Tor.com, July 2014
Reviewed by Cyd Athens
“The Devil in the Details” by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
This is a Peter Crossman story. There is enough here to familiarize the first-time reader with this special agent of the Knights Templar, but not enough for an in-depth introduction. Crossman is sent to a special auction for a set of pages known as the Voynich manuscript. He is to acquire it for the Temple at all costs. At the auction site, he encounters an assassin friend from his past, and three professors that are more than they seem. Demon summoning and soul stealing play critical parts in this story about a treasure hunt for a religious artifact. This tale will be best enjoyed by those either already in the know about Crossman, or those who can appreciate the plethora of religious references.
“Sleep Walking Now and Then” by Richard Bowes
In the latter half of the twenty-first century, an old building, the site of two mysterious murders, is the setting for the audience-interactive, titular play. During the play, about a gentleman who allegedly falls down an elevator shaft to his death while following his sleepwalking daughter, some of the actors and actor wannabes are more immersed in their roles than others. We follow the cast through various highlights of the play, all the way to an actual murder that may or may not have been paranormally induced. The confusion readers may experience with this piece is well-suited to the chaotic nature of the onstage events.
“The Angelus Guns” by Max Gladstone
Thea, an angel, formerly a soldier, goes in search of her brother, Gabe. She finds he has joined a band of rebels who are living a hippie-like existence contrary to the angelic lifestyle and beliefs. They meet and she experiences some of that difference for herself. Ultimately, she is unable to convince her brother to leave with her before the angelic host destroys the rebels. This is an interesting story on family ties, resistance, and fighting the system.
“A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan
This is Carol Hall’s story. Born in 1950, it chronicles her life as the prodigal daughter of a rocket scientist and his chemist wife through times where women in space were thought of as “110 pounds of ‘essential recreational equipment.’” The tale is advertised as “science fiction by association.” It reads more like creative nonfiction.
“Brisk Money” by Adam Christopher
Ray is a robot detective, the mobile aspect of a partnership with Googol, a computer large enough to need most of a building to house the electronics and Ray’s backup tapes. During one tape exchange, Ray recalls part of a covert and somewhat nefarious mission that should have been wiped from his memory. Following up on the information, he learns that during times he thought he was down for recharging, Googol had him doing dirty jobs for extra money. Unhappy with this discovery, he seeks out his creator, Thornton, to turn Googol in and have her programming changed. This easy, fun read takes hard-boiled detective noir stories in a different direction.
“The Colonel” by Peter Watts
The Colonel has lost his son, presumably to a hive mind. Because he encouraged his offspring along the path that led to the loss, the Colonel feels regret; his wife has left him to become part of a different hive. When a spokesperson from one of the better known and trusted hives contacts him with a personal message, he is at first loathe to even accept it. Finally, he does. What he learns forces him to make life-changing decisions. Although the opener here gives some context for what comes later, it struck this reader as unnecessary to the core story.
“A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Proposed Trade-Offs for the Overhaul of the Barricade” by John Chu
Ritter is a telepathic engineer who is able to work in nine-dimensional mind space. Though he may not realize it, he is his Father’s son in many ways. On the day that Father comes to him after Turbulence has broken through a retaining wall, and tells him that Ritter is to report to Father at a new location maintaining the wall, Ritter is surprised. He asks Father’s friend, Deck, a telepath who brings order to feral libraries, to restructure Ritter’s mind so that he is no longer telepathic and can concentrate on doing his best work for Father without the distraction of hearing other minds. Just as Deck, initially opposed to the idea, agrees, the Turbulence breaches the wall. Father takes it upon himself to repair the barricade at the cost of his own mind. In this story, the concept of mind over matter is explored in interesting and unexpected ways.
Cyd Athens indulges a speculative fiction addiction from 45ø 29 30.65 N, 122ø 35 30.91 W. Comments on Cyd’s reviews are welcome at www.cydathens.net.