“Fixe” by K. C. Norton
Reviewed by Jason McGregor
The September/October InterGalactic Medicine Show is basically a tightly themed anthology rather than a magazine issue. The theme is something like “relationships of romance or familial sorts coupled with comings of age or similar transformations.” The first half of the issue is fantasy (with a dash of slipstream) and the latter half is softly science fictional. Only the last and least ambitious tale really works on its level though the rest are at least mostly readable.
“Fixe” by K. C. Norton
Japetus Fixe is a clever boy who finds a mysterious and frightening sea creature and goes to the local Society man for help with it. They determine it is actually a machine and has an occupant who is in trouble. Nursing her back to health results in a changed life for the Society man as well as the boy, though not in the way he has come to expect.
The story is written in present tense and, aside from a twist, uses a fairly thin and conventional “peasant boy discovers a wider world and begins to grow toward it” structure but manages sustained interest for all that. It seems to be a kind of slipstream story in which a Society for Cryptic Biology is very important for Danish-speaking people in Greenland and for their Australian and Indian (for example) agents. There is a sort of science but machines are mistaken for creatures and so on. It feels like a mishmash of alternate history, steampunk, and fantasy yet, aside from the references and world-view, is a non-fantastic story which tries to evoke a sense of wonder and may succeed, insofar as one is sympathetic toward the protagonist or susceptible to the story’s sentimentality.
“What the Blood Bog Takes” by Barbara A. Barnett
Two sisters, Seara and Asthore, accompany their tribe to the peat bogs on the Day of Sacrifice and, though the usual practice is to have the druid sacrifice the chieftain when other sacrifices fail, in this case, the cowardly chieftain lives another day when Asthore is claimed. Much of the story involves Seara’s and the druid’s attraction to each other, the druid’s guilt that perhaps his hesitation in killing the chieftain leaves him guilty of Asthore’s death, and the chieftain claiming Seara as wife. Then, after hearing Asthore calling Seara, she and the druid go to the peak from which the bog can be seen most fully and it appears as a grasping bloody hand reaching toward the village and the next Day of Sacrifice rolls around. The climax hinges on what the sacrifice is to be this time.
This is another present-tense story and clearly a fantasy. While no trouble for me to read, I am not its target audience. It may well appeal to fans of modern renditions of primitive myth-like religious/romance tales.
“I Was Her Monster” by Jessi Cole Jackson
In a world in which kids have “monsters,” Libba is a much-delayed prepubescent 16-year-old who still has her monster (the spidery “Ara”) which causes her much difficulty. The story deals with her growth and their process of separation.
There is minimal plot to this one and has the already trite, de rigeur lesbian relationship in addition to the monster/child one. Again, not the target audience for this one but perhaps people who are and haven’t read enough of the countless other “coming of age/tradeoff” stories will like this. The part about the monster eating socks was amusing.
“The Debugging of Martin Jarreau” by Rahul Kanakia
Martin (along with all the rest of the world, apparently) has subscribed to a LifeCoach service and the story is told from the point of view of the program, complete with computeresque verbiage and multiple fonts and a very unappealing look “on the page.” The plot, such as it is, involves Martin’s insistence on loving Trish vs. the program’s insistence that he love Celeste. By “love,” Martin means “make Trish happy” and the program means “optimize Martin’s chemical releases so that Martin is happy.” After this and similar semantic confusions are ironed out, the story ends.
As I say, this is not an appealing read, is unoriginal in style and substance and, even as a “program’s eye view,” contains errors in style. In one case, the program is ‘HappinessMaximiser(“Martin”)’ implying Martin is the parameter of the function and, in another, it is ‘HappinessMaximiser(Trish)’. In this case, the argument to the function might work but quoting it in one place and not another is bad style and either a typo or mistake on the part of either the author or editor. In another, English is allowed to trump programming when the text says, ‘He is speaking of “Love().”‘ In English, for whatever reason, the quote comes after the period but, in computer languages, the quote is part of the ‘”Love()”‘ token (as illustrated in the very next line which reads ‘”Love()”!= Love().’) and the period should not interrupt it. Either way, as may be evinced by this sort of nitpicking, the story is not very compelling as fiction.
“Intertwined” by Kate O’Connor
Sinette is a “navigator,” part of a group of minds plugged into some sort of gee-whiz magic that enables it to guide starships and to psychically exist in space while their bodies are exercised by machine to provide the organic matrix for the minds. Turns out that these navigators are born into this system, being given up at birth for adoption. Sinette’s universe is turned upside-down one day when she finds herself ripped from the matrix by Rose (nearly losing a ship in the process), who declares herself to be Sinette’s biological mother who is “rescuing” Sinette. Sinette deals with the loss of her universe and the gain of her world. She is so physically damaged by her inept extraction that she can’t return in the “normal” way but works on a plan to try to shed her material body while uploading her mind. And the pivot of the story is her deciding whether she wants to try or not.
This begins in a kind of “end of 2001: A Space Odyssey psychedelic swirl” which makes it hard to engage with the story. However, the crash into the “normal” world and the transformation of the SF tale into a tale of “mother regrets giving up girl for adoption” is a crushing reduction of the story. There follow schematized emotional reactions which can’t work even if you want to believe them and certainly won’t convince if you don’t. (This entity, Sinette, is not existentially human and has never known the concept of “mother” or anything else so why should it have any resonance for her and why should the world of parks and museums not seem like an incomprehensible hallucination and why should she not hate the woman who destroyed her life and ripped her from all experiences and other navigators she knew and loved with an irrevocable intensity and so on?) There also comes a twist which I won’t spoil which reduces the tale yet further. I must confess to being surprised by the very end because the entire story seems to be pointing in another direction but I’m not sure that’s not yet another failing.
“Antique” by Jared Oliver Adams
Lochlan has indentured himself for his education during tough times. Now his grandmother has passed away and he goes to claim the spaceship that is his inheritance and which he intends to sell to reduce his period of indenture. She’d always told him what he took to be colorful stories when he was a kid but, upon arriving at the ship, he comes to realize he may have been wrong about them. And he may have a different future than he thought.
As I say, this isn’t a very demanding tale, or especially original, but it’s cleanly and concisely told and is fun.
Jason McGregor’s space on the internet can be found here.