Tangent Reviews

Interzone 130, April 1998

from Tangent online

Religion, the belief in invisible groups of omnipotent beings secretly ruling their lives, also gives people simple rules to let them cope with a confusing and irrational world. But isn't that also the working definition of a conspiracy theory? Hmm, if religion is the opiate of the people, does that make conspiracy theories the Valium of the people?

These musings are the direct result of "The Travel Agent," in which Nicholas Waller invents a conspiracy theory of such seductive explanatory power that it makes the truth a pale and fragile thing by comparison. Those of you who worry about the trade deficit must realize that tourism to other countries is a major source of dollars flowing out of a country. Could you prove that the government isn't financing a giant disinformation campaign about earthquakes, crime, terrorism, high prices, diseases and the million other ills that make American travel look so much the better? Try as he might, though, Waller can't turn this idea into a story, and he loses all credibility by expecting us to believe that all the world's antiquities are fakes thrown up to lure tourist dollars anyway. On balance, a first published story that shows a deliciously convoluted brain at work.

Speaking of brains, Brian Stableford sets forth a complicated parable in "The Piebald Plumber of Haemlin," involving humanity as a shared brain on the moon, Earth given over to biosophisticated talking pigs, and the age-old problem of rats spoiling paradise. A little too complicated, for it soon becomes all exposition and philosophy. It simply fails to come alive at any point.

Alexander Glass also has his first published piece in this issue, and he can't turn it into a story either. It manifestly is the toughest thing for a young writer to master and many older ones have never really learned it well. "Carla's Eye" is a vignette, and a good one, told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence employed as a replacement eye for a young woman. Glass deftly uses the eye as a metaphor for seeing and understanding. We know what we see; we still have to think about it later to make it make sense.

One of the better stories in the issue is an almost straight mystery, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff's "Silver Lining." Its essence is a simple wish-fulfillment fantasy, in which a cop, so sickened by the everyday violence he is forced to cope with, wishes that none of it would happen on his beat. What works so well in the story is that Bohnhoff then asks the fascinating question, What becomes of a cop who never arrests anyone?

I guess every writer of a certain age has a story inside him about a favorite band and that great lost rock album that only got issued in a world that should have been. For Stephen Baxter, the group is the Beatles, and "The Twelfth Album" (counting British versions only, of course) is the one that should have come after Abbey Road. A trifle, as it has to be, but well done.

Mary Turzillo. "Arms and the Man." Squid love. As delectable as you think it is.

"Dryads" is yet another story that fails to jell, and Sylvia M. Siddall can't even claim beginner's status. Siddall needs far more room than two pages of almost pure exposition to convey whatever point she wanted to make about her world of bioconstructed plants going to war to save the humans who live in them.

So dense that each sentence needs to be read twice, so postmodern arch that it comments on itself almost as often as it tweaks the conventions of others, so convoluted that almost certainly it would have read even better at any other length, Dominic Green's"Queen of the Hill" deserves all the superlatives I can heap on it, not all of them as complimentary as I could wish. But that's the trouble with true sense-of-wonder science fiction; it tends to attack you on so many fronts that no one writer can keep them all under control. Green's future Earth won the war against the hive-like Extraterrestrials but is losing the battle after they've established colonies here, although given the state of his Los Angeles it's not clear that the world would be much the better under any circumstances. Let Green's hyper Unconventionally Attractive if sometimes Dysfunctional prose attack you like a Home Defence Guided Missile As Seen on TV. He tells a story, and that's worth a lot.

Copyright 1998 by Steve Carper

Back to the top of the review

Back to Science Fiction and Me
Back to Home Page