Prime Codex, edited by Lawrence M. Schoen & Michael Livingston

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"To The East, A Bright Star" by James Maxey
Image"Ticktock Girl" by Cat Rambo
"The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes" by Ken Scholes
"Wizards’ Encore" by Geoffrey Girard
"The Disenchantment of Kivron Ox-master" by Elaine Isaak
"Sister of the Hedge" by Jim C. Hines
"Rampion" by Mary Robinette Kowel
"Salt of Judus" by Eric James Stone
"Button by Button" by E. Catherine Tobler
"Black Boxes" by Matthew Rotunda
"Tides" by Tobias Buckell
"Urban Renewal" by Tom Pendergrass
"As the Stars of the Sky" by Mike Shultz
"Rainmakers" by Ruth Nestvold
"Radical Acceptance" by David W. Goldman
Periodically we hear about the next new group of writers of speculative fiction, the New Wave, the Young Turks. Prime Codex, edited by Lawrence M. Schoen and Michael Livingstone, is an anthology put together by the Codex Writers Group, which bills itself as the hungry new edge of speculative fiction, the "new" new wave, the youngest young Turks—perhaps with some justification. Membership in Codex is limited to authors with professional credentials, and this collections presumably was selected from the best of the best. All these tales have seen publication in such venues as Asimov’s, Talebones, Realms of Fantasy, and Analog. And so the gauntlet has been thrown down to the rest of the writing world. From what I hold in my hand, I can’t say that they don’t have good cause.

The first tale is "To The East, A Bright Star" by James Maxey, which asks the question, "If God scheduled the end of the world, would you dress for the occasion?" We follow Tony on that fateful day as the end of the world approaches from the heavens. He has this day planned meticulously, right down to the proper music, when reality intervenes. Still, he manages to work her into his agenda. Very dark and very thought provoking!

"Ticktock Girl" by Cat Rambo is a somewhat feminist tale of how a genius lady builds a crusader for the victimized women of the world in the form of a robot girl. As ticktock girl captures the beast of the world, she grows intellectually and emotionally until she is ready to act on her own. What makes this story a cut above the normal "getting even" tale is that we watch from the mind of the robot as it grows from blank slate to self-aware being.

"The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes" by Ken Scholes is a study in depression from the eyes of the great explorer, Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark expedition ordered by President Thomas Jefferson. The historical Lewis fought against chronic depression all his life and is believed by some to have committed suicide as a result of it just a few years after being hailed as a national hero. In this tale, he meets another sufferer of this devastating ailment from the far future on his trek across the America. Called by the local Indians Man-From-The-River, he shows Lewis the future, the supposed futility of his expedition, and offers him release from his black depression. But only at the cost of abandoning his quest. If you were Lewis, would you?

"Wizards’ Encore" by Geoffrey Girard considers the effect of science on the workings of magic. In 1856, the French Government sends Jean Robert-Houdini, a famous stage magician, to Algeria to cow the rebellious natives with a display of his great magical powers. Stage tricks all, but the tribesmen are fooled. All very ordinary you say? And so it seems until Jean is confronted by an Arab wizard in a life-and-death duel. And then we learn the true artifice of Jean’s magic, both real and staged. A well written tale, if a bit predictable.

"The Disenchantment of Kivron Ox-master" is a wonderful coming-of-age tale by Elaine Isaak, and one of the best stories in this anthology. Kirvon is a young half-breed possessing a spectacular magical ability. But because his skin and hair are the wrong color, and his upbringing decidedly rural, he is scorned by his fellow wizards. Scorned, that is, until the guild of wizards has need of his special ability. And so Kivron must make a choice, be accepted by the wizards of his world, but only grudgingly, or to affirm his own self and seize control of his life.

"Sister of the Hedge" by Jim C. Hines is a retelling of the fairy tale, "Sleeping Beauty." Only we learn that the "curse" has spawned the religious order of the Church of the Iron Cross to care for princes imprisoned in the hedge of magical thorns. As the tale evolves, we learn that perhaps the "curse" may have been a blessing, to save the innocent young princess from the calculated evil and Machiavellian manipulation of princes and kings. Better she sleep away the ages free from all that, perhaps?

