Sunday, June 9, 2019

Birthday Review: The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman

The great Joe Haldeman, SFWA Grand Master, winner of multiple Hugos and Nebulas and too many other awards for me to count, turns 76 today. I haven't seen a novel since 2014s Work Done for Hire, so I don't know how much more we're going to get from him, but his career as it stands is remarkable. This is a review I wrote for my blog back in 2007 of his novel The Accidental Time Machine, the last in a quite remarkable late career run of singleton novels that (to my eye) began with The Coming (2000).

The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman

a review by Rich Horton

Joe Haldeman has, somewhat quietly, become one of my favorite writers, for sheer reliability. It's not that I didn't highly respect him before -- I liked The Forever War a great deal, loved The Hemingway Hoax, and liked many of his short stories. But he wasn't a writer I would buy on sight. And then he went through a period where he just didn't interest me -- the novels Forever Peace, 1968, and Forever Free in particular -- fairly recent work -- simply did not appeal based on reviews. But beginning, as I recall, with The Coming (2000), I have read all his stuff, at about 18 month intervals. The Coming was followed by Guardian, Camouflage, Old Twentieth, and now The Accidental Time Machine. Each of these novels has been fairly short, quite different from its predecessors, compulsively readable, built around nice SFnal ideas (if usually familiar ones), well characterized, and philosophically interesting. Haldeman does sometimes have problems with endings -- the conclusion of Guardian in particular is a mess -- but without exception his novels are great fun to read, even if the ending is a bit rushed or a bit perfunctory. (Sometimes the endings aren't the point -- The Coming, for example, has a mild surprise ending that could be a letdown if you were expecting some dramatic transcendent revelation -- and clearly was a letdown to many readers -- but I think it is just what he planned, and it caps the novel he meant to write quite well.) Quite simply, Haldeman's novels are among those I most look forward to in complete confidence I will enjoy them.

The Accidental Time Machine is, in this sense, quite of a piece with its fellows. It deals with a somewhat familiar idea -- a time machine that only goes forward. The ur-narrative here, really, is Wells' The Time Machine, but this story reminded me more urgently of Poul Anderson's pulpy classic "Flight to Forever". But with plenty of original Haldeman touches. For one thing, this is his "MIT novel", just as The Coming was his "Gainesville novel". (Haldeman splits his years between MIT and Gainesville, FL.) And, as his afterword notes, Haldeman stumbled on a bafflegab explanation for his protagonist's time travel that turns out to have at least some physical plausibility.

Matt Fuller is a post-grad working on a graviton detector. He has just been dumped by his girlfriend, as it turns out for a rival post-grad. One day he notices that his machine seems to disappear briefly, then reappear. Rather quickly (perhaps too quickly) he figures out that it disappears for exponentially increasing times, and that anything within a Faraday cage attached to the machine goes with it. He assumes that the machine is traveling in time -- and, it turns out, fairly predictably in distance as well. He ends up deciding to go along with the machine -- with disastrous consequences, as he is soon detained on suspicion of murder. His only escape is farther into the future.

So we have a bit of a travelogue to varying futures, most notably one in which the Eastern US is under the rule of an oppressive theocracy. There he picks up a companion, a pretty and innocent young woman. He has some hope -- hints that he must have eventually returned to his own time, as well as contact with an AI interested in travel to the very far future indeed. The resolution is quite nice, not exactly expected but not unexpected either. The SFnal content throughout is involving, if never coruscatingly brilliant. Just intelligent, thoughtful, and entertaining. Again, a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Kate Wilhelm

The great Kate Wilhelm was born June 8, 1928, and died a year ago March 6, just a few months short of her 90th birthday. She was my leading candidate for most unfairly passed over would-be SFWA Grand Master -- I wonder if her turn to writing primarily mysteries over the past few decades of her life contributed to that oversight. I thought one of those mysteries, the first Barbara Holloway novel, Death Qualified, was also an exceptional SF novel. I also greatly liked the also often fantastical Constance and Charlie stories. And her novels and short fiction published within the field were also excellent. My favorite novel was probably Juniper Time; and my favorite short fiction included "Baby, You Were Great", "The Fusion Bomb", "Somerset Dreams", and "Forever Yours, Anna".

