The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 2007

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Cover by Mondolithic Studios

“Memorare” by Gene Wolfe

“The Equally Strange Reappearance of David Gerrold” by David Gerrold
“A Thing Forbidden” by Donald Mead
“Titanium Mike Saves the Day” by David D. Levine               
Many editors enjoy putting together themed issues whether or not those themes are announced in advance—and sometimes whether or not said editors even plan to do so. In the latter category, stories around a particular theme or motif often seem to arrive so close together that they grab the editor by the collar and shake until the magazine is put together.  So whether or not Gordon Van Gelder intended this for the April 2007 issue of F&SF, the idea of myths and legends incorporating themselves into the physical, workaday world and having an impact on events—whether they want to or not, whether they’re aware of it or not—is present in each of the issue’s four offerings.

The Gene Wolfe tribute includes his story “Memorare,” a tale that is—no surprise to Wolfe fans—long but never bogged down, packed with detail but never top-heavy, and…well, always too complex to be called “a simple read” but with themes that are too fundamental to be anything but instantly recognizable. March “Windy” Wildspring is filming a documentary about the memorials built in space to honor and remember those who died between planets (concentrating at the time on ones near Jupiter), and he wants Kit—the woman he loves, though at the beginning of the story he’s still somewhat uncertain about her feelings for him—to join him. Kit agrees on the condition that she can bring along a friend who is in imminent danger from a violent ex-husband…except that the friend is not exactly who Kit thinks she is. And some of the memorials contain far more inside than just corpses and holographic guides. Some, in fact, may be deadly—and one in particular has a reputation for its visitors never returning. And, to top it all off, Kit’s friend’s ex flies all the way to the memorials to find her.

Wolfe’s fans will hardly need me to expound on the story; those new to his work will find “Memorare” to be an excellent introduction. A vast range of human experience is here: love in many of its manifestations, from passion and companionable friendship to obsession and the hatred of love burned away; the need to be remembered and an awareness of our own mortality; even the desire for Paradise—and that even if you think you’ve found Paradise, it still comes with a price. And even here, the dead can control the living, just by knowing what people hunger for and building that knowledge into a memorial. Wolfe travels deftly through all of these experiences through the eyes and emotions of March Wildspring, whose life is changed, whose priorities are rearranged, by such intimate encounters with death on so many different levels.

It may not be fair to “The Equally Strange Reappearance of David Gerrold” by, well, David Gerrold, to review it as a standalone story. It’s actually the second part of a tale that started with “The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold” (F&SF Jan. ’07); while reading the original story will definitely enhance the second, “Reappearance” does well enough on its own for those who may have missed the beginning.

Gerrold has gone with his friends, “Bert” and “Ernie,” to an unspecified location near California’s Lassen National Forest in search of green people. Gerrold (as he relates in a “letter” to editor Van Gelder) found and rescued a green boy shortly before this story starts, and he has enlisted the aid of Bert—a New Agey bear of a man who has apparently been everywhere and done it all—and Ernie, a fellow along for the adventure-ride whose constant puns and other bits of not-so-cleverness contribute to his companions’ desire to murder him and leave him in the forest where no one will find him. During the course of the trip—a dastardly amount of frigid work for Gerrold in which it seems their entire journey is uphill—they work out that the green people, who have become legendary in these parts in recent years and maybe long before, may be humans who have the capability to photosynthesize sunlight the way plants do. Their sightings are as rare and tantalizing as UFOs or Bigfoot, with an equal amount of photographic evidence, it seems, but leaving an indelible memory with the observer. In the end, Gerrold discovers—nothing, which is not a spoiler since he points this out at the beginning of the story. Except there are possibilities…and he finishes with a gentle stab at someone quite familiar to F&SF readers.

The story’s tone is light, almost breezy despite the hardships Gerrold endures during his journey of discovery (though his frustrations make the story even funnier.  Sorry, Mr. Gerrold, wherever you are!), and the conclusion is thoughtful in its own way—though the aforementioned stab is a sweet frosting on the cake. I suspect readers coming to the story cold will feel that the story is lacking in some substance and will want to go back and read the first one if they’re able. But quite frankly, practically any story could suffer by following immediately in the footsteps of “Memorare.”

There are still complaints from time to time that science fiction and fantasy don’t often deal with religion, at least not the major religions we’re familiar with, but Donald Mead’s “A Thing Forbidden” helps close that gap. The punch of the story’s beginning sneaks up on us: sixteen-year-old Virginia is a survivor of the infamous Donner Party who managed to get out of the mountains without turning cannibal and, at the beginning of the story, is frightened at the thought of the Eucharist wafer being considered the literal body of Christ by the Catholics she has befriended. Virginia’s hope that she left Satan behind in those mountains is dashed when his face appears to her from a crucifix to tell her that the war with God continues, and she is part of his army now. This drives her harder towards Catholicism, though she realizes that Satan indeed is in this place when the announcement of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill nearly clears out the fort where she is living—even the soldiers abandon their posts.

Much of the story revolves around Virginia’s internal battles, including her vow to become a Catholic versus the vow never to eat flesh again, even the non-symbolic flesh of Christ in the bread. These are the strong points of the story; they give Virginia’s character flesh (no pun intended) and take the reader step by step towards a showdown. She is finally told she must decide between her vows and ultimately does in a conclusion that could be considered predictable but is well-drawn and well written nevertheless, with a horrific element that isn’t overwhelming but can’t be ignored either.  

And finally, David D. Levine gives us another lighthearted story, “Titanium Mike Saves the Day,” that illustrates how the power of myth could still hold sway in our lives even if we leave the Earth behind. The story is told in five vignettes linked together by the story of the legend of Titanium Mike, the Paul Bunyan of the Solar System, and, like the ancient gods, the towering figure who taught humankind the skills we needed to survive in that harshest of environments. The mini-tales are actually told in reverse chronological order, starting with the most expansive expression of Titanium Mike in 2144 and working their way back about one-hundred and twenty years towards the truth behind how the legend started.

The stories Levine gives us aren’t just tall tales, though; in some, the legend has a direct effect on humanity’s progression into space, the same way Paul Bunyan stories impacted the expansion of logging and other industries in the American West. Ultimately, we learn that the real Mike may not exactly have been the child of Gravity and Vacuum, but in a way he was a real, personal hero. Overall, this was an entertaining and engaging work telling us that no matter where we are, no matter how far we go from home, we still carry our own myths and legends with us—no matter what form they take.