Realms of Fantasy, April 2004

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"In a High Tower" by Pamela D. Lloyd
"Israbel" by Tanith Lee
"The King's Snow" by Josh Rountree
"The Tao of Flynn" by Eric M. Witchey
"Portrait of an Unidentified Angel" by Wendy A. Shaffer
"Calamity Warps" by Gene Wolfe

Image"In a High Tower" by Pamela D. Lloyd presents itself as a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty," but "Cinderella" might be more appropriate as her main character is given drudgery and minutiae to fulfill her daily tasks. I had a specific problem with the story early as she described a character in Chicago in a way which made the author's apparent unfamiliarity with the city obvious to a native. While a minor point, it dropped me out of this very short story which seems to be a feminist tale which says that it is better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone.

Tanith Lee provides a different take on vampires in "Israbel." Although many of the familiar aspects of the vampire exist in this story, Lee has twisted some and added others. Israbel's method of taking blood form her victims is interesting, but it doesn't form the biggest surprise of the story, set in a very nicely realized Paris.

I'll admit to a negative reaction to Josh Rountree's story "The King's Snow" through no fault of the author, but rather whoever decided it would be a good idea to lay out the first page to require me to turn the magazine 90° to read the story. When I read a story, I want the layout to be practically invisible to the naked eye: no tricks, no strange fonts or awkward color schemes, simple black text on white background (or vice versa) will do. Once you get past the layout, the story is a tale of a man who is the king's hero and, as such, knows he is on his way to become legend. Rather than focus on the glory, Rountree explores the regrets and the toll Cerok's role takes on his personal life, leading to a very bitter ending.

In "The Tao of Flynn," Eric M. Witchey looks at the life of a salesman as he learns a new technique for selling which will make him even more successful than he already is. The story is slow moving, but the characters of Rich and Flynn are so smooth and likable that the reader is quickly taken with them, just as the people to whom they are selling fire insurance. While there is a scam in the story, Flynn and Rich are its targets and it is not so well delineated that its perpetrators come across as villains, making their eventual comeuppance seem almost unnecessary.

Wendy A. Shaffer updates the story of Rumpelstiltskin with "Portrait of an Unidentified Angel," in which Caravaggio is commissioned to paint a portrait of an actual angel. Initially the game of guessing the angel's identity takes a back seat to Caravaggio's work on the portrait and the technical aspects of painting, but by the end of the story, the mystery of the angel's identity has grown to become the focus, and in the process turns Shaffer's tale from a pedestrian fantasy to a work with staying power.

"Calamity Warps," by Gene Wolfe is the story of a dog and its mistress's husband. While the story has the features of a tall tale, it doesn't have the tone of one, which creates a jarring disconnect. Nevertheless, Wolfe makes the story work, perhaps because of the dichotomy between the voice and the tale.