M-Brane SF #5, June 2009

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Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm” by Brandon Bell

As They Get Warmer, They Give a Little” by Caren Gussoff

The Hole That Max Found” by D.D. Tannenbaum

Daughter of Science, Daughter of Magic” by Deborah Walker

Tortured Spirit” by Joshua Scribner

The Rose of Rehin” by Martin Turton

Seventy” by Liana Brooks

The Charisma Plague” by Peter Andrews

Different Shades of People” by D.C. Grondo

Carried by the Wind” by Elliot Richard Dorfman

Steve Kendrick’s Disease” by Edward W. Robertson

Matchmaker” by James P. Wagner

Zara Gets Laid” by Sue Lange

Reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk

It’s my fault, mea maxima culpa. This review is late; M-Brane SF is apparently monthly and, I read on their website, ( www.mbranesf.blogspot.com) that issue 8 is out now. Because this issue is chock-full of SFnal goodness, it’s taken me a longer time than usual to finish. So my personal apologies to the editor, Christopher Fletcher, way off in OKC (Oklahoma City, for those of you who’ve never been).

This magazine gave me cause to ponder the difference between prozines, semi-prozines and fanzines (and yes, I know it’s technically “among”—but Paul Brians ( http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/), in his list of common English errors, says it’s always been okay to say “between,” no matter what your English teachers told you!) in this new and improved age of failing publishers and disappearing print markets. The key difference, besides circulation, was always payment rate. How much did the market pay its contributors? Well, the in-print magazine markets are shrinking (and many of those who reinvent themselves as online markets only are disappearing as well), and I submit that the distinction should now be quality instead of payment. Or price.

For one thing, the known prozines, like Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF and so on, are becoming increasingly dependent on a stable of known writers (kind of like the book publishers, eh?), and it’s becoming rare to see a whole prozine full of good, unknown or lesser-known writers. And it seems to me that semi-prozines provide that particular service. I can’t find out, despite searching the website, how much M-Brane SF pays or, indeed, how the editor manages to afford to put out a letter-size, perfect-bound, glossy-color covered magazine monthly. They also make the zine available in Kindle and Mobipocket formats for e-reading.

That said, I think that this all-SF magazine deserves to be called a prozine. On to the stories!

Abraham Discovers an Object Impenetrable to All Harm” by Brandon Bell is one of those stories that leaves you scratching your head. The protagonist, Abraham, is an asteroid-belt miner and salvager (MASS—Mining and Asteroid Settlement Station). As Mars is now closed to immigration, and Phobos, Deimos, Ceres and Vesta are all overcrowded, the Belt is the Last Frontier. He lives with his android wife and children in/on a planetesimal in the “thick” of the Belt. (In reality, in the “thick” of the Belt, there are often hundreds or thousands of miles between each planetesimal, no matter how thick it looks from Earth.)

But the Belt is also populated by Wolves. When the Wolves raid a MASS station, they rape and plunder, leaving the station cold and silent, and only a graffiti scrawl on one of the walls—“Nyarlathotep Was Here!”). What Abraham found, and what it meant, and how he dealt with the Wolves is the crux of the story. And I bet you’ll be scratching your head a bit after you read this too. Well written, but I shall “say no more, squire.” (For some reason, Malvia Reynolds’s song, “Little Boxes,” keeps running through my head.)

As They Get Warmer, They Give a Little” by Caren Gussoff is a little techo-geek essay on the end of the world, sort of. Zack Leven works in a sim call center, but feels his hacking talents are wasted on the helpdesk. He also has a crush on the green-eyed receptionist. He’s hacked into a sim of the real world , but something goes wrong. We’ve read stuff like this before, but maybe not brought down to such a personal level. As reality apparently follows his sim, Zack gets a pair of really tight leather pants (“As they get warmer,” the salesman tells Zack, before slapping him on the ass, “they give a little.”) partly from need, partly to impress the receptionist. Nicely done, and by a Clarion West graduate.

This is described as “flash-fic” by the editor, and I liked it. And I learned a new word: didikai (sometimes “didicoi”), which is a non-Romany gypsy. I like learning new words. Thanks, Christopher.

