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The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2012 Volume 122 # 699

01/02/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2012 Volume 122 # 699 in the USA - or Buy The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2012 Volume 122 # 699 in the UK

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pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.50 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258) .

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‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ has a long and noble history and has made a large contribution to both genres, publishing some of the best stories of the past sixty years. It’s now a bi-monthly digest-sized publication of 258 pages with a mix of novelets and short stories. I believe - and so does Robert Silverberg - that the novelet is the ideal length for a science fiction story. Novelet or novelette as we spell it in the UK seems to mean a story of about 8000 words which is a bit shorter than usual. The contents page lists the novelets first, then shorts stories, then ‘Departments’ which is the non-fiction stuff. The contents are not listed in page order but by category. This seems the best way to review them.

The first short story you encounter is ‘The Comfort Of Strangers’ by Alexander Jablokov which owes nothing to Tennessee Williams. Employing much imaginative detail it is a slice of life in the life of a cross-species prostitute working on a space station. She comforts a variety of aliens who come with all kinds of habits and reproductive organs. She seems to have a number of orifices which are extremely adaptable so she is presumably surgically or genetically enhanced. Quite witty but definitely not one for the children.

Moving from outer space to Okinawa during World War Two, ‘Maxwell’s Demon’ by Ken Liu demonstrates the wide scope of the genre. Like many Japanese Americans, Takako Yamashiro is held in a camp in southern California during the war. Born in Seattle, she actually is loyal to the USA but is offered the chance to prove her loyalty by spying on Japan. She ends up in Okinawa, her ancestral home, working on a paranormal project with dead spirits. They have little power to influence physical reality but may be able to move molecules. This fascinating premise is worked into a sad story about women in war that is not only good fantasy but very human, too. First class.

‘Scrap Dragon’ by Naomi Kritzer is a sort of spoof fiction but the narrator is quizzed and harassed by a listener and so changes the story to suit his taste. I believe this kind of story about storytelling is called metafiction and it is not to my taste but the story within the storytelling apparatus is pretty good in an old-fashioned sort of way.

The folly of World War One is accurately portrayed in Michael Alexander’s ‘In the Trenches’ where burrowing kobolds, a kind of goblin, quiz a soldier about what the hell they are all up to on the surface. The whole exercise of killing each other in droves for no apparent gain is a mystery to sensible supernatural creatures. Our German soldier hero is a bit fed up with it himself after three years. The German trenches, incidentally, were much nicer than the British trenches, as can be seen by a display at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, England. The British lived in muddy holes but the Germans, rather efficiently, lined theirs with wood. Trouble is, they had no food.

‘Canto MCML’ by Lewis Shiner is about life in a gated community of the wealthy where fifties America is lovingly preserved. Behind the almost New Yorker-ish tale of suburban adultery is a terrifying background of inequality taken to extremes. American inequality is also a background theme in ‘Umbrella Men’ by John G. McDaid, a fantasy about an umbrella which brings peace where it casts its shadow.

This notion is distinctly unrealistic but is well handled and the quietly contented life of the working class hero, along with reflections about the present unhappy state of the working class in the good ol’ USA is welcome. The neighbour, Kern, is an unhappy retired right winger. My favourite line: ‘He settled in to listen to whatever talk radio had told Kern to be unhappy about today.’ There are a lot of Kerns in the western world. It’s nice to get another viewpoint of contemporary America apart from the one on Fox News.

‘Small Towns’ by Felicity Shoulders is another story of ordinary people living quiet lives but this time in France after World War One. The village has been destroyed so the residents rebuild it with wider streets and new houses. A shy toymaker fashions a tabletop model of the old village. Meanwhile, not too far away, an unusual child is born outside wedlock. The life stories of the toymaker and the child intertwine towards the end. This kind of understated tale with one small fantastical element is a nice change from the gory horror, world-destroying magic, bright lights and flashy pyrotechnics that often define popular fantasy.

‘The Secret Of The City Of Gold’ by Ron Goulart is very flashy. It’s a melodrama set in Edwardian England where American private-eye Harry Challenge wends his way past were-creatures, femme fatales, violent ex-husbands and other enemies to trace a missing explorer who discovered, what else, a lost treasure in South America. Aided by the portly Great Lorenzo, the world’s greatest illusionist, Harry survives. This entertaining pulp spoof was great fun. Who knows what evil lurks within the hearts of men? Harry Challenge, that’s who.
When a posse of tall bald aliens in shimmering gold robes move into the empty houses all across America there is surprisingly little protest. The former owners say they would rather aliens had them than the banks. The police are not interested neither. In Austin, Texas, Mary-Christina Donatello is outraged but her husband, Alan, couldn’t care less. So begins ‘Alien Land’ by K.D. Wentworth. Eventually, of course, the military takes a hand but the aliens have superior technology and though non-aggressive are hard to contain. An entertaining story that gives a ‘stranger in a strange land’ perspective on a contemporary issue.

‘Mindbender’ by Albert E. Cowdrey is a spy thriller with a hint of esp. Brown works for the CIA and has to escort one Milo Rubrik to a hideaway in the remote town of Moccasin Gap. Milo was reading the mind of the Russian President for the CIA but was eventually discovered and fled. Meanwhile, the opposition employ someone called Mandrake who is able to assassinate, somehow, the most closely guarded of political leaders and Brown must track him down. A good spy story with fantasy elements.

Ted Kosmatka's ‘The Colour Least Used by Nature’ has hardly any fantasy elements. Some trees that walk and want to throw themselves off a cliff have to be tethered and their wood is precious but they are not vital to the story. Kuwa’i grows up harvesting the wood with his father on a remote pacific island now being slowly dragged into the modern world. He becomes apprenticed to a boat builder and this is his life story. There’s a lot of it and the slow pace and the writing style reminded me somewhat of a section in a James Michener historical, narrating the events of a couple of generations. It was not unpleasant but quite long winded and not very fantastical.

‘MoF&SF’ retails for $ 7.50 and you get over 250 pages for that. It provides a good mix of well written fiction, entertaining reviews and interesting factual articles. I look forward very much to the next issue.

Eamonn Murphy

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