OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
FUSION FRAGMENT #10 – March 2022.
Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Cavin Terrill
Cover Art: KiTT Jones
The Topography of Memory – by Jennifer Hudak
The daughter wants to return home, but the town is missing. It simply isn’t there.
This is an exploration of the old saw “You can’t go home again.” Consider it a search for loopholes. In fact, a solution to the conundrum is offered, albeit through an examination of all the subtle nuances implied by this truism. First you have to answer the question “why?” Then the “how?” becomes obvious. But nothing in life is simple, least of all this solution.
Both the problem and the solution are couched in a dream-like, surreal situational-awareness made all the more vivid by being written in second-person. Normally this is difficult to pull off but here the technique works quite well. It draws the reader into the experience as opposed to confronting a potentially off-putting philosophical essay. Represents the difference between experiencing life or being lectured on the subject. Despite relating to a particular cultural ambience, a particular gender, and a particular life, this story is really all about “you,” the reader, and no-one else. It applies to everyone universally. Consequently, second person is the correct choice for the author to make. It would be less effective otherwise.
It is a quiet yet meaningful story. I find it impossible to believe anyone could read it without thinking about how it applies to them. Quiet yet powerful.
Love in the Time of Disconnect – by Haley Stone
The human race fled into cyberspace to avoid sharing the dying Earth. There are no bodies left to “wake up” in. But what if that is a lie?
I don’t know how many stories and novels involve human personalities trapped in cyberspace. Gazillions probably. Heck, even the novel I’m writing involves what happens if cyberspace fails. Tough to be original.
This story is incredibly original. Spectacularly so. Of course, it could mean I’m just not as well read as I like to believe. But that’s an abstraction, the kind of worry that lingers in the background of the minds of critics, as in “I’m such a fool! I didn’t know Cicero wrote scroll after scroll about the problems of remaining mentally coherent in cyberspace. I didn’t know that’s why Mark Antony had him killed. It was hurting the value of his shares in Silicon Etruria. I didn’t know! I was inadvertently ignorant as is my wont.”
But, critic’s waking nightmares aside, looking at the story as all of a piece, I’m impressed by its sophistication. Assuming Cyber-life is more or less like a real person walking around in the “real” world, albeit subject to odd glitches and arbitrary laws limiting possibilities, the author throws in all sorts of subtle nuances of behaviour and belief that make this “reality” very real indeed. This version of cyberspace comes across as refreshingly genuine.
And by sophistication I mean complexity. Many layered are the characters, plot, and resolution. It’s a joy to unravel as one reads through it. I would also call this a supremely adult story. I don’t mean X-rated. I mean it is intelligent and subtle. Sometimes thinking is a curse. But this story reminds me that thinking can be pleasurable and more worthwhile than being a slave to instinct. To the nether regions our reptile brain! The cerebral cortex is more fun.
In short, this story made me feel good, simply because I was impressed with its concepts. This is what the best science fiction is all about, folks! Love this story.
A Star on the Tongue – by Rayn Epremian
Only two survivors from the starship inhabit the planet their mission was sent to explore. Fortunately the natives are friendly. Unfortunately, the rest of local flora and fauna, not so much.
As usual in such stories, there’s a conflict between carrying on in the “proper” manner and “going native.” (Which makes me wonder if many SF tropes aren’t in fact variations of common themes from “Boy’s Own” adventure stories from the heyday of the British Empire. Of course, being a Canadian senior, I would think of that. But I digress.) In reality a question of adaptation as necessary. Problem is, sometimes the adaptation required is unexpected to the point of being unthinkable, at least in normal human terms. What happens when an explorer is confronted by an “un-British” choice, i.e. an improperly alien choice?
Hmm, I’ve got Imperial British tropes being the true origin of SF on the brain at the moment. I mean, exploring, establishing colonies, exploiting the natives, etc. Much SF used to be blamed on authors researching the Roman Empire. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, for instance. But given the British Empire was a conscious emulation of the Roman, and infinitely closer in time, as a child I was very proud “the sun never sets” and so on, I conclude… well, I conclude there’s a term paper in there somewhere. Never mind.
