, August 2011 by Thomas Hardman

Tor’s offerings for August include three pieces, one long and two short, which lean more towards science fiction rather than fantasy. The fourth, excerpted from a collection, is purely fantastic.

“Journey Into the Kingdom” is from M. Rickert’s collection “Holiday”, and is in the form of a nested tales. A young man attending an exhibition of paintings reads, within a black binder labeled “Artist’s Statement” a work titled “An Imitation Life”, a story written as the recollections of a young woman who grew up at a light-house on a desolate island, who encounters magic in the form of her drowned father’s ghost, who frequently visits his widow and daughter, occasionally bringing friends, some of whom have their own tales to tell. The young man reading this is intrigued by both the work and the artist, and tries to forge a relationship with her, for all of the wrong reasons. But are they so wrong? Within the story, the young man finds it a little difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, between imagination and fact, and with that sort of deftly-crafted ambiguity and potential for multiple interpretations by all of the characters as well as the reader, this is much like the sort of psychological thriller that keeps people guessing up until the last plot twist. Yet this isn’t so much a thriller, nor could you really call it horror. It’s more like one of those sad romantic tragedies in which although everyone dies, nonetheless the love is real and beautiful.

Desmond Warzell offers “Wikihistory”, a humorous take on time travel and the people who paradoctor paradoxes. Written as a tongue-in-cheek series of e-mail exchanges, this deals with newcomers to time-traveling of the sort who decide to go back in time and kill Hitler, and the sort of administrators who are grumpy and tired of having to go back and fix other peoples’ mistakes.

“A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel”, by Yoon Ha Lee, provides fascinating vignettes of a few alien star-faring cultures, in which the underlying nature of their culture is briefly examined in the context of their stardrives. Perhaps most interesting is the culture of the unnamed civilization which invented a variation on stardrive which is 100-percent lethal to all life aboard the ships so equipped, though not at all affecting the non-living ship or cargo. Although they possess safe stardrive of their own, they continue to tout their lethal drive as being what it is, and continue to allow volunteers to test whether or not it remains 100 percent effective. This is a very well-written short piece providing odd insights about hypothetical aliens. What insights it might give us about ourselves is left as an exercise for the reader.

Robert Reed gives us “Swingers”, on the subject of aliens who arrive as small information archives, grow human bodies to inhabit while they visit, and then descend to earth to offer advanced gifts of knowledge and technology… if the earth people will Join with them. In orgies.

Mr Reed does an excellent job of conveying the realities of a modern courtship and marriage in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. A neighbor couple become good friends, and seem destined to be more than just friends. Yet what has appeared to the young couple to be merely a flirtation from a swinger couple becomes something more deep and curious as the flirtation is accepted and embraced. At dinner one night, the truth comes out: there are aliens present, negotiating with the Administration, and the neighbor couple is deeply associated to the wheels of government and diplomacy. And an alien diplomat has somehow become enamored with the woman of the young couple, and wants to Join, though for a Joining a minimum of four humans is required. Will she be willing? And what might she be willing to do? Earth’s fate may hang in the balance, but perhaps, so does the fate of her marriage.


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