The Hole That Max Found” by D.D. Tannenbaum is a little radio interview, transcribed, of a country superstar named Kelly McGuire, who disappeared. Before he disappeared, he recorded this interview and a song, “I’m Gonna Crawl Through The Hole That Max Found.”

The Max of the song is Max Planck, and the hole is a quantum hole leading to any of a zillion possible multiple realities. Kelly learns how to manipulate which reality he’s in from a drunken physicist and becomes a superstar in a reality that never heard of Jimmy Buffet. (Why Jimmy Buffet? Wouldn’t you rather be Willie Nelson if you’re gonna steal someone’s music? Maybe that’s just me.)

A cute and inoffensive little story, but could have been punchier with a different structure. Jimmy Buffet? Maybe he’d rather live in a world without Jimmy B. than one without Willie, or The Beatles, or Paul Simon. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Daughter of Science, Daughter of Magic” by Deborah Walker is the only story in this magazine that involves fantasy instead of hard SF. Well, sort of, because the story fits fantasy into an SFnal matrix. You see, the world is split. Men do fantasy, women do science. It’s hard-wired, and even if it’s not, a little operation turns budding female fantasists into hard scientists. It has to do with the amygdala. No, really.

Men just aren’t practical enough, I guess, to do science. Teenager Kathleen, who’d rather be a fairy princess in her father’s world (after all, he’s King of Fairyland), finds out that like it or not, the connection between her amygdala and her temporal lobes will be severed surgically to direct her into the proper course. But… what if the operation doesn’t “take”? An interesting take on fantasy vs. SF. (By the way, Deborah, “amygdalae” is plural. Each person has one, and only one, amygdala. Probably even in London.)

Tortured Spirit” by Joshua Scribner is described by the editor as a “slipstream” story. I’m not sure what that means, but of all the fiction in this issue, this one didn’t work for me. I don’t want to give too much away, but it involves integrating personalities in a multiple-personality body. I found it all a bit loosey-goosey and not particularly involving. And in an SF story, this paragraph should raise all kinds of alarm bells:

Dr. Caffer smiled. Had it been a rogue spirit, what a less informed psychologist might mistake as an alter personality, the spirit would not have known the right name.”

Psychologists speaking of spirits? What kind of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is that? Sorry, not my cuppa tea, mate.

We go back to hard SF with “The Rose of Rehin” by Martin Turton. Delita lives on the planet Rehin, where her nearest neighbor, Garett, lives about 30 miles away, which is two days’ hard slogging over dunes of sand. You see, ever since her husband and child (“the first native-born Rehinian”) were killed in a sudden sandstorm, Delita doesn’t leave her cabin. The terraforming isn’t going so well, all there is around her is miles and miles of sand. Just sand.

The Plantation, those precious plants that were supposed to provide oxygen to this world, had been buried under tons of reddish sand, and Delita no longer cared to go outside, yet Garett came to her bunker and persuaded her that there was something she needed to see. So she goes, and finds that perhaps, in a small way, the terraforming will succeed after all. Nice story.

Seventy” by Liana Brooks is the second terraforming story in this issue, but quite a different take. Because of Hurluk attacks (the name is all we ever learn of them) on Earth and the planets of the Delious system, Doctor Jeff Koenig has emigrated to Dauphin, the only remaining planet in the aforesaid system; the rest have been blasted into rubble by Hurluk world destroyers.

But Dauphin is not a habitable planet and must be quick-terraformed before it can be settled. The first wave of immigrants will be ready for planetfall in 70 days. Will Dauphin? Hmm. Something seems to be going on with the terraforming. Are Koenig and the rest of the settlers going to be okay on Dauphin, or will something else have to happen? I’ll leave it to you to find out. I think you’ll enjoy the journey.

The Charisma Plague” by Peter Andrews is a story of a revolution on Tigris settlement, which appears to be some kind of LaGrange colony. The revolution comes about because of something that appears in the population, something that is classified as a disease by the System Computer, or EssSee. When the narrator discovers that by touching another person she and that other person become “Enlightened”—tightly connected (possibly even telepathically) and can no longer bear to fight or argue with one another, it becomes necessary to spread the word, whether by the narrator touching, or by another “connected” person convincing and persuading. And the number of Enlightened converts begins growing.

