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

Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound

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Mark Leslie, ed. (Edge, Fall 2012)
 
"Ghost in the Meme" by Ryan Oakley
"Back in Black" by Chadwick Ginther
"Artistic License" by Robert H. Beer
"The Language of Dance" by Rebecca M. Senese
"Sixteen Colors" by David Clink
"Bemused" by L. T. Getty
"Writer's Block" by Sean Costello
"Theater of the Vulnerable" by Virginia O'Dine
"The Day the Music Died" by Randy McCharles
"Blink" by Michael Kelly
"Burning Beauty" by Melissa Yuan-Innes
"The Faun and the Sylphide" by Derwin Mak
"I'm With the Band" by Kimberly Footit
"Cult Stories" by Hugh A. D. Spencer
"Three Thousand Miles of Cold Iron Tears" by Steve Vernon
"Slava the Immortal" by Matthew Jason Schmidt
"Old Soul" by Adria Laycraft
 
Reviewed by Robert Brown
 
This is the latest volume of the long-running Canadian sf/fantasy anthology series, a national genre showcase. The theme of this volume is artistic inspiration and creativity. Though heavy on local color and Canuckiana, the stories do not limit themselves to Canadian concerns.
 
"Ghost in the Meme" by Ryan Oakley
 
A duo of researchers investigating the true nature of language—is it a virus, an ET, or a self-aware entity?—unleashes a self-aware ET/virus on the world when they add some tools courtesy of the US Dept. of Homeland Security to their experiments. A Joycean spam bomb bootstraps itself and the ouroboral devouring of the world begins. A scenario worthy of a longer, more rigorous treatment. The leads are appealingly antagonistic, well-suited to a disaster novel.
 
"Back in Black" by Chadwick Ginther
 
An obscure music junkie has a rare gem snatched from his grasp by an obnoxious fellow fiend and trades a valuable item for information leading to the whereabouts of the ultimate addict, a legendary music collector who now possesses the item. It's a fool's chase, of course, and the item turns out to be a fraud. A story of obsession from the POV of a self-aware—but no less obsessed—obsessive-compulsive. This story will work for you or not depending on how you feel about AC/DC (the Australian rock combo). The slight fantastic element is in the description of the ultimate music collector fellow, who may or may not have access to items from alternate realities.
 
"Artistic License" by Robert H. Beer
 
In a repressive future of gengineered blandness, creative expression is illegal and those with an artistic genotype imprisoned or worse. Our hero is a technical writer who comes under erroneous suspicion of artistic intention, and in the course of being cleared of all charges comes in contact with a resistance organization which protects and nurtures the pariahs. The sense of menace is undercut by the expository, implausible plot, and the lack of sociological detail: I need to know how we got here and why. I also reject the notion that mental disease is the source of, or at least is concomitant with, creativity. Perfectly happy, normal, productive, rational people are creative and artistic too. Let's not be simplistic.
 
"The Language of Dance" by Rebecca M. Senese
 
An avian-like ET species which communicates somatically engages humans in a dance that has proven fatal to those who have attempted it. They failed in some way, and were destroyed by the aliens. The latest human "researcher" succeeds when both she and her ET partner collapse at the end of the dance and the ETs prove satisfied with the performance: communion commences. It's an odd place to stop a first contact story, but it makes sense. The alienness will henceforth reduce to analogy and mannerism. This is the weirdest part of the bigger story.
 
"Sixteen Colors" by David Clink
 
Flash fiction which tells us about an alternate reality with fewer color distinctions, but a great many more emotional shades. There's a point to the story but it is pitched well over my head.
 
"Bemused" by L. T. Getty
 
Scientists remove cartoony muses from people in order to "cure" them and to study the beasts. Wackiness ensues when an assistant becomes enamored of the wee beasties and their nefarious shenanigans start leaking into the scientists' behavior. A bit of Connie Willis by way of Henny Youngman, I mock the notion that scientists really believe that there's no creativity in their work. Let's not get carried away.
 
"Writer's Block" by Sean Costello
 
A writer in an isolated cabin in winter dreams up a monster which appears to come to life to snatch him away. A creepy story which ends on a comic note, the story never quite settles on a mood, which you may consider a bug or a feature.
 
"Theater of the Vulnerable" by Virginia O'Dine
 
A description of a collective telepathic experience of stage fright transforming into the exultation of performance enabled by some new technology. More prose poem than story, I thought it was vague and too ambiguous, as evinced by my summary above: am I close?
 
