Amazing Stories, #606, December 2004

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"The Man from Breakneck" by Larry Tritten
"Shadowboxer" by Paul Di Filippo
"Release the Knot" by Patrick Weekes
"Grafts on the Memory Tree" by Steve Carper
"Hostile Takeover" by Aaron Allston

ImageLarry Tritten’s "The Man from Breakneck" took me some effort to get into, but my initial difficulty was rewarded by this off-kilter story of the Anthracite Cowboy’s adventures in a future Western land of digital ghosts. Marinade Gunnison hires the Cowboy to head to Pine Box, a "ghost town" populated by "demiplasmic individeols" of famous Western heroes. A man named Prescott has ridden off to Pine Box with four hundred of Marinade’s silver-eagle dollars, and she wants the Cowboy to get them back.

The Cowboy rides off, talks straight, and shoots straighter, and soon finds Prescott, along with a passel of other interesting folks. Tritten’s story is a peculiar conglomerate of Western jargon and jawbreaking technological neologisms, but on the whole it works well in creating a genuinely futuristic sense of difference.

Paul Di Filippo’s "Shadowboxer," the story of a man who can kill anyone just by staring at them and imagining their death, raises some uncomfortable political questions. As might be inevitable, the narrator has had his talent coopted by the government for use in the "War on Terror," and he does his job with resignation, until one day when he discovers just how far his employers have extended the definition of the "War on Terror."

The story is told in fragments, and effectively conveys a sense of the narrator’s isolation and lack of control over his own life. It’s inevitable, perhaps, that it ends where it does, at the point where he has once again been given the opportunity to control his own fate, rather than that of others.

Why not one more story about a magical, talking sword? Such is Patrick Weekes’ "Release the Knot," which puts an interesting spin on the gimmick. Caelthras is a magical sword sworn to destroy the evil Dreadlord, and she comes up with a constant stream of incredibly overcomplicated plots to fulfill her destiny. Her bearer suspects that she creates such complex schemes to try to put off the destruction of the Dreadlord as long as possible, since, in fulfilling her destiny, Caelthras will also be destroyed.

Her current plot involves giant bats, murk goblins, Thershoni enchanters, and more, and her skeptical bearer soon finds himself fighting Gorlych, the Dreadlord’s First Blade, while naked and drenched in honey. Remarkably, things do not go downhill from there. "Release the Knot" is an entertaining and appealingly light-hearted sword-and-sorcery tale.

Steve Carper’s "Grafts on the Memory Tree" takes a look at the institution of marriage in a society where human memory has been enormously enhanced through electronic implants. Austin and Emily are getting married tomorrow, and as is now the custom, they consummate their union through the sharing of each other’s memories: "Memories bind, person to person, group to group. Memory trees are the growing world’s only villages, only connections, only permanencies."

While the idea of marriage become a literal merging of two mind is intriguing and plausible, I didn’t find this story terribly persuasive on an emotional level. The extrapolation inherent in the setting didn’t seem matched on the individual level; Austin and Emily seemed too much like present-day people, rather than people who had grown up in and absorbed the mores and standards of such a society.

Amazing’s "1,000 Words" feature in this issue pairs author Aaron Allston with art by Blake Flynn. Flynn’s painting is of a striking woman in a white dress, seated, with a large green frog on her lap. Allson’s story, "Hostile Takeover," tells of the fate of a corporate raider who hopes to make the titular "hostile takeover" of the woman’s company, only to find out that there is more to her than meets the eye. Like many short-short tales, the effect is focused on the sting in the tail.