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

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, #14, August/September 2004

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"Scales of Justice" by Susie Hawes
"Body and Soul Art" by Eugie Foster
"The Water Cure" by Liz Williams
"Hitler's Ghost Possessed My Cat" by Ben Cook
"Counter Clock" by Patrick Mullarkey
"Lost Property" by Bren MacDibble
"The Sleeper" by Mark Healy
"The Munchausen Papers" by Stuart Barrow and Mark Bruckard

ImageThe fourteenth issue of Australia's Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is an entertaining mix of generally solid tales, most with a dash of humor. Nothing here stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, but several of the stories made me chuckle, and they all worked to some degree.

Running through the issue is a series of brief "excerpts" from "The Munchausen Papers," supposedly the reminiscences of the legendary Baron Munchausen himself. The good Baron encounters a selkie, the Shah of Pakistan, and other intriguing personalities, and acquits himself in his usual magnificent fashion. Stuart Barrow and Mark Bruckard spin some entertaining tall tales; I especially enjoyed "The Baron and the Seal" and "The Viscount in Pursuit Of the Clearest Crystal."

Susie Hawes' "Scales of Justice" is the story of Farquarte, apprentice to the wizard Mordo the Magnificent, who must seek a new master after Mordo runs into trouble with the royal guards. Farquarte heads for the hills, where he hopes to apprentice himself to Fechum, the last surviving dragon in the kingdom. With some quick thinking, Farquarte persaudes Fechum to take him on. The story then takes an unusual turn into a satire on bureaucracy and the law, as Fechum finds himself on the Endangered Species List and Farquarte must deal with the royal lawyers. The story was amusing, though it reads more as a test run for the characters than a full-fledged story. The author note does say that Hawes is working on a novel featuring Farquarte and Fechum, which would explain this.

I don't have any tattoos. The thought of that many needles makes me extremely uncomfortable, which is why Eugie Foster's "Body and Soul Art" made me squirm. Russell is a man who gets more than he bargained for when he visits his local tattoo parlor, "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Instead of the simple Celtic knot on his arm, he ends up with a massive snake on his chest and back. Painful, yes, but what really concerns Russell is that the snake seems to be coming to life.

I thought the Biblical references were a bit heavy-handed, and the last paragraph of the story seemed a purely gratuitous twist that, if followed through with, would have ruined the entire story. On the plus side, Foster does a good job portraying Rusell's agony, both physical and mental, as he wrestles with the consequences of his decisions.

Liz Williams is the only author in this issue with whom I was familiar. Her story "The Water Cure" is an elegantly told fable of Ronald, a man who attracts lightning. After repeated strikes, he retreats to a spa in Avern to take the water cure in the hope of remedying his condition. Upon visiting the spa's famous spring, however, Ronald learns there is more to the "water cure" than he realized. A neat and compact tale, with a pleasant twist at the end.

"Hitler's Ghost Possessed My Cat" reminds me of some of the rather manically bizarre books I read in my youth, by authors such as Daniel M. Pinkwater. This is Ben Cook's first sale, and it shows definite promise. The narrator, who does his level best to remain resolutely normal throughout, is friends with the resolutely non-normal Stanton siblings, Lisa and Bernie, who somehow discover that old women at bus stops are secretly discussing the imminent return of Hitler's ghost. Dragging the narrator along, Lisa and Bernie concoct a plan to stop this diabolical scheme. On the whole, this is an offbeat story with a catchy tone.

Patrick Mullarkey's "Counter Clock" has an original idea: a society in which our obsession with being on time has led to people having talking clocks for companions. Jim's trusty old Amigo III has a bad battery pack, so he can't risk taking it out of the house, and it would cost too much to have it repaired. At work, he is stuck with his father's Witzleben, a harsh German taskmaster of a clock that is always harassing Jim for not working hard enough. When Jim finally can't take it anymore, he threatens drastic action against the Witzleben, only to find salvation from an unexpected direction. There is an oddly poignant image of Jim and his trusty old clock sitting at home together, "dreaming of better days."

"Lost Property" is a somewhat gruesome story about Rassmussen Moustafen, a "lost property merchant" on a space station who thinks he's made his fortune when he finds an abandoned Khallidian box. Moustafen makes his living from all the various items that are abandoned, purposely or not, on the station, selling them to desperate owners looking for their lost items and anyone else who is interested. When Moustafen opens the Khallidian box, he makes a gruesome discovery, and when the owner comes back, Moustafen finds that for once a customer will not simply settle for buying back what he has lost. The setting is intriguing, and the final twist, while not unexpected, flows smoothly from the rest of the story.

Mark Healy's "The Sleeper" documents the first few months on the job for Ash, a rookie in DRAIN ("Detection and Recovery of Artifacts of an Indeterminable Nature.") Essentially, he and his partner Terry dig up alien artifacts, hoping not to get killed by toxic chemicals, explosives, or any of the other myriad dangers presented by thousand-year-old alien technology. Ash has a desperate crush on Yumi, a biologist, and when he and Terry discover an alien in suspended animation, Ash sees a chance to impress Yumi. The romantic and science fictional plots don't always mesh quite as well as they might, though Healy does a good job evoking the essential mundanity of Ash's seemingly exciting career.