Christopher Rowe

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Keyboard Practice...
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My favorite science fiction story of 2005--so far, obviously--is from the January issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s by this guy, John G. McDaid, and the title (deep breath) is “Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals.”

F&SF editor Gordon van Gelder rightfully describes the piece as a virtuoso performance in his story notes, I think. “Keyboard Practice...” takes it structure and theme (in more than one sense of the word) from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the dizzying, interlocked set of pieces famously recorded last century (twice) by Mutterin’ Glen Gould.

The story is revealed through thirty sections (explicitly labeled variations) between an intro (Aria) and conclusion (Aria da Capo). It’s about music and obsession and talent and the links between those three. It has touches of old school cyberpunk, 90s hypertext fictions, and American Idol. It’s about a music competition, it’s about an intelligent piano that may be playing instead of being played, it’s about a ghost.

Author McDaid provides a preview of the story on this web page. If I’m reading this right, you can order the issue as a singleton here (magazine schedules being what they are, this January issue has already been succeeded by the February and March issues). 21st century wunderkind can download the issue directly into their brains from this page.

You wouldn’t have to be doing all that clicking and downloading if you were already a subscriber to F&SF. It’s a great magazine, and with a handful of other science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery magazines represents the last, best place in the American magazine market that you can read thoughtful, entertaining short fiction that’s both delightful and at the cutting edge. Seriously, you only think you don’t like contemporary short fiction, because you haven’t been looking in the right places.

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