3SF, #3, February 2003

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"Not the Last of Those Who Shimmer" by Johnathon M. Sullivan
"The Documents in Hand" by Colin Greenland
"Man of Her Dreams" by Ian Watson
"The Lover of Dead Stones" by Karen J.H. Thistle
"Fallen Light Renew" by Cherith Baldry
"How My Town Became Famous" by Elizabeth Counihan
"Nine of Lamentations" by Liz Williams

The recent folding of Big Engine means the end of 3SF, after a mere three outings. The third issue is simply but attractively produced, a nice product, with a variety of features and seven stories.

A doctor faces an ethical dilemma in "Not the Last of Those Who Shimmer" by Johnathon M. Sullivan. I found it slightly overlong, but thought-provoking and mostly well done. In this near future story, Dr. Lakeisha Summer's past rears its ugly–or is it beautiful?–head when she is forced to make a tough decision about one of her patients, one of the last "shimmer junkies." Shimmer is a powerful hallucinogen that creates in the user an intensely realistic, perfect dreamworld–but also has devastating physical repercussions. In the story's past, an epidemic of shimmer-use was all but conquered by medical innovation, but Dr. Summer's recurring patient Pearlie Janes continues to turn up on the ER's doorstep, her lingering dependence on a beautiful false existence triggering Summer's memories of her own former shimmer addiction. Does Dr. Summer save Pearlie's life by returning her to a bleak reality against her will, or allow her to live, on her own terms, in a perfect dreamworld? It takes a while for the story to develop, at first, and the near future scenario could do with a bit more depth. But it also effectively considers both sides of its central issue, even as it invokes an effective underlying theme about the importance of dreams and the imagination–a decidedly genre-friendly point, well made.

Colin Greenland's "The Documents In Hand" is a brief story, or rather a story within a story, or perhaps a story within a story within a story. At any rate, this one involves a lot of convoluted dialogue between two men about mysterious documents found in a remote Welsh cottage, which ultimately winds up at an sfnal revelation. It has the capricious feel of comedy, but the jokes all flew right over my head, so I can only hazard the guess that it is satirizing a particular kind of antiquated literature with which I'm unfamiliar. I admit it, this one's beyond me.

In "Man of Her Dreams," Ian Watson paints a gonzo future to tell the story of the loveless Kate Quantrell, a woman whose every attempt at finding a man has met with dismal failure. At a point of desperation, she volunteers to beta-test "dream programming" for a company called DLS, which is looking to market tailor-made dreams, like VR experiences. Unable to find love in reality, will Kate find it in her dreams? This is a whimsical SF romp in the grand old "if this goes on" tradition, the amusing future a tongue-in-cheek satire of the in-your-face commercialization of today's internet. Kate's dream experiences in this future are rife with comical interruptions extrapolated goofily from the modern day idiocies of web advertising, her "romantic" moments constantly interrupted by pop-up ads, option menus, and constant shifts of understanding as she attempts to come to grips with the deceptive nature of the environment she is "surfing." Structurally the story isn't all that streamlined, but the chaotic nature of events suits the material, and the author clearly has fun with it: conflating reality and fantasy, tweaking the English language in clever ways, and commenting wryly all the while. Enjoyable stuff.

The issue shifts into contemporary fantasy mode in "The Lover of Dead Stones" by Karen J.H. Thistle, the story of a troubled artist whose obsession with the city he lives in has largely alienated him from its very people. When a mysterious female figure begins appearing in his artwork that he cannot remember having drawn, the artist finds his comfortable reality shifting in disorienting, fantastical ways, ultimately leading him to a new understanding. This is an assured, thoughtful tale about a man's dawning comprehension that humankind and its environment are intrinsically connected.

In "Fallen Light Renew," Cherith Baldry depicts a power struggle between two powerful men and its impact on the plight of Gabriel, a "genic" or man-made servant. The writing is fine, and the relationship between Gabriel and his master, Leonardo, is endearing, but the world is frustratingly vague; ultimately it comes across as fantasy, but it's never really clear whether it's historical or high fantasy, and as far as halfway through I still hadn't ruled out some kind of rustic, post-technological future. Set in the world of the author's novel The Reliquary Ring, I have to speculate that perhaps it is an excerpt or sidebar piece, stripped of a broader context that might have fleshed out its scenario and strengthened its fantasy elements. However taken, the lack of detail damages what is otherwise a tightly composed piece.

A similar vagueness plagues Elizabeth Counihan's "How My Town Became Famous," a letter-to-the-editor account of a British city's rise to prominence in world notoriety. A simple, random occurrence changes the world in this short, formally composed piece. Again, the genre content is sparsely distributed, and by the time its nature has been clarified, the story reaches a generic sfnal resolution that doesn't justify the build-up.

Liz Williams wraps up the issue with "Nine of Lamentations," a dark fantasy chiller. Indri, a physicist recently jilted by her boyfriend, visits a Tarot reader where she selects three cards, representing the past, present, and future. Naturally the past and present cards seem accurate, and the implications of the third, unseen card make for the story's dark final note. An effectively creepy little piece.

All in all, this issue presents a middling collection of stories, with the more ambitious, longer works (Sullivan, Watson, Thistle) providing the most satisfaction. It's unfortunate we won't get the chance to see this magazine develop further.

Christopher East is a regular contributor to Tangent Online whose fiction has appeared in a number of genre publications, most recently in Best of the Rest 3, Say… and Tales of the Unanticipated. He also contributes to a group blog at www.futurismic.com. He lives in Iowa City.