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

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, #17, February/March 2005

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“Trouble Leaves a Scent Trail” by Constance Cooper
“Impractical Magic” by Gillian Polack
“The Team-mate Reference Problem in Final-Stage Demon Confrontation” by Constance Cooper
“The Red Priest’s Homecoming” by Dirk Flinthart
“An Alien Abduction” by Mark Patrick Lynch
“A Game of Knight Court” by Jason D. Wittman
“The Memory of Breathing” by Lyn Triffitt

I sit here in my town’s Starbucks (we’re one of the few communities in the US that has fewer Starbucks than stoplights), drinking a chai latte, wondering why the cover of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine wants to rip out my throat. I’m not really worried: it’s just cover art, and I’m not quite THAT caffeinated. It does make me want to have the artist, Ian McHugh, draw an alternate smiling, happy cover, and then run experiments to see which cover sells more issues. Then maybe get some time with an MRI machine to see what parts of the brain each cover activates. Oh! Then maybe lock people into featureless rooms with each cover and…. Er, anyway, it’s a very angry cover. Grr. Yup. Pardon me while I self-consciously suffle some paper about and perhaps whistle innocently for a bit.

Issue 17 kicks off with Constance Cooper’s exploration of a speculative insect society: “Trouble Leaves a Scent Trail.” Before I wander off into the difficulties of writing from a non-human point of view, I want to state that I liked this story. The mystery the author uses as the backbone to this story is interesting and does a lot to keep the story from dragging. For the inner 29-year-old-man, its exploration of the repercussions of technological change in this speculative society makes for an interesting commentary on its repercussions in our society. And, to be honest, the fact that the main character is a big bug that would give the Incredible Hulk feelings of physical inadequacy appeals to the inner 8-year-old-boy. Crunch! Crack! Squish! So, I recommend giving this story a read if you get the opportunity.

Great, all that is out of the way, and I can expound upon non-human points of view. Every character in this story is a bug of some sort, yet they never feel non-human to me. The narrative describes that they are communicating via pheromones rather than vocalizations, but I didn’t feel that fact in their, for lack of a better term, voices. Is this a problem, though? Probably not. The idea of a truly alien story about aliens appeals to my inner artiste and rates a Provisional Cool-Factor of about M. However, I’ve found that I really don’t like to read stories where I can’t connect to the characters in some way, which would seem to be the measure of a truly alien alien. So, as cool and artistic as it might seem, purposefully writing a story where all the characters are completely alien seems a questionable idea, and “Trouble Leaves a Scent Trail” the better for being less than alien.  

Now, you have to bow to a story that includes demonic sticky notes, and “Impractical Magic” by Gillian Pollack is just such a story. A mother of two, whose entire knowledge of her Jewish heritage is kept in a box in the cupboard, summons the King of Demons, just to prove she can. The interplay between the mother and the King has a delightful zing to it, which makes this story well worth a read.

Constance Cooper’s second work in this issue is “The Team-mate Reference Problem in Final-Stage Demon Confrontation.” It’s a fictional lecture on the difficulties caused by fighting something that can Do Bad Things if it knows your name. Well, it’s either fictional, or the author lives a much more interesting life than I do. It’s probably best to go ahead and read it, just in case.

“The Red Priest’s Homecoming” by Dirk Flinthart is a pulpy, swashbuckling story set in a fantastic Renaissance Venice. I found the action scenes to be well written, and the ideas that came together to make the story had a lot of potential. If those ideas had stayed in the background of the story, informing its writing but remaining subliminal to the reader, there is a really fun story here. However, all the expository dialog used to tell that background, especially in the first half of the story, drags on the pacing, making it dawdle when it should be racing from scene to scene. Still, now that the origin of the Red Priest has been written, I look forward to reading his adventures, and more stories by Dirk Flinthart, in the future.

The next story, Mark Patrick Lynch’s “An Alien Abduction,” is a very sober treatment of the classic alien abduction story, with a bit of a twist at the end. We’re talking dead serious, “mentioning-father-died-of-cancer” sober here. Now, certainly, writing a sober treatment of the classic alien abduction story is a valid lifestyle choice, and, while it may not be my cup of tea, in most cases I fully support this choice. As a sober treatment of the alien abduction story, it’s well done. The descriptions are rich, and I buy into the character. But, it’s just that, well, there is that twist at the end. It doesn’t come out of the blue, hints are dropped all along the way, but it’s just such an odd choice for a story this sober that it lost me. If the story had been a touch or two lighter, then I would have loved it. As is, it didn’t really work for me.

A shady duke takes advantage of the metaphysical chaos caused by the king’s illness to go on a conquering binge, and the only thing that can stop him is a game that kills the loser. The only trouble, he’s the best player in the land. This is the premise behind Jason D. Wittman’s clever addition to this issue: “A Game of Knight Court.” A lot of my fondness for this story is because I was a competitive chess player, and while my Pirc is more than a bit rusty and my King’s Gambit is absolutely atrocious I still have a thing for stories involving chess-like games. Plus, in a world that doesn’t go a day without some militaristic organization somewhere killing civilians by the scores, it’s nice to escape for a bit to a world where there is still the hope that something as simple as a game could avoid all this mass slaughter. That said, this story isn’t so naïve as to have that work very well, which leads to the nice little twist at the end that makes the story worth checking out even for those who aren’t as googly-eyed over chess variants as I am.

The last story of this issue of ASIM is “The Memory of Breathing” by Lyn Triffitt. First off, that is just a great title. It’s short, simple, evocative, and vaguely disturbing. It’s just the sort of title that would make me pick up a story and look at the first page. Titles and cover illustrations: I shouldn’t judge a story by them, but I do anyway.

The trouble with good titles is stories often fail to live up to them. This, I’m happy to say, is not the case with “The Memory of Breathing.” This is, without a doubt, the best story I’ve ever seen between the covers of ASIM. Now, I’ve only read four or five issues of the magazine, so it’s likely I’ve missed many great stories. Still, this one feels special, and I’d bet it’s at least among their best stories, if not the best.

So, what is this story I’m piling superlatives upon?

Holyoake was a nine year-old girl; she was also a murderer. She shot her brother six times to keep him from telling their mom she’d joined a gang. She was executed. Now she is a walking corpse, kept animated by medical science to pay her debt to society by working jobs too dangerous or menial for the living. She will never grow older; she will never grow up. She will be a nine-year-old girl until her body wears out and falls apart. Janssen, the head of the work camp where she is sent for the rest of her existence, knows all this. He knows she’s a murderer; he knows she’s just a corpse, not special in anyway. Yet, paternal instincts know nothing of modern medical science. To them, she’s a girl in need of a father.

OK, it’s pretty obvious where that is all going. Holyoake becomes the daughter that Janssen never had, and we learn that even children who are murderers are still children. Were that all there was, it still would have been a nice little story earning a good score on the Amusing Perversity Index. However, things get interesting once Janssen is set in his role of father. Society realizes that the ethics of making dead murderers into slaves until their bodies fall apart might be a bit questionable. However, emancipation in this case isn’t making the corpses into free people; it’s letting them die a rather horrific death. This is what makes the story for me: the exploration of the pain caused to individuals when society attempts to correct its wrongs, the horror of society pondering whether something you love should exist. Without it, this story would have been predictable and probably a bit trite, but with it “The Memory of Breathing” more than pays off the promise of its title and is something I recommend you read as soon as you get a chance.