Fantasy & Science Fiction — Mar/Apr 2011

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Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011

“The Evening and the Morning” by Sheila Finch
“Scatter My Ashes    ” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“The Second Kalandar’s Tale” by Francis Marion Soty
“A Pocketful of Faces” by Paul Di Filippo
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
“Night Gauntlet” by Walter C. DeBill, Jr., Richard Gavin, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Jeffrey Thomas, and Don Webb
“Happy Ending 2.0” by James Patrick Kelly
“Bodyguard” by Karl Bunker
“Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls” by Kali Wallace
“Ping” by Dixon Wragg
“The Ifs of Time” by James Stoddard

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

The March/April issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction opens with “The Evening and the Morning” by Sheila Finch. Crow, ancient human and retired “lingster,” understands the Guild’s usefulness is coming to an end after 1,500 years of service. However, Crow has the chance for one last mission; a mission that takes him to the Guild’s homeworld of Earth. Crow is accompanied by Imhavi, the daughter of Crow’s Venetixi friend Tu’ve. What Imhavi is required to do to her father in order to travel with Crow is drastic. I thought her action would be at the heart of the story, or at least a significant part, but instead is treated as almost anti-climatic as she and Crow don’t have much interaction throughout the journey.

Also accompanying Crow on the journey are two young humans whose motivations I didn’t really understand and an AI that seems to know more than the rest of the characters put together.

“The Evening and the Morning” is a long novella and perhaps if I had been more familiar with the background info from reading other “lingster” tales, it would have appealed to me more.

Next is “Scatter My Ashes” by Albert E. Cowdrey. Harry Angelton has been hired by the Cross family to write their family history. His main source of information is Queen, the family’s elderly matriarch. Harry also happens to be sleeping with Queen’s great-granddaughter Kathryn. While the Cross family has an extremely colorful history, the main mystery is an unsolved “massacre” that took the lives of four people, including Queen’s son.

I found this story bland for a mystery. Angelton really doesn’t solve anything, as the mystery is revealed in its entirety by Queen before she dies, which I found anti-climactic.

“The Second Kalandar’s Tale” by Francis Marion Soty is a “retelling” of Sir Richard Burton’s tale from 1001 Nights. This story didn’t work for me for two reasons. First, it’s a nearly word-for-word reproduction of Burton’s original tale, so much so that printing Soty’s version seems redundant. Read the original online and judge for yourself.  Second, call me sensitive, but a story about a woman’s abduction into sexual slavery, torture, and subsequent murder by maiming isn’t my idea of a fun reading experience and I don’t care how long ago or in what non-politically correct culture the original was written.

“A Pocketful of Faces” by Paul Di Filippo is a futuristic cop story. Detective Isham Smoke and his new partner, the unflappable Detective Velzy Roy, deal with a very specific segment of crime; the theft of DNA material used to grow unauthorized faces and the arrest of the people who use these stolen faces in some extremely unsavory ways.

I had a few issues with the story. Detective Velzy’s situation seemed to be resolved too easily with little more than a hug from Smoke and a promise to “be there.” The Facebook joke had me rolling my eyes. Finally, the story ended very abruptly on a rather odd note. Despite these problems, fans of detective stories will most likely enjoy it.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu is my second favorite story of the issue. What begins as a cute tale of origami animals coming to life turns dark and heart wrenching. As a child, Jack adores his mom’s magical paper creations, but his adoration turns to embarrassment of his Chinese mother because she never speaks English well enough, never cooks the right food, never  fits into American society the way Jack wants her to. Jack’s transformation from loving child to angry young man is painful to read. In the end, Jack abandons his mom, wishing to turn his back on his own Chinese heritage.

Lui skillfully uses the forgotten origami animals as a way to convey a message from mother to son. After reading the mom’s revealing letter to Jack, I wanted to jump up from my desk and immediately call my own mom.

Can a Lovecraftian tale told by six different authors really work? Find out in “Night Gauntlet” by Walter C. DeBill, Jr., Richard Gavin, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Jeffrey Thomas, and Don Webb.

Weird things are occurring on the University of Texas at Austin campus, which resonates with an energy that seems to draw bizarre happenings and even more bizarre creatures like moths to a flame.

I struggled with the story’s scattered focus and extremely wordy, often overwrought dialogue.  As a string theory fan, I appreciated the science, but, in the end, the story did nothing for me.

“Happy Ending 2.0” by James Patrick Kelly is a timeslip tale of an unhappy couple given a chance to try their relationship over again. For the record, I’m a huge Kelly fan, but this story doesn’t possess the complexity or the inventiveness I’ve come to expect from this talented author.

Next is “Bodyguard” by Karl Bunker. Javid is a 400-year-old human living on an alien world working with other humans to save as many of the inhabitants as possible before the planet is destroyed by the explosion of a white dwarf. His new bodyguard is Ensel, a female very different in her thinking from his former bodyguards. The human and the alien develop an intimate, caring relationship. When Javid needs her the most, Ensel is there for him in an unexpected way.

The explanations of alien language are notable in this story. While some sections worked really well, I thought other parts of the story needed further editing and tightening. The ending seemed rushed and I wanted more detail.

My favorite story of the issue is “Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls” by Kali Wallace. Rosalie is hidden away in Professor Lew’s bizarre mansion, where all four seasons occur in a single day. Trapped in her wheelchair, Rosalie’s greatest desire is to see and experience the garden outside.

I won’t try to explain the story, but will say Wallace manages to create an almost Gothic atmosphere of dread and fear while gaining great sympathy for her characters. The story is weird, horrible, and hopeful all at the same time. I formed my own opinions as to exactly what was going on and how Rosalie came to be in her strange predicament. This story stayed on my mind long after I finished it.

The shortest story of the issue is “Ping” by Dixon Wragg. And I mean short. I “get” this story, but does that make it good?

The final story is “The Ifs of Time” by James Stoddard. Something has gone wrong with time in the infinite House of Evenmere. When the Keeper searches for the answer to the riddle, he discovers four people having a private meeting at which they each tell a story about time. An enjoyable tale.

Overall, a solid, if slightly uneven, issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.