She was one of those writers nurtured somewhat, early in their careers, by Cele Goldsmith, and I had hoped to get a chance to ask her about Goldsmith, but I never did, one of my regrets. (I also waited too long to ask Harlan Ellison about Goldsmith, but fortunately I did get a chance to send Ursula K. Le Guin a letter to which she gave a lovely response.)

Here's what I've written about her short fiction, either in my "Retro-reviews" of old magazines, or of her late work, in my Locus column. As such, these notes don't really mention her very best work, but they do show that, early and late, she was always good.

Retro-review of Amazing, February 1960

The great Kate Wilhelm's first story appeared in one of the Paul Fairman issues of Fantastic in 1956, and her first important story ("The Mile-Long Spaceship") in John Campbell's Astounding in 1957, though really Robert Lowndes, at Future and Science Fiction Stories, was her most important early editor. But she did have a few stories in Goldsmith's issues. "It's a Good Trick If ..." is an amusing short piece about a family in which strange hallucinations keep happening -- even to the dog -- and it becomes eventually clear that their young son is the cause. Minor work, sure, but well enough done.

Retro-review of [The Original] Science Fiction Stories, May 1960

Kate Wilhelm's "The Living Urn" is another crime story. A disreputable art collector wishes to steal a rare "living urn". But it turns out, in a nice twist, that he can thus be useful to the authorities, who want that object safely delivered to Earth. Minor but nicely done.

Locus, February 2002

Kate Wilhelm supplies the cover story for the February F&SF, "The Man on the Persian Carpet". The two main characters are Carolyn Harley and Drake Symes, who had "fallen in and out of love since kindergarten".  But Carolyn's parents oppose the relationship, and Carolyn finds herself unexpectedly marrying a man she barely knows, after a rather creepy sexual encounter. Drake drifts into occult publishing, and Carolyn also brushes with the occult, learning palmistry.  Years later, after a child and a divorce, Carolyn meets Drake again, and they fall back in love -- but Carolyn realizes that her palm, and Drake's, and that of her teenaged son all tell of a cataclysmic event a few years in the future.  It is that event around which the story turns -- and Wilhelm drives things to a well thought out conclusion, with real sacrifice and loss amidst possible happiness, the sacrifice more poignant because of its nature (which I will not reveal).  This is the best Kate Wilhelm story I've read in a few years -- perhaps it is marred slightly by a somewhat implausible villainous plot driving the crisis, still, it's a very fine story.

Locus, April 2008

The February issue also offers an all too rare Kate Wilhelm sighting, with “The Fountains of Neptune”, a quiet story of a woman dying of cancer who visits Rome one more time and, perhaps, encounters a god.

Locus, February 2011

The January-February F&SF has a fine new Kate Wilhelm piece, “The Bird Cage”. Dr. Grace Wooten is researching methods of human near-hibernation for a rather unpleasant rich man who wants to find a way to live until his diseases can be cured. But her first human trial leads to some completely unexpected side effects, as the sleeping man somehow seems to interact with people involved in significant events in his life, including his brother and a girl who had been present when he nearly drowned as a child. Those two, after scary “fugue states” in which they remember those events, come into contact, and eventually confront Dr. Wooten, who is faced with scary evidence of the dangers of her research.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Kit Reed

Kit Reed was born June 7, 1932, and died in 2017. She was a particularly sharp satirist, and always ready to see horror in ordinary(ish) situations. She wrote quite a few novels, often non-fantastical, but for me (and I suspect, for many readers) her best work was her short fiction. This is a selection of my reviews of her work for Locus -- as with many writers with long careers, much of their best work appeared before I started writing for the magazine, and I regret thus missing her some of her best work, but she wrote incisively to the end of her life.

Locus, June 2002

May's Sci Fiction offerings are a decent set. Best is probably Kit Reed's "The Last Big Sin", about an obese man at a religiously oriented "fat farm". It seems overeating is "the last big sin", and this man struggles to comply with the boot camp conditions – only to discover a bitter secret behind the camp's operation. Reed does mordant satire as well as anybody, and this is pretty solid mordant satire.

Locus, May 2003

Kit Reed in particular is impressive in the May F&SF, with "Incursions", a striking paranoid fantasy of an ordinary man's alienation from his life. Dave Travers takes a train from his suburban home into the city, planning to apply for a job that might free him from his boring routine as a college instructor. But his sense of desperation increases, and he escapes the train in rural Connecticut: but his life is still going nowhere. The base story here is fairly familiar, but Reed's use of imagery from sources such as the old computer game Zork makes it seem new again.

