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The Wonder Spyglass - 4




THE WONDER SPYGLASS.
Part 4 - August

Read other issues here

Retrospective Fiction Reviews
This month in the fantastic literature:
going back by 10-year jumps.

Only includes the stories I've read personally. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge cover images.

The idea of these "time trips" - to highlight the particular stories throughout SF&F history (all 100 years of it). Each month I will publish (time permitting) SPYGLASS issues, giving selective reviews to stories, collections, original anthologies and novels, choosing out of literally thousands of stories I've read - for example only stories which appeared in a particular month in SF magazines, and taking jumps of 10 years in SF history. This is a way for me to gradually go through stories and fill out the reviews, and a way to get a fun perspective on the genre.

This issue will highlight stories from August of 2005, 1996 and 1986


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ONE YEAR AGO: August 2005

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Marc Laidlaw
"Jane"
© Sci Fiction, Feb 2005
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award
--/ shock value

Solid story from a great writer. I always enjoy Laidlaw's creations, as he subtly sinks a screwdriver into your head and then pulls it out with a gleeful twist, when the cumulative mass of the story's details explodes like green jelly all over your mind, spiking your life functions and sinking a wicked olive of an idea into your long-term memory. :) Well, maybe this is an exaggeration, but... This is a wolf-in-a-sheep's-clothing type of a story. It only hints of atrocities in a strange and post-apocalyptic (perhaps) world, where our troubled protagonist girl roams and runs, but then brings them home with a familiar "I am your father, Luke, like-it-or-not" feel of some hidden family horror and oppression. Themes of blindness and "returning falcons" are prominent, and it all sinks in a murky, lush, deliciously crazy and paranoid narrative, which is a joy in itself. Recommended.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2006)


(image credit: Lothaleng)

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Tom Piccirilli
"Ice On Heated Steel Script"
© Chiaroscuro # 19, 2004
--/ fourth place dark f story
--/ shock value
--/ rare find

Tom Piccirilli went on to win bigger battles in the literary world (he is a best-selling novelist right now), leaving behind this wretched, miserable, and yet strangely adorable hunchback of a tale, almost like a "your favorite idiot you love to hate": a nuclear tooth-paste to pollute your literary sensibilities, to warn you what to sink your teeth into and what to avoid. Certainly, like ungainly swamp-roots poetry, this lunatic tale shimmers with unexpected brilliance in the murky waters, revealing nuggets of style, however well concealed by bizarre violence. Recommended.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2006)

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TEN YEARS AGO: August 1996

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Terry Bisson
"The Edge Of The Universe"
(Brooklyn/ Wilson Wu series)
© IASFM, Aug 1996
In The Upper Room, 2000
Numbers Don't Lie, 2004
--novelette : 1997 Locus /2
--novelette : 1997 Asimov's Reader Poll /7
--/ fourth place sf novella
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ humour award

New addition to the honorable list of science-fictional nutty geniuses (remember Henry Kuttner's drunk professor, or some truly weird Ray Cummings "haunts of the laboratory" ?) - car mechanic / mathematician extraordinaire Wilson Wu saves the expanding universe from shrinking in this hilarious novella (complete with multi-level mathematical formulas). Add to it a "kosher" Brooklyn environment, wacky physics that just might be true, cosmological cataclysms that threaten the very fabric of our existence - and drink this soup slowly (it's hot) and perhaps with a pint of Guinness. I never expected the good old pulp humor to be resurrected with such vitality and aplomb - and enjoyed every sip of it.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)

----------------------------------------------

Gene Wolfe
"Counting Cats in Zanzibar"
© IASFM, Aug 1996
--short story : 1997 Locus /2

"...Giving a synopsis of a Gene Wolfe short ruins their effect on the reader. The pleasure of Gene Wolfe is the gradual unfolding of the setting and the discovery of what is going on. At the risk of giving away too much, this poignant tale of a young man's pursuit of an older woman manages to incorporate an homage to Asimov's three laws of robotics, and a meditation on travel and identity, all while tackling the big issue of mankind's passing on". (M. Stackpole)
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)

