Lois Tilton reviews Short Fiction, late May 2010

This month’s reading was balanced between SF and fantasy, with a leavening of nonSFnal stories employing SFnal themes.

Zines Reviewed



Asimov’s, July 2010

Featuring a fine novella by Robert Reed.

“A History of Terraforming” by Robert Reed

Simon has followed in the terraforming footsteps of his father, beginning on Mars. But even more than humanity is altering the solar system, it is altering itself, with the first step adopting immortality. In Simon’s millennium-long career, much has changed, but the history is that of the human species, even if we might no longer recognize it as such.

Even orbiting Saturn, where space was cheap and food easy to come by, people were acquiring small modern bodies. Simon hadn’t been this tiny since he was one year old. These new metabolisms were efficient and reliable, and where the human mind would eventually decay, cortexes made of crystalline proteins were denser and far sturdier, thoughts washing through them quickly enough to double an atum’s natural talents and increase his memory twenty-fold.

There is little of science fiction that Reed hasn’t put into this novella in the course of following Simon’s prolonged lifetime. At the center of it is Simon: a good man, of good intentions and strong emotions. As must be inevitable over so long a life, he loses much – family, lovers, homes, worlds. Yet the author can describe him as happy, and in the end he achieves fulfillment. In Reed’s long career he is given us many fine stories; I think this one may be counted as one of his masterpieces.


“Haggle Chips” by Tom Purdom

Interstellar trader Janip has been hijacked, along with the cargo he was delivering to his client, in the course of a business dispute. It is a civilized sort of kidnapping, but even so it is irksome.

“You want your merchandise. I want to get back to a nice normal place like Kaltuji where I can talk to people with nice normal interests like profit and pleasure. And there’s only two ways that can happen. You can give them what they want. Or we can get me out of here.”

There are, of course, complications, including the emotional bond that one of the kidnapping group has formed with Janip. Should he try to take her with him when he attempts to escape?

Purdom’s narrative creates a lot of appeal with this neat future setting where trade dominates societies and emotions can be subordinated to rational optimization. It doesn’t seem to make rational sense, however, that the kidnappers let Janip keep his merchandise, especially after they knew he intended to escape.

“The Jaguar House, In Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard

Alternate history. Greater Mexica has been overtaken by a reactionary theocracy, and the traditional orders of Knights have been destroyed, except for the Jaguar House, whose leader Tecipiani has chosen to collaborate with the new ruler. Other members of the Jaguars have joined the resistance. Now Onalli is infiltrating the house to try to rescue her friend Xochitl from torture.

This is more of a personal story than political. Tecipiani, Onalli and Xochitl were once friends. Each has done as she has seen best, and each has paid for her decision in her own way. It remains to be seen whose choice was best in the long run. The story is told in alternating points of view, in regressing flashbacks that suggest how the crisis developed. This results in a rather fractured narrative. The alternate world, in which other works in this series have been set, seems technologically ahead of our own timeline here. One thing that bothers me: it made clear that the various orders of knights are consummate warriors, yet we see nothing of the military force that supposedly has overwhelmed them.

“The Other Graces” by Alice Sola Kim

Grace is betting it all on getting into an Ivy League university, escaping her origins, particularly her crazy father.

It was then you realized that there are many different kinds of Asian girls. One kind is yellow trash; that is what you are. No matter how you brush your hair and wear Neutrogena lip shimmer and speak perfect English with nary a trace of fobbiness and play a string instrument like, say, Ann Li, you are not like her and you will never be like her, because you are yellow trash and people can tell.

But Grace has secret help from the alternate Graces from other timelines who coach her across the subspace corridor.

The second-person narrative drives the somewhat surprising ending. It’s impossible not to wonder how our Grace’s life does turn out.

“Eddie’s Ants” by D T Mitenko

Matt is jealous that his lover Aleksa has dumped him for the alien colony organism that calls itself Edward. It’s hard to kill a person who is really a collection of antlike entities in a human shape. But Matt finds a way.

Too talky, but still amusing.

“Amelia Pillar’s Etiquette for the Space Traveler” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Helpful information and advice that tells us more about the travel company than they would really like us to know.

Passengers who brag and, worse, those who embellish the details of their adventure, are the ones who become the source of the rumors you have heard about the discomforts of space travel. Spare future passengers the hyperbole, particularly if they plan to travel on an Interstellar Travel Company cruise ship in the future.


Analog, July/August 2010

Double issue with no less than three novellas. Not one of my favorite issues of this zine.

