The Spring 2001 issue of Fantastic contains an interesting mix of genre stories of varying quality, anchored by a terrific novella. The artwork and layout is attractive throughout and overall I found the issue nicely produced, quite an improvement from the previous one.
. . .
Worth the price of the issue itself is the closing novella by Paul Di Filippo, "Karuna, Inc." It opens with a quote from Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion, and the set-up here certainly recalls Dick's work, the classic multi-protagonist structure wherein the meek Everyman and his lively love interest are pitted against the malicious powers-that-be. While there is clearly a feel of homage to this story, ultimately Di Filippo adds his own twists and unmistakeable literary cadences, resulting in a piece that falls squarely into his own unique subgenre of associational quasi-SF that might include his wonderful novel Ciphers.
Thurman Swan is a former Gulf War demolitions expert, now horribly ill as a result of a chemical explosion from his combat experiences. Shenda Moore is the woman of his dreams, the president of an unusual corporation of linked independent businesses, its primary goals not motivated by the bottom line so much as the happiness and health of its employees and customers. And then there's Marmaduke Twigg, leader of the evil Phineas Gage League, an underground cadre of modern-day robber barons representing evil corporate interests. Twigg's plan to force his insidious new soft drink into Shenda's businesses leads to an inevitable confrontation of good and evil, which of course drags the hapless but good-hearted Swan into the line of fire.
As the story progresses, the unconventional genre elements begin to appear — for example, the spiritual magic of Shenda's past, and the fact that Twigg and his evil comrades have had the "ethical nuclei" of their brains surgically removed to improve their cut-throat capitalist instincts — exactly the kind of wild, check-your-disbelief-at-the-door ideas that make Di Filippo's work so unconventional and fun. The story is also topical, satirizing the cultural climate of powerful corporate interests that seem to prey upon local business, intent on creeping into the lives of every last consumer — a phenomenon that only seems more and more pervasive with each passing day.
"Karuna, Inc." may be a bit strange for SF purists, but frankly I wouldn't mind seeing more of this kind of strangeness find its way into the SF mainstream. I'm certainly glad that Fantastic made room for this very entertaining work in its pages.
— Christopher East, Tangent Online, Posted on 2001-05-02
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