Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
Issue 32 of IGMS boasts a wide variety of entertaining stories, from fantasy bordering on horror to straight up comedic science fiction.
“The Temple's Posthole” by M.K. Hutchins takes place in a fantasy world where building posts retain a portion of the magic used in that building throughout its history. Magic scavengers Ayin and her son, Tzi, dig up the postholes of old buildings for a living while Ayin's husband is away on a job with a caravan, but unfortunately most scavenging sites have already been picked clean, leaving only the most dangerous ruins. At the opening of the story, Ayin and Tzi learn that Ayin has contracted a fatal lung disease from their last job, and they do not have enough coin to purchase her healing. When Lord Yuknoom requests Ayin's services in locating a legendarily dangerous temple, Ayin finds herself with little choice but to acquiesce, breaking a promise to her dead grandmother as she drags Tzi along on her forced adventure.
The straightforward life-and-death stakes do this story well and leave room for Hutchins to explain the unique magic system, which is integral to the plot. But what I love the most is that the story still centers around the characters and the mother-son relationship. I see precious few speculative fiction stories where characters younger than preteen play an important role, so it is delightful to see a narrative that not only has a strong supporting child character, but also pegs his age perfectly with age-appropriate dialogue and action. While Tzi does get left out of a pivotal scene, that's fair because he's not the main character and his existence still weighs heavily on Ayin's mind. His presence serves to complicate the moral quandaries Ayin faces, whether its breaking her promise to her grandmother or trusting a powerful prince. Even if you are not a parent, you will still find plenty to appreciate in Hutchin's dramatic first person narrative.
“Through the Veil” by Michael T. Banker tells the story of Ori and Jwi, a young Korean couple whose arranged marriage has been interrupted by an attack which pulls Jwi's soul partially into the spirit world, leaving her essentially handicapped in the physical realm. As Ori learns more about Jwi's condition, he struggles with his sense of duty and his feelings for a woman he has only just met. Having been outcast by Jwi's hometown, it seems that the couple's prospects are dim no matter what path Ori might chose to take, with or without Jwi. The couple's story explores the elusive theme of love – not reckless passion, but respect, effort, and sacrifice.
This paranormal romance does not have any flashy laser guns or magic spells, but it rests well in the speculative fiction category nonetheless. The characters spend half of their time in the spirit world and most of their time in the physical world is spent interacting with the mudang, a spiritual intercessor. I also enjoyed the way that Banker immerses us in Korean culture without requiring that we already be experts on the subject. The characters' attitudes regarding the arranged marriage are refreshingly well grounded and mature, giving meaning to Ori's sense of loss over the future that he had originally imagined for himself and Jwi.
“Notes on a Page” by Barbara A. Barnett follows Ms. Adams as she and her orchestral class brave mysterious portals that deposit them in a world composed solely of musical notes. The notes, which appear as physical objects that can be set off by touch, are a haven for Ms. Adams, who values exactness above all else. For the rest of the orchestra, this other plane is merely a playground that can be mutilated without consequence. Ms. Adams finds herself in silent conflict with the rest of her class in the other dimension as well as in real life, and so she must decide whether to follow her love of precision or, as her maestro suggests, play with “feeling.”
Barnett presents to the reader an imaginative setting and an a-typical ending. However, the impact of this short story will depend in part on the reader's ability to sympathize with Ms. Adams' OCD-esque tendencies.
“Winning Veronica's Heart” by Ian Creasey is told in the style of a stand up routine, complete with punchlines designed to make you laugh and groan at the same time. In a round-about fashion, we learn that the comedian lives in a multiverse where alternative selves are plentiful and easily accessible, which creates quite the four-dimensional love triangle, as the narrator will gladly explain.
Only an expert wordcrafter like Ian Creasey could pull this kind of perspective into a story, making it into more than a grocery list of bad puns. From a purely linear chronology, the comedian's trials have a defined beginning, middle, and end. Layered on top of that is the order in which the reader learns not only the narrator's timeline but the basic facts underlying the multiverse. Of course, a stand-up routine does have its limitations. The reader sees none of the action directly. However, Creasey turns this limitation on its head by coaxing the reader to fill in ample subtext as the narrator builds up to each punchline. In the end we come away feeling as if this particular story – or extended joke – could be told no other way.
“Winning Veronica's Heart” has definite appeal to anyone who loves alternate dimensions because it plays the idea out to its logical extreme. Ian Creasey comes through again as a professional-grade science fiction writer with this morbid comedy.
“The War of Peace - Part 2” by Trina Marie Phillips concludes a compelling third person narrative detailing First Contact from the perspective of four-hooved aliens determined to protect offspring that human colonists have accidentally threatened.
Phillip's aliens draw our sympathy and our fascination simultaneously, first by sharing many of our human emotions and motivations, and secondly by differing from us in body, culture, and basic physical needs. From the beginning of Part 1, the narrative gives us intense physical and sociological descriptions. As Ardam interacts with first his own species and secondly the human colonists, we quickly see how his species' emotional makeup is compatible with ours. From there, the conflict becomes less about differences and more about Ardam and the Mayor's ability to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. What we are left with is a true glimpse into the unpredictable “human” heart.
The level of detail gives a classic theme a new shine and makes “The War of Peace” a credit to the “soft” science fiction subgenre. The story had great conflict and pacing and was worth the wait between issues. I was surprised to see that Phillips is only beginning her published writing career, and I'll be looking for her name in the future.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog.
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