Fantasy & Science Fiction — May/June 2012

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Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2012

“Liberty’s Daughter” by Naomi Kritzer
“Asylum” by Albert E. Cowdrey
“Maze of Shadows” by Fred Chappell
“Taking the Low Road” by Pat MacEwen
“Necrosis” by Dale Bailey
“Typhoid Jack” by Andy Stewart
“City League” by Matthew Corradi
“Grand Tour” by Chris Willrich
“The Children’s Crusade” by Michael Alexander

Reviewed by Bob Leishman

Trading or bartering for some people is a way of life and in some societies a necessity.  Beck Garrison lives on a seastead, a chain of man made islands west of Los Angeles, where she has a part time job as a “finder.”  Basically she tracks down scarce consumer goods on request from local clients.  The job is pretty straightforward until someone requests a service in exchange for a pair of sandals — to locate a missing relative.

“Liberty’s Daughter” by Naomi Kritzer is a detective story set in a frontier environment.  Beck, who is still in her teens, makes many canny observations about her society and the people living there.  I liked this story for those reasons.

“Asylum” is set in New Orleans, but Albert E. Cowdrey spends more time developing his leading character, Willy Pfeiffer, than telling us about that great city, much to his credit.  Willy’s a gentle type of oddball who’s decided to devote his life to hunting ghosts.  His motivation, brilliantly described by Cowdrey, is neatly woven into the plot.

I liked the story largely for what he does with his characters.  Aside from Willy, Cowdrey has also provided a fellow ghost hunter and a charming New Orleans couple among others.  Make sure you finish this story.

“Maze of Shadows” is a fantasy and apparently part of an ongoing series of stories devoted to Falco the apprentice shadow master.  Perhaps being familiar with his previous stories might have helped, or perhaps I’m too devoted to Tolkien, but I couldn’t really get into this one.

There is no quest here, instead Fred Chappell has his characters set all kinds of traps for each other. God speed to you if you find this your cup of tea.

“Taking the Low Road” by Pat MacEwen has a classic feel to it largely because of the forensic language which she uses throughout.  But there’s also character development and she’s factored in what could be considered current trends in media.

The story takes place in space where Jeanne along with over two thousand other people will attempt to transit through a black hole clad only in space suits.  MacEwen provides action, intrigue and even a little romance.

This sounds like a lot for a short story but I found it to be just so.  Read this one.

“Necrosis” by Dale Bailey is more of a horror story than either fantasy or science fiction which makes it a hard sell for readers of this issue.  As you may have gathered I don’t read that much horror.

Specifically, the story is about decline — something that you can feel both in the plot and in the characters. Bailey’s narrator is a member of a social set, a club, apparently for men only, who’ve either been born to wealth and power or obtained it on their own. This character gives his account of a fellow member and his impact on the club as a whole. 

It is an excellent narration, and on second read worthy of an honorable mention.  If you do happen to read horror then by all means proceed.

Jack Lowe is a man with a past, a former “Chief of Peace” in the city he now lives in, he now makes a living illegally peddling viruses.  His story is part of a chain of events where mankind, or a least the people of Lowe’s city, have voluntarily consented to be ruled by a group of overlords known simply as “farmers.”

Andy Stewart doesn’t bother to tell us who the farmers are or where they come from.  The only farmer we meet in this story happens to be an android, but precious little is learned from her about her origins.  This gives the story a “just landed in Oz” kind of feeling.  But at the same time Lowe’s predicament provides a familiar cops and robbers scenario because the farmers do want to shut him down.

Despite being nick-named “Typhoid Jack” Lowe’s activities are intended to be almost harmless.  Actions however do have consequences.  Stewart keeps characters interesting to the very end.  A good story.

“City League” by Matthew Corradi is a story about baseball, father and son relationships, and memories.  And, in this time and place, memories can be extracted, implanted, spliced and diced and bought and sold.

The story’s narrator is a “dicer” who makes a living investigating extracted memories to see if they are in fact genuine.  His problems begin when a memory that lands in his In basket conflicts with his own personal recollections of an event.

There’s an interesting relationship here between plot and character development.  I really enjoyed this story.

 I-Chen Fisher is a young adult living in the future and, as the story begins, still residing at home.  She’s about to begin her grand tour which means being separated from her family for awhile.  The story is about leaving home — cutting the apron strings and finally figuring out who she is.  Chris Willrich has appropriately named this piece “Grand Tour.”

I-Chen is of mixed Chinese/Jewish heritage.  She also sports a pair of gills due to a decision made by her parents before she was born.  (I-Chen’s younger siblings have similar genetic enhancements.) So, I-Chen is carrying a certain amount of baggage.  Her grand tour has also created some tension within the family and Willrich manages to throw in a twist or two.  This is a good story.

In “The Children’s Crusade” Michael Alexander describes a society which appears to be both pre-industrial and post-apocalyptic at the same time.  The setting is rural, with the village, the homestead, the preacher with control issues and so forth.  But the language, the terminology related to flora and fauna or religion is familiar, but not familiar enough for the reader to place it.

Also, it appears that some form of illness, always lethal and which appears in middle age has been present for several generations.  William, the young man who narrates the story, has already lost one family member to it.

As the story begins William meets Peter, a wanderer whom he befriends.  The people in William’s village are suspicious of strangers, but with his help Peter is given conditional acceptance.  Peter goes on to demonstrate that he has many useful skills and knowledge of things that are incomprehensible to the locals.  This drives the story.  This one is definitely worth a read.