Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar-Apr 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017

I set up a schedule to actually get an issue read in the two months before the next issue comes out. Genius! *cough*

There were two stories that I particularly enjoyed in this issue:

“The Man Who Put the Bomp” by Richard Chwedyk
According to the introduction to this novella, this is Richard Chwedyk’s fifth “saurs” story. I haven’t read the first four, but here’s what I gather to be the situation thus far: Saurs were genetically engineered to be playthings. Imagine if the plastic dinosaurs you played with as a kid moved around and could be your “Teddy Ruxpin”/”Furby”-like companions. But the saurs turn out to be more than just toys. They are alive. They have intelligence and autonomy. After a era of struggle, they have a kind of freedom, living in small enclaves, watched over by a few caretakers, and besieged by bio-tech corporations that wish to learn their secrets.

This story revolves around one such safe house. The cast of saur characters is confusingly large (really the only neagtive criticism I have about the story). Among them is Axel (an inventor theropod with a traumatic past*), Agnes (a stegosaur who wants to protect the community to a xenophobic degree), Tibor (who believes himself to be the ruler of Tiborea), Bronte (who has recently hatched an egg, even though saurs weren’t supposed to be able to procreate), Preston (author of bestselling thrillers), and the mysterious, mad-scientist sauropod, Geraldine. Geraldine may or may not be behind the appearance of the VOOM!, a bright pink kid-sized car.

“No good ever came from anything pink!”

Ambition is at the heart of this story. Scientists Nicholas Danner, who worked on the saur’s original genetic code, and an up-and-comer Christine Haig are sent to investigate the happens at the saur safe house. Danner must come to terms with what he helped create and Christine must decide whether the saurs are what they say they are. And in the meantime, Axel and Tibor endeavor to go on a tour of Tiborea in the VOOM!

There are shenanigans, hijinks, and a lot of humor.

* Have you seen the videos of things people do to Furbies?

“Daisy” by Eleanor Arnason

“I’m doing a job for Art.”
“He’s a nasty man, Emily. Don’t get mixed up wit him.”
“I’m trying to track down his pet octopus. Someone stole it.”
“His what?”
“His octopus.”

Art Pancakes is a mobster. Emily Olson is a private eye. And Daisy is a missing octopus.

Octopuses are weird critters. They seem to be more intelligent than most animals and they are quite alien, alien in the sense of otherness. This story is very lightly science fiction and probably just fantasy. I’ll be honest, I saw a few of the plot points from far out, but that didn’t make this story any less good.

Review ~ The Long Way Down

Cover via Goodreads

The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer

Nobody knows the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas like Daniel Faust, a sorcerer for hire and ex-gangster who uses black magic and bullets to solve his clients’ problems. When an old man comes seeking vengeance for his murdered granddaughter, what looks like a simple job quickly spirals out of control.

Soon Daniel stands in the crossfire between a murderous porn director; a corrupt cop with a quick trigger finger; and his own former employer, a racket boss who isn’t entirely human. Then there’s Caitlin: brilliant, beautiful, and the lethal right hand of a demon prince.

A man named Faust should know what happens when you rub shoulders with demons. Still Daniel can’t resist being drawn to Caitlin’s flame as they race to unlock the secret of the Etruscan Box, a relic that people all over town are dying — and killing — to get their hands on. As the bodies drop and the double-crosses pile up, Daniel will need every shred of his wits, courage and sheer ruthlessness just to survive.

Daniel Faust knew he was standing with one foot over the brink of hell. He’s about to find out just how far he can fall. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Urban fantasy in Las Vegas. Luck for Hire and its I-swear-I’ll-finish-it-one-day sequel In Need of Luck are set in Vegas and I’m interested in how other authors treat the setting. Daniel Faust also has a tinge of magician to him, using playing cards as his sorcerous focus and knowing some sleight of hand.

What Worked
I liked Schaefer’s Las Vegas. Early in the novel Faust investigates where the young woman’s body was found: in the flood channels under Las Vegas. These tunnels really exist and are haven for a number of otherwise homeless people. The glitzy Vegas is there too, though some of the casino names have been changed.