“Doctor Alien’s Five Empty Boxes” by Rajnar Vajra

“Doctor Alien” is Doctor Al Morganson, who gained an undeserved reputation as an expert on extraterrestrial psychology in the previous installment of this series. He now operates a clinic on Earth, which is so unpopular in the neighborhood that there is little surprise when someone rigs his car to explode. His current patients include a comatose Vapabond and an alien robot that Al has to assemble from parts; once assembled, it only complicates his existing problems.

There are fictional puzzles that invite the reader to solve them, and there are fictional puzzles that the author assembles in order to explain the solution at great length to the comatose audience. This is one of the latter. The intent is clearly entertainment, the mode supposed to be humor, relying in large part on detailed descriptions of improbable aliens. Alas, my reaction to things like the below is simply stupifaction.

Her body is essentially a collection of shapeable, elastic, purple nanotubes dark enough to appear black except in direct sunlight. Each tube is equivalent to one of our cells and L, who’s an encyclopedia about Tsf trading partners, tells me that the Vithy evolved as a gradual collaboration between individual tubes.

The background depends in large part on familiarity with the previous installment and the aliens already explained at length in that earlier piece.

“Bug Trap” by Stephen L Burns

Glyph is a public pest who now finds himself hunted by both the Chrome Lords and the NYPD.

The idle palm-slap of metal against flesh was intimidating in its suggestion of ready violence, but actually kind of helpful in the way it broadcast their location.

His only hope for escape is a convenient Bug Trap, a portal established by curious aliens to lure members of the human kind to Venus for study. The place has the potential to be a paradise, but even though the portals supposedly exclude sociopaths, humans manage to screw things up in the usual way, despite near-limitless resources and freedom. And Glyph is being tested.

This one starts out promisingly, with a lively narrative, an exciting situation, and a resourceful protagonist. I was ready for a fun read, but alas, once we get to Venus it soon becomes clear that we are in for an extended Lesson instead.

“Project Hades” by Stephen Baxter

Alternate history. In an abandoned mine reputed to be the place where Lucifer fell to Earth, with UFOs orbiting overhead and even more unknown objects orbiting through the Earth’s crust directly below the mine, reckless scientists are about to detonate a nuclear device without benefit of seismological input. This premise had the potential to generate a great Cold War era sci-fi thriller, but instead we get farce and the demented rantings of a mad scientist who puts Dr Strangelove in the shade as he single-handedly launches nuclear war against the unseen powers in the magma.

“But this is the logic of total war, Jones. Such wars must be won, whatever the cost. And I am ready to command an empire of ruins, if that’s what it takes to win.”

A sad waste of a Neat Idea.

“Fly Me to the Moon” by Marianne J Dyson

In the classic SF scenario, someone is stranded on the moon with lifesupport running out, in need of either rescue or a resourceful solution. In this case, two space tourists are stranded when their lander crashes, and the only hope is for them to take off in the replica Apollo landing module. But they need someone to talk them through the process. Fortunately, a retired Apollo astronaut is still alive, with a deep-seated knowledge of the program that even Alzheimer’s disease has not erased.

As the author’s note says, this one is a tribute. Dyson brings strong authenticity to both the NASA procedures and the respectful portrayal of the elderly astronaut, which makes it a very personal and moving story.

“The Android Who Became a Human Who Became an Android” by Scott William Carter

Detective story. Duff, down on his luck, accepts a job from a heartless, golddigging bimbo to find her missing android husband, who turned himself into a human for love of her, then turned himself back into an android before dropping out of sight. Ginger’s motive is greed: to get control of her husband’s company, the object of a hostile takeover campaign by a rival corporation. Of course the hard part is not finding Vergon but figuring how why he disappeared.

A satisfactory SF mystery.

“The Long Way Around” by Carl Frederick

Another example of the classic hard SF problem story. The international First Lunar Outpost is run on a shoestring, and the Australian contribution is a couple of scientists and a hopping vehicle called the Lunaroo. Adrian is eager to try out Skippy in the lunar environment, but the device is not as well-designed as it ought to be and a whole lot of crucial things break, leaving him in a deadly predicament with, of course, his oxygen running out.

These things are always thought experiments, with the author cooking the circumstances to make survival seem impossible until the protagonist’s ingenuity is his salvation. In this one, while the ingenuity is clever, the circumstances might be a tad bit contrived.

“Questioning the Answer Tree” by Brad Aiken

“If This Goes On.” For fear of liability, all medical diagnosis is now performed by scanners and doctors are prohibited from giving unscripted answers to patient questions. Doctor Jenkins is disillusioned, but the fate of colleagues who transgressed against the regulations gives him pause. A typical Cautionary Tale, taken to extremes.

