OSC InterGalactic Medicine Show #17, Jun/Jul 2010

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Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (OSCIGMS)
June/July 2010  (Issue 17)

Stories (Adult)

“Ten Winks to Forever” by Bud Sparhawk
“An Early Ford Mustang” by Eric James Stone
“Sparrowjunk” by Margit Schmitt
“Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain” by Von Carr
“Frankie and Johnny, and Nellie Bly” by Richard Wolkomir

Tales for the Young and Unafraid (YA Story)

“Nice Kitty” by David Lubar

Reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk

Besides the five adult stories and one YA mentioned above, the online magazine named after Orson Scott Card contains part one of a new Card serial, an audio of the Stone story (read by Tom Barker) and an interview with Paul Di Filippo by Darrell Schweitzer. The stories are not categorized by length, but I believe they’re all short story length.

“Ten Winks to Forever” by Bud Sparhawk concerns one Wil Tibbits (although at one point in the story he refers to himself as “Tim,” oddly enough), Rennkinner to the stars. The mechanism of the story is/are the “Rennkins”—some kind of instantaneous travel device, or so it seems to the pilot and passengers; although they (pilot/passengers) experience no time in the traveling, there is a period of recovery and recuperation, and the time dilation effect holds for the rest of the universe. The method is called “winking.”

I’m not sure that actually makes sense, but it works well enough for the story, which echoes Heinlein, Haldeman and others—most SF fans are familiar with the idea that time runs at different rates depending on how fast you are moving; if you move at the speed of light (apparently a wink is actually a lightspeed jump, regardless of distance) you will experience time at a slower rate than those you left behind, say on Earth, for example. Our protagonist, Wil/Tim, becomes a winker at a reasonably young age (early twenties) and watches his children grow old and die. And those are just from the short winks.

As I say, an interesting concept that touches on what kinds of changes will occur in humanity not just in millennia, but in megayears. There’s not a lot here that’s new if you’ve been reading SF for a while, but it does evoke the pain of personal loss—our hero learns early that it’s better not to love at all if you’re going to continue to take long jumps, as you may never see that person again in your or their lifetime.

“An Early Ford Mustang” by Eric James Stone brings us Brad and the 1968 ketchup-red Mustang he inherits from his Uncle Fritz. In the bequest, Uncle Fritz tells Brad to beware of “the curse” and to be a “responsible driver,” which kind of confuses Brad, as he might drive fast, but he’s never driven drunk thanks to the time his uncle arrived in time to stop him from doing so some years earlier.

Brad immediately takes the Mustang out for a spin, and discovers that despite leaving late, since he drove over the speed limit, he could arrive at Denise’s house (his girlfriend) on time! So the Mustang’s “curse” has to do with time dilation as well; although Brad experiences regular time while he drives too fast, everyone else experiences slower time.

Which leads to a bit of a Twilight Zone ending (see the YA story below); not particularly exciting and, like so many of its ilk, rather predictable—but inoffensive for all that. Maybe I don’t mind these types of story so much because I grew up in the TZ era—and there’s something comforting in this sort of surprise ending—we used to call it a “tomato surprise,” because there’s really nothing surprising in it… and predictability can be sort of restful, after all.

“Sparrowjunk” by Margit Schmitt is a bit of urban fantasy somewhat in the Fritz Leiber (“Smoke Ghost”) or Charles de Lint style, but it hearkens back to the old fairy tales we’ve all read as children—the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen, and it concerns Steve and his son Matt, who is only five, but has cancer.

What could have been a grim (no pun intended) story about a dying child is given a boost by Schmitt’s writing, in which we see a normal, but ill five-year-old who is confined to his bed but read to nightly by his father, who dotes very much. The mother, unfortunately, died in an auto crash; the same crash that put Matt in the hospital, where they, fortunately for the child, discovered his tumor.

Steve arrives home from work to be regaled with tales of the various birds Matt has seen on the fire escape at the feeders Steve has put up; in return, Steve tells him fairy tales and other stories. But there’s another listener on the fire escape; Steve discovers they are being overheard by what looks like a junkie. It’s a woman dressed in ragged, dark clothes; when discovered she flees down the fire escape.

