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Author: Steven H Silver

Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Random Reviews: “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” by Jason Fischer

Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt
Dreaming Again, Cover by Darren Holt

Often when authors discuss their writing process, they refer to bringing two seemingly disparate ideas together to create a story. Jason Fischer clearly followed this idea in writing the incredibly titled “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh.”

The first story involves an undead man making his way through the Australian outback. As the story opens, the zombie finds itself hungry and surrounded by a herd of feral camels. He makes a snack out of one of the camels, allowing the wounded creature to continue on its way and infecting the rest of its herd.

The other story concerns Trevor Flannigan and Kevin “Swanny” Swanwick, two small time crooks who kill Buchanan, a local farm owner. Their story tells of their flight from the murder scene ahead of the police, as well as a look at Chief Inspector Wallis, who happens to be Buchanan’s brother-in-law and is trying to track them down and bring them to justice.

Behind both of these stories is the background of an Australia settled by the English, but invaded by the forces of Danish king Christian. Although the Danes don’t appear in Fischer’s story, their influence is felt throughout. After killing Buchanan and finding a safe full of krone with King Christian’s face on it, Trev realizes Buchanan was a spy. Trev and Swanny also discover that no matter how much money they got from their heist, they are unable to spend it as the flee, first to Pimba, and then on to Alice Springs, trying to get away from anyone chasing them.

Wallis is Fischer’s answer to Inspecter Javert, following the trail no matter where it leads, even as his realizes that the beaten-up car he is driving may not be able to return him and his quarry to civilization and justice. Even as Willis begins his chase after Trev and Swanny, he realizes that Buchanan was into something unsavory after finding a Danish krone amidst the crime scene. Nevertheless, his task is to bring Buchanan’s murderers to justice. There will be enough time to look into Buchanan’s crimes later.

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Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

Random Reviews: “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson
The Martians, Cover by Peter Elson

Back in the days of Usenet, I started to put together a bibliography of science fiction that were built around baseball. One of the stories on that list is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars.” Originally published in Robinson’s collection The Martians, a companion collection of short fiction to supplement his Mars trilogy that included Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Four months after “Arthur Sternback Brings the Curveball to Mars” was first published in the UK, it made its US debut in the August 1999 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, one month before the collection would be released in the U.S. by Bantam Spectra.

Since that time, the story has been reprinted in Robinson’s collections A Short, Sharp Shock, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, and Stan’s Kitchen and the anthologies Future Sports, The Hard SF Renaissance, New Skies, and Field of Fantasies (a collection of speculative fiction baseball stories). Demonstrating that interest in baseball is not limited to the US, the story has been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Romanian, in all but the last case as part of the original collection. The Romanian translation appeared in Sci-Fi Magazin.

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Random Reviews: “The Modern Cyrano” by Stephen Baxter

Random Reviews: “The Modern Cyrano” by Stephen Baxter

The Hunters of Pangaea, Cover by Richard Hescox
The Hunters of Pangaea, Cover by Richard Hescox

Not only did Stephen Baxter win the first Sidewise Award for Best Short Story and the second Sidewise Award for Best Novel, but he went on to serve on the Sidewise Award jury for several years, so he has very strong alternate history credentials. His short story “The Modern Cyrano” is subtle alternate history set during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Written as a series of entries in Queen Victoria’s journal during the period from September 1849 through May 1851, Baxter details the deaths of two of Prince Albert’s close friends and Victoria’s political allies. In the pages of her diary, Victoria plays amateur sleuth, noting down the details of their deaths as well as an accusation raised in both cases that the unexpected death of George Anson and the accidental death of Lord Palmerston were both caused by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was nearby around the time of both deaths.

In the 1850s of Baxter’s tale, Brunel, in addition to the massive engineering projects he was undertaking in our world, including the Great Exhibition, Brunel is also experimenting with a form of rocket. His push to move England forward has stuck in the craw of Charles Sibthorp, an ultraconservative member of Parliament who wanted England to remain the way it was in his youth in the 1700s. An antagonist to Prince Albert, Sibthorp views anything to support the Great Exhibition as an evil to be fought against.

The story’s arc is pretty straight forward from the moment the characters are introduced, but the enjoyment of the story comes from the combination of reading Victoria’s diary and seeing her putting the clues together and a nineteenth century Nancy Drew and the side notes that Baxter includes to provide the reader with the context needed to fully understand the characters and motivations. He has managed to incorporate his “data dumps” into the story in a realistic and entertaining way.

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Random Reviews: “The Food Farm” by Kit Reed

Random Reviews: “The Food Farm” by Kit Reed

Orbit 2, Edited by Damon Knight
Orbit 2, Edited by Damon Knight

Kit Reed’s “The Food Farm” first appeared in Damon Knight’s Orbit 2 in 1967. It has been reprinted in Judith Merril’s SF 12, Voyages: Scenarios for a Ship Called Earth, Fat, Women of Wonder, Alpha 6, The Science Fiction Weight-Loss Book, Weird Women, Wired Women, and The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, as well as being translated into German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese.

