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

OSC InterGalactic Medicine Show #26, Jan.-Feb. 2012

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Special Double Review

Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show #26, Jan.-Feb. 2012

“Remains of the Witch” by Tony Pi
“Arkmind” by Niall Francis McMahon
“Contaminant Source Removed” by K. G. Jewell
“The Lair of the Twelve Princesses” by Amanda C. Davis
“Story with Pictures and Conversation” by Brontops Baruq

Reviewed by Dario Ciriello

“Remains of the Witch” by Tony Pi

This tale, a moderately endearing excursion into Frank L. Baum territory, uses a letter left by the narrator/protagonist for a framing device. The letter is written by Remue, one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s (simply ‘West’ in the story) creepy winged monkeys to Miekkek, her ‘wing-sister.’ West, for all her evil, apparently has a soft spot for Remue. She’s also looking for a way to dodge an invitation to tea from North (the good witch), which she suspects is a trick. So when West makes a bet with East, her wicked sister, that she can teach Remue to comport herself and speak like a lady well enough to send her to tea with North in her stead, Remue is honored.

Unfortunately ‘the Gale Girl’ (Dorothy) lands her farmhouse on top of East and then melts West to death in the witch’s tower. Sensing there’s power left in the puddle which was once her mistress, Remue carefully collects the liquid, along with West’s pointy hat. Before long, Remue is further seduced by the unwholesome power of the green fluid which was West, and things go downhill form there, until, ugly and transformed, Remue is shunned by her own kind. In a final, desperate, gambit, she invites North to tea, hoping she can talk the good Witch into breaking the spell.

“Arkmind” by Niall Francis McMahon

This intriguing novelette is undiluted, core science fiction. The story takes place on an interstellar ark launched just before Earth’s destruction in a local supernova event. This ark, whose journey is to take around 2,100 years, is one of seventeen dispatched to Earthlike planets around various stars; on board are embryos of thousands of individual species of Earth fauna, specimens of tens of thousands of types of flora, millions of viable ova and sperm, various bacteria, and the digitized genomes of every species—in short, ‘a blueprint to a reconstructed terrestrial biosphere.’ At departure, there are also three living humans on board; but instead of entering the cliché cryogenic sleep, the three crewmembers, Holland, Cambridge, and MacGregor, simply live out their lives, coping as best they can with their situation.

Two thousand years after the death of the three crewmembers and some fifty years before its arrival at the target world, the Ark’s AI, Arkmind, becomes conscious. After a brief meditation on its own awakening, it begins to consider its mission. Clearly, no overriding moral imperatives have been drilled into Arkmind, with the consequence that it begins to question its own function as passive executor of its mission and starts to consider how it might optimize the task for which it has been programmed.

Moral questions do however surface in its consciousness, questions which Arkmind realizes only a human can answer; so it quickly crafts a rudimentary human female—taking several unease-inducing shortcuts in the process—to consult about the morality of changing its mission parameters (the author raised a few hairs on the nape of my neck here as the story appeared to tremble on the brink of a truly dark, Dickish direction).

At this point, the story really becomes interesting, as the author examines the question of what it means to be human from every aspect, turning the question around like a jeweler examining a fresh-cut diamond. Although the story never quite achieves the greatness of Roger Zelazny’s “For a Breath I Tarry” or Vernor Vinge’s “Long Shot,” and occasionally appears in danger of losing itself in metaphysics, McMahon controls the tale well, avoiding the pitfalls of excessive sentimentality and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. A thoughtful, rich, deeply resonant piece of core SF satisfyingly layered with metaphor and metaphysics. Don’t miss this one.

“Contaminant Source Removed” by K. G. Jewell

A young boy, Marco, experiments with an introductory book of magic spells bequeathed to him by his long-vanished Uncle Joe. When one of the spells backfires, exiling him and his sister’s hamster, Squeaky, from his room, a helpful demon tips Marco off that Uncle Joe’s stranded in an ‘inter-temporal vortex’—in effect, the proverbial ‘white room’—and suggests that if Marco frees the uncle, to whom the demon has apparently become quite attached, Uncle Joe will have no trouble neutralizing the wayward spell. A competently-written but deeply fluffy tale which may please younger readers.

