Terra Incognita, Summer 1998

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"The NDE of Doctor Marceau" by Kandis Elliot
"Sharp Relief" by Christopher East
"Return from Exile" by Darrell Schweitzer
"Voivodoi" by E.H. Williams
"White Lies and Alibis" by John C. Waugh
"Angela" by Judy Klass
"Walt Whitman and the 65,536 Colors" by Eric Sonstroem

Issue #3 of Terra Incognita appeared on the stands over the Summer after a long absence, since mid-1997. Happily, the long vacation (caused by problems with TI's distributor) hasn't dimmed the editors sense of style. TI is a magazine specializing in fiction relating to the Earth as it will be in the near or distant future. The seven stories I read in this issue are a mixed bag built around that theme.

"Angela" by Judy Klass follows the short, unhappy life of Elaine, a futuristic version of today's white trash. The Earth is overcrowded, resources are tight and births are limited to one per couple. The result is that in some stratus of society, girl babies are murdered in secret to insure the birth of boys. Elaine is a blue collar worker living in a trailer with her male chauvinistic husband, Ed. When she gives birth to a girl, Ed forces her to kill and bury the child. Ironically, she finds herself barren thereafter, so she isn't able to provide Ed with his much-prized son. In the end, she is haunted by the ghost of her daughter as she is ravaged by disease. Sadly, this tale never connected for me. The author spends the first half summarizing Elaine's life in a blunt narration before allowing Elaine to tell us her story. Her pathos is the tale, so we are deprived of much as a result.

"Voiodoi" by E.H. Williams visits Eastern Europe in the near future still struggling with the collapse of communism. Teresa is a thirteen year old living with her family as they struggle to scratch out a living amidst the chaos left after the fall of the old order. Worse, the nearby biological production plant, now closed, has polluted the area with potent mutigens. These chemicals cause people to slowly change from human to something else, creatures out of ancient mythology. Teresa's brother, Roman, is so infected but the family and the community pretend otherwise. Eventually, Teresa assists Roman in making his escape. And there ends the story. An interesting tale, but I missed the point behind it.

"The Return from Exile" by Darrell Schweitzer is a retelling of the story of two minds battling for control in one body. The U.S. is a police state run by a CIA-like secret organization. One of the leaders, riddled with cancer, takes the body of an arch-terrorist via a brain transplant. But the agent finds the former occupant still knocking around in the basement. They battle for control, with a predictable result.

"Sharp Relief" by Christopher East follows Pete the former special forces soldier as he scrapes out a living. He's been wired by his former employer so his augmented senses can be used by others. But his augmented senses allow him to see EVERYTHING, the imperfections and rot that exist in everyone and everything. So he lives by renting his body and senses to others, for use in virtual sex or drug induced experiences. They can have the experience without endangering their own flesh. He's hired for corporate espionage, to record the layout of an office complex for use by a hit squad. The job goes as planned, but Pete realizes it was too easy. The answer is a real surprise, and Pete's salvation.

In "The NDE of Doctor Marceau" by Kandis Elliot, Dr. Marceau dies, but returns. In the time he's gone, he meets an angel/devil who gives him messages from beyond for a number of the living. After his return, Dr. Marceau dutifully relays his messages, with disastrous results for the recipients. He then prepares to present his final message to the world, the answer to everything.

The final tale, and the best, is "Walt Whitman and the 65,536 Colors" by Eric Sonstroem. The story is placed in a bleak future. Corporeal humans have become extinct, but virtual humans, existing within the world computer net, rule the world. One such entity, Pascal the artist, rediscovers Walt Whitman and his poetry about human experience. He contrives to hijack a mindless human body, used by the virtual beings for recreational purposes, and flees. The tale ends as Pascal begins to learn what it means to be human.

Overall, this was a fine edition of this magazine. Hopefully, we will see more issues more often.

Jim Reichert has been a reviewer for Tangent for the last year on such periodicals as Analog, Odyssey and Talebones. 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.