Fantastic Stories, Spring 2000

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"Queen Bee" by Chris Bunch
"Agressive Growth" by Ralph Gamelli
"Death Threat for a Hitman" by Gary Jonas
"Pigskin in a Poke" by Andrew Burt
"Sanctuary Defiled at Ananayas" by Christopher Stires
"Playing Through" by Ralph Gamelli
"The Clandestine Phallusy" by David Bischoff
"Warning, Warning" by Allen Steele

Short-Short Section:
"Mojave Tortoise and the Egg Machine" by Frank Gunderloy Jr.
"A Politically Incorrect Bedtime Story" by Mark Fewell
"It's Been Seven Hours and Fifteen Days" by Michael Bracken
"For Whom the Bell Tingles" by Vera Searles
"Tiny Doll-Face" by Mattie Brahen
"Now Playing" by Christopher Stires
"Dead Meat" by Michael Bracken
"The Hard Landing" by Patrick Wilson

This is a transition issue, the magazine changing from Pirate Writings to Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, but the contents remind me of the ol' PW I used to read.

We start off with "Queen Bee" by Chris Bunch. Denise Roberts wakes up twelve thousand years in the future and is told by her abductors that she has a choice to make that will effect the entire history of mankind. But this is very much a Twilight Zone story, so things aren't quite as simple as the folks from the future would like. It'd work better on TV, too, 'cause, as short as it is, it still seems to lag in the middle as the folks from the future explain everything to us. A nice twist, but too long for what it is.

Next is "Aggressive Growth" by Ralph Gamelli. In the offices of Multiverse Investors, a trans-dimensional company that sells shares in planets and wormholes and like that, all the buzz is focusing on the sudden and phenomenal growth of this species of primates in the M7 universe on a planet called Earth. Nicely done, especially the way Gamelli makes his point without ever actually stating it. This'd also make a good Twilight Zone episode, now that I think about it.

A crime story follows: "Death Threat for a Hitman" by Gary Jonas. Our unnamed 1st person narrator, apparently a continuing character of Jonas's, hasn't made any money lately as a freelance hitman, so he takes a job in a convenience store. Very snappily written, full of patter and mean streets and all that crime story stuff, but, well, I don't much like crime stories. Well written, but not for me.

This being Pirate Writings, the Short-Short Section comes next. The first, "Mojave Tortoise and the Egg Machine" by Frank C. Gunderloy Jr., is my favorite. Three kids modify an E.E.G. machine and use it on their pet tortoise. Just plain fun. Mark Fewell's "A Politically Incorrect Bedtime Story" is a re-working of Cinderella, Michael Bracken's "It's Been Seven Hours and Fifteen Days" is about a man desperate to change his past–very dark, and I don't understand the title at all–and Vera Searles's "For Whom the Bell Tingles" is an odd piece about pheromones, spontaneous extinction, and marital infidelity–left me too many questions at the end.

"Tony Doll-Face" by Mattie Brahen has a woman finding out how controlling her soon-to-be mother-in-law is; "Now Playing" by Christopher Stires features a virtual reality film that leans more toward the real than the virtual; "Dead Meat," a second short-short by Michael Bracken, concerns an aspect of future law enforcement; and "The Hard Landing" by Patrick Wilson has the first manned expedition to Mars making a momentous discovery in an awful, awful way. These last three were pretty good, too.

Leaving the short-short section, we get "Pigskin in a Poke" by Andrew Burt. The Felthuranians have come as refugees to Earth–they're big, heavy, tree-like folks–and one of the young ones, attending high school in Texas, wants to join the football team. A good, solid, thoughtful story, quietly told by one of the men who'll have to make the decision.

Christopher Stires, who had a short-short above, returns with a full short story, "Sanctuary Defiled at Ananyas," featuring a character he's apparently written about before. Patrick Novarro is, for a variety of reasons, a demon hunter working for Heaven. So when a demon and an archangel direct him to the valley of Ananyas, he goes to see what's what. Well written with interesting characters and using various aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition to very good effect: my favorite story this issue.

Ralph Gamelli's second story comes next, "Playing Through." Mr. Wells gets up as he always does on the weekend, and heads out to play golf. But this isn't a typical weekend. A very quiet SF horror story. Good stuff.

David Bischoff's "The Clandestine Phallusy" is a short-short even though it isn't housed with the others. As the title suggests, it's a riff on the whole New-Age-secrets-revealed-in-ancient-manuscripts school of modern thought. Quick and funny.

The last story is "Warning, Warning" by Allen Steele, another one whose title gives a hint as to what it's about: a possible scientific explanation for the goings-on on one of TV's least scientific sci-fi shows. Quick and thoughtful.

A good issue all around. I've just subscribed to four of the five DNA Publications titles, so I look forward to reading the next issue of Fantastic.

Michael H. Payne also reviews novels on the SFWA web site: may not be the most imaginative of web addresses for it, but at least it's short. His novel The Blood Jaguar is still available from Tor Books should anyone be interested.