Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2005

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"The Lorelei" by Alex Irvine
"Keyboard Practice, Consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with Two Manuals" by John G. McDaid
"Born Bad" by Arthur Porges
"The Blemmye's Stratagem" by Bruce Sterling
"Last Man Standing" by Esther M. Friesner

Image"The Lorelei" by Alex Irvine is a story of creation as Charles Pelletier arrives in fin de siècle New York to pursue his desire to be an artist. In his quest, he meets the successful painter Albert Pinckham Ryder, who befriends him in a manner of speaking and draws him into Ryder's world, which increasingly becomes obsessed with the image of a Lorelei. Irvine's tone fits the setting well and his characters are likable, even when they are behaving in roguish manners.

"The Lorelei" is followed by another story of artistic achievement, John G. McDaid's "Keyboard Practice, Consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with Two Manuals." Set in the future, it is written in an experimental style based on the shorthand used by instant messagers. Once past the annoying style, however, there are two main themes which run through the story. First, and more obvious is the manner in which new technology makes older skills obsolete, in this case the ability to play music. The other theme is the search for perfection and how it can lead to a lessening of the skills and abilities which that perfection strives to achieve. This latter theme meshes nicely with "The Lorelei" and Ryder's obsession.

"Born Bad" is a short short story by Arthur Porges. It combines mythologies in a clever manner and depicts the growth of evil from mischief. While the first two stories in the issue focus on artistic creation, this story introduces the final three, which deal with mythologies and legends.

"The Blemmye's Stratagem" by Bruce Sterling is set during the second crusades and features a collaboration between the founder of an order of nuns and the fabled "Old Man of the Mountain," the head of the assassins. Although both are clearly major powers in the area, the both are subordinate to a blemmye, a legendary creature without a head, but which has its face on its chest. Sterling portrays this period quite well and presents several interesting ideas. Hildegart and Sinan, the nun and the assassin, have a complex relationship with each other, with their societies, and with their master, all of which are shown in a realistic manner.

Namtar, the iconoclastic protagonist of Esther M. Friesner's "Last Man Standing," has the attitude of a character from a Monty Python sketch with regard to authorities, whether Gilgamesh, at whose funeral he is meant to be a sacrifice, or Ereshkigal, the goddess of the dead. In fact, Namtar's view of the ludicrousness of the events surrounding him are more in tune with those of the gods than of the priests and other humans. Eventually, his attitude is shown to hide a good heart and a sense of purpose others around him lack! Friesner's humor makes her story entertaining and her lessons more palatable than a lecture would have been.