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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

OSC InterGalactic Medicine Show #30, Sept./Oct. 2012

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OSC's Intergalactic Medicine Show #30, Sept./Oct. 2012

 

“Sojourn for Ephah” by Marina Lostetter

“Dragonslayer” by Nathaniel Lee
“Write What You Want” by Eric James Stone
“Constance's Mask” by Nick T. Chan
“The Last God-Killer” by Grá Linnaea & Dave Raines

Reviewed by Barbara Melville

This issue of IGMS explores what we take at face value, with rich and penetrating themes of shallowness, disguise and deception. While one story didn’t grip me as much as the others, I found this to be a strong issue overall.

Marina J. Lostetter’s “Sojourn for Ephah” took time to grow on me, but I’m glad it did. Hours after putting it down, I continued to ponder its ideas. The narrator is Father Thomas, working in a cathedral on an alien world. The inciting incident is the appearance of an unearthly creature on the cathedral steps. When the creature claims to be its own creator, Thomas finds himself conflicted between the rules of his religion, his gut feelings and his urge to think critically.

The story plays with interesting themes surrounding how we acquire knowledge, such as how we grow and learn, and what we choose to hide from. Erudition, instinct and belief are all portrayed as valid modes of understanding. I was expecting one way of thinking or feeling to trump the others, and was relieved this wasn’t the case.

I also liked the descriptions of the creature, including the simple yet powerful, “Its face was like a child’s drawing – it showed a likeness of humanity without being human at all.” However, there are too many descriptions like this, diluting the effect. I’m also not sure first person is appropriate for this story, as it ends in a place Thomas can’t narrate from. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the premise, arch and ideas and hope to see more from Lostetter.

“Dragonslayer” by Nathaniel Lee was my least favourite of this issue. The story operates on reversals – there’s a dragon in the guise of a knight, and a knight in the guise of a dragon. That’s pretty much it. The writing is competent but not intelligent, and its ideas are not fully realized. As much as I love stories with symmetry, piles of expositional dialogue and various inconsistencies distract from its better points.

Eric James Stone’s “Write What You Want” is a mischievous slice of misdirection. A teenage girl enters a magic shop in the hope the owner will grant her a wish. But for this to allegedly work, she needs to write it down. As the girl hesitates in penning her desires, the narrative is interspersed with the various wants of previous customers, ranging from heartfelt needs to frivolous selfish urges.

This experimental narrative of weaving wishes is like a magic chant singing along with the story. But then this playful world plummets into reality – the girl’s request is something harrowing and unexpected. This was a masterstroke from Stone, making for a taut and clever tale.

“Constance's Mask” by Nick T. Chan is another good one, with its premise and themes built around deception and control. Lady Constance is an oppressed woman with a severe facial disfigurement, living with a husband who creates personas. These are magical scripts allowing actors to become possessed during their roles, removing the need for pretence. When Constance discovers her husband has betrayed her with their servant, she decides it’s time to use his writings to escape her miserable existence.

While I love the plot, there is a nagging downside. The story’s narration is a little bland and linear considering the rich ideas it contains. I was hoping for the narrative equivalent of the persona – a story which pulls me in, making me forget I’m reading text on a page. This story misses in this regard, due to too much telling rather than showing, and a rushed ending which belittles the story’s purpose. Nevertheless, its other merits make it a worthwhile read.

“The Last God-Killer” by Grá Linnaea & Dave Raines is the final story, reflecting sensibilities found throughout the issue. Set in space, the narrator is a human-like Recorder designed to chronicle the last god-killing. The story’s ideas surrounding divinity are rich and intelligent, but its narration impressed me most of all. The Recorder’s language constructs the world without reliance on exposition. The narration is warm and believable, never falling into the old trope of monotonous robotic discourse. This has been well crafted by its writers, and well placed by the editors. It mirrors the opening story well, and ends on a curious but unsettling note. The perfect end to a splendid issue.