‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’sees in the new year with another chunky issue featuring some old friends and a couple of welcome newcomers. I’ll start with the novelettes.
In ‘Watching The Cow’ by Alex Irvine, kids around the world are playing video games when they suddenly go blind! Seven million people were on-line and wearing VR goggles when Ariel, a research scientist, sent a pulse through them which caused hysterical blindness in thirty percent of users, the two million children. There is no physical reason for the blindness but some disconnect has occurred between the eyes and the brain. Our protagonist and first person narrator is Jake, Ariel’s younger brother. He is a history teacher and knows she is much smarter than him. She confesses to the misdemeanour but promises to fix it. Jake trusts her to do so. One reason he’s not too upset at the disaster is that the children are not too upset. All two million of them are coping very well with the change. Alex Irvine does a good job of personalising an interesting scientific development with strange consequences in this well told story.
‘Devil Or Angel’ by Matthew Hughes is one of those afterlife fantasies which seem to be very popular with Americans. This one is relieved by a sense of humour, more in the telling than the tale itself which is fairly dramatic. The theology combines Christianity and Buddhism with a dose of Jiminy Cricket. The head of a record company dies in a plane collision, just as he meets the love of his life and is desperate to get together with her in the next world. Unfortunately, he has been put with the bad folks and she is with the halo wearing crowd. The nasty pop star whose arrogance and lust landed them all there in the first place turns out to be a major league villain. It was very inventive and good fun, with enough plot twists to maintain one’s interest.
‘The Blue Celeb’ of Desmond Warzel’s story is a powder blue mid-80s Chevy Celebrity that Bill and Joe notice one day outside their barber shop in Harlem. They’re a pair of Viet Nam veterans who set up in business together when they got home. They’ve been there a long time. The neighbourhood cop, Frank, has been steadily promoted and is now Assistant Chief and Commanding Officer of Manhattan South but he comes back once a fortnight to have his hair cut. The Celeb is parked with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. The fact that it’s still there, on a Harlem street, is remarkable but when someone sits in it more remarkable things happen. The plot’s too good to spoil. This is as fine as one of Stephen King’s best and in the modern urban fantasy genre there is no higher praise than that. King did a car story, too, but I hasten to point out that there is no similarity. It’s also nice that Desmond Warzel, it seems, has previously published in semi-pro magazines and this is his break into the big time. It gives hope to all those writers filling semi-pro magazines for small fees.
‘Ten Lights And Ten Darks’ by Judith Moffett is an enjoyable novelette but I am ambivalent about it. As a dog lover, I like stories about dogs. As a detester of all things paranormal that pose as actually real, I am not sure about stories that take fraudulent notions and treat them as real. In this case, it’s animal psychics, an idea so batty I had never heard of it before but googling revealed they are rife. The manly reporter hero sets out to write an exposé but then finds out that…! Nah, I won’t spoiler it. The heroine is a girl with a dog who gave up church and found herself more and more interested in the paranormal. Regrettably, she thinks that quantum physics may explain those ‘energy fields’ the cranks like so much. I would like to hear the views of a quantum physicist on this. It is important to separate fantasy from reality. Nobody opens up shop as a werewolf expert or vampire doctor because there’s no money in it but fantasy that can be made into a racket for the gullible breeds lots of businesses. Harry Houdini exposed mediums galore before he died but they thrive now. Judith Moffett did a good fantasy story here. I loved it. But I hope this type of thing doesn’t catch on. A fantasy in which homeopathy, for example, really works would leave this critic bereft of words and would be too depressing.. I loved it. But I hope this type of thing doesn’t catch on.
Now to the short stories. ‘A Brief History Of The Trans-Pacific Tunnel’ by Ken Liu was another interesting tale from a man who usually comes up with good stuff in these pages. It’s also that rare thing, an alternative history short story. In this case, the divergence is in the late thirties, when Japan proposes that it will expand peacefully if the USA co-operates in a trans-Pacific tunnel, a giant Keynesian economic reboot to kick start the world out of recession. Liu cunningly uses the technology of the time and the point of view, years later, of a tunnel digger from a poor village in Formosa. This point of view is alternated with extracts from ‘factual’ documents which detail the real history. Very well done and thoroughly enjoyable. Might not such a project kick start the world out of the current bankers recession? Ken Liu for President!
I’ll deal with the other stories more briefly but that’s partly because they take place in a recognisable version of our world today and there is no unique background to describe. Dale Bailey tells the melancholy story of a middle-aged man having a mid-life crisis in ‘This Is How You Disappear’ but gives it a fantasy twist. I suppose it’s a kind of magic realism, though as with many genres that is hard to define. It was too sad to be classed as enjoyable but it was well told and thought-provoking, at least for a middle-aged man.
‘Among Us’ by Robert Reed is about extra-terrestrials hiding among us, though the tone is low-key and not paranoid. The Neighbours, as they are called, are being monitored by a government agency. Our hero is an important agent in that department and in line for the top job. The Neighbours’ stools contain ET bacteria which is what first gave them away. They live quiet lives and are actually rather likeable folks. It was a likeable story, too, with a neat ending.
‘A Haunting In Love City’ was another yarn about Jimmy and Morrie, the gay couple who investigate paranormal activity. This time it’s a haunted house in Texas. Albert E. Cowdrey tells it with his usual charm and it passes the time pleasantly enough. Stuff happens, crises build and there is a satisfactory conclusion.
The same cannot be said of ‘Night Train To Paris’ by David Gerrold. Not much happened and then there was a vague, weak ending. Disappointing from the man who gave us tribbles and will forever be held in high esteem thereby, but what the hell, no writer can bat a thousand, hit the bull’s-eye or whatever sporting metaphor you want to use every time. It was based around a real life trip to Italy for a convention. He might have done better to write a straight article about the trip.
The ‘Departments’ section contains many book reviews by Charles de Lint and Michelle West that will make you want to read the books, had you but world enough and time. Films don’t take up so much of your life so Lucius Shepard’s recommendations might be more practical.
In the always interesting ‘Plumage From Pegasus‘, Paul Di Filippo reflects on the new trend for fiction writers to incorporate stuff from real life in their work, using recorded conversations and their own experience at jobs and so forth. When imagination fails this provides wordage and veracity, too, I suppose. It will work in stories set in the present but not in more fantastical yarns. Having written that, it occurs to me that nearly all the stories here are set in the real world in our time. No matter. ‘Fantasy & Science Fiction’ has taken us out into space and the far future before and will no doubt do so again. Meanwhile, those pining for hard science and facts can read ‘The Great Atmospheric Escape’ by Paul Doherty and Pat Murphy. Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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