“The Single Larry Ti, Or Fear of Black Holes and Ken” by Brenda Cooper

Courtroom scene, as the narrator takes the stand to defend science from fear. The author does not simply dismiss the fearful but sympathizes with them, even though her protagonist takes the other side.


Interzone, 228 May-June 2010

An enjoyable issue. While all the stories are placed some time in our future, most of these futures, uncharacteristically for this SF zine, are retrograde. The motif is islands, the theme the problem of isolated human groups in consequence of some future cataclysm.

“The Untied States of America” by Mario Milosevic

The United States have been separated, literally, and each individual state is now floating on the ocean currents. The breakup was traumatic, most people have fled to the safety of the interior of their state, but a few dwell on the coasts as watchers. On Washington, Susan has lost both her husband and son to the edge, but she has returned in her old age, hoping faintly to hear word that her son might have reached some other state. Instead, a traveler reaches her shore from desolate Vermont.

An audacious idea that I supposed at first would be political. We learn nothing about the motives of those who broke apart the nation, and although nothing is said about it, the other land masses of the world must also have been set adrift, for there seem to be no fixed destinations for those who set out on the ocean in boats, seeking one. The story is about such people, those who, like Susan, look out from the edge towards the horizon, and those, like her son, who cast off to meet it.

My son, cradled in my arms, pushed at me with his feet. He wanted to get closer to the water, I could see that. He reached for the ocean with his hand, clenching and unclenching his fist.


“Iron Monk” by Melissa Yuan-Innes

It seems that aliens have expressed a desire to meet humanity, so various nations have sent delegations, but none have returned or replied. This is the fourth Chinese mission, but expectations for it are so low that it is crewed by political prisoners, who can not quite trust each other. But when everyone begins to show signs of radiation sickness, cooperation and trust are no longer an option.

The story is too short to fully develop all the characters; the most interesting are the eight year old Little Tiger, a novice monk on the journey for reasons that are not clear, and Hunan, the character no one trusts.

“A Passion for Art” by David D Levine

Justin Carnes is a security expert fallen on hard times. A piece of luck – strange thefts are taking place in Chicago’s Art Institute, and he is given the opportunity to revive his career. The thefts seem inexplicable: figures are missing from their canvas, leaving the rest of the painting intact. However, the author has given the readers a clue that the narrator did not at the time recognize as such, when a guard confronts a young woman who seems to be smoking.

Was it smoke at all? It looked funny, more like a tangle of fine wire than a puff of smoke, and it moved funny too. Not drifting. More like it was keeping pace with her.

This is the nature of a narrative. A person notices a great number of things without knowing at the time which will be relevant to a given story. A narrative, after the fact, selects those relevant incidents, and so our experience as readers is not that of the narrator. Still, while we may have a clear notion how the thefts were committed, the tale takes an unforeseen twist at the end.

“Plague Birds” by Jason Sanford

Some time in the past people got to tinkering with human DNA, creating such creatures as werewolves. This led to apocalypse. Now part of the remnant population lives in rural villages under the supervision of AIs who are trying to revert them to the original human state; others live as hunters, fully integrated with their animal sides. There are also judges who travel from one settlement to another, enforcing justice. These red-clad “plague birds” carry death in their blood. A plague bird has now come to Christa’s village, drawn by news of the attack on her by her once-lover Beu, who has become increasingly unable to control his wild wolf side. She fears that the plague bird has come to kill Beu.

Other stories in this issue deal with islands, and the settlements here are like islands in their villages and clans, where territorial instincts make the populations hostile to outsiders. The AI-infected plague bird is the remnant of what was once a global society, now fragmented into isolated enclaves where life is brutish, as well as often nasty and short. The plague bird is the common power that holds them all in awe.

“Over Water” by Jon Ingold

It seems that the sea has risen until the land has been drowned, except for an archipelago of isolated islands, each with its own language and its own ways. Ilyn’s grandfather came to Hawn walking on the water, carrying with him the secret of the library.

The language is which the books are written is another language again, a language that lies beneath all others the way there are unseen towns beneath our waters, that are visible only near dust and when the currents are quiet enough to see below.

This was the language Ilyn’s grandfather originally spoke, which Ilyn hears as Anguish, and in which he learns the word: bridge.

