|Spectrum SF 2, April 2000|
|A review by Rich Horton
This issue features one long novella, five short stories, and the second installment of Keith Roberts' new Kiteworld serial, Drek Yarman.
The novella is "Destiny on Tartarus" by Eric Brown. Brown has set several stories on Tartarus, a planet whose sun is about to go nova. The other stories I've seen have made much of this element: the doomed planet, the evacuation effort, the people who refuse to leave. This story, in internal chronology the earliest (about a century before the nova is predicted to happen), really doesn't need the looming demise of the planet at all. It could be set on any exotic planet, but I suppose Brown had Tartarus to hand, and it provides a satisfyingly colourful setting for an enjoyable adventure story. Sinclair Singer is a young man whose mother has just died. He has come to Tartarus chasing his memories of his father, who abandoned the family when he was young. All Sinclair knows of his father is contained in a simulation of his father's personality with which he converses from time to time, and with which he routinely disagrees. On Tartarus, after being bilked of his money by a con man, he learns that his father had been a mercenary, but quit the military life and entered the absurdly dangerous Charybdis challenge, a boat racing event. Sinclair decides to visit the racing museum to search out evidence of his father, who he assumes must have died. On the way he witnesses an altered winged human "messenger" being kidnapped, and meets with another altered human, a "Blackman," who agrees to help rescue the messenger. They travel in a curiously propelled train to the site of the race, and Sinclair ends up joining a racing crew. Of course, he learns surprising things about his father's fate in the end. It's all more than a bit improbable, and heavily coincidence driven, but it's still colourful, imaginative, and a good fun read. As I've said elsewhere, Eric Brown seems to write 90s (and now "oughts") versions of 50s SF, and I find that quite satisfying for the most part.
The short stories are fairly interesting as well. The weakest efforts are another Eric Brown story, this time in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, called "Green-Eyed Monster," and a routine far future mystery called "Dr Vanchovy's Final Case," by Stephen Palmer. The first is a somewhat silly revenge fantasy about a cuckolded husband who dies but is resurrected, in some unusual forms, by the agency of crashed aliens. The second is an attempt at baroque SF, set in "the final year of humanity on Earth," and featuring a murder mystery that failed to involve my interest. The setting seemed pointless to the story at hand, though quite possibly more interesting in the novels that share the milieu.
Stronger efforts include ".zipped" by Keith Brooke, a shortish piece set in the fairly near future, when a new drug is available that allows people to eliminate and even edit their memories. It's effective in hinting at the dissociation such a drug could cause. Jack Deighton's "The Gentlemen Go By" is told from the point of view of a young woman on Mars. We slowly realize that a plague of some sort has caused men to become infertile. Women reproduce by parthenogenesis, but what of the few aging men, such as the narrator's "Daddy"? The resolution is scary, and morally ambiguous. Finally, there is a new story from Barrington J. Bayley, one of SF's wild men. "The Sky Tower" is fantasy, about a sort of "Tower of Babel," but this tower promises immortality, to the pure at heart. The "hero," who is decidedly not "pure at heart," reaches the tower in an attempt to gain immortality. What, then, does being "pure at heart" mean, and is the promise of immortality real? The ending is ironic and fitting.
Spectrum SF is a promising new entry in the SF magazine field. I like what I've seen, and I sincerely hope it grows and prospers.
Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.
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