Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction: January/February 2010

A very good issues of the magazine, well worth the money.
Short Stories:



As far as fiction goes, even the comparative duds of this issues were better than many of the stories that get published elsewhere. I'm glad that the first issues of F&SF I reviewed here was a good one, it makes it easier to justify my unscientific favoritism.

Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance is easily my favorite of the issue, although Late Night Train, Songwood, and City of the Dog were also highlights. And despite it being lower rated, I appreciate Writers of the Future quite a bit. But I bought a second copy of this issue just so I could loan it out and make people read Ghosts.

As for the columns, no surprises here, these are my sort of standard opinions, but I figure I should state them for the 99.9999999999999% of the world who don't know my feelings on book review columns.

Charles de Lint's Books to Look For: 9 pages of space that I'd rather replace with another story. He pimps books I don't generally like (although sometimes I do, but not as enthusiastically), he wastes a lot of space not on the books and doesn't say anything to make that extra time worth my while.

Chris Moriarty's Books: These books aren't that recent, which strikes me as weird, but on the other hand, I have read 4/5 of them, and I agree with Moriarty almost completely. He stays pretty focused on the books, and gives good background on the authors and what the books are like. I think he pulls his punches a bit but he is a good source for picking books to read because he both writes good reviews, and agrees with me on the ones I've read, so I can assume he knows a thing or two about being right.

Films: A Pair of Nines by Lucius Shepard: My favorite curmudgeon. This month he reacts with enthusiasm about finding a film only mildly retarded, and even one good one. And makes some interesting points about South Africa and why some people "didn't get" District 9. Apparently Shepard receives a lot of hate mail, but none of it will be coming from me.

Curiosities by John Eggeling: Eggeling reviews a not terribly good book from back when setting a book in 1962 was the distant future. And, as usual, it sounds so strange that I really want to keep my eyes open and grab it at a yard sale, even though I don't expect it to be great, just weird. I always like his reviews, but the books are always impossible to find, maybe for the better.

Overall, besides the good stories, one of the draws is how many pages and words are devoted to reviewing things, and de Lint is the only one I don't like.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

City of the Dog

Novelette by John Langan

An underemployed college graduate moves to Albany in order to be with his girlfriend Kaitlyn who has cheated on him with his new roommate Chris. They have the sort of shitty relationship where they don't seem to like each other much, and would both be better off if they broke up, but stay together anyway. Albany isn't portrayed as a particularly cheerful, uplifting place either.

One night, on the way to a club, our sadsack narrator is attacked by a very creepy dog with strange eyes. Next thing he knows Kaitlyn is gone, and not returning his calls. At first he thinks it's just a passive-aggressive breakup, but he and Chris eventually decide she has been abducted by a man with the same bizarre eyes as the dog. Although they hate each other, they team up to save her. I won't give away the ending, but if you read the first paragraph you'll know better than to expect happily-ever-after.

An atmospheric horror story with my favorite flavor of supernatural element and a truly creepy ending. The mythology behind the story doesn't seem that original, but as neither we nor the protagonist have much of a clue it's impossible to judge, and largely irrelevant. On the subject of irrelevant commentary, I've been paying a lot of attention to the use of sex in horror lately: a lot of times it seems like a distraction but in this story the sexual implications towards the end make for a much more disturbing experience.

The best horror I've read this month, Lovecraft included, 4.5 out of 5.

The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales

Short Story by Steven Popkes

Cynical, modern retellings of 5 fairy tales, loosely connected. The Snow White and Cinderella vignettes do form a coherent story, while the other three are just loosely tied in.

Quite funny throughout, I'm especially fond of the dirty-old-man interpretation of The Emperor's New Clothes. The other thing that stood out was the happy but not Happily Ever After ending and the finding joy in the moment, regardless of what the "ever after" might be.

The Secret Lives of Fairy Tales is funny and still manages to have some depth and meaning. It isn't Into the Woods, but what is? 4 out of 5 magic beans look suspiciously like mushrooms, because they're magic.


