Terra Incognita, Summer 2000

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"The Square Hills" by H. Courreges LeBlanc
"The Daddy's Little Helper" by L. Timmel Duchamp
"Alien Fantasies" by Paul Melko
"They're Not Coming Home" by David J. Hoffman-Dachelet
"Silence at the Fall of Night" by D. A. Houdek
"Rewind" by Mary Soon Lee
"Sync Pulse" by Michael Ford

Terra Incognita returns with a second issue for 2000, which I hope presages a return to a fairly regular publication schedule. As ever, the magazine features SF stories set on Earth, but solidly science fictional.

Of late Terra Incognita has managed to feature one pretty impressive story, and a few more that are decent, but just miss. In this issue I had a sense of neat ideas being introduced, but not quite resolved. Or perhaps to state things more fairly, the stories in question have a narrower focus, or a different objective, than I might have hoped.

The issue opens with a short story by H. Courreges LeBlanc, "The Square Hills". It's set in New Orleans in the fairly near future, when the city has flooded (due to global warming, I presume, though we are not told). The POV character is a musicologist named Ignatius, who plans to dive into the old record stores of the city in search of rare early blues records. But an encounter with an orphan boy, and what he finds instead of (or in addition to) the old records teaches him what is really of value. This is nicely done, though fairly minor.

L Timmel Duchamp is always interesting, always provocative, one of the most exciting writers to emerge in the past decade. But I found "The Daddy's Little Helper" disappointing. The title character is a woman who can dream other people's dreams. She lives with her father (her mother was an anonymous egg donor), who uses her ability rather pettily: to help him win advertising contracts. I think that's most of what I found disappointing: the central SF idea is underutilized. The main character is and her relationship with her father are well depicted, and the story is told well and comes to a reasonable conclusion, but there wasn't enough meat at the center for me.

Paul Melko's "Alien Fantasies" is a fairly slight short story about a woman who hopes that the aliens who are visiting the Earth will take her away, free her from her mundane life: her young daughter, her problems with the girl's father, her job. It's told in a breezy manner, and makes a slight but sound point in its brief length.

One of the stranger stories here is "They're Not Coming Home" by David J. Hoffman-Dachelet. In a way, very little happens in the story: a boy notices his family cows behaving strangely, and he and his father end up following the cows (everybody's cows, it soon seems) as they inexorably make their way over the highway to a meat packing plant, I suppose in protest, though that's not made clear. The story reads well, and the boy and his relationship with his family are nice people warmly portrayed, and I was quite involved … but I got the feeling that the author had this idea, and played it out as far as he could, and couldn't really resolve it. So it all ends quite flatly. Still, an interesting effort.

"Silence at the Fall of Night" by D. A. Houdek has an old-fashioned seeming setup: a woman is manning an orbital station, for the US (it seems). There is a Russian man on the only other manned station, and the Earth seems to be dead, presumably after a nuclear war. The Russian keeps trying to communicate with her, but she doesn't trust him. I found a lot of the setup unconvincing, and the resolution a bit trite, but some of the details of the growing relationship were nicely handled.

The prolific short story writer Mary Soon Lee shows up with "Rewind", a pretty good piece about the wife of a newly dead man. Details slowly build about their relationship: he had several wives, and he was very rich, and they all look like some ideal woman he was trying to create. Add in a certain kinkiness, and the interesting technological detail he used to "create" his wives … it's interesting stuff, odd, and a bit disturbing.

And finally we come to Michael Ford's "Sync Pulse". This was my favorite story. It's based on an interesting and scary SFnal idea: in what seems to be a slightly alternate history (or possibly the future, though that doesn't seem right to me), a war is being fought between the U. S. and China (with other combatants). The twist is that many of the "soldiers" are animals, particularly chimps, gorillas, and dogs, who are turned into "zombies" by an implanted chip, and who are then operated remotely. The story centers on Mary, an operator for a group of gorillas. The "zombie" technology, used on animals, implies an even scarier possibility, and Ford isn't afraid to let that other shoe drop. This is a rather dark piece, with plenty of action, but more importantly a depressing and scary idea at its core. Very solid work.

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the sf and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13.) Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in the St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. His home page is at www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.