"The Art of Alchemy" (Ted Kosmatka)
A metallurgist forms a relationship with a woman who has suspicious ties to powerful people with scientific marvels w.r.t metallurgy. After getting a carbon nanofiber sample, things get deep, and their lives are in danger. It was readable, and enjoyable speculative fiction, even for not having any alien/magic whiz-bang. It felt more like a short technothriller, like something you'd see in future seasons of 24: Mellurgy
. Though on the other hand, it really didn't spark my imagination. 3/5 "The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D." (Al Michaud)
Michaud writes delightful, animated, amusing stories about the residents of a fishery village in Maine. I'm almost certain that if these stories were adapted for the screen, silver or otherwise, they would be animated in one way or another (I find myself picturing the characters in a Burton stop-motion). In this story, we return to Clem Crowder, ayuh. While visiting the dentist (or their town's closest equivalent, a clam digger/tooth carpenter), Clem is visited by an apparition: The Silent Worman. She's silent because she has no head, since she lost it in the colonial days to an Indian raid (where Indian here is a member of one of the indiginenous people of North America, particularly, in the Maine area). In his efforts to rid himself of the haunting, he finds himself in such imaginative locales, like Banebridge college (a sort of low-brow Miskatonic), Grey Fog lighthouse (with its multitude of lookalike subservients), and even an Indian burial ground (complete with Indian ghosts). Though this story was painfully predictable, Michaud made the long journey an entertaining one, and didn't once say, "Don't make me turn this car around!" 4/5 "Litany" (Rand B. Lee)
A stranger comes to town. Lee leaves us in doubt whether or not Rafael Anderssen is really who he claims to be, or if there's more too this grey-eyed, tall man who claims to be Anderssen. There is more to Anderssen. He has powers, and he knows Words. That's Words with a capital W. He's looking for people and things in a small New Mexico town, La Llorona, also beginning with capital letters. You sort of get an idea of who he is, more and more, with each page. With a name like Rafael, or a last name that means "son of man", and references to the One, you kinda get the idea that he's some sort of celestial being. And he's just trying to find his way home. His journey is beset, however, with adversaries. The mysterious Seven have sent the Enemy to try to thwart the grey-eyed man's attempts at finding the Door. Maybe this story tried to do too much, or maybe it didn't do enough. I think this story could have made a decent novel, though it would have lost its whiz-bang surprise near the end if they told more backstory. Nevertheless, it's one of the few cover stories that didn't become my favorite. 3/5 "Fergus" (Mary Patterson Thornburg)
Two teachers spend time visiting one another in their respective towns. Each time, they bring their current pet. Upon Jill's bringing a cat named Fergus, we learn a piece of the life of Eileen, and particularly, her son Fergus. She tells a story she has told nobody: about her husband, and about Fergus. She and her husband were once travelling musicians, married young, and playing shows. Then she gave birth to Fergus, and he soon became part of their show, being a cute baby until he started learning how to play the fiddle. Though, one day, while in a hotel, Fergus ran into an open elevator, and was never seen by his parents again. This caused Eileen and her husband to fall apart and separate. Eileen pursued further education and soon became a math teacher while her husban Colum turned to drink and died in an automobile accident. She claimed to have seen Fergus two other times, once in a shopping mall, and once playing by the street. Both times, though several years past the point of losing him, he was the same age as when she last saw him. At least one of the other Ferguses was abandoned as a baby in the same hotel where the original Fergus was lost, and subsequently adopted. No hint is given as to the history of the other Fergus. After the story, Eileen takes ill and soon passes. At her funeral, Jill meets a mysterious old man. Well told yet confusing, and meriting further analysis (see below). Excellent blend of Jill's narration and Eileen's narration. 4/5 Analysis of "Fergus":
In the end (hint: spoiler), Jill meets a very old man who claims to be the twin brother of Fergus. Now, this is strange, and a bit confusing.
Fergus, may be in actuality a metaphor for Oisin of the Fenian cycle. The elevator takes him to Tir na Nog, and though little time seems to pass for him, more time passes on the outside, thus his apparent lack of agining. In the Fenian cycle, once Oisin touches the ground, his age catches up to him. The same thing happens here to Fergus, only not when he touches the ground. He touches something else, perhaps metaphysical, like "the death of his mother touches his heart" and his years catch up to him, with a vengeance, as suddenly, he's older than Eileen, but claiming to be a twin brother, Declan.
Though maybe he's not Oisin, but Lugh, and his father Cian and his mother Ethniu (the first letters of the names of his parents work this way). Lugh is an entity having three faces, hence the three appearances of Fergus. Further, Lugh's avatar is that of a young man (or in this case, a little boy). Though Lugh had two brothers, they were both drowned or turned into seals, which doesn't really help explain Declan.