Later, Steve confronts her, and she avers that she can help Matt if only Steve will let her listen in on the nightly story sessions—eventually, he agrees, and it appears she can fulfill her part of the bargain, as Matt seems to gain energy every day. Astute readers will have already guessed the final outcome, but Schmitt knows her fairy tales well; there are bargains to be made and prices to be paid. Well written, and full of bird imagery (hearkening back to the title), this is one of the top stories in this issue.

“Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain” by Von Carr is another contender for top story; it’s a sad, cold-hearted tale of the apocalypse and the downfall of human culture. No, I’m kidding. It’s all that about the apocalypse (apocalypses, actually—falling comets, nuclear strikes, vampires, zombies and the infected from Stephen King’s Cell to start); it’s also a funny romp involving religion, androids and much, much more.

Sister Jasmine is on a mission to Wal-Mart to pick up supplies, with her robo-dog Einstein, because in this post apocalypse world, it’s the obvious place to find stuff; after all, what interest would Wal-Mart hold for vampires or zombies? (Except, maybe, as a place to ambush survivors…)

On the way, Sister Jasmine and Einstein meet Capers Williams, android Girl Detective and her pet Muppet-droid-spider Flaminus Bell—and the trip gets derailed by the Daimyo of the Wasteland (darned animé fans are everywhere!) and from there the story just gets silly.

But good-silly, not bad-silly. I enjoyed this, and you probably will too. (Curiously, Sister Jasmine uses a little-heard part of the “Agnus Dei”—the “parce nobis” rather than the more familiar “ora pro nobis.”* But maybe it’s just ‘cos I’m not Catholic that I’m not that familiar with that part.)

*(N.B.: Most non-Catholics are familiar with “Agnus Dei, ora pro nobis”—which means, “Lamb of God, pray for us”; “parce nobis” means “spare us” and is part of a tripartite verse: pray for us, spare us, redeem us.)

“Frankie and Johnny, and Nellie Bly” by Richard Wolkomir is, in case you couldn’t guess from the title, another romp—this one a fantasy Western narrated by a precocious eleven-year-old named Susanna Entwhistle, who lives in the town of Duster, reading and storing up experiences to use in her forthcoming career as a journalist… she is inspired by the real-life character of Nellie Bly, the female reporter who beat Phineas Fogg’s “around the world” record by eight days, and who reported on treatment of the insane at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island (New York). (And who, in later life, invented the 55-gallon drum that is still in widespread use today!)

Also arriving in Duster are the eponymous Frankie and Johnny of song and story (according to Wikipedia, the version of “Frankie and Johnny” sung by Jimmie Rodgers has Nellie Bly as Johnny’s lover, perhaps inspiring this tale). Johnny plays “air guitar,” by the way.

Susanna lives in the Ascending Angel, where her mother is, sad to say, one of the residing Women of Ill Repute, patronized by the putative owner of Duster, a company town if there ever was one—“Sweetie” Hieronymus, who uses the evil Sheriff Fitzpatrick Duprey (a spellslinger) and his three gunslinger deputies to keep the townspeople in line and in town (working in his mine).

But Sweetie has a brother, Placido, who doesn’t like getting the small share of the family business, and Placido has hired the notorious spellslinger, J.F. Payne, to come and take care of the Sheriff and his sidekicks. From there the story gets interesting, culminating in a showdown.

I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for you, but I liked this a lot. I recommend it.

“Nice Kitty” by David Lubar is the YA story (“Tales for the Young and Unafraid”) for this issue. It’s written from the POV of a seventh-grader bringing his pet to school for “Pet Day”—but there’s a surprise in store for the kids: the teacher, Mr. Stockton, has brought his own pet, a Bengal tiger named Sheeba. You can guess what happens next if I tell you there’s a touch of Twilight Zone, maybe Charles Beaumont, in this story. Inoffensive, and predictable for adults; maybe not so predictable for kids.

Overall, I thought this was not a bad issue, considering it’s the first online SF/F magazine I’ve read in a long while. It’s handsomely illustrated in both b/w and color and delivers value for money. You could do a lot worse, for sure. There are a couple of quirks that bother me a little: they use typewriter quotes (“) instead of “curly” (typesetting) quotes; they use double dashes (- -) instead of em- or en-dashes, and so on. I would think that even online publishers would be familiar with publishing conventions, but maybe that’s just me.