AndyHat (andyhat) wrote,

I had dinner at a friend's house last night, and ended up staying later than I should have, so it was almost 1am when I got to Charlotte. Thus the lack of a second update last night. But tonight, I get completely caught up on all my holiday reading!

  • Novelettes
    • Dedman, Stephen. "Fashion Victims". Borderlands #1.
      • Fashion designer Tony Anastasia has travelled to the moon to do a photo shoot with the moonborn beauties he's seen in some photos sent to a earth by one their colleagues. But then he's found dead, and the local administration has its first ever murder to investigate. This is a tightly plotted little mystery with a bunch of interesting characters, and a good bit of satirizing of the fashion industry. A fun and enjoyable story.
    • Morressy, John. "The Artificer's Tale". F&SF 10-11/03.
      • This is a version of the life of Daedalus after his son Icarus is killed in their (literal) flight from Minos. After several years of travelling the Greek islands, he finally settles in Sicily, where he hopes to remain in anonymity and thereby avoid the notice of Minos. This is nicely written story that neatly integrates the themes and ideals of Greek mythology into its original plot.
    • Sherman, Delia. "Cotillion". Firebirds.
      • At her coming-out debutante ball, Celia meets Valentine, one of the few people (in the world of the 1960's) to share her interest in early music; he's a lutenist in an early music ensemble. He invites her to come listen to a rehearsal of his group, but it turns out that Valentine and his fellow musicians are not quite what they seem. The plot will be fairly familiar to anyone who's read much urban fantasy, and since I couldn't get over the feeling that Celia was basically just a spoiled brat, I thought this was only a so-so story.
    • Smith, Sherwood. "Beauty". Firebirds.
      • Elestra is a princess, but unlike her gorgeous siblings, she's quite plain looking. However, when she is kidnapped by an old enemy of the family, she'll have a chance to learn that there really is more to beauty than physical appearances. The moral of the story may be a bit obvious, but the plotting is nicely done and Elestra turns out to be a very pleasant person once she learns to stop obsessing about her appearance. By the end, I enjoyed this story more than I'd expected based on Elestra's whining in the first few pages.
    • Turner, Megan Whalen. "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box". Firebirds.
      • The Elliotville Bank advertises, "Your treasure will be safe with us," but they didn't really expect somebody to leave a baby in the night deposit box for safekeeping. Nevertheless, the bank staff take their charge seriously and Penny, as they name the baby, grows up at the bank, happy and safe from the clutches of Child Protective Services. While the ending comes as no surprise, the extremely likable characters of Penny, Homer, the bank manager, and his wife, make this an endearing story.
  • Short Stories
    • Arruin, Alexandra Merry. "The Raptures of Ravivaloo". Descant #122.
      • In an alternate North America, Necrocorp, an alliance of necromancers and scientists, has the ability to resurrect the dead, a fact which has severely undermined traditional religion. Inspector Loo works for the Insurance Division, where she is charged with investigating cases where a resurrected person goes insane to determine the cause of the psychosis and protect Necrocorp from liability for an improperly conducted resurrection. In this story, she's investigating the murder of a Revivalist pastor, who was apparently killed by his deranged resurrected wife. However, Loo digs deeper and discovers that it's all part of a bizarre conspiracy. Loo is an interesting character, and this story maintains a nice noir atmosphere in its unusual setting. However, given the strangeness of the setting, the story needs a bit more clarity in its plotting; there were several aspects of the plot that I simply couldn't figure out, especially regarding the ending. In the end, I didn't enjoy the story as much as I'd expected based on the promising start.
    • Barwin, Gary. "Click". Descant #122.
      • Henry is dead, but he finds he can still have some influence on the world as he watches over his wife. This story is only a page long, but it does a wonderful job of capturing Henry's joy at one last dance with his beloved wife.
    • Battersby, Lee. "Through Soft Air". Borderlands #1.
      • Geoff, now an aging grandfather, is the lone survivor of his squad's charge out of the trench across No Man's Land. But now he's haunted by the ghosts of his squadmates, who found themselves in hell, forced to relive their last charge over and over. This is a superbly written and frightening ghost story, with a final twist that makes it even more terrifying. I loved it.
    • Biancotti, Deborah. "Distance Keeper". Borderlands #1.
      • Tony is convinced that distances on earth are getting longer, but his friends don't believe him. Everyone is distracted by the mere act of surviving in the heat and drought, until the story culminates in a frightening dreamlike scene. This story evokes "heat" as few stories do; you can almost feel the stifling atmosphere in which the characters are struggling. However, I thought the story was weakened by its failure to provide any sort of plausible explanation for Tony's observations of an expanding earth.
    • Borneman, John. "Dr. Susan Lee Research Notes: Leopolda's Song". Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 2/03.
      • This is a short satirical biography of the Solar System's first Poet Laureate, Leopolda Xiang, whose every mundane utterance is elevated to the status of great poetry. I got some good chuckles from this one.
    • Brown, Simon. "Ring Ring!". Borderlands #1.
