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Zines and Short Fiction by Sam Tomaino
Review by Sam Tomaino
SFRevu Column  ISBN/ITEM#: 0411SFC
Date: November 15, 2004 /

First up is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a great issue without a clunker in the bunch. The novella in this issue is "Bad Hamburger" by Matthew Jarpe and Jonathan Andrew Sheen. In this story, an AI is "murdered" and Detective Darwin Koestler, assisted by an AI with a very unusual avatar (I won't spoil that) wants to find out how and by whom. The victim was "meat-riding" in which an "AI hooks into a data jack in a human brain and it gets to experience the flood of human emotion." As the case progresses, we get a good look at this world and the detectives. The end hints that they will team again and I look forward to that.

Also, in this issue is "The Name of the Sphinx" by Albert Cowdrey. This is part of a series of stories that involve a man, his witch girlfriend, and an ambulatory Foo-Dog who live in Azalea Place in New Orleans. This one, which involves hauntings by a sphinx, is especially dark and as good as his other stories. "Christmas in the Catskills" by Michael Libling is a classic "couple gets lost in the snow" story but takes a turn that you don't expect. The end will send chills down your spine. The fourth story gets my highest recommendation. "Fog" is the last story from the late Jack Cady. It, too, takes place in the South. A black man is murdered for fathering a child by a white woman and a mysterious fog seeks justice. In just seventeen pages, Cady creates fascinating characters, both good and bad. He will be missed.

Also, in this issue are "Virgin Wings" by Sydney J. Van Scyoc (a beautiful little fantasy) and "Walter and the Wonderful Watch" by John Morressy, a fun little fantasy about a common boy's success.

The December issue of Asimov's Science Fiction has two especially good stories. "Echoing" by James Van Pelt tells three stories: a truck-driver wanting to get home in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, a starship pilot navigating through a rough part of his journey, and a young girl struggling with suicide. Their minds are linked and they assist one another. Of all the stories in this issue, this best fits in a "Holiday Issue". I also liked "A Reunion" by Keith Ferrell. Settlers on a planet have had to do without power for a long time. The power is restored but are they better off? A boy who has grown up during this time must deal with a big change.

This issue also has another Coyote story by Allen M. Steele, "Home of the Brave". This takes place shortly after the events of "Liberation Day" in the last issue. The new mayor must deal with two post-revolution problems, a remnant of the old regime and rebels who don't want to stop fighting. This brings us to the end of the second Coyote book, with a third promised for next year. "Strength Alone" by Paul Melko introduces an interesting concept, humans who become one person, combining their talents. Strom, who is strength, must learn to succeed on his own, so that his group (and another one) will survive. "A Princess of Earth" by Mike Resnick tells of a man, mourning his late wife, meeting another man who claims to be John Carter of Virginia, seeking his lost Dejah Thoris. The end of the story is classic Resnick. "Red Hands, Black Hands" by Chris Roberson is a nice little alternate world story about rebellion in a world in which Imperial China rules Earth.

The other stories are lesser ones. "The Christmas Tree" by Peter Friend has a different take on a holiday and just does not work for me. "The Star Called Wormwood" by Elizabeth Counihan involves a comet passing Earth in the planet's final days. Neal Asher's story "Strood" gets bogged down in his language. It's the first time I've seen the word "nacreous" since I read Stephen Donaldson. "Being With Jimmy" by Aaron Schutz is not even worth discussing.

Next up is Analog which was a disappointing issue. The only gem is "What Wise Men Seek" by Mike Moscoe, about Jesuit priests trying to communicate with an alien race (apart from sports and the weather), where others have failed before. It should come as no surprise (this being an Analog story, that a solution is found but it's the last one that you'd expect from Jesuits. Another story I liked was "A Plague of Ruins" by Joe Schembrie, which is a good tale of survival. Nanobots destroy all the technology a group exploring an alien world has and they must survive attacks from vicious predators. Also good is "Small Moments in Time" by John G. Hemry which deals with time-travel and making choices about how to affect events.

I was disappointed in the issue's big novella "Baby on Board". A man makes it his mission to "mature" AI's in underused SUV's. The problem is that the protagonist is not a very sympathetic character. This may be deliberate on the part of the author, but it hurts the story. The other short stories are distinctly minor. "The Fruitcake Genome" by Carl Fredrick gets too bogged down in explaining the science to make for an interesting story. "Savant Songs" by Brenda Cooper is a pretty good story about an autistic professor, an AI and a man who try to make contact with alternate worlds. I actually hated "The Bambi Project" by Grey Rollins. Not only was it predictable but the self-righteous view expressed by it was appalling.

Last, but definitely not least, there is a Howard Waldrop story on Waldrop is, arguably, the finest living writer of the science fiction short story. I especially love "The Ugly Chickens" and "Ike at the Mike". This story is "The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz" and the title sums up the plot pretty well. Robert Howlin is a wolf-man imprisoned at Alcatraz from the 1930's through the 1950's. Except for his time of the month, he's a pretty good guy and the story gives us some brief looks at his life. Well, that's all for now. Until next month, make mine short!

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