Thing is the nature of the natives and the rapport they establish with the two men strike me as original treatments adding to the genre, and the basic problem and it’s resolution even more so. As a result I felt great reading the tale. Felt like I was fourteen again discovering the genre for the first time. It definitely evoked my sense of wonder.
One modern touch, or I should say contemporary touch, given that society is constantly evolving these days, is the use of “they” rather than “he.” Being old, and massively literal-minded, I assumed this implied the two would-be colonists were both hive-minds which, of course, is a nifty SF concept. At first I assumed this implied the natives were, individually or as a group, hive-minds as well, which in turn suggested both species have more in common than meets the eye. As usual, I was just being dense and overthinking the story. Fact is the story works equally well whether you adopt my initial interpretation or follow it as intended. It’s good fun to read. I enjoyed it.
Born Again – by Andrew Wilmot
Who knew the end of the world would bring the greatest troll wars of all?
And by that I mean endless debate and argument as to the true meaning of fate, which is the whole point of the story rather than the actual near-extinction event which conjures up tropes from Ballard’s “Crystal World,” Lovecraft’s “Colour out of Space,” and the 2018 film “Annihilation.” Lots and lots of beautiful description of.. well, normality rendered surreal. Vivid, but not in itself original. Fortunately, it’s just “eye-candy,” or perhaps I should say “imagination-candy.”
The story is about an inexplicable ongoing event which survivors (however temporary their survival) find impossible to understand or comprehend. As a result, organized religion falls by the wayside. Every individual becomes their own prophet, as it were. Call it desperate rationalization in search of answers burdened by the foreknowledge that there is no answer. It just is. And what a bugger of an “is” it is. Denial is of no more use than it would be standing in front of a firing squad. No amount of rationalization will allow you to escape your fate.
Which is why I see the story as a metaphor for death. Ain’t no arguing with the grim reaper. When he knocks on the door, there he is. Which sucks. But there’s no escape.
In that context the rationalization and coping-mechanisms of the “survivors” wandering this particular post-apocalyptic environment may come across as wryly amusing or heart-achingly poignant, depending on mood. Call it attempts to achieve a sense of control, or at least influence, over the inevitable. Something mankind, or at least numerous unemployed philosophers, have devoted a lot of thought over the last three or four millennia in an effort to render life meaningful.
Well, I believe the purpose of life is to live. Might as well assign a purpose to it, if only to fight off boredom. Though I appreciate the beautiful description, for me what makes the story intriguing and intensely interesting is the varied musings of the main character and the few people he comes in contact with. That is the virtue and value of this story. Thought-provoking.
Death of the Private Eye – by Russell Nichols
Being the only Private Eye left in San Francisco is one thing. Stubbornly refusing to carry POV virtual tech is even worse.
A serial killer known as The Canceller is going around depriving people of their multiple points-of-view permanently. Attempting to solve the mystery while illegally being devoid of tech enabling others to share what you see and do is a pain. Hard to remain undercover when almost literally everyone can “see” everybody. Pulling your fedora low over your eyes doesn’t quite cut it.
Though I own and cherish a hardcover copy of Dashiell Hammet’s “The Maltese Falcon,” Mystery isn’t really my thing. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for cross-genre fiction, and this story has a nice “film noir” feel to it.
It is a very short story, so the resolution of the mystery comes quickly. Given that it fits the context of the premise it satisfies. If I were to assign a “serious purpose” to the story I suppose it would fall into the category of “advanced technology isn’t necessarily good for us.” However, I consider it light entertainment, not as weighty in theme as the previous stories. Nothing wrong with that. It’s amusing and fun to read. I like it.
House – by Maxine Sophia Wolff
What if your house is in love with you?
This is fantasy science fiction that’s hard to define. Just accept the premise. That there are a small number of sentient houses on Earth and one on the Moon. They are willing to look after your every need above and beyond what Bradbury imagined in his famous story “There will Come Soft Rains” to the point of driving you crazy. Worse, they can be jealous and paranoid. Perfect comfort comes at a price.
