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Short reviews by Mark R. Kelly. Longer reviews of these and other stories will appear in the September (Interzone) and October issues of Locus Magazine.

Interzone 146 August 1999
Special Australian WorldCon issue, guest-edited by Paul Brazier

Terry Dowling, ''The View In Nancy's Window''
On a far future Earth an artist meets with a contest judge about the results of the latest Ten Wonders competition. The judge explains why all the submissions were ultimately inadequate, once she understood the concepts of Plato's Cave and Nancy's Window -- the latter a window that reflects only the observer, obscuring whatever lays beyond. Dowling dazzles in his descriptions of future wonders while leading to a sober philosophical conclusion about humanity's place in the universe.

Sean McMullen, ''New Words of Power''
Two agents arrive in the isolated, booming coastal city of Barossa to discover the secret of its success: strange new concepts like ''win-win scenario'' and ''infrastructure'', introduced to the king by his mysterious assistant, the visirene. Though it recalls classics like Lest Darkness Fall, it's not a time travel story; like it, though, the story demonstrates the principle that knowledge is power.

S. Ivan Jurisevic, ''Captain Starlight and the Flying Saucer''
A tall-tale Australian-style creation-myth. Starlight and his mate, running airship tours to Ayres Rock, flee from an attacking Barabaran flying saucer. Tapping the spiritual energy of the Rock, they bounce back and forth in time, inadvertantly creating features of Australia's landscape and history. Fast-paced and light on its feet.


Playboy September 1999

T. Coraghessan Boyle, ''After the Plague''
A teacher on sabbatical in the California mountains realizes from radio broadcasts that a plague has quickly wiped out humanity and civilization. He thinks he might be the last man on Earth -- when there's a knock at the door. It's a woman; but he and Sarai don't get along all that well, despite their presumed duty to perpetuate the human race. Boyle's writing is as smooth and his treatment is as plausible as that of any SF writer who's ever dealt with this familiar theme, even if (appropriately enough for this magazine) the central problem devolves to the matter of finding the right girl.


Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 1999

James Gunn, ''The Giftie''
Marking the 50th anniversary of the author's first published story, this tells of aerospace engineer Adrian Mast, veteran browser of independent bookshops, who discovers a remaindered book called Gift from the Stars with appendices of remarkably plausible engineering diagrams of a spaceship powered by antimatter. With the help of the bookshop owner he tracks down the publisher and author of the book, along a trail leading to a small Arizona town and then to a mental hospital in Topeka, Kansas. Gunn's story resonates with familiar SF and fantasy tropes -- the bookshop of wonders; the alien connection in a small Arizona town -- and examines solid rationales for why the gift of alien technology would not be the obvious benefit to mankind that Mast initially assumes.

Charles Sheffield, ''McAndrew and the Fifth Commandment''
McAndrew, physics genius, is subdued by his mother and goes in search of his father in this hard SF tale that hinges on the gravitational properties of a missing spaceship with a modest mass but so compressed that it's only a fraction of a millimeter across in size. With a gravity at the surface that's thousands of g's, touch such an object and you can't let go!

Shane Tourtellotte, ''Holding the Key''
Solid Star Trek-like SF by one of Analog's newest regular writers. Starship captain Noemi Reyes is hired by alien Tutresh to collect data from the planet Kuess, where the alien Kihoa's language depends on perfect pitch, from a human, Oswald Pitt, whom Reyes once uncomfortably served with. Reyes discovers that Pitt is attempting to subvert the Tutresh's interdiction against outside influence on the Kihoa by translating human operas into the local language -- a familiar Prime Directive issue. The situations seem overly-complicated, but the story's a sequel to one that appeared in the January issue. And it ends happily (in a familiar Analog fashion), with all the characters romantically paired off by story's end.


Realms of Fantasy August 1999

Sten Westgard, ''A Brother Grimm''
When in 1859 Wilhelm Grimm dies, his brother Jacob is haunted by Wilhelm's dying words -- ''Burn the books!''. Jacob is disturbed by dreams of Rapunzel, Aschenputtel, and Rumpelstilzchen, who seem to demand some kind of retribution for having their tales stolen; and Jacob discovers diaries of nightmares that Wilhelm kept over the 40 years since they first published their famous Fairy Tales. The story provocatively asks, what do writers owe the people whose lives they exploit for literature?

Deborah Thérèse D'Onofrio, ''Rozsa-Néni and Farkas Asszony''
Or: Auntie Rosa and the Wolf Woman. Rozsa, a woman so old she has forgotten what she truly is, rediscovers herself in time to help Julianna, a 12-year-old who runs away from home to find her own way in the world. Employing the Hungarian folk tale refrain ''Soup? Bones!'', the story is a lesson in how to be oneself rather than what others expect you to be.

Bruce Holland Rogers, ''How the Highland People Came to Be''
Two-time Nebula-winner Rogers tells about Nictay, a clever liar who claims to be a princess as she saves Nacom of the Moon People, injured in a skirmish between two foreign tribes. Fleeing through the jungle they are captured by a goddess, who pits the two of them in a life-or-death game for her honor. A clever tale of wits between man and god that suggests how fanciful lies can bring about reality.

(Tue 17 August 1999)

© 1999 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.