Absolute Magnitude, #18, Spring 2002

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

"Just a Touch of Chocolate" by Barry B. Longyear
"Bandwidth to Burn" by Robert A. Metzger
"Carving" by J.F. Peterson
"How We Know What Happened" by Uncle River
"Shirabe" by Robert J. Lapointe

Absolute Magnitude & Aboriginal Science Fiction

Absolute Magnitude has changed its name along with taking in the backlog of stories accumulated over the years by Aboriginal Science Fiction. This issue includes at least three stories – judging from a list put out on the Web – that originally were slated for Aboriginal: Robert A. Metzger's "Bandwidth to Burn," J.F. Peterson's "Carving," and Robert J. Lapointe's "Shirabe." Perhaps longtime readers of both magazines may discern a difference between these three stories and the other two, reflecting a difference in taste between the editors, but the stories in this issue seemed generally compatible with each other.

Except, perhaps, for Uncle River's "How We Know What Happened." But then, Uncle River writes a completely different species of story from most other writers of any genre. This story, which the author labels "A Just So Story for Adults," reads like a tall tale, with all of its classic exaggeration. It is, however, absolutely science fiction, and the underlying science might be the least exaggerated part of the story. The wicked social commentary that underlies it isn't too far off base, either.

If you insist that a story get to the point right away, you won't like "How We Know What Happened." But if you enjoy a story that meanders its way along, starting with the early Sixties and the Vietnam War and ending just a few years down the road from now, with a lot of tangents thrown in, you'll have fun reading this story. A cautionary note: A lot of typos slipped past the editor and/or proofreader here. You're going to have to read around them.

Robert Metzger's "Bandwidth to Burn" is a complex tale that requires the reader to pay close attention. The detached, but alive, head of a soldier who lost his family in a bomb attack has been delivered to Tommy's kitchen, and he's supposed to take care of it. Tommy, whose greatest fear is being disconnected from the system, is horrified by the idea of dealing with an "organic," even one with such a limited hold on life. But somehow the two of them figure out how to communicate.

I don't know if I'm willing to believe that the interaction that goes on in this story would be a healthy healing process, but it certainly makes good reading. Metzger blends current events with reasonable projections based on those events, and gives us a society somewhat more technically advanced, but just as emotionally complicated, as our own.

Unfortunately, sloppy proofreading has also crept into this story, and in this case it really makes the piece difficult to read. Throughout the story there are long passages in italic type, and while in a few cases the italics seem to be there intentionally, most of them serve no apparent purpose. I suspect some passages were italicized purely by accident. Since this story is complicated, and includes flashbacks and other internal conversations that are best rendered by devices such as italics, the hodgepodge of italic use makes it harder to follow.

The remaining three stories are all told from the point of view of small boys. Barry B. Longyear's "Just a Touch of Chocolate" gives us the almost perfect boyhood of Billy Gardiner. Only some nagging nightmares keep his life from being the childhood idyll any boy might dream of: a loving mother who tucks you into bed with a glass of milk, a father who always shows up to watch your baseball games, a big sister who thinks you're cool, and the opportunity to pitch in the Big Game.

The nightmares bend the story into another dimension, and give Billy – and the person he's dreaming about – a problem to solve. The twist is interesting, and makes the story a pleasant read.

There is so much emphasis on the deceased father of James, the lead character in J. F. Peterson's "Carving," that I assumed the story would somehow turn on that loss. But in fact, the father's death is simply a plot device, and the story turns more on James's mother's hobby of carving. While her carving was also emphasized, the ending of the story took me by surprise.

Surprise endings have their place – one thinks of O. Henry, who was a master of the unusual turn – but endings that slap you in the face with something completely out of step with the story as set up are more annoying than anything else. While I'm sure that Peterson would argue that the groundwork was laid for the ending, it still startled me unpleasantly.

Robert J. Lapointe's "Shirabe" plays with time. Set in Japan during a period that might be the present, we see the events of the world through the eyes of six-year-old Yutaka. He lives with his widowed mother, and his elderly grandfather, who stays in a room that keeps him young. The Americans are bombing China, and their methods involve shifts in time. Problems with the time-phase equipment are creating distortions. And so this world is never quite static in time.

The story turns on an old Zen story, and brings together World War II, Japanese expansion after the war, the complexities of the U.S./Japanese relationship, and the even greater complexities of the relationship of both of those nations to China. Lapointe creates a very Japanese feel in this story, leaving readers with the clear feeling that they've spent some time in a different place, as well as a different time.

When she's not reading, Nancy Jane Moore writes fiction, trains in Aikido, and covers class action litigation for a legal publication.