Novelette by Dean Whitlock

A drug company executive oversees the human trials of a nanobot panacea. His wife, mistress, and illegal immigrant chauffeur become increasingly annoyed with him. He unsuccessfully flirts at a doctor/lab tech. And then an unexpected conclusion.

The title and some of the description are a red herring, the ending and point of the story aren't at all what I was expecting. For a moment I thought the title was there just to throw off the reader, but I realized it actually works somewhat, once you revise your expectations.

The fact that Liliac seems to be an M.D. but is referred to as a lab tech really bugs me even though it's a nitpick. As a character, she seems to be full of contradictions in what little characterization of her is done, so perhaps that is just one more thing, but it breaks my suspension of disbelief. As does the reckless, unscientific, worthless state of the human trials. I was halfway expecting the moral of the story to be "everyone dies because they were idiots and tripled the dose for no reason in the middle of the trial."

Although proper science is not represented here, there is political commentary about the negligible concern drug companies tend to have for actually improving human health when there are profits to be made, and this is good, but it felt heavy handed.

There are some comedic bits that work, but the accents of the foreign PhD's seem weirdly stereotyped and oversensitive readers are sure to be offended. However, these characters are sort of idiots, but I don't read into the story that their oddities are caused by being foreign, but rather caused by them being stereotypical head-in-the-clouds PhD's.

Overall a good plot with an unusual twist and some humor, but the characterization is weak and everyone is a stereotype. And the contradictions inherent to Liliac are worth several wtf's, but in some ways the confusion works for me there because this is, comically, the absolute worst nightmare of Mr. Drug Company. The villain protagonist of this story is the horror-victim of his own story which we would be reading if only we were limited to his point of view. His worst nightmare is something we find hopeful, karmic, and slightly comic. 3 hemobots out of 5.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Late Night Train

Short Story by Kate Wilhelm

Another great short story in this issue of F&SF. Strongly reminded me of The Bird Painter in Time of War, one of my favorites of Asimov's from last year. I guess I'm a sucker for unhappy, ambiguous, maybe-fantastic-but-probably-not endings.

Christy is a 30 year old woman, living with and taking care of her elderly parents. Her father has always been abusive, but a recent stroke made him even more angry. Their miserable existence is well described and the characterization of the dysfunctional family is excellent. The ending is dark, yet emotionally satisfying and the fact that we can't be sure if it is fantastic, mundane, or the first crack in the character's sanity (both?) makes it even stronger for me. 4.5 out of 5.

Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance

Novella by Paul Park

I've read this story three times now, and I've taken pages upon pages of notes that look like the scribbles of a crazy person. And I can only partially attribute that comment to my handwriting. I love this story, I want to make all of my more literary friends read it (at knifepoint if necessary), and yet I can't summarize it in any remotely concise way without ruining it. And half of the people who have read it seem to give up 1/3 of the way through. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. My inclination wasn't so much to force it on the Heinlein/Tolkein enthusiasts (NotThatThere'sAnythingWrongWithThat), but more the Umberto Eco/Philip K. Dick lovers, and the Faulkner/Joyce crowd if I was serious about that knife. Although I'm worrying about hyperbole here, I think this novella was brilliant, but it won't appeal to everyone.

This is a funny, autobiographical (more-or-less), deeply reflective, convoluted, complex, confusing, ingenious story about how we make our lives into stories; and then the stories we tell ourselves get out of control and structure invents content. We lose track of the real facts, believe things that on closer examination can't be true, and make up nonsense explanation to explain the little bits of life that make no damn sense. And this is all explained in the second of nine segments.

Park, the self-character of the author proceeds to fly off on tangents about how he has trouble staying on topic, debate the merits of foreshadowing in this weird little combination of memoir and science fiction story he is writing, tell bold-faced lies to the readers that he admits to a few pages later, and piece together bits of writing from his relatives into a hereditary obligation to help protect society from otherworldly forces, maybe.

Like I said, I can't do this thing justice. But what stands out to me are the well done self-referential comedy, the great scenery descriptions, and the countless recurring little tidbits that pull his life, and his ancestors' lives together into a bizarrely complex whole, many of which are probably misremembered or imagined. The downside is that two excerpts of ancestral documents in particular were quite a slog, especially the first time through when I had no idea what to look for, and that while the ending was good, the last line itself was lackluster. But I don't know how it could have been much improved, and on reflection the whole thing was great.

