A review that originally appeared in The Fix #5:-
Edited by Patrick Swenson
Editors Patrick and Honna Swenson have just had a child and, perhaps understandably, much is made of this in the issue, including the full colour cover by Keith Boulger. Other artists include Fiona McAuliffe, David Grilla and Tom Simonton, while there are poems by G. O. Clark and Joel Lane, plus all the usual features, including a generous number of reviews and Ed Bryant’s ‘Mathoms etc’ column, all of the high quality we’ve come to expect from this well established magazine. The non-fiction highlight though is a lengthy and rewarding interview with Harry Turtledove. A previous reviewer noted that Talebones fiction had got a little thin on the ground. Well this time around the storytellers are fighting back, with some 60% of the magazine occupied territory, though possibly the balance needs a little more tinkering with.
‘Right to Life’ by William Barton is the first of eight stories, giving us a society where people are executed for the least transgression, a milieu that is compellingly realised before delivering the cliched moral that even in such a society the rich can still get off the hook. Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s ‘Summer Camp Blues’ introduces a deft note of humour, with a young girl’s hell at summer camp made bearable by the intervention of a friendly ghost, an unashamedly lightweight piece that just about manages to overcome the banality of its material with a cheerful delivery. ‘Its Hour Come Round’ by James Van Pelt is the best story here, a powerful depiction of future penal reform, giving us a system in which everyone can be ‘cured’ no matter what their crime. Van Pelt refuses to compromise or make things easy for the reader in his use as protagonist of a paedophile and child killer seeking redemption through helping another prison inmate. The result is a story that really gets under the skin, disturbing and moving in equal measure. The slight but portentously titled ‘Roofs and Forgiveness in the Early Dawn’ by James Sallis has a few survivors of humanity hiding out from giant killer insects, but is more in the nature of dystopian snapshot than story, while ‘The Goblin Pornographer’ by Alexandra Arruin comes up with an excellent premise, that of incorporating gritty urban motifs into magical settings, but this tale of shapeshifters seeking a talisman of power, even when it requires their involvement in the porn industry, seems rather too coy for its own good and slightly envious of the very thing it’s trying to send up. Humour again in Kenneth Brady’s ‘Clothes Make the Man’, the tale of a less than scrupulous lawyer who gets his cannibal client off the hook with the aid of his semi-sentient Armorani suit (they come complete with grenade launchers), a nicely done satire on the adversary aspects of our legal system, taking in such modern trends as designer labels and reality TV. The brief but chilling diabolical foetus variant, ‘Build Me’ by Ilsa J. Bick, brings a technological twist to a familiar story, with the war of attrition between a mother and the genetically enhanced child she is carrying. Lastly there’s ‘The Quiet’ by Jack Slay, Jr., in which an English academic studies cosmology in an attempt to make some sort of sense out of things, not least the failure of himself and his wife to conceive a child. A subtle story, beautifully written and characterised, rich in incidental detail, it is a fitting note on which to bring down the curtain.