Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Science, Fantasy, or Science Fantasy?

Baen's has an unusual practice of explicitly segregating their science fiction stories from their fantasy stories. This can provide fodder for the ever-popular "Guess the Genre Label!" game. For Mike Resnick's story in this issue, it's an easy call. It's set on another planet, it's got aliens—no problem, it's sf. Things get a little trickier with Sarah Hoyt's story. It features the possible reappearance of a figure from the past to help a woman deal with her issues. At the end the figure disappears. The choice here is between reading it as mainstream (everything is rational and she's slightly delusional) or fantasy (an ancient king reincarnated for a day just to help her with her relationship issues—totally!), not between fantasy and sf. This is clearly a genre magazine, so clearly the story must be generic—fantasy it is!.

It may have been a bit harder to categorize Lou Antonelli's story. It's got a multiple-worlds thing going, where one world is science-based (Superconducting Super Collider) and one is magic-based (animal telepathy). His world-building indicates that the basis for this split lies not in differing physical laws but differing research grant allocations. This is really a science fantasy, the sort of thing that John W. Campbell banished to the pages of Unknown back in olden times. Unknown was a place where Analog (Astounding back then) authors could go to "let their hair down," i.e. not be "scientifically rigorous." (Stop laughing.) It spawned such tales as The Compleat Enchanter series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Here Eric Flint seems to have applied the same general philosophy that Campbell did. Let's call it the one drop rule: one drop of fantasy makes it a fantasy. It's probably the only realistic way to draw the line if you're going to be throwing labels around, but thinking about it made me giggle a bit. On to the stories themselves!

"Honorable Enemies" is Mike Resnick's new mystery novella. It continues the adventures of Jake Masters, previously seen in Resnick's contributions to the SFBC anthologies Down These Dark Spaceways and Alien Crimes. In this story his alien partner has been murdered (a darn shame, I really liked the little guy), and Masters has to cozy up to some mighty shady customers to find out who did him in. He also has to decide what retribution is appropriate when he finally gets his answers. It's a fun read, with some good mystery twists, but nothing exceptional.

"Scraps of Fog" by Sarah A. Hoyt is unusual in its use of Portugal and Portuguese history for its setting. The protagonist is a female cop. She is losing her faith in her ability to do anything useful, given the macho culture of Portuguese police. She's contemplating marriage to an old friend. They're not particularly in love, but he needs a wife to host dinners and go to society functions, and she's talking herself into it. Her grandmother, her last link to her family's past, has recently passed away and she is settling the estate. Then, she gets a call about a young man who has turned up claiming to be the reappearance of King Sebastian, an almost mythical figure from Portugal's past. In dealing with the young man, the cop gets a reminder in the importance of being grounded. Once she regains her sense of history and place, she can move forward with her life. It's a good character story, if perhaps not the most useful self-help message. I always feel a bit sorry for the mythical or otherwise super-powered beings who have to show up and help people sort out their relationship problems. Who knew that having the brain the size of a galaxy (see my review of Elom in SFSignal) or that having helped the poor and the sick, engaged in productive diplomacy, ruled well, and waged war in Morocco would also require you to show up later as a therapist for well-off people with issues? I'm not sure I'd take fame and immortality on those terms.

Next we get the science fantasy by Lou Antonelli, titled "The Witch of Waxahachie." The hero is a newspaper editor who tags along as a scientist tries to run one last experiment on the incomplete ruins of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. (They claim this is being done secretly. You really can't power up something like the SSC quietly, but it's easy to give the author that bit of hand-waving.) After the inevitable catastrophe, they find they're in the same place, but the SSC is gone, the road is dirt, there's no cars... They hitch a ride into town, and luckily get to an encyclopedia set before being picked up by the authorities. (A trick also used by Robert Heinlein's world-hoppers in Job and The Number of the Beast. An excellent argument for never going completely digital—how else will dimension-hopping protagonists gather the vital information they need?) In this new world, the advances of the Enlightenment focused on magic instead of science. It turns out that each person exists in both universes, and their different fates are sobering. They get back home relatively easily after comparing notes with the folks they know on the other side. It looks like Antonelli is setting up a story cycle here, since at the end the narrator reminisces about other adventures they've had with their other-world counterparts. This is a fun story with a lot of potential in the world-building, so I'll look forward to other stories in this setting.


Lou Antonelli said...

Very insghtful, spot on. I enjoyed your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed my story.

Karen Burnham said...

Mr. Antonelli, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you liked the review. Can I take this to mean we'll be seeing more stories with this setting soon?

Lou Antonelli said...

I hope so. I've written two more stories set in the same universe. One of them is in a slush pile as we "speak".

I was surpised to see from your web site you live in Texas, League City. I live in Mount Pleasant.

Karen Burnham said...

Good luck getting the new stories sold! I, for one, will be rooting for them.

Yes, we just moved to Texas a few months ago. So far we like it quite a bit (everything except the humidity down here on the Gulf). We haven't seen much of the state yet; the farthest north we've been so far is Austin. There's a lot of this state to explore yet!

Lou Antonelli said...

Karen -

You interested in being a beta reader for a sequel that I've finished?

You seemed to have enjoyed the start...

Lou Antonelli

Karen Burnham said...


Sure! You can send it on to Karen.Burnham [at] if you'd like.

What sort of feedback do you look for from a Beta reader?

Lou Antonelli said...

Anything, I'm not picky. I live in a small town and there's no one to read my stories to.

Obviously, catching 'misteaks' is helpful, but other things - such as stuff you 'don't get' or which pushes the bounds of plausibility.

I'll shoot off a copy via email shortly