The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2017, Volume 132 #730 (magazine review).

April 30, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

The latest issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ includes one long novella, three novelettes and four short stories, along with a poem and the usual mix of reviews and other articles.

The lead story, which takes up over one-third of the magazine’s length and is also the subject of Bryn Barnard’s fun and colourful cover art, is Richard Chwedyk’s SF novella ‘The Man Who Put The Bomp’. This is the fifth in an occasional series of linked stories featuring the ‘saurs’, small, cute, genetically engineered toy dinosaurs who have been given their freedom from Toyco, their manufacturer, after the courts judged them to be sentient and self-aware. On this outing the saurs, who for their own protection live together in a big house well away from humanity, receive a visit from Nicholas Danner. He has been a gene sequencer for Toyco for over thirty years but is most definitely not a ‘company man’ On the contrary, he appears to have great understanding of and sympathy for the saurs and gets on well with them all. The same can’t be said of the woman he brings with him. Christine Haig is a young, new and ambitious Toyco employee.

Although Nicholas takes her to meet the saurs in a well-meaning attempt to make her understand that they are no longer ‘just’ children’s toys, nor are they Toyco’s proprietary products but are instead people in their own right, it’s pretty clear from the start that he’s on a hiding to nothing with her. So why did she agree to accompany him on this visit? The saurs are a wonderful invention of Chwedyk’s and there is great enjoyment to be had from simply spending time in their company as they interact with each other like a bunch of primary school children. In addition, once the story really gets going, it explores some important issues around the rights and responsibilities of companies in respect of the things they create.

These are issues that are likely to become increasingly real over the coming decades, particularly in relation to the outputs of the genetic engineering and artificial intelligence industries. However, given how long this novella is, I didn’t really feel that I understood what was going on until just a few pages from the end, which left me frustrated. Partly this is because there is clearly a lot of back story that I’m missing from the saurs’ previous four outings. My feeling is that this story will work much better for those who have read one or more of the previous stories. Also, the story has two very different plotlines running in parallel and until the very end, it’s very difficult to see how the two could have anything to do with each other. So, overall, if you’ve read the previous saurs stories, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot. If you haven’t, it may be worth trying to get hold of them first, before tackling this latest one.

The first story in the magazine is Robert Grossbach’s near-future SF novelette ‘Driverless’, which examines a seemingly imminent future in which most of us travel in cars driven not by humans but by artificial intelligences. The story considers what might happen if one of the firms operating driverless taxis in a major city tries to gain a competitive advantage over its rivals by giving its cars’ AIs an aggressive streak which values beating the competition over almost anything else. How far might these networked taxis go to corner the market? This story is a great example of near-future SF speculation, extrapolating from present day technological developments and, like the best Greek tragedies, examining the implications of a powerful man’s blind hubris. It’s both thought-provoking and highly enjoyable.

I was eager to read this issue’s second novelette as it marks the ‘birth’ of a new character in Matthew Hughes’ ‘Archonate’ fantasy universe. Between 2012 and 2016, Hughes published six tales of the exploits of Raffalon the thief, concluding with ‘The Vindicator’ in the November/December 2016 issue. Starting with ‘Ten Half-Pennies’, Hughes leaves Raffalon behind and instead introduces us to Baldemar, the son of a poor widow living in the city of Vanderoy, who is sent to the local school at the age of ten so he can get an education and, through that, a decent job that will enable him to support his mother in her dotage.

He does indeed get an education, although not of the kind his mother intended. Instead, he learns an early life lesson from the bullies who steal his lunch money every day, right up till he recruits the local moneychanger’s bodyguard to turn the tables on them. This experience teaches Baldemar the importance of either being able to look after yourself or being able to get someone else to do it for you. Having realised that people get paid pretty handsomely for doing the latter, his schooling soon takes a different turn and Baldemar the trainee henchman is born. I enjoyed reading the Raffalon stories and was sad to hear that they were coming to an end. Hughes’ decision to move on to a new character is not, however, a let-down. In fact, far from it. Baldemar is an engaging young man who displays both intelligence and a sense of honour. The supporting characters, the setting and the storyline are laid out with deft strokes and the story has a satisfying resolution. I’m looking forward to seeing what Baldemar does next.

Albert E. Cowdrey is one of ‘MoF&SF’s most prolific contributors, with ‘The Avenger’ marking his 75th appearance in the magazine. In this fantasy novelette, Jeanne Wooster engages the services of the appropriately named attorney William Warlock to help her gain revenge on her late husband Tim’s crooked half-brother Marv, whose crude attempts to bully Tim into sharing his inheritance led to Tim’s early death. However, although William initially plans just to frighten Marv off, when this doesn’t work, he’s forced to take a more unusual course of action. This is an excellent story, mixing strong, three-dimensional characters, both good and bad, with a clear and engaging plot and a setting that felt all too real.

Turning to the short stories, I found them a bit of a mixed bag. Arundhati Hazra’s debut story for ‘MoF&SF’, ‘The Toymaker’s Daughter’, is a brilliant, beautiful fairy tale which mixes the personal and the political together very effectively.

Similarly, ‘Daisy’ by Eleanor Arnason is a hugely entertaining fantasy noir story about a female PI who tries to locate her mobster client’s stolen pet octopus, with surprising results.

Cat Hellisen’s fairy story, ‘A Green Silk Dress And A Wedding-Death’ creates a fascinating story universe but the characters failed to engage my interest sufficiently to make me care what happened to them.

Finally, ‘Miss Cruz’ by James Sallis is a short fantasy about a guitarist who discovers that he has seemingly magical powers. The concept was intriguing but the story felt to me like two unconnected narratives loosely bolted together, leaving me rather confused by the time I got to the end.

Ruth Berman’s SF poem ‘Spacemail Only’ is intriguing but also a little odd.

This issue includes five non-fiction columns. Charles de Lint’s reviews ten books, which is pretty good going in only nine pages, especially as he has something interesting to say about each one. Michelle West reviews three novels from big-hitters in the genre plus an anthology. Kathi Maio provides an excellent review of what was arguably last year’s best example of an intelligent hard SF film, ‘Arrival’, thoughtfully contrasting the film’s approach to the material with that taken by Ted Chiang in the original novella.

Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty continue their newly regular slot of ‘Science’ columns with a second look at unconventional types of robots, looking this time at wearable robotic enhancements, ranging from huge mechanical exoskeletons down to powered fabric undergarments. Finally, Dave Langford’s ‘Curiosities’ column examines a religious ghost story from 1879, written by the hilariously named Mrs. Oliphant.

All in all, this is another splendid issue of ‘MoF&SF’. So far, I’m loving the 2017 vintage.

Patrick Mahon

April 2017

(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 8.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)

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  1. avatar Jeff Rensch says:

    great review. there is already a newer issue available with more Hughes

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