But EssSee doesn’t see a movement, it sees a disease; it sets out to isolate the “infected” and to keep the rest of the colony safe from Enlightenment, even if that means destroying the infected. And thereby, as they say, hangs the tale. Kind of chilling. A little bit like Steve King’s Cell in a way.

Different Shades of People” by D.C. Grondo is sort of a space opera. There’s a mining colony on a planet called Melt, where the indigenous lizards may or may not be intelligent. At least a couple of scientists have that idea, which may screw up Megatech’s plans for this world. Which is run by the military for Megatech’s benefit. And just what do you think happens to whistle-blowers on a company planet?

Of course, the most engaging characters in this story are not the scientists, not the military, but a couple of characters named Buck and Pink. Buck’s a bucolic sort (“I’m not a digger, I’m a Megatech employee!”) and Pink’s kind of a lizardy (no, not one of Melt’s natives, another kind of lizard) cowpoke sort. I kinda like Pink, who’s an unabashed carnivore and likes to play poker and drive the pickup fast. It’s kind of a silly story, but fun nonetheless.

Carried by the Wind” by Elliot Richard Dorfman is less funny, but no less silly from an SFnal perspective; quite frankly, it left me cold. I didn’t find it engaging or even particularly well written. It’s the story of an alien who came to Earth in a walnut-sized ship, and who has the power to alter the past in some ways, yet cannot do so if it serves the storyline. The writing is clunky, and to my mind, not pro quality. Too much telling (“Eddie became excited”), and some very odd phrasings (“I just envisioned a horrible event that will happen soon.” Does he mean previsioned, foresaw, visualized? I’m not sure the author knows the difference here.) indeed.

I’ve agreed with most of the editor’s choices in this issue, but I can’t understand what he sees in this one.

Steve Kendrick’s Disease” by Edward W. Robertson is the complete opposite, and one of my favorites in this issue; I should have guessed by the opening that it would be good: “We went to Greenvale for the same reason anyone goes anywhere: to steal all the good stuff while everyone was off-planet.” Kind of sets the scene and tells you something about the crew of the Help Wanted.

When a newly-settled planet is evacuated by “the Feds” for whatever reason, they perforce have to leave all kinds of goodies behind; the Help Wanted just happens to beat all the other ships to the loot. After all, Greenvale only has one town, Brighton, and a few thousand inhabitants, and you have to be first to get anything at all. The narrator of the story is Laurey, the Help Wanted’s med officer.

Unfortunately, the crew of the ship finds the inhabitants haven’t been evacuated, they’re all still on the planet. And all dead. What happens next forms a really well-told story, and a gripping one as well. As I said before, this is one of my favorites in the whole issue.

Matchmaker” by James P. Wagner is an interesting story which revolves around a simple idea: what if one of those computerized matchmaking services could really match people up? Not just a little, but find a couple that was compatible to the nth degree?

Maggie is only 18, and is sure she knows who and what she wants; she doesn’t want to wait for the computerized matching. After all, people have been getting together without computers for thousands of years. Why should she have to wait? The story explains the reason(s); and it worked for me. Me, I got lucky… just this week celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary without computer matching.

“Zara Gets Laid” by Sue Lange is a total romp. The editor explains that he has a content advisory so that people won’t be shocked by gratuitous sexuality; although most people like explicit sexuality if it a) serves the plot and b) helps develop the character, he himself kinda likes it gratuitous. (And who doesn’t, once in a while?) But here, the explicit sex serves the story (it’s about sex) and advances the character (she’s trying to get laid) and is gratuitously fun all around.

What if you could have a cellular rebuilding to give you a sort of invulnerability to radiation and other harmful things, but what made you invulnerable also made it necessary for you to get laid at least every 13 months, or you’d sort of explode.

Zara has a great, well-paid career, inspecting the insides of nuclear reactors, where normal people can’t go (even in rad suits). But society had to make allowances and change certain habits and morés, because of the aforesaid “laid” problem. And it’s not always fun and games, either, because you don’t get to pick your sex partner.

Okay, it’s scientific balderdash, but hey! It’s fun, and it’s funny. And if there’s anything greater than SF, it’s good, funny SF, which explains the successful careers of such luminaries as Spider Robinson, Ron Goulart, Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley and R.A. Lafferty. Maybe Lange can continue on the same path and maybe someday join that pantheon.