The story also really moves. Faust is an unlicensed PI and the story start with a pretty standard plea for help from a client. It then dives right into the investigation and keeps a good pace throughout. It was a fast read despite some set backs.

What Didn’t Work
My first worry was that the magic system for this world wasn’t completely worked out. It’s a tricky thing to lay down the rules while avoiding info dumps, but I was never comfortable that sorcery wasn’t being created on the fly as needed.

Regardless, I was with with book until about the 60% mark. Then, unneeded plot difficulties popped up. And a super cliché romance kicked into high gear. And by the ultimate show-down Daniel Faust seemed to forget about his magic cards. Overall, there wasn’t quite enough of Faust using his magic in his way. There is a bit at the end that is reliant on Faust using a palming techniques and it would have been nice to see that skill in used previous to that moment.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Demimonde Books, April 25th 2014
Acquired: January 20, 2016, Amazon
Genre: urban fantasy

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More #COYER Reviews
Generator Points Earned: 1
Generator Points Total: 2.5

Deal Me In, Week 51 ~ “The Invisibles”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Invisibles” by Charles de Lint

Card picked: Jack of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination  (This is the last story from this anthology.)

Thoughts: Some of the stories in these Copperfield anthologies have felt more like short vignettes: weird set up, character dealing with weird set up, no conclusion. And occasionally, some of those stories haven’t been short at all. (I’m looking at you, Jack Kirby/Janet Berliner.) With “The Invisibles,” Charles De Lint writes one of the most complete stories in either of the Copperfield books.

One evening while hanging out at his favorite coffee shop with his friends, our narrator, a painter, sees an invisible woman. Well, she’s invisible to his friends anyway, and to the barista who never takes her order, and to the people on the street who nearly walk into her. Our narrator*, intrigued by her, follows her home. On the street in front of her apartment building, he’s confronted by a kid with powers to disappear in his own way. Our narrator is led down a rabbit hole and inadvertently becomes the “spokesperson” for the invisibles.

My only complaint about this story is that there were a couple of sentences that were really heavy-handed about the “invisible” people–the homeless, service people, etc.–that we encounter all the time. In a story that was deft in so many other ways, I don’t think de Lint really needed to clobber the reader over the head with a message.

*I really need to start paying attention during first person narratives for use of the narrator’s name.

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “[Answer]”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“[Answer]” by F. Paul Wilson

Card picked: Nine of Clubs

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: The title of this story is a five letter word. It looks like ROPED, but typed over a few times. This word is the Answer.

Yuppy-wannbe Michael Moulton discovers the Answer when an audio cassette tape is accidentally substituted for his Three Months to Financial Independence video cassette. He calls the company to complain and is told to box up the tape and a replacement will be provided immediately. Immediately isn’t fast enough, Michael listens to the tape before the owner of the self-help company, Dennis Nickleby himself, arrives to retrieve it. There is only one thing on the audio cassette, a garbled word. The Answer.

Nickleby is concerned that Michael has listened to the tape and Michael lies through omission about it. All is well until Michael talks to his stock broker about the strange tape and the Answer. His stock broker misunderstands the conversation and makes a trade for a stock he thought he heard Michael say. The stock soars and Michael realizes that the Answer is always the best Answer to whatever question is being asked. Unfortunately, an omniscient cabal zealously protects its usage. Will Michael be smart enough to use the Answer against them?

This is a decent story, a solid take on what happens when an unwise man gets hold of a magic word. The minor trick of a typed-over word works really well narratively, though I don’t know how you’d pull it off in the digital age. If updated, a CD-ROM and a DVD would make a more likely switch-out than an audio and video tape.

About the Author: F. Paul Wilson is a horror writer I’ve been meaning to read more of for ages. He’s known for The Keep, which was adapted for film in 1983 by Michael Mann, and his Repairman Jack stories/novels.

