"A Better Place" by Richard Paul Russo
"Never Convicted" by Ryck Neube
"Three Bananas" by Larry Tritten
"The Bubble Bursts" by Terry Bramlett
"The Genome Mines" by Richard Bradford
Richard Paul Russo kicks off the science-fiction mystery issue of Oceans of the Mind, with a wonderful story titled "A Better Place." Russo brings two characters (Carlucci and Tanner) from his Carlucci novels together to solve one more case. I've never read Russo's Carlucci novels, but I had no problem falling right into the story. The plot revolves around locating an illegal "nerve clinic" in San Francisco's DMZ. The characters were strong with very believable backgrounds, the future San Francisco was well realized, and the ending was upbeat despite the characters failing in their objectives. This was a very strong story I am pleased to have read.
"Never Convicted" by Ryck Neube, was good as well, but not quite of the same caliber. Haf Nelson, a failed inspector turned alien artifact minor, discovers that the accidental death of a mining couple's child was not an accident. The story takes the predictable route of finding the murderer amongst the other miners. Early on, Haf Nelson eliminates most of the suspects. Then he finds the only suspect aside from the child's parents murdered. The fact that the murderers were in fact the child's own parents comes as no surprise. Therefore, as a mystery, this story did not work for me. However, the complex relationship between the three surviving characters was compelling. The alien world was believable and very well done. The ending was morally ambiguous yet satisfying. The story avoided the typical "if you kill me you will be no better than me" clichés that are all too common in fiction today and instead went for a more realistic brand of frontier justice. Sci-fi fans should really like this story. Mystery purists probably will not.
In the introduction to this issue, the editor says Larry Tritten's story "Three Bananas" reminded him of Raymond Chandler. I see the connection, but I've never laughed so hard at a Raymond Chandler story. Tritten takes the noir detective form and uses it to good effect. Rad Sway, the dick for hire, is the main character and narrator, in the tradition of a million other detective stories. He is a droll, semi-jaded wiseass, who starts the story with an exposition dump that fits the form well, and walks through every other trope in the crime genre. But all the familiar clichés are twisted up and perversely funny in this story. This story has it all: S&M, pornography, murder, art, double-crossing, and bananas. "Three Bananas is definitely going on my personal "Year's Best" list. My favorite line: "I found myself wondering what something that looked that lurid would taste like."
I was not as impressed with "The Bubble Bursts" by Terry Bramlett. In this story, an alien explodes because of a malfunction with the environment-generating belt that keeps it safe on Earth and in space. To avoid an interstellar conflict between humanity and the aliens, the main character must find out why the belt malfunctioned if indeed it was a malfunction. As it turns out, it was a malfunction caused by someone across the hall using a microwave to make some popcorn. Now, I'm no physicist, but I have problems with the science here. I was under the impression microwave emissions come from all kinds of things, including storms, cell phones, radars, and the sun. Space itself is awash in electromagnetic waves of all frequencies, and even the cosmic background radiation used to date our universe is mostly microwave radiation. Like I said, I'm no physicist. I could be way off base about the science involved, but it raised a lot of questions that unfortunately overwhelmed the rest of the story this reader.
"The Genome Mines" by Richard Bradford, takes the art thief cliché and turns it on its head. These thieves don't want art. They want artists. Bits of blood or sweat or flakes of skin sometime get caught between the canvas and the paint, and it is this genetic goldmine that the art thieves in this story are seeking to exploit. Grayson, the main character in this story is an art thief, but he steals the paintings to protect them from the genome miners. When he unwittingly delivers the Mona Lisa into the hands of an unscrupulous genome miner, he has to rectify his mistake. Art thieves commonly use fakes to cover their crimes, and Grayson does the same thing to trick the genome miners. The ending was satisfying, and the writing was strong. However, it was the little details–like the Mike Tyson clones for security guards, and the impoverished Medici descendant working for minimum wage at an art gallery–that really made this story click for me.
Leon West lives in Eugene Oregon with his wife and children where he attends school and writes with the Eugene Professional Writers Group, also known as the Wordos. West's story "Memoria Technica" appears in this year's L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future volume.