Thursday, January 31, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Will McIntosh

Today is Will McIntosh's birthday. Starting not long after I started at Locus, he produced an impressive spate of really fine short stories, including "Bridesicle", which won the Hugo. He turned to novels (of course! -- though he still publishes fine shorter work) in 2011, both YA and adult. Here's a selection of my Locus reviews of his work:

Locus, March 2005

Will McIntosh, in "Totems" (Interzone, February-March), offers a fine human/alien love story, concentrating on a human woman desperately trying to recover the hundreds of carvings made by her alien lover – for a rather strange reason.

Locus, November 2005

Interzone continues to refine its design, in particular its artwork. The October issue, #200 in the magazine’s impressive history, is really spiffy-looking. There is more fiction than usual as well, and the quality is very high. Will McIntosh’s “Soft Apocalypses” is set in the near future. The narrator has broken up with his girlfriend and is going to a VR speed-date – meeting a bunch of women virtually for brief interviews. McIntosh sharply portrays his character – basically decent if a bit shallow – his past, his old girlfriend, and a few of the women he meets; and at the same time sharply portrays the decaying future. Very well done.

Locus, November 2006

Aeon is an electronically distributed magazine with a provocative personality of its own. They publish a mix of poetry, features including science articles by Rob Furey and essays by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and a wide variety of generally exotic fiction. I thought the best story in issue eight was Will McIntosh’s “Oxy”, set in a far future where environmental change and human change result in people with distinctly separate personalities coexisting.

Locus, November 2007

On Spec has now reached its 69th number. In this issue I really enjoyed Will McIntosh’s “Perfect Violet”, one of a few recent stories dealing with the idea of selling and buying memories. Kiko is an impoverished young woman barely scraping by by selling her memories – but the losses are terrible, including a romance that was quashed by her father. Hope comes when her former lover finds her again … and when she can come to term with her memories (or lack thereof) of her father.

Locus, December 2007

Somewhat depressingly, I note that a newish online magazine, Darker Matter, is closing up shop after 5 issues. Number five was their best, with in particular a good far future story by Jason Stoddard, “True History”, about manipulation of history and identity by posthumans, and a fine Will McIntosh piece, “Young Love on the Drowned Side of the City”, set after a plague has mostly wiped out the adults and the surviving children have reached their teens. The protagonist is shown playing irresponsible teenaged games with his cohort, but his relationship with the girl he’d like to be his girlfriend shows perhaps a bit more to his character.

And to a true survivor in online SF: Strange Horizons. In October Will McIntosh contributes a lovely sweet romantic fantasia, “One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note”, about a sailmaker in a timeless sort of town who falls in love with a sculptor. But the sculptor has two issues – she believes her life story is being repeated stolen for fiction, and … well, let the story reveal that. The central love story is not anything new – but nicely told – what makes the story special is the grace notes, such as the sudden fashion of graffiti confessions that takes over this town.

Locus, January 2008

From Asimov’s for January, There is also nice work from Will McIntosh: “Unlikely”, a sweet story about a odd statistical coincidence: if the two main characters spend time together, it seems that their city’s accident rate decreases. Or so the statistics say. Which means that Joseph and Tuesday are thrown together in the name of science – “Not that this was a date”, though. Oh yeah?

Locus, May 2008

Will McIntosh’s “The Fantasy Jumper” (Black Static, February) has a striking and rather horrifying central idea – at a sort of fair or carnival one booth allows you to create an artificial person, who can look like just about anyone – yourself, your girlfriend, a tailored creation, even a celebrity (if the license is available). This “person”, then, jumps to its death. The story follows a few customers – a rather creepy guy who takes all too much pleasure in the deaths; a guy who just wants to talk to the women he “creates”, and a girl whose girlfriend has broken up with her, and who finds a way to use the booth as a sort of revenge. Short, very imaginative, and powerful.

