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

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue #28

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"Grace" by Ian McHugh

"Sweet Potato Woman" by Chris Barnes
"Polish" by Kaaron Warren
"Rest Stop" by Marissa K. Lingen
"The Dark and What It Said" by Rick Kennett
"The Eradicator" by Ben Cook
"The Bluebell Vengeance" by Tansy Rayner Roberts
"House in Love" by Gail Kavanagh

Issue #28 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine contains eight stories. The leading one, Ian McHugh's “Grace,” opens with: “Six months after she died, he gets the call to collect her from the airport.”  "Her" is the nameless protagonist's wife, but it's not her calling.  He has commissioned a construct of his deceased wife and it's ready for pickup.  This one is number five, the fifth time he's brought her back.

“Grace” is hard to describe without revealing too much. McHugh has written a story about a man’s great longing, but darker hints sprinkled throughout prompt the reader to ask what exactly it is he really longs for. And how well can we trust what he says? Certainly, his wife can’t know the past.

Of the offerings in this issue, "Grace" requires readers to stretch the most, inferring background around the fringes. Too often, this sort of challenge is a failing, leaving the reader confused or diffident about the ambiguities. McHugh's story, however, requires this ambiguity, bordering on allegorical with its tightly focused protagonist. “Grace” provokes questions about a future that might not be that far from us, how it might affect us, and how it might affect our relationships. It certainly merits reading, and more than once.

“Sweet Potato Woman” by Chris Barnes is another story that examines loss and the effort to replace what has gone. George Mullett is a widower still grieving after the death of his wife.  He takes solace in caring for the garden that they had always tended together.  And one day, he discovers a sweet potato shaped like a woman’s head.

George spends his days trying to fend off an unwanted suitor, Marylin Hardcastle, whom he finds too sterile, too plastic. He spends his nights listening to the sweet potato woman's song. Her singing gives George a release for his grief and paves the way for him to move on with his life.

A definite contrast to the darker edges of the opening story, “Grace,” Barnes’s tale is gentle and hopeful. “Sweet Potato Woman” shows readers a protagonist quietly progressing down the path to recovery, away from the tight focus he had on his past so he can restart his life and become a fuller person.  Editorially, its placement is smart, providing two contrasting approaches to the same theme. The pair together comprise my favorites of this issue.

In Kaaron Warren’s “Polish,” our protagonist's parents have died and her brother is tearing down their childhood house.  She's driving there with her girlfriend one last time to say her goodbyes to the ghost of her youth.  Of course, in this case, the ghost is literal, the shade of a young woman polishing her brass bed.  And on her visit, our protagonist learns why.
“Polish” is more of a character study. Although rife with internal conflict, it could have used more active conflict. Confronting one’s past is hard, but there was very little at risk here.  I never thought the protagonist was in danger.

In “Rest Stop” by Marissa K. Lingen, the city of San Francisco has decided to take a vacation. Not the physical place, but the anthropomorphized character.  She’s at a rest stop along the 99, near Fresno.  And, being San Francisco, she’s kind of petulant about it. Toni and her partner, Warren, have to convince her to come back. It’s their job to deal with the Personifications of the Abstract.

This is a delightful play on the perceptions we have about the abstract ideas we deal with every day. People interacting with these personifications lets Lingen turn readers' presumptions on their heads and make statements about the baser nature of ideas. “Rest Stop” is a great story; its depth and characters made me wish it was a novel.

Rick Kennett’s “The Dark and What It Said” is another ghost story, but one of a different vein. Rudy and Andrew are camping in a lonesome mountain range. An abandoned sedan evokes tales of snakes and ghosts, primordial fears for many and certainly for Andrew.  Of course, Andrew’s fear takes a turn for the worse when Rudy disappears right before his eyes while checking out the old sedan.  As much about people facing their fear as it is about what causes it, Kennett’s story is ambiguous enough to leave unanswered questions. 

“The Eradicator” by Ben Cook is a humorous takeoff on paradox stories, an entertaining exploration of the notion that the tiniest change to the past can have vast repercussions on the future. Dr. Crantz invents the Eradicator, a device which erases things from existence.  Completely.  And, having more important things to do than play with reality, Dr. Crantz gives his invention to Jamie.  But Jamie has a problem; he can’t stop eradicating things.  He has no self control, and eradicating things is so easy. But every time he does, things get worse.  “The Eradicator” concludes with a delightful but reasonable twist.  Cook has created an entertaining story, well worth reading.

In Tansy Rayner Roberts’s “The Bluebell Vengeance,” Mendra is the daughter of a Dark family: vampires and witches and rabid hippogryphs.  So she’s rather pleased when she wakes up with a reasonably handsome man, who, she figures, must obviously have a girlfriend she can plot against. But her grandfather being hexed kind of ruins her morning. Worse, yet, he was hexed by fairies.

In this uproarious romp, Mendra learns that the universe has a perverted sense of humor when you complain about how it’s sending you all the wrong guys. And no matter how cutthroat you think your family is, if they're Dark, it’s even worse when they pursue a business deal.  Fast paced and light, with witty dialogue and nicely twisted characters, “The Bluebell Vengeance” will certainly let you know that Happily Ever After isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In Gail Kavanagh’s “House in Love,” Tina’s world is one where people no longer have much contact with each other. They work over the net and live in automated and climate controlled “smart” houses, hiding from pollution and disease. Then Tina’s smart house falls in love . . . with the unautomated house across the street.  As it turns out, Tina’s neighbors, the Tanners, are anachronisms. They haven’t had their house upgraded, and they don’t work on the net. They grow and cook their own food (instead of having the house do it) and sell products they make with their own hands. It's the opposite of Tina’s world, and now Tina’s house wants to emulate theirs.

A cautionary tale, “House in Love” examines a culture where people have become afraid of the landscape they've created and have developed technology to insulate themselves from it.  However, they've pushed it too far and things are starting to push back.