AndyHat (andyhat) wrote,
AndyHat
andyhat

I had a very pleasant Christmas, both in Milwaukee and back home in Raleigh. My big present was an iRiver IHP-120 multi-codec jukebox, which will be quite useful when travelling. The big advantage of the iRiver over an iPod, is, of course, support for the Ogg Vorbis format, which is sonically superior to mp3, and free of any silly patent encumbrances.

The one annoying part of the holiday was a persistent cold that I picked up on Friday, just before the holiday. Hence the lack of updates here; I didn't feel like writing anything. However, it did give me an excuse to turn my brain off and go watch movies, which means I've now seen Return of the King three times. I also watched Stuck on You, The Station Agent, and Lost in Translation.

And, of course, I did get some reading done. I'm still behind on writing up my impressions, but here's part one of my holiday reading:

  • Novelettes
    • Shepard, Lucius. "The Same Old Story". Polyphony 2.
      • Starting out, this does feel like the same old story from Shepard, with the usual expatriate heavy-drinking white guy living in a third-world village feeling guilty about his past. In this case, Pete is a former US soldier living in Honduras, where he was based for several years during his service and participated in various atrocities led by his captain, Munoz. He seems to have suppressed the memory of many of the details, but as he hops from bar to bar his memories start to come back, reminding him of the terrible things he did. And then the final twist comes along, giving the whole story a breath of originality that makes it much more than the same old story. Pete is definitely not a likeable guy; he's a drunk who corners fellow bar patrons to tell them stories they've all heard before. And yet, one has to feel sorry for him and his pathetic life, destroyed by forces he was simply too weak to fight. The story's a bit slow to get started, but once it does, it turns out to be quite good.
    • Swenson, Honna. "Animal Attributes". Polyphony 2.
      • Mitchell is a doctor specializing in grafting animal attributes onto humans. It's a high-risk procedure, however, and he still grieves for one patient whose body rejected its implanted wings, resulting in her death. But then he meets Katy, who claims that the physical attributes can only be accepted by someone whose soul still possesses the instincts of a wild animal; she wants to be modified with cat-like attributes and is quite sure the operation will be successful. The story is obviously about the lengths to which people will go to conform to some societal standard of beauty; non-functional wings have no purpose other than showing off to rich friends. The story is fairly well-written, though the logic of the plot becomes rather bizarre and almost dreamlike, which is a bit odd in juxtaposition with the harder scientific presentation of the body modifications.
  • Short Stories
    • Anderson, Barth. "Scrapbook for an Epidemic". Flytrap 11/03.
      • The publishing industry is threatened by the Doubleday-Moses virus, which causes writers to gradually lose the ability to communicate with any uninfected person. Dr. Theodore Grolier volunteers for the Mission for Purity projects, keeping an eye on GIG Magazine (at which his brother Oscar happens to work) for any signs of infection in its staff. After some false alarms related to his lack of knowledge of current hip slang, the infection does show up. Even as Oscar is overcome by the disease, the experience allows Theodore and him to remember and enjoy their shared past after years of growing apart. In summary, the plot sounds somewhat depressing, but the story itself is actually quite humorous; I found myself laughing several times. Nicely drawn characters, a tight plot, and good humor make this the best story of Flytrap's generally impressive debut issue.
    • Bernobich, Beth. "Chrysalide". Polyphony 2.
      • Claudette is a portrait painter whose brilliant work has found her a place in the royal court, commissioned to do portraits of royalty. However, her genius has the inevitable dark side, which leads to a quandary as she paints the new Duchess; to save her farm and her son's livelihood, she needs the money she will receive for a masterpiece, but she is reluctant to extract the price required from the Duchess. The plot isn't the most original, but I loved the characters, and was sufficiently carried away by the story that I enjoyed it anyways.
    • Dann, Jack. "The Hanging". Polyphony 2.
      • The narrator, an author, travels from Australia to New York to be with an old friend whose estranged son has just committed suicide. They reminisce a bit, attend the funeral, and the narrator returns home. A rather depressing character study, though the lack of any real plot or closure was annoying.
    • Edson, Gabriel. "Rain". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Her lover comes to her in the summer storm, they make love as the storm rages, and he disappears as the thunder rolls away. Well-written, but ultimately, it struck me as not much more than a rather flimsy excuse for a standalone sex scene.
    • Emshwiller, Carol. "Coo People". Polyphony 2.
      • The narrator claims to be from a race which is generally indistinguishable from humanity except for a few traits, most notable the ability to briefly levitate. But she has made the mistake of falling in love with a normal man. He's the sort who takes vacations to join mountain rescue teams, so she contrives to get lost on a mountain so he will have to rescue her. Of course things go awry when she meets another of her kind living as a hermit on the mountain. This starts off as a rather cute, gentle story about being different in human society, but with a surprisingly violent turn at the end. I liked the first half of the story quite a bit, but I thought the characters' dark sides, revealed in the second half, were unnecessarily extreme.
    • Goss, Theodora. "Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold". Polyphony 2.
