The Sword Review, December 2006, Vol. 21

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“Steamy Realities” by R.L. Copple
“Paradise Falls” by Lisa A. Smith
Each of the stories in the December issue of The Sword Review carries its own unique message offering something to reflect upon during this time of endings and new beginnings.

The premise of “Steamy Realities” by R.L. Copple is simple. Patrons enter a steam house and the steam brings out the best or worst in them, depending on whether they have a good heart. The protagonist is a teenaged boy, Sisko, who lives in the town and is entering the house for the first time as part of his coming-of-age.

Most of the transformations are exactly what one might expect, for example, a vain man transformed into a fat man, which doesn’t add anything to the story. But other transformations are more interesting—a man turning into a tree as well as Sisko’s transformation. These bits of unpredictability, coupled with various introduced concepts, kept things interesting and made “Steamy Realities” a worthwhile read.

In “Paradise Falls” by Lisa A. Smith the cowboy protagonist, as a small boy, wanted to know what the devil looked like.  In Paradise Falls, he gets a firsthand opportunity to find out.  Everything from the name of the town to the furtive activities of its denizens should be a warning when his greed helps him find his way in; from the beginning, things just don’t seem right. 
Smith uses a light touch to craft what could be a heavy-handed story. The cowboy is far from perfect; he recognizes the strangeness of the situation but is still tempted. The devil is more and less than you might expect. Rather than having stereotypical horns and tail, it is his menacing and confident manner that distinguishes him. Fans of old westerns or TV series like Wagon Train or Gunsmoke will appreciate the classic elements of a typical western town, and most readers will enjoy discovering what sets Paradise Falls apart.

In “Samga: A Story of Compassion” by David R. Downing, Kalat is sent on a mission by his mysterious masters. All the warrior knows is that he is to go up the steppes to the Valley of Shadows and find Samga. She is a seer of the past and future, an ageless shaman for her people. Coming upon the Inulchuq summer camp, he meets his quarry. She offers him hospitality and spins out the tale of her life.

Both Kalat and the Samga are well defined characters, as is the mountainside setting and the way of life depicted in Downing’s tale. The story moves along briskly and flows smoothly. The reason behind the events taking place in the story remains a mystery, and very little is revealed about the organization Kalat works for or whom he serves. The author hints at hidden depths in his protagonist and reveals some of his dark past. “Samga: A Story of Compassion” was thoroughly engaging and not at all the bittersweet story I expected. If you enjoy it, look for more stories featuring Kalat in the near future. Recommended.

“Star in the East” by Mike Simon is about the nativity. Swinging forward through time to span three thousand years, snippets of story highlight the appearance of a star in the east and a male member of the Gideon family.  Eventually, one Gideon decides to travel to the exact point in space indicated to await the coming of the savior. The connection between each of the story’s fragments unfolds from there.
At its heart, “Star in the East” is about belief. It also hits upon the power of simple acts and hints at reincarnation. These are big themes, and author Simon addresses them in a relatively straightforward way.  The end result is a fairly decent story with hints of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. My one quibble is that through dozens of generations, there was never a Gideon daughter. If reincarnation is indeed involved, it makes sense, but the feminist in me is miffed anyway.