I’m a bit behind with my reviews of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’, as the July/August issue got lost in the aether. The lovely people at F&SF were kind enough to send a replacement copy once I realised what had happened, so I’m now trying to catch up.
This issue contains a novella, three novelettes and six short stories, as well as a larger than usual collection of non-fiction articles and several amusing cartoons. I’ll deal with them from longest to shortest.
The lead story, which is neatly illustrated by Jill Bauman’s intriguing cover art, is Rachel Pollack’s urban fantasy novella ‘Johnny Rev’. This follows New York-based ‘Traveler’ Jack Shade as he takes on one of the strangest cases of his career, when someone who looks just like him appears in his dreams and engages his services. They want him to get rid of their enemy. Unfortunately, that’s him! What follows is an enjoyable romp with a tragic back story at its heart. This is the third ‘Traveler’ story that Pollack has written and, at times, I felt that I might have been able to follow the story more easily if I’d read its two predecessors. Nonetheless, I enjoyed spending time with Jack Shade and his associates and I look forward to reading more of his adventures in future.
The first of the three novelettes, ‘The Deepwater Bride’, is Tamsyn Muir’s first piece for F&SF. It’s a Lovecraftian fantasy horror story in which teenage seer Hester Blake struggles with the passive nature of her role, where she can see the future but isn’t allowed to alter it. This comes to a head when her latest apocalyptic prophecy concerns the ‘kooky’ girl she’s just made friends with. There’s a YA feel to this story which may appeal to some readers more than others but Muir creates an atmosphere of dread very effectively and I found the ending of the story both unexpected and inspired.
The second novelette is Van Aaron Hughes’ SF tale, ‘The Body Pirate’. This story is set on a planet where humanoids and intelligent birds co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, where a single bird may ‘own’ several different humanoid bodies, though typically it’s two: one at home and one at work. Which raises the question, what does the first humanoid body do when the bird has gone to work and connected to the second one? When one of the avian academics suggests that what they’re doing to the humanoids isn’t symbiosis but parasitism, all hell breaks loose. I thought this was a very interesting story, not least because of a textual innovation where the story splits into two parallel columns at various points when the main bird character leaves its primary humanoid body behind and we hear from these two characters simultaneously. Hughes uses this story to dramatise some really interesting moral questions in a way which could only really work in Science Fiction. This is probably the most original story I’ve read for some time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The third and final novelette is ‘The Curse Of The Myrmelon’, another of Matthew Hughes’ ‘Raffalon’ stories. It follows on directly from ‘The Prisoner Of Pandarius’, published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue. This time round, Raffalon the loveable thief is a relatively minor character, playing second fiddle to a man introduced in the previous story, ‘Cascor The Discriminator’, who is engaged by a nervous accountant to remove the curse of a Myrmelon, a magical creature that sits in the local marketplace and sells prophecies. In the process of investigating the case, Cascor pays Raffalon to do a bit of breaking and entering. What he uncovers is much more serious than a mere curse and both men have to act quickly to avoid a rather unpleasant fate. This is another excellent Raffalon story, even if the star of the show this time is his colleague Cascor. Both are interesting characters and Hughes provides a thoroughly enjoyable plot for them to unravel. Highly entertaining.
Of the six short stories in this issue, two came out as my favourites. The first of these was ‘Dixon’s Road’ by Richard Chwedyk, an SF love story which reminded me of ‘Brief Encounter’ and left me deeply moved. I also enjoyed Gregor Hartmann’s ‘Into The Fiery Planet’, a follow-up to his story ‘The Man From X’ in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue and a rather amusing SF riff on the perils of corporate life and the predilections of middle class tourists.
Finally, there’s a bumper crop of non-fiction articles in this issue, including two book review columns, a couple of film reviews, a fascinating article on the stories that scientists tell us to explain their theories and how these stories change over time in response to new data and a remarkably odd ’Curiosities’ column about a book of denim art whose sole claim to relevance seems to be that the text was written by the award-winning American fantasy author Peter Beagle.
I may have come late to this particular issue of F&SF but it’s definitely a case of ‘better late than never’. There are several truly excellent stories to be found here and if you’re interested, I’m sure you can still get the July/August issue via their website or digitally from the usual suspects. I’m off to get stuck in to the September/October issue.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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