20 December 2010 ~ 5 Comments

Review: Andromeda Spaceways #48

written by David Steffen

As I mentioned in my review of ASIM #47 last month, I enjoyed that first issue enough that I decided it was well worth my money to get a subscription. Well, my family’s money anyway. I was having trouble thinking of items for my Christmas list, and put a digital subscription to ASIM on there. So I got to celebrate Christmas a bit early.

One thing that I was very interested to see was whether or not the quality of the magazine would feel consistent from issue to issue. ASIM, you see, has a rotating set of editors who each take turns in the captain’s chair. #47 was edited by Patty Jansen. #48 featured Juliet Bathory. I’m quite happy to say that the quality between the two was consistently high. I very much enjoyed most of the stories–a much higher portion than I enjoy in a typical magazine. Not only that, but there are just so many stories–plenty of meat here to keep you entertained.

Now, on to the stories!

A Bag Full of Arrows by Mark Farrugia

This story focuses on a dragon-hunter’s wife and son. It’s an odd sort of dragon, who generally only eats those already dead. When the story begins the dragon-hunter has gathered a group of men to attack the dragon, but this is not his tale. This is the tale of the family he left behind, dealing with the aftermath of the attack.

Well titled, well written. A bit distant at times, and is a good complex character in a good complex problem. I really cared about what happened to the characters. She faces a difficult choice that defines the story, and which I found very interesting and well conveyed by the writing.

To Stand and Stare by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy–Venu is a professional slacker, avoiding getting a job however he can. He comes up with an ingenius idea to make a fake cell phone, which he uses to pretend that he is busy working, so that people will stop pressuring him to find a job. The trick works remarkably well… until the day his fake phone rings.

I loved the idea of this story, and though I’m not sure I really relate to his unyielding desire to do nothing at all, I still found him very likable. It kept me very interesting through these beginning stages, but later on it seemed to lose momentum and just tied everything up with a too-neat ending. I’d still recommend it for the first half.

The Number Made Flesh by Ross Murray–A tale of Death and his daughter, his heir. Death is fascinated with modern desensitization to death caused by media saturation, and the meanings attached to otherwise unimportant things like the number 13.

This was an interesting idea, and I usually like a good anthropomorphic personification, and I like see different interpretations of Death as a character. But I just found this one impossible to get into. It was very hard to get a handle on the setting and time period that the story occurs in, and it wasn’t until nearly the end when I was finally certain that this was Death. Rather than enhancing my enjoyment, this mystery just distracted me from other aspects of the story I might have enjoyed. Although I think the metaphor of Death watching death-saturated media and commenting on its affect on people, in the story it ends up being mostly about a guy watching TV.

Hobbit Query Letter by Peter Cooper. A hypothetical rejection letter that young writer upstart Mr. Tolkien might have received for his little-known manuscript Lord of the Rings.

Besides just being funny on the surface, it also makes an interesting commentary about yardsticks of equality shifting over time, and how one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. As a writer I found this quite hilarious, and at least a little bit reassuring. As with other writers I’ve received many a rejection that blames this or that aspect of a story as though those qualities are universally undesirable by all editors, when in reality they just reflect a particular editor’s world view. I’m not sure how well this one will translate to someone without writing aspirations, but as a writer I found it quite entertaining.

Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed by Marty Young. Joey Blue lives on the streets, and every night lives in fear of the nasty and powerful creatures called the Gutterbreed that lurk in the shadows of night. Normally he would try to drink himself into a stupor to avoid the Gutterbreed, but on this particular night he finds a young girl, lost and alone and not in the best of health. To save her he must face his fears and avoid the temptations of alcohol and pass through the alleys where the Gutterbreed gather the thickest.

Throughout this story I was constantly trying to decide whether or not the Gutterbreed actually existed. In the end I decided it doesn’t really matter, especially once the stakes are raised with the introduction of the little girl. The Gutterbreed are clearly very real to Joey’s mind, and therefore they become a very real obstacle to saving the girl’s life, whether they are entities that exist outside of his fogged mind or not.

I wasn’t sure what I thought in the first half of the story, partially because I was trying to decide how much of it was real. In the end, this turned out to be my favorite story in this issue of ASIM. I liked Joey Blue. I wanted him to save the girl. And from his point of view the Gutterbreed were a terrifying and very real threat. All of this came together for a really great tale.

