Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Random stories from F&SF

The other day a cat was sitting on me, so I grabbed some of the magazines that happened to be in reach, and read some stories. (I never seem to catch up in my reading-- magazines acumulate faster than I can deal with them.) This are some not-particularly insightful thoughts on randomly selected stories-- not chosen to be the best, not the worst, just the stories that happened to be at hand.

The May 2005 F&SF was the first issue that I grabbed, and I found I'd already read about half the stories in that issue. The long story was "The Imago Sequence," by Laird Barron. I liked the set-up: the first-person protagonist becomes fascinated with a weird art photograph, one of the eponymous sequence, and works to track down the others, which-- as he slowly learns-- were all owned by people who mysteriously disappeared. The trail leads him to a mysterious cult... The opening was good, mysterious enough to get keep me reading, but I found that the revelations weren't worth the reading. OK, mysterious cult worships bizarre shit, and, surprise, the photographs are of real things, the bizarre shit really exists, and the protagonist dies, enveloped in some eldrich horror. Sure. The writing and the level of observed detail is '80s vintage, but the plot itself is pure 30s Lovecraft.

For my taste, K. D. Wentworth's "Born Again" was the high point of the issue. Clones of Jesus Christ (cloned from cells recoverd from the Shroud of Turin, of course) would seem to be so high concept that there couldn't be much new to say from the concept, but her take worked for me. Jesus is a sullen teenager, one of thousands of Jesus Christ clones-- any suburban family with the bucks can get one. The Jesus kids, though, are confused teenagers, unsure about their place in life, with no notable powers. The protagonist is the sister, who has to deal with it., and the portrait of the teenagers seems quite real to me.

It seems to have been the "god" theme issue. The other god story in the same issue, Robert Reed's "The New God," is ok but nothing special. The story was told in a deliberately distanced style, with no detailed focus on character: the place and time is the "present," although in a world in which God is real and evident, and the current God is being replaced, to a great amount of rumors and public relation and jockeying of candidates. I liked it, it was amusing (in the right mood, possibly even laugh-out-loud funny), but nothing of lasting value to the field.

Robert Thurston's story "I.D.I.D" was an ineresting story that didn't quite work for me. Our protagonist is a (female) scientist, who is working on a remote island, where there's a government-funded scientific team studying some aliens who have landed there. The story is about her trip back to Washington to deal with the politics of funding-- a realistic enough set up, but the interesting part of the story was left behind on the island, and the story primarily seems to be about her dealing with a cliche male-chauvinist-pig character she meets in a bar. I think it's one of those "gender exploration" stories, which I find boring, or maybe a commentary on the politicization of science, which I find boring, or both.

The other stories in the issue I have little commentary on. "The Golems of Detroit" is apparently a section of Alex Irvine's upcoming novel, and it's probably unfair to review it out of context. Steven Popkes's "The Great Caruso" didn't really work for me, although I liked other works from him,

The next issue on the pile was the July 05 issue, and I read only the first story, "The Tournament at Surreptitia" by John Morrissey. Looks like a lot of good stuff in the issue, and it's a pity I started with probably the least ground-breaking story. When I was a kid, I was blown away by the very early SF novels of Morrissey-- Starbrat, Nail Down the Stars. Morrissey has settled down into writing comfortable, funny fantasy about a wizard named Kedrigan, though, which I find to be minor stuff. Readable enough, of course, if you like mild satire of genre conventions, but satirizing fantasy conventions goes back at least to William Makepeace Thackeray's 1854 "The Rose and the Ring," and probably back a lot further. Nothing particularly memorable.


Blogger David Moles said...

I think it's one of those "gender exploration" stories, which I find boring, or maybe a commentary on the politicization of science, which I find boring, or both.

Does it explore? If it doesn't explore, it's not gender exploration.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous kellys said...

I'd have to disagree with your comments on Laird Barron's "The Imago Sequence." I concede, the story is a bit predictable and Lovecraftian (is the latter really a bad thing?), but it has a great sustainable energy, thanks to Barron's utter control over his hard-boiled prose, and the way the story slowly becomes more and more nightmareish and hallucinogenic. I loved this story, and can't wait until Barron publishes his first collection of fiction. And yes, I'd agree with you that it evokes horror fiction of the 80s, as The Books of Blood came to mind as I read it (again, is this such a bad thing?).

11:31 AM  
Blogger Ellen Datlow said...

I agree with Kellys about "The Imago Sequence." I think it's a terrific Lovecraftian homage and I'd take it in a NY minute for YBFH#19 if it wasn't so long. Unfortunately, it's 20,000 words and I just can't fit something like that in.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Well, I'd accept that; I don't much read horror-- or maybe I should say that I don't read it for the horror elements; the horror elements per se tend to leave me with a so-what feeing. I do enjoy some of it for the characters in that horror by nature gives a stage to examine character in extremis.

Characters in this one seemed more or less like types, though-- didn't grab me.


1:11 PM  
Anonymous Cassie Krahe said...

Just a note-- I like this better than the essays and such. Lots of people discuss trends and literary criticism; I don't know many who actually go through and say, "This story worked for me and here's why. This one didn't, and here's why. This one... this other story was better." I know I can hardly force you to bend to my whims, but discussion of specific pieces is more appealing to me than discussion of the field as a whole.

4:22 PM  

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