First off, I want to thank Charles Stross for writing “Trunk and Disorderly” and Subterranean Press for making it available as a free Audiobook. Listening to it on the drive from Boston to New York makes Connecticut disappear. The hilarity begins when Ralph’s “clanky” girlfriend Laura walks out and his sister Fiona calls up. Fiona had been planning to go skiing on Olympus Mons, she says:
but my house-sitter phoned in pregnant unexpectedly and my herpetologist is having another sex change so I was just hoping you’d be able to look after Jeremy…
In the world of Sky, island-sized living zaratanes float through the upper layers of the atmosphere. A zaratán is so big, whole towns live on their backs and go unnoticed. So naturally, people fly to get about, in balloons or anemopters or starships lurking in orbit. It seems like just the place for an ambitious aeronautical engineer. So when Bianca Nazario is offered one last chance to carry on her father’s engineering business, she doesn’t ask too many questions. I think I would have enjoyed “Finisterra,” by David Moles, a lot more if I didn’t ask so many questions.
You know how you’re not supposed to use wikipedia as a reference? By the same token, you can’t take “Wikiworld,” by Paul Di Fillippo all that seriously. Full of wordplay and in-jokes (the biggest being the term jimmywhale), it’s set in a world were wikis become social groups that collect for various purposes, from building a house to running a country.
What kind of world do you want? “Save Me Plz,” by David Barr Kirtley offers a bigass One Impossible Thing: a game artifact that can change the real world. With such a premise, naturally the story blurs the distinctions between levels of reality. It begins with Meg throwing her sword into the trunk of her car. You’re thinking well, maybe she studies historical swordplay, or does LARP or SCA. Then she has to kill a giant spider. Okay, things are not what they seem.
I was just a kid in the 60s, but I remember the uncertainty of the Apollo program, from the terrible reality of Apollo 1, to wacky speculations that Apollo 11 would sink into the lunar dust. The movie “Apollo 13″ captured wonderfully the constant fear that something might go wrong. When you look at what technology we had available, the amazing thing is that it worked at all. In “Recovering Apollo 8,” Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores a world where Apollo 8 didn’t come back from the dark side of the moon.
It’s a good thing Tombstone, Arizona is a small town, because in Territory, by Emma Bull, you seem to meet all of them. The four Earp brothers, their wives, a daughter, Doc Holliday and his common-law wife, Kate Elder. Ike and Billy Clanton, John Ringo and his various rustler friends. In the first 200 pages, while all these people are being introduced, my feeble social recognition circuits were getting a workout.
In the middle of this, we meet Mildred Benjamin, a widow making her living as a typesetter at one of the local papers and quietly selling tales of Western adventure to magazines back East. Her paths cross with Jesse Fox, a sometime horse trainer, who rode in to find out what happened to the kid who tried to steal his horse. Jesse meets his old friend, Dr. Chow Lung, who insists that Jesse has to stop denying that he can use magic.
In “Memorare,” by Gene Wolfe, March Wildspring is a producer, filming a documentary about memorials orbiting Jupiter near the places where people died trying to colonize the solar system. Like the pyramids, they are booby-trapped.
The narrator of his films, his beloved Kit, brings along an assistant, a woman who hides until she’s forced to reveal herself as March’s first wife, Sue. Only now she’s Robin Redd.
March and Kit film a few more memorials, each one more deadly than the last. Just as they’re about to explore Number 19, one that scares even March, Robin’s new husband, Jim, shows up. He wants Robin back. Oh, and he only hits her to make her shut up and listen to him. Nice guy. The two men engage in some tense verbal fencing to arrange a meeting–and then Robin lights out for Number 19.
In “Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse,” by Andy Duncan, Father Leggett, a priest in Savannah of the early 30s, receives a peculiar phone message taken by the church secretary.
He meets Mary O’Connors, a little girl with a frizzled chicken she calls Jesus Christ. It’s the best name, you know. As you can see, she has quite an attitude. She even taught Jesus to walk backwards.
In “Awakening,” by Judith Berman, Aleya awakes among the dead, escapes, and explores a world that has changed since she last lived. She too has changed, but she refuses to believe that she is a revenant cloaking her unholy passions with memories of life. Buffeted by the magics of a witchwoman, shaman, and the sorcerer who rules her city in life and death, Aleya is shocked that even peasants know charms and gods’ names to fling at her. She can only fight back with cunning and persuasion. The section where she wanders the dead dreams and memories of her home, and finally climbs the tower to confront the sorcerer are creepy and evocative. In the end, she finds the peace she needs in the simple pleasure of life. And yet, after going on this long, complicated journey with her, the part I find most instructive is the opening.
Vernon is a small-time regional music producer who landed in Black William, Pennsylvania with his (now) ex-wife, Andrea, when their car broke down. Perhaps because he’s recounting events that happened ten years before the main action of the story, the opening passage of “Stars Seen Through Stone,” by Lucius Shephard, sounds stiff in its formality and distance.
But when Vernon takes in a hot prospect, a vile specimen called Joe Stanky, the prose loosens up. Despite his talent, Stanky is bad news for any human being who has the misfortune to encounter him, especially women. Vernon, by contrast, has an unexpectedly good encounter with Andrea and they begin a rapprochement. As Vernon develops Stanky, his tactics were mildly interesting, but I wanted to know where the fantastic element went.