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Author: Steven H Silver

Random Reviews: “Roses,” by Deborah Burros

Random Reviews: “Roses,” by Deborah Burros

Cover by Ron Walotsky
Cover by Ron Walotsky

Deborah Burros had a relatively short writing career, publishing a total of five stories between her debut in 1991 with “Masks” and her most recent story, “Artistic License,” which appeared in 2002. Three of her stories appeared in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, while the other two appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. Her middle tale, “Roses,” appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of the magazine.

Burros tells the story of the marriage between Lady Rose and Lord Sleet. It is not a happy marriage, for neither of them loved the other and it was understood by both that Lord Sleet had married Lady Rose for her family’s money and Lady Rose had married Lord Sleet in order to gain a veneer of respectability for a family whose money was apparently made under unsavory conditions. The couple seemed to have come to an arrangements, however, wherein Lady Rose would spend her time cultivating a rose garden and Lord Sleet would spend his time in dalliance with his mistress, Jade.

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Random Reviews: “The Great Hunt,” by Elaine Cunningham

Random Reviews: “The Great Hunt,” by Elaine Cunningham

Cover by Michael Suffin
Cover by Michael Suffin

Elaine Cunningham’s “The Great Hunt” appeared in the April 1998 issue of Dragon, which ran one fantasy story in each issue of widely varying quality. The best of them were original tales, but many of them were clearly fictionalizations of the author’s role playing game. “The Great Hunt” falls between these two extremes, but it is clearly a story based on Dungeons and Dragons with its cast of Orcs, Half-Orcs, Elves, and humans. Set in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, the tight connection to source material is to be expected.

The story focuses on Drom, Grimlish, and Badger, an Half-Orc, Orc, and human, respectively. They have been part of a raiding party known as the Talons of Malar. In addition to their devotion to the god, Drom and Grimlish maintained an affinity for wolves, an older form of their worship. The story begins the day after the Talons attacked an Elven camp.  The party has now split into smaller groups to track the few survivors through the woods.

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Random Reviews: “Pollen and Salt,” by Octavia Cade

Random Reviews: “Pollen and Salt,” by Octavia Cade

Cover by Eldar Zakirov
Cover by Eldar Zakirov

The stories in the database I’m using to determine what to review span a period of several hundred years. So far, the earliest the dice have selected is 1928’s “The Yeast Men,” by David H Keller, which came up on January 20.  While it isn’t inevitable that the dice would select a current story, it is quite possible and has happened. At the time I’m writing this review of Octavia Cade’s “Pollen and Salt,” the July/August 2022 issue of Asimov’s is the most recent issue of that magazine to have been published.

“Pollen and Salt” is the musings of a palynologist who is studying salt flats in a world much further along its route toward global warming than our own currently is. Waters are receding, which is indicative of the world’s move toward climate catastrophe, but at the same time opens up new and unique opportunities for study as once water covered areas are exposed.

Even as she explores the mysteries of the world and waxing nostalgic about everything that climate change has killed off, she is also dealing with the death of her partner and spouse, to whom “Pollen and Salt” is a running commentary as she tries to make sense of the world she is finding.

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Random Reviews: “The Hades Business,” by Terry Pratchett

Random Reviews: “The Hades Business,” by Terry Pratchett

Cover by Gerard Quinn
Cover by Gerard Quinn

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I role several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 14,780 which turned out to be Terry Pratchett’s short story “The Hades Business.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a person point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

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Random Reviews: “Blink” by Thomas Seay

Random Reviews: “Blink” by Thomas Seay

Cover by Donato Giancola
Cover by Donato Giancola

One of the great mysteries of life, or rather death, is what happens after we die. It has proven a constant fodder for authors to explore in short stories and novels. Often this exploration takes the form of some aspect of mundane life in order to provide a relatable experience to something that is completely unknowable.