I misremember this story as a 5 out of 5, but it was probably more of a 4.5 in reality, if only because of the ending. But keep in mind, my hyperbole-tastic comparison is Umberto Eco, so no whining about having to think.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts

Short Story by Ben Francisco
Originally published in Realms of Fantasy
PodCastle version read by Brian Lieberman

Lieberman is an awkward sounding narrator, but he fits exactly the voice of the writing and the protagonist. I hope he can do another style of narration if I ever listen to anything else by him, but for this story, I can't imagine it in another voice after hearing his.

A young, gay, stand-up comedian spends a summer with his older, gay, uncle and the 27 gay ghosts that haunt his San Francisco house. You may have noticed that every character in that summary is gay, and that I emphasized it. If you plan on reading/listening to this story, start getting used to it. To be fair, this is a story about the protagonist's first real relationship and the generation gap between him and his uncle who is from a generation of gay men much more haunted (in this case literally) by the AIDS epidemic. So it is hard to avoid, but at times it seems sections of writing are there only to emphasize just how stereotypically homosexual a given character is. That said, Uncle Tio is very well-drawn as both wise uncle and tragic survivor.

The writing is very good though, the relationship is very awkward, but I think this was deliberate, and the semi-abusiveness of the older guy is genuinely creepy. The sadness of the story never becomes maudlin and there is always a touch of humor thrown in from our comedian protagonist. "Sometimes I forget that for most people, realism can't be magical," is one of my favorite lines. The ending is left open in a superposition between horribly tragic and bitterly relieved. And it is very good.

I wonder how many ghost stories written today are tragic. At least 4 out of 5 of them.

Another End of the Empire

Short Story by Tim Pratt
Originally published in Strange Horizons, free online.
Read for PodCastle by Cheyenne Wright

First off, I love the narration for this story, the voices for the characters are brilliant and he manages to really capture the sarcasm of the story. The pure EVIL with which he reads lines such as "the key here, is innovation" is hilarious. The story is great, and the narrator makes it even better. If you're not deaf, you should listen to this at PodCastle ASAP (link above).

A superior take on what is becoming the standard Evil Overlord deconstruction with exceptionally genre-savvy characters. I've heard stories along the same line, but none of them anywhere near this brilliantly hilarious. The plot was predictable from the title alone, but in a prophecy story, that's nothing new. The purpose is comedy, not surprise endings. And despite this being a comedy, you feel sad for Lord Mogrash at times, there is a surprising amount of warmth and meaning.

4.5 out of 5 probability witches saw the ending coming, and loved it anyway.


Short story/Flash by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Originally published in, and available free online at, Ideomancer
PodCastle reading by Ann Leckie

A family of skeleton spirits go down to Earth on the Day of the Dead and the one narrating the story makes an important discovery.

Very short, poetic in places, funny, and just plain strange. I enjoyed it, but only when reading it. The PodCastle narration is good, but a piece this short is unforgiving, every word matters, and to get this story, I'd recommend reading it rather than listening.

3 out of 5 skeletons like being covered in marigolds.

When Shakko Did Not Lie

Short Story by Eugie Foster
Originally published in Cricket
PodCastle reading by Melissa Bugaj

The singsong voice used by the narrator is appropriate to a fairy tale like this, I can imagine her reading this to her children in exactly the same voices. But she mangles the Japanese names pretty badly.

Folk tale style short story. The classic trickster fox goes on a quest but isn't allowed to lie. I was a bit disappointed by the resolution of Shakko's quest, I expected a bit more about cunning being useful beyond lying. The moral instead seems to be about bravery being more important when you can't apply your strengths. Not impressive, but not awful: 2.5 out of 5.

Narrative of a Beast's Life

Novelette by Cat Rambo

Originally published in Realms of Fantasy
Anthologized in Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight
Podcastle recording by Paul Jenkins

The reader is a bit dry, but in a way I think appropriate to the framing of this story as 1800s equivalent newspaper account. The one problem with the audio version is that the chapter subtitles can get long and distracting, where one could skim past them in text. They don't add anything other than the style of the period.

