Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 2006

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Cover by Cory and Catska Ench

“Immortal Forms” by Alfred E. Cowdrey

“Okanoggan Falls” by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Misjudgment Day” by Robert Reed
“Another Word for Map Is Faith” by Christopher Rowe
“Penultima Thule” by Chris Willrich
“Billy and the Spacemen” by Terry Bisson
“Jack B. Goode and the Neo-Modern Prometheus” by Robert Loy
“Changing Teams” by Paul di Filippo
“Pleased to Meetcha” by Ken Altabef

Alfred E. Cowdrey
tells the story of Tommy Salvati and Hannah Loewe in “Immortal Forms.” Tommy is an attorney who was raised, in part, by Hannah. Now, after her body was found in her house, Tommy is responsible for her estate and, after cleaning it up, decides to move into the house where he spent so much time as a child. He also discovers that Hannah’s death might have been caused by the over-prescriptions of a well-placed doctor she had been seeing. When Tommy decides to gain a bit of vengeance against the doctor by calling attention to the possibility that he is misprescribing medications, strange things start to happen, both in the house and out. The resulting conflict between Tommy and Dr. Tench Armstrong is amusing, but far from the focus of the story. Instead, the story looks at Tommy’s dealing with the loss of an anchor in his life, even if it was one he had apparently severed many years earlier. Although there are Gothic elements to the story in Cowdrey’s description of the abandoned, the atmosphere doesn’t last once the story gets under way.

Carolyn Ives Gilman looks at an alien invasion of American and its affects on a small town in “Okanoggan Falls.” While there is nothing in common except the basic premise, I kept being reminded of M.J. Engh’s Arslan as I read this story of life in an occupied America. Okanoggan Falls is the name of Gilman’s south-eastern Wisconsin town.  Beginning with the news that the occupying alien Wattesoons are going to destroy the town (and others nearby), Okanoggan Falls responds differently than the others, partly because the mayor’s wife, Susan Abernathy, doesn’t see any reason not to extend traditional hospitality to Captain Groton, the alien in charge of the evacuation and destruction of Okanoggan Falls. Gilman explores the growing relationship between Susan, as a civilian, and Groton. In the process, she also is able to explore the alienness of a race which has little use for water and sees it as dirty. Their friendship grows closer even as the deadline for the town’s existence approaches.  To make it even more complex, when Groton takes ill, he is only saved by Susan’s nursing skills, the cold he contracted being unknown to the Wattesoons.  Finally, he begins to take on the form of a human, fueling town gossip about his relationship with Susan. Gilman’s story starts out as an almost clichéd invasion/occupation story, but the relationship between Susan and Groton, as well as the oddities of the alien’s physiognomy, set the story apart and may cause it to be noticed when it comes time for awards nominations.

Jake, the central character of Robert Reed’s “Misjudgment Day,” is someone who never seems to make the right decision, often going out of his way to make the wrong one if he thinks it will be cool. He also seems to lack the wisdom to understand exactly what he has done wrong. At the same time, he appears to have a guardian angel looking over him, for he doesn’t suffer from his lapses. When the rest of the world begins to act in a similar manner, however, people start to suffer from their misjudgments. Reed shows us this strange world, and even offers an explanation for it, but on the whole there is little activity in “Misjudgment Day,” making the story feel more like a background for a longer work than a piece that stands on its own.

There is much talk these days of the collision of fundamentalist religion and science. While most of that centers on the arguments over evolution, Christopher Rowe applies a literal interpretation of the Bible to the science of geography in “Another Word for Map Is Faith.” Rowe’s story follows a field class of Biblical geographers as they attempt to re-sculpt the land as it was meant to be based on, if not the Bible, at least the earliest maps of the area. When they discover an unexpected man-made lake in their way, the lake’s presence raises some ethical issues since there is a town below it. Rowe’s look at religion and science is not only timely, but by applying the methods of some of the more fundamentalist religious groups to a science other than biology, Rowe points out how difficult it is to relate a fundamentalist approach to the realities of scientific observation.
While Carolyn Ives Gilman provides an alien invasion story for this issue, Chris Willrich goes the opposite route with his epic fantasy “Penultima Thule.” His recurring characters, Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone, have come into possession of the book Mashed Rags Bound in Dead Cow. Warned by the wizard Krumwheezle of the ineffable evil of the book, the two set out on a quest across the frozen wastes of Penultima Thule to throw the book over the edge of the world. While most authors would have the reader simply accept the vileness of the book’s magic, Willrich gives several rather interesting examples of what the artifact can do. “Penultima Thule” definitely falls into the epic fantasy range, although it does have its humorous moments to it. Willrich’s world is interesting and his specific creations, such as the Tornarssuk are a nice bit of creature creation. While reading Willrich’s earlier story of Bone and Gaunt would help the reader get a place in the world, it isn’t necessary to enjoy this story.

Terry Bisson spins another nostalgic short tale of Billy in “Billy and the Spacemen.” This story focuses on Bisson’s everyboy, whose imagination apparently runs wild as aliens land on his front driveway and threaten him into collaboration. This very short story, however, manages to evoke ties to both Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The title of Robert Loy’s “Jack B. Goode and the Neo-Modern Prometheus” conjures images of Chuck Berry and Mary Shelley. The story itself, however, is more a mix of Raymond Chandler and Bobby “Boris” Pickett. A noir detective story filled with plenty of puns, Loy follows Jack B. Goode, a down-on-his luck, for good reason, detective as he finds himself embroiled in the world of 1950s film monsters. The plot is pedestrian, but in this sort of story it practically takes a back seat to the jokes and the humor. Loy gets his pacing right, with plenty of jokes crammed into the relatively short story, providing for a light-hearted look at the world of monsters.

Paul di Filippo’s Plumage from Pegasus piece, “Changing Teams,” presents a cute story about a world in which balance must be maintained. In this case, the balance between those who write uplifting religion-based stories and those who write stories based on evil. Taking his cue from Anne Rice’s decision to stop writing about vampires, witches, and mummies, di Filippo has postulated that someone else must start writing about those things. His victim is Father Anders M. McGreavey, clearly based on Andrew M. Greeley, who must start living a more decadent lifestyle and writing about the works of evil.

Ken Altabef debuts in this issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction with “Pleased to Meetcha.” This short story, shorter than Bisson’s or di Filippo’s, takes a new look at the hoary question of where writers get their ideas. Altabef marries this question to what he calls the magic of a handshake in his creation of an author with more than a little of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr. in him.