      • Professor Berkowitz, a professor of comparative literature coming up for tenure, finds himself on a beach in his pajamas. There he meets Eugène Valentin, a long-dead French artist. Then a ship shows up and they sail to another island, where they are told that they are at the Threshold, which they may pass through if they pass the test. Goss nicely evokes a surreal, dream-like atmosphere in which Berkowitz will be challenged to accept the creativity of an artist or the mundane but safe life of the professor.
    • Groppi, Susan Marie. "Ladybug Summer". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Two or three years out of college, old friends are starting to worry about their futures and getting married, and beginning to have doubts about the future. Anna and Dan (or maybe Dave) meet, and Anna considers whether a relationship is worth the risk. The story has some nice metaphoric images. For its length, it also does a surprisingly good job of sketching its characters, but there's definitely not much plot.
    • Irvine, Alex. "The Uterus Garden". Polyphony 2.
      • In 2041, 73% of women in the west are infertile from unknown causes. Henry and Julia want a child - a white child - but they can only afford an African child who will be subjected to cosmetic surgery to make him appear white. But then, they meet Denise. She's pregnant, and has just escaped from a medical facility where she and several other women were apparently kept sedated for the purpose of bearing children for those privileged few who can afford white babies. Obviously, this story is rather heavyhanded on the political and social commentary. But the characters are sympathetic enough and the plot interesting enough and, even more importantly, believable enough that the story is not overwhelmed by the politics. I quite enjoyed it.
    • James, Derek. "Carving". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Jeb Seaver receives a pocketknife for his birthday. With it, he can carve remarkable likenesses of other people, but the subjects of his carving inevitably die shortly after he completes the carving. A nicely done story with a an endearingly sentimental ending.
    • Jasper, Michael. "Never, Incorporated". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Little Adolf runs Better Late Than Never, Inc., offering people the chance to make up for missed opportunities at a price. A humorous though not particularly original take on the old Faustain bargain.
    • Lake, Jay. "Like Cherries in the Dark". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Earl finds a dead angel in the front yard. It disappears in the end, but teaches Earl a lesson about human nature. A very nicely done little story, with some truly memorable images.
    • Larsen, Jen. "A Shifting in Dust". Flytrap 11/03.
      • A concise retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, with a focus on the abandonment and decay of the castle and physical body of the sleeping princess before she is awakened. Lushly written, but otherwise not particularly engaging.
    • Maloney, Geoffrey. "Bush of Ghosts". Tales from the Crypto-System.
      • In an alternate history in which (apparently) Germany and Britain allied and prevented World War II, and in which German policies of racial purity were adopted throughout Europe, our narrator is a terrorist, bombing buildings (though not killing anybody) to protest the government's policies and wars. His cover is conveniently provided by his employment by Martin Fawkes, one of the founders of the current system of government. But Martin has now applied for permission to travel to the Mars colony, and the government doesn't want him to go. I'm not usually a big fan of alternate histories, but I quite enjoyed this one. The characters are quite interesting, and the whirlwind plot is a lot of fun.
    • Maloney, Geoffrey. "A Colombian Breakfast". Tales from the Crypto-System.
      • Our narrator's sister has come to visit after leaving her husband. Brother Rodney comes over because he needs money to pay a gambling debt. And then this rather short story takes an odd twist. Well-done and amusing for what it is, but too short to really develop the characters or plot.
    • Maloney, Geoffrey. "A Very Long War". Tales from the Crypto-System.
      • Peter Stursky is minister of foreign affairs in a country which has been at war with Novidia for 20 years. He favors peace, and is soon to be forced out of his job by those who would prefer to see war continue. However, Peter has had contact with an "eidolon", a mysterious visitor who appears in his world and let him know that the war is simply the result of the machinations of the AI which runs their world. Of course, things turn out to be somewhat more complicated than that (Maloney is not simply ripping off The Matrix). This is another excellent story from Maloney.
    • Reese, Jenn. "Spidergirl". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Spidergirl has lost her legs and had them replaced by a framework of eight artificial limbs. Does a nice job of capturing the joy and novelty of the artificial enhancement, but the plot involving rescuing a boy who gets into danger seems a bit forced.
    • Sumner-Smith, Karina. "She Is Elizabeth Lynn Rhodea". Flytrap 11/03.
      • Elizabeth Lynn Rhodea disappeared two years ago, and now she has returned to her husband and her old home with no memory of the time. She tries to reclaim her old identity but discovers that it is not so easy to return to her old life after everyone else has moved on. A nice idea, but the characterization of Elizabeth felt oddly detached to me, so I didn't really care about her plight.
    • van Eekhout, Greg. "Fishing, I Go Among Them". Flytrap 11/03.
      • The hangman meets with the doomed man the night before the hanging to discuss the techniques of hanging. An amusing story with an interesting twist partway through, concerning the soul-destroying nature of the executioner's job.
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