Sunday, February 16, 2020

Birthday Review: Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M. Banks

Today would have been Iain Banks' 66th birthday. Sadly, he died 7 years ago. He was one of the most interesting and enjoyable SF writers, and also a fine writer of contemporary fiction. Here's a review I did of one of his earlier novels, a non-Culture novel, but very much SF. I wrote this way back in 1996.

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Bantam Spectra, 1995 (originally published in 1994 in the UK)
ISBN: 0-553-37459-1

a review by Rich Horton

Iain M. Banks has been publishing SF novels for the past several years, as well as publishing mainstream novels (with horror and/or slipstream SF facets) as by Iain Banks. He has received considerable praise in both genres, but for one reason or another, I have yet to read one of his books until now.

Banks` SF has mostly been set in a far future dominated by the "Culture", a galactic scale group of races, including humans, who apparently inhabit huge starships. Feersum Endjinn, his latest book, isn't part of this future. At the time of the action (which occurs over a couple of days, or several decades, depending on how you measure it), the Earth of the very far future is inhabited by the descendants of those who stayed when most humans traveled to the stars in the "Diaspora". Earth is dominated by an aristocratic class, based in a huge castle, so large that the highest tower extends into space, and the King`s residence, a large "palace", is contained within a chandelier of the greater castle. Ordinary humans are allowed 8 normal lifespans (copies apparently made of their brains` contents at the time of death), after which they are allowed 8 additional "lives" in a sort of virtual reality maintained in the global computer net, after which their personality becomes a component of the AI complex which "is" the net (or "crypt" as Banks cleverly calls it.) At the time of the action, Earth is threatened both by the Encroachment, a dust cloud which will swallow the Sun in a few centuries, and by a virus which is infecting the Crypt. Possible solutions to these problems were left by the humans of the Diaspora, but the means of access to these solutions has been forgotten.

The story is told in four threads, following four main characters: a mysterious, nameless woman, who is soon revealed as a messenger from the Crypt; the King`s Chief Scientist, Hortis Gadfium, who is part of a conspiracy which has been trying to discover the hidden solution to the problem of the Encroachment; an aristocrat and loyal general of the King`s, Alandre Sessine, who is on the point of discovering that the King and his advisors are obstructing progress towards solving the problem of the Encroachment, apparently because such progress is a threat to the status quo, and who is assassinated multiple times, both in real life and post-death virtual reality, for his pains; and finally, Bascule, a young, innocent "teller", that is, one who communicates with the Crypt as part of his job, who is also "recruited" by the Crypt to help find the solution to the encroachment problem.

These four threads are soon seen to be quests which will converge on each other. Much time is spent exploring both the physical and virtual reality of this far future Earth. The resolution is logical and satisfying, and the last line of the book is marvelous.

The strength of this book is the colorful presentation of a truly strange future world. I also found the "Virtual Reality" of the Crypt internally convincing, in a way I often don`t (i.e. I could never really believe in William Gibson`s visions of Cyberspace.) That isn`t to say that Banks has provided rock solid scientific rationales for the elements of this future world: far from it, but he makes us happily suspend disbelief in a lot of unlikely things, partly simply by setting the story so far in the future. In addition, Banks is an excellent and audacious writer. The Bascule sections of the novel are told in a compressed prose, abbreviating words phonetically in Bascule's (I am told) south England accent (like feersum endjinn for fearsome engine), also using numbers and symbols. This is initially difficult to follow, but I picked up on it pretty quickly, and I thought it was vital to providing Bascule an individual voice.

In summary, I loved this book. It is over the top, but in a good way, and Banks makes it all work.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Birthday Review: The Pickup Artist, and short stories, by Terry Bisson

Today is Terry Bisson's birthday. In his honor, here's a review from my old SFF Net group of his novel The Pickup Artist, plus several reviews I've done of his short fiction for my Locus column.

Review of The Pickup Artist

Terry Bisson's new novel, The Pickup Artist, is an interesting, odd, novel that reminded me strongly of Jonathan Lethem, particularly, for some reason, Amnesia Moon.  At the opening it seems almost a straightforward commentary by SFnal means on a theme reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 (though at core very different), but by the end it has become a road novel through a very strange next century America. 