"Rampion" by Mary Robinette Kowel is a cautionary tale of the monkey’s paw sort. Sybille, a young peasant, consults with the local witch to get pregnant. She and her husband have had no luck after years of trying. But the witch gives her evil advice, which Sybille follows. We soon learn that this is just part of the witch’s scheme, with ruination visited on the young mother-to-be, her husband, and her unborn child.

"Salt of Judus" by Eric James Stone is a tale of obsessive, unrequited love. A starving artist pines for a young lady from afar, but she is too well-born and lofty for him to even speak to. Enter the devil with a scheme to snare not only our young man’s soul but the lady’s as well. Stone presents a well crafted story, but this suffers by comparison to the wealth of similar tales out there.

"Button by Button" by E. Catherine Tobler is one of those stories that you read and find yourself ruminating over days and even weeks afterwards. I still haven’t made up my mind about it. A young, proper Victorian lady meets a gentleman who defies all the molds and models of behavior of the day. She finds him fascinating, as he is joyously entranced by the simplest things, like the buttons on a lady’s gloves, or the scents of a newly bloomed rose. But his oddities turn out to be perfectly reasonable, as he’s an alien sent to investigate this world. In the process, he shatters this lady’s staid and orderly world.

"Black Boxes" by Matthew Rotunda is a legal thriller built around a what-if: "What if we all had recorders surgically implanted in our brains so we could record our every thought and perception?" Everybody could potentially be Rodney King. When people start turning up dead, with their recorders crudely removed, the thriller starts. The fiend is caught, but his court-appointed attorney must find a defense for a client whose actions defy understanding. The killer’s motives are the surprise.

"Tides" by Tobias Buckell is a far-future tale of exploitation of native peoples. Young Siana learns of the cruel use the people of the mainland make of her family and relatives in their wars. Siana’s family lives in abject poverty, to a certain extent imposed on them as a tool of control. But she and her folk possess psychic powers that make them extremely valuable. As Siana comes to understand this, she must make a choice: submit to or reject the established order.

"Urban Renewal" by Tom Pendergrass is a fun, tongue-in-cheek tale about the old lady who lived in a shoe. What would today’s government bureaucrats think of an old lady and her countless children living in abject poverty in a shoe? Especially if the residence is smack dab in the middle of the mayor’s planned urban renewal district? Wonderful, silly stuff!

"As the Stars of the Sky" by Mike Shultz tells how spaceman Dave and his fellow shipmates are flipped into a different universe while moving along a dimensional tunnel between intergalactic transfer points. Marooned by his mates, Dave stumbles upon a fleet of intelligent space vessels. In the process of learning to speak to each other, Dave and the alien intelligence struggle with basic issues of control and survival. And in the end, Dave must choose, spend his life seeking a way home (which may not exist), or accept the alien machine’s plans for his survival. An excellent exploration of alien intelligence and how it would differ fundamentally from humans.

"Rainmakers" by Ruth Nestvold was my least favorite of this collection. The story follows an ambassador on a new planet, apparently of humans, who are threatening revolt against the intergalactic visitors’ cultural contamination. We find that the natives have psychic powers, which form a fundamental part of their culture and religion. My difficulty is that we’re presented with a number of novel and interesting issues—a gay lifestyle, psychic powers, a conquering race seeking to exploit natives, and even what it means when the ambassador herself suddenly develops psychic powers—but one after the other and without resolution of the previous ones.  Personally, I would’ve loved to have seen a resolution of any of these.

The final tale of the anthology is "Radical Acceptance" by David W. Goldman, a semi-silly tale of when aliens arrive on Earth. Of course, they resemble six-legged otters both in appearance and temperament. As one meets with a Hollywood producer, we learn that this all is not by accident. It seems that the galactic federation has been making these first contacts for centuries and has the process down to a science. The alien advises that Earth society is deemed fit to join the galactic union, once humans shed their obsession with angels and saints. Their solution to this problem comes as a surprise, especially for the Hollywood moviemaker. A wonderful tale that throws the curve artfully, starting like a comedy and ending as dark as they come.

Overall, I can heartily recommend Prime Codex for your reading pleasure. You will want to see what Codex has to offer and who to watch for in the future. Until next time, enjoy!
Publisher: Paper Golem (May 2007)
Price: $13.95
Paperback: 216 pages
ISBN: 0979534909