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Stories, stories…it’s all stories
Well, I’ve got myself in a bit of a fuddle. I should be writing a new column, and I should be logically, consistently reading through all of this year’s magazines and anthologies. Instead, I’m dipping into this one and that one, reading finished books and magazines, galleys, print-outs and some onscreen stuff. Which is all good, but I need to be careful that I don’t just miss things.

Stories that have really stood out for me of late include a very good Bradley Denton novella, “Sergeant Chip” from the September F&SF, a terrific and very funny Dale Bailey short, “The End of the World as We Know It” from the Oct/Nov F&SF, Paola Bacigalupi’s pocket-Dune short “The Pasho” from the September Asimov’s and a handful of others. I’ve also been reading through the mostly unimpressive ReVisions anthology (it has a good Doctorow/Stross tale in it) and the very impressive Brett Cox/Andy Duncan anthology Crossroads. You should, as they say, check it out when it hits the shelves. In addition to a number of very sharp reprints, it has a great mainstream Michael Swanwick piece and a wonderful Richard Butner story, “The Wounded”, which seems gentle, delicate even, but is powerful and very well told. I’d not read much Butner before, but along with Jay Lake, Chris Rowe and a few others, he’s a writer to watch.

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We went to Kites for Kids

I don’t get to do enough fun stuff with the family, but not long ago we went to a ‘Kites for Kids’ event, and had lots of fun. Here, as they say, is a picture.

PS: That’s Jess. She turned four about three weeks after this picture was taken.

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Thoughts on alternate history (or, it’s just rubbernecking, baby)
I finished reading John Birmingham’s alternate history novel Weapons of Choice last night, and it’s pretty good. The opening, as I’ve said before, is filled with the kind of Tom Clancy techno-action stuff that leaves me cold, but once the story gets established Birmingham really gets hold of his characters, has some interesting things to say about the differences between the mindsets of his 1942 characters and his 2021 characters, all of which, obviously, are intended to address those of us living in these Bin Laden Days. It is also romantic, tough-minded at times, and very funny. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised to see big budget movie one day that would actually be worth seeing.

Reading the book did make me stop and think about alternate history and why it tends to bother me. I think the reason that I have troubles with it is as a form is that so much of alternate history seems to be devoted to what I’d call rubbernecking. There are basically two types of rubbernecking, and they usually overlap or are intertwined. The first type involves the likely or unlikely intersection of two famous people. Ooh, look there’s Alexander the Great and he’s sharing a latte with Elvis Presley! Or, who ever would have thought of Charles Dickens dating Barbara Cartland! I wonder what they have to say? A variant on this involves technology or weaponry: what I call the ‘Alien v. Predator’ or ‘Enterprise v. Millennium Falcon’ subtype. The other type of rubbernecking involves putting the aforementioned people or technologies into a famous event to see what might happen. Nothing wrong with it in general principle, except that it usually results in an endless ‘what if Germany/The South won WWII/the Civil War” riff. The problem with rubbernecking itself, though, is that usually these stories offer no insight at all into character, events, or anything other than of the simplest, most voyeuristic kind. The fiction tends to be shallow and facile, with no depth and nothing interesting to say. Now, Birmingham’s book does transcend that, as does Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross’s forthcoming tale “Unwirer” (which turns on a change in not very well-known communications law), and Christopher Priest’s The Separation and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt are great examples of what can be done with alternate history, but it remains a bit of a worry. Too often it’s just dumb, ignoring the complexities of history and pretending to make meaningful observations about famous people that are complete tosh.

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Apparently Interzone #193, the final David Pringle edited issue of the long-running British SF semiprozine, has hit the streets. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll always have a fond regard for Pringle’s magazine. Why? Well, when I started out doing Eidolon IZ was easily one of the best magazines in the field. The way Pringle & Co blended high quality fiction and non fiction to create a magazine that was both worth reading and clearly had its own personality was an inspiration, and we copied it shamelessly. There had to be fiction and essays and reviews and columns and such. Anything else would be too dull for words. I’m hopeful that Andy and the Third Alternative Crew will do a great job with the magazine in the future (it has become a bit tired), but I’ll also miss the original magazine.

And speaking of magazines, I just received a copy of Peter Crowther’s fine new publication, PostScripts, which has some terrific fiction by Gene Wolfe, Jay Lake and others, and looks to be a really worthy addition to the semiprozine scene. If I have any criticism, and it’s a very mild one, it is that I’d like to have seen more of the kind of editorial personality that I loved in the early IZ in PostScripts. There’s no editorial, no statement of direction and so on. Now, none of those things are necessary, but it seems to me starting a new magazine is a big thing and it would have been nice to hear what the PostScripts team feel about what they’re doing. Regardless, you should subscribe right now. It’s the kind of project that deserves support.