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

InterGalactic Medicine Show #46, July/August 2015

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InterGalactic Medicine Show #46, July/August 2015

 
Evermore I Told the Raven” by Ken Scholes
The Monastery of the Parallels” by Holly Heisey
The Gaunt of Dennis Mallory” by Scott M. Roberts
Liveboy” by Nathaniel Lee
The Machine in My Mind” by James Maxey
Last Night at the Café Renaissance” by D. Thomas Minton

Reviewed by Jason McGregor

The July/August InterGalactic Medicine Show presents us with six stories, some of which are strong to varying degrees, though none are center-core SF, most are fantasies, and a few have at least a tinge of horror. The main themes seem to be death, identity, and/or roads not chosen.

Evermore I Told the Raven” by Ken Scholes

This is a tale about dealing with death. Michael (who we soon find is not an ordinary man) returns to his old hometown for his brother Thomas’ funeral. After the service, Victoria (a woman who worked in the brothers’ bookshop which Thomas ran) tells Michael that Thomas has left him something. It turns out to be the shop, but also a small mystery. Victoria says Thomas left Michael a “letter” but she can’t find it. When they come across a bust of Pallas Athena while cleaning up the shop it triggers something in Michael and he goes to a volume of his brother’s beloved Poe. While he does find the deed to the shop in its pages (at Thomas’ “favorite poem”), he doesn’t see anything else and, for a time, it appears to be a dead end, so to speak. It turns out otherwise when a sort of magic kicks in.

This is a tale of magical brothers going round the Slow Moving Wheel, as he puts it. The sensations of returning to the old changed-yet-familiar hometown, the multiple stages of loss when it initially doesn’t feel quite real and then hits, the painful desire for last words if we weren’t able to really say goodbye, and the ways in which we try to look at life and death to cope (the major emphasis of the latter part of the story, which I won’t spoil) are portrayed well.

One note to the editor, however. The story begins:

It was the perfect day for a funeral. Gray with a promise of rain. Mist ribboning around the headstones. And it was the perfect size --

The first “it” refers to a general “state of being” or “the day” itself. Thus the “it” in the second sentence leads the reader to initially try to parse “the day was the perfect size.” True, the sentence continues:

a small baker's dozen dressed in black, some with umbrellas and some without.

and one realizes the second “it” was referring to “the funeral” (in the sense of “the congregation thereof”) but this initially threw me right out of “fiction mode” and into “nitpick mode” and made it hard to get into the story.

The Monastery of the Parallels” by Holly Heisey

One of the main failures of this parallel worlds story (in which the relevant worlds are medievaloid nowheres with neither science nor fantasy (beyond the basic premise and “soul cords”)) is that, while the author may know what’s going on, the reader initially does not. The reader encounters some strange signals amidst a tale of an uncommonly aggressive historian and an uncommonly passive general who do not behave like human beings or have any human interest, in part because their connection is abnormal but initially inexplicable, and in part because they are attempting to serve the author’s didactic purpose of demonstrating that war is bad. To that end, they study a lot of papers and talk a lot until suddenly a representative of Corrupt Government intervenes and everything explodes into rather senseless violence intending to serve as belated drama, followed by many melodramatic revelations and reversals and more confusion for the reader which clears up completely by the end, revealing the ultimate simplicity of the story.

In sum, this is a bit of a "nowhere nowhen story" (and, more importantly, a “nobody story”) and a sort of "second-order idiot plot" (though more because the society is so unexplained, rigged, and soul-less than that it’s composed of idiots as such – second-order automaton plot).

The Gaunt of Dennis Mallory” by Scott M. Roberts

If you like Christian urban fantasy and don’t mind some clichéd manipulation and questionably executed first-person “hoodlum” speak, this might suit. A thief with second sight and his large, mentally-challenged great-souled demon-beating-and-otherwise-pacifist friend steal a holy jewel from a demon who catches them and tortures the smart guy into working for him mostly by threatening the “retard,” but also with beatings and shootings (and healings which are worse than shootings). Meanwhile, a blonde dominatrix is trying to get the pair to help in her efforts to kill the demon. As the smart guy feels himself growing more corrupt the longer he’s in the demon’s service, he eventually decides to give it a try. If this piques your interest, you may also be interested in the result.

Liveboy” by Nathaniel Lee

I’m not sure what this story could be about other than the desperate cry of the unhappy housewife. It’s quite possible I missed something altogether. This story also is not SF but seems not to be fantasy, either: if you take its perception of husbands literally, it would have to be fantasy:

My husband was grinning when it came home. It always grins, though, so that doesn't mean much.
(that last phrase being a repeated keynote) and:
Then Josephine came around the corner, and her husband's bright little marble-eyes turned toward us, its white, flat teeth parted ever so slightly so you could just see a slit of darkness between them and a hint of its black and shriveled tongue inside, and the silence washed over us like it was sprayed from a hose.

However, it just seems like extreme adherence to extreme exaggeration more than anything else. Regardless, this is a tale of a “liveboy” (rather than a dead husband) showing up in town one day and how the grass is not greener on the other side for one woman and how miserable another is. While I give credit to the presumably male author for having a convincing first-person female voice, I found it dull, though your mileage may vary.

The Machine in My Mind” by James Maxey

This story opens with a man dropping off his two kids (each by different women) at their respective homes and reflecting on his life and especially his mistakes. Conveniently enough, when he gets home, a strange man who looks a lot like him and knows an awful lot about him confronts him with a gun and a lot of questions. At that point this story proceeds to explore both the X and the Y axes of time and multiple worlds instead of the usual one or the other and does so with grit and verve. He is ultimately confronted in the most concrete terms with a decision about whether his life is justifiable.

It is easy to draw parallels between this and “The Monastery of the Parallels.” Like that one, this story is clearly out to make a point, is conveniently plotted to achieve it, has some extremely awkward dialog and interactions which work to undermine the character(s) and also begins very slowly before exploding into action. It is also easy to make distinctions between the two stories. In this one the reader always knows more than the character, the character is otherwise well-drawn, and the action advances the plot and theme. It also provokes much more “what if?” wondering based on more detailed and intriguing speculation rather than the “what the?” wondering of the other’s mysticism. This one isn’t a total success by any means and won’t appeal to everyone but it was the second best story in the issue to this point and I found it interesting.

Last Night at the Café Renaissance” by D. Thomas Minton

A final note to the editor: no one seems to know “grisly” anymore, usually rendering it “grizzly” but this story gives us “gristly.”

This is one weird story. It's written in clean, solid prose, yet is a kind of poem where its nuances are lost in in the attempt to summarize for this review. It’s almost a blend of “imaginary land” and “alternate WWII Paris” and describes how a Governor and a General are at war–a war which has chewed up men and sometimes spat out what are called “half-men” by some in the story–men with missing limbs. In this milieu, metallic prostheses are grafted directly onto the bone, yet do not substantially aid locomotion. Everyone in this story, whether with lost limbs or not, is struggling not to lose their humanity which, in this story, is considered to be primarily resisting an urge for unceasing vengeance. Our protagonist, Bolduc, is such a half-man and has been operated on by Lucic in the past but Lucic is now the proprietor of a restaurant amid the ruins, and has recruited Bolduc to join him there, where “staff worked the floor without ever touching it” suspended on wires to glide over the patrons with “the grace of hummingbirds.” But then the General arrives. Brutal and beautiful and recommended.


Jason McGregor’s space on the internet can be found here.