The big story in this issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ is the novella ‘Wormwood Is Also A Star’ by Andy Stewart. It’s set in the Ukraine, a group of orphans caught in the Chernobyl radiation are unaffected save that they have telepathic powers. They are in an anomaly called the Angel’s Tear that is not radioactive but no one knows why. Mitka is a journalist who is having an affair with Vitaly, the Witch Boy, and one of the telepaths. Her father is a very important general and her husband is a top official in the Ukrainian government. I’m very reluctant to say anything about the plot which unfolds beautifully into a murder mystery with dark secrets from the past. This is an excellent story. Reading it on an electronic device, I was unaware that it was so long until I received my hardcopy of the magazine. I was unaware because I was gripped.
Five novelettes feature next on the contents page. The talented Robert Reed appears again with ‘Grizzled Veterans Of Many And Much’, an odd title for a tale based on an interesting idea. In the fairly near future, very rich people are able to Transcend, that is, have their bodies frozen in a sort of gel and their minds boosted by tiny electronic devices. They are then hooked into a computer. Their minds work so fast that time slows relatively and they can do the work of months in a few hours. Physicists and engineers who Transcend swiftly come up with solutions to many of the worlds ills – energy supply, global warming and so on. Our first person narrator is Bradley, introduced as a little boy whose very rich Grandpa is among the first to Transcend. Gramps announces his intention at a gathering where we get to meet all the relatives. Bradley matures into an intelligent man with a great sense of responsibility to his wider family. The story has a couple of neat twists and a good ending. One of the best in this issue.
‘Changes’ by Rand B. Lee is a novelette about a monk-like grey-bearded chap called Whitsun who roams the world with a red-hatted grey burro named Francesca trying to hold back the forces of chaos. He is a Fair Dealer and can sink anchors to stabilise probabilities in a region. He hails from a Fair Dealer Chapter House in Albuquerque, where he sometimes stays briefly and is blessed with the wealfire, a semi-sentient parasite that seems to inhabit him and his fellows and can combat the improbability effects. The Great Probability Storm had struck fifteen years previously, perhaps caused by man messing about with quantum particles. This is really far out Science Fiction, full of invention and wonder. I thought it might have been more effective at a slightly shorter length but that’s a very small criticism of a very good story.
In ‘The Woman In The Moon’ our old friend Albert E. Cowdrey does a sort of reboot of the HG Wells classic ‘The Men In The Moon’, to the extent that a lunar civilisation is discovered underground. The story is told by Professor Threefoot to his son-in-law at an academic conference. Cowdrey has cynical fun mocking academia. The pleasure here, as so often with Cowdrey, is in the telling rather than in the tale itself. Light-hearted stuff.
‘The Bluehole’ by Dale Bailey is an example of the dearth of short story markets available to good writers nowadays. To get published they have to put in a bit of fantasy and slide it into a magazine like this. No complaints as it’s a good yarn, full of the atmosphere of southern blue collar America in 1982, though the ‘hero’ Jeremy is a bit of a low-life. He skips school, hangs around in arcades, smokes pot, steals from his brother the drug dealer and so forth. Jeremy is in love with tanned, athletic Jimmy who just moved in across the road. The monster in the lake hardly features at all. Bailey is a horror/fantasy/SF writer and appears in genre magazines but he seems to use its tropes to illustrate human problems, like depression in ‘This Is How You Disappear’ – ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2013’. The traditional mode is to use humans to illustrate the fantasy/SF idea, as Andy Stewart does in ‘Wormwood Is Also A Star’. That story doesn’t work without a telepath. This story could have managed just fine without the monster. Jimmy could have got cramp. I think now that as long as we get to read good stories, it doesn’t really matter whether the priority is the humans or the idea. Some old-time critics would have disagreed, notably the waspish James Blish.