Some people seem to really like this story, and I cannot figure out why. The writing is good, but the story is far from it. The narrator is captured in Africa, put on a ship where he is mistreated, sold as a slave to work on a plantation, fails to escape, and reminisces on how slavery is bad. Oh, but he's a centaur, not a black guy, so this isn't a long-winded, unsubtle retelling of a generic slave narrative, really.

Once again, the writing was good, and at the end I did feel sorry for Philip, and I of course agree that slavery is horrific, but this adds nothing to the conversation and really doesn't have much story to tell, which is even more annoying for how long it is. Especially because the centaur being sold into slavery really drew me into the tale, wondering where it was going. "Nowhere" wasn't the answer I was looking for. 1.5 out of 5.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Narcomancer

Novelette by N.K. Jemisin
Originally published in the now-defunct Helix.
Audio version from PodCastle, read by Rajan Khanna.

A couple of dream magic priests go out to save a village from bandits and resolve the fight between two widows. Set to the tune of "Sexual Healing".

The opening scene seemed irrelevant, and my overall impression if this story was that it was too long. The old should-have-been-a-short-story syndrome. The central plot wasn't that interesting and the resolution felt too easy. The romantic plot achieved the awkwardness it was looking for, but wasn't as warm and fuzzy/bittersweet as intended, it fell rather flat for me.

Although I wasn't impressed with the story itself, I was very interested in the world and the priesthood and their unique brand of magic in particular. I would like to see more stories set in this world, but maybe with a little better story to them. 2.5 out of 5 priests would prefer these powers over that lame "turn undead" crap.

Fading Light

Short Story by Simon Strantzas
Reprinted in Strantzas' Cold to the Touch anthology.

Two severely depressed guys wallow in self pity. But there is something weird about Jackson's new apartment. The very end annoyed me a bit with a "trick the reader" sentence, but the buildup was decently scary. This is another story where we have no idea what really happened or why, all we know is that it was something terrible. The author hints at cosmic horror here, but everything is really still a mystery. Still, I can summarize the non-mysterious part of the story with "Two guys wallow in self pity", and while it makes for a dark tale, it wears on me. And the monotone of the reader doesn't help, although I think it fits the story quite well. 3 leaking trash bags out of 5.

The Tamga

Short Story by Maura McHugh
Originally published in Shroud

A Russian shaman and his shaman-in-training nephew must retrieve the stolen soul dolls of their ancestors and put to rest the angry guardian spirit known as the Tamga. Set in modern times, but in a small, extremely rural community, we get a fun combination of the past and the present.

Although I'm not factoring it into the score of the story, I will say that I wasn't a big fan of the narration on this one. Not that the voice was bad, but it seemed a tad over-acted and over-dramatic to me sometimes.

Overall a predictable, action driven story with an interesting setting, but nothing that struck me as deep or particularly suspenseful. The twist at the climax was a bit sudden and unfair, but it was then resolved by dumb, but predictable, luck. Thus the balance of unfair happenstance was preserved. The setting alone was not enough to make up for the flaws, but it wasn't too bad. 2.5 out of 5.

Turning the Apples

Short Story by Tina Connolly

It's worth noting that Tina Connolly also wrote my second favorite poem of the 2009 Asimov's Science Fiction magazines.

So this is an SF/horror story dealing with a very unusual brand of crime on another planet. A small number of tourists contract a unique disease on first visiting the unnamed planet of the story. Adults are turned into walking coma patients, most children die, and a select few survive and gain psychic mind-rewriting abilities. Criminals use the orphaned children to program the coma victims for manual labor, and the reprogramming effort has a narcotic effect, getting the kids addicted to helping the criminals.

Szo, our protagonist, is one such orphan, addicted and never able to escape because he hopes to someday find a way to help his mother, who's thoughtless body hauls nuclear waste. One day the police officer he sometimes informs to offers him hope.

The story isn't so much horrifying as exceedingly dark. But it is still the stuff of nightmares rather than good dreams. This is a very different take on the addiction/psychic powers connection, something I'd like to read more of. I'm not sure what it is, but this story will stick with me for a long time.

