F&SF May / June 2011

Before starting this review I did try and think of a jokey way of saying that I’ve come across another Ken Liu story that I love.  But everything I wrote either sounded like I was stalking him or I wanted to have his babies.  Or both.

But the thing is that Ken Liu – someone I’ve never met but whose apparently on twitter and has a blog – has gone and done it again, this time with his story, Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, in the May / June 2011 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Now I don’t normally enjoy singularity stories.  I have this prejudiced view that because they’re all about emergent superintelligences and post humanity it’s not the sort of material that I’m going to be able to engage with on an emotional level.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Lui’s writing is that he’s not afraid to get emotional with his work.  In particular, he’s interested in the strong bond between parents and children such as that between a father and a daughter (Simulacrum), a mother and a son (Paper Menagerie) and in Altogether Elsewhere a mother and her daughter.

Renee is a post-human child, which basically means she’s a consciousness formed from the algorithims of her eight “parents”.  Renee is working on a family tree with a school friend when her three-dimensional mother comes to visit.  Her mother is one of the few Ancients, people who had flesh bodies before the singularity occurred and who uploaded their consciunsness into the Data Centre – the superintellgience that houses all the post-humans.  As a result she has a unique perspective on life and it’s one that she wants to share with her daughter.

If that sounds terribly boring it’s because I don’t have Liu’s skill to ground these high faultin’ post singularity concepts in something real and engaging.  In this case it’s an opportunity for Renee to actually visit the real world outside the confines of the Data Centre.  It’s seeing our world filtered through Renee’s post-singularity eyes that makes Altogther, Elsewhere such compelling and beautiful reading.  If all singularity stories were written by Ken, I’m sure I’d become a fan.

My other favourite story is the heart warming and sentimental Music Makers by Kate Wilhelm.  Jake is a journalist who is sent to Memphis to research a puff piece on a recently deceased blues musician Bob Wranger.  When Jake arrives at the house where Bob performed most of his music he discovers that the bluesman’s influence  – whether ghostly or not – lingers both in the house but in the hearts of those who loved him.

I admit that the Wilhelm story isn’t going to be for everyone, especially with it’s bordering on schmaltzy happy ending.  But I personally found something honest and true and poignant about Wilhelm’s writing and as a result I couldn’t help but love it to pieces.  Or maybe Jonathan Strahan is right and I am a Big Girl’s Blouse.

While not reaching the dizzying heights of 4/5 (or more), there were two other stories published in the issue that I really enjoyed.  The first was Alexandara Duncan’s novella, Rampion, a clever retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale where she transforms the story into a pure historical, removing all the fantasy elements.  While it did take me awhile to warm to the piece, when I did I found it to be an ejoyable read.

The second story was Chet Williamson’s, The Final Verse.  As someone who’d read a couple of Chet’s horror novels in the late 80s, this felt like a nostalgic blast from the past.  And the story does have that 80s horror feel to it with a muscian and an obsessed collector searching for the hidden verse of a famous song.  The story is suitably scary and a bit icky, but a little predictable towards the end.  Still, there’s some satisfying about a good, straight down the line horror story that’s sole aim is to scare and entertain.

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