“The Lair of the Twelve Princesses” by Amanda C. Davis

Bay is a humble soldier recently returned from the war. With no money, a gimp leg, and a ruby-red imp called Khloromain who lives, genie-like, in a lead bottle at her side, Bay longs only for a soft bed and enough to buy meat and ale; the imp Khloromain’s chief goal is to convince Bay to spend her three wishes so he can be free, but his frugal mistress knows the value of his service and refuses to be talked into spending her wishes lightly.

When Khloromain talks Bay into investigating a mystery which involves the King’s twelve daughters, Bay thinks she’s found Easy Street—until she discovers to her horror there’s a clause Khloromain left out when he read her the King’s announcement: if she doesn’t solve the mystery within three days (a task princes have already failed), she will be executed.

Highjinks ensue, and though the story format is familiar enough that Bay and Khloromain feel like semi-stock characters, the author handles them well, and gives us an enjoyable mystery furnished with refreshingly original magic effects. A fun, easy romp which leaves one with the impression it’s one of a series.

“Story with Pictures and Conversation” by Brontops Baruq

A fragmented, deconstructed story of interstellar war and an alien attack on Earth seen through a child’s eyes in words and pictures. The intersecting, clinical narrative appears to be from the viewpoint of a far-future archaeologist.

Although assured and creative in its way, this translated short, which won the 2011 Hydra prize for top Brazilian short story, left me somewhat underwhelmed. If you’re a Steven Spielberg fan and not bothered by attempts to manipulate you by evoking stock emotional reactions, you might enjoy this one; personally, I didn’t find it worth the work of parsing the story’s rather pretentious narrative format.

Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show #26, Jan.-Feb. 2012

"Remains of the Witch" by Tony Pi
"Arkmind" by Niall Francis McMahon
"Contaminent Source Removed" by K.G. Jewel
"The Lair of the Twelve Princesses" by Amanda C. Davis

Reviewed by Bob Leishman

The land of Oz and the story line which contained Dorothy Gale has spawned quite a few spin offs.  "Remains of the Witch" by Tony Pi is one of them, taken from a unique perspective in that the reader might want to know what happened to that puddle of water which became the resting place of the wicked witch of the west.

Pi creates a suitable back story for one of the servants in that terrible castle and her relationship with the witch who'd tried to do away with Dorothy Gale.  I liked the story largely for that reason.

In "Arkmind" we have a ship on a journey which will last hundreds of years.  The original human crew is gone, long dead with no replacements, but the ark contains the genetic material and the technology to re-start the human race.  The Arkmind is the ship's central computer which, after hundreds of years without a human crew, must deal with newly found sentience, it's original programming and of course the ethics of the situation. 

Niall Francis McMahon has taken a familiar plot and given it a few new twists while at the same time putting the human element in where it wouldn't seem likely.  I liked this story.

Marco is a ten year old kid who likes comic books, keeps a messy room and has a sister who's away at karate camp.  Kid's that age can sometimes get in over their heads with one thing or another and in Marco's case his personal Waterloo turns out to be a copy of An Introduction to Wizardry

The book was supposed to be a gag gift, but it actually came from the collection of Marco's uncle Joe, who mysteriously disappeared some years ago.  In "Contaminent Source Removed" K.G. Jewel creates in Marco a character that anyone would be proud of.  When confronted with the unknown or unexpected he switches to problem solving mode and if that doesn't work then to harm avoidance without skipping a beat.  This is a story that I truly enjoyed.

Bay is a retired soldier still living within the kingdom she once defended and, as  the story opens, she's losing at dice and looking forward to sleeping outdoors.  But then, an opportunity crops up.  If she can solve the riddle that involves the twelve daughters of the king she can win a large fortune.

The irony is that Bay could have whatever she wants by way of an Imp who owes her three wishes, but Bay intends to choose wisely and holds off on making any choices. In the meantime the Imp, named Khloromain, has become her companion, friend and nemesis all rolled into one.

"The Lair of the Twelve Princesses" by Amanda C. Davis is a story that presents an evidently thoughtful character who's into problem solving. The plot is again very familiar but Davis has modified it enough to make it interesting.  A good story.