The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Abimagique" by Lucius Shepard: An Appreciation by Sue Lange

There is never any reason not to read Lucius Shepard.

Take "Abimagique" for instance. If this had been written by anybody else, about a sixth of the way through the story, I would have been saying: okay, it's a male fantasy story that stars a hypnotizing seductress that is just impossible to resist and that eats him in the end. Yeah, like I've never seen this before. And I would read no further. Why would I bother? But it was Lucius Shepard this time and since his endings are never predictable, I stuck it out. And you know what? I was right; his endings are never predictable. As much as I'd like to tell what happened this time, I can't. Why not? Because I'm a thoughtful citizen that knows it's not nice to spoil? No, I'm not nice, in fact. It's because as usual with Lucius Shepard, I don't exactly know what happened in the end. And by the time I figure it out, I will have forgotten the URL for this project and so won't be able to ruin it for everyone else.

Suffice it to say, Mr. Shepard's writing is as great here as it always is. I read some writers' work to get the gist or the plot or the moral. I read Shepard's work just because it's so wonderful. The stuff flows and once I get into it I can't step out, I can't turn and go upstream, I can only go with it. His work is like the hypnotizing seductress that even as you watch yourself falling further and further under her spell, you can't resist. And in the end you'll be eaten. Well, maybe not that, but you do sort of get knocked for a loop.

Fabulous story.

Link to story.

"Wetlands Preserve" by Nancy Kress: An Appreciation by David B. Coe

I didn't exactly go out on a limb in choosing to comment on Nancy Kress's wonderful short story, "Wetlands Preserve." Nancy has been, deservedly, a legend in speculative fiction since well before I published my first novel. I won't presume to critique this story, except to say that it exemplifies all that is compelling and admirable about science fiction. It presents, eloquently and with powerful understatement, a simple tale of first contact. A vessel from another world has crashed in the middle of an Upstate New York nature preserve, and it falls to a cadre of scientists, including graduate student Lisa Jackson, to learn what they can about the new life form that has established itself in the wetlands.

This isn't a story of invasion in the usual sense of the word. There are no battles, no technologically advanced weapons, no blood-thirsty aliens intent on taking control of our world. There's a place for such stories, of course. But Nancy is trying to do something different here; this story is smaller than that, and at the same time grander. This is about one woman's attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible, to bring morality to the unconscionable, to impose order on the ever-growing chaos of what passes for normal human existence.

The details of Lisa's troubled personal life--her daily struggle to care for a severely disabled child, the increasing pressures of her research position, the sudden reappearance of her charismatic but dangerous ex-lover--are far more than a backdrop for the rest of the story. In Nancy Kress's hands, Lisa's trials and the fate of the creatures who have come to inhabit the Kenton Wetlands merge into a quiet, desperate tale that finds coherence without falling into cliché.

I could go on, but I won't. Do yourself a favor and read the story for yourself. As I said earlier, no one will be surprised that I've found so much to admire in Nancy's story. Indeed, the only thing less surprising than the quality of "Wetlands Preserve," is the fact that it was Ellen Datlow who found it for us, who made it available to the world. That is Ellen's gift; it's the reason why so many of us find the end of SCI FICTION so disturbing. We depend upon Ellen to find us great stories. Perhaps we'd even taken for granted the notion that she'd always have a forum for doing so. No doubt she will again, and soon. But SCI FICTION was Ellen's through and through. The quality of the fiction she published there, the professionalism of the site, the privilege afforded to those of us fortunate enough to work with her--those things will be difficult to replace.

The decision to end SCI FICTION should give pause to all of us in the industry. If Ellen Datlow's site isn't safe, can any site or publication be? If stories as good as "Wetlands Preserve" can't convince the suits to choose literature over profit, what can? Difficult, troubling questions, but ones we have to answer, not simply for Ellen's sake, as she herself would be the first to point out, but for the sake of all who love speculative fiction.

Link to story.

"The View from Endless Scarp" by Marta Randall: An Appreciation by Pat Lundrigan

It starts off simply enough: the last human spaceship is taking off from a dead world. But wait! Someone's been left behind. Her reactions are what you'd expect, but it turns out she planned on staying behind, and only when the ship took off did she have her moment of doubt. Why Markowitz stayed behind, and what happens to her, left on a world that is nothing more than a failed terraforming project, is the story.

I read this story when it originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The late 70's was my "golden age" of science fiction. I had started by reading I, Robot and other books by Asimov. Then I found out that those wonderful Science Fiction magazines as described in The Early Asimov still existed, and could be found for sale at newsstands, drugstores, and even supermarkets. I started buying them, and in a Christmas gift to rival a Daisy Red Rider BB gun with a compass in the stock, my sister gave me a one-year subscription to F&SF. That was my yearly gift for a few years, until my interest in SF waned. I still kept all those magazines, though.

Flash forward several years, past college, past work, past several apartments. Clutter had finally caught up with me, and I was throwing out junk with reckless abandon to make more room. In the hall closet was a box, full of those magazines from the late 70's. I was on the verge of chucking the entire lot into the dumpster when I picked out the June 1978 issue of F&SF and looked at the table of contents. "The View from Endless Scarp" was in that issue. And I remembered it. Remembered Markowitz's journey down Endless Scarp across the desert to search for Thompson, and her struggles with the native, Kre'e. "Wow!" I thought, "can't throw this out!" A few more looks through the pile revealed more gems, more stories that I remembered almost 20 years after reading them. I kept that box of old SF magazines. And I'm glad I did, because when my interest in SF was rekindled a few years ago, and I went right to the stories that got hooked in the first place.

And that's what SCI FICTION has been for me. A place where I could not only read the latest SF, but also a source of the good old stuff (classics, in other words)--stories from a few or more years ago, but still good stories.

"The View from Endless Scarp" stands the test of time. It is an example of good SF not because it has groundbreaking ideas or prose crammed full of eyeball kicks, but because it is a character story, about character that is memorable, and one who we can know and feel for.

I'll miss the "Classics" section of SCI FICTION. Ellen Datlow has chosen some of her favorite stories, and brought to the forefront stories that might otherwise never have been read. But don't despair. You might have a box of old magazines or books in your closet. And there's always used bookstores. But, for a brief while, it was nice to able to find some of the good old stuff right on your computer.

Link to story.