It is interesting to contrast this one with the Milosevic story that opens the issue. In both, an occasional traveler may journey from one island to the next, but in Milosevic’s work there is no hope of the nation or world ever achieving reunification; the prospect is not even raised, the edge is all. Here, it is clear that reunification is not only possible but necessary, as the populations of the islands are suffering from the lack of genetic diversity. The story is given additional dimension through its references to language, to words and books and libraries, with their potential for reunification.


Fantasy Magazine, May 2010

Another month full of strong fiction from this ezine.

“The Sometimes Child” by Caroline Yoachim

A very different sort of werewolf story. After Martha kills a wolf stealing her chickens, she discovers that it was a female with pups. At its den, she discovers a human child among the wolf pups and decides to adopt it; her only child had died several years ago, and now she lives alone. But after the full moon has set, the baby girl transforms into a wolf pup. Martha decides to raise her anyway, but she has not counted on the wolf’s mate, the pup’s father.

Martha saw the dark wolf four more times, always in the distance. He only came on nights when Grace was a girl. Last month, Grace had started to crawl, and it was only a matter of time before she figured out how to open the door. It wasn’t safe to have that male wolf running around.

This twist on the werewolf is a Neat Idea, but Yoachim makes it more with the character of Martha, a woman who knows the hard choices it takes to survive alone on the frontier but still is capable of compassion.

“Wishes and Feathers” by Patricia Russo

Customs are different in different places. Lopi is from Zormevan, where people are kind and tell you so constantly. She is not surprised that an old, poor woman like Reh Izo would come to Zormevan to die. Lopi delivers medical supplies to Reh, and she takes a kind interest her, although she isn’t sure if this makes her a friend. She understands when the old woman tells her that she has come to Zormevan to escape her abusive family. But in Zormevan, it is unthinkable for a person to die without family present. Thinking to be kind, Reh’s neighbors have sent for her relatives and are postponing her death until they arrive. But sometimes intended kindness can be cruel.

If you fill a room where a person is dying with feathers, this will help delay the moment of death until all the members of the departing person’s family are able to arrive. Everybody in Zormevan knew this.

A warm-hearted story of kindness and well-meaning. Lopi is a positive character with rare insight in a society where customs are unquestioned. The repetitive pattern of the narrative evokes an otherness, a sense of another world with ways of its own.

“The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String” by Lavie Tidhar

A street scene. What once might have been magic is now technology. Mrs Pongboon sells amulets on the streets of Vientiane, Chinese technology that deletes and stores unwanted or painful memories. As she tells a prospective client:

“Whatever we do, life takes us (so says the great philosopher Mrs. Pongboon!) and ties us into knots. This way—” and she points to the locket, like a magician at a coin about to disappear—”is just a way science has of smoothing out the knots.”

A brief meditation on the role that memory plays in our lives, and who we are. The setting and its characters are vivid; although it is a story that might have played out anywhere, this story belongs firmly to its place. The technology makes it science fiction, if this matters to those who distinguish SF from fantasy.

“Daha’s Son” by Keffy R M Kehrli

A story of loss. Daha’s son died in the womb and came to life, died as a child and came to life, until he was recognized as the sixth incarnation of a neighboring god. He has now died five times, but he still has one death to go before he can take the old god’s place, and he must be given freely by the one who loves him. But he was taken from Daha when he was two years old, and she no longer feels that he is hers to give.

A pain in his dark brown eyes, a flash of visibility in the raging sandstorm of godhood. She hadn’t thought to see that. He has been raised to be anything but her son.

There have been several stories about the custom of children chosen very young to be gods or their avatars. In this case, the story gives us a different point of view in the god’s mother, who loses him not once, but repeatedly.


Strange Horizons, May 2010

Seems to be a youth-oriented month. I’m not convinced that this is a Good Thing.

“We Heart Vampires!!!!!!” by Meghan McCarron

Teenagers. This story at first made me very cranky because it features so many of my least-favorite things: effete metrosexual “vampires,” Facebook, malls. But these are the streams in which teenagers swim, and this is a story about being a fifteen year old girl: shoplifting in the mall, breaking up with boyfriends, enduring the cruelty of cliques. George is coming to terms with her sexuality and desire for her lifelong best friend, who, in the manner of teenaged girls, throws her over the minute a boy comes into view. Narcissistic Bob is obsessed with her current boyfriend Sven, who is either a vampire or a dirty old man.

As George trailed behind lanky, mysterious Sven and happy, beautiful Bob, she didn’t feel like Bob was doing her any favors. In fact, George had the distinct impression that Bob was doing this only so George would have to comfort her when it all fell apart.

