This is the last issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ for 2014 and editor Gordon van Gelder has filled it with early Christmas presents, including two novellas, two novelettes and five short stories, in addition to the usual book and film reviews. There’s even a 2014 index and a reader competition in this one! What more could you possibly want?
Both of the novellas are well worth your attention. ‘The Judging’ by Rand B. Lee is a sequel to ‘Changes’, published in the May/June 2013 issue. It recounts the adventures of Brother Thomas Whitsun, an itinerant priest who spends his days travelling around New Mexico giving succour to those in need. There are very many such people because the story is set fifteen years after ‘the Great Storm’, a mysterious macroscopic quantum event that transformed the Earth into a patchwork of parallel realities, some relatively normal, others extremely odd. When Brother Whitsun arrives at the town of Valleverde, he is surprised to find that it is surrounded by some form of magical protection and everyone inside seems completely normal. However, the more questions he asks, the more he starts to suspect that something strange is going on below the surface. Are the townsfolk hiding some dark secret and, if so, does he really want to find out what it is? Lee’s world-building and plotting are both consummate but the highlight of this story for me was the authenticity of the characters. Brother Whitsun is a strong and likeable protagonist, showing just the right balance of wisdom and naivety for his calling, while the other main characters also come across as people you might meet in these odd circumstances. Lee has crafted an excellent novella that kept me riveted throughout.
The second novella is Michael Libling’s ‘Hollywood North’. Set in Ontario in 1960, it follows Gus, a shy, awkward teenager who idolises his more popular friend Jack, the boy who finds odd things like meteorites and lost wedding rings. When Jack and Gus find a metal box filled with intertitles (the cards with text printed on them that appeared between scenes in silent films to indicate what was being said), they uncover a secret about the history of their town that plenty of the adults would prefer was kept under wraps. Gus, however, sees this discovery as his one chance to share in Jack’s local fame. After all, what harm can a bunch of printed cards possibly do to anyone? This is a magnificent and richly imagined tale that takes its inspiration from a real world story and turns it into something dark and disturbing. I loved it.
Next, in order of length, are two novelettes. The first, which opens the issue, is ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ by Paul Di Filippo. He uses it to pay tribute to the 1959 short story ‘All You Zombies’ by Robert Heinlein, which formed the basis for the 2014 indie SF film ‘Predestination’. In Di Filippo’s version, Dan Wishcup is an American maths student studying in the Canada of 1964. When he receives his draft papers and asks his professor, Chan Davis, what to do, the older man lets him into a secret. His current mathematical research has a real-world application and that’s time travel. The professor suggests that Dan evades the draft by travelling forwards in time fifty years to 2014, finding out how long the Vietnam War lasted, staying in the future for that many years and then returning to ‘the present’ once the war is over and the draft is finished. It’s the best idea anyone has suggested for evading the draft, so Dan does what Davis suggests. Inevitably, though, Dan’s travels in time and space have consequences that no-one could have predicted. Will he get back to his own time stream still sound in mind and body? I don’t always enjoy time travel stories but this one was enormous fun, combining maths, physics, drugs and sex in a way I don’t imagine has been done since the 1960s themselves.
The other novelette is Albert E. Cowdrey’s ‘Golden Girl’. Doreen is a young woman who gets a temporary job sorting and cataloguing the private book collection of Lucien Valois, a rich old man in her neighbourhood. The job, however, is a front. Valois has bought up three of his neighbours’ properties over the last few years, just after they met with unfortunate accidents. The last to die was Doreen’s grandmother and her own mother thinks Valois is to blame. It soon becomes apparent to Doreen that her employer is not a serial killer but neither is he the sweet old man that he at first appeared, if some of his reading material is anything to go by. Will she be able to find out why a single old man needs four large houses without Valois realising what she’s up to? This is a dark and disturbing horror story which has a highly original plot twist. Prospective readers should, however, take seriously the editor’s warning at the start of the story, as it contains one scene that I personally found deeply shocking.
The five short stories that round out the fiction are a varied set. ‘Yeshua’s Dog’ by Tim Sullivan is a tongue-in-cheek reimagining of the gospel story, somewhat in the vein of Monty Python’s ‘Life Of Brian’. In this case, Yeshua is a gifted storyteller whose ego appears to get the better of him when a travelling Greek doctor called Lucanus asks to record his stories for posterity. Yeshua embellishes the tales of his youthful adventures to such an extent that he appears to turn himself into a miracle worker and prophet. Is he exaggerating or have his neighbours never realised who it is they have living in their midst? I enjoyed the playfulness of this story.
Justin Barbeau’s piece, ‘Nanabojou At The World’s Fair’ is a very funny tale about the native American trickster god who, somewhat down on his luck, travels to the World Fair of 1904 in St. Louis to earn some money and ends up taking several gullible non-native Americans for a ride.
‘Feral Frolics’ by Scott Baker tells the story of former pest controller Greg O’Callaghan, who enjoyed his job so much that he started killing stray cats for fun. His obsession eventually lands him in jail and when he gets out, the only job he can get is on a furniture delivery truck. That goes fine, until the day he’s asked to deliver a couple of couches to a cat rescue centre. Will he be able to cope, seeing all those cats? More to the point, what will they think about him? I really liked this, mostly because it’s narrated by O’Callaghan in a voice full of honesty and completely lacking in self-pity.
KJ Kabza’s ‘The Bomb Thing’ is written as a companion piece to Paul Di Filippo’s ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ and shows what happens when a couple of likely lads from 2014 end up going back to the 1960s when they fiddle with a time machine they found late one night when they broke into the maths department of their local university to impress a girl. Kabza manages to fit a lot into this funny time travel tale.
Finally, ‘The Old Science Fiction Writer’ by David Gerrold is a whimsical thought experiment about the interaction between our species’ need to solve problems to survive and the power of our imagination. If, in the future, you were to take away the former, what might the effect be on the latter? I enjoyed this both for its humour and for the serious sub-text.
There are five non-fiction columns in this issue. Charles de Lint does his usual excellent job of reviewing a diverse set of nine interesting books, including SF, fantasy and horror novels, novellas and children’s books. Michelle West reviews five novels and, although her subject matter is less diverse than de Lint’s, she brings a similarly high level of critical thought to her responses. Alan Dean Foster brings wit and warmth to a brief film column, imagining what might happen if God rang up to give him some friendly advice about how to make the novelisation of the recent Hollywood blockbuster ‘Noah’ better than the film. Kathi Maio reviews two recent SF films at different ends of the budget scale and in the process discusses how the move towards releasing films immediately to video-on-demand, rather than having a sizeable delay between the cinematic and DVD releases, is starting to change the economics of the film business. Finally, the ‘Curiosities’ column comes from the inimitable Dave Langford and discusses ‘The Condemned Playground’ by Cyril Connolly, a 1945 collection of parodies and pastiches of early SF novels like ‘1984’ and ‘Brave New World’.
The cover art for this issue is a striking digital painting by Mondolithic Studios which shows a large moon hanging in the night sky above a rocky lake shore on the planet it orbits, somewhere near a bright nebula. It doesn’t appear to be connected to any particular story inside but it’s a great cover nonetheless.
As 2014 draws to a close, this issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ collects together nine quality stories from all corners of the genre stable and marries them with an excellent set of book and film reviews. If you can get yourself a copy in time, it can be bought as a download, for Christmas or even the New Year, you won’t go far wrong.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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