Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Leading Edge, Issue 61

Technically this isn't a book review, it's a review of the 61st issue of the BYU science fiction publication, Leading Edge.[1] I borrowed it from my neighbor who has, in the past, worked on the slush pile [2] and later as a webmaster for the magazine. This particular issue was the "30th Anniversary Edition" and featured special solicited contributions from well-known authors Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Dan Wells. I'll give a mini-review of each of the short stories contained therein, but I won't be reviewing the interview, art, book reviews, poetry, or writing tips.

"Charybdis" by Dan Wells [3]
I was actually a little disappointed in this story. He used characters to provide the exposition in a way that was forced and painfully obvious and unrealistic. In several instances the dialogue was cliché and the characters rather hackneyed. He also made overuse of long strings of adjectives and long strings of nouns, which bogged down the prose without providing that much useful information. The ending was clever, but, if you think about it, doesn't actually resolve the issue, but only delays it since the 'substance' would be released as soon as someone discovered what had happened.

"Mimicry" by Maggie Slater [4]
The premise of this story was, I thought, a little unoriginal and the outcome was quite predictable. But the prose was excellent (except that she was fond of starting scenes by referring to her characters as "the old man" or "the mechanical girl" instead of by their names) and the author does an excellent job maintaining dramatic tension—this despite the predictability of the plot. The setting had sort of a steampunk feel to it, but then magical symbols (that worked) showed up and that left me not knowing exactly what to make of the setting. I concede that sci-fi and fantasy can be blended, but I felt like it was poorly handled in this story. The magic ended up being just a weird element that would've been better had it been replaced with something technological. The dénouement was a little rushed.

"The Golden Bones of Grandma Bo" by Melinda Selmys [5]
This story definitely had an oriental flavor to it. I'm also inclined to say that it was in female voice. I can't point to any particular element of style that would make it so, but that's the impression I got while reading it. There have been cases where I didn't like the female voice at all (e.g. Ursula LeGuin's Tehanu), but I found this one to be pleasant to read. It didn't fit the standard plot structure, but neither was it a "slice-of-life" piece. It has a theme (fear of death) that colors all of the scenes and loosely connects them together. There are several unrelated conflicts which dance around each other and eventually there's a sort of climax. For some this might be frustrating, but I thought it worked fine for this story.

"Sanderson's Second Law" by Brandon Sanderson [6]
This is actually a non-fiction piece where Sanderson, a successful author in the fantasy genre [7], gives some suggestions to aspiring (and even, in some cases, accomplished) writers on how to design a compelling magic system for a fantasy story. His second law states: "Limitations > Powers."[8] He does a pretty good job of making a case for this 'law' and further breaks down what he means by limitations. I really appreciated that he used examples from a variety of other fantasy authors rather than exclusively pointing to his own works. If you're a fantasy author to any degree, this article is worth your while.

"Mercury Dawn" by John O'Neill [9]
O'Neill's descriptions of human behavior are often puerile and simplistic. His prose has several stylistic flaws. For example, having a man named Beverly, a man named Dante, and a man named Poseidon on the same ship was a bit too much of a stretch. And I doubt that 'dude' will still be common parlance 200 years from now. O'Neill takes a long time to get to the conflict but once he's there, he maintains dramatic tension pretty well. The climax was a huge disappointment, though.

"We Blazed" by David Farland [10]
This is easily the best piece of fiction in this issue. This is not surprising given that David Farland (a pseudonym of Dave Wolverton) has the most experience publishing science fiction and fantasy of any of the writers. That said, the theme (and even the basic plot) are a little tired. But he gives it enough unique details and has such engaging prose that it still feels mostly fresh. And even though the ending was predictable once certain details about the setting were made clear, it was still satisfying. I would've liked a little more exposition about the meaning behind the title, though.

One thing I've never understood about magazines and newspapers is that on nearly every magazine page/newspaper article there is a large pull-quote with a one-liner from the text. I find these really distracting. As far as I can tell, they do nothing for the reader. Do you really want people to think your publication is in the vein of Reader's Digest?


[1] See their website here.

[2] See pile.

[3] You can visit his website here.

[4] You can visit her blog here.

[5] She has a blog here, but it doesn't seem to deal much (if at all) with her fiction. It is dedicated to her reconciliation of her Catholic faith with her same sex attraction (as told in her book, Sexual Authenticity). I haven't read all her posts, but the little that I did seems to be on track.

[6] You can visit his website here.

[7] Read my review of his book, Mistborn: The Final Empire, here.

[8] This is a follow-up to his first law, which says, "An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic." (Read that essay here.)

[9] I couldn't find anything else out about this author.

[10] You can visit his website here.

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