Tag Archives: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Re: Will You Be An Astronaut?

In New Skies, there are a fair number of classics which are heavily anthologized elsewhere, such as “Out of All Them Bright Stars” and “They’re Made Out of Meat“. Most of the stories seem to be directed at young people who haven’t read science fiction before. I think if that were the case for me, I would have liked better the one about the woman who walked around the Moon, or the one about the guy fighting his way down and up an immense, city-like tower. But what led me to look for this collection was a wonderfully creepy reading on Escape Pod of  “Will You Be An Astronaut?,” by Greg Van Eekhout. This story takes the whole idea of a science fiction for young people in a whole, weird direction.

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Re: Out of All Them Bright Stars

In “Out of All Them Bright Stars,” by Nancy Kress, it’s the end of the night, and Sally Gourley is filling up the catsup bottles when an alien walks into the diner.

I know right away it’s one of them — no chance to make a mistake about that — even though it’s got on a nice-cut suit and a brim hat like Humphrey Bogart used to wear in Casablanca.”

The story maintains her voice wonderfully, and vividly shows us the diner Sally works in. And then it hits you with a huge sucker punch at the end. If you don’t want spoilers, go find one of many collections it’s in and read it before going on.

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Re: The Political Prisoner

In a moody story of an internal spy caught in the sweep of a coup, “The Political Prisoner,” by Charles Coleman Finlay is so dominated by betrayals, interrogations, and imprisonment, it’s easy to lose track of the setting: a planet where the terraforming is going slower than hoped and religion seems to be the main force keeping society together. Maxim Nikomedes begins the story under arrest. During the course of the opening pages, he recounts history that was too complicated for me to understand except to acknowledge that it was going to be a spy story. I was absorbed by his deepening predicament. Despite attempts to escape the sweep, and despite repeated acts that have effect only through persistance, he is mired (eventually literally) in the muck of despair. Bused out to the edge of the living world, Max is put to hard labor terraforming the dirt with his bare hands. Which leaves me thinking that forcing prisoners to do the dirty work might have something to do with why the terraforming isn’t going so well.
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Re: The Twilight Year

After enjoying “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” and “Pride and Prometheus,” I kept flipping through that same issue of F&SF and got caught up in “The Twilight Year,” by Sean McMullen. It begins in Britain long after the Romans have left little behind but ruins. The narrator is a bard who seems to have an effect on his host, the priest of a small shrine, similar to the effect of Lefty the Cowboy or Cacafonix the Bard. A third man, Valcian, abruptly joins them. Both challenge the verity of the narrator’s favorite ballads. To which he responds:

“If my ballad says that Arturian won, then Arturian won,” I said firmly. “Some people do not appreciate poetic license.”

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Re: Pride and Prometheus

In a double pastiche of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, John Kessel‘s “Pride and Prometheus” introduces Mary Bennett to Viktor Frankenstein. Being a tortured romantic hero,  Viktor fits neatly into Mary’s world, seeming at first merely to be a moody, intelligent young man who is unaccountably intrigued by what Mary’s interest in natural philosophy. But we know what he’s really done. Bwa-ha-ha, indeed.

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Re: The Ray-Gun: A Love Story

From the opening, “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story“, by James Alan Gardner made me smile. In storybook prose it tells of a ray-gun and the boy who found it. I most enjoyed the flashes of humor in lines like:

No one on Earth noticed–not even the shamans who thought dots in the sky were important.

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Re: If Angels Fight

Living near Boston means I hear more than enough about the Irish in Boston, the Kennedys in Boston, and crony politics in Boston. Thus when I meet with these Boston tropes in fiction, my resistance goes way up. In this case, I simply could not fight my way past my prejudices. I will have to leave to others the pleasure of reading If Angels Fight, by Richard Bowes, which I believe contains a poignant story about a lost boy and his guardian angel.

For a SF story set in Boston that’s more to my taste, I choose Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson. (Preemptive further reading!)

Re: Kaleidoscope

In “Kaleidoscope,” by K.D. Wentworth, Ally finds herself caught in a kaleidoscope of possible worlds. In some she returns a stray dog to its home. In others, it gets run over. In some her friends are married and thriving. In others they’re in various stages of breakup. And in some, she just might find her true love.

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Re: Mars: A Traveler’s Guide

Mars, A Traveler’s Guide,” by Ruth Nestvold is pretty dark. Funny, but dark. You realize quickly that you are reading the data feed from an online help system. The unseen human is stranded with no better help than a wiki.  It reminds me of the old Bob Newhart routines, where he used to tell stories from one side of a phone conversation. Here, you follow what happens through what queries are being made. Or not made.

Re: The Tomb Wife

In “The Tomb Wife,” by Gwyneth Jones, Elen is the Navigator of a small crew of humans and a guest alien on a starship transporting ancient artifacts. The alien, Sigurt, is the most distinctive character. The story opens with him messing with them about the nature of one of the artifacts, claiming that it’s haunted by a Tomb Wife. He’s generally good humored, and even accepts being tweaked back. Elen is equally preoccupied by keeping their journey on track and speculating about the nature of the ghost. When she begins exploring the tomb, things gets interesting.

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