Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 2006

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Cover: “The Fountains of Enceladus” by Ron Miller
“The Meaning of Luff” by Matthew Hughes
“Republic” by Robert Onopa 
“Memory of a Thing That Never Was” by Jerry Seeger              
“Holding Pattern” by Steven Popkes  
“Billy and the Unicorn” by Terry Bisson
“Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star” by R. García y Robertson
“Just Do It” by Heather Lindsley  
“The Lineaments of Gratified Desire” by Ysabeau S. Wilce          
There is a certain Runyonesque quality to Matthew Hughes’s story “The Meaning of Luff.” The rather weak pun of the title refers to the ability of a stone to reveal the meaning of one’s life and that protagonist, Luff Imbrey, who uses the stone to reveal the meaning of people’s lives in return for exorbitant sums of money. The story appears to be relatively lightweight, but Hughes interjects a more serious look at how people view themselves and why their self-images are so important.  He does this in a subtle manner which doesn’t detract from the story’s entertainment aspect.

Robert Onopa presents a first contact story in “Republic,” which at first appears to be about a peaceful mission to a planet with intelligent life on it.  When the human spacecraft develops difficulties upon leaving the planet and must return for repairs, the situation changes as Onopa shows how alien the planet really is.  In the end, the story is a bit of a let down in that Onopa’s explanation for what happens does not appear to have the scientific basis which the story would seem to indicate, instead having an almost fantasy feel despite the space operatic background.

Jerry Seeger’s “Memory of a Thing That Never Was” is a short story told in vignettes.  It relates the story of Nash, an operative of a top secret agency fighting in a war against an unknown, but apparently alien, enemy.  Painting with quick and brief strokes, Seeger is able to imply a lot more than he shows in the story, which further heightens the secretive nature of the agency.  At the same time, Seeger provides the reader with the clues necessary to understand what is happening even when the specifics of the situation are not spelled out.

In the days leading up to the Iran War, there were rumors that Saddam Hussein had forced several men to undergo extensive cosmetic surgery to look like him.  Although these “clones” have never been found, Steven Popkes appears to have taken the stories of them as an inspiration for “Holding Pattern.” Tomas was the dictator of an unnamed country.  Popkes’s story is set several years after Tomas was overthrown as his seven duplicates, or possibly, himself and six duplicates, are living in exile, apart from each other and not knowing which is the real Tomas (if any) and which are the men who have been provided with new identities.  In fact, this is only a set up for the real question of what identity really means.  While Popkes handles the material well, there is the nagging feeling that this is a piece which would be strengthened by greater length and introspection.

Terry Bisson offers another foray into the fantasy life of young Billy in “Billy and the Unicorn.” As with the other stories in this series, it isn’t clear how much of the story is supposed to be Billy’s overactive imagination and how much of it is really happening in his world.  His parents can react to the things Billy’s unicorn does, but they can’t see it and don’t believe in its existence.
R. García y Robertson clearly takes his inspiration from The Wizard of Oz for “Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star.”  While García y Robertson’s inspiration is L. Frank Baum’s classic, his story is his own.  A mixture of fantasy and science fiction in which nothing is as it initially seems, the story of Amy and her desire not to be married off to a stranger at the age of thirteen in powerful, although the parallels to The Wizard of Oz do distract from García y Robertson’s own tale as the reader keeps trying to draw links which do not necessarily exist. Once the reader can accept his writing as distinct from The Wizard of Oz, it is clear that he has created a strange world with trials and tribulations different from, but similar to, the ones which occur in our own world, reflecting a light on the way humans approach their life’s milestones and changes.
Guerrilla marketing is taken to the extreme in Heather Lindsley’s “Just Do It.”  In this world, Shooters fire darts at people which fill them with an uncontrollable craving for a product, whether it is French fries or gym shoes.  Alex Monroe is working with an underground organization willing to do whatever it takes to get the darts off the streets.  To this end, Alex finds herself not only getting a job at CraveTech, the largest advertising company, but also dating its owner.  As Alex learns more and more of CraveTech’s secrets, she unearths the mysterious BeMod.  Despite her friend and co-conspirator Sandra’s warnings to get out while she still can, Alex digs deeper, and continues her dangerous relationship with CraveTech’s owner.  Lindsley provides an excellent satirical warning about advertising and the changes to behavior which it can create.

By far the longest story in this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire.” Set in a strange world of magic on the festival night of Pirate’s Parade, Wilce follows Hardhands, a magician, trendsetter, and the husband of the heir to the ruler of the city.  Beginning with his magic show at a local dive, which has all the appurtenances of a rock gig, Hardhands must deal with the disappearance of Tiny Doom, his four year old ward. Although Hardhands is depicted as a vainglorious peacock, his quest through the city and the riotous festival looking for Tiny Doom clearly indicates that he does have more depth than he lets on.  In some ways, his character and the setting of Califa are vaguely reminiscent of John Barnes’s Million Worlds series. Eventually, Hardhands does find Tiny Doom and must bargain for her release. The ending of the tale has Hardhands learning something of his own role in the world and the resilience of children.  Although Wilce’s style does provide the story with a specific atmosphere, there are times when she allows her style to encroach on the plot.