Locus, September 2003

Kit Reed's wicked "Focus Group" tells of a woman who falls for a soap actor and manipulates her focus group to help his career. Sort of.

Locus, June 2004

The May lineup at Sci Fiction is strong. ... Better still is a scary little domestic piece from Kit Reed, who does domestic scariness better than anybody. "Family Bed" is told by a teenaged girl in a large family. They live their life as an advertisement for the virtue of family togetherness, including everyone sleeping in the same bed. Reed portrays the creepiness of this situation beautifully, upping the ante at nearly every paragraph, making the really icky climax effective.

Locus, September 2004

Kit Reed's "Yard Sale" (Asimov's, August) is about two sisters trying to sell their father's various obsessive collections after his death. But her father's acquisitive and hoarding spirit has survived. Reed is perhaps the most effective writer of truly original and off-center horror around, and this is another example. 

Locus review of Nine Muses (February 2006)

Kit Reed’s “Spies” is a better fit, and it too is one of the better entries here, a funny Southern story about another group of goddesses, hinted at by their names (Ada, Clo, and Lally).

Locus, September 2006

Kit Reed is perhaps the best writer we have of satirical SF horror, and “Biodad” (Asimov's, October-November) is anotherstrong example. A successful woman has two children by artificial insemination, but eventually decides to find their biological father. But his ideas of his fathering responsibilities are a nasty surprise.

Locus review of Naked City (August 2011)

Kit Reed’s “Weston Walks” takes quite a different look at New York, about a rich orphan whose only contact with the rest of the world seems to be unusual tours he gives of the city – until an odd young woman tries to get to him.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Birthday Review: Two Novels by Dorothy Heydt

Today is Dorothy Heydt's birthday. Dorothy was a regular on the wonderful Usenet newsgroups rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.composition back in their glory days (late '90s, early 2000s). And she wrote two enjoyable novels. Here are my capsule looks at those two books.

Capsule Review of The Interior Life

The Interior Life is an odd fantasy published to seemingly no notice by Baen in 1990. I had never heard of it until I saw a rave review by Jo Walton on rec.arts.sf.written. It's by Katherine Blake, who turns out to be Dorothy J. Heydt, a regular rec.arts.sf.written poster. It is quite different and original, and very good, marred perhaps just a bit by a somewhat anti-climactic ending, with a bit too much pat character pairing off. The story is told on two tracks, as the protagonist, Sue, a midwestern housewife and mother of three, gets her life under control and becomes involved in her community, as well as helping her husband get a key promotion, all the while following a storyline in a fantasy world (of her invention? or a world to which she has some quasi-telepathic connection?).  In the fantasy world, the Lady Amalia follows her brother into the Darkness, which has been slowly engulfing their land for two centuries. She encounters the Lord of Darkness, and some of his slaves, and learns an important secret about the source of his power. The story leads up to a predictable but still well-handled and original confrontation between the literal forces of Light and Dark. Both base plots don't sound terribly fascinating in description (which I suspect is why the book was ignored), but the story is absorbing reading: largely for the background details: Sue's dinner parties and PTA meetings, the details of castle life and war preparation in Amalia's world. Oddly, I found myself more involved in Sue's mundane struggles than in Amalia's heroic efforts, though the latter are quite interesting.  Blake/Heydt also avoids over-obvious parallels between the two storylines.

Capsule Review of A Point of Honor

Dorothy J. Heydt's new novel is A Point of Honor.  Heydt is the author of an intriguing 1990 fantasyThe Interior Life, as by Katherine Blake), and also of a whole bunch of stories published in Marion Zimmer Bradley's magazine and anthologies. A Point of Honor takes "cyberspace" concepts in a sufficiently new direction to be worth it. The novel features Sir Mary de Courcy, a rather successful player of Chivalry, a virtual reality jousting game. After she wins a tournament, she accepts a virtual estate as forfeit from one of her foes, then she finds her real life threatened.  She hides out with one of the creators of the Virtual domain where her new estate is located, and they embark on a virtual quest to find out if there is anything fishy about the estate she has won which might justify the attacks on her. The story is exciting enough, and a good read, but it suffers from a couple of common flaws. The first is that, this being a virtual environment, the author doesn't hesitate to bend the rules outrageously in the favor of her protagonist: this is well-rationalized, but it does tend to reduce suspense a bit.  The second is that the solution to the mystery was unsatisfying: basically, the bad guy didn't seem to me to have -nearly- enough motivation to attempt murder repeatedly.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Ray Nayler

