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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.

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
Tomorrow SF
Current Cover
Asimov's Science Fiction, March 1998
"The Eye of God" Mary Rosenblum
"Transit" Stephen Dedman
"Getting to Know You" David Marusek
"The Here and Now" Steven Utley
"Radio Praha" Tony Daniel
"Datableed" Pat Cadigan
"Scientifiction" Howard Waldrop
"Wild Child" S.N. Dyer
The March Asimov's continues the high marks set by this year's previous two issues with a slate of -- if not stellar -- then strangely interesting stories.

Steven Utley's "The Here and Now" is a time travel piece which takes us to the fall of Berlin during WWII, as a pair of time traveling tour guides inhabit unsuspecting hosts from this war torn period. The young guide -- The Kid -- seems to revel in the violence and destruction regardless of whether he's visiting the Civil War or here, and is used as counterpoint to the wisdom of the Elder guide. Perhaps the author is making a comment on the desensitizing effect the continued exposure to violence has on those without the wisdom to appreciate its true nature. If so, a point well taken.

"Datableed" is a trifling gimmick idea, a frustrating (for the reader, and more or less pointless) little exercise set in cyberspace, and not one of Pat Cadigan's best. It literally goes nowhere... twice. But I guess this is the point. I suppose it was published as another little brick to help complete the wall of virtual ideas not hitherto covered. Ah, well.

From Virtual Obscura we come to a very short piece the original Galaxy (from the 50s), or even F&SF today, would have published. Deceptively simple on the surface, I think it deserves closer examination as my first...

Editor's Choice:
"Wild Child" by S.N. Dyer
Emotionally distressing on the personal, as well as societal level, is S.N. Dyer's dark observation on what may lie in store for the growing number of inner-city waifs roaming our future streets (well, not literally, but the reductio ad absurdum extrapolation is necessary to emphasize the point). These barely out of the womb, abandoned children, nay infants, are portrayed the way we think of homeless street cats, slinking and crawling around underground parking lots and other shadowy, out of sight areas, like starving kittens. Most will not survive to reach their fifth birthday. One upscale medical worker deigns to give some milk and food to one of the little "ferals" (an accepted sub-class of humanity in this future society), then decides to adopt him, more or less as the family pet. She's advised against it but... "Wild Child" is a sharply barbed social commentary well worth its three pages in near-future Friskies. The more I think about it, this is a brilliant satire on the blasé attitude of society towards unwanted children. Its brevity will no doubt aid in securing it a place in several reprint anthologies.

Moving on:

"Scientifiction" is more than an apt title. With tongue in cheek, the always whacko Howard Waldrop here lets the situation he has contrived supply the smile. A planet of bugs must try to shield themselves from the solar eruptions from their nearby red sun. Told in the rather confusing prose reminiscent of the worst of the early pulp stories, the deadpan seriousness belies the gentle poke at the "good old days." Wild idea, perplexingly told.

Both Mary Rosenblum's "The Eye of God" and Stephen Dedman's "Transit" deal with hermaphrodites. Rosenblum's alien Rethe are mostly hermaphroditic (that is to say, most of them are, but only a few aren't; it's a little complicated) and are one of the few species superior to homo sapiens. (It seems they've given us an inferiority complex.) A retired human empath is surreptitiously employed by them to search out another human, an "art-creator," who they have granted the privilege of seeing the literal Eye of God for purposes of artistic expression. This is an engaging tale of the relationship between the empath and the otherwise aloof, reserved Rethe, and what is revealed when the "art-creator" is rescued from his mishap. Nicely sketched aliens, a welcome dollop of the sense of wonder, and a different look at human-alien interaction make this one an enjoyable read on several fronts.

Stephen Dedman's "Transit" shows us a human-colonized planet with no one but hermaphrodites (via the bio-tech contraplants everyone is obliged to have installed at puberty, if I remember correctly). Then comes an off-world visitor stopping on this peaceful planet -- named da Vinci -- on her way to Earth, da Vinci being an interstellar way station in the galactic scheme. Enter the young and alluring Aisha, who sets one young lad's testrogen (my word) a-twizzle. (I've used the male case here because "s/he" is described as appearing more outwardly "male.") But the wicket -- if I may -- gets sticky when it is revealed that Aisha comes from the world of al-Gohara, which is puritanically Muslim. The conflicts, problems, and obstacles to be overcome are laid out nicely, if predictably. Will the sexually "free" young lad and the sexually "repressed" young lass finally get together? And what are they to do when she must leave for her pilgrimage to Earth? How will Aisha's parents deal with this? Lovers of happy endings won't mind if the answer is a tad simplistic; it's often enough that obstacles are overcome and love wins out. Still, a nice (if quick) examination of diametrically opposed views on sexuality which are based on deeply ingrained cultural/religious philosophies.

David Marusek's "Getting to Know You" is difficult to encapsulate in a short space. There are two stories vying for dominance -- that of a holographic scam of elderly dying patients, and that of a personalized computer "bug" that is programmed to cater to its owner's every thought. But this AI bug is so much more; cyber-sleuth, secretary, assistant, and friend. The future setting is noir, dreary and jam-packed with super high-tech gizmos; quite enough to make one dizzy and angst-filled at the same time. It's a cross between Silverberg's The World Inside and any of Bruce Sterling's dark cyber-tales. I'm not quite convinced either story is totally successful, but "Getting to Know You" is worth it for the well realized look at this stark future.

A tale of wild science and lost love serves as my second...

Editor's Choice:
"Radio Praha" by Tony Daniel
An American tobacco advertising executive working in the Czech Republic frequents a smoky, dimly lit bar in Prague and is told a strange story by one Peter Eastaboga, former operative for the CIA. The chilling tale recounts the partly successful attempt by the Eastern bloc in the 1980's to create a localized bubble where Time is halted, and can be manipulated. But the bizarre twist is that they fashioned it with strangely crafted crystalline vacuum tubes rather than the integrated circuit, which was beyond their technology. Eastaboga slowly spins -- in detail -- the secret story of the creation of this "time" machine -- disguised as an old radio -- and the counter-operative, one Marta Plasilova with whom he fell deeply in love, but who has been lost to him due to her unsuccessful attempt to subvert the final experiment, where some unexplained phenomenon has imprisoned her in a temporal limbo at the end of time.

But the smoldering and lovely Marta is not entirely lost to the aged Eastaboga; for when he brings forth special crystal goblets -- and the light, and the cigarette smoke he blows their way are just right, a tiny, many-faceted Marta materializes and speaks softly to him of times past and love lost. Their bond is so strong that sometimes even a street fog wafting against a store window brings distorted, silent images of her.

Sad yet enchanting, "Radio Praha" is quite unforgettable.

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale

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