“A Melody of Brass” by John Borneman
“A Pleasing Shape” by Gaie Sebold
“If Thine Eye Offend Thee” by Ken Goldman
“Many-Splendored” by Jay Lake
“The Big Cheat” by R. Michael Burns
“Under the Boardwalk” by Will McIntosh
“Bourbon and Blood” by Bryn Sparks
“Papa and the Sea” by Sandra McDonald
“Soo Lin and the Snow Eagle” by Lee Emmett
“The Loneliest Place to Die” by Colin Hains
“Thrill” by M. Lynx Qualey
Here I am once again at a coffee shop in Normal, Illinois (this time the newly opened Garlic Press Café, and if you’re ever in the area you have to stop in and try their molasses crinkle cookie) reviewing issue 19 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I don’t know how the numbers actually work out, but this issue easily feels like the most story packed one yet. So enough dilly-dallying and on to the reviews!
This issue of ASIM opens with the fun little tale “The Cast Iron Dybbuk” by Lou Antonelli. Miners come across a very ancient artifact, and Bad Things happen when they accidentally crack it open. The story is a little heavy on exposition. I would have liked to have seen a bit more about how things were discovered rather than just having a character come in and tell me what was discovered. That said, the concept behind the story and the humorous note it ends on are enough to pull it through, starting another issue of ASIM off right.
It’s up to a blind orphan boy and his robot to bring music back to the ears of man in John Borneman’s “A Melody of Brass.” The theme here is an old dystopian standard: by banning music (or any art) because it arouses destructive emotion, you ban the thing that makes being human worthwhile. However, rather than the setting of antiseptic monotony that is the usual hallmark of this particular theme, this story is set on a rather pleasant topical island. This along with the fact that the story begins many years after the boy was successful made this story feel much more lightweight and uplifting than the standard leaden depression I generally get from dystopian topics. Plus, they refer to their robots as brass men, which for some reason I just find cool. Anyway, definite kudos go to the author here for writing a fun dystopia.
Gaie Sebold’s “A Pleasing Shape” stars a cute, fluffy kitten shaped Satan. This alone should be enough to make everyone drop whatever they are doing and mob the local purveyor of speculative fiction magazines from Australia. Kitty Satan: I mean, how can you go wrong?
OK, if me just saying “Kitty Satan” doesn’t sway you, the story is a bit more than just an adorable story about a hapless Dark Lord of Evil’s attempt to claim the soul of the last remaining saint, though. The Lord of Lies’s descent into kittenism is an amusing but mildly disturbing look at how easy it is for us to lose ourselves in the positions we attain. Sure, you might promise yourself that the job you just took in X-Corp is just to get enough money to start on your dream, but blink and you wake up ten years later finding you’re stressed over action plans and progress reports. It’s a bitter pill that this story serves up, but the fluffiness makes it much easier to swallow.
The Bible is a book with many creepy passages, but high in the running for creepiest is the oft quoted “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Granted, part of this creepiness is due to my deep and abiding phobia of Bad Things happening to eyes, but you have to admit the idea of removing body parts because they are misbehaving is just, well, icky. This is why it’s become something of a tradition for speculative fiction authors to quote Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:47 whenever they want to show religious insanity. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that “If Thine Eye Offend Thee” by Ken Goldman is not a story about how faith makes the world a happy, sunny place of infinite joy and goodness. No, it fulfills the creepy promise of its title admirably, blending its three points of view into a disturbing narrative. A narrative that is no less effective because you know where it is going. It’s not a story for every mood, but if you are in the mood to be unsettled, then this is the story for you.
An alien crashes near a rural community, gains control over one of the members of that community, who then attempts to feed the alien his best friend: this is Jay Lake’s “Many-Splendored.” This story contains one of the most amusing descriptions of the sensation of enthrallment in the history of the English language. I can’t reprint it here due to the subject matter of the comparison (it’s a decidedly un-“family friendly” comparison), but it does show that the author has a flair for description. Unfortunately, the story itself didn’t really work for me. It’s based on a fairly classic science fiction story concept, so I knew where it was going pretty much from the start. That’s not a big problem as long as I can get into the characters, and there wasn’t enough here for me to care about them. Still, while this story didn’t work for me, there were enough interesting and amusing bits of language to make me want to check out more of the author’s work in the future.
