As well as the informative ‘Departments’ there are loads of stories in ‘The Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, divided on the contents page, as usual, into novella, novelette and short stories. Arbitrarily, I will section them into Science Fiction, fun and fantasy. These categories are not mutually exclusive.
This month’s novella is ‘The Lightness Of The Movement’ by Pat MacEwen and its genuine Science Fiction with two human females studying the alien Neons on Hrallsted’s World. What do you do in the future if you’re a failed ballet dancer majoring in anthropology? The answer for Shannon, our first person narrator, is go to another planet and put on a celluloid ’costume’ with some armour capability, lots of built-in sensors and, most importantly, the ability to receive the amorous attentions of Neon males. To get this you have to do an elaborate mating dance first. Shannon is doing her thesis but the boss is Niera, the lady in the ship orbiting overhead. The theme is what ‘Star Trek’ called the Prime Directive: no open contact with a non-technological species. Unfortunately, like James T. Kirk, Shannon is rubbish at not interfering and also applies her human morality to non-humans with exciting results. Her heart’s in the right place and it’s a very entertaining and well-written story.
‘Collar’ by Leo Vladimirsky is about a man trying to get a job. This involves a long and hazardous swim from the east coast of the USA out to factory ships in international waters. The story is told from the perspective of Tom, an escort for workers whose fee is a percentage of their wages if they get a contract. A very well-constructed yarn in which the world scene is effectively conveyed in conversation and shows a future all too realistic and bleak.
After the bleak future, you might consider ‘The Uncertain Past’ which features the assassination of President Kennedy, not, on this occasion, considered as a downhill motor race. To test a new theory of time, some researchers go back to watch the murder but each one sees different things happening. Possibly they are entering parallel universes or even creating them by their presence. Ted White’s story is neatly resolved in a dramatic conclusion at another major historic event but I‘m not sure the issue was settled. In any case, it provided an interesting space-time theory and believable characters.
I believe Robert A. Heinlein wrote the first account of an inter-generational colonising starship on which everyone has forgotten the original mission and reverted to a primitive state. His story ‘Universe’ is a classic but in ‘Albion Upon The Rock’, Daniel Marcus visits the same territory. The crew of the ship have names that refer back to their origins: Sandy Ecosystems, Eden Security and Sergei Navigation, even though they are now a hunter gatherer culture in the hydroponics decks. Jamal Operations’ wife is about to have a baby, so soon he must take the long journey, scale the cliffs to weightlessness and let the wind take him. One life, one death is the rule that keeps the balance. As Jamal goes about his business, the ship with a self-aware artificial intelligence, encounters a multi-dimensional being spread across space-time that takes an interest in it. The cosmic and the human are neatly twined in a charming story which somehow avoids the sense of futility that such material might engender in another writer. I think I liked it as much as ‘Universe’ and I like ‘Universe’ a lot.
A simple farm boy gets his arm mangled in the combine harvester and has an efficient but ugly prosthetic fitted in its place with a chip wired to his brain. The arm does not think it is an arm, however, it thinks it is a ‘A Stretch Of Highway Two Lanes Wide’ in Colorado. This is definitely weird but quite effective in an odd way. Apparently Sarah Pinsker has been submitting stories to MofF&SF since she was twelve and I’m glad she finally succeeded with this quirky little gem.
‘Hark The Wicked Witches Sing’ is by Ron Goulart, who generally has fun with his creations rather than taking them too seriously. The title of the story is also the title of a horror musical written by Hix, a B-movie writer in forties Hollywood. Apparently there are a number of stories about Hix but this is the first one I’ve come across. The B-movie titles scattered through it were entertaining and the yarn capered along amusingly for a while but the ending, while leaving room for a sequel, was a bit flat.
