I have a cold and I’m coughing again, which always splinters my attention span. I wanted to read the Spring edition of On Spec and review the stories inside them, but the first three didn’t catch my fancy. Luckily The Secret Dragon of the Imperial Power by Claude Lalumiere swooped in and saved the day, so all is forgiven.
Roundheels by Carrie Naughton has a lot of potential, though it read like a first draft feeling around the world rather than a finished story. The opening scene could have been cut by about a quarter and the potential of the main character is never really explored. There is nothing bad with this story, but it has the unfortunate situation of having not much right with it either. I’m a sucker for ghost stories, but in a been there, done that world, I wonder what could have been if this story got beyond the here’s an idea, the end stage. It’s not just that the end wasn’t foreshadowed, it was that in a story about a rockabilly heroine, nothing really mattered. And I want things to matter. The Scooby-do ending didn’t help. This is why foreshadow is so important. But without any connection to what was happening, the main character simply wakes up and digs a hole. I would have loved to have read the story where her being a bisexual rock star did something for the plot.
Serenade on Lake Ontario by Mike Rimar starts with a ripping yarn. It runs into a bit of trouble as an AU set in a WWII where Elizabeth was a defeated child monarch. The action is very well done and the story had a lot of potential. Chekhov’s hollowed uranium-filled rutabagas was well done, but for all the work put into the world, it devolves into a standard double, triple backstab. The fact that it’s set in an alternate universe never really pays dividends. I really didn’t like this story on the first read, but going back to try to figure out why, I realized it wasn’t that bad. Great detail and huge potential, but just no follow through. A lot of work was put into making this into an AU, but I couldn’t see why it needed to have all that work done. If a story could have been set in the current timeline without making that much difference, it should. Other than the James Bond car, there’s really nothing speculative about it. I know they can’t be talking about England surrendering in WWI because Queen Elizabeth wasn’t born until 1926, and it seems to be a world where the US hadn’t entered the war despite the Japanese somehow being the primary bad guys. I’m willing to chalk this off to not my cup of tea, but I wanted to like it. It has a sleek surface.
Relocation by Rich Larson. The nice thing about short story magazines is that if you don’t like one story, the next one won’t be far away, but I’m not finding anything that’s really grabbing me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Fae and changelings so this one should have my name written all over it, but it’s yet another story where the main character is bored of the wonderful magical world around her and it infects me with a sense of ennui. If the main character doesn’t care, why should I? This one again has an interesting premise, but a conclusion that comes out of left field and doesn’t involve the main character at any level beyond her job. Serenade at least had the main character care, but both Relocation and Roundheels have had a main character that has no involvement with the plot or the theme of the story. I want the main character to care. I want them to be involved. If you take an amazing fantasy world and reduce it to a 9 to 5, why should I care? Who passed out the memo that main characters should no longer care about what I happening around them? Can we just stop doing that? It was a clean story with a good set up, but can we please go back and start sinking the ending in the first half of the story?
The Secret Dragon of the Imperial Power by Claude Lalumiere. I like Mr. Lalumiere’s work so I have high hopes for this story before I even start it. If there’s one short story I like in a collection, then collection is worth it. And thank goodness, it is an excellent short story. Chinese steampunk with mechanical hands and birds. All is right with the world. It’s hard to do an epistolary with that right amount of retelling and action and of course it’s masterfully done. The world is lush and beautiful. The plot well suited to the letter format. Whether steampunk is dead or not doesn’t seem to matter, this is a well done story and well done stories just work. The good guys win, the bad guys are nobly defeated, and steam powered hovercrafts are always awesome. I went back and reread it after being confused by the timeline in Serenade. It’s just as beautiful the second time around. Two thumbs up. Highly recommended.