Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alexander, Resnick, finishing off Feb. Baen's

There are two more stories in February's Baen's Universe that I finished. They were both perfectly readable, if nothing groundbreaking.

"Hourglass" by Alma Alexander is a sort of puzzle-fantasy story. A bard of sorts has gotten himself to the point where he's wandering through a rural landscape in the dead of winter, inadequately dressed for the occasion. Luckily for him, he is rescued by the owner of a cabin. While he warms up, he finds the interior cozy, possibly luxurious, and filled with interesting-looking objects. His host is very friendly, if not totally forthcoming, and our hero settles in for some sleep. The host gives him the pro forma warning not to touch anything, but of course he does. Troubles ensue, but our hero gets out of them remarkably easily and with little consequence. All in all, a well-told but somewhat pointless tale.

"Sluggo" illustrates Mike Resnick's amazing craftsmanship. When he aims to evoke an emotional response, by gum he hits it right on the head. It's really no wonder that he's sf's "most awarded" author at the moment. There's nothing unique about this story: an incredibly hideous mutant finally finds work as a disguised circus freak - eventually makes one friend, a little girl - meets a leprechaun who offers to make him normal - must make a choice. And they live happily ever after. Resnick aims at saccharine sweetness for the mature audience (the grimy reality is too much described for a flat-out children's tale), and he nails it, of course. And he makes it look way too easy. This is a master craftsman on display, not an innovator. While I've enjoyed reading Resnick's work over the last three years, sometimes I roll my eyes because there's rarely anything new there.

The rest of this issue of Baen's had a reprint story by Rudyard Kipling, "Unprofessional" which I decided to skip after reading a bit. Then it has chapters from three ongoing serials, which I also skipped. I'm averse to starting serials in the middle (I even try to avoid reading series novels without beginning at the beginning), and I don't really have time to go back and get into these. Next it had "End of the Line," by Holly Messinger. This looked like a promising tale set in the Old West, dealing with some sort of supernatural goings on. I definitely liked the main character, an old guide and tracker having to adapt to the reality of the railroad making his profession obsolete. However, the narrative leans a little too heavily on a previous story that I haven't read. Then it bogs down quite a bit getting the plot moving. So after getting through a significant chunk of build-up just to find some more build-up, I skipped this one as well.

After that came the non-fiction columns, which were mostly interesting: I like Eric Flint's take on the eBook/digital rights (DRM) bruhaha. However Barry Malzberg's column was a weird mish-mash of stuff that didn't go anywhere. I can't imagine that's typical for a writer of his stature, so I'm looking forward to checking out another column of his in the next issue.

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