” by Alex Shvartsman. The location is an impromptu casino which, once every decade, hosts a very special poker game. The narrator is the dealer in this high-stakes game of Texas Hold’Em. The players are the six highest ranking trickster gods of the religious pantheons of the Earth. These gods draw their power from the toil and stress caused to humanity by their activities and the chips in the game are the Ambrosia gathered from humanity by their interference.
The author has generated some witty and topical interplay between the boasting gods. As the game progresses it becomes obvious that one particularly well-known trickster god appears to be missing. Or perhaps not!
Geoff Houghton lives in a leafy village in rural England. He is a retired Healthcare Professional with a love of SF and a jackdaw-like appetite for gibbets of medical, scientific and historical knowledge.