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F&SF Oct/Nov 2008 Review

August 30th, 2008

I signed up to get a free copy of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction‘s October/November “All-Star Anniversary Issue”, in exchange for which I am supposed to blog about it in some capacity. (See Gordon’s post about it in the F&SF blog, though I believe it’s now too late to sign up for your own.) I did this once before, last year sometime. Not sure if this means it’s an annual thing or if he does it all the time. I only ever hear about it when posts about it in his LJ. Anyway, it’s a good deal. Try it sometime.

So here we go.

The “All Stars” are as follows: Geoff Ryman, Robert Reed, Tim Sullivan, Albert E. Cowdrey, Steven Utley, Stephen King, Scott Bradfield, Laurel Winter, Terry Bisson, Carol Emshwiller, M. Rickert, Michael Swanwick, Sophie M. White. Woo. Those are indeed a lot of all-stars. And I actually read every one of those stories. I felt obliged, what with the free copy and all. I did not, in fact, enjoy them all. Surprise. Out of 13, 5 made me happy.

I will mention some of the other 8 only in passing. Stephen King delivered what he can be relied upon for: readable prose and an endearing character. Terry Bisson’s one-handed read, “Private Eye”, actually entertained me significantly more than any other story of his I’ve read. Carol Emshwiller is one of those people I feel I ought to love, but whose writing never grabs me. Robert Reed and Tim Sullivan’s stories both had enough interesting stuff in them to be maybe a third as long as they were. Albert E. Cowdrey’s “Inside Story” made light of Hurricane Katrina in a way I just couldn’t get behind… also, all his deep-southern characters talked like they were from New Jersey. Couldn’t figure that out, ’cause apparently he is from there.

On to the good stuff!

Geoff Ryman’s “Days of Wonder” was cool. Far-future thing with human-animal hybrids carrying fragments of human knowledge hidden in their DNA. Awesome idea, stretched just a little too thin, so the sharp edges of the story’s bones stuck out and poked me a handful of times. Had it been 2,000 words shorter I would have perhaps been awestruck.

Steven Utley’s “Sleepless Years” was about a suicide resurrected by science to be poked and prodded, full of interesting philosophical ruminations on the nature of life and afterlife, and the indistinguishability of hell from institutional medicine. A bit light on impact, but the ideas carried it for me.

Mary Rickert, as far as I’m aware, is incapable of writing a less than phenomenal story. “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account” freaked me the hell out. A totalitarian future USA in which abortion is not only illegal, but punishable by death. Profoundly unsettling. Somebody should give this lady a Tiptree.

Michael Swanwick’s “The Scarecrow’s Boy” was a fun far-future thing with a robot scarecrow hero and a sentient car sidekick helping a little kid escape political persecution in another totalitarian US by fleeing to Canada. What is it about totalitarian USses that makes them so fun to hate? Possibly their plausibility? Thank you, Mr. Swanwick.

Sophie White’s poem “December 22, 2012” takes some enjoyable potshots at those sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting impatiently for the Mayan apocalypse. Accurate and fun.

I mostly skipped the nonfiction, as I usually do. Lucius Shepard doesn’t much like comic book movies, I gather. And as usual, I wish those plodding introductory paragraphs that come before each story would just go away and not come back. Sadly I doubt it will happen.

To sum up: Swanwick! M. Rickert!

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