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More reviews from WotF XXV

January 27, 2010

I finally got around to reading a couple more stories out of WotF volume XXV.  A few months back I posted reviews of three stories: Emery Huang’s Gold Award story “Gardens of Tian Zi”, Jordan Lapp’s “After the Final Sunset, Again”, and Gra Linnaea’s “Life in Steam”.  All three were enjoyable, “After…” probably being my favorite of the three.  Still, I had a feeling I wouldn’t have selected any of them as the Gold Award winner if I was asked (which of course I wasn’t).  So my search continues.

It seemed only sensible to read the other first place quarterly winners, those being the only ones that were actually up for the gold.  That led me to Mathew S. Rotundo’s “Gone Black” and Donald Mead’s “The Shadow Man”.

Let me start this pair of mini-reviews by saying these, too, were nicely executed stories that I enjoyed and couldn’t wait to turn the pages.  Still, “Gone Black” felt a touch disappointing.  I always felt a step removed from everything: the action, the character, the setting.  Like I was watching it from inside the automated cars from Jurassic Park, everything was there, but there was plexiglass and bars between us.  This wasn’t completely bad since the “prisoner” was indeed separated from everything, but I don’t think I was supposed to sympathise with the prisoner that way.  Maybe I felt a lack of intimate insight.  Or maybe some technique early in the story set me that way and I never shook it.  Maybe it was me (like a slush reader having a bad day).  Whatever it was, it overshadowed the story for me and left me feeling unsatisfied.

The alien wasn’t terribly imaginative or developed.  Most of the development went into the setting’s situation, a quarantined space outpost in a war harboring a POW and incubating a sense of paranoia among its crew.  This was effective, though a sense of things from before the prisoner arrived could have made the change more effective.  I’m not sure what part of the story made this a first place winner.  Again, it wasn’t a bad story.  I enjoyed it, cared about the main character, even sympathized with the mob and the prisoner.  I just wanted another degree out of it, in all those things.  Every person turned out to be who they were expected to be… It’s like my mother’s spaghetti: I enjoy it, I eat every bite, even get seconds, but I don’t particularly crave it.

Then there was “The Shadow Man”.  That was a story I would order off the menu.  It was a great twist on a phenomenon I was already intrigued by, the permanent shadows of people captured by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.  Factor in a little yakuza, a little haunting, a twist ending…quite excellent.

Actually, the twist ending was a bit much for me.  It did answer some questions that had nagged me from the middle of the story,  but they were questions I had already had to dismiss in order to remain in the story.  (A bit vague, to be sure, but I’m avoiding spoilers where I can.)  While it answered questions, I don’t think it was hinted at enough through the story.  I think the story could have ended without the twist and lost little (other than the author’s vision).  I was also confused as to why the POV had to switch to Four Fingers in the middle of the story.  The shift wasn’t that bad and was executed cleanly, but when I spend half the story in one head, I expect to remain there for the duration.  An earlier switch could have made it less jarring.

Still, “The Shadow Man” had nicely carved characters (I especially liked the Rice King), an interesting premise, and well-conceived plot arc.  So far, I think it would have been my choice for Gold.  For what it’s worth; it’s all a matter of taste and mine seems to lack some of the sophistication of true SF connoisseurs.

I haven’t found a bad story in the book yet.  Nor have I found one that left me scratching my head and wondering if I’m an idiot the way some stories in best-of anthologies tend to.  That’s what I really like about WotF anthologies, the stories are good reading for the common reader.  No PhDs or MENSA required.  Just nice, down-to-earth speculative entertainment.  Ahh.

Now if I could just get my story in one.

I now return to pretending to wait patiently for Joni’s call.

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