Locus, June 2008

Will McIntosh’s “Linkworlds”, published in two parts in March at Strange Horizons is a quite intriguing story representing a somewhat fashionable new sort of SF: stories told in a straightforwardly science fictional manner, set in quite artificial universes. This story is told from the POV of an autistic (it seemed to me) young man (named Tweel, oddly enough, though I could not detect any other link to “A Martian Odyssey”) living on a world inside a bubble. Various worlds, of differing natures, float through this bubble, occasionally coming close enough to another world to “link” and to allow trade and travel between the worlds. But trade and travel, alas, also imply the potential of war – a potential unexpectedly enhanced when Tweel is able to help improve the navigation of the “linkworlds”. He and his adopted world must find a peaceful response to the threat of conquest. Nice, clever, work, if somehow so artificial that the ending seems not quite meaningful.

Locus, September 2008

Will McIntosh continues to impress with stories showing an impressive imagination. In “Midnight Blue” (Asimov's, September) finding curious spheres in the right comination confers special powers on people. These spheres, once common, have become very rare, leading to a market for them – with, again, the rich generally getting richer. Jeff is a highschool kid, not one of the rich or popular ones, but when he finds a particularly rare sphere, his life changes. What works best is the tricky resolution McIntosh engineers. Like Rosenblum, this story is more about economics at its heart than about its fantastical idea.

Locus, January 2009

At the January Asimov’s “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh is a rather cynical examination of the prospects for resurrection of cryonically preserved people. It seems the expensive process must be sponsored, and one way is to agree to marry whoever revives you … which is a bit of a problem for the lesbian heroine, who rather hopes that her preserved lover can also be revived. Nothing brilliant here, but a clever look at a potential downside of this speculative tech.

Locus, January 2013

This whole issue of Asimov's is quite strong. “Over There”, by Will McIntosh, is first rate SF horror, told effectively in parallel point of view, as a physics researcher runs an experiment which seems to split the universe into parallel streams – though people can experience what their other universe counterpart is experiencing. But one universe is menaced by unexplained “dragons”, which freeze anyone they touch – leading to terrible agony for the counterparts in the other universe. The researcher and his wife end up on the run in both places, as people look for revenge on the people responsible for this disaster – and things are complicated further because the wife is pregnant. In the end, the Sfnal aspect is simply an enabling strategy for a wrenching personal drama – and a very effective one.

Locus, March 2016

Lightspeed's January issue features "The Liar's Tour", by Will McIntosh, which posits the means of visiting the souls of the dead via cryogenic sleep. Ben has been obsessively revisiting his dead girlfriend ... which is a problem for his relationship with his live wife. Things proceed to an affecting and believable conclusion. The title concept (about a tour that Ben's girlfriend conducts through Savannah) is pretty cool, and it's one of those stories with no villains -- just earned sadness.

Locus, April 2017

Even better, in the March-April Asimovs – one of the stories of the year so far – is “Soulmates, Inc.”, by Will McIntosh. Daniel is recovering from a breakup with Emily, and so he starts using Soulmates, and he gets a really intriguing contact from Winnie, whose profile seems absolutely perfect for him. They start talking online, and things are going wonderfully, but somehow Winnie is never available for a face-to-face meetup. We can figure what’s going on quickly – and with Emily’s help, so can Daniel. He realizes “Winnie” is artificial, only an online construct, and he assumes at first that she was created by Soulmates to lure him to sign up, but after a while he realizes she’s an independent AI. He reacts in anger, and takes steps to get her erased. But what if “Winnie” can take revenge as well? The story is scary, and morally provocative, and resolved with honesty. Daniel in particularly is a wholly believable character, really well captured.

Locus, May 2018

In Lightspeed for April Will McIntosh’s “What is Eve?” is an enjoyable YA-flavored story of a group of smart students sent off to a strange isolated school, where they encounter their new classmate, Eve, a very odd – and scary – creature indeed. Readers immediately will gather that she’s an alien – but what sort of alien and why is the question. The answer is clever and interesting – and Eve is given a meaningful voice: nice work, if the viewpoint character’s actions seem a bit predictable.

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