‘Canticle Of The Beasts’ by Bruce McCallister is set in the same world as ‘Blue Fire’ which appeared in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of this magazine. That was before I started reviewing ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ but, on the strength of this, I might go on-line and buy it. A very engaging fantasy about Emilio, Bonifacio and Caterina engaged on a holy quest in fifteenth century Italy. Emilio is a boy and our narrator whose skin tingles in the presence of holiness and breaks out in a rash when the Drinkers of Blood are near. Caterina can see into the future and Bonifacio is the Child Pope, in hiding from the present rulers of the Vatican who want to bump him off. A well-timed story, with a new pope big news this year and a nice one, too. If the author cut out the slight hints about the manly urges Emilio feels towards Caterina, this would be very suitable for children. It probably is anyway.
Now to the short stories. Angelica Gorodischer contributes ‘By the Light Of The Electronic Moon’ which is delivered by a method reminiscent of Joseph Conrad. The first person narrator is in a café and is told the tale by a friend, Trafalgar Medrano. He is very rich and runs and import/export business to the stars, so he says. The narrator is not entirely sure if this is true but accepts it. Trafalgar tells her of some trouble he got into with a woman, on a planet ruled by a female oligarchy called the Thousand. On a recent trip there, he sold them a load of comicbooks and his adventure involves these precious artefacts in a most ingenious way. A clever plot and very nice writing, translated by Amalia Gladhart, presumably from Spanish because the author lives in Argentina. It’s useful to have foreign works translated into English occasionally to broaden our fantasy horizons. The semi-pro Irish magazine ‘Albedo One’ does this regularly and the Canadian ‘On Spec’ frequently features tales translated from Quebecois. Nice to have a big name ’zine like ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ doing likewise.
‘Directions For Crossing Troll Bridge’ by Alexandra Duncan is a small piece of whimsy consisting of five rules for undertaking that perilous journey. An oddity rather than a story but oddity is okay.
Virtual reality appears in ‘The Mood Room’ by Paul Di Filippo, as do a famous entertainment group and a major university, for it was Disney-MIT that developed the mood room when they bought out a smaller company. The protagonist tells the story of its invention to what seems to be a bunch of reporters interviewing him years later. This is another first person story. No problem with that but it’s often hard to find out what the hero’s name is unless he talks about himself in the third person like Caesar or Dirty Frank. As usual with Di Filippo’s pieces, this was witty and well done.
‘Systems Of Romance’ by Ted White is about a long-lived male musician and a cute, clever female mathematician who is branching out into music as a form of applied maths. Both are world famous. He because he has been around since 1945 and was just in time to catch the first longevity treatments. She because she was world chess champion three times in a row and resigned. Our narrator, the musician, has lived three lifetimes. The pseudo-immortality he has seems to be granted only to particular people and cannot be bought. It’s a kind of love story with themes of selfishness, sharing, compatibility and the balance struck in a relationship. The author seems wise in these things and knows a bit about music, too.
The academic world and virtual reality both feature in ‘Doing Emily’ by veteran Science Fiction writer Joe Haldeman, who is evidently now a professor at American university M.I.T., where this is set. The time is the not too distant future where learned professors can enter a virtual reality and take on the persona of someone from the past. Our hero, Professor Tomlinson, is on the English faculty and has recently done Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The latter being so butch, an acquaintance suggests he do a female for a change, which oddly he has never done so before. He chooses Emily Dickinson with interesting results. Joe Haldeman is famous for his novel ‘The Forever War’ but he’s a pretty good short story writer, too. I recently picked up his collection ‘Infinite Dreams’ in cheap paperback and enjoyed it a lot. Apparently any poem by Emily Dickinson can be sung to the tune of ‘Yellow Rose Of Texas‘. I think Michael Garibaldi said so in ‘Babylon 5’. Apart from that interesting fact, I am unacquainted with her work, though there are a few samples here.
Finally, the features. Charles de Lint and Elizabeth Hand review novels that I wish I had time to read and Lucius Shepard has a thing or two to say about good books being inflated into film trilogies that are so padded they become utterly boring. Beware! If you thought you wanted to see ‘The Hobbit’, he will put you off. I think he’s right, though. Hollywood is merely following fantasy publishing where inflated trilogies have been the norm for years. However, like Laurel and Hardy, ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ frequently works better at the shorter lengths, as this excellent magazine continues to demonstrate.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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