Fantasy & Science Fiction — Jan./Feb. 2011

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Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2011

“Home Sweet Bi’Ome” by Pat MacEwen
“The Bird Cage” by Kate Wilhelm
“Long Time” by Rick Norwood
“Canterbury Hollow” by Chris Lawson
“Christmas at Hostage Canyon” by James Stoddard
“The Whirlwind” by Jim Young
“The Bogle” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Paradise Last” by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg
“12:02 PM” by Richard A. Lupoff
“Ghost Wind” by Alan Dean Foster
“The Ghiling Blade” by Matthew Corradi

Reviewed by Bob Blough

This issue of F&SF is fairly neatly split between Science Fiction (5 stories) and Fantasy (6 stories), so there is something here for all tastes –- alien worlds and zombies, ghosts, and scientific experiments gone wrong.

First up is Pat MacEwen’s, “Home Sweet Bi’Ome”. It’s a neat SFnal idea that still has life in it–-the living home. In this case it’s a home created from the human cells of its sole inhabitant, a woman suffering from major allergy problems. In the opening scene she is awakened with an allergic reaction. It turns out she is not having the reaction but she is reacting to an allergy that her house picked up. When she calls someone from the company that built the house to come and fix it the story really begins. The voice of the main character is acutely observed with an attitude (earned, perhaps) that is quite funny at times. The dialogue is well written and the characters are fun. This was an enjoyable story to begin the issue.

Next is probably the best written of the stories collected here, but is to be expected when the story is authored by Kate Wilhelm. Ms. Wilhelm, who I think should be given the Nebula Grand Master Award, writes pure SF infrequently and I am always pleased to see her name on the contents page with a new story. “The Bird Cage” is very good. It concerns two scientists, Grace and Dale, who are working on new sleep therapy to extend people‘s lives. The experience draws in two other characters who have had fugue states in which they relive moments of their lives so vividly that it is like they are actually re-living them. Any more would take enjoyment out of your reading, but even if you figure out what is happening before the characters just relax with the fluid writing style of one of the genre’s masters.

Rick Norwood has fashioned a clever retelling of the Gilgamesh legend from the eyes of one of Chronos’ sons. “Long Time” is light-hearted but has interesting things to say about worldly “greatness.” Here Gilgamesh does not come off too well, but is seen through the eyes of one of the true immortals of Greek mythology. This is a clever idea and very refreshing.

“Canterbury Hollow” is one of my favorites of this issue. Chris Lawson has created a good old fashioned love story around a neat SFnal premise. We are on the planet Musca. Musca has been colonized by humanity but due to a problem with the sun all have had to live in hollows underground for ages. Anything on the surface is aged and crumbling. Mr. Lawson explores the fascinating culture that grew up in this situation and presents us with two people who are both dying and falling in love while completing their “bucket list” before they go. It’s a short story packed with good ideas and characters that become real, as well. I believe, and hope that the culture created here goes on to become a novel.

The next story, “Christmas at Hostage Canyon” by James Stoddard is a holiday story about one young boy’s creepy adventure on Christmas Eve while visiting relatives in the place where “the Apaches met to ransom their captives back to their families.” Thus, a place where horrific crimes occurred is contrasted with the same place that now is filled with the Christmas spirit of joy and hope. The character of the young boy is well done.  We see his confusion and pain over the fact that his older brother is growing up and growing away from him which adds to his confusion and terror at what occurs on this fateful Christmas Eve.

“The Whirlwind” by Jim Young seems a bit undercooked to me, and another SF story. This one is about a man named Ben who wakes up without his memory. He finds himself in a very strange situation with a man who hates him and the whirlwind of the title in control. The whirlwind deposits the third character of the piece, Kiya, right in front of them. She is badly hurt. Is this a story of aliens, the singularity, computer simulation or…? The problem is not in the concept, but I believe the problem is in the fact that the readers are asked to care about three people that we don’t know in any real way. Perhaps it should have been a novelette. The connections between these three are explained but never developed. The writing is competent but the execution, in my opinion, does not create a very memorable story.

The next story is horror. I do not as a practice seek out horror stories but when I read them, they need to be well enough written that I can get over my aversion to genre. Albert E. Cowdrey is one of those writers who writes very well indeed,  writing humorous fantasy and interesting SF as well. In “The Bogle” there is not a drop of humor. It is a well told tale about the existence of a “bogle” (explained as “something from beyond”) within a very dysfunctional family during the Korean War. Again, as in “Christmas at Hostage Canyon” we have a young narrator who is very believably delineated and a meeting with “something from beyond”.  It’s a well told ghost story.

The next is a zombie story from Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. Stories about zombies and/or vampires are tiresome to me. “Paradise Last” at least treats zombies in a satirical love story setting but it still was not my cup of tea.

The next story, called “12:02 PM” by Richard A. Lupoff, has an interesting back story. It is a sequel to his famous SF story “12:01 PM.” If you have seen the movie Groundhog Day you know the premise but Mr. Lupoff’s original story was printed long before that movie. In this new one a man relives his lunch hour over and over indefinitely. This sequel is not a major story but has some very interesting ideas of how a time loop begins and what one must do to escape it.

Fables of America, when it was a new and struggling nation as represented by Paul Bunyan and Babe his blue ox, are
reborn in Alan Dean Foster’s Amos Malone stories. This one is called “Ghost Wind” and concerns our titular hero dealing with a highly malevolent wind in an early western town. These are usually the kind of things that I find silly at best but there is a passage about the rear end of Amos’s enormous horse that made it worth the reading for me. Few writers make me laugh out loud but this one did. So, thanks Mr. Foster for putting a bit more laughter in my life.

Matthew Corradi in “The Ghiling Blade” creates a very interesting fantasy world that I hope he returns to in other stories. It’s a complex world of a striated class system created by the “Brotherhood of Man,” temples where “Things Lost could eventually be Found,” portals to alien or faerie worlds, wraiths that can possess people, and more. The story deals with the class who are amongst the poorest in this culture. It becomes the story of the true coming to adulthood by an already adult man. It is a story of the battle within one man to become who he is meant to be.  He battles within and without to get control of erastiss which is defined as “the core selfishness in all people that would lead to a corrupted soul.” That very problem is an important element of today’s culture, made clearer to the reader through the lens of fantasy. Mr. Corradi does a beautiful job of keeping true to his creation and yet allowing it to reflect the human condition. I liked it, a lot.

So, we have a bunch of stories of varying degrees of excellence. It contains no classic stories, but many of them will remain in the mind and be remembered. What else can you ask of any story?