This is a shorter review collection than usual for me, because Ray Nayler has only been publishing in the SF magazines since 2015, but his work has been so exceptional, I think he deserves the extra notice. Today is his birthday, so in his honor, here we go:

Locus, July 2015

Every once in a while a story knocks you flat, and that's a special thing. When it comes from a writer unfamiliar to you, it may be even more special. Ray Nayler's “Mutability”, in the June Asimov's, is such a story for me. It's set a few centuries in the future, a time that seems pleasant enough and in some ways not much changed from now – perhaps a bit more peaceful. There are just enough hints of future tech to convince, but the key change, only slowly revealed, is that people seem to be very long-lived, with a “memory horizon” (like in Kim Stanley Robinson's “Green Mars”). The protagonist is a scholar of an obscure lost language called “SAE” (Standard American English, I trust), and the story turns on his meeting a woman in his regular cafe … They have a story, which I'll leave Nayler to tell – and it's a good one, but the gestalt of the overall story is even better. Lovely.

Locus, April 2016

And Ray Nayler’s “Do Not Forget Me” (Asimov's, March) is a nicely multiply framed story, set in Central Asia, in which a man tells his wife a story he heard from a poet about a slave raider and the strange wanderer he captures.

Locus, March 2017

Ray Nayler is back in the January-February Asimov’s with another quiet and exceptional story, “Winter Timeshare”. Regina is visiting Istanbul, as she does every winter, intending to rendezvous with her long-time lover Ilkay. The SFnal hook is that the two, relatively privileged people in this future, take their vacations in “timeshares”: that is, they are “sheathed” in “blanks”: apparently empty bodies into which consciousnesses are downloaded. The story is partly about the resentment many have of the “blanks” (or the “dead”); and about terrorist actions, which end up distracting Ilkay (a security specialist), and end up forcing Regina (occupying unfamiliar male blank) to take unexpected action. But it’s also about Istanbul in winter, and a curiously intermittent love affair; and about the hints of an extremely interesting world situation behind everything.

Locus, December 2018

Another sort of mystery is at the heart of “Incident at San Juan Bautista”, by Ray Nayler (Asimov's, November-December). In Old West San Juan Bautista, August Sutherland, German immigrant turned dentist turned hired killer, is preparing for his latest assignment. He is fascinated by a woman in the saloon, and obtains her services. But she is a much stranger creature than your standard-issue beautiful Western movie whore, as August learns when she first extracts from him his story, then tells him as much of hers as he can understand. SF readers will have ideas about what or who she is – but the story doesn’t really reveal that in detail, just shows the eerie results of her particular pastime. Cool stuff.

Birthday Review: Stories of Margo Lanagan

June 5 is Margo Lanagan's birthday. She's a brilliant Australian writer, whose stories are noticeable tinged with very effective horror. Here's a collection of my Locus reviews of her stories:

Locus, December 2006

A few anthologies of varying types prompt more thought about how theme books differ from general anthologies. It’s my general view that too specific a theme weakens a book – partly by leading to too many too similar stories, and partly by constricting writers’ imaginations. So I look forward in particular to completely “open” books, such as Eidolon 1, a descendant of the very fine, now defunct, Australian magazine Eidolon. This anthology is full of good work. In particular I liked Margo Lanagan’s quite nasty “A Fine Magic”, in which a magician plans revenge on two beautiful if rather vain sisters who have rejected his suit. The magic described is lovely and scary – and the results uncompromising.

Locus review of Dreaming Again (June 2008)

The prize is Margo Lanagan’s “The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross”. Uncharacteristically for Lanagan, this is set in an unambiguously science-fictional future, in which human fertility is in ruins (we assume as a result of environmental damage). We witness the protagonist’s encounter with an apparently alien prostitute, then a meeting with a woman he had a one night stand with, which surprisingly has resulted in a viable pregnancy. It’s bitter but not mean, the characters damaged but not evil. Powerful stuff.

