The September/October edition of the SFF magazine celebrates 25 years of Nick Lowe's analytical and well-informed film reviews under the "Mutant Popcorn" banner, with a long article by Jonathan McCalmont, reviews of several current films (including an ambivalent one of Inception, which is on my must-see list), and a reprint of his first column from 1985 in which he reviewed Brazil, Night of the Comet, Trancers and Ghoulies. An interesting point is made that despite the fact that SFF novels are regarded as specialist reading for geeks (Harry Potter excepted), the genre has nonetheless produced seven of the ten biggest grossing films of all time. Discuss, as the exam paper says.
The usual book and DVD review columns include The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison, the twelfth in his comic SF series which started in 1961 with the last addition being in 1999. I'll have to get this book, if only for pure nostalgia. There's also a welcome return of an old master with the publication of Fritz Leiber Selected Stories.
Five short stories this time:
Love and War by Tim Lees, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A dystopian near-future in which a war against vaguely humanoid jumblies from Earth X, a version of Earth in a parallel universe which is beginning to emerge in random patches on the Earth's surface, has led to the imposition of a dictatorship of "the Party" to defeat the threat. The eventual ending of these incursions does not, of course, lead to any more liberal government but instead the emergence (or invention) of yet another threat to maintain the Party in power. A parable for our security-obsessed times, in which our civil liberties are being steadily eroded to meet the terrorist threat. But how likely is it that all those laws extending government power will ever be repealed?
Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders by Aliette de Bodard, illustrated by Darren Winter. A surreal fantasy in which a robotic being parades a former god around the country, putting him to an agonising death (from which he returns) time and again to demonstrate to the people that the old gods are no longer in power. This author focuses on limited but intense scenes from fantastic futures, steeped in atmosphere and mystery.
The Insurance Agent by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A near-future thriller with a fantastical twist. A security consultant who specialises in bodyguarding celebrities is assigned to protect a Significant Entity (SE), a young woman who has achieved a god-like status as a result of the popularity of the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings; a rather sardonic send-up of the tendency to elevate the status of the leaders of religious cults. He finds himself with more trouble than he expected when his SE meets a rival.
Camelot by Patrick Samphire, illustrated by Ben Baldwin. A tale of immortals cast out from Camelot, who have lost the memories of their past existence. An ageless man searches endlessly for his brother who went missing in World War 2, aided by a beautiful woman who knows about his past and has her own reason for finding his brother. However, success in his quest does not bring the expected result.
The Upstairs Window by Nina Allen, illustrated by Ben Baldwin. Another dystopian future in which the return of religious authority leads to censorship of the arts. A war correspondent is caught up in the fate of a controversial artist friend whom he tries to help.
A rather depressing batch of stories this time, distinctly lacking in optimism both in terms of their settings and their events. These stories make a stark contrast with the ones I reviewed a couple of weeks ago in The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 21, which are far more to my taste. I hope the mood improves in the next issue.