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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Oceans of the Mind #XX, Summer 2006

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“Eppur si Muove” by Cherith Baldry
“War In Heaven” by John Alfred Taylor
“Moonlight Serenade” Bruce Golden
“Night of Sevens” by Paul Marlowe
“The Stranger at Gunnison’s Camp” by Ken Rand
“Moon Flu” by Vaughan Stanger
“Infamy” by Edward Morris

 

The Summer 2006 Oceans of the Mind, issue XX, is dedicated to the theme of alternate histories. Tales of the past, present, and near-future, in both our universe/timeline and others are explored.

"Eppur si Muove" by Cherith Baldry is a satisfying tale of the Spanish Inquisition coming to Oxford, England in the 17th century. Master Anthony Malvern has a most curious student, a rather obstreperous young man named Damian. When the Inquisitor arrives at Oxford, so does a highly banned book addressed to young Damian: Galileo's Dialogue that the Catholic church considers total heresy, stating that the Earth revolves around the sun instead of the other way around. Hence the title, which translated means "But it does move." The famous words Galileo supposedly muttered after his trial when he recanted his beliefs.

Though fairly short, this is a most engaging tale of paranoia and the loyalty of friendship. Even the convenience of the Spanish inquisitor finding the book in both men's possession is resolved most satisfactorily in the end. Where I was sure I'd spotted a glaring flaw, cleverly turns out to be the linchpin of the story. This one is tightly crafted.

Three World War One fighter aces are recruited by the forces of darkness in John Alfred Taylor’s "War In Heaven." The famed French fighter ace Georges Guynemer is the protagonist here, while German ace Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a. The Red Baron), and English ace Albert Ball are his wingmen. Working out of their ethereal airfield based in Limbo, Prince Lucifer and his sidekick, Graf Beelzebub, are insistent that these three pilots defeat their airborne enemy, the huge, sword-wielding archangel Michael. But such is never the case. Instead of wracking up a “kill,” they make chalk marks on the blackboard numbering their many defeats. The problem is, while there are six airplanes, there are only three pilots to fly them. But Leutnant Hermes Trismegestis, the syncretic god who was the legendary author of works on alchemy and magic in ancient times, a convenient fellow to have around the squadron’s flight room, proposes the use of bilocation: the ability to be in two places at once, hence a way to fill all six planes with only three pilots.

This is an extremely imaginative story which draws on several sources, swirls them around with an intellectual gusto to make a frothy brew. While I don’t think an in-depth classical education is required to enjoy this story, the more one knows of these myriad references the more enjoyable the tale. I found myself Googling a couple of items merely because I found this all so fascinating and wanted to gain full appreciation of the author’s intent. And while the vocabulary is highly elevated in places—Michael’s visage is described as “chryselephantine,” meaning made of gold and ivory like a Greek statue—the tone is light. Here’s one of the funnier examples: “Prince Lucifer might discount the supernatural, but Guynemer never. Hell had the best mechanics.” There is also a noteworthy passage where Guynemer is in the hospital (as he is after each resurrection) admiring the nurse attending him. “...Guynemer admired her leading edge, her trailing edge, her camber and dihedral.” These are aircraft terms, I do believe, and he’s so obsessed with his biplane that he can’t help thinking of his female attendant in such terms.

Being a responsible reviewer, I won’t spoil the ending, but those readers expecting a final aerial combat/dogfight scene won’t be disappointed. And while being a fanciful tale that combines more than a few literary allusions and theological references, the moral import to this reader seems to be that man will forever be waging wars, we just keep coming up with more elaborate tool with which to do so.

Of course the title of the next selection by Bruce Golden, “Moonlight Serenade,” is also the title of a famous song performed by The Glenn Miller Orchestra back in the big band era. A fitting title since Golden’s story entails the mysterious disappearance of the famed band leader on his way across the English Channel to Paris on December 15, 1944. The story is told from a frame starting with a coverup two years in the future. What exactly did happen to Glenn Miller? According to Golden’s story, Major Anton Glenn Miller was abducted by a time traveler, a music buff who wants to take him back to the future, but first “history” has to be fulfilled. So after arriving in France, Major Miller is recruited by General Eisenhower to meet with Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo, to arrange a Nazis surrender. Himmler, it turns out, is a big jazz buff as well, which I thought a nice though somewhat ludicrous touch, “swinging, toe-tapping Nazis” and all.

As is typical with time travel stories, this one involves a paradox or two. My only problem with the story was that it seemed a bit rushed, each scene making sense but seeming like just that: a scene in a short story. It had a pulp fiction feel to it, like it came from an issue of Amazing from that era, which isn’t really a bad thing, I was just expecting a little more. Not the strongest story in the issue, but an entertaining one. And Golden’s dedication/afterward about how his father had served with Miller in the Army Air Corps’ 8th Air Force, along with Colonel Jimmy Stewart who would go on to play Miller in the movie The Glenn Miller Story, gave me a warm feeling about a time in history that was like none other. There really was something rather eerie about Glenn Miller’s music, especially in the unique arrangements of the horn sections brought to life by the bandleader's uncanny genius; this story, though pulpy in execution, captures a bit of that.

