01/08/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.50 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258).
check out website: www.fandsf.com
A large portion of this issue of 'Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction' is taken up by the novella 'The Fullness Of Time' by Kate Wilhelm which I will come to in the fullness of time. However, we'll start with a quick run through the short stories.
Albert E. Cowdrey seems to be in almost every issue now. 'Harmut's World' is the title of this outing and it is a mildly amusing romp about one Count Harmut who is haunting his old castle which has been bought stone by stone to the United States by a gangster businessman called Sam Ciacciao. Cowdrey specialises in mildly amusing romps and this is up to his usual standards. Character traits introduced early dovetail nicely at the end to make a satisfying conclusion.
Eleanor Aranson starts her fairy tale with a scatological twist. The Goddess creates the world and while doing so, like a good chef, has a little taste of everything. As a result she needs a bowel movement when the job is done and the resulting manure, full of life, forms itself into a being called Death. The Goddess can see that Death is a useful, even necessary part of the world and lets him go about his business. When he calls for a woman named Ala, she pretends to be someone else and hands him a variety of objects instead of her own body. Death is a bit daft - shit for brains, you might say - and so is easily and often fooled. 'The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times' breaks every rule of modern storytelling and tells a good story.
Emulating one of the icons of modern storytelling in 'The Natural History Of Autumn', Jeffery Ford writes like Hemingway, using short sentences that build up a picture. This mode of prose, like Raymond Chandler's, is tempting to copy but hard to do well. Ford does it very well and his story of a Japanese businessman taking a hostess to a haunted house on the Izu peninsula, Japan, is not only deftly told but well plotted, too. The style is apt for a Japanese story: precise, neat, exact. Belatedly googling, I found that Jeffery Ford is a class act, frequently nominated for awards.
Michaele Jordan's 'Wizard' is about a young girl who falls madly in love with a handsome man sat at a café and follows him like a devoted slave, leaving behind her family and all her usual life at the drop of a cappuccino. She thinks maybe she is in love with him. He, presumably the wizard of the title, takes her to a room where she can read books. After some time, she leaves the room to find a changed world. It was definitely fantastical and told elegantly but inconclusive and not my type of thing. It may possibly appeal more to female readers who can empathise with the peculiar psychology of the protagonist. I am only a man.
While erring into political incorrectness, I might say that perhaps only a man named Ken Lieu could have written 'Real Faces', a barbed piece about ethnic and gender issues. It is the near future and at a graduate recruitment fayre, the candidates wear blurry holograms to disguise their true appearance. The candidates must appear 'racially ambiguous and completely androgynous'. During the interviews, no questions may be asked which might possibly bear upon the tender issues of ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, age, disability or religion. This, of course, makes for very bland interactions and Alice, recruiting for her law firm, finds it hard going. This is a brave and necessary tale that makes several good points without itself being politically incorrect. A wonderful bit of work, nicely proving that contemporary issues can be tackled by Science Fiction.
The novelettes, beginning with a fantasy. 'Wearaway And Flambeau' by Matthew Hughes featured on a bold strapline across the top of this month's cover. It's about a thief named Raffalon who dares attempt to steal something precious from a wizard named Hurdevant. Poor Raffalon is under duress from another wizard. Hurdevant subjects him simultaneously to the well-known spells Ixtlix's Sprightly Wearaway and Chunt's Descending Flambeau. The first makes you dance until you dies of exhaustion, the second consumes you with fire from the scalp down. The combination is not pleasant. This was highly entertaining. It is worth mentioning that 'MofF&SF' has a definite leaning towards light, humorous tales of this kind, fantasy that does not take itself too seriously. There is plenty of serious stuff, too, of course, but a definite sprinkling of laughs every issue.
'The Afflicted' by Matthew Johnson is grim. Kate, a nurse, visit's a camp full of elderly, sick people. They are separated from the rest of society because they are about due to get the affliction, which makes them dangerous maniacs. Kate carries a rifle and can look after herself but when she finds a little girl near the camp things become complicated. A good adventure story which addresses, metaphorically, another serious contemporary issue. What are we going to do with all those old people in the future? I'm worried because I'll be one of them.
The third and final novelette is another fantasy but once again has a grim note. 'Jack Shade In The Forest Of Souls' by Rachel Pollack starts off quite cheerfully with our hero, dapperly dressed, playing high stakes poker in a cosy room. Jack seems to be rich and comfortable. Then the hostess brings in one of his cards on a tray. Jack's cards are hard to get but if presented with one he has to take the case offered. The case here is of William Barlow, a middle-aged businessman whose wife has died and seems to be haunting the home. Jack goes to investigate and it quickly becomes clear that he is familiar with other realms. The story has a complex but well-realised fantasy setting. Slowly, the story gets darker and darker, so that by the end we are involved in a high stakes drama with loads of emotional content. It's exceedingly well-written, too, but you can almost take that as read with this magazine.
Finally, 'The Fullness Of Time' by Kate Wilhelm. It's a name I've heard, not surprisingly since she is now 84 years old but I am not familiar with her work. She was married to Damon Knight and helped him found the Clarion and Milford Writers Workshops. It was interesting to read a long story by a big name who has thus far eluded my attention, for even the most ardent reader can't get round to everything. 'The Fullness Of Time' is a present day story where typical modern woman, narrator and research specialist Mercedes helps her friend and documentary maker Caitlin on a project investigating a rich family. The first generation made the money through scientific patents which Hiram Granville came up with at just the right time and just before anybody else. This happened even if rival late claimants were big companies that had done years of research. How did he pip them at the post? His son John was a financial wizard who seemed to know exactly which stocks would go up or down. It doesn't take the sharpest Science Fiction fan to spot future knowledge here, perhaps some form of time travel? Wilhelm indubitably knows this and the mystery of what's happening is not prolonged, though how it happens is quite clever. The story is mainly about the effects of this phenomenon on the people involved. Well handled but it dragged in places and might have been shorter. The philosophical or metaphysical implications of knowing the future were not dallied with but Bob Silverberg dallied with them in 'The Stochastic Man'. It was a novel so he had more room.
As the months pass, I am starting to feel slightly guilty about the regular gushing review of 'MofF&SF' and feeling that, like Valentine Michael Smith, I should grok some wrongness. People might think I'm getting backhanders. But you have to tell the truth, damn it, and this little book of wonders is always a quality read. If I had to find a fault I would say that it is too good, too literary, too well-written, and thereby excludes the crude pulp that has, historically, made a significant contribution to the genre. Being too good isn't much of a fault but it's all I can come up with. Meanwhile, enjoy.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
currently free from...
In the Company of Ghosts
currently free from...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA