A Date with the F&SF Oct/Nov All-Star Issue, Part 4: Only Wrappers Left

Photography: shok

On a somewhat unrelated note: cerulean nougat exists!

Here are my impressions of the final stories, a brief comment on Lucius Shepard, and concluding thoughts.

Private Eye by Terry Bisson

“Spare one of those?”

“Of course.” I shook a Camel out of my pack, which was sitting on the bar as a reminder of better days. She was wearing a raincoat—Burberry; we notice such things—over jeans. It matches her hair, almost; it wasn’t buttoned, only belted at the waist. She was three stools away, but I caught a glimpse of a narrow black strap on a narrow pale shoulder when she leaned down the bar to take the cigarette from my fingers.

We notice such things. Especially in a quiet bar on Eighth Avenue, on a rainy Thursday autumn-in-New York afternoon.

As the commentary says, this is a sexy tale—and a very well-told one. I like how the atmosphere settles in like fog, subtly and not a word wasted. The science fiction is like the atmosphere; it settles in gracefully. For a story so lurid, the handling of its plot and ideas is gentle and teasing. Especially the teasing.

A dark, risque liquor chocolate.

I’ll be seeking out more Terry Bisson. Unca Mike certainly likes him, but it’s on the strength of this story that I’m downloading Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories onto my Kindle right now.

December 22, 2012 by Sophie M. White

Cute poem. I’m not good with poetry so I’ll leave it at that.

Whoever by Carol Emshwiller

I forgot who I was. I suppose it’s just as well. This doorway, where I lie, is dirty. If this doorway is my doorway and if I’m dressed as I usually dress, then I can’t have been a very respectable person. First thing I’ll do, I’ll go get something else to wear and then I’ll find a good place to live. Something more like the new me. If this is a new me.

I wonder what I look like. My hands seem strong. My fingernails are clean. I’m not too fat. Am I the same sex I used to be?

I’m fond of narrators with disassociation in one form or another, and this is a well-done and approachable narrator. Her exploration is mysterious and suspended, with a cheerfully humorous attitude. The climax feels more than a little out of place, however; this is a story that needs decent room to grow, and I think more space was needed. However, this is a disassociated narrator, so there’s technically nothing wrong with the way things went.

I’d love a bigger story of this, but it’s not her fault that I’m not satiated. Well, it kind of is. But not. Dang it.

One of those little chocolate almond clusters I love, and of which there are too few of in this world.

Here’s an interview with Emshwiller on Bookslut.

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment:
One Daughter’s Personal Account
by M. Rickert

It took a long time to deduce that many of the missing women could not be accounted for. Executions were a matter of public record then and it was still fairly easy to keep track of them. They were on every night at seven o’clock, filmed from the various execution centers. It was policy back then to name the criminal as the cameras lingered over her face. Yet women went missing who never appeared on execution. Rumors started. Right around then some of the policies changed. The criminals were no longer named, and execution centers sprung up all over the country so it was no longer possible to account for the missing. The rumors persisted though, and generally took one of two courses: Agents were using the criminals for their own nefarious purposes, or women were sneaking away and assembling an army.

When my mother didn’t come home, my father kept saying she must have had a meeting he’d forgotten about, after all, she volunteered for Homeland Security’s Mothers in Schools program, as well as did work for the church, and the library. That’s my mom. She always had to keep busy. When my father started calling hospitals, his freckles all popped out against his white skin the way they get when he’s upset, and I realized he was hoping she’d had an accident, I knew. The next morning, when I found him sitting in the rocker, staring out the picture window, their wedding album in his lap, I really knew.

This is a very strong story. And by strong, I mean strong like oaks. I think about the Taliban, but of course this context is quite Western. The world-building is flawless. The way the story and the narrator unfold is entirely unexpected, and things are complicated. It’s all masterful.

At the same time, though—and this is speaking as someone who usually accepts many things headlong—it wasn’t believable. Oh, I believe there’s enough hatred and venom in the world to accomplish such things; but you’d run out of women too quickly. On the other hand, this might be a relatively recent cultural twitch.

If this story is a message, it isn’t going to reach the people who need to hear it. Just speaking as someone who used to live in a small town like that. But a message probably isn’t the reason for this story; it’s an exquisitely accomplished macabre exploration.

Dark orange chocolate. I don’t really like orange in my chocolate, and consider it just this side of nougat, but it is a dark chocolate, for all that. Very dark.