In this story, Reed offers up Nelly, a teenage girl who is obsessed with two things: the singer Tommy Fango and eating. While her parents do not have any problem with her musical tastes, they are concerned with her voracious appetite and do everything they can to control her caloric intake. Their concerns makes them take extreme steps to keep her from eating too much, including locking her in her room. Nothing they could do, including starving Nelly worked as Nelly would break out of her room in the middle of the night to find food, either in the refrigerator or outside the house if necessary.  Eventually, her parents sent her to the facility of the title, where food is not made available.

Seen through Nelly’s eyes, everything about the place is torture with the sole exception of her roommate, Ramona, who tries to help her get used to the idea of living on the massively reduced rations they are allowed. Ramona also has access to a recording of Tommy Fango, although the girls are only able to listen to it once a day. Although Ramona is able to come up with ways to make it through her days and tries to get Nelly to try her methods, Nelly refuses to give in, insisting in wallowing in the lack of food and focusing her energy on the matron who controlled her access to food.

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Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Random Reviews: “The Pilot and the Bushman” by Sylvia Jacobs

Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh
Galaxy, 8/51, Cover by Emsh

Sylvia Jacobs has a career in science fiction spanning eighteen years, from the publication of “A Stitch in Time” in the April 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and running through the April 1969 issue of Galaxy Magazine, when her story “Slave to Man” appeared. Her body of work, however, is not entirely reflective of that longevity, consisting of eight short stories and two essays, all except one of which were published within a decade of her first appearance.

Her second story, “The Pilot and the Bushman,” appeared in the August 1951 issue of Galaxy Magazine and would eventually be reprinted in Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction the following year. It belongs to the same category of science fiction as Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (originally published in Galaxy as Gravy Planet), using an advertising executive to look at consumerism and aliens, although Jacobs’ work has a very different feel than the more famous story.

Jacobs tells the tale of Jerry Jergens, a New York advertising executive, and the Ambassador from Outer Space.  Following an accidental statement by the Ambassador that aliens had a Matter Repositor which made trade and manufacturing unnecessary, Earth began to suffer from a buyer’s strike. The Ambassador admits that discussing the Repositor was a mistake, but he refuses to deny its existence and interstellar law forbids him from sharing the technology with humans. Jerry, however has an offer to help get the Ambassador out of the fix he’s in. In return for which, Jerry wants to be able to market Earth to aliens, a proposition that the Ambassador does not see as something that can be successful.

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Random Reviews: “Dead Men on TV” by Pat Murphy

Random Reviews: “Dead Men on TV” by Pat Murphy

Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy, Cover by Peter Stallard
Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy, Cover by Peter Stallard

Pat Murphy is best known for her 1986 Nebula Award winning novel The Falling Woman or her 1987 Nebula Award winning novelette “Rachel in Love.” The following year, she published the short story “Dead Men on TV” in the debut volume of Full Spectrum, edited by Lou Aronica and Shawna McCarthy.

The unnamed narrator of “Dead Men on TV” spends her nights watching old movies on television, specifically films in which her late father appeared. Through the story, she reveals that her family life had not been great. Her mother was not prepared for the lifestyle that being married to a Hollywood actor entailed and committed suicide when the narrator was young. Her father, who had ignored her mother before she killed herself, shifted his efforts to ignoring his daughter after he was widowed, focusing on his career and living the lifestyle of a star.

Watching television, therefore, is her way of attempting to reconnect with her father’s memory and build an ersatz relationship with him. Her need, however, to watch his films when they are on, no matter the time of day, is clearly unhealthy. Although she has videotaped many of his movies, she feels closer to him when watching them at a time that other people could be watching them as well, leading to many late nights in front of the screen.

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Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Random Reviews: “The Passing of the Beacon Star” by Chuck Rothman

Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka
Tomorrow, 4/94, Cover by Jacek Yerka

Chuck Rothman’s story “The Passing of the Beacon Star” appeared in the eighth issue of Tomorrow Speculative Fiction in April of 1994.  Although it has a strong fantasy feel, the story is a science fiction tale, set on another planet in which the human settlers carry around insect-like jerritch on their shoulders.

The jerritch act as retainers of the human’s memories, so individuals have no long term memory. If they need to access details of something that has happened in the past, whether to them or to the world at large, their jerritch plugs its antenna into a port on the human’s neck and allows the person to access the memories they need. This allows each individual to essentially live a variety of lives without reference to their earlier existence and in the process they take on new names and identities.

The story is set in the city of Amak during a festival known as “Choosing Day.” On this date, the citizens of Amak not only choose their new identities, but also choose which House of Guidance, essentially a sect, will guide the city for the next year.

Rothman focuses on a woman who is using the name “Weaver of Colors.”  Wandering through the crowded city aimlessly, she connects with her jerritch looking for a place to get away from the crowds. The jerritch leads her to the Cult of the Beacon Star, which is the current Guiding House for Amak. Unlikely to be selected again, the house is empty except for one of its Holies, the priest who oversees the sanctuary.  Weaver and the priest learn, through their jerritches, that they were once lovers, and although their recollections are limited, they reconnect with each other until the votes are cast and the Cult of the Beacon Star is not longer the guiding light, at which time, Weaver learns more about herself from her jerritch.

