All of the six stories are reasonably well written, but overall the May issue failed to invoke much of a sense of wonder for me. Some of the stories feel dated in style and content compared to fiction being published in other genre markets.
“Ellipses” by Ron Collins is the story of a writer who suspects his foreign neighbors are up to no good after he sees body-shaped mounds in their yard. The story’s main plot has a Twilight Zone feel, and it includes a sermon at the end of the story on how it would be great if we weren’t so prejudiced and all got along better. A subplot involving the adoption of a girl from Mexico feels forced into the story in an effort to ram home this point. I prefer more subtlety in stories.
Given the writing maxim “write what you know,” it’s not surprising writers are overrepresented as a profession for main characters in stories. Stories about writers are so overdone that I want there to be a legitimate reason to include a writer as a main character. (An example would be the recent Ghost Writer). In “Ellipses”, the narrator’s profession doesn’t add much to the story.
“Blind Spot” by Bond Elam is an old-fashioned detective story mixed with future technology such as memory-altering drugs. I hoped for more of a sense of irony from a story featuring a detective hired by an attractive blonde woman working for a wealthy “crusty old curmudgeon,” but humor is lacking in the story. The narrator’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry this kind of story and the characterisation of the protagonist struggles to rise to the level of grizzled detective stereotype. The main character is basically just a device to let the narrative play out. The memory altering hijinks that ensue are mildly entertaining, but I found the ending and plot twists mechanical and unsurprising, and the story is overly long for its narrative punch.
“Boumee and the Apes” by Ian McHugh is another story based around the idea that it would be nice if we could all get along better. A clan of intelligent elephant-like creatures encounter some aggressive humanoids and tragedy ensues. The intelligent elephants are astonished when they come across tool-using apes. In some ways, “Boumee and the Apes” is a typical first contact tale but the convincingly portrayed details of the elephant creatures’ clan structure help to make the story stand out. The likeable protagonist also serves to make the story an enjoyable read.
“The Old Man’s Best” by Bud Sparhawk is the tale of a group of men trying to illegally brew beer on a space station near Jupiter. Consideration of the technical problems associated with such an endeavour might provide interest for some readers, but it would have been nice to get some characterisation (other than which kinds of beer each man liked) as well. With such a slight premise forming the basis of the story, I had hoped for some humor. Perhaps references to “damned tea-sipping Indians” and “whiskey-drinking, hardfighting, tough Scots” were intended to be funny, but trotting out tired stereotypes isn’t my definition of innovative comedy.
“The Wolf and the Panther Were Lovers” by Walter L. Kleine was my favorite story from the issue. It’s a simple tale set in the old West and involves a card hustler encountering more than he expects – a talking wolf and panther – in a remote town. I enjoyed the story’s understated sense of humor and it manages to reach a resolution without resorting to farce.
“Tower of Worlds” by Rajnar Vajra is the issue’s longest story. The story’s setting is ruled by a queen intent on performing genetic experiments on her subjects in the hope of breeding a super army. The protagonist is forced to undergo such an experiment, but is helped to escape by some mysterious allies. The prose is fine and there are interesting details about the different creatures, but the payoff for the story doesn’t seem worth the length of a novella. The mystery behind the exact nature of the story’s setting is left unexplained. The other main problem is that the protagonist is guided through the plot by his allies. For most of the story, he reacts rather than acts and makes few decisions himself.
All of the stories in the issue feature competent writing, but it was hard for me to get excited about the ideas presented.