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

Realms of Fantasy, June 2007

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“Afghan Buddha Payback” by David Pinault
“Companions to the Moon” by Charles de Lint
“The Hotel Astarte” by M.K. Hobson
“Pennsylvania Dragon” by Stephen Chambers
“Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon” by Theodora Goss

“Afghan Buddha Payback” by David Pinault is a modernized "Indiana Jones" sort of adventure, with somewhat shady characters risking life and limb in the pursuit of genuine—and valuable—art objects.  The action takes place in Pakistan, mostly in Waziristan, near the Afghan-Pakistani border, and features the Taliban in place of Jones's Nazis as combined threat and comic relief.

The narrator is a citizen of the world who sometimes calls himself a journalist but mostly gets by doing odd jobs—courier service, bodyguarding, selling information, smuggling a few antiquities.  His current partner in crime is an off and on acquaintance named Darlene, a woman of little patience who has a PhD in art history from Princeton but was bounced out of academia because of her inability or unwillingness to mind her manners or control her temper. She now styles herself as an "art acquisition consultant," supplying clients who don’t ask too many questions about her sources. 

The adventurers are looking for Gandharan Buddhist artifacts.  Finding the pickings a bit lean in Peshawar, they enlist the aid of a local art dealer who in turn refers them to a spiritual practitioner, a sorcerer who specializes in finding things people want.  The sorcerer, Baba Jan, is aided by Siddhartha the djinn who used to wander about Afghanistan but, having strayed to Tibet, was captured and converted to Buddhism by a Lama.  Baba Jan keeps his mystical companion confined in a chutney jar reinforced with multiple rubber bands.

Consulting the djinn, Baba Jan informs them they will find what they seek in the vicinity of Miran Shah.  Since that’s Taliban country, the art dealer hires a local escort for safety—what else, an escort of idol-hating Talibs.  A conflict is inevitable.  The djinn, who still has a temper despite his conversion, has no patience with would-be desecrators of holy objects.  A delightful bit of mayhem follows.

Lots of action, very visual, plenty of laughs.  A well-told tale.

“Companions to the Moon” by Charles de Lint accompanies, and apparently was inspired by, a fascinating painting by Charles Vess.  (Get hold of a copy of the issue and see the artwork for yourself.  And a big "boo-hiss" to Realms of Fantasy for stapling a multi-page book ad right into the middle of the picture—I ripped the offending material out of my copy of the magazine and haven’t even bothered to read it.  On the plus side, they did place the two-page picture in the center of the magazine, so it’s all on one piece of paper.)

Conventional wisdom says jealousy and suspicion are harbingers of disaster; satisfying one’s curiosity often leads to dissatisfaction.  In this case, conventional wisdom is proven right.  Mary and Edric have been together seven years, but now the magic seems to have gone out of their relationship.  Looking for clues to the change, Mary finally notices that Edric, a working musician, is always out of town when there’s a full moon.  Always.  So does that mean he’s meeting someone on a regular schedule?  Is he having an affair?

Her friend Gwen suggests, facetiously, that he may be a werewolf, then goes on to say that there’s “always been something different about him.”  Mary muses that “that touch of mysteriousness is half of what attracted me to him in the first place.  And I’ve never been the kind of person who believes in changing the person I’m with.”  Still, she has to know what’s going on, so of course she follows him.  We can predict her actions will bring nothing but heartache, but the details come from de Lint’s wonderfully inventive imagination.

“The Hotel Astarte” by M.K. Hobson creates a uniquely American mythology.  I’m not sure I understood all the allusions, but one can at least see a mystical version of twentieth century history shining through. 

Columbia, the beautiful Princess of the Harvest, was betrothed before birth to the man who would become the King of the Midwest.  Her future is planned out, secure.  But the Emperor of the East and his cohorts hire a traveling warlock, Jacob Philadelphia, to bring Columbia to New York, where they will destroy her in order to steal her magic for their own selfish purposes.  In 1910, Jacob seduces Columbia with the promise of bright lights and new experiences.  “There is nothing that security wants more than danger.  There is nothing that satisfaction wants more than to be overturned.”  Jacob takes her to the Hotel Astarte.  But he falls in love with her, and gives up his life rather than turn her over to his wicked employers.

Unaware of Jacob’s sacrifice, Columbia thinks herself deserted.  She wanders the city, her heart broken.  The land suffers; crops fail.  At last the King of the Midwest finds her and brings her home. 

Nearly twenty years later, in 1929, the King of the Midwest decides to destroy the Emperor of the East, not because of Columbia, but because of the dissatisfaction that’s being sown in his territory.  He has his warlocks summon dead Jacob to accompany Jacob and Columbia’s son to New York; they know that Jacob’s “desire for revenge is so powerful that he can use it to make the death of the Emperor of the East.”  Together they work magic that brings down the eastern empire; the markets fail and both empires crash. 

“Pennsylvania Dragon” by Stephen Chambers contains scenes that are not suitable for children and may offend some adults.  Be warned.

The setting: Pakard, Pennsylvania, population 781 and falling, bypassed by the interstates, slowly dying since the mine shut down.  A fire smolders in the mine tunnels below the town—or so everyone believes.

The major characters: Paul and his fiancé, Mandy, who have saved every nickel and dime they could for eight years; next year they hope to finally have enough to pay for a wedding and a down payment on a house.  Paul’s father, who worked in the mine but now plays hooky from his hardware store job to hit the gambling tables and has been losing big time.  The chicken man, one of a string of money collectors holding that name or title—his employer is unknown or at least never talked about, but bad things happen to those who don’t pay.  Rose, an exotic dancer who may be more than she seems.  Matt, Paul’s friend, who hasn’t much more than a walk-on role.

The story:  Paul’s father dies in a spectacular car crash, possibly an accident but maybe suicide.  The chicken man informs Paul that he is now responsible for his father’s sizable gambling debts, and gives him a hair-raising demonstration of what will happen if payments aren’t made.  Paul is unwilling to simply curl up and watch all his dreams die.  With his father’s gun, and a bit of magic from Rose, he goes after the chicken man and finds out what’s really in the mine tunnels. 

The story is compelling, in spite of the too-graphic violence and gore, but I found the interpolation of James Bond lyrics in the penultimate scene to be more of an annoying distraction than an enhancement.

“Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon” by Theodora Goss is about a fairy-tale princess who isn’t particularly happy with that role.  Small wonder, for she isn’t truly a princess by birth, having been found in the garden under a chestnut tree by the childless queen. 

Queen Margarethe is a strong-minded woman, with ambitions for her adopted daughter, whom she passes off for sixteen years as her own child.  The laws of the little country of Sylvania require that the throne must pass to a male heir.  Easy-going King Karel is quite content to let his nephew, Prince Radomir, take over, but the queen thinks the cousins should marry so her daughter can be queen. 

Lucinda has no desire to be a queen.  She hates speeches and receptions and fashionable clothes.  She likes Radomir well enough as a friend, mostly because he’s studying to be an engineer and discusses science with her.  Lucinda’s lady-in-waiting, Jaromila, a basically self-centered sort, loves all the trappings of royalty and would gladly marry Radomir to acquire them, but she has no interest in him for himself.  Lucinda’s best friend, Bertila, the gardener’s daughter, adores the prince but knows a commoner like herself hasn’t a chance with him. 

Enter the Hound of the Moon, who interrupts Lucinda’s sixteenth birthday party to take her to her real mother, setting off a chain of events that ultimately gives each girl her heart’s desire, or close to it.  A charming tale with a happily-ever-after ending.