Tuesday, November 23, 2004

F&SF January 2005

Posted by frankh at 1:59 PM
I haven't seen it on the stand yet, but have the electronic edition from fictionwise. Here's the roundup of 4 novelettes and 1 short-short:

1) Novelet: "The Lorelei" By Alex Irvine [Cover Story] -- set in the past
2) Novelet: "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals" By John G. McDaid -- near future, AI-breakthrough-driven story about music competition; mundane by default
3) Short[-Short] Story: "Born Bad" By Arthur Porges -- blurbed as fantasy
4) Novelet: "The Blemmye's Stratagem" By Bruce Sterling -- blurbed as fantasy
5) Novelet: "Last Man Standing" By Esther M. Friesner -- set in the past

The only story in the mundane ballpark is John G. McDaid's "Keyboard Practice...", a rather long novelet.

In a recent NYRSF review of a Sterling novel, the term "Geek Fiction" is used to describe the alternate histories and such (think Stephenson) that are popular, but not obviously "science fiction" in any strict sense. I'm going to use the term as an umbrella to describe anything that appeals to a contemporary audience of geeks--consumed by an interest in cyber-life and at least some media sf, and probably not so interested in the stodgy old hard sciences of classic sf (unless in the context of a geeky story).

This McDaid story I will call "geekpunk", being Geek Fiction, but in the general tradition of cyberpunk--a bit avant, a bit cyber-obsessed, and unwilling to label good guys and bad guys. The search for a path to "post-humanity" seems to be a central theme in geekpunk. In "Keyboard Practice...", AI technology has gone through various huge breakthroughs, with the biological interfaces to match. Words like pAIno are said to be part of our very near future. There are enough geeky explanations of oddball classical music to keep a classical music-ignorant geek like me quite intrigued.

I think the story is absurdly optimistic and a bit escapist, and thus not within the spirit of mundane sf, which I see as challenging the dogmatic optimism and unapologetic escapism of the contemporary sf/f market. Nonetheless I credit this story as mundane "by default", as it doesn't break any of the rules. Fortunately it is quite a good story, and I could look past the optimistic time frame by just ignoring the actual years given in the text. I strongly recommend "Keyboard Practice..." and expect to see it in the "Best" anthologies, and after some time I might just take the time to read it again.

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