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

Oceans of the Mind, #9, Fall 2003

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"Tribute" by Kenneth Chiacchia
"Brain Spike" by Resa Nelson
"The Coptic Cross" by Cherith Baldry
"The Murder of Lawanda Smith" by Terry Bramlett
"Everyone Needs a Couch" by Suzanne Church
"For We Are Many" by Paul Marlowe
"Demonstration Day" by Ian Creasey

Oceans of the Mind's fall theme is Mysteries, and the magazine apparently dedicates the fall issues to that theme as the Fall, 2004 issue will be on Science Fiction Mysteries. The variety of mysteries for this quarter was good, although I have to admit myself disappointed on some level with a number of them.

The opening story, "Tribute" by Kenneth Chiacchia, begins with the murder scene of a young alien killed during her dreams, the fourth victim of a serial killer, who selects his victims during his own forays into the dream world. The investigator, Idghe, an adept in the Church of Aplainong during a period of political turmoil after a civil war, is assigned to hunt the Dream predator. Idghe is shocked to discover who the predator is but uses him for his own agenda. The alien world and Dreamland are well-developed, and the politics of Idghe's world will feel familiar to anyone who has paid attention to recent events in our world. Despite this strength, I found the writing clumsy at times, with critical information less than skillfully woven into the narrative, and the relationship between Idghe and his guardsman extraneous to the mystery at hand.

"Brain Spike" by Resa Nelsen postulates a society that repairs damage to those diagnosed with a brain spike and a future as a serial killer. Unfortunately, the treatment also removes artistic genius. When the story opens, Caren, an art teacher, has just lost her prize student because his parents have chosen treatment for him. As Caren has to make the decision for her niece, Sooky, she also must confront her own ambiguous feelings about her childhood. Helped by yet another child, this one not possessing the genius of those she teaches, Caren is able to work through her own confusion and come to acceptance.

Although I cared about the characters and premise in this story, I thought it tried to cover too much ground with the interconnected relationships and snippets of back history that interrupted the story's flow.

"The Coptic Cross" by Cherith Baldry moves to a very different setting with a murder of an elderly woman in a church. Colonel Hugo Crichton treads on uneasy ground as he investigates the murder, hampered by the actions of the Lord Lieutenant who is determined that the White Rose, a modern-day Robin Hood, be found guilty of the crime. Hugo discovers a number of motivations, a likely candidate for the White Rose, and the murderer, yet nothing is resolved to his satisfaction.

The writing here is quite good, the descriptions apt, and the problem interesting. However, the reader does have a tendency to stay one step ahead of Colonel Hugo, and the characterization of the Lord Lieutenant is simplistic rather than deep.

With "The Murder of Lawanda Smith", Terry Bramlett creates a story of hidden passion and politics on a backwater mining planet. Humans live under Kak dominance and are brought to the point of rebellion as a space station detonates. Under these circumstances, the murder of a double agent/prostitute appears minor, but has dire implications for the investigator, Lutz, and those he interrogates, both human and Kak. The unveiling of the true murderer only proves that all is not as it seems.

Although the writing is proficient, and the planet and culture dynamics intriguing, the ending fell flat for me. I needed more emotional ties between the murderer and his victim to believe in the denouement.

Suzanne Church, in "Everyone Needs a Couch" posits the likely results if a writer's short story inspires the actual production of teleportation. This one was quite amusing, with the main character, Tank Lazier, running into various species who variously want to devour him or use him as inspiration. Although the mystery is no real puzzle to the reader, it is fun, especially since the protagonist is a likeable character with a strong reliance on booze and a desire for revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Still, despite its strengths, the end just misses satisfying.

"For We Being Many" by Paul Marlowe gives the reader another satisfying character--this one an amalgam of police officer and minister. Father McHaffy, his rescued dog, Tail, and his new partner, Raxi, are thrust into the murders of the Bishop's faithful. Investigation leads them to the producer of unregistered bio-semiconductor implants, and from there to the surprising murderer. The characterization pulled me through the story, rather than a strong desire to know who the murderer was or why, and I found the illuminating moment not set up enough to feel inevitable. However, the writing is good, as is the pacing, and I'd like to read more of Father McHaffy's adventures.

By far the strongest story of this edition is Ian Creasey's "Demonstration Day". Drake, a salesman for scientific equipment, has to discover the whereabouts of Rankin, missing in action from this year's demonstration of the latest scientific advances, or be kicked out from the convention himself. In a frenzy of fast-thinking, Drake utilizes Rankin's dead dog, gremlin traps, and a competitor's equipment to resolve his dilemma. Drake, while likeable, is tarred by self-serving greed, yet provides a cynical view of scientists more concerned with their own pet theories than one of their own missing. All in all, he's a charming scamp, and well able to hold his own amongst the geniuses who dot the convention landscape.

This story gets my vote for best of issue and is well worth the read.

Marsha Sisolak chases kindergartners in her day job in Southern California. Her fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Ideomancer, and other publications. She is a member of the Clarion West 2003 class, and currently is one of the editorial horde for Ideomancer.