Halcyon by A. Dale Triplett The end of the world is nigh! Scientists have spotted an asteroid on a collision course with earth, and we only have four days to live. As if that’s not bad enough, global war breaks out in these final days. A last ditch effort is put together, a space mission to save the remnants of humanity. Most of the story takes place as the crew of this last ditch effort is visiting a bar for the very last time.

This story is just unrelentlessly depressing. I’m not saying it’s unrealistic but it is bleak as bleak can be about the nature of humanity, but is bleak without offering me any new insight to human nature or offering me any characters that I could at least root for. Among other things, the people who have been chosen to try to continue the species are spending their last day drinking heavily when they know darn well that they might need to emergency launch at any time if someone launches missiles at them. As if this story wasn’t bad enough, the last vestiges of humanity are at the mercy of drunk drivers.

The Whim of My Enemy by Amanda J. Spedding–An all out battle for survival on a train. It started with dozens, but the order has come that when the train stops, only 10 can be allowed to live.

Very action packed, non-stop happening, obviously lots of death. Shows in a very compact way how different personalities might react under extreme pressure. It kept me very interested to the end, and the author used the anticipation implicit in the setup very well. Very well done.

Radioactive Gumshoe Blues by Jamie Shanks–a 1920’s private detective story, with aliens! Benson Sterenko has taken over his brother’s P.I. business a few months after his brother’s disappearance. Benson’s sworn to find out what happened to his brother. One day, an FBI comes in, and starts talking about Sterenko’s brother, and an invasion of shapeshifting aliens, and it goes on from there.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, but I found it too slow and too exaggerated at the same time. I found the “goon” manner of speech distracting, especially constant verb number mismatches, and mispronounced words like “districk”, “crockydile”, and “precautionarial” that did nothing to enhance the story. They just set off copyediting alarms in my brain every few sentences (I know they were intentional, but without an actual purpose they were just a distraction to me). Also, I was put off by constant overblown self-descriptionsuch as “I was coiling my considerable muscles under me to spring at him like a Bengalese tiger”.

Ash by C.S. Cole A wartorn future where everyone takes a vaccine to help them breathe ash that is ever-present in the atmosphere, the ash of the enemy. Those who choose not to breathe ash are criminals and deviants.

Very interesting idea, very interesting setting, but I didn’t really feel like it was a full story.

Free Falling by Mark Welker–A future where pop media saturation has reached new lows, where suicides are covered extensively and from every angle, with up to the millisecond coverage and live footage. This is the tale of one such suicide.

Well told, very cool idea. The perfect length.

Holding by Melanie Rees–God calling tech support, trying to get a new atmosphere for the earth because this one is defective.

Very funny. Anyone who’s had to deal with phone tech supports will empathize, and the escalation to atmosphere replacement was a fun idea.

High Bidder by David C. Pinnt–South Dakota resident buys what someone claims to be the holy grail in an online auction site. It turns out that drinking from it turns people into zombies.

I spent the first 22 years of my life in South Dakota, and this story did not ring true in the slightest. It struck me as someone who has only barely heard of the state:
-The characters ALL talk with a stereotypical “back woods southern” kind of accent that I’ve never heard in SD before.
-The story takes place in relatively modern day, because there is a Brokeback Mountain joke. Yet everyone is still using party lines , the old fashioned phone setup where a whole neighborhood shares one common line, which have not been common for decades.
-Not only that, but he has internet access, which makes no sense to mix with a location that has party lines.
-A rural South Dakotan who has ever handled a gun is going to be pretty familiar with general gun terms, but this story constantly mixed up the details. A single gun switches characteristics from a rifle to a shotgun and back again. The ammunition is referred to as shells in the same sentence that it is referred to as a rifle. It sometimes makes a small hole like a rifle, and sometimes a big blast like a shotgun. The writer really ought to have checked his gun details to get them straight, and someone else should’ve double-checked it.

Beyond all the South Dakota and gun inaccuracies, the story was an unremarkable zombie story. The only thing that really struck me as original is that the holy grail is the thing that spawns zombies, for no apparent reason. The story might’ve been fair-to-middlin’ if not for the inaccurate portrayal of South Dakota and the complete botch of gun details.

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