Deep Magic, December 2005

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"The Mark of a Saint" by Amy R. Butler
"The Lost Hemingway" by Mark Reeder
"Infestation" by Ian Creasey

In "The Mark of a Saint" by Amy R. Butler, Fianche is a young woman seeking the sainthood, but with a problem—and a dark secret.  In order to become a saint, each initiate must have some special skill, some mark that sets them apart from others.  Fianche has no such mark, but she does have a staff which allows her to see truth.  As long as she keeps her staff secret, her "skill" can pass for the Mark.  But now she has another problem; she’s pregnant, and no mother is ever admitted to the Sainthood.  Unless she does something, and quickly, her staff will make little difference. 
The most fascinating part about this story, as far as I’m concerned, is the look it gives us at deception and hypocrisy.  Fianche’s road to sainthood is completely faked; she bears no mark, only her staff and the lies that support it.  But how far will she go to hold up her deception?  Will she really descend to murder in order to keep up a life that is nothing more than a lie?   

"The Lost Hemingway" by Mark Reeder is like navigating Boston’s MTA.  Following this story through to the end is nothing short of confusing.  Somewhere under the dream-like muddle of the story and the characters within it (and the reader), the lists of names we can’t remember, and the question of whether we really care enough to make it to the end of the piece, is a profound story that asks what’s truly real and what isn’t, and what existence really means.  Somewhere.  I think.  
Willie Beeman lives a double life, like so many others in this futuristic vision of the world.  In one life he is a waiter who barely makes enough off his tips to afford his HoloNet addiction, in another he is Private Investigator Wil Drake, his HoloNet alter ego.  But when a blow to the head sends reality and virtuality spinning into a confused somersault, things start getting really strange, and Wil Drake has to find out what’s going on before Willie Beeman gets his brains fried. 
If there had been fewer characters to keep up with, if the storyline hadn’t been so hopelessly confused and confusing, then this story could have blossomed into a masterpiece.  As it was, I had too much trouble keeping up with who was who and what was going on to appreciate the finer themes of human nature that I still say are somewhere inside that story. 

"Infestation" by Ian Creasey, is a charming story.  The hero, whose name we never learn, is a monster-killer—or, as he himself says, a rat-catcher with bigger prey.  When a horde of tiny dragons infests the village, he’s called in to deal with them.  But along with figuring out how to deal with hundreds of minuscule blowtorches, he also has to figure out just what exactly makes them so tiny.  And that may not be so easy…. 
Besides being a delightful, light-hearted little piece, "Infestation" reflects greed, desperation, and love, for an all-around satisfying experience.  But my favorite part of the story was the way the exasperation and frustration of hunting monsters was shown.  Rather than an epic tale of great battles, it was a look at the boredom of waiting for little monsters to stick their heads out of their holes—one which never once bored this reader.