Locus review of Extraordinary Engines (August 2008)

At any rate, Extraordinary Engines is indeed quite fun. To begin with my favorites, I really liked two stories: Margo Lanagan’s “Machine Maid” and Jeff VanderMeer’s “Fixing Hanover”. Lanagan’s story concerns a young bride come to an isolated Australian ranch. She has to adjust to the loneliness, the stress of leading a household, and to her husband’s attentions, for which she was woefully unprepared. Things get worse when she discovers (hardly to the reader’s surprise) the extra uses her husband can make of the robot maid he bought for her. The story works particularly well because of Lanagan’s fine writing, her capturing of the heroine’s emotions, and the slightly surprising changes she rings on the more or less expected ending.

Locus, February 2010

Another anthology very much worth your time – but possibly hard to find for Americans – is x6, an Australian collection of six novellas – mostly quite long novellas. The best stories have strikingly similar themes. “Sea-Hearts”, by Margo Lanagan, gets to a similar place from a different direction. It set in an isolated fishing community, where girl children don’t seem to be viable. The “Mams”, or wives, come from the sea. We can see where this is going – it’s a selkie story, of course. And it turns on the boys’ realization of their mothers’ state, and their reaction. Perhaps it’s more romantic than Haines’ story – perhaps too optimistic – but to me it made its point, about the dark way men can mistreat women, quite as effectively if not more so, and yet allowed that things needn’t be that way.

Locus, September 2011

I spent last month immersed in three new urban fantasy/paranormal anthologies from Ellen Datlow, and this month I see another: Blood and Other Cravings. The theme is ostensibly vampires, but often not traditional vampires: instead creatures that feed on, or crave, a variety of essential substances, not just blood. The mode is generally horror. As we certainly expect from Datlow, it’s a strong book. John Langan, Kaaron Warren, Richard Bowes, and Lisa Tuttle all shine, but my favorite story is from Margo Lanagan. “Mulberry Boys” plops us down unexplained with a teenaged boy and a sinister older man, chasing a “mulberry boy”. We gather quickly that the older man is paying the villagers where the younger boy lives to allow him to alter a suitable subset of their children to be fed only mulberry leaves, and so to produce, horribly, something valuable called silk. The story portrays powerfully how this changes the “mulberry boys” (and girls), and how the protagonist comes to grips with what this really means – it’s true horror, and yet leaves its characters some agency. (The lack of true agency is perhaps my main complaint about much traditional horror – what sort of story is it if the characters really never have a chance?)

Locus, January 2014

And finally I will mention a very strange Christmas story from Margo Lanagan, We Three Kids, the PS Publishing year-end special. This is the story of Yoseph and Mariam, who have just had a miraculous child – and the three very odd visitors who seem terribly interested in the child. That framework is familiar of course, but the visitors, who first come to a sandal-maker's house and who don't seem quite human, give things an aura of real strangeness and a hint of horror. As ever, Lanagan comes at things from an unusual angle indeed, effectively disquieting.

Locus, December 2017

Finally I must belatedly mention a new collection of stories (many previously collected) from Margo Lanagan, Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories. It’s is certainly a first-rate book, and it includes three new stories. My favorite of these is “Not All Ogre”, about Torro, who is half-ogre, and who comes to with two friends. We get hints of the menace of ogres the townspeople sense, and the changes undergone since the old prince was deposed – and of Torro resisting his ogreish urges. Then the story turns – it is a Sleeping Beauty retelling of a rather ghoulishly horrific, and effective, sort.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Today is Kristine Kathryn Rusch's birthday. She's been producing excellent SF -- and mysteries -- for some three decades. Here's a selection of my reviews of her short work in Locus.

Locus, March 2003

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's new story (Asimov's, April) also plays off 9/11, though in the end that's not its focus. The title, "June Sixteenth at Anna's", refers to a work of art: a recording, made from the future, of conversations at a restaurant in Manhattan, on June 16, 2001. Max's wife was one of the subjects of this recording. She has recently died, and Max reminisces about her modest fame, and then "watches" the time recording of her afternoon at Anna's. The modest Sfnal content serves to illuminate a very nicely done, very quiet story of an old man, love, and memory.

Locus, January 2004

Sci Fiction for December features a Lucius Shepard novella plus a Christmas novelette from Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Rusch's "Nutball Season" is a pleasant sentimental seasonal story, about a divorced policeman who finds himself guarding a single mother who has threatened to shoot Santa Claus if he comes to her house. I think any reader can see where this story is going, but Rusch gets us to the end nicely.