Maybe, Declan is Fergus' twin brother, yet Declan has progeria, and Fergus has the opposite of progeria (any takers on what this is called?). Or, if you want to fantasy it up a bit, Declan ages for the both of them, leaving Fergus young while Declan appears to be older than his mother.
Maybe Fergus can keep renewing himself, making himself young and adoptable again, and there are actually four instances of Fergus (the cat being the last) who are all the same Fergus, each time newly renewed.
Maybe Fergus looked like Fergus because of a trait of Colum's family. Colum looked like his father, and from that we could assume that within Colum's lineage, sons tended to favor their father's appearances, and thus all looked the same. This similarity, combined with the Irish "clan" could lead one to refer to a kinsman of exact likeness as a "twin brother" meaning "kinsman of exact likeness," and not "womb-mate." Thus, Declan (is the pun of de-clan intentional?) is a kin of Fergus, and assumes Jill knows who Fergus would be since she's the best friend of Eileen.
Eileen may be confused, mistaking Fergus for Colum, and vice versa. In the end, Declan claims to be the twin brother of Fergus, and he's ten years older than Jill. Since Eileen didn't pursue education until after losing Fergus and Colum, she may very well be at least ten years older than Jill (yet younger than Declan), and it's very plausible that she was getting the two names confused, or even Jill got the two names confused when narrating the story. Maybe even Jill was romanticising it up a bit and got caught up in her own lies in the end. We don't know what Jill teaches. She may teach math, but she may very well be a literary teacher, and realize that having a cat named after a child who has mysteriously vanished is more enthralling than having a cat named after an alcoholic estranged husband. Maybe then, the slip at the end was intentional, as meeting the twin brother of an alcoholic estranged husband is less interesting than meeting the twin brother of a boy lost as a child, and-oh-by-the-way-he's-older-than-his-mo
m. Maybe Jill wants to get caught. We can only trust a narrator so much, and this story has two.
Or maybe Eileen is crazy. She is, after all, close to death in the beginning of the story, and this might be giving her a tenuous grasp on reality.
Or even maybe, it's a little bit of all the above. Or none of the above. I
could be way off. "Character Flu" (Robert Reed)
This was a short piece. It was also the best. It really wasn't more a story as it was a thought-provoking piece of literature. A nanobot has spiraled out of control, and now makes its host hallucinate people who aren't really there. But, these hallucinations gotta have lives, so they get backstories, and such, and try to become the most important person they know (hey, just like real life). But, the brain, though an amazing device, only has so much processing power, and pretty soon, the host is not capable of doing much, other than hosting a world in his or her brain. So, there's a dilemma: Genocide or Extinction. You can destroy the characters in the mind, but they have become like their own people, so it's morally questionable. But if nothing's done, then the human race runs down, so that's morally questionable. You can't balance the needs of the many, as there are more characters than people, but you can't quite say "the needs of the real," because, what is real then? But it's not a story. It's a dilemma. 5/5 "Monkey See..." (P. E. Cunningham)
In some Asian feudal land (or, as they say on Market Pantry marinades: Asian-inspired), a warrior and her sentient soul sword find a village of monkeys. Only two humans reside within: a cook, and a maniacal "lord" whose strongest desire is to take the sword and go to war. Soto (forgive me if I get his name wrong, I don't have the issue with me right now), the lord, manages to turn our heroine into a monkey, taking her now too heavy sword. Needless to say, she's angered at this. In her monkey form, she follows Soto back to his mansion, and there meets a wise old monkey. The two can communicate telepathically, similarly to the way she talks to her sword. The wise old monkey tells her that he's really a wizard, and that Soto actually used to be a monkey. The wizard turned him into a man to have someone to talk to (since he couldn't talk to his servants), and the monkey soon learned the appropriate man-to-monkey transformation spell, and then turned everybody (except the cook) into a monkey. The wizard gives the monkey-to-man spell, in writing, to our heroine, but not before Soto thrashes about the mansion, trying to skewer them with his stolen sword. An interesting story, though at times, I thought, "Man, this would have been a great Elric story, only it would have been much shorter, plotwise, but probably longer descriptionwise." Of course, I'm bound to think that if it involves a sentient sword. It felt like it was part of a larger series, but to be honest, I've never seen the characters before (or at least don't remember them if I did). 4/5 Best in Show: "Character Flu"
Reed, whose other work escapes me (The Brady Bunch
? no.. wrong one) does it (again?) with this piece. Maybe it appealed to me because it was short, or because it was interesting, or because it took technology to the next level. Maybe all the above. Nevertheless: wonderful, delightful, intriguing.
Crossposted in The Eventide Knave
and The Gangster of L'Oeuf