OK, I’m a sucker for future-noir stories, so the next story of the issue, “The Big Cheat” by R. Michael Burns, gets a happy thumbs-up from this humble reviewer. It’s got it all: a seamy affair, a “down-on-his-luck” detective, an attractive female client, an uncaring world, a three word title, and a roach-cam. How can you go wrong? It even manages to have a bit of depth under all that crunchy nior goodness. It’s just a small bit, and it’s not particularly new territory for future-noir, but it does give your mind something to digest in case you are one of those who don’t like their literary calories to be completely empty.
“Under the Boardwalk” by Will McIntosh is a nice, happy, innocent little story about two young boys taking their first steps on the lifelong adventure that is love. Yes, there is nothing untoward here. It’s just a little slice of life story. Move along.
Well, except there is something about some sort of blood-born Rapture plague…
I know, I know, “Blood-born? Oh, God, not another AIDS story.” I can promise you, much to my relief for in my youth I was traumatized by an AIDS story, this isn’t a story about AIDS. No, in this story, the blood-born pathogen is a metaphor for evangelism, and, oddly enough, it manages to compare evangelism to a blood-born disease without being implicitly anti-evangelism. It is a brilliantly unsettling story that begs more questions than it answers, and it’s well worth tracking down a copy of ASIM to read.
For the second time this issue, a beautiful woman walks into a private detective’s office in Bryn Spark’s “Bourbon and Blood.” Rather than a new case, this skirt happens to be the heat, and things are going to be uncomfortably hot for our P.I. As with “The Big Cheat,” this story gets points from me just for being future-noir. The mood and the voice of the piece are excellent. The story itself, well, to be honest, didn’t click with me. It’s close to clicking, but it feels like there is just one plot detail somewhere that I’m missing. As always, the problem could be just with me being thick-headed rather than with the story, and the story has more than enough style to make it worth checking out either way.
Before reviewing “Papa and the Sea” by Sandra McDonald I must disclose that I’ve never read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. My Hemingway reading went the route of A Farewell to Arms instead and then got bogged down halfway through For Whom the Bell Tolls where it never recovered. That said, I don’t feel I missed anything in “Papa and the Sea” by not having read The Old Man and the Sea. It is enough to know that Hemingway was a stubborn cuss (or a free-spirit, if you prefer). In this story, the aforementioned Mr. Hemingway finds himself alone in a boat on an endless sea. His only hint at what is happening is a note telling him that if he writes well he’ll be rewarded. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well. A well-written and engaging fantasy, “Papa and the Sea” is well worth your time.
In what feels like something of a departure from Andromeda Spaceways’s usual story fare, “Soo Lin and the Snow Eagle” by Lee Emmett is a straight-up East Asian folktale. Lu Yin plots to keep her beautiful stepdaughter Soo Lin from being presented at the Imperial Court at the same time as her daughter Feng Sin for fear that the men of the court would overlook Feng Sin as they rushed to claim Soo Lin’s hand. This is an delightful tale, with a voice and style that invokes the best of folk tales. Like most folk tales the plot wanders a bit, and in this case it never really gets back to where it started. That only serves to add to the charm, though, and I still give it a hearty recommendation.
Space is a dangerous place. It’s a place where even the slightest miscalculation can kill. This is fact that has not been lost on science fiction writers over the years, it being at the heart of many stories. The latest to tackle this truism is Colin Hains in his short story “The Loneliest Place to Die.” Our hero is the pilot on the first commercial flight to the Moon. Everything goes swimmingly on the way there, but when he tries to start the engines for the flight home they fail to respond. Now the engineers back home are in a race against time, trying to figure out a way to get his engines going again before he uses up so much air that he won’t survive the flight home. Likable characters and good pacing make this revisitation of a classic theme an enjoyable ride.
The final story in this story-packed issue is a wickedly clever flash piece by M. Lynx Qualey entitled “Thrill.” Without giving too much of the story away, it’s a look at how attention seeking behavior will keep apace with medical science. It’s an excellent little story, and serves as the perfect bookend to yet another fantastic issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
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