Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, #10, December 2008

igms-10.jpgOkay, I’ll admit I’m a big fan of Orson Scott Card, so much a fan that I’ll probably never review any of his novels because my fanhood would show too much. His ability to create such great morality tales in such rich, fantastic, and believable worlds is a feat I can only aspire to (and I have a special place in my heart for all writers with Scott somewhere in their names). However, reviewing a magazine that happens to have his name on it is another story, since the biggest question an OSC fan can ask for each story is “is it worthy to be in IGMS?” Well, let’s find out:

Intergalactic Medicine Show #10 begins with “Sweetly the Dragon Dreams” by David Farland, where all organic life in the galaxy is under threat from a technologically superior enemy called the cycor. Small pockets of organic life still survive in hiding, but time is running out for one world. On Danai, humans coexist with an insectoid alien race called the skraal. When a young girl named Tallori discovers a dragon skull, the skraal Holy Maiden Saramasia (who is the only Holy Maiden left that can perform the transformation into a skraal queen) sends couriers to protect it and invites her favorite human servant, Anduval, to accompany her to the site. For inside the skull lies the knowledge to escape the cycor threat. Unfortunately, Saramasia, the one best capable to implement the knowledge, must go into slumber to become the new skraal queen. Can the humans and remaining skraal uncover the vital knowledge and implement it in time to save themselves?

While there is much of a “fantasy” touch to the story, it also contains elements of hard science without overwhelming readers with techno-babble. Farland also delves deep into complex character interactions that include a love triangle between Anduval, Tallori, and Saramasia. The skraal-human civilization resembles a feudalistic system but one limited by basic fundamental laws. The personal interactions between the two races is almost like that between gods and mortals, yet at the same time, it’s with the understanding that the “gods” (skraal), too, are merely one of many races that had once thrived in the galaxy before the cycor threat—combined with a certainty that only through cooperation can the two races survive. While the tale has no “flash-bang” style action until near the end (and then it’s extremely brief), Farland manages to keep you in suspense through most of the story and to leave you curious enough to get through the few slow parts. Overall, it is an excellent read.

In “The Fort in Vermont” by David A. Simons a plague outbreak strikes the United States. Rachel’s father takes her to a secluded home in Vermont to ride out the epidemic. The story is primarily character-driven, involving the relationships between Rachel and her family along with her boyfriend and his family who later arrive to avoid the plague. The possibility of contamination serves to complicate an already complex series of relationships, and there is much tragedy before the end. In many ways, it is also a “coming-of-age” story for the main character, Rachel, and before it’s over, she finds her own destiny. Simons’s writing style and use of scenes is well worth studying for beginning writers, for he manages to show the overall, world-affecting tragedy and adversity through the eyes and actions of a small number of characters.

“The Tile Setters” by Ami Chopine is more of a romance with only subtle hints of the fantasy element. The bulk of the story is the interaction between Paul and Gwynne while the tile setting serves as a symbol of the progressing relationship between them. And it also symbolizes the internal changes within Paul. While the tale works best for romance enthusiasts, there is enough of the “magic” element for fantasy lovers to enjoy as well.

In “A Heretic by Degrees” by Marie Brennan, the only way to save his dying king is if Councillor Paramount commits an act that had been banned by the king as an act of heresy—he must leave his world and go into another. Brennan takes the quest formula and uses it in ways that gives the tale its own brand of uniqueness and combines it with a plot twist that, in a manner of speaking, brings the end back to the beginning. She crafts a complex universe of converging realities and does so in a way where it’s actually easy to follow along without getting lost. While there was enough characterization to make the story progress, I would’ve enjoyed a little more depth to the characters. But overall, it is an adventurous and entertaining story well worth reading.

“Pi” by Mette Ivie Harrison offers a tale of a wizard and an apprentice combined with themes of family and royal courtly intrigue. There is complexity in the interaction between the two main characters, Costanzo and Liliana, and subtlety in the deep-running emotions between the two. While Liliana’s and Costanzo’s fathers play an important role in what transpires, they do not appear in the story, operating instead as a “cause and effect” for the plot. Harrison also does a good job in describing the setting and magic system for his world without bogging the reader down in unnecessary details or slowing the progression of the tale. The twist to the plot was a little predictable but not so much that it ruins the enjoyment of the read.

“The Robot Sorcerer” by Eric James Stone explores quantum theory in a strange, fascinating, and entertaining way. A robotic explorer—Multi-Environment Robotic Lander (Intelligent Navigation), or MERLIN—gets sent through a wormhole that takes it to a world where particles interact in a manner that allows for “magic.” One of the side effects of this alternate universe is that the robot gets imbued with self-awareness, thus creating a soul for it. He encounters a small girl named Bump who also has a special gift, courtesy of the bizarre-acting particles, but one that proves to be a danger both to herself and others. When she gets captured by the local sorcerers to be used as a “battery” for their spells, MERLIN must decide whether to follow his programming or disobey orders.

The story is personal in scale and filled with mystery, action, and even tragedy. Stone explores many themes: the nature of life, magic versus technology, magic as technology, moral dilemmas, and self-sacrifice being only a few. He does so while also creating a complex plot that doesn’t confuse the reader, establishing depth of character, and describing a rich and fascinating world while also maintaining a good pace. It is, by far, the best story in this issue.

Overall, issue #10 of OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show is a great one to read where each and every story is worthy to be in a magazine with Orson Scott Card’s name on it.

Hopefully, I didn’t sound too fan-boyish with that last statement. Now where are those silly emoticons when you need one?


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