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

Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 2004

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"Mastermindless" Matthew Hughes
"Ultraviolet Night" Jim Young
"Pervert" Charles Coleman Finlay
"Many Voices" M. Rickert
"A Peaceable Man" Alex Irvine

Image"Mastermindless" is a delightful tale, clever and light-hearted. Henghis Hapthorn, one of Matthew Hughes' recurrent characters, is a discriminator—a man of an amazingly sharp intellect, paid to solve mysteries that baffle less brilliant persons. But this time, Hapthorn finds himself in a paradoxical situation: the mystery he must solve is also the one that inexplicably robbed him of his renowned intellect. While the crux of the "mystery" becomes apparent fairly early in the story, the main appeal of it comes from Hapthorn's struggle with himself—or rather, the man he had become. Hughes handles the story's many twists and turns with grace, and the ending is both satisfying and unexpected.

Jim Young's "Ultraviolet Night" is the least enjoyable tale of the bunch. It reads very much like a screenplay, with minimal internal monologues, constantly (and inexplicably) shifting point-of-view, and arbitrary scene breaks. The latter are especially annoying, since they are often used to offset a few lines of dialog not particularly separate from what precedes or follows them. The cast is as numerous as it is underdeveloped, and the science does not live up to the level of a high school textbook.

The plot seems to belong to a thriller movie—against the backdrop of greedy and unethical corporations, self-serving politicians, and corporate mind-control, the protagonist (a scientist with a requisite autistic son) works on the clinical trials for a new protein that is supposed to enhance mental functioning. The story deals largely with issues of ethics, mind control and privacy invasion. One of the trial subjects is a troubled young man, who talks in "youthspeak"—a mix of Ebonics and Valley Girl. Seeing how the story takes place in the future, it is perplexing that the lingo did not undergo any development; moreover, since it stayed so stable for a century, it is puzzling why most adult protagonists do not understand it. The author is reportedly working on developing this story into a novel; I sincerely hope that the novel will work better, since this novelette resembles a novel synopsis.

"Pervert" by Charles Coleman Finlay depicts a world where normal heterosexual relationships are taboo—men and women are segregated, and forced to wear veils in each other's presence. The reproduction is accomplished in rather spectacular and unconventional ways, and most men are involved in homosexual relationships. The protagonist, however, is obsessed by a forbidden desire that makes him a pervert. While I enjoyed the story, I thought that it would benefit from a bit more exploration of its customs and beliefs. For example, the society is run by theogeneticists, but the meaning of the term is neither implied nor explained. I was also somewhat baffled at the fact that neither procreation nor sex (with the same-sex partner) is prohibited, but heterosexual sex is such a taboo that there is no word for it. There are also a number of small but puzzling inconsistencies in the worldview. Overall, I liked the story, but I wish it were more developed.

"Many Voices" by M. Rickert is an incredibly sad and touching story of a woman, a witch, convicted for murder. It is difficult to recount the plot without giving too much away, but Rose, the protagonist, is a woman with an ability to see what nobody else can. M. Rickert does a wonderful job conveying the emotions of someone trapped in the world that does not see or accept anything non-material, and the beauty of Rickert's writing complements this complex, dark, and yet hopeful story.

"A Peaceable Man" by Alex Irvine is my favorite tale in the issue. It's not just that I have great fondness for borzois; the story manages to be moving without being melodramatic, and profound without being moralistic. Greg, the first-person narrator, is an antiques dealer as well as a thief, and the story starts with him participating in an armed robbery. The robbery goes wrong, and Greg goes to jail, leaving behind his dog—the only being he misses while in prison. The protagonist, despite being a criminal, is quite sympathetic, largely due to the relationship he has with Boris, his borzoi. The supernatural element of this story is limited to a chessboard that is purported to contained souls of those abandoned, but it is used well. I very much enjoyed the graceful exploration of redemption and guilt, as well as somewhat old-fashioned and lovely writing.