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Editor's Choice: Short Fiction Reviews
by David A. Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has been reading science fiction and fantasy for forty years. For the past four years he has edited TANGENT: The Only Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Fiction Review Magazine. It was runner-up for the 1997 Hugo Award. The intent of this column is to present reviews of selected short fiction that strike Dave's interest as his reading for Tangent continues. If you would like to read more short fiction reviews, try Tangent as it reviews every original story in all American, Canadian, British, and Australian professional SF & F magazines (as well as many others).

For more of David's opinions, we've put together a table of contents for other Editor's Choice columns.

Magazines
For information on the contents of an issue or for subscription details, you can try the following sites:
Asimov's Science Fiction
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
On Spec
Cemetery Dance
Interzone
OMNI
Talebones
Tomorrow SF
Current Cover
Talebones, A Magazine of Science Fiction & Dark Fantasy, Winter 1998, #10
"Nor All Thy Tears" Stefano Donati
"Head" Trey R. Barker
"Burying Marmee" David W. Hill
"Love of the True God" Uncle River
"Deathwisher" Rhonda Eikamp
Talebones is one of a small handful of consistently high quality semi-professional magazines available today. Though one of the newest, relatively speaking, it has already come to be known as one of the most highly regarded. Editors Patrick and Honna Swenson never fail to deliver a handsome, well-produced package, with a welcome and professional attention to detail, and this issue is no exception. Along with its fiction, each 68-page digest-sized issue features short poetry, an interview with a professional writer or editor (Spider Robinson this time), several well-written columns (the horror/dark fantasy review column by Ed Bryant is always an interesting examination of horror in print, and other media outlets), and the usual finely reproduced artwork.

The prevalent themes in this particular issue are Death, Destruction, and/or both, while several stories also feature broken or dysfunctional families (of which I am growing very weary of seeing anymore, even in the best professional genre magazines). However, despite this cavil, all of these pieces are well written and at least reasonably engaging.

Of the four SF entries, "Nor All Thy Tears" tells of the deaths of four teenagers who were killed, while driving drunk, and of the strain this puts on the family of the convenience store clerk who is sent to prison for selling the alcohol to them. Framed as a time-travel story (of an odd sort), it is this added SF element which offers the real moral dilemma for the protagonist, newly released from his incarceration nine years in his future (the story's present). A different twist on yet another broken, dysfunctional family yarn, but well done for all that. The SF element is crucial to this tale, offering a second chance on several fronts that real life otherwise denies. The protagonist has actually taken the fall to protect his wife, but due to new complications and unexpected developments in the here-and-now, would it be efficacious for him, his drunken wife, and his family as a whole to send his wife to jail, leaving him to raise their wayward son?

"Love of the True God" expands the scope of death from the familial to the planetary, as a conquering race attempts to impose its new religion over that of its conquered inhabitants, with unforseen results.

Not content to destroy families or an entire culture, "Deathwisher" destroys several planets in an inter-species war conducted, in large measure, via cyber-manipulation of advanced weaponry. When one such warrior is infected with a reality-altering cyber-virus he destroys the wrong world and thereby faces his own destruction. Everybody gets it in this one; the bad guys, Earth, and the guy in the middle.

The one true very dark fantasy in the bunch -- nay, outright horror tale -- serves as my first...

Editor's Choice:
"Head" by Trey R. Barker
With "Head," we are given a parentless family of enigmatically masked sisters (the masks serving to cage strange, unnamed powers, so says the local gossip. Can it be true? Actually, this is a riff on the Medusa myth) who seek revenge on the bloodthirsty sociopath who has beheaded their sister as a wedding gift for his sheriff father. (It is revealed late in the story that the sheriff was the rapist/murderer of the girls' mother some years previously -- talk about your dysfunctional family!) Set in a small town, this is a chilling glimpse into gruesome depravity, with appropriate imagery and a fitting resolution... and I rather liked it; it grew on me. At a mere seven pages, Trey R. Barker has done his writer's job. I can easily see this bloody little jewel being reprinted somewhere, and too bad Tales From the Crypt isn't doing any new episodes, because this would make a great one.

The fourth SF piece in this issue -- and also the longest at 11 pages -- is noted as being "To Jack Vance, with thanks." It is a fine Vance-ian pastiche and serves as my second...

Editor's Choice:
"Burying Marmee" by David W. Hill
Among his many talents, Jack Vance is well known for his use of language, colorful worlds, and alien races. David W. Hill has captured these qualities well, and used them in an off-world grand guignol presentation that further delights with its satirical undercurrent.

Set on a world teeming with alien races working more or less in harmony...

"Burying Marmee" begins innocently enough when two children discover Marmee, their dead mother, and don't know quite what to make of it, Death being a new experience for them. Apprising their father of this (or, rather, the father of one of them), he calmly walks to Marmee's room, confirms her demise, consoles them briefly, tells them it's only her dead shell of a material husk and not to mourn for the flesh, and without further ado heads off to work.

Confused and troubled by this behavior from the father they've never liked (and too poor to pay for the appropriate burial themselves) the children set out to find someone who will help them bury their mother in the fashion she had elaborately discussed with them before her demise. So off they set -- with dead Marmee strapped into their little air-cushion powered red wagon -- to find if one of the many strange races in the alien city of Ramorvarar will help aid them in the proper rites. They encounter several of the sentient and exotically alien races working in this many-specied city, not least of which are the Nasst and Lymfts, whose races have been jointly awarded the civil sanitation contract. They claim rights to dead Marmee, as she would provide a good meal. Fending these alien trash collectors off, the children then run into the fly-like Rohln, who offer to lay their eggs in Marmee in order that she "fulfill [her] commitments." Not wishing their mother to be a meal for Rohln maggots, they trundle further around the city, at various points learning the burial customs of the Shee, Quorts, Spidoons, and most disgustingly, those of the Vasm, who hold necrophilia a most proper burial rite "until the process of decay makes such communion if not impossible, at least distasteful."

Suffice it to say that Marmee's loving children are not enamored with any of these alien burial practices. Amidst their hapless travails through teeming Ramorvarar -- under attack by starfaring pirates, it should be noted -- a solution does eventually present itself, coincidentally enough by way of said pirates. In a last minute (yet goofily logical) plot deus ex machina it is poor, dead Marmee who saves the day and is justly rewarded. We chuckle and cheer simultaneously.

"Burying Marmee" is at turns charmingly naïve and darkly wry, with the soft pastel glow of Jack Vance suffusing all.

Talebones is a quarterly magazine. This is the January issue. Its next issue debuts in April. I urge you to subscribe. Talebones is a solid product, and you'll be missing some good fiction from the best new authors and more established names if you pass it by. Just click on its link, above, and you're halfway home.

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale


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