In Thomas Seay’s “Blink,” which appeared in the April 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy, the afterlife is a trainride through a dreamlike nightmare populated by various aspects of a person’s younger life. In this case, Gary finds himself aboard the train, wanting only to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Instead, he finds the clique he belonged to in college, who clearly viewed him as more of a hanger-on than a member of their group.

Gary’s ride includes brief encounters with a shape changing being who may well be God, who provides cryptic answers to Gary’s questions, but at the same time appears to be helping him to acclimatize to his afterlife.

While there are some versions of the afterlife which are appealing and others which are not, Seay’s afterlife seems like an unpleasant purgatory: an interminable train ride in which the illusions Gary built up to help him cope with the reality of life are carefully stripped away. Even as the truth is revealed to him, Gary retreats into a different fantasy world, denying the occurrence of his death and focusing on seeing his wife and daughter again.

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Random Reviews: “Twelve-Steppe Program,” by Esther Friesner

Random Reviews: “Twelve-Steppe Program,” by Esther Friesner

Cover by Tristan Elwell
Cover by Tristan Elwell

Last week’s story, “The Birth of A.I.” was a humorous short story which led up to a single punchline. This week’s story, Esther Friesner’s “Twelve-Steppe Program” is a longer humorous short story that rather than serve as the delivery system for a joke, focuses on the situations Friesner establishes to find its humor rather than punchlines.

The eunuch Nir Mung-Mung has been ordered to travel to the Garikkh horde to retrieve Princess Anuk’ti so she can become the bride of Prince Floats-like-dandelion-fluff-upon-the-scented-waters. Unfortunately for Nir Mung-Mung, he is entirely aware of the political machinations of the Chief Eunuch who is less interested in establishing a marriage between Prince Fluffy and Princess Anuk’ti and more concerned with holding onto his role as Chief Eunuch and making sure that any of his rivals, of whom he includes Nir Mung-Mung, are removed from contention to replace him.

For her part, Princess Anuk’ti is not the demure bride that Nir Mung-Mung was expecting to escort. Among her first interactions with him was an attempt to seduce him, not recognizing that he was a eunuch. In any event, Anuk’ti has her own agenda and once Nir Mung-Mung and Anuk’ti begin listening to each other, they come up with the beginnings of a plan to ensure both of their survivals in a court that is designed to be inhospitable to them.

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Random Reviews: “The Birth of A.I.,” by Cynthia Ward

Random Reviews: “The Birth of A.I.,” by Cynthia Ward

XOddity, May 1998
XOddity, May 1998

Sometimes the roll of the dice produces a story that isn’t really all that easy to discuss. This week’s story, “The Birth of A.I,” is a (very) short humorous story about the birth of artificial intelligence by Cynthia Ward. The story originally appeared in the third issue of Xoddity in 1998.

Ward’s story is quite short, taking up about a page, and it mostly a set up for a punch line, although it doesn’t quite qualify as a shaggy dog story. The story also suffers from the fact that, written in 1998, computing power and the advance of artificial intelligence evolved in a very different manner than the enormous mainframes Ward discusses in her story.

The scientists in Ward’s story have been attempting to create a machine that can pass the Turing test, although the story doesn’t present it in those terms. Essentially they want to make a computer that has the same level of intelligence and sentience as a human being. When the story opens, they are on the verge of succeeding and Dr. Maria Denhurst is pondering what the artificial intelligence will be like and how it will react.

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Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Random Reviews: “The Box” by Bruce Coville

Cover by David Palladini
Cover by David Palladini

Because I’ve been asked about the process by which I’ve been selecting stories for the Random Review series, I thought I’d take a moment to explain how the stories are selected.

I have a database of approximately 42,000 short stories that I own sorted by story title. When it comes time for me to select a story to review as part of this series, I roll several dice (mostly ten sided) to determine which story should be read. I cross reference the numbers that come up on the die with the database to see what story I’ll be reviewing.  This week, I rolled 4,023 which turned out to be Bruce Coville’s short story “The Box.”

One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this series, from a personal point of view, is to discover authors and short stories that I’ve owned and have never read. Of course, I’m also hoping to share those discoveries, good or bad, with the readers of Black Gate.