The title character is Hank Shapiro, who works for the government confiscating works of art which have been "deleted".  It has been determined that contemporary artists are unfairly at a disadvantage in "competition" with the weight of all the works of literature, painting, acting, etc. from the past, and each month, a randomly selected set of authors, musicians, movies, painters and so on is "deleted", and all their works are supposed to be destroyed.  Shapiro and his fellow "pickup artists" travel to people's homes who are reported to own copies of deleted videos, records, and books, and confiscated the works (while compensating the owners). 

Hank's dog is dying, and his mother is dead, and his father, who named him for the legendary country singer Hank Williams, left long ago.  The combined effects of all these lead him to a criminal act -- when he confiscates a Hank Williams record he decides to try to find a record player on which to listen to it -- just once -- before turning it in.  Before long he's involved with a long-pregnant librarian named Henry, and with a series of identical Indians named Bob, and he's breaking into a veterinary hospital to rescue his dog from euthanasia, and his Hank Williams record has been stolen, possibly by one of the Alexandrians (Library version) who apparently try to rescue deleted artwork.  So Hank and Henry and the corpse of Indian Bob and the dying dog start to chase the record across the country, through flea markets and abandoned casinos and abandoned highways to the independent city state of Vegas.

Alternating short chapters tell the history of the move for "deletion", which began with terrorist destruction of paintings at museums, and continued with the support of a mysterious figure who seems to be Bill Gates (as well as SFWA!) and an aging actress and a trial of the accidental killers of a number of people at a museum.

The telling of this story is continually interesting, and the characters are quirky and involving if not quite ever real.  The plot is discursive and really doesn't go much of anywhere, and the social background is interesting but not coherent.  Much gives off the sense of being made of as it goes along.  What seems to be the central argument, concerning the morality of this "deletion" and perhaps the "anxiety of influence" or something, is never really engaged, but the book is still about something -- about death, I think, and perhaps about art as a release from a dead life.  I don't get the sense of a completed argument, or even, really, a completed book -- but an interesting effort in both areas.

Review of SF Age, September 1998

the latest SF Age, September, is a fine issue.  It has a neat Terry Bisson story, "First Fire", which plays clever hommage to one of the most famous SF stories of all time (I won't say which, as that would be a spoiler)

Locus, October 2003

Terry Bisson's "Almost Home" tells of a boy in a small town, and his closest friends, an athletic kid named Bug, and a sickly girl named Toute. The boy discerns the outline of an aeroplane among the fencing and buildings of an abandoned racetrack, and in magical fashion the three kids bring it to life, and fly ... well, somewhere else: things in this world are stranger than at first they seem. Sweet and moving, but also quite spooky.

Terry Bisson also has a worthy novella at Sci Fiction in September. "Greetings" is the story of two 70ish men, close friends, long-time radicals, who have just received notice that they are scheduled for euthanasia. They refuse the option of a communal death and decide to commit suicide in the company of their wives, and a government observer, of course. But things don't go quite as planned ... Bisson's social future as presented is creepy, but the story doesn't seem much concerned with arguing the pros or cons of government-mandated euthanasia -- though the story does ask us to think about it. The heart of the story is in the characters, though, and in the ironic working out of events.

Locus, February 2006

With the February F&SF Terry Bisson’s long novella “Planet of Mystery” is concluded. This is a rather strange story set on a decidedly implausible Venus. (Oddly, and probably not very sensibly, I was reminded of the Ace Double To Venus! To Venus!, by “David Grinnell” (Donald A. Wollheim).) A pair of astronauts from a combined U.S./Chinese mission reach Venus, and to their shock crash land in a shallow lake. The air is breathable, and the temperature tolerable. Soon they encounter centaurs and beautiful Amazon women. The mission commander decides that he is hallucinating, and only contact with the orbiter keeps him sane – he thinks. But the strangeness multiplies – before long a flying saucer is in the picture … It’s just a very weird story, maybe in the end a bit too weird, too disconnected, to really satisfy. But I did enjoy myself.

Locus, August 2006

A few stories in the August F&SF are purely comic, and nicely so. In Terry Bisson’s “Billy and the Spacemen”, homicidal little Billy saves the world from invasion.

Locus, October 2006

Interzone for August has a fine mathematical fantasia from Rudy Rucker and Terry Bisson, “2 + 2 = 5”, in which a mathematician proves that there are holes in the number system; and another story about numbers,

Locus, October 2008

I also liked Terry Bisson’s “Private Eye”, in which a man who is a host for people who log on to look through his eyes meets a woman with a similar secret of her own. Bisson quite sweetly charts the public and private progress of their relationship.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller is certainly one of the most exciting writers to appear in the field this past decade. Today is his birthday, so here's a collection of my reviews of his work from Locus.

