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

Tor.com -- August 2010

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Tor.com, August 2010

“What Makes a River” by Deborah Coates
“The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model” by Charlie Jane Anders
“The Speed of Time” by Jay Lake
“The Monster’s Million Faces” by Rachel Swirsky


Reviewed by Duane Donald

"What Makes a River" by Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates offers a lot of story in “What Makes a River” but is more always better?

Protagonist Beth finds her roommate Amy walking into Lake Michigan on more than one occasion as if in a trance. Amy, scared to death of why she is having blackouts and waking up soaking wet asks Beth to stick with her during one of these trances to find out who or what is behind her trance-like state.

They discover something one might call a merman, but Coates specifies this is not the case. The question for the two young women is, are these not-mermen a real danger, might they take poor Amy at some point and not give her back, or are they just curious about the females on land? There is some gunplay and enough driving about in cars to make the reader road weary

As I said, Coates offers her readers a lot of story but ultimately does little with it. There is a lot of seemingly pointless banter and every so often a tidbit of story. There may have been some sparse moments of interest here but for the most part the story comes off flat and sleepy.

“The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model” by Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Anders gives us a very interesting tale of very long-lived extraterrestrials. This alien race evidently created all civilizations throughout our galaxy. It was their hope that their creations would, through our evolutionary climb out of the caves and into the skyscrapers, unearth all the raw materials inside the planet and refine them. Then in our march toward the inevitable, we’d destroy ourselves leaving all those goodly refined materials behind to be picked up, and sold or traded in their commercial system.

It seems that technique worked for a good long time, millions of years in fact, until this pesky little planet called Earth (following a nuclear war) had the audacity to survive and thrive.

Two of the aliens, Jon and Toku, end up in a meet and greet with the surviving humans. The meeting does not transpire as they would have wished. Mistakes followed, and the result of those mistakes will lead either to the enrichment of the human species or its demise.

Anders' approach took time to get rolling but once it did, I found the story very interesting. It kept me reading and was over sooner than I would have liked. Charlie Anders delivers an intriguing, outside look at both humanity and the nature of interstellar commerce.

“The Speed of Time” by Jay Lake

“The Speed of Time” tries to mark itself as an event in Earth history, which results in a crack in the space/time continuum into which most of humanity falls. In fact, most of our reality falls into this crack with only a few scattered humans left floating about in space stations. They try to piece together where it all went wrong and try to discover if a repair in the continuum is possible. In the process, character Sameera Glasshouse ends up finding a connection to God, but that thread of conversation later dissolves into theoretical discussion that author Jay Lake leaves hanging.

“The Speed of Time” reads like a story written by someone with a better than average understanding of physics and cosmology. But therein too lies the problem. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was a fascinating look into the world of physics but was not what one might call a good story; after all it was non-fiction. The same might be said here. Lake offers us theory and conjecture but never really delivers on either and in the process leaves the reader without a terribly focused story. There is much to find of interest in this story—if you don't mind the lack of story.

“The Monster’s Million Faces” by Rachel Swirsky

A young man named Aaron seeks psychological therapy for a traumatic childhood event that still haunts his adult life. A doctor tries to walk him through his therapy but the progress is cumbersome for them both.

Aaron was kidnapped and suffered abuse as an eight year-old. Now as a man he finds his inability to control his anger has put his emotional growth at risk and has limited his ability to have a relationship.

This all seems like familiar ground and Swirsky writes the story with familiar references. Her prose is solid and her writing style distinctive. The story shifts timelines as we visit not only instances of Aaron's present, but his past, and a possible lateral past as well as future, which asks for the reader's full attention. The familiarity of “The Monster’s Million Faces” seemed trite and rehashed but the approach was fresh. Whether the two make a cohesive story is best left to the individual reader.