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

Ideomancer, October 2002

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"The Four Bridges of Kandos" by James Allison
"Playing the Dozens" by Leah Bobet
"Staining Snow" by Marsha Sisolak
"How the Nuth would have Practised his Art upon the Gnoles" by Lord Dunsany

Originally posted at Ideomancer on October, 2002

Review posted October 21, 2002.

I love reading Ideomancer. No, I should start more simply. I love looking at Ideomancer. I prefer its design and organization to that of all other online publications. The design is efficient and striking, and the organization serves the reader. Not only are stories well-illustrated, they can be read in several other formats, and a provision is made for printing them, if that is easier on the eyes. Their editorial vision is both clear and unified, and they make it easy for writers to submit their work. A small amount of non-fiction appears in each issue; this one features an interesting three-way interview about the filming of Greg Bear's Petra, and a review of Mieville's novel The Scar. This is a good issue, and Ideomancer is a pleasure.

"The Four Bridges of Kandos" by James Allison
Each month Ideomancer selects an author to be their Featured Author. This month it is James Allison, and the editor's note indicates that more of his fiction will be appearing in Ideomancer in the months to come. Judging from "The Four Bridges of Kandos," I can see why. It's a good story, and it promises more to come. Allison gives us several science fictional settings, each, in its way, more full of wonder than the last. There's the never-fully-explained deep core rig, that hangs as a background for the whole story, the sleep chambers that the main character builds for a living, and the four bridges of Kandos that give story its title.

The core story is and is not speculative. By that I mean, on one level, it is simply a story with a narrator who is in many ways unreliable, and who is in a situation where he is getting information from other unreliable characters. All of this beyond the deep core rig could be hallucination, wishful thinking, or paranoia. On the other hand, he's unreliable because he has the Ecluvian Madness, a new disease that induces hallucinations. The information his fellow sufferer shares fits seamlessly with what he already knows about the system in which he's working. And could anyone mad create the wonderful image that are the bridges? In any case, I was not deeply moved by the story, but I enjoyed it on several levels, and look forward to more from Allison.

"Playing the Dozens" by Leah Bobet
"May your hair turn brittle as year-old straw, stink like a pig's trough, and become the color of cholera!" How's the hair? Feeling a little brittle? How about the attention? I'm betting it's hooked, because that's the first line of Leah Bobet's story "Playing the Dozens." And as the title suggests, it really is a story about a competitive and ritualized exchange of insults. This gives Bobet a number of immediate resources, all of which she deploys to her advantage. She's got the flashy language of hyperbolic insults, she's got our cultural context of playing the dozens, and all the larger showdown contexts to echo, and she's got an immediate hook: how and where do these insults become fantastic? The context is a big plus in a story this short; it allows the conflict between old pro and young challenger to call up images of gunfights, sword fights, and every baseball movie ever made. The rest of it, like the insults, are just plain fun. There were a few small places where I wanted a little more edge, but the core story -- of insults turned magical, and then gone horribly bad -- is well told. It is not only entertains, it grapples with questions of responsibility. Nice job.

"Staining Snow" by Marsha Sisolak
Ideomancer tries to include examples from a range of genres in each issue. For them, this means not just the spectrum of the fantastic, but flash fiction in particular. "Staining Snow" is this issue's flash entry, clocking in at 500 words. It's a challenge to tell a complete story in such a limited space, but Sisolak carries it off, largely through well-turned prose that immediately evokes a world familiar from fairy tales. By that I mean not that it is derivative, but rather that Sisolak's world is one of people in a low tech setting, where nature is nearby and all action is rich with meaning. I enjoyed the anticipation created by protagonist's race through the woods, and the description of her exploits there were equally well-wrought. However, while I was clear what was found, and it was striking (trying not to spoil things for the reader), I was left uncertain as to why the story stopped precisely there. It was the only place where the story's 500 word limit seemed to place an artificial limit on the content. Overall, a stylish example of flash fiction.

"How the Nuth would have Practised his Art upon the Gnoles" by Lord Dunsany
The other category Ideomancer regularly includes is the classic story. This month they share a Lord Dunsany story. It's not new, and certainly doesn't need my review, so I'll limit myself to saying that if you haven't read Dunsany, what the heck are you waiting for? He's great. Go read him.

Greg Beatty was most of the way through a PhD in English at the University of Iowa when his advisors agreed that letting him go to Clarion West 2000 would be a good idea. Bad idea. He finished his dissertation on serial killer novels, then gave up on traditional academia and returned to his original dream of writing fiction. He's had two dozen stories accepted as of September 2002, at markets as diverse as 3SF, Palace of Reason, The Fortean Bureau, Ideomancer, Would That It Were, deathlings.com, and several anthologies. Greg's genre-related non-fiction appears in Strange Horizons and The New York Review of Science Fiction fairly regularly.