Locus, February 2014

I was woefully neglectful of Electric Velocipede this year, and alas I must report that John Klima has decided to close the 'zine down after 27 issues, print and online. This was one of the most successful small 'zines in the field, winner of a 2009 Hugo for Best Fanzine. The final issue, Winter 2013, features “The Beasts We Want to Be”, by Sam J. Miller, a strong SF horror story set in an alternate post-Revolution Russia, told by a “Broken” soldier, who has been conditioned in a “Pavlov's Box” to serve the goals of the Revolution, as he commandeers the artwork of an aristocratic family, then finds himself drawn to save a woman of that family from reconditioning, and then to save a painting of her husband. Very dark stuff.

Locus, September 2016

Sam J. Miller’s “Things With Beards” (Clarkesworld, June) riffs on a rather scarier story about a form of alien contact, a story that has been successfully riffed on before, in both movies and an excellent recent Peter Watts tale. So the title tells you which story, right? And hints at what Miller is doing, quite ambitiously, as his protagonist, back from the Antarctic, a somewhat closeted gay man in the early ‘80s, at the onset of the AIDS crisis, also engages with a protest movement against police violence, and wonders what is happening to him when he forgets hours at a time. It’s interesting to see Miller using the metaphor of a shape-changing alien monster so bravely –  a worthwhile new take on a classic.

Locus, December 2017’s two October originals are both pretty strong stories. “The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter” by Sam J. Miller is told in two sections by Otto, a gay man in near future New York, who lives with his boyfriend Trevor, who rescued him from drug addiction and who keeps him (so to speak) straight. At a party Otto falls in lust with a friend’s brother, Aarav, as the guests discuss what they are doing with programmable matter. The second part is set not too long later, in a much-changed world – it seems that programmable matter has run amok and destroyed much of the world. Trevor is dead, and Otto is in a refugee camp. There he encounters Aarav again, now blinded, and he contemplates how to deal with him – after their encounter, which it turns out went horribly wrong for Otto, but does that matter now? The story is absolutely convincing in portraying Otto, and his relationship with Trevor and his abortive connection with Aarav – but the SF side, the programmable matter and the disaster it causes, seems thin and unconvincing.

Locus, July 2018

Sam J. Miller makes his first appearance in Analog with a moving story, “My Base Pair”, about Thatch, who is trying to reconnect with his long-lost childhood friend, Kenji. Kenji is a “hacksperm”: born with the stolen genes of a celebrity (Tom Cruise), and in an environment where vicious prejudice against such children is rife, he has disappeared. Thatch has become an investigator into the criminal aspects of that practice, perhaps not realizing how his work might actually increase the oppression the innocent children of stolen genetic material face. He has tracked down an illegal fight between another “cruise” and someone he hopes is Kenji, and he tries to finagle information about Kenji’s location from this other man. The story intertwines Thatch’s memories of his childhood times with his friend, and his more recent painful memories of an affair with a journalist investigation the whole issue. It’s very strong on the personal aspects of Thatch’s life, and very interesting on some of the scientific and social ramifications of the “hacksperm” tech, but perhaps doesn’t quite convince on the truly vicious legal and societal reaction to the (innocent) children.

Locus, November 2019

Sam J. Miller’s “Shucked” (F&SF, November-December) is a first-rate horror story. Adney and her boyfriend Teek are on vacation in Italy, and she’s wondering if their relationship is real besides the sex. Then a somewhat creepy older men approaches them with an offer – he’ll pay her for an hour of Teek’s time. Somehow Adney convinces herself to accept the offer – Teek apparently doesn’t mind … but this can’t end well, can it? This is an example of a writer using a fairly familiar idea (which I won’t spoil) so artfully that it becomes newly effective. Strong work.

Birthday Review: The Sweetheart Season, by Karen Joy Fowler

Today is Karen Joy Fowler's birthday. Last year I presented a summary of my reviews of her short fiction; so this year I'm resurrecting a review I did back in 1997 (I think one of the very first reviews I did for widish consumption) of her lovely second novel.

The Sweetheart Season, by Karen Joy Fowler
Henry Holt, 1996
ISBN 0-8050-4737-9

Karen Joy Fowler's first novel, Sarah Canary, is a marvel, an amazing, original novel about aliens, of all sorts, in the 1870's American West. It is extraordinarily assured, the best first novel I've read in a long time - indeed, in my opinion, at least arguably the best SF first novel of the nineties. Obviously, I have eagerly anticipated Fowler's second novel, which has now appeared: The Sweetheart Season.

