(All Novella Issue)
“The Taborin Scale” by Lucius Shepard
“A Burglar's Eye View of Greed” by Lawrence Block
“Amor Vincit Omnia” by K.J. Parker
“Dream of the Arrow” by Jay Lake
“Ghosts in my Head” by Cory Doctorow
“Six Blind Men and an Alien” by Mike Resnick
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
Reviewed by Joseph Giddings
Subterranean Press brings us their novella issue for Summer of 2010, featuring stories from well known authors such as Lucius Shepard and Mike Resnick. The issue also features reviews and columns, but the focus here is, as usual, on the fiction.
Lucius Shepard's “The Taborin Scale” brings us a beautifully flowing tale about a man, a woman, and child, who have been separated out from the rest of the world for some inexplicable reason. While in this exile, they meet only a few other people, and find that they cannot trust them for any reason. At the end, many of these exiles come together for a frightening catastrophe involving the final gasp of breath for a gargantuan dragon and the city that sprang up in his lee. Engaging and entertaining, the only major flaws with the story are the massively long and hard to follow sentences and the inclusion of footnotes. I skipped reading the footnotes until the end, and found that their inclusion, while informative, wasn't really necessary, and may have served the story better if they were included in the story itself. Aside from the bumps, the narrative is exceptional; with enough detail thrown in to make you feel like you were part of the world in which the story takes place. You want to know what is going on with George, Sylvia, and Peony, and you want to know what the dragon Griaule is up to. Overall, this story is worth the time spent reading it.
In “A Burglar's Eye View of Greed” by Lawrence Block, we experience the main character going into a bookstore to talk to its owner, one of the last of the “gentlemen burglars.” The discussion goes from books to greed and how it affects people in corporations and sports. I found it to be interesting only in that I kept reading and hoping something interesting would happen, but in the end it merely felt like a piece of social-economic preaching. It doesn't even feel like a story. But it's a quick read and won't leave the reader feeling as if he's wasted his time.
Sometimes, a story comes along that rivets you in place, making you keep reading as you are dying to find out what is going on, and how it will end. “Amor Vincit Omnia” from K. J. Parker is one of those stories. Framea, a 'scientist' from an order of people who use something like magic (they refuse to call it 'magic' and detest the term 'wizard') is sent on a mission to find and deal with someone who seems to have an art called 'Lorica,' which allows the person to deflect and defend against any attack, magical or physical. Framea finds this person, and we learn a lot about how these 'scientists' go about their magic, their ethics, and how their actions have changed the world around them. As well as learning about their rules and laws of magic, we learn the difference between a trained and untrained magician. I found it to be exceptionally well told, but expect some to get tripped up on some strangely placed metaphors. I still find myself scratching my head over “Raw emotion, like raw chicken, upset elderly men of regular habits,” and how someone's hair can “drip off her head, like a leak in the roof.” Overall, though, I found this to be a good tale worth reading.
“Dream of the Arrow” by Jay Lake takes us on a journey through the mind of a troubled teenager at boarding school. We see what is going on in his head as he deals with girls, a distant (literally and figuratively) father, and his peers. “Arrow” is a strong piece that draws the reader in and makes us want Jim to get something good for a change. Lake uses shooting (archery and guns) as a metaphor that shows us that until we learn to aim and, more importantly, learn what we are aiming for, we will never hit the target. A good story through and through, and I think it’s a must read for anyone who picks up this issue.
“Ghosts in my Head” by Cory Doctorow is a very clever story, exploring what might happen if neuroscience found a way to tap into your mind and deliver content directly to your brain. Weighing in with a very small word count, Doctorow drags us into his narrative without a chance to say anything, and we believe, for a moment, that the story he's created can and will happen. Or maybe it already has? Hard to tell. At the end, we wonder, was it real, or just fiction? Excellent story, and a quick read.
“Six Blind Men and an Alien” by Mike Resnick is the real stand-out piece in this issue. Based on the Indian story about blind men (or men in the dark) touching an elephant to determine what it is, we follow six people as they journey to Mount Kilimanjaro. Their goal is to follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway's “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and see if they can discover the leopard he once found there. Since this story is set in the year 2038, the glacier has retreated and made more of the mountain accessible, and therefore makes finding the leopard's corpse possible. What they find, however, isn't human, or any animal from Earth, and we get to read what each of the expedition members think it might be, based on its appearance alone. At the end, we are treated with the truth of the matter, and like in all things, we find that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Rachel Swirsky rounds out this issue with “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window.” In this story, we follow the life of the woman named Naeva, a sorceress in the service of the Queen of a nation dominated by women and their magic. In an interesting twist, however, we start at the moment of her death, and we follow her through the millennia as she is bound never to pass onto the next life. Wizards and those who know magic call her through the ages, seeking her knowledge and magic, whether it be through good intentions or ill. I did find the author's descriptions of the magic in play through the ages to be a bit confusing at times, and in a few places, difficult to follow. Overall, though, a moving story with a powerful ending. I only wish the story had been longer.
As usual, Subterranean has put out a great issue filled with some great stories from authors many people know and love. Well worth the time and effort to pick up a copy.