"Under Janey’s Garden" by Margit Elland Schmitt
"When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer" by Jamie Todd Rubin
"Original Audrey" by Tammy Brown
"Beauty’s Folly" by Eugie Foster
"Rumspringa" by Jason Sanford
"Polka Man" by William John Watkins
Issue #5 of Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show features an intriguing tale by Peter S. Beagle. Jake tells the story of his brother, Esau, a formerly famous TV anchorman with an uncanny gift (or maybe it’s a curse). Expertly told in Jake’s back porch vernacular, this yarn unwinds slowly, precisely, revealing one small but important detail after another until the full truth about Esau, Jake, and maybe even the world, is revealed. Highly recommended.
We’re also treated to an "Orson Picks"—a story chosen by Orson Scott Card himself—this issue in the surprisingly creepy "Under Janey’s Garden" by Margit Elland Schmitt. Ten-year-old Janey is kidnapped by a scheming giant rabbit who intends to force her to marry him in order to gain possession of her vegetable garden. In true fairy tale fashion, our young heroine sets tasks before her tormentor to give herself time to devise an escape. But Janey will have to think fast and perhaps enlist some help from her friends to avoid a future in what surely would have been Beatrix Potter‘s vision of hell. I’ve read my share of talking animal stories, but I’ve never heard the bunny say to the child, "How I wish you could come with me. I’d bounce your pretty head against a rock. Such fun." Yikes. Alice has nothing on Janey. Also highly recommended, but not if you’re prone to nightmares featuring psychotic bunnies.
Next up is Jamie Todd Rubin‘s "When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer." Danny fondly remembers his post-graduation trip to the moon, during which he kissed the learned astronomer, discovered intelligent alien life in the universe, and landed in jail. We learn all this in the first sentence. Unfortunately, this revealed too much, as I found the subsequent 19 pages unsatisfying. The nostalgic tone set from the beginning gave away the ending to me, and I was never able to engage with the characters as individuals. Ever the picker of nits, I also found myself distracted by the surprising number of typos, misspellings, and awkward constructions that remained.
In Tammy Brown‘s "Original Audrey," celebrity clone Elvis Presley Schwartz finally works up the nerve to talk to the Audrey Hepburn clone he’s been watching for weeks at Caesar’s Palace. He knows there’s something special, something different about her. Their conversation is guarded and awkward at first, but as they spend more time together, they become more honest with each other and with themselves. This is a sweet, enjoyable tale of two people learning to be themselves, despite their peculiar obstacles to doing so.
Our own Eugie Foster makes an appearance in this issue with "Beauty’s Folly," a modern take on "Beauty and the Beast." After her father’s fortunes change for the worse, Annabel and her family move downtown, where she meets a strange street musician, Eloy, who takes an immediate and unnerving liking to her. Worried what Annabel might have done to earn the lavish gifts Eloy sends, her father makes an ill-fated business trip, intent on reversing the family’s financial situation. As in the classic tale, only Annabel can rescue her father—by keeping Eloy company through an otherworldly confinement. Although her story follows the broad outlines of the fairy tale, this "Beauty" is charged with saving not only the beast, but all those she loves.
In reading "Beauty’s Folly" I often sympathized with Annabel’s frustration at Eloy’s refusal or inability to clarify the situation or explain his actions. But while reasons and details weren’t always clear, I was lulled by the tale’s atmosphere and its gorgeous descriptions. Foster proves once again that she sure knows her way around a fairy tale.
Jason Sanford tells the tale of a young man struggling with a choice between two worlds in "Rumspringa." Sam, a young Amish man, has recently returned to his people on the terraformed planet of New Lancaster after living for several years among the "English" (non-Amish). He doesn’t trust the motives of the delegation of outsiders who insist that the Amish settlement must be temporarily evacuated due to an approaching comet. Having lived among the "English," Sam is privy to their technology, and could use it to determine the delegates’ honesty. In fact, he has an implant that allows him both the benefits of that technology, and the risks it presents to psyche and soul. With the help of an unlikely "Amish expert" among the delegation, Sam must choose what path his life will take.
Sanford builds an interesting, complex world in "Rumspringa," and uses it to explore the tension between technology and humanity in a new way. In the process he treats with sensitivity and respect the proponents of a very old way.
In the final story of this issue, the unnamed narrator remembers the fateful day "The Polka Man" walked into his uncle’s bar, collecting pain. William John Watkins sets the tone with a memorable first line: "Whenever I hear an accordion now, it sounds to me like angels screaming." With an engaging, authentic voice, Watkins tells of a mysterious stranger with an accordion who takes the pain of first love from a nine-year-old boy in exchange for giving the boy a brighter future. But is the price too high? This short piece plays a haunting minor tune that echoes in the mind long after the musician has departed. Recommended.