Categorization of Fowler's work in a generic sense has always been difficult: perhaps a better word would be pointless. That said, most of her stories, for me, read best as SF or fabulations, but she is clearly enough a writer who appeals to non-SF readers as well. Sarah Canary is readable as a "mainstream" novel, though I think it is best read as SF; in John Clute's words, it is a First Contact story. The Sweetheart Season, by contrast, seems clearly a "mainstream" novel to me, though one could define certain of the events of the story as fantastical if one insisted.

The story concerns a small town in northern Minnesota, Magrit, home to a grain mill and an associated cereal business. It is set in 1947. The viewpoint character is Irini Doyle, though the story is told in the "voice" of her daughter, retelling Irini's story from a present day perspective. Irini lives with her alcoholic father (her mother is dead), who is a research chemist at the cereal company. Irini works in the Research Kitchen of the cereal company. The other characters are her co-workers (all women) in the Kitchen, as well as the company founder, his wife, and his grandson, and a few other local women.

The main action of the novel revolves somewhat loosely around a promotional scheme of the founder: the girls at the company form a baseball team, which barnstorms through Minnesota and Wisconsin, purportedly demonstrating the nutritive benefits of the company's cereal by their success. Several other narrative threads are woven into the story: the writing of a continuing promotional kitchen/life advice column by the fictional Maggie Collins, a sort of Betty Crocker-type spokesperson for the cereal company; the antagonism between the former residents of Upper Magrit (submerged to make the mill) and Lower Magrit (where everyone now lives); the involvement of the mill owner's wife with Gandhi and the Indian independence movement; the efforts of the local women to find love and husbands in a town left nearly male-free by the war; and a mysterious (young, male) visitor to Magrit. All of these threads are well-integrated with the novel's theme, as I read it: essentially: the nascent "Women's Liberation" movement, though that over-simplifies: but the focus on the "Kitchen", yet in the context of women who are all working, and playing a nominally male sport, combined with the ironic voice of the present day narrator, and the ironic-in-this-context quotes from Maggie Collins' women's magazine advice column, quite nicely merge to make simple, true, statements about the position of women in 1947, and in our time.

The female characters are very well drawn, and almost invariably engaging. A couple of the male characters come off as ciphers, but the portraits of Irini's father, and of old Henry Collins, the mill owner, are very good. Fowler's prose is clean and elegant. Her narrative voice is a delight: ironic, affectionate, knowing, often very funny. One brief quote, from one of Maggie Collins' advice columns, meant to be read in the context of the decision to form a baseball team: "Polls have recently confirmed what has long been suspected; most men do not want brainy women. Stewardesses have turned out to be that occupation blessed most often with marriage. The key elements appear to be uniforms and travel."

I wouldn't rank The Sweetheart Season quite as highly as Sarah Canary. At times the usually wonderfully controlled ironic voice turns a little shrill. At times she drives home a point unnecessarily: it is sufficient to show us the evidence, or to leave an ironic statement alone for the reader to interpret. Also, I was completely unable to believe the resolution of one of the plot threads. However, the book as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable, and says a lot of worthwhile things about the place of women in our society, especially about how (and, I suppose, why) it changed in the years during and after World War II.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Forgotten SF Collection: Now Then!, by John Brunner

As I've mentioned many times before, I quite enjoy early John Brunner. So, for this "Forgotten Books" outing, I thought I'd resurrect what I wrote about a fairly early Brunner collection of novellas. On the whole, it must be said, these are minor Brunner.

(Cover by Hector Garrido)
Now Then! is a John Brunner collection from 1965. It includes three unrelated novellas: "Some Lapse of Time" (24,000 words, from Science Fantasy #57, February 1963), "Imprint of Chaos" (17,500 words, from Science Fantasy #42, August 1960), and "Thou Good and Faithful" (19,000 words in this version, originally published as by John Loxsmith in Astounding, March 1953 -- the original version was a bit shorter at about 17,000 words).

"Some Lapse of Time" is a dour anti-Nuclear War story. A doctor discovers a dying tramp. The tramp turns out to have an unusual deficiency disease, and to be unidentifiable, and to speak an unknown language that might be related to English. The doctor begins to have terrible dreams as well. It turns out that the tramp has been sent back in time from a post-Holocaust world -- but will anyone believe this?