An issue of MofF&SF without Albert E. Cowdrey is like a day without rain in England – very rare. Last time, he was in serious mode. This time he returns to comedy with ‘Byzantine History 101’, a sequel to ‘The Woman In The Moon’ which appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of this magazine. In that yarn, Professor Threefoot had agreed to let his daughter’s useless husband, Adam, write his authorised biography. Now his grandson, another Adam, who follows in his late father’s footsteps so far as utility goes, has hooked up with an antique dealer called Terrence, a man who can give Threefoot a run for his money when it comes to selfish, ruthless pragmatism. Obviously, such a homosexual pairing cannot carry Threefoot’s DNA into the next generation but he has plans. Very entertaining, as usual with Cowdrey.
Oliver Buckram is becoming almost as much an MofF&SF regular as Albert E. Cowdrey and is just as welcome. This issue’s offering is ‘A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly’. The story is set in a busy port and the odd title is a reflection of the culture of beetle-like creatures who conduct all mercantile negotiations according to classic scenarios such as ‘clever servant outwits rich foreigners’ or ‘a son slayed unknowingly by command of divinity’. Treya is a human negotiator and her ex-lover, Neb, is her rival in bidding for a rich contract. The title is a neat plot summary. This is not quite as good as Buckram’s previous stories but, as they were brilliant, that’s not much of a criticism. Very good.
Even though I usually like everything explained in a story I’ll forgive Gordon Eklund for ‘I Said I Was Sorry, Didn’t I’ because it’s such good fun. The story is set in present day America. Our hero has caused the end of the universe, which is to happen shortly, and is therefore unpopular and has to wear a false beard to avoid public attention. His wife kicks him out, but he has three sisters who may put up with him. Like Terrence and Threefoot from Cowdrey’s story, he’s not very loveable or politically correct but he is amusing.
From fun to fantasy. Arthur and Alexis are childless and doing okay when suddenly she gets pregnant and he has to deal with it. ‘Butterscotch’ is a fantasy because it features ‘travelers’, odd creatures that have appeared lately, moving about the land aimlessly. They seem to be made of vacuum cleaner waste and leave a small trail, ‘the way a burning cigarette dragged along the asphalt might.’ Nobody knows where they came from. The slightest blow reduces them to dust. A traveller appears in the garden when Alexis becomes pregnant and her pregnancy becomes difficult. Is there a connection? The mother-in-law from Hell moves in to help. She is ‘built like a toy train, squat and bulky’ and smells ‘like a mixture of stew and lingering aerosols’. D.M. Armstrong’s deft use of language makes his interesting and honest story – honest about fatherhood – very effective.
‘Draft 31’ by Michael Libling is one of those stories where telling what it’s about gives away the ending, so I won’t. It opens with a small town doctor having to treat the son of his former high school sweetheart and from there on develops nicely. The narrative viewpoint switches from time to time, which I don’t mind at all, but it’s unusual nowadays, forbidden by the arbiters of literature. In this case, it was probably essential. Normally, I like things more clear-cut but the vagueness on this one worked somehow.
There are two very good fairy tales in this issue. The first, a novelette, is ‘Apprentice’ by Jon DeCles in which Dafyd, the difficult stable boy, is assigned, by his fellow villagers to serve the local wizard as payment for that worthy getting rid of a gryphon. This turns out well at first because the wizard is quite a kindly, forgiving old fellow, certainly nicer than Dafyd’s previous masters or his parents, who got rid of him at the first opportunity. All the elements of the tale come together in a splendid conclusion which, happily, leaves the way open for a sequel. I hope Jon DeCles has one in mind.
The other fairy tale, ’Our Vegetable Love’ by Rob Chilson, features sentient trees, with which we are all familiar now. These don’t talk like C.S. Lewis, booming, but rather in a ‘woody groan’. They also speak in a northern English dialect. I won’t give away the secret of the trees’
sentience but it’s very clever and the story of Grandpa Tree’s interactions with his naughty granddaughter on Bonfire Day is great. In mellow middle age, I am coming to like this kind of thing, partly because I am fond of the omniscient narrator, forbidden in most modern fiction but allowed in this particular sub-genre. ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ features fairy frequently and many of these tales, slightly edited for adult content in some cases, could be put into a good anthology for children.
Reading and reviewing this not inconsiderable quantity of fiction every two months takes a lot of time but I don’t begrudge it. ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ continues to deliver the goods and sometimes, the greats.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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