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

Subterranean Online, Spring 2011

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Subterranean Online, Spring 2011

“Show Trial” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“The Crane Method” by Ian R. MacLeod
“The Crawling Sky” by Joe R. Lansdale
“The Fall of Alacan” by Tobias R. Buckell
“Treasure Island: A Lucifer Jones Story” by Mike Resnick
“Water to Wine” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Reviewed by Bob Blough

Subterranean Online is one e-magazine that does not eschew novella length works. The first story this quarter is one of those. “Show Trial” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a quiet story set in Europe just after the decimation of World War II. The center of the piece is Lt. Robert Parker whose innocence was completely destroyed while one of the troops that freed a concentration camp. War and this unbelievable atrocity have made him rootless and disaffected and unsure that he will ever be able to return to a “normal” life. He has re-upped to serve as a translator for the tribunal set up to try the war criminals. All this is beautifully rendered –- Robert’s weariness and ennui, Paris and Nuremburg right after the war years, and the set up to the tribunal.

The genre elements enter with the introduction of the other central character, Nathalie Renard. Renard works in the Parisian telephone exchange -- and happens to be extremely beautiful. Something is disturbing about her. She has facility in many languages on a variety of subjects and is thus a perfect translator for the tribunal, but that disturbing quality and her belief in just killing the criminals instead of going though this “Show Trial” make her untrustworthy for the job.

I believe that Ms. Rusch excels at the novella length and this is no exception. The genre element is in many ways a small part of this story. It is more a viewing of a very important time in world history, with fantastic overtones. It questions whether the lawful method of jurisprudence is either hopeful or self-serving.

The next story is by one of my favorite genre writers, Ian R. MacLeod. His writing does not disappoint in “The Crane Method.” The prose is fluid and graceful throughout. The story revolves around a college rivalry in England during the summer of 1928. Welbeck College has the most acclaimed Saxon historian known at the time. Professor Matthias Crane (a fictional creation) is celebrated but not liked. His name tends to end up as the creator of his graduate students’ projects. One such student, Richard Talbot, has been hired by Welbeck as an historian. He would like to beat Crane at his own game and become even better known than his previous professor. It’s a dandy adventure story, beautifully written, with puzzling clues leading to a cache of Saxon antiquities. Will Richard achieve his goal? The journey is worth reading.

We next jump into the horror genre. Joe R. Lansdale, a master when it comes to horror, takes us to a horrible western town in “The Crawling Sky.”  Wood Tick (the town’s name explains it all) is a very tiny town. A recurring character of Mr. Lansdale’s, The Reverend Jebediah Mercer, comes into town and finds a man locked in Wood Tick’s provisional jail, as the town hasn’t yet gotten around to building a proper one.

This man has a story about the haint that killed his wife. The adventure begins there and gets wilder and scarier as it proceeds. Mr. Lansdale has a fine way with characters, as all of them, while definitely “different,” never seem unreal. They are memorable creations. If horror isn’t your cup of tea, this is still so slickly written that enjoyment should arise from this quality alone.

Another novelette follows and takes place in the fantasy world created by Tobias S. Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi. “The Fall of Alacan” is written by Mr. Buckell and is the third appearance of this world. The story involves a thief named Mynza who is drummed out of the thieves’ guild for inappropriate use of magic. Magic in this world is commonplace, but each time it is used brambles spring up to swallow the world. Alacan is encircled by a bramble forest created by profligate use of magic. The title tells you pretty much what happens, but beyond that I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so I’ll say that the world is vivid and the characters interesting. You’ll enjoy reading it.

The short story “Treasure Island: A Lucifer Jones Story” involves the titular recurring character in a series of stories published in Subterranean and elsewhere. The author is long time SF/Fantasy writer and multiple Hugo Award winner Mike Resnick.

I have read one or two others in this series and I can only say that comedy is awfully hard to write and in my opinion Mr. Resnick lands just off the comedic bulls eye in these stories. The plot revolves around another meeting with The Reverend Lucifer Jones and his arch nemesis, Erich von Horst, on an island with pirates and buried treasure. Try it and you’ll be able to tell if the series is something that works for you. It does not for me.

The final story is another novella and a rich one indeed. Like the Buckell story, it is also written a shared world story. This shared world was created by John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Buckell and Karl Schroeder. The stories are conceived as audio books and then later published in print form. This is the first print publication for “Water to Wine” by Mary Robinette Kowal and comes from the second audio book in the series. Ms. Kowal is a rising star right now, and this novella, I feel, will keep her name on the rise. It takes place in the near future in the Pacific Northwest. This specific area is trying to re-do its technological advances while maintaining the level the technology has afforded it. It deals with a family vineyard (with attached winery) run by the father and one of his three daughters. The distribution for their wines is taken over by a new company and the new man in charge, Ram Horn (and, yes, the name is purposefully chosen), suggests that he buy their property or… The veiled threat is that he will no longer distribute the family’s wine.

This is a character driven story which centers on the daughter, Emma, as she fights with her family, her feelings about love, Ram Horn, and the new technology she fears will ruin the grapes. It is a beautifully written near-future utopia. You will be glad to have read it.

Subterranean Online has published an excellent issue (once again) and is to be applauded for including novellas in each issue. It really is a venue for great stories at a great price!