“A Memory of Freedom” by D.B. Jackson
“Our Vast and Inevitable Death” by S. Boyd Taylor
“The Salt Man” by Melissa Mead
“In the Fading Light of Sundown” by Nancy Fulda
“By a Thread” by Flavio Medeiros Jr.
Reviewed by Bob Blough
This issue OSCIMS is filled mostly with alternate history or stories set in our past. I must say that these types of stories are not usually a favorite of mine unless handled with utmost craft. Any readers who find stories set in 1780s America, or in an 1840s tinged cold war fascinating will enjoy this issue. I did not feel my time was wasted but only two stories kept me interested.
In “A Memory of Freedom” by D. B. Jackson we are in a fantasy set in 1760s America. It involves a male witch who has just escaped from years in prison in the sugar cane fields of the Caribbean –- not for his conjuring but for his part in a mutiny aboard his naval vessel.
Ethan Kaile returns to Boston to find all that he had owned before untouchable because of the mutiny and prison sentence. He has not used his conjuring powers during his incarceration for fear someone might discover him and make his situation even worse. In the course of the story he finds, again, what it means to be a free man. We are given a “proto” superman coming into his powers for the good. There is nothing exciting or new in the story and it has only serviceable prose.
The next is a very short fragment of a story titled “Our Vast and Inevitable Death” by S. Boyd Taylor. It concerns a general and one of his pike men accepting the defeat that is sure to come the next day. The story is set in an unexplained medieval past (China? Alternate History?) which contains nothing new, nor are old truths laid out with any interesting flair. It is again serviceable.
The next two stories I found the most interesting, the first being a retake on an old German Folk Tale and the latter an interesting take on conservatism vs. civilization.
“The Salt Man” by Melissa Mead takes the idea of a supernatural being that collects and drinks all the tears of humanity. The protagonist, a recent widow, imprisons this being and tries to bargain him into giving back her recently deceased husband. The results of her action are interestingly thought out and satisfying. Not a great fantasy story but a very good one by a writer new to me.
Nancy Fulda writes the most interesting tale with “In the Fading Light of Sundown.” This either takes place in a fantasy Earth or perhaps a far future “Dying Earth” setting, reminiscent of Jack Vance. The Earth is divided into “Builders’ and “Caretakers.” Builders cannot help but build, as plants and tress grow at their touch into buildings and palaces and mansions, etc. Caretakers on the other hand stop the proclivity of the builders by bringing nature back into equilibrium. The world of the builders is rotting away (with no where else to build) and the pollutants that come with that rottenness keep any new building from coming into existence. The last caretaker on a particular island is asked to return to help the Builders survive in order to maintain a natural equilibrium. It is an interesting take on today’s society -– the need for civilization and the need for a natural world. There is not enough meat to the story itself, (a perfectly well done love story) but the situation keeps me wanting more in this vein from the author.
The final story took second place in OSCIGMS’ Hydra Award contest for new Brazilian SF authors. The winning stories will be translated and published later in the magazine. I really appreciate this kind of thing, but unfortunately the story, “By a Thread” by Flavio Medieros Jr., is a rather underwhelming mix of steampunk-cold war era elements set on an alternate Earth. The exact historical cusp between our Earth and the Earth of the story is an info dump that takes the whole third paragraph of the story. It’s not bad, but not nearly as smoothly integrated into the story as it could have been. Again, I praise the magazine’s desire to uncover SF/F writers from other countries and hope for greater success in the future.