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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
Amazing Stories, Summer 1998 (Volume 70, Issue 1, #593)
"Sense of Wonder" James Alan Gardner
"The Complete Guide to Chlerion"Neal Barrett, Jr.
"Last Words" A.C. Crispin
"On the Scent of Trouble" John Gregory Betancourt
"Pheromitey Glad" Michael Libling
"Gooses" Orson Scott Card
"The Mark of Zorro" Ben Bova
"Pasquatz" Malcolm Beckett
The sadness many of us felt several years ago when TSR folded the oldest of the science fiction magazines turned to joy recently, when it was announced that Wizards of the Coast had purchased the title and would be relaunching the magazine that started it all, Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories.

Though exciting news, when word came that there would now be media-related fiction included in its pages, many, including myself, rolled our eyes and shook our heads in disbelief. Would the latest incarnation of Amazing Stories have nothing in common with the Amazing Stories many of us had grown up reading but the title? Would it now be just another poor excuse to cater to the adolescent role-playing, fantasy gaming crowd who could really care about whether the fiction was any good? Is this where science fiction magazines had arrived, and what they must do to be successful? After all, two of the most recent genre magazines to enter the fray had been SF Age and its sister magazine Realms of Fantasy, both full-size, full color, slick productions filled with media-related non-fiction columns and features and subsidized with plenty of high-dollar media advertising. Though packaged, and with content of interest to the "new generation" of younger readers, both magazines have held steady when it came to their fiction contents. No media-related fiction ever, that I am aware of, and both editors (Scott Edelman at SF Age, and Shawna McCarthy at Realms of Fantasy) have striven to print the highest quality fiction available to them. Which has been quite good at times.

So where does the first "come back" issue of editor Kim Mohan's new Amazing Stories fall in regards to its fiction?

Not nearly so well, I'm afraid. This issue sports eight stories; three pieces quite short (approx. two pages each), two Star Trek: The Next Generation stories, and three longer, independent efforts, two of which save this issue from being a total disaster.

Of the three two-page efforts, James Alan Gardner's "Sense of Wonder" is a light musing by two young boys on the nature of Dyson spheres, Ringworlds, black holes, and girls. Perfectly charming and just right for its length, it is marred by the jarring use of the "f" word, which seems totally out of context to the youthful exuberance and innocent imagination espoused by the two young lads. Too bad.

Veteran Neal Barrett, Jr.'s "The Complete Guide to Chlerion" is intended as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of travel agencies and packaged tours, but ended up as a rousing So What? in my book. Slightly humorous fan fiction maybe, but not in the debut issue of Amazing Stories.

The third of the two-page shorts is Malcolm Beckett's "Pasquatz," and is clearly the best of the three. A delightful fantasy fable with a wickedly humorous ending, it is about a frog who would've been a prince... of sorts, had he only been given the chance.

The pair of Star Trek stories did nothing for me. Both A.C. Crispin and John Gregory Betancourt have written much better non-ST stories and novels, but constrained as they are with the patented worlds in which they must write, these pieces, while trying to bring something new to the dried up, cardboard oeuvre, fail to recall anything but tired sketches from the TV series.

Of the three slightly longer, independent short stories, Michael Libling's "Pheromitey Glad" I found to be a sophomoric, unfocused and ambling attempt at arch cuteness, which failed miserably. It just didn't make any sense on any real level, and was difficult to read with all of the cUTe spellings, and "smeerp" made up words (if you call an alien rabbit a smeerp in an SF story, but it is described as a small, four-legged creature with long ears that hops, it is still a rabbit) such as "gwags," a word referring to part of the sexual anatomy. Sometimes literary experiments work, sometimes they don't. This one totally failed for me.

Back on firmer ground, Ben Bova turns in another of his well received Sam Gunn stories. Sly, witty when need be, and good plain fun, "The Mark of Zorro" is worth the read.

Saving the best for last, and a welcome relief it was to read this engaging fantasy story, it is easily my...

Editor's Choice:
"Gooses" by Orson Scott Card
An excerpt from his recent fantasy novel Heartfire, "Gooses" is a pure delight. Another of Card's acclaimed Alvin Maker stories, this is set yet again in his magical, alternate rural America of the early 19th century. In "Gooses," Alvin's scholarly black ward Arthur Stuart meets up with none other than John-James Audubon, and works his dwindling gift of speaking the language of birds to point up the evil of killing them just to paint them, while offering an alternative. Rustic, charming, filled with an eye for colloquial nuance, local color, and good-natured banter, "Gooses" is a fine read and left me wanting to read the novel. High praise also goes to artist Tony DiTerlizzi, for his wonderful period illustrations, which add to the warm feel of this story.

While I have extremely mixed to negative feelings about the fiction in this issue, I do recommend the Beckett, Bova, and most especially the Card stories.

While chatting with editor Kim Mohan (a most pleasant gentleman, I hasten to add) at the recent World Science Fiction Convention held in Baltimore the week of August 5-9, I expressed my concerns about including media-related fiction in the new incarnation of Amazing Stories. He unequivocally stated that there would be no more than two such stories in each issue, and proceeded to hand me a copy. Noting that over half of the magazine's 96 pages is given over to fiction, I felt I could live with this media-mix. Having read the pair in this issue however, I feel that even two might be more than enough.

Overall, I was left with the impression that while the stories in this issue are all rather upbeat, and/or lighthearted in approach, they were scattered all over the map, uneven in quality, and needed a tighter editorial focus. I remain optimistic, however, and look forward to more stories per issue of the caliber of Orson Scott Card's "Gooses."

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale

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