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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
Asimov's Science Fiction, April 1998
"A Question of Grammar" L. Timmel Duchamp
"Steamship Soldier on the Information Front"Nancy Kress
"Auschwitz and the Rectification of History"Eliot Fintushel
"Animae Celestes" Gregory Feeley
"The Year of the Mouse" Norman Spinrad
"The Value of Objects" Daniel H. Jeffers
April was a fine month for Asimov's. Nancy Kress's engaging novelette, "Steamship Soldier on the Information Front," asks us to envision a possible next step beyond our own Information Age, where we've arrived at the point where literally all information is at our very fingertips. The Reasons Age, as she calls it, may be that future time when we ask the serious question of just what we really need all of our information for, and might not too much information paralyze us in ways not foreseen. Through advanced robotics and the eyes of a child she drives her point home.

Another novelette, and Eliot Fintushel's most mature effort to date, "Auschwitz and the Rectification of History" still sparkles with his bizarre view of the world, but with a look to the more serious issue of misguided anti-Semites using a fancy machine in order to rewrite the Nazi atrocities of World War II. A bonkers page-turner... with serious bite.

Without a doubt, the cover novella is my...

Editor's Choice:
"A Question of Grammar" by L. Timmel Duchamp
On the surface this far future story tells the tale of Azia, sold out of a juvenile detention center into the service of powerful alien traders who school her (through extensive resocialization techniques) in the role of communicator for one of the alien races.

Duchamp skillfully draws us into Azia's frightening new world with the alien species known as the Corollian, to one of whom she is emotionally, sexually, and chemically bonded. Along the way, in masterfully woven layers, the author deals with the issue of language and its importance in shaping competing world views; which, in turn, forms the basis for the underlying political structure which has led to her parents being arrested as subversives for daring to hold a life-view outlawed by the prevailing government. Thereby we are asked to question the issue of personal freedom and being forced to live as an outsider as well. With these larger issues always in the background, Duchamp shows us Azia's remarkably profound internal struggles as she comes to grips with her own sexual attraction for the alien whom she cannot live without (due to the drugs necessary for her bonding), and eventually her awareness of the complicated political situation into which she has been thrust. Azia is forced to make difficult, complicated decisions, and it is to the author's credit that the numerous issues are so deftly presented, and no punches are pulled. This is one terrific read, with a subtextual richness one sees much too rarely.

"A Question of Grammar" is one of the most complex, challenging, and ultimately satisfying stories I've read in some time, and if there is any justice in the world it will be seen on awards ballots next year.

Current Cover
Asimov's Science Fiction, May 1998
"Get Me to the Church on Time"Terry Bisson
"Lemuria Will Rise!" Kage Baker
"The Shortest Night" Ian Watson
"Crucifixion Variations" Lawrence Person
"Wading River Dogs and More" Michael Kandel
"Wild Minds" Michael Swanwick
If I were asked to categorize this issue I would use the words lighthearted and/or entertaining.

Terry Bisson's novella "Get Me to the Church on Time" is another whacky entry into his series of stories featuring a (sort of) lawyer, Irving, and his jack-of-all-trades physicist friend Wilson Wu. In this one, an impending threat to the existence of reality having to do with the "butterfly effect" conspires to upset Irving's wedding to his fiancee Candy. Bringing together all sorts of strange elements by what I personally term Lafferty-logic, this one is a lot of fun.

"Lemuria Will Rise!" is a pleasant visit -- via time travel -- to a Pismo Beach of the 1860's and a nostalgic revisiting of the cult myth of the long-lost city of Lemuria, the Atlantis of the Pacific. An old psychic beachcomber who believes, a time traveler who silently scoffs, and strange blue glows on the ocean mark this mellow novelette.

A sailor on leave in a brothel encounters a beautiful young woman with a strange tattoo on her breast. The sad fantasy story she tells concerning its origin makes Ian Watson's "The Shortest Night" another pleasant novelette and worth the read.

Lawrence Person's well-written speculations -- again using a variation on time travel of a sort -- on the true account of the Crucifixion ends up (wisely) not supporting the truth or falsity of Christ's divinity, but concluding that without some sort of Truth (regardless of its nature), "we're all alone in the dark." "Crucifixion Variations," replete with collapsing wave functions and a hard sf rationale, is a thoughtful and successful novelette. Kudos to this relatively new author.

The final novelette in this issue is Michael Kandel's "Wading River Dogs and More." A captured and uncommunicative alien held in a government facility and the low IQ pet shop employee enlisted to break the information dam form the crux of this finely told tale of alternate methods of communication.

The sole short story in this issue, and a fine one it is, is my...

Editor's Choice:
"Wild Minds" by Michael Swanwick
Along with "The Very Pulse of the Machine" (Asimov's SF, 2/98) and "Mother Grasshopper" (F&SF, 4/98), this makes the third short story by Swanwick I've singled out this year. He's on a roll!

"Wild Minds" gives us a chilling glimpse into a future where, to be able to function in the lightning-fast information age of the future, one must be "optimized" in order to compete. Optimization involves more than just information implants, however. On the plus side, one's regenerative abilities are tremendous. Disease is rare for the optimized, and such things as burns and cuts heal almost instantaneously. On the down side, emotions are considered distractions in the high-powered business world and optimization dampens them toward a flatline. The bottom line is that knowledge is cheap and emotions are distractions easily remedied via drugs. If one commits a crime, therefore, it must be due to a chemical imbalance, easily corrected, which absolves the "optimized" person from personal responsibility or blame. What an efficient society.

Enter one man who has chosen to forego optimization, and the woman he dates who is an optimatization recruiter. A marvelously conceived confrontation of views is thus artfully realized. Suffice it to say that the reason this particular man has chosen to remain fully human is the message of this powerful story.

The short story is the most difficult to write effectively; every word, every phrase, must be chosen with the utmost care for optimum effectiveness and impact. Swanwick has shown time and again what a consummate master he is at this length. A few more stories like this one (and those cited above) and we might very well see an all-Swanwick list in the short story awards category next year.

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale


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