Locus, September 2004

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Collateral Damage" is set in a future where children are required to take classes using time viewer technology to study war – in hopes that direct experience of its horrors will prevent future wars. A veteran teacher is charged with "inappropriate touching" of a four-year-old girl. The coy way these charges are presented and eventually explained weakens an otherwise thought-provoking piece.

Locus, January 2006

As with many magazines, Sci Fiction often featured Christmas-themed stories in December, and so we see Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Boz”, a sweet if slight piece about a solitary man minding the store, so to speak, on a generation starship, and his reaction to a Christmas present from the crew.

Locus, September 2009

“Broken Windchimes” (Asimov's, September) is about a male soprano who has been raised from early childhood to be a perfect singer for the alien Pané. It seems the Pané love human song, but a very limited version of it, and they have no tolerance whatsoever for imperfection. The main character happens to hear a recording of Louis Armstrong, and shortly thereafter, either corrupted by Armstrong’s highly imperfect voice, or corrupted by the inevitable effects of age, misses a note, which implausibly (to me) ends his career forever. He escapes to a space station with a broader cultural base than he has heretofore known, and, of course, discovers the blues. And a different style of performing … He also ends up learning some surprising secrets about the way children are recruited to be trained as Pané singers. The problem I had with the story, as I’ve suggested, is that at times I simply didn’t believe things. I didn’t believe the Pané fanaticism about perfect soulless singing. I didn’t believe the economic background hinted at. I was unconvinced by the narrator’s convenient enthrallment with the blues. But still – the manipulation works. I was moved by the story, it did affect me. It’s on the ragged edge – I could have just dismissed it in frustration, but Rusch held it together enough that, in the end, I liked it.

Locus, January 2010

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is above all a committed storyteller, and “The Possession of Paavo Deshin” (Analog, January/Febuary) is an absorbing story set in her Retrieval Artist future. Paavo is a young boy on the Moon, afraid of the “ghosts” he sees on occasion – which turn out to be links to his parents who abandoned him when they had to “disappear”. His loyalty is to his adopted parents – even if his father may be a criminal. And that loyalty will be tested. Nothing here is SFnally new enough to fascinate me, but the basic story is quite involving.

Locus, November 2010

The Asimov’s October-November double issue also features a couple of strong novellas. I have not previously liked Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Asimov’s stories that become her 2009 novel Diving into the Wreck, but they have been popular. So I was surprised to quite enjoy “Becoming One With the Ghosts”, set in the same universe, and featuring the main character of the novel, Boss, as an important secondary character. The main character here is Coop, Captain of the warship Ivoire, which has retreated to Sector Base V after a defeat at the hands of the enemy Quurzod. But Sector Base V seems impossibly altered. And soon they encounter strangers, who seem as surprised by the Ivoire’s presence as the Ivoire’s crew are surprised by the changes at the Base. What’s going on is easy enough to guess, but Rusch unspools it effectively -- I enjoyed, and I was tempted to go right off and read the novel.

Locus, February 2013

From the January Lightspeed ... Kristine Kathryn Rusch's “Purity Test” is a somewhat predictable but still affecting tale of a woman whose cruel father, convinced his wife had betrayed him, insists on tests of virginity for his son's prospective brides – and in the end his daughter (the narrator) must face such a test herself, but not before she learns to doubt its value.

Locus, November 2018

One more story this month is of interest to SF readers, especially those connected to fandom, though it’s not SF. “Unity Con” is the latest of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s stories for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine about Spade, a Microsoft millionaire and a Secret Master of Fandom who helps conventions with financial issues, and Paladin, a young woman who investigates knottier problems, sometimes with Spade’s help. This time Paladin is at Unity Con, a convention intended to promote unity between the factions of fandom that were so noticeably divided by the Sad Puppy fiasco. There’s a dead body – of a fan and writer apparently modeled to an extent on Vox Day, and it looks like murder. Spade wants nothing to do with this mess, but is inveigled into helping, especially when it appears something funny has happened with the con’s finances. The story itself is pretty minor, the solution to the crimes a bit trivial and a bit implausible, but Rusch’s real goal here is to promote her vision of a way forward for fandom.