01/06/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.50 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258.
check out website: www.fandsf.com
With the latest ‘ Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’, here are some more short stories, if you want them, along with some ‘ Departments’, some novelettes and one great novella. I’ll review the contents inversely to how they appear on the contents page, starting with Departments, the non-fiction.
Except that the wag Paul Di Filippo has filled his department, ‘ Plumage From Pegasus’ with a kind of short story. Arden Pence is the creator of some very lucrative entertainment properties and the copyright in them won’t expire until seventy years after his death. Unfortunately, new longevity techniques mean that he may never die. This is very annoying for his son. Di Filippo is here addressing an issue that is very important. For some, usually the descendants, copyright is valuable long after the artist is dead. For others, expired copyright is a wonderful thing in the age of the download and the electronic reading device when classics of literature and even Science Fiction can be read for free.
It would be redundant to review the book columns by Charles de Lint and James Sallis but both have interesting recommendations. Kathi Maio reviews ‘ The Woman In Black’, a new film starring ‘ Harry Potter’ star Daniel Radcliffe and ‘ Chronicle’, a film in which teens get super-powers. She has nice things to say about both. In his ‘ Curiosities’ column, Jack Womack reviews ‘ The Outcast Manufacturers’ (1909) by Charles Fort, the famous researcher of anomalous phenomena.
The short stories commence with ‘ Necrosis’ by Dale Bailey, about a club of gentlemen and one of their number who starts behaving oddly. I like these stories about gentlemen’s clubs with their quaint air of a bygone age and Bailey gets the vocabulary and tone right in his first person narration, perfectly conveying that late 19th century atmosphere. Dale Bailey told a good tale but I found the ending inconclusive and disappointing.
‘ Typhoid Jack’ is by Andy Stewart. He works as an on-line literature and developmental writing coach and this is his first professional sale! It seems odd to be teaching writing when you haven’t sold any but now he has, at least and jolly good it was, too. Disease has almost been wiped out in the cities of the future and humanity is closely monitored and cared for by a group called the Farmers. Their nature I will not disclose. People realise now that a bit of time off work with a slight bug was a relief and so plot to catch colds, the one bug not cured. Our hero spreads germs. An original setting and a clever plot make this good. I certainly hope Andy Stewart comes up with more gems in the future. Perhaps he can then charge more for his coaching.
Matthew Corradi explores the perils of memory in ‘ City League’. Our hero works for VeriCorp Lab which handles memory verification for small insurance claims and law firm depositions. Checking someone’s memory of a baseball game, he knows it to be false because he was there. But the machines tell him the memory is true, which brings his own recall into question. There are nice touches, memories for sale on Memor-E-Bay, and the problems of being shy and introverted are sanely examined. A very fine piece of work.
‘ Grand Tour’ by Chris Willrich is set in a high-tech future where the problems of growing up are still the same, only the context is different. I-Chen Fisher has a hangover and it is Embarkation Day. She is grown up now and has to bid farewell, for a while, to the rest of the family. They are the kind of annoying relatives we all know and love. She meets with a nice young man in the same situation and they share their troubles. This is a pleasant coming of age tale with a well wrought futuristic background. Nice rather than five star, award-winning excellent but worth a read.
To novelets, then. The eccentric spelling of this threw me when I started reviewing ‘ F & SF’ but Uncle Geoff told me not to make an issue of it. I won’t. In English, we spell it ‘ novelettes’. It is interesting to discuss briefly, however, the different definitions of story lengths. This magazine, quite sensibly, seems to go with that dictated by the Science Fiction Writers Of America. A novel is over 40,000 words; a novella is 17,500 to 40,000 words; a novelette (or novelet) is 7,500 to 17,500 words; a short story is under 7,500 words. One blessing of electronic readers is that they seem to have revived the novelette and the novella as a fictional form. Hurrah for that!
