This month’s lead novella is ‘Bartleby The Scavenger’ by Katie Boyer. As ‘Bartleby The Scrivener’ by Herman Melville is one of my favourite classic stories, I was intrigued by the title. This is set in the USA after a disaster of some sort. Bombs were dropped and the small town of Brook has withdrawn into itself and been taken over by Mayor Peighton, a beautiful, ruthless woman who demands productivity from everyone. The narrator gets a job as a scavenger and is soon leading a team. The eponymous hero doesn’t appear until you’re 22% into the story (accurate these e-readers). His catchphrase is ‘I’m good, man’ rather than the ‘I would prefer not to’ of his classical equivalent but his lack of enthusiasm for work is the same. Starting with a title is a quirky way of constructing stories, though Philip Jose Farmer had fun with it. Katie Boyer made a good job out of this one.
‘The End Of The Silk Road’ is a novelette. Private investigator Mike Drayton is hired by Victor Grossman, head of Superior Silk, to investigate a drug dealer who has turned his brother into a heavily indebted junkie. The twist is that Superior Silk is located on Venus and the drug dealer is a ‘froggie’ or native Venusian called Uluugan Ugulma and the drug is Ulka, also Venusian. Mike travels from Earth to Venus by airship through the interplanetary atmosphere. David D. Levine’s story uses the hard-boiled private detective plot framework and narrative style in an interesting new world. Obviously, blondes are involved, too. It was clever, fast-paced and very enjoyable.
‘Rooksnight’ by Marc Laidlaw is another novelette featuring the bard with a stone hand and the gargoyle with a fleshy one, their respective appendages having been exchanged by a sorcerer. Gorlen and Spar have teamed up to search for him but they encounter various other troubles in their wandering. This time it’s the Knights of Reclamation, followers of a vanished lord who had a great treasure ages ago which was lost and scattered around the world. The Knights’ mission is to recover this treasure so that the lord will come back in some way. The presumption is that any treasure they come across is theirs. Clearly they were the merchant bankers of their day. A crowd of rooks have a fortress full of jewels and the Knights need the gargoyle to get them through its various dangers. Inventive and quietly witty, this was not quite as enjoyable as the previous tale featuring these heroes but it was certainly good.
‘Containment Zone: A Seasted Story’ is a novelette by Naomi Kritzer. The series must be popular enough now to put the brand name in the title. Hardly surprising as the episodes are very readable and cover interesting themes. The Seasted is a man-made archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, west of California. Kritzer writes lively, dialogue heavy prose in a conversational style similar to that of Robert Heinlein. One character is accused of yammering! Meaningless talk. The themes of ruthless capitalism, extreme libertarianism and the struggles of the poor workers are relevant to our times. My impression is that Kritzer is more on the side of the workers than the late Robert Heinlein, though the early Robert Heinlein was a different matter. Our hero is Beck Garrison, a young lady blessed with a rich and powerful father but cursed by a conscience. This yarn about a plague unleashed on the Seasted was not the best of them but it was entertaining. Indubitably, they will one day be collected into a book.
On to the short stories and beginners first. Alyssa Wong is a talented graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy and ‘The Fisher Queen’ is her first published story. It’s well told and one is always glad to welcome fresh talent to the genre. Unfortunately, and the fault is mine, this yarn about dubious relations between seamen and mermaids made me think of Troy McClure and ‘The Simpsons’ episode ‘A Fish Called Selma’ so I couldn’t take it seriously. Other readers may get more from it, I hope.
‘White Curtain’ is a translation from the Russian of a story by Pavel Amnuel and deals with multiple realities created each time we make a choice. Two learned gentleman in this field were both mad for the same woman and one was jilted. A very moving story about true love and it’s always nice to see foreign Science Fiction stories and widen our horizons.
‘The Memory Cage’ by Tim Sullivan proposes that, by a trick of quantum physics, it may be possible to collate old particles together and form a kind of ghost of a dead person, to whom the living can talk. Our hero, Jim, has issues with his late father who bought him up to be a ‘real’ man. Following this ethos, his brother went to war and died. The setting is a believable future with research stations on Titan, oligarchs, terrorists, sex change for the fun of it and long life due to advances in medical science. The problem is as old as man. ‘They f**k you up your mum and dad’ as Phillip Larkin pointed out.
‘The Shadow In The Corner’ is an excellent homage to an old master of dark fantasy. Our narrator, Arnold Boatwright, is a scientist working at the famous Miskatonic University. With his colleague, Agrawal Narendra, he hopes to create a window to look into other worlds. Obviously, the past talk of ‘elder things’ is not a concern to serious scientists until…! Nobody modern could duplicate Lovecraft’s prose – we don’t have the same education – but Jonathan Andrew Sheen captures the spirit of that old master in a tale of true terror. Great stuff.
In ‘Plumage From Pegasus’, this issue an NSA man is involved in Operation Nudge’em. The secret service hopes to influence the masses by popular fiction. This has happened in the past accidentally, with ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and some works of Dickens but doing it deliberately isn‘t going so well. Paul Di Filippo’s pieces usually have a serious point to make. No hint of that in ‘Presidential Cryptotrivia’, a spoof historical article by the always amusing Oliver Buckram. Good fun but not really a story, this alternative view of the US Presidency might have been written by Gore Vidal when he was drunk.
Along with the usual interesting non-fiction and book reviews, this collection of stories adds up to another good issue of that venerable publication, ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
check out website: www.fandsf.com