Deal Me In, Week 37 ~ “Indigo Moon”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Indigo Moon” by Janet Berliner

Card picked: Three of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, edited by David Copperfield & Janet Berliner

Review: This story has a 90s TV movie feel. I can imagine very big hair and shoulder pads. It’s a thriller that takes a supernatural turn, a very 80s-90s thing to do. And maybe this nostalgia is also because I associate movies and fiction about Carlos the Jackal with that time period. The Jackal is one of our main characters and the target of some transformation magic. My one objection is that Berliner draws some direct supernatural lines between Carlos the Jackal and Jack the Ripper. These are two very different types of killers. Perhaps some other terrorist would have been a better fit?

(Quick review this week. I am enjoying some crisp fall weather away from my computer.)

Is This Your Card?

Deal Me In, Week 19 ~ “Dealing with the Devil”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Dealing with the Devil” by Robert Weinberg

Card picked: Four of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible

Review: I can’t sum it up better than David Copperfield in his intro: “Robert Weinberg pits a priest with a carny background against a dead card shark who exists in the real world courtesy of his deal with the devil.” He had me at “priest with a carny background.” Unfortunately, after a couple weeks of Millhauser, I was left a little dissatisfied with the level of detail in this story when it came to poker-playing and card-sharpery. I may also be hyper aware of a certain level of hand-wavery since I’ve spent some time trying to write a decent blackjack scene (which was ultimately replaced by a roulette scene).

Overall, though, “Dealing with the Devil” is enjoyable, not challenging, and a bit predictable. Basically, it was perfectly suited to a Saturday afternoon after a trying week.

About the Author: I’m generally familiar with Robert Weinberg as an anthologist, notably the fun 100 Little series of horror and mystery stories.

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “The Barnum Museum”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Barnum Museum” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Two of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum

Review:

Less of a story and more of a detailed description of a Barnum Museum that doesn’t quite exist and the people who are drawn to it.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Barnum_Museum%2C_Bridgeport.jpg
Not what we’re talking about. (Image by GK tramrunner on en.wikipedia)

In reality there are two Barnum Museums. If you google Barnum Museum, the primary result is a beautiful building in Connecticut that P. T. Barnum had built to house the Bridgeport Scientific Society and the Fairfield County Historical Society. Unfortunately, the societies didn’t survive financially. The building was closed in 1943 and reopened in the 1960s as a museum to Barnum the man.

The Barnum museum that Millhauser is alluding to is Barnum’s American Museum. Built in 1841 in New York City, it housed attractions both educational and sensational. The five story museum displayed both the Fiji mermaid and had an aquarium big enough to house a white whale. Chang and Eng were on “display” a room away from historical dioramas. There was a lavish theater where performers of every type put on their acts. It was criticized by the morally upstanding for its spectacle. It was immensely popular with everyone else. It dramatically burnt to the ground in 1865.

This is more like it.

Millhauser’s story is kind of a mashup of these two museums. His Barnum Museum still stands and architecturally has some of the attributes of the Connecticut museum, except in greater quantity and more fantastical. The displays, or rather inhabitants, are more mythical too. Three mermaids in a pool, a griffin in a cage, and a man with a flying carpet are among the detailed recitation of attractions. Steven Millhauser is joining Bret Easton Ellis in the pantheon of authors who can bring an enormous amount of detail to bear. The controversy surrounding Millhauser’s Barnum Museum is not whether it’s morally questionable to gawk at bare-breasted mermaids, but rather, if such mermaids are real as they seem to be, would such wonderment make the world outside the museum meaningless? And if they’re fake, are they still not wonderful due to the amount of effort that goes into such deception? (I’d say that the answer to that second question is a test as to whether a person appreciates or hates knowing the secrets behind magic tricks.)

Millhauser does give us one named character, but we only spend a few hundred words with her. Hannah is shy, mousy, and intelligent, and she becomes a frequenter of the museum. Like others, she seems to be seeking knowledge from the fantastical, or the lies behind it all.