Naomi Kritzer has the first of this issue’s novelettes with ‘ Liberty’s Daughter’. Beck Garrison, our heroine lives on Min, short for New Minerva, a seastead in the Pacific Ocean, 220 miles west of Los Angeles. The seasteads are a right wing libertarian’s wet dream - man-made islands with virtually no government. There are six seasteads, each with its own set of rules, very few of them. Obviously, it is a paradise for the rich who pay no tax, not so much fun for the poor who are normally bonded labour and one worker has disappeared and her sister wants her found. Beck Garrison runs a service finding things, not usually people. Beck’s father is some sort of big shot which helps her get around. Even so, she ends up in big trouble.
Being of a certain age, this first person narrative about a teen-age girl having adventures in a highly commercial environment reminded me of ‘ Podkayne Of Mars’ by Robert A. Heinlein. Naomi Kritzer’s tale is not as long or complex as Bob’s but did not make me cringe in places neither. Heinlein went all out to make his girl very girly, too much so. This is an excellent piece of old-fashioned Science Fiction with a nice kick at the end.
‘ Asylum’ by Albert E. Cowdrey is the story of Willy Pfeiffer, who is a bit useless at life but has a great interest in ghosts. Being incompetent at money making is not a problem because an Aunt left him some. His interest in the after-life is a result of his catholic upbringing in New Orleans. He hooks up with Tom Mikulski, a bitterly divorced ghost hunter and spends the night of Lundi Gras in the Villa Fiorentina, which used to be an insane asylum. The lightly humorous omniscient narration made this fun to read.
‘ Taking The Low Road’ by Pat MacEwen is original and originality is the holy grail of Science Fiction. A female Pat, she has just published her first novel ‘ The Fallen’ and works as a forensic anthropologist. This is the story of a wormhole with a very big worm in it, a brilliant idea. The heroine is a character one would not normally find sympathetic in the age of the celebrity and I especially like the fact that it featured a good Muslim, rare nowadays in prose fiction and almost unheard of on film and television. The characters work but the worm idea is the core of the story.
‘ The Children’s Crusade’ by Michael Alexander is set in a world of primitive technology where the steam engine is as good as it gets. A wise man called Peter arrives in a backward village ruled by the Reverend Tully, who is stern but not unkind. Peter has come from the south, where Papals and Apocalypts are at war. Reverend Tully is a West Ender and pretty strict about it but Peter manages to fit in and avoid being put in the pot, at least for a while. The story keeps you interested and the revelations at the end are well delivered in another excellent tale.
Last, but by no means least, the big novella of the issue. ‘ Maze Of Shadows’ by Fred Chappell is another story about Falco the apprentice shadow master. By no means least is the greatest understatement a reviewer could make. It was absolutely brilliant. Falco‘ s master, Maestro Astolfo, introduces him to Signor Veuglio, a healer, and a young lady called Sibylla. Falco and Mutano, another of Astolfo’s servants, were meant to have secured a mansion against intruders by means of shadow traps but Veuglio and Sibylla have successfully entered it and stolen something. Astolfo demands to know how this can be. We are launched into a tale of intrigue which features a talking cat, a cruel villain with a secret and the fascinating fantastical approach to shadows which features in all Falco stories. They don’t just stroll down the avenue you know.
The plot, while finely crafted, is almost irrelevant. The joy is in the prose, a slightly archaic vocabulary highly suited to fantasy. Reading it, I became convinced that Fred Chappell is an older gentleman. There was a mature wisdom, a gentle pace, a mild, dry wit about the thing, along with absolutely marvellous writing, that convinced me this was not a young man’s work. I googled him and he’s an acclaimed poet and retired professor of literature, so my instincts were correct.
This is a great issue of ‘ The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’, even by their own high standards. Highly recommended. American magazines are not easy to get in the rest of the world, even England where we speak the same language, but electronic versions are available to all. The download prices of this and similar magazines gives fans a lot of great fiction at very reasonable rates.
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