A brief comment on narration: It is quite good. Another example of the narrator actively improving my enjoyment of the story rather than just relaying the events. His voice makes the thing seem even more gritty.

4 out of 5.

The Blessed Days

Short Story by Mike Allen
Originally published in Tales of the Talisman
Freely available audio version read by Ben Philips for Pseudopod.

A reporter wakes up naked next to his girlfriend, covered in blood, beneath plastic sheets. But the story transcends its splatterpunk opening to achieve a more psychological brand of horror. The odd part is that the first half seems like an entirely different story than the second half. A lot of time is spent on how humanity deals with magically waking up covered in blood every morning, from infections down to haircuts. It is made clear that the blood isn't the blood of the sleeping people, but appears out of nowhere.

Then the protagonist gets to use his exceptional lucid dreaming abilities to help a scientist friend figure out what's going on, since the blood only appears when you're asleep. From here we get into Lovecraft territory, and as the Pseudopod outro points out, you can't help but think of Nietzsche's famous "when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." This one is truly scary despite the bloody, unlikely premise. The Mayan Apocalypse tie-in annoys me, but isn't unjustified, and the ending is very good, in the horrifying sense of "good". Love the last line. 4 dreams out of 5 are safe for dreaming, just avoid the other 20%.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Short Story by Marc Laidlaw

A wonderful love story between Spar the stowaway gargoyle and Sprit the figurehead. Non-romantic tension is added by the unsavory crew of Sprit's ship with some good humorous bits involving a salad bowl.

Technically this is part of a series of stories but I haven't read any of the others (although I'm inclined to find them now) and this stands on its own just fine. The lyrical, fantastic language sets the tone perfectly to highlight the beauty of gargoyle-woodcarving love. Laidlaw never takes himself too seriously, avoiding the heavy-handed feeling that a story like this can fall into.

Fantastic love stories aren't generally my thing, but this is great. 4.5 out of 5.

Writers of the Future

Novelette by Charles Oberndorf

An unusual dystopia where humanity is stalled into permanent stability with no change and no thought of the future. The literature of the time is both a symptom and a cause: science fiction no longer exists, every book is a choose-your-own-adventure novel and the public would never want to read something they disagree with, or where a character makes a morally ambiguous choice. Also Earth has been destroyed by the artificial intelligences we created and humanity lives on an ever decreasing number of stations sprinkled around in the former Mars orbit; but in the story the real horror of this dystopia is the facile literary culture and the insistence that all books be warnings against change or reliving of the glory days (Westerns).

I'm not sure where it comes from, but somewhere I've got the idea that it is a sin to like stories about writers/aspiring writers. I'm certain there is a lot of drivel out there about aspiring writers, but this isn't it, this is a story worth liking. But if you take any story with a writer as a main character, you are guaranteed to find reviews complaining that the public is not interested in writers and the story only exists because of the ego and self-centeredness of the author, and any good reviews of such a terrible story are because all those other writers like stories about themselves, but of course the public wouldn't want to hear it (they are never so blunt of course, but that's what they mean). Curiously you never see this sort of criticism when a scientist or doctor writes about their job. When a person writes about where they grew up, or millions of other examples where someone follows the old Write What You Know advice. I don't know who decided that writing was an inferior profession or pastime for fictional characters, but I'm not buying it.

All ranting aside this is a good but not great story. Writers' workshops and the writers at them are made fun of a bit, as is the habit of being so offended by a book's discussing sensitive subject matter that you don't ever read it to see what it has to say. The narrator's infatuation with his workshop roommate well done, he comes across suitably awkward and her more extreme rebelliousness is portrayed well, especially given the change her idealism takes towards the end.

The main theme I find in this story is disillusionment. The narrator settles for a lesser love, and never achieves any of his goals, but maintains his youthful devotion to absolute principles and thinks about both rebellion and writing, while never going through with either. His roommate sacrifices her ideals for practicality and expanding her own knowledge. She is able to become successful and extremely controversial but in the process becomes the same sort of writer who disgusted her when she was young.

