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Fantasy & Science Fiction July 06 – Review Part Two

June 7th, 2006

I left off with Garcia y Robertson’s “Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star”. Let me resume with Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire”. It’s pretty long: the table of contents calls it a novella. The novella is rather a fascinating beast for us budding spec fic writers, or ought to be according to the popular opinion of our betters, because so few people bother to write them these days that if you can manage to churn one out you’re practically a shoe-in for a nomination to that category at the Hugos. Thus far I’m afraid I have not paid much attention to this particular piece of advice from my betters. I know next to nothing about what a novella is supposed to look like. The only things I’ve read at that length are classics: things so damn good I practically couldn’t help reading them. I am familiar with novellas by Conan Doyle, Poe, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Henry James. This limited experience has, until now, deterred me from any interest in attempting to write a novella, simply because how in the hell am I supposed to live up to that? But if “Desire” is any indication, I’ve been giving the novella a bit too much credit. All you have to do is take a short story and pad it nice and fat with unnecessary establishing scenes and plot-stalling side-encounters and voluminous stylistic verbosity.

I guess I’m being cruel; it isn’t as if this story is without merit. An egomaniacal sorcerer embarks on a quest to save his resourceful uberbrat of a ward from the machinations of demonic kidnappers. Mostly the verbosity serves as a bolster to the comic over-the-topness. It only really bothers me when Ms. Unpronounceable-First-Name Wilce attempts to use it to suggest some overarching profundity. The title is a representative example: I would have been happier if the thing had called itself “Tiny Doom Visits the Underworld”. Had it done so, and had it taken novel form instead of novella-as-part-of-series form, I might have been more indulgent of its digressions.

Moving on.

Robert Onopa’s “Republic” reminds me too much of every other broken-prime-directive cautionary first contact tale I have ever read. The point at which I was most interested was when its linguist narrator gave me the brief impression he was making subtle reference to Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”. I’m afraid once that impression wore off, “Republic” was the worse for the comparison.

“Memory of a Thing that Never Was” is cool. A short and sweet and subtle spy thriller, nostalgic for the cold war, but with fatalistic aliens instead of Russians. A mood piece, really. It doesn’t try too hard, and thus it succeeds admirably. Yay, Jerry Seeger, whoever you are.

Heather Lindsley’s “Just Do It” is about a horrifyingly likely future in which the world is ruled by conniving corporate sellout supergeniuses, where all the conservatives are infallibly clever and all the morally tolerable liberals are just not quite devious and twisted enough to hold their own. God, it depresses me just thinking about it. Honestly, I’d much rather read something that *didn’t* hit so close to home…Phillip Dick and Stanislaw Lem’s political distopian futures of the ’70s seem quaint and cuddly by comparison. Well done, Ms. Clarion Class of ’05 Lindsley. You’ve managed to deter me utterly from any desire to criticize your writing ability, merely so I can drop the whole subject and find something else to think about. If I might, I’d like to offer you a challenge? Write this story again, but figure out a way for the liberals to win. Maybe you’ll give the real liberals some ideas.

That’s it for the fiction. I’ll skip the columns, if that’s all right with all of you. Again, many thanks to Gordon Van G for the blog/free copy tradeoff. I’d be glad to do it again… just as soon as I make it through the rest of my Never-Ending Odyssey crits.

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