Oceans of the Mind, #17, Fall 2005

Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:10 Michael Fay
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"OM+" by Catherine Shaffer and Jim C. Hines
"The Diamond Star" by Cherith Baldry
"Mall Warriors" by Ryck Neube
"Stopover" by Philip J. Lees
"Jigsaw" by Douglas Smith

As with previous fall issues, the Fall 2005 issue of Oceans of the Mind has a Mystery theme.  It features five stories with an Aurora Award finalist finishing up the lineup.

The first story is “OM+” by Catherine H. Shaffer and Jim C. Hines. Kaitlyn, a gene-modded swimmer, was forced out of her athletic career by a seizure. She becomes suspicious when her sister, Jasmine, another genetically modified swimmer, experiences a similar seizure, yet the company and doctors fail to do a comprehensive exam or prevent Jasmine from competing.  Her investigation sets Kaitlyn against the mega-conglomerate, Trueheart, in a race to save her sister’s life and possibly her own.

In addition to the mystery of what has happened to Kaitlyn and Jasmine, “OM+” is a story about corporate power abuse and how it exploits the greed and ethical failures for short term profits at the expense of the innocent. It also serves to warn about the dangers of letting people engage in genetic manipulation without tight controls over what they do and how they do it. It was a well written story, though a little choppy, as though a needed transition had been excised for word count.

“The Diamond Star” by Cherith Baldry is a fairly standard murder mystery. Colonel Hugo Crichton, while trying to catch the famed thief, White Rose, stumbles across the murder of an industrialist trying to reopen factories in the area. He has to work against a hostile local officer and a local noble trying to preserve his own interests to clear the name of the local parish pastor.

Baldry writes well, but this is a pretty standard murder mystery, albeit an enjoyable one. The clues all show up and Hugo puts them together to solve the crime. It could be told without any science fiction element, and indeed, the SF elements there are sparse.  As this is a returning character, according to the issue introduction, readers who have enjoyed Baldry’s Hugo Crichton stories in the past will likely wish to read this one as well.

Haf Nelson is another returning character in Ryck Neube’s “Mall Warriors.” ”Mall Warriors” is a private eye/detective story set on an artifact rich alien world. Haf and his wife are artifact hunters down on their luck when Haf is summoned to the office of a mall director who happens to know his past. She hires him to find a group of saboteurs plotting to harm her mall. Against his better judgment, and knowing he will have to hide it from his corporation-hating wife, Haf takes the assignment and noses around.

“Mall Warriors” is okay, but I never figured out who Haf was really fighting against.  The conflict is diffuse, with Haf facing off against everyone, but with no one standing out as the main villain or antagonist.   Furthermore, aside from being shot at a couple of times, Haf really doesn’t have any difficulties doing what he’s hired to do. The saboteurs aren’t very smart, nor are they particularly tough, and the mall director is unfocused. Most of the other potential opponents aren’t around enough to matter.  The world as an antagonist would be great, but it doesn’t figure in this story.

As one in a long series of related short stories, it's probably worth reading to stay up-to-date, but I found it lacking as a stand-alone. 

Philip J. Lees brings us our next story, “Stopover.”  Lesley Smith was sitting on the Suzy Q, a space station at the junction of travel routes, trying to decide where to go.  Just released from the deep space prison Stygia 12, she must now start a new life. While waiting, a strange ship arrives. Lesley is summoned to the station commander’s office where she discovers that the ship is a message for her, a request for help. An alien race is calling to Lesley, believing she is the only one who can help them.

“Stopover” is primarily about Lesley getting past her guilt for the murder of her own child. The amphibian race who built the ship consume their young when faced with danger, but they have become faced with a constant threat that is effectively preventing them from reproducing. They wish to have Lesley guide them from that fate. Faced with their request, she is forced to confront her own past and deal with it. 

“Stopover” doesn’t try to explain how Lesley will be able to assist these aliens. Is she a xenopsychologist and that important tidbit is left out? The only thing I can discern is that, in the end, Lesley likely believes that she will be helped by this task.

The story really didn’t grab me. I thought Lesley’s resolution was too fast, and her reactions felt stilted and contrived. I was not convinced that Lesley would be willing, or able, to take on the task requested of her.

The final story of this issue is Douglas Smith’s “Jigsaw,” a finalist for this year’s Aurora awards. Cassie Morant is a geologist on a space exploration team and a jigsaw puzzle fan. The team explores space in alien technology, giant ships that use wormholes for intergalactic travel. Cassie has serious reservations about humans using this technology and her concerns increase when the alien ship suffers a power cell failure and she must find replacement elements to rebuild it.

“Jigsaw” is a clever story whose protagonist is as reliant on her innate curiosity and fondness for puzzles as her intelligence. It provides added depth that one can miss in short fiction.  “Jigsaw” also examines the reactions of people dependent upon technology utterly alien to them. Some crew members fully embrace it, others are more cautious, even bordering on being xenophobic.  It's an interesting interplay with regard to how the characters view their mission.

I enjoyed much of this issue of Oceans of the Mind. While I found flaws in a couple stories, overall the issue was a good read. Readers will likely enjoy the stories with the returning characters. I was glad of the variety and look forward to the Fall 2006 Mysteries issue.