I’ll be honest, this issue really didn’t inspire me, so I’m not going to talk about all the stories in detail.
The New Cambrian by Andy Stewart
* * *
Originally, this one had a far lower rating. It didn’t impress me much on the first read, but after a few nights to think on it (it does make the reader think) I decided it deserves more than what I first thought.
Ty has been having a pretty miserable week. An engineer sent on an advance mission to Europa along with his wife and a team of other scientists, his secret, not-so-secret lover has just died exploring the depths of the moon below its icy crust. Not only that, but Ty’s stomach has been giving him problems; he’s constantly hungry, and something feels like it wants to get out.
This story goes a lot deeper than the words that tell it. Underneath its sci-fi exterior is the tale of a man struggling and failing to cope with guilt and the loss of a loved one, far, far away from anything familiar to him. It’s an incredibly tragic story, with all of its emotion hidden between the lines.
The Story-Teller by Bruce Jay Friedman
The Story-Teller had the opposite problem as The New Cambrian. When it started, I thought I was really going to enjoy it, however, the further it went, the more bored with it I became.
Alan Dowling, a retired English teacher from Iowa has just died and gone to an afterlife devoid of narrative entertainment. No movies, television, plays or books. Nothing. The inhabitants demand a story, and Dowling has been recruited for just this purpose. Unfortunately, given an extremely short deadline, Dowling can’t think of a single original thought to put to paper, and turns to the literary masters of the past to give him some inspiration.
The story unfortunately falls into a loop early on and never quite makes its way out again. As Dowling goes through the list of great stories he’s read or taught over the years, he summarizes them in the same pattern again and again, which is perfect coming from an English teacher character, but for a reader, the repetitive internal lecture in Dowling’s head lacks the variety necessary to keep it interesting.
The Man Who Was Hanged Three Times by C. C. Finlay
* * *
I’m still pretty conflicted about this story, even after giving it some time to sit and reading it again. On the one hand, it is very beautifully written, flows nicely and has a great setting. On the other, the ending is open and unsettling, and altogether not what you’d expect.
Jeremiah Pritchard has been hanged three times for the murder of his Chinese lover, Pearl. The sheriff and the judge are at war with each other over the man’s guilt or innocence, and our narrator just wants to know if the man will go to heaven or not. Unfortunately, Jeremiah Pritchard is either the world’s luckiest man, or else the supernatural is intervening on his behalf; his executions are frustrated one after the other until the judge and his son take matters into their own hands, and accidentally expose secrets the town isn’t ready to learn.
Told with a great voice and a fantastic reveal at the end, The Man Who Was Hanged Three Times asks some questions that it, and perhaps no one can answer, which is sort of chilling.
In Her Eyes by Seth Chambers
This story felt as though it lost itself a bit in carnality. While there were moments of a clear theme in the text, they are overpowered and underplayed by the sheer amount of words spent on sensuality and sexuality.
As a shallow man, Alex doesn’t expect to fall as hard as he does for plain and vulgar Song, but who can pick where their heart goes? Also, Song is great in bed. The thing is, Song is a morphling, a genetic divergence from humans with the ability to alter their features, sometimes just little things, and sometimes major things. Song quickly decides to make herself into the woman of Alex’s dreams, from appearance to ability in bed, but their romp in paradise is soon disturbed by government agents, a terrorist attack, and dark secrets from Song’s past.
The ending of this story saved it from one star, but I feel that not enough time was spent on setting up the actual climax. The introduction of Song’s past comes out of left field and makes the story feel a bit disjointed. All in all, it’s an interesting concept that’s lost under too many sweaty layers of sex.
The Lion Wedding by Moira Crone
* * *
Filled with beautiful prose and wonderful surreal imagery, The Lion Wedding is a story of the ultimate failed fixer-upper. Our protagonist has, perhaps foolishly fallen in love with a lion of former circus fame. Despite all the protestations of her mother, they marry (though the lion agrees only reluctantly) and the marriage is held together perhaps by pride and stubbornness alone.
I enjoyed this story more than the ones that came before it. The natural way in which it is told without details gives it the charm of a fairy-tale. It’s an interesting piece for a casual read to fill time.
For All of Us Down Here by Alex Irvine
Perhaps this is one of the stories in MF&SF that is intended to be serialized. It certainly raises a whole lot of questions that it doesn’t answer, which is unfortunate since it builds a detailed futuristic world.
Earth is a mess. In the ultimate dick move, all the trained and educated specialists, doctors, scientists and assorted wealthy people have uploaded themselves into a computer program where they can live immortal and left everyone else behind. In this way, Jordan has been orphaned and is raised only by his grandfather. But when a strange singular named Edward downloads himself back down to earth, things start to turn strange. For one thing, it seems that Edward and his grandfather know each other, even though Gramps has shown nothing but distain for the singulars for as long as Jordan can remember.
What it all means is never explained to Jordan, or the reader, for that matter. The series of events, as told on the pages don’t make a lot of sense on their own. Perhaps there is another story out there somewhere to tie all of this together.
The Via Panisperna Boys in “Operation Harmony” by Claudio Chillemi & Paul Di Filippo
I was very ‘meh’ about this fast paced, alternate history noir story. Full of music and science sounding words, and sprinkled with an obligatory femme fetale, for those who like the genre, it’s probably a very good story, but with no concept lingered on long enough to get a feeling for it, I felt as though I was watching a film sped up too fast to make sense of.
We Don’t Mean to Be by Robert Reed
* * *
Within this short story of religion vs. science is the cycle of continuous human aggression against… well, whatever is convenient. I enjoyed the two opposing viewpoints, the repetition, and the voice in which the story is told. All said, it is a good read.
Out of the Deep by Albert. E. Cowdrey
* * * *
I was waiting for this story, and the one by Oliver Buckram to save this issue, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a lot darker than previous works of Cowdrey’s that I’ve read, but nonetheless, it’s a good story. The magical elements are as subtle as always, with a nice southern flavor. The tone and setting are great, and the whole thing ends with a terrific, explosive conclusion that’s both satisfying and natural.
The Museum of Error by Oliver Buckram
* * * * *
I love Oliver Buckram’s humor and The Museum of Error has it in spades. Much longer than his previous flash fiction, this magical realism story doesn’t lose any of Buckram’s usual charm in its length. From a robot that thinks it’s human to a book so engaging it physically cannot be put down, this is a very fun story, which added an extra star to the issue all on its own.
I’ll be participating in the April A to Z Challenge next month, so for my regular readership, feel free to ignore the daily posts. The usual schedule will resume in May with the launch of Amok, and a contest to win one of two copies I have to give away. See you then!
The next book on my reading list is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.