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Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Uh-Oh City" by Jonathan Carroll

First appeared in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's F&SF. It won the Imaginaire award, was nominated for the Hugo, Locus and World Fantasy awards. Brad Templeton reprinted it. Collected in The Woman Who Married a Cloud.

Scott, an English professor, and his wife Roberta hire Beenie Rushforth as their housemaid. She is a phenomenon. She cleans their house like none other. The couple walk around the house stunned.

Beenie dredges out objects they haven't seen in years. Some of them, though, carry memories they'd prefer to do without.

Commentary with Spoilers:
Beenie finds an unpublished novel manuscript from a student who killed herself when Scott pronounced it unfit for publishing. She also find love letters from a student that Scott burned in front of his wife, decades before.

It turns out that Beenie is one of thirty-six persons who represent god on Earth. Scott, it seems, has been chosen as her successor. With her, is the ghost of Scott's former student who killed herself. She wants to tongue-lash him every chance she gets.

But, surprise, Scott is not one of the thirty-six, but his former student. She uses her powers to show Scott how cold he's been--not just to her but his own family. She hadn't chosen a successor before she died. In fact, a number of thirty-six have been in the same situation, so god is diminishing.

We all feel that society is changing, that somehow these changes have become more dramatic. Why, for example, have school-shootings increased? or suicides? or certain illnesses? Carroll tries to place his finger on the pulse of society and describe our deepest fears. He also soothes us that our fates are not necessarily predetermined.

This one has a few reversals up its sleeve. Even though I'd read it before, it caught me off-guard. The title, however, leaves something to be desired. It comes from a cute if corny catchphrase Beenie says when she found something she thought worth discarding.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Mr. Fiddlehead" by Jonathan Carroll

First appeared in Patrice Adcroft and Ellen Datlow's Omni. Nominated for the World Fantasy award. Reprinted in various major retrospectives by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling and Peter Straub. Collected in The Woman Who Married a Cloud.

Juliet married Eric Rhodes while her friends Lenna and Michael Rhodes married. After Juliet divorced Eric, Michael and Lenna supported Juliet after the divorce, somewhat to her surprise.

On Juliet's fortieth birthday, Lenna gives Juliet fantastic earrings, which Lenna claims to have made. Except Juliet finds them in an expensive jewelry store.

Digging deeper, Juliet learns jewelry-store owners claim someone else has made them.

Commentary with Spoilers:
The creator turns out to be Lenna's imaginary childhood playmate, Mr. Fiddlehead, who appears when she's distressed and disappears when she's not. Lenna, immediately smitten by Mr. Fiddlehead, plots how to keep him around--despite how it will affect her friend.

With friends like this...? And who hasn't a few of them?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Not being a fan of generic apocalypses, I've been a fan of this series since I was a lad. They'd always managed to inject enough imagination to make these interesting. This one was no exception.

Mad Max is captured by Immortan Joe's War Boys and made a living Blood Bag for one his boys. Meanwhile, Furiosa tries to lead Immortan Joe's Breeders to a new life. After a car chase, Furiosa and Mad Max find one another uneasy allies, needing to use each other to their own ends.

Perhaps its greatest strength is its SFnal-ness, its scraps of world-building. The common people shout "V8!" The names invite a telling reading: Rictus, Furiosa, Immortan Joe, Breeders, Blood Bag, War Boys.

The heart-thumping visuals stun viewers equally.  A race alongside a giant tornado. Elaborate bone masks, with respirators, outlandish costumes and makeup. Shot of water cascading off a cliff into the desert.

The pacing is relentless, almost too much, yet the plotting sparks originality and cleverness, looping back upon itself for a more satisfying closure.

What works less well is the dialogue, excluding aforementioned world-building: "Treason! Betrayal!" etc. Since the dialogue is minimal, it gets a bye.

The world ecology does not make sense. If only one place in the world is capable of producing food, what was left of the population would congregate there and only. There'd be no separate bands and little roaming. A splash of water would not be enough to keep the common folk alive. They would either storm the citadel themselves or died inside two to four weeks. It would be foolish not to try to expand one's farming area, or else people would not be interested in breeding except as recreation.

If they live on half the average American's yearly diet--1000 lbs--how many acres would they need per person? How many persons can this "citadel" actually sustain?

They have war rigs, but what for? They seem to be at least nominal friends with their neighbors.

Where did that huge tornado come from? While tornadoes are not unheard of in Australia, they are not as common. Moreover, it requires warm and cold air masses, so how did this one grow so large?

Why does Furiosa have an American accent?

The main criticism, in terms of story, is that Mad Max is a sidekick. This should actually be Furiosa's story. It misleads viewers in its title and in starting with Mad Max. The main thread is Furiosa's. We should follow her more. Mad Max is the B story.

Despite these criticisms, it is worth watching. I probably lean toward IMDB's 8.3/10 rating, rather than Rotten Tomato's 97%.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Judges" by Andrew Kozma

First appeared in Daily SF. Online here.

The narrator is persecuted by ever-present judges, rating all that he does.

This is one of my favorites from Daily SF--a near-genius short-short. It has humor and bite and a touch of resonance.