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Random Reviews: “Slaves of the Magic Lamp” by Anthony R. Lewis

Random Reviews: “Slaves of the Magic Lamp” by Anthony R. Lewis

Aladdin: Master of the Lamp, DAW 1992, Cover by Maren
Aladdin: Master of the Lamp, DAW 1992, Cover by Maren

In November 1992, Disney released the animated film Aladdin, with Scott Weinger providing the title character’s voice, Linda Larkin portraying his love, Jasmine, and the late and lamented Robin Williams voicing the Genie. About the same time, Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg edited an original anthology designed to take advantage of Disney’s new film. DAW Books published Aladdin: Master of the Lamp in December 1992, containing more than forty original stories by authors ranging from Janet Kagan and George Alex Effinger to Kate Daniel and Mark Aronson.

Atypical of most original anthologies, Aladdin: Master of the Lamp contains two stories each by Jack C. Haldeman II, Anthony R. Lewis, and Barry N. Malzberg. Lewis, who is best known as the Chair of twenty-ninth Worldcon, Noreascon, in 1970, and for the work he has done with NESFA Press, has also written several short stories, including “Fair Exchange,” which opens Resnick’s anthology, and “Slaves of the Magic Lamp,” which appears about half-way through.

Lewis elects to structure his story as a tale within a tale, although it isn’t clear that such a conceit is necessary, aside from playing homage to the version of the Aladdin story told in One Thousand and One Nights. In this case, the narrator is Lady Vashti, a cat/shapeshifter who exists outside the bounds of the physical world.

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Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Random Reviews: “S.P.S.” by Edo van Belkom

Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope
Tails of Wonder, Spring 1993, Cover by Calliope

Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process.  What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.

One of the magazines in my collection is the first issue of Tails of Wonder, dated Spring 1993 and edited by Nicolas Samuels. According to a card tucked into the issue, the magazine was previously called (or meant to be called Sharp Tooth), but a name change occurred prior to publication. The magazine does not seem to have any existence on the internet that was just beginning to appear when it was released and most of the authors who appeared in its pages do not seem to have gone on to publish anything else. I have not been able to tell if there was ever a Tails of Wonder issue #2.

Among the authors who did continue to publish after their appearance in Tails of Wonder was Edo van Belkom, who had already been publishing fiction for three years, under both his own name and the pseudonym Evan Hollander. His contribution to Tails of Wonder is the short story “S.P.S.”  He would reprint the story in his 1998 collection Death Drives a Semi.

By 1993, the idea of virtual reality was mainstream enough that the next year the television show Mad About You included an episode in which one of the main characters decided to invest in a virtual reality device.  In van Belkom’s story, “S.P.S.” stands for “sensory perception simulators” and are beginning to be marketed to the general public.  The story is told from the point of view of the woman whose husband, Marty, has decided to buy one of the units.

Right from the beginning of the story, with the opening line, “My husband died during childbirth,” the reader knows this story isn’t going to have a particularly happy ending.  However in the slightly over two pages the story runs, van Belkom manages to accomplish a great deal with both technological extrapolation and character.

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Random Reviews: “Rocketship Red” by Michael R. Colangelo

Random Reviews: “Rocketship Red” by Michael R. Colangelo

Tesseracts 14, Edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, Cover by Erik Mohr
Tesseracts 14, Edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, Cover by Erik Mohr

Michael R. Colangelo’s “Rocketship Red” was published in the fourteenth installment of the long-running Canadian anthology series Tesseracts, a volume edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory in 2010.  In addition to writing short fiction, Colangelo has served as a reviewer for FearZone and the fiction editor for The Harrow, an on-line zine that ran from 1998 until 2009.

“Rocketship Red” feels a bit like a throwback piece, the sort of story aimed at juveniles in the 1950s, which gives it an almost instantaneous feeling of nostalgia. It opens with Eagan running through the Canadian wheatfields near his father’s soy farm, flying a bright red kite and pretending the kite is a rocket and he’s its intrepid pilot. Although Eagan hated working the soy farm, he knew it would be his life, however a visit from two American air force captains who were coming to buy soy, would change the trajectory of his life.

Eagan’s interest in rockets and space, however, causes him to forge a bond with Captain Sampson, who tells Eagan to reach out to him when he turns seventeen and is able to attend “rocket flying school,” a phrase that reinforces the nostalgic element of the story. The rest of the story briefly outlines Eagan’s conflict with his father over leaving the soy farm, his attendance at the Flight Academy, and his career as a pilot, all covered in less than three pages.

If that seems like a lot to fit into a few short pages, it is. In many ways Colangelo’s story feels more like an outline for a longer story, or even a novel, that could follow Eagan’s journey from soy farmer’s son to cadet at the academy to his career flying rockets for the air force with explorations of Sampson’s mentorship of him.  Furthermore, Colangelo introduces various throw-away concepts in the story, such as antimatter farming projects, dark zones in space, and the rift.  None of these are given any detail, but they do serve to provide broad strokes for Eagan’s career.

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