Absolute Magnitude, #17, Fall 2001

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"The Law, in its Majestic Equality" by Mary Catelli
"Fridays" by Jamie Wild
"He Did the Flatline Boogie and He Boogied on down the Line" by William Sanders
"Incoming" by Bart Kemper
"The Stars Too Near" by Chris Bunch

Absolute Magnitude is the one of the few quality hard science fiction publications on the market today, along with the likes of Analog. Sadly, the Fall issue was a disappointment, compared to what I've become accustomed to from this periodical. There were five tales of wonder in this issue, and if there is a theme, I would term it an issue of vignettes rather than stories.

First up was a meandering tale by Mary Catelli titled "The Law, in its Majestic Equality. . . ". Olive flees the over- regulated Earth for the open, free-enterprise Moon. She quickly learns that such lack of government regulation allows for grossly unfair labor practices. In short order, she is taken advantage of, injured on the job and fired, and left homeless. This is resolved by the intervention, Deus Ex Machina style, of a prominent banker and judge. The problem I have is that Olive does very little to prevent being taken advantage of, and whines and bitches until someone else saves her. I can't help but wonder if this wasn't Olive's story, but the banker's.

"Fridays" by Jamie Wild follows a clone who is being prepared for use as a kind of brain transplant. Clones are grown so they can learn specific skills for their owners. This knowledge is then transplanted to the original person, who gains the knowledge/skill without having to go to school. The process is fatal to the clone. The problem here is that Barry the clone is allowed out into the world by a sympathetic nurse for day trips, and he quickly develops a desire to have his own life. And in the end he does, through no effort of his own. This was a novel concept, but Barry really didn't do anything to resolve his problem.

"He Did the Flatline Boogie and He Boogied on down the Line" by William Sanders is another tale that I think would have worked better from another point of view. Henry is a dealer specializing in selling an illegal drug called Necrodone. It causes the user to "die" and visit the afterworld where everything is wonderful. The key is that the user returns. Henry is contacted by Jerry Duane Austin, former rock superstar, who is searching for his girlfriend. She disappeared several months ago, and Jerry Duane is sure she is now caught up in the Necrodone drug culture. Sure enough she is, and dies of an overdose before Jerry Duane can rescue her. So he chooses to follow her into death with his own OD. Henry wisely decides that he needs an extended vacation out of the country, given his very public involvement with both Jerry Duane and his girlfriend just before their deaths. Personally, I would have been very interested in Jerry Duane's POV on all this. Instead we got Henry, who is a cynical drug dealer making a living off human misery.

"Incoming" by Bart Kemper is a military/political action tale that just didn't click for me. Sargent Gallegos is in charge of a squad of soldiers in some future police action. But the war is dragging on without any clear victories, and the public and the politicians are restless. A new lieutenant is assigned to the squad. As he heroically leads the squad into a massacre, the news cameras are rolling. Inflamed by the images, the public, and the politicians, fall into line behind the war effort. Sadly, I saw this ending from much too far away.

Last, and best, was "The Stars Too Near" by Chris Bunch. Yeats is a starship trooper who is on the losing side in an intergalactic conflict between Earth and its colonies. He returns home a hero, and takes up his deceased father's law practice. But he soon runs afoul of the local political boss, who bitterly opposes any attempts to rejoin the Earth Alliance, even though his side lost. Much like the KKK in the Antebellum South, the old order uses terror and sabotage to prevent all progress. In the end, Yeats has it out with the political boss and his cronies in a gun fight in the local salon. Sadly, he sees that his actions will not change things much, and opts to move on to a new colony world free from the bitter attitudes of his home.

Jim Reichert has been a reviewer for Tangent for the last several years on such periodicals as Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Odyssey, Talebones, Dragon, Weird Tales, and Space & Time. He's a government lawyer specializing in the field of child abuse prosecutions, and lives with his wife and family in a rural area of southern Delaware. He's been an avid fan of speculative fiction all his life, and has been writing short stories and novels for 5-10 years on a sporadic basis. His first fiction was published June, 2000 in the e-zine Dark Matter Chronicles.