"The Day the Music Died" by Randy McCharles
 
Scientists of the future have cured mental disorder across the board, but the treatment has rendered everyone emotionally unresponsive, diffident. These zombies have invented time travel in order to retrieve artists from the past as they are about to die, in an attempt to revive the artistic/creative/emotive impulse in themselves. In this story a minor musician is the warm-up for Buddy Holly. This uses a tried-and-true trope for what seems a spurious purpose (at least in comparison to Varley's "Air Raid," which is a grim piece of work) but a world of affectless drones is as chilling in its own way as an ecologically-wrecked sinking starship Earth. I suppose the issue rests on whether you accept the premise that emotional response is necessary for human happiness and satisfaction. I don’t, so there is no existential horror in this scenario for me.
 
"Blink" by Michael Kelly
 
A bit of metafiction concerning the creative writing process in which there is some confusion as to who is creating whom, built around the reader's expectation of a virtual reality dating service of the future. Familiar, but with a twist at the end which may surprise you.
 
"Burning Beauty" by Melissa Yuan-Innes
 
A crazed rapist insinuates himself into the home of quiet academics, menaces the daughter, and is transformed into a tree. The scenario is incredible, the action insensible, and the conclusion inscrutable. Events seem arbitrary and the characters superfluous. More careful arrangement of the elements and a more moderate pace might have helped.
 
"The Faun and the Sylphide" by Derwin Mak
 
Mak takes a hoary trope and makes it dance a little. A ballet-troupe couple preparing for a performance for the royal party are driven almost to the breaking point when the man is seized by the mind of a mentally-disturbed dancer who killed his own partner while engaged in the same ballet as the current couple. The magical transference device here is a "memory suit" worn by the murderer, which recorded the man's movements. The younger dancer borrows the suit from the costumer in order to capture the superior technique of the older dancer, but he gets more memory and behavior from his predecessor than he bargained for. Though the leads are a bit non-descript, this is a lively take on this narrative chestnut.
 
"I'm With the Band" by Kimberly Footit
 
A changeling impersonates a failing rock musician in concert with gusto and panache, one of many such impersonations in his "career." The switcheroo is detailed enough to be interesting, but the story lacks heft; not much is at stake here, and there's no sense of accomplishment or peril. It's a lackadaisical lark in the fields of the urban rootbed, enjoyable but pointless.
 
"Cult Stories" by Hugh A. D. Spencer
 
An anthropologist adopts the science fiction community as his special area of interest to the detriment of his relationship with a Trekkie. He wants to investigate the religious tendency of certain aspects of fandom; she finds the work condescending. Years later the two are reunited when the woman (now a government agent) approaches him for help investigating Mentotechnics, a Scientology-like group which is suspected to have obtained some bomb-grade nuclear material. The story ranges in time between the 70s and the present. We are given snatches of interviews with Mentotechnic acolytes. We are presented with a fantastic occurrence which is never explained. Our hero is rendered unconscious and left in the wilderness in Canada after visiting the Mentotechnic museum. There are rumors and innuendo. What is happening? The story is a bit of a shambles and not every question is addressed, let alone answered, and the subject matter is becoming overly familiar, but this is an intriguing story. Perhaps I believe so because I also considered studying the religious tendency of science fiction fandom back when I was an anthropology student.
 
"Three Thousand Miles of Cold Iron Tears" by Steve Vernon
 
A poetic and quirky tale of quipping mythemes in which an ancient Chinese menace is faced down by Bigfoot, the Thunderbird, and a ghostly mountie. The idea here is that stories give life to the legends behind the tales, a variation on the belief as manna sort of rationale for modern myth encountered in work by Ellison and Gaiman. The point of this story is to celebrate the contributions of the Chinese immigrants and other destitute laborers who anonymously—and thanklessly—built the mighty railroad which enabled the modern world: a worthy goal. Very much a Waldropian whopper with a memorably saucy Sasquatch.
 
"Slava the Immortal" by Matthew Jason Schmidt
 
The eponymous king of a fantasy realm holds an annual ceremony in which all the males of his kingdom put on a mask and the king chooses whose mask he will wear as his face for the coming year. In this story he picks the actual face of one of his pages, and magically takes it forever, leaving a sheet of paper on the page's face in its place. There seems to be some confusion here between masks and faces, an inconsistency of usage. Perhaps I failed to understand the story. In either event, the mood is right and the story is interesting, but it seems to collapse utterly at the end into incoherence.
 
"Old Soul" by Adria Laycraft
 
A troubled girl who sees a vision of an observer hanging over her attempts suicide but in convalescence learns that she is not hallucinating. She sees her guardian angel. An old woman reassures her that her faith and hope in the world beyond will help her spread love and joy in the rest of her life. Laycraft seems more interested in asserting the existence of an afterlife than in telling a story.