Tor.com, July 2012
Reviewed by John Sulyok
“The Mongolian Wizard” by Michael Swanwick
“The Mongolian Wizard” is the first installment in a new series of fantasy stories by Michael Swanwick at Tor. Unlike many fantasy stories, however, this series is set in an alternate history version of Europe. The story revolves around a congregation of delegates at Schloss Greiffenhorst near the Riphean Mountains. They meet to discuss the rise of the dangerous Mongolian Wizard.
Junior Lieutenant Ritter is in the Werewolf Corps – a kind of security force. Sir Toby is a dignitary and wizard from England. The two end up uncovering a plot within the Schloss, which has far-reaching connotations of international upheaval.
Swanwick’s story works in and of itself, but does an excellent job of pointing to the potential ramifications of what happens at the Schloss and what may happen in the months to come within the setting, that one is compelled to want more. It is elegantly written, with a well-thought-out plot that is just the tip of the iceberg for this new series. Can’t wait for the next installment.
“Brother. Prince. Snake.” by Cecil Castelluci
The introduction to Cecil Castelluci’s “Brother. Prince. Snake.” states that it is “a retelling of the Prince Lindwurm fairy tale.” The story is remarkably familiar with numerous tropes involving sibling rivalry and distrusting those who are different. Wen is the third son born to a queen, but the only one prophesied to be a monster. He grows into a snake/dragon/man that is never described well enough to get a true sense of his form. What is certain, is that his inhuman features prevent him from being accepted by his family.
Castelluci’s version does not veer from these tropes and brings nothing new or exciting to the tale. Even the most modest readers or television or movie watchers will be able to predict the outcome fairly early on. If the destination is known, the only saving grace would be the journey. Here, however, the journey is bland and simplistic, contains numerous grammatical and logical problems, and meaningful plot points are reduced to one or two sentences. There is nothing here to recommend.
“A Tall Tail” by Charles Stross
If I didn’t know better, I’d say Charles Stross’s “A Tall Tail” was true. The fact that the first five words are “This is true, I swear” and that every word of dialogue sounds like it could have been transcribed from an actual recording is a great piece of bait to get things going. The story? DARPA brings together a collection of scientists and science-fiction writers to brainstorm possibilities for a starship. What happens? A handful of these guys float around in a pool and talk about the greatest bamboozle in rocket science history.
Stross’s writing is so on point that this reads more like creative non-fiction than anything else. The hard-SF elements are discussed without holding punches, but not to the exclusion of the average reader. Anyone can follow along without needing to understand the finer points of atom weight in propulsion fuels. There’s a good smattering of humor thrown in to keep things light and airy. And there’s just enough of a twist to keep you wondering how true this all might just be.