Nominally, this is an ambiguous fantasy in that it is not clear if Sven is or is not a “vampire,” but since this element makes no difference whatsoever to the story, I do not consider it a fantasy at all. It is a depressing story, as the author effectively portrays the angst and misery of being a teenaged girl, but in the end there is the hopeful reminder that you are only fifteen for a year, if you manage to survive it.

“Worlds Apart” by Marlaina Gray

Jackie’s family travel regularly through a gateway into a clichéd fantasy world where they engage in clichéd adventures – except that Jackie has no magical or heroic powers there and the others don’t think she belongs. So that when they are all reported killed in an accident, she knows they have moved to the fantasy world and left her behind. Jackie is furious and determined to follow them.

My problem with this story is that I expect adult fiction in a venue like SH, and this short moralistic tale of “Jackie learns how she is really special” is not adult fiction.

“On Not Going Extinct” by Carol Emshwiller

The narrator is one of the few remaining members of a dwindling race of people, not attractive by the standards of the Others [us], with broad heads and a prominent hump on their nose. Now she feels duty-bound to locate others of her own kind, to find a mate.

My parents worked hard to repopulate the world with our kind (I have two brothers and four sisters). Mother says I need to be careful who I mate with. She says I’m such a fine example of our people.

This story takes up one of the author’s signature themes, the alienated individual, in a lighter mode. It is not, as so many of these stories of alienation, a tragedy. In fact, it seems as if it will end up being a love story.


Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2010

Some entertaining reads in this month’s stories.

“As the Prairie Grasses Sing” by Sarah L Edwards

A sequel. Ghemma is the daughter of a woman who speaks with animals, and she can not speak aloud. Her parents do not know if she will inherit her mother’s gift – or curse, for the local people regard this ability as a kind of witchcraft. When she is nine, her father takes her along on a trip through the prairie where she can encounter many kinds of animals, one of which might speak to her. But Ghemma is not sure she wants this.

And there was the other option: to speak. I heard my father again, describing the possibilities—offering a choice, it seemed. To use words, or not. If I could not speak to wild things, then surely I could become the other thing, human. And then my mother would not fear for me any longer—as she always had, I realized.

Not a story that can stand alone. It takes a lot of backstory to get going, and we only see Ghemma’s mother and her fears through Ghemma’s mind. Her relationship with her father is more immediate, and we can clearly see the man’s anxiety along with his love for the child. In the end, it is clear that no matter what choice Ghemma makes, this love will remain.

“And Other Such Delights” by James Lecky

Wolfram Morringun is a mennisinger, a virtuoso of the instrument known as a Nothing Box, that captures and replays sound. He has recorded the death songs of the extinct city PameMorturas.

The delights he had uncovered in Morturas had surprised even him: ancient agonies that had left their aural imprint upon the stones, the weeping of mothers and the keening of children five thousand years dead, the dull thwack of steel upon flesh and the screams of dying men. The raw ingredients, then, for a fine puresong – perhaps the finest he had yet composed.

He travels now to PameFilias to compete for the honor of composing the funeral hymn for the Countess Alexa, soon to be executed for blasphemies.

Here is a wonderfully inventive tale, full of fantastic and cruel delights. I like the way the author has warped the language.


“Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” by Saladin Ahmed

A Western with an eastern touch, and more mutated language. The narrator is a good ol’ boy of the Old West who partners up as a bounty hunter with a man he calls “Mister Hadj.”

I’ve ridden with good men and bad men, but I never rode with a man like Mister Hadj. That wasn’t his proper name. Just a way of calling the old man respectful-like. My Pa taught me that, if I ever met a man from the Old Country, to call him ‘Hadj.’ Damn near the only thing that sonuvabitch ever taught me.

Mister Hadj can sing to the rocks, and the rocks answer. Mister Hadj knows when to load his gun with silver bullets. They are tracking a murderer who calls himself Parson Lucifer, along with his two sons, one alive and one undead, owing to a hex that Lucifer put on him. You would think the narrator would listen to Mister Hadj, but there is no accounting for the young and foolish.

The reader probably knows a bit more about Mister Hadj’s religion than the narrator, but this factor is less important to the story than the character of the man who might have become one of the legendary figures of the Old West if more people knew this story.

“The Secret of Pogopolis” by Matthew Bey

The City does not orbit the Earth, it bounces up and down on a vast spring-loaded shaft, slamming into the ground at perigee and stomping out huge craters that fill to become lakes, rising almost beyond the limits of the atmosphere at apogee. Some subversive voices say that it is rising higher, striking with more force, at every hop. The place is ultimately doomed, and most of the population lives only for the moment.

