“Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” by Jamie Todd Rubin
Reviewed by Ryan Holmes
“Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” by Jamie Todd Rubin is a touching story about a baseball legend being laid to rest at Cooperstown. It is told as an article written by Ed O’Halloran, a sports columnist for the Creigh Monitor on the planet Nisan in 2467 and reprinted with permission. The piece blends career highlights of Gemma Barrows, the first Nisan, Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, with personal accounts of Ed’s experience escorting the pitcher to her final resting place. Along for the ride are Gemma’s father, Vassa Barrows, and her catcher, Leland Eisley. All the little strings by which Rubin weaves the characters to each other and to the game itself create a tapestry even a non-baseball fan would enjoy, but this story isn’t about baseball. It’s about loving something more than ourselves and sacrificing everything for that love. It’s about family, the distance that can separate us from our loved ones, and yes, it’s about how baseball can bring us together. There’s just something about that game that brings people closer. Maybe it’s the unmeasured, quality time spent next to each other because, as Rubin suggests, baseball is a sport apart from time.
Rob Steiner’s “The Cloaca Maxima” will entertain regular and visiting readers alike. The time-traveling magi, Natta Magus, aka Remington of 21st century Detroit, returns from the previous issue continuing his quest to escape ancient Rome, where he was marooned by his former mentor and current enemy, William Pingree Ford. In this followup, Steiner reveals that there is more at stake than just acquiring the rare spell components needed to return home. Magus discovers Ford’s intentions are to alter the future. This sinister motive draws Magus into another adventure, one where his very existence is at stake, and leaves the magi with more than just getting home to worry about.
“The Species of Least Concern” by Erica L. Satifka takes the questionable ethics of today’s genetic tailoring of seeds by major corporations and their subsequent copyrighted market control and extends that to its next inevitability. In a very real near future, Satifka envisions corporations creating animal species as a consumer commodity. We experience the story through the eyes of Kimmy, daughter to a mid-west farming family, and victim of the corporate gene wars that inflicted her with a neurological illness and forced her family to sell. The gene war is now spilling over into livestock markets. As with most capital opportunities, nothing sells better than an engineered crisis. In Kimmy’s world, that crisis is an unknown killer wiping out entire species in the food chain. Not to fret, corporations like Nature’s Helpers are bringing brand new animals to market to fill the gaps. They’re cute, too. Eat them or pet them. Too bad they don’t reproduce, but you can always buy another one, for the right price.
Christian Heftel’s “Lost and Found” is about a lonely man. He lost things as a kid, lots of things, only now they’re returning to him. It all started when he and his crew emptied out a particularly creepy foreclosure. While rummaging through the upstairs bedroom under a sea of hanging dream catchers, Forrest finds a golden toad in a dresser drawer unmistakably similar, right down to the missing toe, to one he kept briefly as a pet, before he lost it. Forrest is overwhelmed by memories of his past and takes the toad home in a cage to care for it properly this time. The toad is just the beginning. Other lost items appear. At first, he embraces the heartwarming memories they conjure up, but not everything we lose, by accident or design, are tied to pleasant memories. Such was the case when the breakup letter from his first girlfriend showed up under the toad’s cage on the kitchen table, the letter Forrest ripped into confetti and flushed out of his life, now pristine and still smelling of the perfume the cruel girl sprayed on it. Forrest begins to resent the returned items. Their cruel memories grow ever darker. Along the way, we learn that Forrest lost his mother.
“Electricity Bill for a Darkling Plain” by H. G. Parry drops us into the charismatic relationship of four flatmates: Matilda, Alfie, Will, and the narrator, Septimus. These four characters share more than a flat. They share a similar culmination of their pasts and an unending future. Will, in particular, is so tired of his future that he ends his life on a monthly basis. All are immortal and destined to go through life at the age they first died. Will, of 18th century vintage and the oldest, spends his eternity bitter about being trapped. Matilda is promiscuous but lonely. Alfie is too serious and worries. While Septimus is meticulous yet tolerant. Alfie’s worry leads him to call a flat meeting where he drops a game-changer on his flatmates. The key, he says, is cremation. This revelation hits Will and Matilda hard. It is one thing to keep offing yourself when you’re confident it won’t take and another thing entirely to have the freedom of death returned and choose to act on it. H. G. Parry does a wonderful job of characterization and dialogue that makes this story a pure pleasure to read.
Sunil Patel’s “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” should come with a box of tissues. This is one of those rare stories that begins benign and ends with the reader’s heart hemorrhaging emotions. A robot recounts its experiences with its creator, Silvi, who narrates the story in 2nd person. We learn how the robot processes information: facts from fiction, truth from lies. Silvi teaches the robot facts like the color of the sky and grass, but she also tells the robot fictional stories, those she loves the most. She shares her favorite memories often and often contradicts the details, much to the robot’s confusion. For most of the story, the reader is lulled into believing that it is simply about programming an advanced artificial intelligence. Only in the end do we learn Silvi’s true motives and the robot’s purpose. It is a powerful story-within-a-story that I highly recommend reading for enjoyment and studying in detail as an example of the finer elements of literature.
Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com