Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Helix #7

I don't detect much of a theme in this outing for Helix, which is fine. There are a couple of recurring chords, so I'll get to those.

First, however, let me recommend "Drooling Wizards" by Laura J. Underwood. This story has no redeeming social value that I can detect, but who cares when you have an opening like this:

The chronicles of Drooling Proper state that in the history of Upper Drooling, the village had never been without an idiot. This, of course, was before Dumb Willy went off and got himself trampled to death by an irate ram of large proportions. (We shall refrain, dear reader, from listing the more sordid details as to why this occurred and assume that all imaginations will come up with their own). Naturally, the folk of Upper Drooling were aghast to find themselves void one idiot. It left open far too many assumptions about the rest of the good citizens of that fair haven. Besides, how could a proper village function without a proper idiot?

"To this end, the mayor of Upper Drooling, the most Honorable Joseph Dribbling (yes, indeed, he was related to the founders of Dribbling-By-The-Brook several leagues to the north, but there was a nasty falling out within the family, the culmination of which was that Joseph's ancestors left the rest of the Dribblings behind to find sanctuary in Upper Drooling) took it upon himself to declare a state of emergency, and most hastily wrote a letter to the Idiot's Guild in the city of Greater Drooling on the River Drowning.

Mistaken identity, magic gone awry, true love, what more does word candy need?

"Night of the Living POTUS" by Adam-Troy Castro is also slight, albeit with what I suspect is a real visceral horror at the American political landscape, a zombification of the past (personified by American Presidents), and possibly a comment on how the future betrays the past and vice versa. There may be some satire to it, but satire is fragile, and I'll let other readers make their own judgments on that one.

"Suicide Drive" by Charlie Anders and "Family Tree" by Vaughan Stanger may be considered to share a theme, old #1, in fact, Space Colonization. "Family Tree" takes place in an alternate universe where the Apollo Program went a little faster, had a later accident, and wound up putting a colony on the Moon. There is a substantial amount of symbolism and possibly even sub-text operating, with the protagonist, a teacher hitting mandatory retirement torn between immigrating to the Moon or tending to her (objectified via SF trope) memories of her dead husband. This is past vs future again, with the dice loaded for the future.

"Suicide Drive," on the other hand, paints a bigger canvas on the space colonization side (an extra-solar colonization attempt), with a much bigger price, and a smaller canvas for memory: a hidey hole for the son of the Leader who made the colonization attempt, and an unseen interviewer. The old Campbellian future suggested that the world would suffer nuclear war, but that was an acceptable price to pay for nuclear powered space travel and interstellar empire. "Suicide Drive" notes that the alternatives are seldom known in advance. What then?

The implied risks and rewards are more prosaic and personal in "Salvager's Gold," by Selina Rosen. This is a story that could have fit into an issue of Galaxy or F&SF in 1950s, though it wouldn't have made the Year's Best in either. Happy ending, though, and I like it when the trashman gets a happy ending.

"The Last Man's First Year on Earth," by David W. Goldman is far and away the most creepy story in this issue of Helix, and has a pretty good take on what "alien" means as well. It also has some good new drugs that aren't just another kind of speed (I've complained about SF's limited imagination in drugs in the past, and wrote "Tranquility" to try to make up for it), and, if I'm not mistaken, a new sexual perversion, which is something any author can be proud of.

"Seraphim" by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is a hard story to characterize. One might compare is to "A Matter of Muskets" by Berry Kercheval in Helix #4, but the latter was slight, and not as difficult an effect to achieve. "Seraphim" might be an "ancient astronauts" story (although "ancient" here is only 1896), or a Mad Scientist story, or a Secret Society story, or any combination thereof. I will note that it gets the style and tone of a circa 1900 newspaper story almost exactly right, and that is mighty damn difficult and my hat is off to Ms Bohnhoff for that and more.

As always, I remind my readers that Helix is reader-supported, and your contributions give you advance peeks of new issues as well as that familiar warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that your money is not going to the Great Fascist Insect.

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