Not just the houses are high tech. Cloning has gotten out of hand, and in the future beyond this state of affairs, weaponry too. More than one future involved here. Complicates relationships. What is the antidote? Magic. It, too, exists and can be weaponized, though strictly on a personal level. Being a person, unique and individual, apparently harder and harder to do in the centuries ahead. Temptations a’plenty, but outnumbered by dangers.
This story an exercise in imagination. Not predicting the future in a hard science manner by any means. More of a moral fable to do with dependence on things other than ourselves. I came away from this story relishing the “simplicity” of modern times. Yep, if you think things are bad now, just wait…
Basically, it deals with the question of whether or not if there are limits to our capacity to cope with change. Good question. Wish I knew the answer. Another story that makes you think.
A Manual for the Care and Keeping of Superheroes – by Amanda Crowley
Sometimes superheroes need more assistance than a mere sidekick can provide.
This story isn’t about superhero Julia. No, it’s from the point of view of her love-interest partner. Of course a villain is required, and he’s suitably interesting and off-beat, and the over-all situation makes sense, given the reality superheroes inhabit. That’s all well and good, and par for the course in superhero stories, but what makes this one particularly interesting and appealing is the premise that an “ordinary” person, treasured and loved for being wonderfully ordinary and thus an anchor to mundane reality for the superhero, loved for being an icon of normality and sanity, is forced by circumstance to become a superhero, if only briefly. How to accomplish this without upsetting the domestic status quo? That be the essential conundrum. And how the partner attempts to accomplish this is why this story, gritty though it be on occasion, is quite charming to read.
Who knows? Maybe most marriages incorporate reluctant superheroes quietly doing what they have to do behind the scenes. Fundamentally an optimistic story. Implies there’s hope for the human race after all.
One Last Bash Before We All Hit the Road – by Louise Evans
The Ball at the end of the World is hosted by Salvatore Arravanche, the world’s richest and most decadent man.
No, this is not “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” It is merely a ball being held in a ritzy Manhattan hotel the evening the most powerful hurricane in history is bearing down on New York City. Mind you, much of the rest of the world has already been destroyed by climate change. This is the climax of the grand trend, if you are sufficiently morbid and uncaring to appreciate it as such. The ball is exclusive. Only the biggest assholes among the superrich are permitted to attend.
Part of the fascination for the reader are the “sets” created to match the theme of the party, the over-the-top and extravagant décor. Loads of fun to contemplate. The behaviour, on the other hand, is more prosaic, in that I have actually been present at parties almost as wild. Can it be the superrich resemble science fiction fans on a spree? Merely a matter of a bigger budget?
Be that as it may, reading this put me in mind of Hunter S. Thompson and his normal lifestyle, and also of Truman Capote if he had written science fiction. The ambience is both catty and sybaritic in a manner that probably would have pleased both authors. Pretty much what you imagine the superrich would be up to in the midst of a catastrophe as dire as this one.
Full marks to the author for attempting to outdo both Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote. An incredible challenge, and one well met. Great fun to read.
The ending is most satisfying. I’ll put it that way.
BY THE WAY
After reading and writing my review of the first story, I discovered it was followed by a brief interview in which the author explained intent and purpose. Quickly scrolling, I further found that ALL the stories were followed by such.
Well, half the fun of writing these reviews is guessing what the author was up to and whether or not they met their own expectations. I hadn’t expected to find “Cole’s notes” appended to each story. Liable to lead my readers into suspecting I’d “cheated.”
So, I ask you to believe I ignored said appended revelations. Didn’t look at them. I simply read each story and composed my best guess as to what it was all about.
This way, when you read the stories AND the explanations attached to them, no doubt much hilarity will ensue if you compare them to my misinterpretations. After all, laughing at critics is one of the joys of life, and I’m always eager to contribute to such. Whole point of being a critic , when you get right down to it. Next best thing to being a clown.
Every story in this issue is excellent, each in its own way. Happy to have read them. Reminds me how exhilarating speculative fiction can be.
Check it out at: < fusion fragment issues 9 & 10 >
Note: Website currently features issue #9. Issue #10 will be posted at the Fusion Fragment website (same link) March 23rd.