The reinvention of science fiction, on stations named after Heinlein and Varley does suffer some plausibility problems I think, but the names do show what a long way people fell. All the other stations are named after cities though. But I suppose Vonnegut station committed ethical suicide and Asimov had one too many robot malfunctions. What happened to Lovecraft Station is too horrible for me to describe, which is for the best since the very knowledge of that event would drive any blog reader into madness.

So the main theme is well done, with good writing and characterization. But the world and the plot suffer from being a bit too unlikely and the satire seems heavy handed. Not bad, and loses no points from me for being about writers writing science fiction, but still just 3.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Short Story by Robin Aurelian

Navin, his big bullying sister, and his exasperated parents go on a hunting trip. But the world is a juxtaposition of modern generic America and a darker-than-average generic fantasy land, so they are hunting dragons, outlaws, and trout. The tone tends towards a darker sarcastic version of cheerful stereotypes and definitely makes you grin a couple times. But it isn't exactly funny. The climax is the stuff of fairy tales and horror stories, although the author's light treatment makes it a tense sort of fun. The ending is ambiguous in a non-standard way: we know exactly what happened, but aren't really sure if it is happy or horrific, probably a little of both.

And that really sums up the story, it is a cheerful, irreverent look at some horrible fantastic happenings with an ending that leaves you unsure of whether to smile or worry. 3.5 out of 5 readers didn't realize how parasitic pixies lay their eggs.

The Long Retreat

Novelette by Robert Reed

Lieutenant Castor is assistant to the Emperor of a country that is so large as to be practically infinite. You could spend all your life going in one direction and never reach the end, one can only assume decay from higher technology with which they built such a huge empire.

The Emperor is at war with another impossibly huge country and doing badly. He and his court are retreating with no plan besides the realization that they can just keep retreating forever. Castor learns from other characters about the history of the world, the war, and the current strategy, which basically comes down to the country being Hotel Infinity, no finite number of invaders can hope to conquer them. The Emperor eventually forces Castor onto a path you can see he was groomed for, but never actually thought about or wanted. It is a little awkward how some of the out-of-the-loop characters help in this grooming so readily, but I suppose it's better that all the relevant conversations happen "on screen" as opposed to being that-thing-this-guy-said-five-years-ago.

You can see the ending coming from half-a-lake away but that doesn't make it less enjoyable. The world and the war it is involved in are well thought out, and fun to think about although the plausibility of maintaining such an empire is left completely alone. Still, I suspect I'll be replacing some of my infinite hotel examples with infinite nations. The big reveal about the Emperor at the end has been done before I'm sure, although no specific examples come to mind. But it makes for a good story to keep you reading while you think about the world and where the authority to rule actually comes from. 4 out of 5 Emperors tragically get stuck ruling finite realms.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Music of Erich Zann

Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft

This unnamed narrator used to live on the Rue d'Auseil but now can't find it no matter how hard he looks. Fun not-in-the-story tidbit: Rue d'Auseil probably derives from "Rue au seuil", meaning "street on the threshold". Anyway, the narrator tried to befriend an elderly, brilliant musician named Erich Zann who lived in the apartment above him. At night he could hear Zann playing music unlike anything he'd ever heard. When asked, Zann will play music, but never like what he plays alone at night, and he seems nervous about even hearing it whistled. Our narrator is never able to figure out what's going on, but the story comes to a climax where all sorts of unexplained scary things happen, and the only hope of understanding goes right out the window, along with the narrator's ability to even find his old apartment, or the street it was on.

I really like the imagery of Zann frantically playing his viol in what I read as an attempt to save himself from ... whatever it is that's out there. This is sort of a horror-story-once-removed in that the real horror story is happening to the poor old mute musician and our character just gets to see the unexplained happenings in an even more unexplained way. We are presented with the strangeness/magicalness of the street vanishing at the very beginning, which prepares the reader for those sorts of happenings later in the story and keeps the possibility of such things in mind. It makes us less likely to assume Zann's secret is something mundane. This one is more subtle than seems typical of Lovecraft, and I really like it. Another one in the Things Happen Which The Human Mind Cannot Comprehend theme, but it's more implied this time. 4 out of 5.

