Ask a politician a question nowadays and he’ll tell you what he’s focusing on and what he’s focusing on won’t be the subject of the question. It goes without saying that ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ contains interesting non-fiction articles and book reviews but what I’m focusing on is the stories.
The big novella this issue is ‘Success’ by Michael Blumlein and I liked every word of it, except for the last page. It’s the enthralling tale of Dr. Jim, a brilliant scientist who goes off the rails and then gets back on them, perhaps, with the aid of a similarly brilliant but more stable lady scientist. There is much deep thought built into the story about epigenetics, Lamarckism, change at the individual and social level and searching for the meaning of it all. Dr. Jim brought to mind the chap in ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’, who becomes engrossed in his thoughts to the exclusion of everyday cares. There was even that old horror standby, the thing in the basement. The fact that the story was not resolved in a traditional manner was the only aspect of it not to my taste but there are plenty of readers who don‘t mind that sort of ending. Possibly it all made sense and I just didn’t understand it. Oh well, I enjoyed the ride anyway.
Novelettes next. ‘Stones And Glass’ by Matthew Hughes takes up the continuing story of the thief Raffalon, who featured in ‘Wearaway And Flambeau’ in the July/Aug 2012 issue of this magazine. Raffalon is travelling under an alias to sell some precious gems at a fair in the town of Tattermatch. It has to be done quickly because the ‘gems’ are actually common stones and will be revealed as such in a few days when the enchantment on them fades. Raffalon encounters a man called Cascor, a former provost with a very persistent manner. Like Albert E. Cowdrey, Hughes always narrates in an entertaining fashion and I enjoyed the story but was I meant to prefer Cascor, as a character, to our hero Raffalon? No matter. It is hinted that they might team up for future stories so we will get more of both.
‘Baba Makosh’ by M.K. Hobson is a very unusual fantasy featuring Russian gods and keen communist revolutionaries. It takes place during the Russian civil war of 1922. Our hero, Pudovkin, is an old-fashioned sort of chap, close to nature and does not much enjoy his current work of purging villages for Commander Tchernov, a very stern scientific revolutionary. Then they all end up in Hell and things get complicated. It’s a highly original, moving and complex story with tons of imagination. Wonderful stuff.
The underworld only features in the title of Albert E. Cowdrey’s ‘Hell For Company’, a tale that demonstrates some facility with narrative technique. First off, the narrator is an anonymous writer chatting to Mark Twain who tells him a ghost story in which the ending is narrated to Twain by the person to whom it all happened. Complicated but well done. The story itself wasn’t particularly awesome but, as ever, Cowdrey delivers it in lively language and one’s time is pleasantly spent.
‘The Soul In The Bell Jar’ by KJ Kabza is worthy of Edgar Allan Poe. Lindsome Glass is a nice little girl and her parents have gone away travelling so she is sent to stay with her old great-uncle. He is a scientist who experiments on the vivified, dead animals bought back to a semblance of life by stitching their souls back on. Locals know him as the Stitchman and nobody goes near the ancient house. It’s an excellent dark fantasy and the author has a way with similes. Kabza’s on-line bibliography shows that he started selling stories to those little magazines that pay a few dollars per yarn about ten years ago. Now he appears regularly in the most prestigious fantasy market of all, which is encouraging for struggling writers. (Of course, they won’t all turn out as good as him, but the only way to find out is to keep writing.)
‘Through Mud One Picks A Way’ by Tim Sullivan concludes the novelettes. It is genuine Science Fiction about three aliens from Cet Four who have been transported to Earth by a businessman for purposes unknown. He has hired Uxanna Venz to communicate with them by touch telepathy, which they do well. She worked on their home planet and is an expert on the species. A nice parable about colonialism with a couple of decent twists to keep you surprised. It was mostly written in dialogue with, very little narration, but Sullivan managed to get all the background information across anyway. A neat trick.
There are only two short stories: ‘Hard Stars’ by Brendan Dubois is cunningly told so that you don’t really know what’s going on until half-way through. I won’t spoil the plot but it explores the consequences of modern information technology if things go wrong and has a great ending. I should also say that I liked it and believe the late Robert A. Heinlein would have liked it a lot as well. He might have written it if he was still around. The other short is a fantasy, ‘Sing Pilgrim’ by James Patrick Kelly. It’s about a chair that appears suddenly on Lancaster Street in Pulanski, Kansas. This jolly little piece by an award-winning short story specialist nicely finishes up the fiction in another fine issue.
‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ and several others in the genre, are now available in very reasonably priced and convenient electronic versions. That’s useful for everyone but especially for those who dwell in some far corner of a foreign field where distribution of paper copies is random at best and often non-existent.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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