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Spectrum 8
Spectrum 8
Spectrum SF
Spectrum SF is edited by Paul Fraser. Issues can be ordered from:
Spectrum Publishing, PO Box 10308, Aberdeen, AB116ZR, United Kingdom. £3.99 per issue, £14 for a 4 issue subscription

Spectrum Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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The centerpiece of this issue is the second installment of a three part serialization of the "Atrocity Archive" by Charles Stross, an author who has generated a bit of a buzz lately in large part due to his post-cyberpunk Manfred Manx short stories that have appeared in Asimov's. I wish I could tell you more about this particular story, but I don't have the previous issue with the first part, and the final installment won't appear until the next issue that I also don't have (publisher/editor Paul Fraser makes the rather amazing offer to provide a proof copy to subscribers who just can't wait, though Spectrum 9 is due for mid-November release), and if you can't judge a story by its cover, you certainly can't judge it by just its middle part. The serial is, of course, a tradition in the SF and pulp magazine genre, and it's a tradition well worth upholding, if only because it keeps people buying the product. Stross strikes me as good an incentive as any.

Even for the dabbler who shares my reluctance to get into and leave a tale mid-stream, the issue is still worth picking up. In "Tall Tales on the Iron Horse" by Colin P. Davies, the narrator is attempting to save his girlfriend from the clutches of a religious cult, but the adventure entails some unexpected side trips. It's one of those stories you can't quite make sense of until the end, and even then you have to think about it. Well worth the ride. Here's a taste of how you embark on this marvelously strange excursion:

Two kilometres inland from the equatorial Sumatran port of Padang the train turns sharply, plunges into the mountain, and clatters down through a darkness relieved only by the occasional glimmer of St. Elmo's fire, finally emerging, after three days by the clock, into the icy, orange daylight of Saturn's moon, Titan.

At least, that's what Gillian said.

Equally weird, though in a different way that is perhaps more unsettling because it is not that far removed from current reality, is Josh Lacey's "A Night at the Movies," a meditation on human relationships taken in the context of the artificial environments we create for ourselves. The narrator has developed a fascination with the cinema. Not just the celluloid entertainment itself, but the full experience of sitting in a movie theater with other people. He wants to recreate this experience and has collected all the paraphernalia needed to simulate it. But he needs other people to attend. He sends out invitations for a screening of what is obviously, though never identified by title, Casablanca:
It's a movie that most people know, even if they've never seen it, because it has bequeathed phrases to our language. 'Play it again, Sam.' You've heard that, haven't you? And do you know the strangest fact about that catch phrase? Well, you will, if you ever see the movie.
(Just in case you haven't seen the movie -- and you should, even before you read this issue of Spectrum -- Humphrey Bogart, never said what has become an iconic phrase in our culture. What the character he plays, the cynical and heart-broken owner of Rick's American Café, does say is, "Play it Sam, if she can take it, I can take it. Play it." The point here is that what we take as truth based on what others tell us, as opposed to direct experience, is often not always actual fact.)

Even though they've been immunized, the prospective guests all politely decline. No sense taking chances. His brother Richard comes, however, and to make the viewing as realistic as possible, cardboard cutouts simulate a full house in attendance. Richard says that real movie theaters still exist in the cities, and crowds of people still go to them. Does his brother care to experience the real thing?

The decision says a lot about the declining state of the human situation.

A somewhat more traditional SF tale, the kind you would expect from a magazine with David Hardy's cover illustration of a "space hotel" which is otherwise unrelated to the contents, is Neal Asher's "Snow in the Desert." Here's an example of how an author can employ a variety of cliched Golden Age SF and fantasy tropes -- the lone warrior, the misunderstood immortal, the crossed line between the biological human and the artificial human -- to develop something that is still original and interesting. Unlike the joint work of Michael Conley and Eric Brown, "The Trees of Terpsichore Three," the one outright clunker in the bunch. This trite murder mystery set in an off-world of human colonizers replicates the Golden Age habit of projecting a far future that nonetheless remains based in contemporary technology and current events. It also presents a mystery that isn't hard to figure out, because all you have to do is eliminate the obvious suspects. Other than showing off their ability to replicate the form, I don't really see the point to this kind of exercise.

Fraser's website reports that Spectrum will most likely go from a quarterly (at least in intent) publication to probably only two issues next year. Still worth your subscription dollars, if only to get the ending to that Stross story.

Copyright © 2002 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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