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

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 2003

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"Wild Thing" by Charles Coleman Finlay
"Dragonhead" by Nick DiChario
"The Tangled Strings of Marionettes" by Adam-Troy Castro
"Possibilities" by Eyal Teler
"Repository" by Carol Emshwiller
"Clem Crowder's Catch" by Al Michaud

"Wild Thing" by Charles Coleman Finlay

Okay, I admit it. I was a bit skeptical when Finlay opened the story with a quotation referring to the Grail. I mean, it's been done, and not well usually. I'm happy to say that Finlay proved me wrong. What's more, he did so quickly, demonstrating his mastery by characterizing the small boy and two fairy creatures in a few lively lines that had me ready for more, much more. Since many stories have been told about the grail knight, many about the fairy kingdom, and many about Arthurian knights specifically, and this story blends those three topics, Finlay's accomplishment in this story comes not from original material, but from a spot on evocation of the emotional tone of humanity's encounters with the weird. I shuddered a delicious shudder when the Pale Lady was blessing and cursing the young boy who would grow up to be a knight. Resonant, poetic, this story was a small gem, and the best of the issue. Thank you, Mr. Finlay.

"Dragonhead" by Nick DiChario

The story's title refers to a new addiction that blends body modification with plugging directly into a computer-aided data stream. As a sociological possibility, it is a nice one, but since it's been done, as part of all cyberpunk since Neuromancer, to make it really work, either something new has to be added, or the story must do something better. Neither is the case here. Some of the prose sequences indicating the data flood through the addict's head are well executed, but there is no surprise in the plot, nor, unfortunately, are any characters particularly well-realized; I neither understood why this particular person might succumb to this addiction, nor felt why I should care.

"The Tangled Strings of Marionettes" by Adam-Troy Castro

Note to self: read more Adam-Troy Castro. If "Wild Thing" was the most polished story in this issue, "The Tangled Strings of Marionettes" was far and away the most ambitious. As the title suggests, the story is set in the same universe as Castro's "The Funeral March of the Marionettes." Since I had not read the earlier story, but enjoyed this one all the same, I can testify that this story stands on its own, and does so quite well. It begins with the description of what seems to be a statue of an alien, a Vlhani, to be precise, and ends with a description of the same tentacled entity. In between, Castro tells a complex story about art, communication, culture, belonging, and identity. At least as important as any of those themes, Castro celebrates the mystery of the universe, on both the personal and the cosmic level. These themes are woven together via a number of storylines, all of which come together in the Vlhani Ballet, an annual ritual that is a mass mystical dance. Only a few humans take part in the dance—which ends in death for its participants--and readers follow the story of those taking part in this year's performance through the eyes of Paul Royko, a neural linkcaster (essentially reporter) who had come for a great story of art and tragedy, but got more than he came for, including, in the end, meaning.

Let me hasten to say that the story is rich enough that I can say all of that about it without spoiling any of the surprises it contains. Even though I didn't buy all of the extrapolative trills (they don't quite all fit together), I loved the richness and again, the boldness of it all. Nicely done.

"Possibilities" by Eyal Teler

The editorial notes accompanying this story indicate that it was written in response to Ray Bradbury's story "Quid Pro Quo," published in the October/November 2000 issue of F & SF. As a response, and as an indicator of how genre fiction builds on itself, it is interesting. As an homage, it is understandable. As a story, judged on its own merits, it is not satisfying. It's a fine variation on one of the established time travel plots, but it remains conceptual, more a sketch or draft of a story than a fully realized work in its own right. The plot and idea are here, but there is no suspense, and characters float free of context or strong emotion.

The editorial note also indicates that this is Teler's first published work of fiction, so let me add "Congratulations!"

"Repository" by Carol Emshwiller

This is not Carol Emshwiller's finest work, which means that rather than being stunning, it is merely very very good. I often feel like I'm reading something by a Zen master when I read Ms. Emshwiller's work. She uses a simple vocabulary and straightforward sentences to striking emotional effect. In this case, she returns to a familiar SFnal idea, that of a society caught in an ongoing war. She tells a story about an old man and a young boy, focusing on evoking the emotional texture of the society, and of the social and life cycles that unite them (and, it is suggested, perhaps unite us as well). I found the story's ending mildly unsatisfying, but it did fit the core concept of the story, of people finding a way to be human to one another in the midst of ongoing struggle.

"Clem Crowder's Catch" by Al Michaud

First, two caveats. One: Michaud's piece runs more than thirty pages, and, while there are lots of minor weird touches along the way, the only explicitly fantastic element occurs in the final two pages, and frankly, detracts from the story. Two: the plot is predictable, and exists only as an excuse to tell the story. Now the good side of things. This story is a regional tall tale, complete with dialect (Maine, primarily), and strange regional characters. While I did grow restless a few times at the plot, Michaud always won me back. The vivid images, starting with the oversized lobsters clinging to Blinky Dinkins's dead body, the lively slang, the ridiculous-yet-believeable relationships, and the tone of "we're all in this for fun," kept bringing me back, and I laughed out loud at some of the characters. I mean, who can resist a character named "Good-Foot Toussaint"? Read this as a regional romp, and enjoy.

Greg Beatty was most of the way through a PhD in English at the University of Iowa when his advisors agreed that letting him go to Clarion West 2000 would be a good idea. Bad idea. He finished his dissertation on serial killer novels, then gave up on traditional academia and returned to his original dream of writing fiction. He's had a number of stories published, since then, with acceptances by SCI FICTION, 3SF, Palace of Reason, The Fortean Bureau, Would That It Were, deathlings.com, Abyss & Apex, Paradox, Oceans of the Mind, and several anthologies. For more information on Greg's writing, visit http://home.earthlink.net/~gbeatty/.