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Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls by Kali Wallace (Mar/April 2011)

Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls by Kali Wallace was published in the March / April 2011 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Although it was inspired by a discussion on robots, it reads like a moment from Frankenstein if the monster were part of a tenure review and he had been taken before the committee before escaping from Dr. Frankenstein.

Here, though, the “monster” is a rather normal seeming girl who loves flowers and doesn’t want to wear the blue dress. She does, however, want to see her own reflection — something she’s never been able to do. It isn’t until the meeting with the doctor and his guest that she suspects the reason behind the missing mirrors.

At the heart of the matter is the conflict between self identity and the labels applied by others. Just as in Amped by Daniel H. Wallace, there is a huge gap between how the girl sees and values herself and how the doctor sees and values her.

It’s rather short but very tight. It was among my favorite from this issue.  

Four stars

"The Bird Cage" by Kate Wilhelm (FSF Jan/Feb 2011)

The Bird Cage by Kate Wilhelm deals as always with loss and family tragedy but this time in the setting of brain research for Parkinson’s.

A family is struck by a series of scary flashbacks to previous moments of tragedies. These are more than just really bad memories, they are reliving the memories. And it’s putting them in danger.

I read the story twice and I’m still not 100% I got the story. That’s fairly typical for me reading a Wilhelm story. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

Four stars

"Home Sweet Bi’Ome" by Patricia MacEwen (FSF Jan/Feb 2011)

"Home Sweet Bi’Ome" by Patricia MacEwen is about a technician sent to fix a specially designed biome. The biome’s owner is suffering from hyperallergic syndrome. Every piece of her environment must be controlled.

Rather than make a clean house, in this story, the houses are grown from stem cells from the person who will be living there. A house built off of human DNA lends itself to numerous off color descriptions.

The ending though, was clever and humorous. While it wasn’t my favorite story in the January / February issue, it has turned out to be one of the most memorable.

Three stars

"Stock Photos" and "The Road Ahead" by Robert Reed FSF May/June 2011

"Stock Photos" and "The Road Ahead" are two related short stories from the May / June 2011 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. According to the introduction for "The Road Ahead," it was submitted when the staff at F&SF couldn’t figure out what "Stock Photos" was about. Maybe both should have been sent back for a rewrite.

"Stock Photos" begins with a guy mowing his lawn. It’s a pretty ordinary event. While he’s working, a man and woman approach and ask to take his photograph for their stock photograph collection. At first this request seems reasonable but as their requests get more and more odd the man begins to worry that something else is afoot.

The punchline though, is saved for “The Road Ahead.” To that I say, “Meh.” I normally love Reed’s stories but these two abstractions leave me scratching my head. Neither story is representative of Reed’s storytelling prowess.

Two stars

The Final Verse by Chet Williamson FSF May/June 2011

"The Final Verse" by Chet Williamson reads like the short story cousin of Impossible (/blog/2011/comments_10/impossible.html) by Nancy Werlin, in that both deal with the dangerous magic of folk music.

Here a pair of aging folk singers decide to track down the long rumored missing verse of a famous blue grass song. They follow the clues through the lyrics and through information left behind by others who have tried the same thing. Too clever for their own good, they of course find the source of the lyrics. With that comes a horrific danger.

As a fan of older blue grass songs I loved how Williamson blended together the history and business of the music industry with some Gothic horror.

Four stars

Bronsky’s Dates with Death by Peter David (FSF Jul/Aug 2011)

"Bronsky’s Dates with Death" by Peter David is about a man who is convinced he knows when he’s going to die. He spends so much of his time preparing for it that he drives his family, friends and even Death nuts in the process.

In fact, Death, has to intervene before Bronsky takes things too far. It’s a sentimental look at life, death and family.

Four stars.

Free Elections Alan Dean Foster FSF Nov/Dec 2010 

"Free Elections" by Alan Dean Foster marks the return of his mountain man character. The previous stories were published well before I started reading Fantasy and Science Fiction.

In this one the mountain man is in the Rockies and he wants something to drink. The problem, though, is the town water supply has been cut off by a monster squatter.

The solution to the problem is long and involved but rather funny. There’s witty dialog and some other silliness. It’s a quick read.

Five stars.

About It by Terry Bisson (Sept / Oct FSF


"About It" by Terry Bisson looks at the temptation to take your work home with you. In this case, the work is a laboratory constructed Sasquatch who isn’t quite up to the specs of the museum that first ordered the project.

The story unfolds in a lighthearted, off the cuff manner. The first person narrator is a chatty sort of fellow. His demeanor brings the reader right in.

There’s no time wasted on world building. He states his facts and gets on with his experiences of living with It.

It’s a quick read. Although it’s humorous, it does make one think once the story is finished.

Literomancer by Ken Liu (Sept/Oct 2010 FSF)

"Literomancer" by Ken Liu is one of my favorite stories published in the September / October issue of FSF. When looking for reviews of it, I’m surprised that there are no English reviews of it. It’s like it was completely overlooked by reviewers who posted about the issue as a whole.

A young girl from Texas is living with her family now in Taiwan. She feels out of place. Neither American nor Chinese. She’s somewhere in the middle. In her desire to find herself she meets a man who can tell fortunes through names and words.

As she doesn’t read Chinese, she asks about English words but through a gentle dialog he takes her English words and translates them. In doing so he teachers her about the power of words, her place in the world and the history of the Chinese written language.

As my children are currently enrolled in a Mandarin / English program I felt an extra connection to the story that perhaps other readers didn’t feel. The included language lessons were fascinating and jive with what my kids have told me.

Dead Man’s Run” by Robert Reed Nov/Dec 2010 

"Dead Man’s Run" by Robert Reed was first published in the November / December 2010 issue of FSF. It was later included in The Year’s Best Science Fiction for 2010.

The story’s basically a who done it with a science fiction twist. A group of friends regularly run together but one of them dies. Everyone assumes his death was an accident.

Except (and there’s always an except) the dead man was a hoarder — a hoarder of memories and communication. And all of it has been stored to his very own AI. That AI knows what really happened.

For cross country runners there’s lots of detail on the characters’ routes and routines. I’ve done some running in my past but here the details began to feel like filler.