"The Hobbyist" by Lee Battersby
"Swashbuckler" by Leslie Claire Walker
"Wooing Ai Kyarem" by Ruth Nestvold
"Faith and Fortune" by Margaret Pearce
"The Harper at Sea" by FrankTuttle
"The Santa Solution" by Paul E. Martens
"A Visit from Prospero" by Paul Marlowe
"Sweet Dreams" by Lucinda Cane
"The Hobbyist" by Lee Battersby has a definite feel of a story paying tribute to the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (complete with a reference to Conan Doyle), despite the fact that it features a Victorian psychic instead of a consulting detective. The idea behind the story, of a psychic helping the police solve crimes (in this case, the Chelsea Strangler), isn’t new; in fact the Victorian police actually did attempt this methodology, but Battersby handles it well. If the ending is a little too obvious, it is because Batterby doesn’t include enough red herrings to throw the reader off the track.
It is an interesting coincidence that Leslie Claire Walker’s "Swashbuckler" appears in a magazine which also contains a review of Jasper Fforde’s novel The Well of Lost Plots, since both works deal with literary characters who can leap from the pages of their books. While Fforde’s novel is the third in an on-going series, Walker’s short story is entirely self contained in following Hatch, an escapee from a pirate novel, as he seeks refuge in a futuristic romance with Cecelia, a detective. Hot on his heels is the ghost of a pirate who seeks his lost treasure. The story was cleverly written, although Walker could have lengthened it and examined the characters’ interactions with worlds not their own, as well as the mechanism by which they escaped their boundaries.
"Wooing Ai Kyarem" by Ruth Nestvold is a tale of three cultures colliding. The first two cultures are a steppe nomadic one, based on the Mongols, and a less fully defined one, apparently based on Europeans. The two main characters, Ai Kyarem and Nika, come from these two cultures. The third, and by far the most interesting culture, is that of Kubai Kuyuk, chieftain of the nomads who had begun to adopt a culture of the kingdom he conquered. Unfortunately, this conglomerate culture is only shown through the scornful eyes of Ai Kyarem, and then with no attempt to understand how the different cultures mesh together.
"Faith and Fortune" by Margaret Pearce is an indictment of corporations which attempt to enter new markets without fully understanding the cultures into which they are moving. The story is told in a manner which invites the reader to figure out the ending, nevertheless, Pearce does a good job in portraying both her corporate honchos and the world they are invading, making "Faith and Fortune" a fun and interesting story.
Frank Tuttle sets a traditional fantasy harper adrift in "The Harper at Sea" and then turns his story into an examination of the concept of inspiration and a look at the things which drive individuals besides traditional modes of success. The world he depicts clearly has an history which is only touched upon in the story, which provides the needed depth, especially given the rather limited venue the harper, Jere, has to ply his craft. It is a world which would welcome further examination.
While normally hyperprecocious five-year-olds are an annoyance in science fiction, Paul E. Martens manages to successfully create one in "The Santa Solution." As the juvenile Melissa tries to figure out how Santa Claus is able to visit every house in the world and deliver presents to the appropriate ones, she gets various amounts of assistance from family members, most notably her Grandpa Chuck. In the end, Martens provides the needed twist to make the humor of the story pay off.
"A Visit from Prospero" by Paul Marlowe is intended, through both title and situation, to make the reader think of the writings of Shakespeare. Into his own version of Prospero’s Island, Marlowe tosses an almost Lovecraftian interpretation of the story of the Judeo-Christian god from the creation to the Apocalypse, which is presented in the story as imminent. The story appears to be set during the Victorian period (given the feel and references to the ’50s and ’60s.) However, the characters’ actions do not reflect the sensibilities of that time, in many ways being more representative of the late twentieth century.
"Sweet Dreams" is an attempt at fantasy noir by Lucinda Cane. One of the problems with writing a noir story is that the atmosphere becomes extremely important. Unfortunately, her world of Twilight isn’t gritty enough to follow in the footsteps of Raymond Chandler even as her detective, half-elf Jack Elliott, tries to get to the bottom of a disappearing persons case surrounded by his enemies. The story is well written and enjoyable, even if it doesn’t quite fit the subgenre the author is trying to write in.