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

Lone Star Stories, #17

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"Being Real" by Sherwood Smith

Lone Star Stories
offers three thought-provoking, well-written stories.

I was drawn at once to A.C. Wise's "The Lady and the Tiger," its title a clear nod to Frank Stockton's classic, "The Lady or the Tiger." Like the unnamed narrator in Wise's story, I have wondered why it must be "or" and never "and."

The narrator is in love with a desert chieftain's daughter, a woman above his station but also beyond him in her increasingly other, feral quality. Neither the princess' father nor his chosen son-in-law threaten our hero in this tale. Instead, the lady herself is both desired and dangerous, and the narrator must choose both in all their sickening glory or the lonely emptiness of neither.

"The Lady and the Tiger" is steeped in beautiful language and haunting imagery appropriate to this dreamlike tale. I re-read it just to savor the effects of Wise's poetic prose.

"Stephenson's Rocket" by Jay Lake is an alternate history concerning George Stephenson, sometimes known as the "Father of the Railways." It is told through a series of letters to Mr. Stephenson from Josiah Grimes, an apparently fictional functionary in His Majesty's Treasury. Although we never hear from the railway man himself, Grimes's letters reveal a tenacity and inventiveness that led, at least in this story, well beyond advances in rail travel.

I must admit that I knew nothing of George Stephenson before reading this story, but the reading piqued my interest and led me to look up his actual biography and achievements. I think the epistolary form was instrumental in this, as it lent a sense of discovery, like the thrill of uncovering the long-forgotten secrets of a bygone era in a dusty attic trunk.

Sherwood Smith's "Being Real" is set in a near future of strict class separation and pervasive government surveillance. Teenager Alyssa, or Lys, is excited to learn that her family has been selected to be featured on "the biggest reality show on RealTV." Her father and older sister are less than thrilled, but a successful run on the show could bring in much-needed money and opportunity, so the family agrees to participate. The experience is less fun and more stressful than Lys anticipates and leads her to learn about "being real," both personally and in relation to society as a whole.
I found this story engaging and interesting, with an authentically-voiced teenage protagonist. Smith clearly has a point to make in "Being Real," and some readers may find the story overtly political, but this is not an unusual use of the science fiction genre, and Smith is able to make her argument without becoming preachy or overbearing.