Century Issue #5, Winter 2000
Review by J.G. Stinson
All this time, since late 1996 when editor Killheffer kept telling everyone who would listen that Century wasn’t dead in the water yet, those who read and enjoyed the first four issues of the magazine wondered: is he sure about that? Certainly, some asked for their subscription money back, when a year passed, then another, then another. Killheffer left notes on the Century Website to let Websurfers know that yes, the magazine would return, but he didn’t have the exact date yet. Sorta like, the check’s in the mail, eh?
Well, all the scoffers can go find other grapes to sour, because Century has arisen, and it’s as strong as ever.
Killheffer maintains his penchant for selecting stories slightly off the beaten path of speculative fiction (my def: it’s SF, fantasy, horror, and all the gray areas in between). Editors who know what they want -- and buy it when they see it -- tend to present their editorial philosophies in the stories they choose, and this is quite true of Killheffer. I can’t tell you what his editorial philosophy is, I just know that he has one.
This issue leads off with “The Light of the Ideal” by F. Brett Cox, a well-written period fantasy piece which concerns a New York customs inspector and poet named Stoddard who longs (as do his writer friends) for public recognition and success as a writer. A ship’s captain gifts him with a box that he received from a stranger, and tells Stoddard, “All I know is that’s it’s for men like you, and I’m damned glad to be rid of it.” What the box reveals awes Stoddard, but terrifies his wife. In this story, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
The threads of a music group’s rise to fame, the ups and downs of an IBM job, an apartment that decides to clean itself, and excerpts from family letters are woven into “Weigh Station” by Ben Miller. Miller has concocted a delightfullly off-center tale that bounces happily between contemporary fantasy and magic realism, the exact opposite of a Generation X-er’s life-gone-to-hell lament. In the process, he manages to create a story that feels light and airy but carries an almost palpable philosophical weight. And the title? It’s an actual weigh station, where the narrator finds people who are considering life-changes and -- you guessed it -- weighing the pros and cons of said changes.
“For the Sake of Another Man’s Wife” by J. R. Dunn is an SF piece wherein David Shire is hired to obtain the last of 12 electronic copies of a deceased woman’s personality. His problem: the man who has the box doesn’t want to give it up. But this story’s richer than that, and Dunn gives readers a character to root for, despite Shire’s shady past. Dave Hoing presents a cleverly constructed alternate history without the Bard in “The Onely Shake-scene in a Countrey.” Karen Jordan Allen’s “Heartlines” is another excellent showcase for Allen’s talents (she appeared in Century #4). It’s a gentle, thought-provoking homage to the efforts of Amnesty International and other groups who strive to win freedom for those they consider unjustly imprisoned. The method Allen uses to “spread the word” is uniquely fanciful, but believable given the way she presents it.
The only story in this issue that failed to win me is “Jack Daw’s Pack” by Greer Gilman, a too-long prose poem full of crosscut fables, legends and myths. The language Gilman uses is often beautiful, but more often confusing.
Century has always featured story above all else, and that’s what makes it different. No columns, no ads, no nonfiction features, no art: just story, and a brief editorial. Some readers will be turned off by this, and others will welcome it, considering those additional items too distracting. I find it a refreshing change myself.