C.C. Finlay interviews M. Rickert for Ideomancer.

Planetesimal Dawn by Tim Sullivan

It was the most dangerous place on the asteroid.

“Why don’t we just go back?” Wolverton asked.

“Because we can’t,” Nozaki said. “The sun’s coming up.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got insulated suits.”

“Not enough.”

This wasn’t the best day to be base camp security chief, Nozaki thought. They stood next to the rover, watching the searing dawn advance across the curved horizon. The rover had died on them, and Nozaki had worked on it as long as she could. The dawn was too close. They had to get moving.

Let me just say: this is what’s wrong with me. I claim to like science fiction, but this is exactly the kind of story I hate.

It’s a bit inexplicable, actually. I liked Heinlein when he wrote stories like this. I like Scalzi when he writes stories like this. I liked Zelazny when he wrote stories like this. I liked Delany’s (weird weird weird) takes on stories like this. They all add something more than just the adventure, even if it’s just characters that I like, or strangely succinct world-building that just, for whatever reason, works. Or the feeling I’m smoking something, but it’s a good something….

But I didn’t like Gene Wolfe’s Memorae, and not only am I usually in love with Gene Wolfe, but he did add more to the story in his usual Wolfe-ian way. Nevertheless, I hated it.

Let’s just say that for me, Planetesimal Dawn is a big white bar of nougat, and that’s likely because I’m an idiot. When I read a story from someone who won the Nobel Prize in Literature (and also Physics), and all I can think of is how all the notes sound wrong, the problem is obviously with me as a reader, not the writer.

Yes, after reading this novelette I wanted to pitch the entire magazine across the room and burn it (I did not actually do so, though, because of Days of Wonder and “Private Eye”).

I’m amazed, actually, that I still feel the same way, at the same strength, a week after I read this. This is not really like me.

Nougat is truly beyond my understanding, I think.

Also, I’m not able to track down more Tim Sullivan links. At least, links that I’m sure point to him; there’s a surprising number of Tim(othy) Sullivans in the world, both alive and dead.

But look! There’s another chocolate in the box, under the wrappers. There always is, you know.

The Scarecrow’s Boy by Michael Swanwick

The little by came stumbling through the field at sunset. His face was streaked with tears, and he’d lost a shoe. In his misery, he didn’t notice the scarecrow until he was almost upon it. Then he stopped dead, stunned into silence by its pale round face and the great, ragged hat that shadowed it.

The scarecrow grinned down at him. “Hullo, young fella,” it said.

The little boy screamed.

Instantly, the scarecrow doffed his hat and squatted down on one knee, so as to seem less threatening. “Shush, shush,” he said. “There’s no reason to be afraid of me—I’m just an obsolete housebot that was stuck out here to keep birds away from the crops.” He knocked the side of his head with his metal knuckles. It made a tinny thunk noise. “See? You’ve got bots just like me back home, don’t you?”

What can I say? This is a very Swanwick story. I have always associated his name with his storytelling style, of strange half- and three-quarter- and sixth-and-eight-twists, going swanwick-swack! through your expectations in a delicious manner. This is almost as good as “Tideline” (and for a friend of mine, to him this would be better; no accounting for taste).

A final drizzled mint chocolate.

And now… there are only wrappers.

• • • •

And now, a comment on Lucius Shepard. I recall seeing folks dislike his review of Iron Man for being too scathing. To which I say (having read Lucius Shepard’s LJ): dude. It’s just Lucius Shepard being Lucius Shepard. I miss having a Mr. Cranky Movie Reviewer around. I may not always agree with him, but he’s good reading.

As for the rest of the departmental stuff, the reviews and musings and what not, I like them. I always have. Even if I don’t agree, I like them. They were never an issue with me.

• • • •

Some short concluding thoughts. Well, two, really.

The first is that F&SF is a nice venue for reading writers who are new to you. But then, so are many other venues online and elsewhere. Which brings up the next point….

Which is that F&SF is probably not for me. I loved three of the stories. In a more easy mood, I like six of the stories. If I stretch myself, I’d say that I liked seven. That’s out of 12 stories by an all-star crowd.

This is technically a good ratio.

But what is technically a good ratio does not always mean that it felt like a good ratio.

Maybe the flames will die down after a few weeks and I’ll scoop the next issue onto my Kindle from Fictionwise.

Or maybe not. Right now I’m busy marking up my copy of Acacia on the Kindle so I can understand the plot threads better. Me, knife, drawer, not sharpest.