----------------------------------------------

Brian Stableford
"The House of Mourning"
© Off-Limits, ed. E. Datlow, 1996
--short story : 1997 Stocker

A respectable treatment of the mutant virus theme, this one adds another reason why one should not go to prostitutes. Stableford writes a little "low-key" here; it did not hook me.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2005)

============================

TWENTY YEARS AGO: August 1986

----------------------------------------------

Tim Sullivan
"Stop Motion"

© IASFM, Aug 1986
--Asimov's Reader's Poll 1987, Short Story
--/ cool sf story

Animation, dinosaurs, special effects, a little bit of murder mystery - not bad a combination, solid story in the pulp tradition.
review: 18-Jul-06 (read in 2004)

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Orson Scott Card
"Hatrack River"
(Alvin Maker series)
© IASFM, Aug 1986
Hatrack River, 1988
--novelette : 1987 Hugo
--novelette : 1987 Nebula
--novella : 1987 World Fantasy W
--novelette : 1987 Locus /2
--novelette : 1987 Asimov's Reader Poll /3
--novelette : 1987 SF Chronicle /2 (tie)

Rural 19th century America, with homesteaders helped by Little Peggy's second sight, telling the story of the birth of Alvin Maker. Some other readers even classify it as "faintly annoying", although for me it just sunk into oblivion, not making any connection. A lot of people might like his folksy style, though, judging by the amount of awards. Some magical happenings in historical America... admittedly emotional passages and relationships... failed to spark my interest.
review: 17-Jul-06 (read in 1992)

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Lucius Shepard
"Aymara"
© IASFM, Aug 1986
The Ends of the Earth, 1991
--novelette : 1987 Nebula
--novelette : 1987 Locus /7
--novelette : 1987 SF Chronicle W
--/ cool sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award

"Experimentation in time travel conducted in war-torn Central America, resolve all political perplexities through a quantum exhalation of love..." This also happens to summarize Shepard's fiction tendencies: original SF idea, presented on a war-torn background or other canvas of angst, leading to the final revelation of "goodness" and love, inherent even to the most hopeless characters. Which is why I like to read Shepard - the hope in his writing is not obvious, but still comes through, even after you finish reading, like a faint echo of a refracted ray.
review: 17-Jul-06 (read in 1992)

============================

THIRTY YEARS AGO: August 1976 - coming soon...

Read other issues here

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EXPLANATION OF THE RATING SYSTEM:

"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.


All major OFFICIAL AWARDS are highlighted in BLUE
("winner" has a letter "W" by it, otherwise it is a runner-up only)

Our PERSONAL AWARDS (ratings) are highlighted in RED and PURPLE:
--/ first place :
--/ second place :
--/ third place :

--/ fourth place :

--/ cool : (equal to fifth place)
ALL "BEST OF" LISTS ARE LOCATED HERE

These awards are given in the following categories:
- novel :
- series :
- novella :
- story :
- collection :

Also, there are our personal STYLE / GENRE SPECIFIC AWARDS. These reflect the story's content and the lasting impression on the reader:

--/ wonder award
sense-of-wonder, "visual intensity" and inventiveness

--/ idea award
originality of idea / concept

--/ adventure award
exhilarating plot, excitement / action

--/ style award
outstanding literary qualities, inimitable style

--/ romance award
intense and beautiful love / relationships

--/ humour award
funny and cool

--/ emotion award
touching, lasting impression, sensitivity

--/ shock value
altogether wild

--/ awesome scale
mind-boggling; further enhances sense-of-wonder

--/ rare find
very hard to locate, mostly from old pulps, never reprinted, etc.

Again, please feel free to leave your own review or comment under every writer's entry; also recommend us other stories you liked.