"Imprint of Chaos" is the first to be published of the "Traveler in Black" stories. I haven't read these stories, which appear to be rather popular. [I read them later.] This story involves the Traveler, who has many names, but one nature, traveling around his world giving people what they want. In this fashion he resists chaos. This story is somewhat episodic, but the bulk of it concerns an man who wanders into the Traveler's world from our world, and who is treated by the inhabitants of a certain city as a god (you see, they hadn't any gods, and they had decided they wanted one ...). I've got to say I found this pretty minor stuff -- I hope the other Traveler stories are better. [They are.]

"Thou Good and Faithful" was Brunner's first story for a major magazine, and for some reason he published it as by "John Loxsmith". Within a year it had been anthologized as by "K. Houston Brunner", the form of his name Brunner used most often in those days. For this collection, Brunner (as was his wont) revised the story, expanding it slightly from 17,000 to 19,000 words. It is a typical Brunner revision -- no change in plot, no added scenes, just a general reworking of the prose. The story concerns an exploring ship in a crowded galaxy that comes to a potentially perfect world. Beautiful climate, and no intelligent natives. But some robots are discovered -- who made them? Over time, the mystery is solved (well, not so much solved as the robots eventually just tell them what's up). The story is overlong -- it probably should have been about 10,000 words. It does have a fairly interesting theme concerning the ultimate destiny of intelligence.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of Kenneth Schneyer

Yesterday was Ken Schneyer's birthday. I felt like Ken deserved a birthday review, but I confess my Locus archive missed a couple of worthwhile stories, so I added a couple of new capsule reviews.

Locus, June 2010

And Kenneth Schneyer, in “Liza’s Home” (Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Winter 2010), coils time paradoxes nicely in a story of a woman racked by guilt who invents a time machine.

Locus, August 2012

At Beneath Ceaseless Skies for May 31 I enjoyed Kenneth Schneyer's “Serkers and Sleep”. Serkers are victims of the bite of serks, which leads to paranoia and madness, and superhuman strength, such that serkers are likely to kill many of those closest to them. The only recourse is to kill them early, before the madness overtakes them. This notion is briefly sketched, and the future course of the story is clear when we meet our protagonist, an adolescent with a female friend who loves to swim in the lake, where the serks live … The resolution turns movingly on a local legend, and a magical book.

Clockword Phoenix 4, 2013

Kenneth Schneyer's "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" is an interesting story told via the notes to an exhibition of the title painter's work. It's set in the future -- Latimer is said to have lived from 1963-2023. The paintings and notes tell the story of much of Latimer's life -- her time in college, her up and down relationship with her lover and later wife, her fraught relationship with her parents -- as well as referencing a few dark incidents from the wider world: an industrial fire, a notorious case of child abuse. The notes try to tease out all kinds of symbolism as the reader realizes that what is being described are ghosts (and hints about the painter's personal life.) [This story made the Nebula shortlist.]

Lightspeed, November 2015

"The Plausibility of Dragons", by Kenneth Schneyer, follows the Moorish scholar Malik and the woman warrior Fara as travel through medieval Europe in search of the dragon they think killed Fara's sister. Malik isn't sure he believes in dragons, but he finds it even stranger that as they get closer to rumors of dragons they also find people who think he's a demon because of his dark skin, and that Fara is a witch, because no woman would wield a sword. The story turns intriguingly into a meditation on the nature of reality and the importance of belief in each other.

Lightspeed, July 2016

Kenneth Schneyer has a distinct interest in the stories we tell, as evidenced by his previous Lightspeed story, "The Plausibility of Dragons". "Some Pebbles in the Palm" is about the many lives of a fairly ordinary person, suggesting that he (or his choices) really didn't affect the world much. Then suggesting that maybe nobody's life affects the world much. Then reminding us that this is a story, leading to a neat stinger of an ending.