Dear Internet, viols are NOT violins. Although it doesn't really matter what sort of instrument Zann was playing, the word viol appears many times. It is a real instrument. It is not another word for violin. Look it up.

The Outsider

Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft

The unnamed first person narrator lives in a sunless forest in a dark castle, with only books for company. One day he climbs a tower in hopes of finally seeing the sun.

The big twist that I'm avoiding spoiling for this story is a) done to death, even in Lovecraft's time, b) so heavily foreshadowed that you figure it out long before it is revealed and c) not really meant to surprise, in my reading of the story, although the final line makes it seem like we should be.

A very dream-like story, with heavy language and a sort of haziness. Lovecraft himself thought that this one was too imitative of Poe, and I can see where he's coming from, but that doesn't make it bad. But rather than horror, I see this more as a Gothic style story about loneliness. That is the one thread that really ties everything together, the narrator is doomed to be alone.

The last page or so gets a bit weird, with a couple paragraphs of unrelated, summed-up narration between when the Big Revelation occurs, and when the reader is told it (once again, everyone has figured it out already anyway). This part really threw me off, but the talk of Nepenthe really does tie the story together. Anyway, I guess this is a sad story rather than a scary one, and so the big scary revelation being obvious doesn't really hurt things, because empathy does not require surprise. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you get thinking about it, so it is important to focus on the atmosphere and the feeling of aloneness. 3 out of 5 unholy abominations would have better self-esteem with some Ancient Egyptian anti-depressants.

The Statement of Randolph Carter

Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter is found wandering around a swamp in a daze. When the police question him from his hospital bed, he tells the story of how he and his friend Harley Warren went to an old cemetery in the swamp and found something terrible. Warren never came back.

The horror of this story is all fear of the unknown. Warren descends into a tomb that leads somewhere, leaving one end of a portable telephone wire behind him for communication. He never really answers any of the questions Carter asks on the surface, but does mention legions of hellish things. The story ends rather abruptly, and for my taste, the last sentence breaks the horror a bit.

But this is all fridge logic. Why did Warren have so much time to talk, why does the bigger thing know English, why do ancient books from India talk about Florida cemeteries? These things don't hurt it too much, because I also spend time thinking about what they were actually looking for, the only clue being something about dead bodies that never decompose, and what was it they actually found?

The two things that stand out most about the writing are Lovecraft's excellent description of the cemetery, and his use of alliteration and rhythm in his description. He manages to talk about scenery and make it seem scary in it's own right. The vividness of the abandoned cemetery description contrasts with the lack of any description of what was found below ground, and this only adds to the sense of fear.

Overall I found this story scarier than it had any right to be given the plot and the ending. It wasn't brilliant, but it was good. 3.5 times out of 5, your buddy Warren is not there.

February 2010: A New Year

I'm designating this month the start of the new year rather than the one all the calendars and whatnot follow. The reason for this is that I spent all of January reviewing Asimov's Science Fiction for the 2009 Reader Awards and so this will be the first round of new reading I'm really doing.

I read more than I reviewed, so I'm going to take a month or two to go back and review all the 2009 Asimov's and Analog stories that I missed, but it isn't going to be this month. To be honest, although they are both lovely magazines, I'm a bit sick of them after powering through 2 years worth (collectively) in 2 months.

But I don't want to do the same thing next year, I want to actually stay on top of things. So for this year I'm going to read and review all of the January and February magazines I get right now, and then leave it alone until next month. But first, or possibly concurrently, I'm going to read and review a whole bunch of H.P. Lovecraft. And I might even read a novel or two.

Lovecraft is one of several famous historical authors whom I'd like to extensively cover here. With these historical authors I worry that reputation, and personal prejudice may influence me overmuch, and honestly I am often going to go for the most famous or important works. The best of an author who is long dead will tend to beat a lot of the stuff found in magazines, by virtue of extra levels of selection. But I'm still going to keep them on the 1 to 5 scale. I may add some extra gradations between x.0 and x.5, but I'm going to keep comparing any short story to any other short story. And I'll try to be as harsh on the Great Old Ones as I am on the New Guys.