A Date with the F&SF Oct/Nov All-Star Issue, Part 3: A Little Nougat


Photography: Gaetan Lee

Belgian confectionists also make deluxe luxury nougat bars, so this is nothing against nougat.

As for the F&SF Oct/Nov issue, I ran into the inevitable “string of stories I am not 100% enthusiastic about” that is just about unavoidable with most anthologies and story digests. And even single-author story collections, come to think of it.

First, though, we started with a delicious little bon-bon.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates by Stephen King

She’s fresh out of the shower when the phone begins to ring, but although the house is still full of relatives—she can hear them downstairs, it seems they will never go away, it seems she never had so many—no one picks up. Nor does the answering machine, as James programmed it to do after the fifth ring.

Anne goes to the extension on the bed-table, wrapping a towel around herself, her wet hair thwacking unpleasantly on the back of her neck and bare shoulders. She picks it up, she says hello, and then he says her name. It’s James. They had thirty years together, and one word is all she needs. He says Annie like no one else, always did.

I always liked Stephen King for the little personal detail work that immerse you into the scene, and for the knack of uncovering just enough information to feel your way through the mist, and interesting shapes stick out that may be something or may be nothing at all. That, of course, is why he’s such a great horror writer: dropping the reader into an uncertain situation that just gets stranger. This works wonders for fantasy as well.

I quite like this story; it’s weird and unsettling, pushes you—personally—out of the comfort zone, and not just the characters. This kind of story (and I count “Sleepless Years” in this group as well) what I like to read between big dark truffles like “Days of Wonder”, a little delicious shock before diving into darker, richer tastes.

You know, I never visited Stephen King’s website before. Woah.

Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter’s Guild by Scott Bradfield

Dazzle found his first script conference a lot less painful than he expected.

“I see a dog with severe personality disorders,” envisioned Syd Fleishman of Sony Tristar, seated in his overstuffed leather armchair with a plastic liter of Evian propped between his knees. “I see a dog with closeness issues, and issues about his dad. I see a dog with lots to say about the terrible problems facing mankind—such as the destruction of the ozone layer and the rainforests, and the tragedy of Native Americans and all that. But I also see a dog that, well. If he spots a human being in trouble? That dog comes running. An all-faithful sort of dog, but an all-faithful sort of dog with attitude. You gotta earn the respect of a dog like that. But once you earn that respect, he’s your buddy for life.”

This is a funny and amusing story, and full of the kind of surreal hijinks that only Hollywood could get up to, and which are made bearable by a talking dog. I am reminded of Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures, but this is a modern story that happens in “our” world once-removed by the spectacle of Dazzle.

I think I need to read the original “Dazzle”, since I have the same lack of grasp of who-is-this-guy-oops-dog-I-mean as I did with “Inside Story” earlier, except I don’t have the convenience of finding “Dazzle” online at the moment.

Unfortunately, while funny and amusing and well-written, this (as well as Moving Pictures, though I love Pterry with all my little Discworld heart) is definitely in the not-for-me bin.

I’m willing to try one of Bradfield’s other works, the ones for which he’s called “the David Lynch of prose”; from the enotes.com description (and then again, this is enotes.com) he writes the kind of stuff I usually like.

The Visionaries by Robert Reed

Everyone is an unmitigated failure.

And then success comes, or it doesn’t.

When I was still an unpublished author, I wrote a long story about an average fellow wandering through his relentlessly unremarkable life. His world wasn’t particularly different from mine, except for being set in some down-the-road future. The plot was minimal, the sf ideas scarce. Yet something about the narrative felt important to me. Typing like a madman, I produced a 25,000-word manuscript complete with rambling conversations and a contrived terminology. The next several drafts were agonizing attempts to reshape the work, creating something leaner and more salable. But I couldn’t seem to apply even the most basic lessons of effective writing. In the end, I had a novella nobody would willingly read.

But on the premise that I didn’t know squat, I licked a fortune in stamps and addressed the oversized manila envelope to the first magazine on my list of professional markets.

A few weeks later, both the manuscript and a standard rejection note were jammed into my tiny mailbox.

I think I’m too young to appreciate this story.

In this day and age, I have read the same screed spread out across a hundred or so beginning-writers’ blogs at some point or other. I myself am a neophyte of a writer, so I know intimately this kind of screed. The last place I thought I’d read such a thing would be F&SF, which admittedly is naive of me. As such, this story did not warm the cockles of my heart, and annoyed me very much.

And for some reason, I also knew where all the pool balls were going to go after the opening break about two pages in. That took a lot of stuffing out of the story experience for me.

I’m sure this is a fine Belgian pink-and-white nougat, but I’m no nougat fancier.

Going Back in Time by Laurel Winter

1.

After Richard told her the whole quantum physics thing at the cocktail party, Ellie said, “I get it! We can go back in time.”

“Go back in time,” he repeated slowly, enjoying the attention, the perky camera-ready face tilted up at him. “Only one of those words has meaning.”

Bizarreness follows. I like bizarre, and I like this story, and it’s the right length for what it is, which is rather short. It’s the story-telling equivalent of a joke. Very stylish. I’m pleased to have run into it, but for some reason I still want to file this in the “not for me” bin.

Fortunately, there’s still a little over half more magazine to go.

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