Locus, January 2018

I also liked Kenneth Schneyer’s “Keepsakes” (Analog, 11-12/17). The title refers to personality recordings, that their owners can call up and converse with, to help them remember their past. One question is – does this interaction change the keepsakes? Another question: what if a keepsake remembers something the later person doesn’t? And what if that memory hints at a crime? The protagonists are Doru and Afzal, who were lovers long ago, before Doru broke things off. He’s an expert on the Keepsake technology, and Afzal is a lawyer, and Afzal’s latest case involves a young woman whose Keepsake suggests her father may have killed her mother. There is a legal story here – can Keepsakes be witnesses? – but also an involving personal story, about Doru and Afzal and their history – and their Keepsakes.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Birthday Reviews: Bones of the Moon (plus some short stories), by Jonathan Carroll

Jonathan Carroll's birthday was a few days ago, but I didn't have a chance to post this short selection of reviews until today. Carroll is a really intriguing writer, and I have generally loved his short fiction, but struggled just a bit with the novels I've read. (I say struggled, and that's true, but I still enjoy and am fascinated by them.) I need to read some more of his novels, anyway. Here is a quick look I did for my old blog at Bones of the Moon, plus a few short things I've written for Locus about his shorter work.

Blog review of Bones of the Moon

Bones of the Moon is a novel by Jonathan Carroll.  Carroll is one of Glen Engel-Cox' favorite writers, and as it happened I had picked up a copy of this book for a song some years ago, at one of those roving remainder stores.  I have read some stories by Carroll before ("Friend's Best Man", "Uh-Oh City" and "Alone Alarm"), and I had been intrigued by his quite unusual imagination: almost whimsical, but darker and wilder.  He is a fine writer, too, but based on the sample of his work I've seen, an indifferent plotter.

The above comments apply pretty well to this book, anway.  Either that or I'm seriously missing the point. The story is the first person narration of Cullen James, a young New Yorker who lives upstairs from a serial killer. This revelation is made on the first page, and serves to imbue what otherwise seems to be a sunny novel with a sense of dread. Cullen is married to an ex-basketball player named Danny James (who, like Danny Ferry, played in Italy (coincidence, I'm sure)): she quickly narrates their long friendship/courtship, the precipitating event of which is her difficulty coping with an abortion after a loveless relationship. These early chapters are a pure and believable love story. But, pregnant with a child by Danny, she begins to have sequential dreams of an odd fantasy world, populated by toys from her childhood, and accompanied by her first child, obviously the aborted baby. Eventually they begin a quest to find the five "Bones of the Moon". At the same time she befriends another neighbor, a gay man, and through this friend she meets a strange filmmaker, who becomes obsessed with Cullen. Some of her fantasy world becomes entwined with the real world, in difficult to understand but disturbing ways. 

The resolution is shocking, and a bit ambiguous. It's not quite unearned, but it still seemed, oh, slightly forced, to me.  I freely admit that I didn't "get" all of it, though I'm not sure that it is all supposed to make coherent sense.

The strong points are the fine writing, and the wonderful, wild, imagination. As I say, I felt a bit let down by the plotting. The characters were extremely well drawn, and individual, but perhaps not quite real: or should I say, not people I quite recognize. I except Danny James here, who is extremely well-drawn and real (but who disappears to some extent towards the end). All these caveats aside, the book has some real power, and some real and effective weirdness.

Sympathy for the Devil review from Fantasy Magazine

Sympathy for the Devil also includes excellent recent work, especially Jonathan Carroll’s “The Heidelberg Cylinder”, a distinctly offbeat story about the dead returning because Hell is running low on space.

Locus, August 2011

The very big “little magazine” Conjunctions has a history of being hospitable to the fantastic, and again we see this is number 56, called “Terra Incognita: The Voyage Issue”. Names familiar to genre readers include Peter Straub, James Morrow, and Jonathan Carroll (and by all means read the stories by writers from outside the genre too!). My favorite was “East of Furious”, by Jonathan Carroll. It’s about the platonic relationship between Beatrice Oakum and her divorce lawyer, Mills. Eventually Beatrice convinces Mills to tell her the story of one of his previous cases, involving a modern alchemist and her Russian husband. The story – and its eventual intersection with that of Mills and Beatrice – is twisty and clever and witty and ultimately rather dark. Lovely work.

Locus, January 2017

There’s some nice stuff in November at as well. “The Loud Table”, by Jonathan Carroll, opens with four older men who regularly sit and gab at a coffee shop. They’re morning the loss of their fifth, who just died of cancer. And of course they discuss their own maladies, including the one so many of us fear, Alzheimer’s. (I assume by us I mean all of us but I’m 57, so perhaps I just mean us old men!) One of the men discusses his memory loss – which makes him fear the disease, of course. For example, this one beautiful girlfriend … And the narrator makes him an offer … I’ll let Carroll reveal the sting. It’s a modest story, but enjoyable and expertly told.