“The Box” refers to a gift an angel has given to Michael when he was a young boy. The box wasn’t a gift, but rather a duty, for Michael was told to take good care of the box until the angel returned to retrieve it. Holding onto the box shaped his life from the time he received it through school, dating, work, and into old age.

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Random Review: “A Conglomeration of Bees” by Kiel Stuart

Random Review: “A Conglomeration of Bees” by Kiel Stuart

Beyond the Last Star
Beyond the Last Star

Beyond the Last Star was the fifth and final anthology put together on SFF.net, a one-time website that served not only as the webhost to numerous science fiction authors from 1996 until 2017. In addition to webhosting, SFF.net also ran a bulletin board analogous to USENET or the GEnie boards out of which it grew.  The community that existed at SFF.net not only put out a series of anthologies, but also compiled and submitted the infamous Atlanta Nights, as written by Travis Tea, as a sting operation after PublishAmerica stated that “the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction.”

Kiel Stuart’s story for the final SFF.net anthology, “A Conglomeration of Bees” has a wonderfully nostalgic feel to it, a story that inhabits the same world as Ray Bradbury’s tales of growing up in “Green Town.” The story is set in a small town that could be anywhere in the United States although Stuart defines it as Sag Harbor, Long Island.

The focus is on Kate Demarest, who sold various random items off the front porch of her house.  Her day started out normally, including a visit to an antiques shop, when she heard rumors or a swarm of bees moving through town in the shape of a man, apparently walking around and emulating tipping its hat. Although Kate hopes to see the bee-man, with a sense of trepidation, she also has her own business to run, no matter how slow it is.

When dealing with a regular customer, Mrs. Sedgwick, who is sure that Kate is hiding the items she is interested in, Kate’s day is enlivened by the appearance of a mandrill, who enters store on Kate’s porch and begins to rummage through the miscellany she is selling. While Mrs. Sedgwick is disturbed by the creature, Kate treats it as any other customer, knowing that there is a bonus in that the mandrill with cause Mrs. Sedgwick to leave.

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Random Review: “Reborn” by Ken Liu

Random Review: “Reborn” by Ken Liu

Cover by Richard Anderson
Cover by Richard Anderson

In 2014, David G. Hartwell, at Tor Books, edited to second anthology of stories which were based on a specific painting. He provided a piece of art created by Richard Anderson to multiple authors and asked them to write stories inspired by the art. The first of the three novelettes to appear in The Anderson Project is Ken Liu’s “Reborn.”

The world of “Reborn” is one in which humans are living in an uneasy relationship with the alien Tawnin. The story opens with the arrival of a Tawnin ship, returning some of the Reborn, humans who have been altered by the Tawnin, back to Earth.  A crowd has gathered for the event and Josh Rennon, a policeman working with the Tawnin, as well as one of the Reborn, is on the scene to see if he can spot anyone who is less than happy with the Tawnin’s residence on Earth.  When a bomb explodes, he is able to apprehend someone who appears to be connected with it.

Although the story begins to take on the tone of a police procedural, Liu is interested in following up on several different threads.  Rennon is in a relationship with Kai, one of the Tawnin, and Liu explores what their relationship means, from a physical as well as an emotional and intellectual point of view. In some ways, both Kai and Rennon are new.  As a Reborn, some of Rennon’s memories have been excised from him while the Tawnin take the view that just as their cells are completely replaced every few years, so too are their memories, and so a Tawnin today is a completely different individual than the person thie was a decade earlier.

The procedural potion of the story also continues and Rennon begins to discover that his suspect appears to be part of a larger conspiracy.  As Rennon tracks down the threads that appear during his interrogation of the suspect, he comes across the mysterious Walker Lincoln, who appears to be the key to this particular terrorist cell, even if there doesn’t seem to be a record of Lincoln.  Nevertheless, Rennon insists on following up on any leads, which makes his colleague Claire, as well as Kai, concerned about where the investigation is taking him.

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