      • Frederick's brother is dead, but Frederick is an idiot savant, and the detectives don't really believe him when he says his brother was killed by something from the universe at right angles to this one. And so a demonstration is needed. This is a fairly humorous story about a truly horrific misunderstanding.
    • Brown, Simon. "Sister". Borderlands #2.
      • Ken was abused by his father. After years of praying, his father was finally killed in his sleep by the bite of a huntsman spider. Now the spiders share his home, awaiting payment for their service. I made the mistake of reading this right before bed; I don't usually think about spiders, but this story definitely made it tough to fall asleep. So as a horror story, I'd have to say this one thoroughly succeeds.
    • Cupitt, Cathy. "Heat Seeking". Borderlands #1.
      • Our narrator comes to the aid of a woman who has just been raped, dropping her off at the ER. But it's the fourth time this month that she's dropped women off, and when she's recognized she's forced to flee to another town rather than try to explain. For the narrator, her mysterious power to aid helpless women is something of a curse. This is a tightly written story which leaves one feeling grateful not to possess the sorts of powers its narrator has.
    • Dartnall, Dr. Terry. "Baa Humbug". Oceans of the Mind #10.
      • Australia is being overrun by vicious killers; cyanide and starvation don't seem to reduce their breeding, and people just can't bring themselves to kill them. A short-short entirely dependent on the final paragraph for its humor. Amusing so long as you don't guess the joke too early.
    • Franklin, Bob. "Worth". Borderlands #2.
      • Helen's mother was a hippie, persecuted by the smalltown, small-minded townspeople of Worth, and finally locked up while Helen was sent off to live with her grandparents. As a government official, she helped to destroy the town of Worth as its industry died, but now it's the only town near the cabin where she and her lover are vacationing, and she needs to get some rolling papers and milk. But the ghosts of the townspeople are out for revenge for her destruction of their livelihood. This is a rather creepy little story, nicely evoking the disturbing atmosphere of a deserted town at night.
    • Harland, Richard. "The Purgatory Machine". Borderlands #2.
      • The Purgatory machine permits wrongdoers to experience their crimes from their victim's perspective, and its operator is thrilled to have a chance to show off how it works to a representative of the new government. This is a fairly interesting idea, and the story does a nice job of playing with the ethics of this form of punishment, but the middle part of the story does bog down somewhat
    • Laharnar, Wendy. "Bianca's Birthday Present". Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 2/03.
      • Bianca and her husband Derek are "supremos", genetically engineered humans who are supposed to have perfect personalities, devoid of any unhealthy emotions or curiosity. But Bianca occasionally slips, wondering if the modern world, in which there are no more trees and in which the vast majority live as Underlings in the sunless apartment blocks beneath the beautiful homes of the Supremos, is really the best possible world. Bianca is a very likable character, and Derek, who initially comes off as a bit of a jerk, turns out to be quite sympathetic as well. The plot is a bit on the obvious side, but this is still an enjoyable story.
    • McBride, Sally. "Szabra's Souls". Descant #122.
      • Mirna Carr has completed her doctorate in Theology, but before going off to save the universe, she must take Szabra's test. Szabra was a queen, but she is now the last of her kind, living out her life as the Queen of the Dead on the planet Chaik. Her test will challenge Mirna's conceptions of souls and God, even as the test itself cannot be successfully passed. This is more a theological and philosophical meditation with a veneer of story, but it was still quite an interesting read.
    • McKenzie, Chuck. "Predatory Instinct". Borderlands #2.
      • It can perfectly mimic its prey, passing for human as it checks into Mrs. Titmangel's bread and breakfast. It expects to have no trouble feeding at night while passing for human by day, but Mrs. Titmangel begins to suspect it's up to no good. Not the most original plot, but this is nicely written, and Mrs. Titmangel is a delightful character.
    • Spencer, Hugh A. D. "The Hospital for Sick Robots". Descant #122.
      • Billy is an amnesiac robotic soldier, currently in a hospital for sick robots as he recovers from his injuries after participating in an attack against the enemy. Or at least, those are the terms in which Billy describes things, but it becomes clear he's not the most reliable narrator. This is a story that definitely has to be read twice in order to fully understand what's going on, but I found the second reading quite enjoyable.
    • Thornton, Alinta. "The Collector". Borderlands #2.
      • Virdan is a "collector", someone who captures the songs of a Songbird, keeping them hidden away in a collecting jar in a vault where only he can listen to them and deny the rest of the world the opportunity to hear the song. Mara is one of the most famous Songbirds, and Hom has guaranteed her safety when she sings in his club. Nevertheless, Virdan successfully collects her most precious song. But Hom and Mara will have their revenge. This is a very nicely done story. Mara and Hom are wonderfully developed characters, and the nature of their revenge is perfect.
    • Wodhams, Jack. "Side Effects". Oceans of the Mind #10.
      • Teri Molton has been running an experiment to create a Superman by splicing various animal traits onto a human: sense of direction from pigeons, hearing from bats, vision from eagles, etc. However, each improvement also comes with side effects for the subject. The story is arranged as an interview between Teri and Hadbrant, an accountant who wants to cut the project's funding. It's a reasonably amusing premise, but the interview format drags things out far too long.

