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

OSC InterGalactic Medicine Show #43, Jan./Feb. 2015

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InterGalactic Medicine Show #43, Jan./Feb. 2015

The Wellmachine Robot” by Lon Prater
The Pining” by Sarina Dorie
The Man in the Pillbox Hat” by Mjke Wood
Meat and Greet” by Jamie Todd Rubin
On the Winds of the Rub’ Al-Khali” (Part 2 of 2) by Stephen Gaskell

Reviewed by Ryan Holmes

The Wellmachine Robot” by Lon Prater tells the story of a boy alone in a world overrun by the dead. All he has to comfort him are the robots his father left before he went to find help. Two laser-wielding sentries guard the door, but it’s the Wellmachine Robot that cares for the boy as he becomes a man. Prater succeeds in creating an entertaining study of what being alive versus being real truly means.

Sarina Dorie’s novelette “The Pining” takes the reader into a reimagined fairy world. Here the fairies are more akin to elves, at first, than the tiny, winged creatures fantasy fans are accustomed to reading about. Dorie creates a large helping of conflict through pining for food initially but eventually for love and finally for a return to innocence in a masterful use of all the senses.

The Man in the Pillbox Hat” by Mjke Wood is ‘slice of life’ literary fiction trying to be hard science fiction. It is an exploration in character rather than story. The man is the husband of an unlikely astronaut, waiting on a phone call from mission control for a status update. Ninety-eight percent of the story is dedicated to the creation of this character. The only conflict to speak of has more to do with the tension of whether his wife’s mission will fail or succeed (I work in this industry but won’t expound on all that is wrong here) than with overcoming obstacles to attain a goal. Perhaps the plot is under the pillbox hat.

Jamie Todd Rubin’s “Meat and Greet” is a great example of how to make literary fiction genre fiction. The premise involves a representative from a literary agency at a meet and greet. He’s looking for a marketable story and taking pitches from authors, but the authors are all recently returned from the dead. Rubin selects none other than Borges, Twain, Dickinson, and Stoker to fill his cast. Each author gets two minutes to pitch their idea. Rubin takes it a step further and creates a metaphor for the pulse of modern fiction when each author pitches an idea they’ve all done before, nothing new, and the literary agent is near to gagging from it all. Of course, it’s not until Stoker pitches at the very end that the story’s true brilliance shines through. Well done.

On the Winds of the Rub’ Al-Khali” by Stephen Gaskell (part 1, issue 42; part 2 issue 43) weighs in as a novella at a hefty nineteen thousand plus words. It’s contemporary hard science fiction, the science here being mathematics, set in the near future. It’s told in the first person perspective of a ten year old Muslim boy with a brilliant mind as he’s whisked away from his tribe to the Congo by a recruiting professor, also Muslim. A strange object has landed in the Congo and certain minds can connect to it. Ismail, the Muslim boy, has the strongest connection yet. The sphere teaches Ismail mathematics. Complications ensue. Much is borrowed from other sources here. A logic riddle right out of the script for Die Hard: With a Vengeance is used early in the story, though I doubt they were the first to do so, and the entire plot feels rather like The Day the Earth Stood Still, the 2008 remake, not the 1951 classic. At first, the character’s voice and behavior feels believable, but that quickly changes, perhaps as a result of learning advanced math, but more likely a result of the author not being the Saudi Arabian Muslim his character portrays. There is a great deal of effort, did I mention 19,000 words, dedicated to creating an illusion of higher intelligence and mathematical knowledge, but little supports fresh mathematical enlightenment other than dropping the names of a few principles and common unsolved problems. Even when Ismail learns the secret of primes, the reader gets only an off stage account of grand, new insight. A far larger problem is the limited plot. Nearly twenty thousand words makes a thick manuscript, but this story’s plot is better suited to something under five.

Ryan Holmes is a Marine Corps grunt turned aerospace engineer for NASA's Kennedy Space Center and writes science fiction and fantasy in life’s scant margins. You can find his blog at: www.griffinsquill.blogspot.com