Few in The City live past the age of forty. Hundreds of perigees take their toll on the human body, on the blood vessels and organs. At the beginning of every ascent, city sanitation workers go from apartment to apartment, removing the quiet corpses from their couches. It is how most people expect to die; with their faces peaceful and their dead brains like sponges in buckets of blood.

Carneby is an unusually sober citizen who has a job in the library, where the books fall off the shelves at perigee before the librarians can reshelve them. One day he encounters a strange girl dressed in leather, a substance that can only have come from Earth. But how did she come to be in the city?

The City itself is a fascinating if absurd creation, but the author takes the premise seriously, plays it straight. Mostly, the story an exploration of its rather tawdry and decaying wonders. I am not sure if I am convinced, but I am entertained.


Subterranean Online, Spring 2010

The spring issue is now being put online, although the order of the titles in the website’s table of contents makes it hard to tell when a new piece has been posted. These are fine stories, well worth the trouble of searching them out.

“Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick

Unknown forces of godlike power have recreated the Cambrian Earth on Venus, snatching Luna and Ganymede into its orbit. They have also shifted the human population there. Robert Blackett was only on Venus for a few idyllic [in his recollection] days, but he is now stranded on the nearly-deserted Earth, longing for return and spinning theories with the few remaining residents.

Once he had ventured out here after the sun went down, and low in the deep indigo edging the horizon had seen the clear distinct blue disk of the evening star, and her two attendant satellites, one on each side of the planet. Ganymede, with its thin atmosphere still intact, remained palest brown. Luna, at that distance, was a bright pinpoint orb, her pockmarked face never again to be visible to the naked eye of an Earthly viewer beneath her new, immensely deep carbon dioxide atmosphere.

A dreamlike, lovely apocalypse, seen through the eyes of characters whose sanity is somewhat questionable, perhaps justifiably. [Two of them are psychiatrists, each convinced the other is the patient.] The scenario might seem surreal, but the author grounds the narrative with a ballast of detailed description, lest it float away.


“What We Take When We Take What We Need” by Daryl Gregory

Paxton comes back home to Switchback, TN, on hearing news that his father is gravely ill. He finds the old man in squalor, appearing to have a loathsome disease.

Pax kneeled in front of his father. The rich, fruity smell enveloped him. Pax gently pushed the robe further open, and began to lift the T-shirt. Blisters had erupted over the skin of his belly: tiny pimples; white-capped pebbles; glossy, egg-sized sacs. The largest pouches wept pink-tinged serum.

The disease turns out to be genetic, a secret of his family; the fluid secreted by the victim is addictive, and they call it “the vintage.” And Pax’s redneck cousins, like vampires, want to “milk the old man like a cow.”

Strong stuff. A pretty repulsive scenario as Pax slowly succumbs to the pull of the vintage. When I first read the title, I was thinking of the Rolling Stones, but by the end, it was the theme music from the movie Deliverance.


Tor.com, May 2010

Just this one.

“The Courtship of the Queen” by Bruce McAllister

A boy whose father’s naval career keeps him from ever settling in one place finds continuity in his life by collecting seashells. These form the center of an extended imaginary world in which the Queen Conch must defend her kingdom from various threats, represented by other shells. As he grows older, the kingdom of shells becomes more and more complex and full of political intrigue.

The new Horse Conch’s intentions, naïve and inexperienced as the Princeps was, were foiled daily and in Byzantine course by the unflagging efforts of the Queen’s special agents, namely, the Juno’s Volute (Scaphella junonia), seductive in its whiteness and beauty marks, which had posed as a courtesan to obtain intelligence on the Horse Conch’s western and more vulnerable reefs;

But the boy will not always be a child.

Genre readers will certainly appreciate this elaborate fantasy world, but they may also have certain expectations of the plot, for we are all familiar with the scenario in which a child’s imaginary world becomes real. This story, however, takes a different turn. It is not a genre fantasy, it is a story about the power of the fantastic imagination in the life of a child, and the story of his coming of age. A fine and sensitive work by McAllister, in which we not only get to know an extraordinary child but his loving and accepting parents.



Lois Tilton is reading original short SF and fantasy fiction. Editors can send electronic files of magazines and original anthologies to: loist a*t sff.net

For print materials, please query me by email for the address.

For an index of Magazine Issue reviews posted on Locus Online, including Lois Tilton’s, see Index to Magazine Reviews.

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