Outside SF, I also read two issues of One Story. Issue #29 featured "Dreaming of You" by Matthew Purdy, in which the Atlantic seaboard is flooding, and despite the chaos of evacuation, our 12-year-old narrator's thoughts mostly turn to his first crush, Emily. Simultaneous cute and tragic, this is an enjoyable story. Issue #30 was "Selling the Apartment" by Danit Brown. The protagonist decides to return to her birthplace of Israel, where she moves into the apartment which her parents still own. But after living there a couple years, she becomes disillusioned and decides to move back to the US, a decision which turns out to be harder for her parents than for her. This could be a good story, but it's written in second person, which is just plain silly for a story with such a strongly identified protagonist, and it completely ruins the effect.

Finally, since one can't live on short stories alone, I read one novel, Lust by Geoff Ryman (Flamingo 2001). Michael is starting a new job running his own research lab. But even as he achieves professional success, his 15-year relationship with his partner Phil is on the verge of falling apart. One night, Michael discovers that he has the power to summon copies of people, who he can then mentally command to do whatever he wants. As a scientist, he carefully experiments to convince himself of the reality of this ability as well as to find his power's limits. Thus he discovers that he can only summon people to whom he is attracted in some way (he cannot summon Gandhi); he can summon dead people; he can summon fictional characters; knowing that he cannot contract AIDS from the copies is not sufficient to cure his impotence, but Viagra does the trick; the real person whose copy he produces is vaguely aware of the copy's activities, but only as if in a dream; and, perhaps most importantly, nothing the copies do can have a lasting effect on the world. Only Michael remembers that they ever existed. And that's just part one. Having throughly established the nature of Michael's power, Ryman moves onto the main plot, as Michael is forced to reassess his real-world relationships in light of what he learns in his time with the copies he creates. Before long, Phil leaves him for another lover, but Michael believes that's best for both of them. Once he's alone, Michael can confront the unpleasant traumas in his past as a gay teenager whose father rejected him. Keeping the overall mood light as the novel moves through these darker chapters are hilarious romps with Pablo Picasso, Billie Holiday and Lawrence of Arabia. Ryman does a brilliant job developing the novel's multitude of characters, though many of them only get a few pages before Michael wishes them out of existence. Michael's relationships with Phil, with Henry (Phil's new lover, and, as a copy, Michael's confidante), with his parents, and with his coworkers are all thoroughly explored and developed in interesting ways. As one can guess from the title, Lust contains a plethora of sex scenes, which Ryman writes quite skillfully, but most importantly, they almost always serve to advance the plot or develop some aspect of Michael's personality. And in the end, everything comes to a happy and satisfying conclusion. Overall, a very enjoyable book.


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