Those who delight in near-future war stories might enjoy “Night of Seven” by Paul Marlowe. In the near future, a Canadian surveillance unit guards the Penghu Islands as China prepares to invade Taiwan. The story begins with kilt-wearing Captain McHaffey and his colorful crew moments before the invasion. This is easily the longest story in the issue, but after it gets going it’s pretty much nonstop action. Gritty and realistic, Marlowe achieves his goal with deft prose stokes and clever dialogue. I must be honest and say that this isn’t exactly my type of story, but if you're a fan of nano-weaponry and soldiers clad in exoskeletal combat suits, this may very well be for you. Nothing really groundbreaking here, but a competently told story nonetheless. But frankly I don't see how this story fits with the Alternate History theme of this issue. Maybe I missed something. Also, from the editorial notes on the first page of the zine: "...Paul Marlowe answered the question I’ve been asking him for some time: What did McHaffey do before he joined the church? In Night of Sevens, we find out." This must be a prequel or something as Mr. Marlowe has been in OotM before with other McHaffey tales. I'm guessing the editor merely wanted to include this tale whether it went along with the issue's theme or not. Which is fine, diversity is the spice of any fiction mag. But I did find this tale long, and since I was unfamiliar with Captain McHaffey's previous adventures, the resolution was disappointing. But those who have read the earlier installments might think differently.

In “The Stranger at Gunnison’s Camp” by Ken Rand, a modern-day reporter from Salt Lake City meets a mysterious Indian out in the boondocks named George Custer. While the Indian’s name is certainly prophetic, this tale is connected with the Battle of the Little Big Horn only tangentially. Nearly half of the story involves the first-person narrative by the Indian as told to him by his great great grandfather, relating another massacre, this one in Utah, and involving a European shaman and a mysterious sextant that turns white men’s hands green.

To tell any more would surely ruin this clever little tale, but I found this one a brisk yet provocative read. It involves magic systems and beliefs, and a weird sort of time travel that sends a curse along a generational timeline, “sins of the father” and all that. This one falls somewhere between fantasy and horror, and is akin to a revenge tale. It’s no secret how miserably Native Americans were treated by the Europeans, and this acerbic little tale offers a good dose of payback.

Oh course there will always be those who erroneously believe that we never went to the moon, that it was all a big Hollywood-style hoax, and in “Moon Flu,” Vaughn Stanger does this one better. A British tourist with a horrible head cold stops in to a little greasy spoon at the Cape. Business is pretty slow nowadays since NASA was disbanded and the job “astronaut” no longer exists. Of course, the British tourist is convinced the whole Apollo program was a fabrication, but he does want to hear all about this mysterious “moon flu” that supposedly ended the Vietnam War as well as the space program.

This is truly what I call an alternate history piece, where a future different from our own is revealed based on a pivotal change in history, in this case the moon flu that Apollo 12 brought back with them. This is a quaint little tale (barely over 2,000 words) of a conversation over burgers and fries and, yes, one of the Apollo astronauts makes a cameo. I’ll leave it to the reader to read this fun tale to discover which astronaut it is and the true nature of this moon flu. It’s not what you think.

Surely the most unconventional story in this issue is “Infamy” by Edward Morris. Right from his author’s foreword, Morris asks the question: What would Tarzan of the Apes be like if it were written by William S. Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs? He frankly admits that this was done in the 1960s by Philip José Farmer in his short story “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod.” To take literary irony to its ultimate conclusion, Morris has written a story that not only has William Burroughs as its protagonist, but a young Phil Farmer as a fan of the great "pulp" writer. What follows is an oddball mix of postmodern delights. This story (if one may call it that) will probably not be for everyone, but for those fans of William Burroughs (much more so than Edgar Rice Burroughs), and gonzo spec. fiction in general, this will be of particular interest.

About the only negative one might say about these types of stories is they’re what you might call gimmick stories. Like Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, an SF novel purportedly written by Adolph Hitler. Much of the fun of that book wasn’t so much actually reading it, as in showing it to your friends and saying, “Hey, lookee here! Did you know that Hitler wrote science fiction?” But be that as it may, there certainly is a lot of fun in this story and I do recommend reading it. In it, a young Phil Farmer has never heard of Heinlein. In this universe, Heinlein, along with Hugo Gernsback, is a Hollywood screen writer whose script won the Oscar last year. Not the first writer to be dazzled by the tinsel and the big bucks. This story is full of many such asides. For those of you who like inside jokes peering into hip, pop culture of the 20th century, this “Tarzan” tale should surely delight.

I’d like to commend OotM for publishing this story. Back in the '60s, Farmer’s “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” couldn’t find a home in the traditional SF mags, so he had to resort to a “skin” mag to publish his offbeat tale. But with all the online zines popping up since the birth of the Internet, one would expect to find more outré fiction such as this, but with the conservative climate much of the world is currently in, such is not the case. But if a story like this can’t find a home in venues like OotM, then where can it?

This was quite an eclectic mix of stories.  Of the seven, my favorites were "Eppur si Muove," "War In Heaven," and "Infamy."