There’s a bit of a southern feel to this issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, southern USA, that is. This is evident in ‘Close Encounters’ by Andy Duncan which seems to be set in 1977 but harks back to an earlier era. Back in the 1950s, there were many UFO sightings in the USA and they became something of a fad. One old critter in his eighties has had his fifteen minutes of fame and retired to his backwoods cabin to live the quiet life. Now there‘s some new film out by that Spielberg feller about close encounters of the alien kind. Darned tootin’ if some right purty gal reporter don’t turn up on his doorstep and bring the whole danged business up again. He ends up a-hauling ass off to the wild blue yonder at night and watches a lot of damn fool scientists with gravimeters and spectrometers and who knows what investigating the lights in the night sky. Rest assured that Andy Duncan does a far better job of good ol’ boy US slang than I do in ’Close Encounters’ and delivers a touching tale that‘s more fantasy than SF. It ain’t too heavy on plot, frankly, but the prose and the mood evoked are a pleasure.
Southern California features next. ‘Father Juniper’s Journey To The North’ by Grania Davis is a historical fantasy narrated by the scribe Sandor, a monk who accompanied Father Juniper on a mission to Alta, California in the year of Our Lord 1769. The Franciscans wanted to save the natives from paganism and Jesuits. The Spanish King and the Governor were eager for gold. One monk had a monkey from South America which was very clever, did tricks and rode on the back of a pig. Were the monkey and pig supernatural spirits? Sandor wasn’t sure. History and Sandor tell us that Father Juniper’s noble efforts did not work out so well for the natives. This was a polished piece, like everything in the magazine, but evoked no great joy in my soul.
Back to the American heartlands again for Chet Arthur’s ‘The Sheriff’ but this time set in the wild western past. Jimson is an orphan who works in the town hotel and, though a simple soul, has the gift of prophecy. He see’s bits of the future. So when he tells his foster mother, Bama, that the sheriff is going to be shot, she is worried. Shore ‘nuff, the sheriff bites the dust and the man who takes his place has to track down the varmints what done it. This was a neat, old-fashioned western story, deftly told with nice touches of humour and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One advantage of fantasy is that it allows a broad range of settings and all other genres can be subsumed into it.
‘Where the Summer Dwells’ by Lynda E. Rucker was also set in the remoter parts of the USA. It was a fey, feminine tale about some young people going off to a gothic southern backwater and having something fantastical happen. The narrative was cleverly set up as the protagonist makes a trip now and recalls the past one made with other folks.
There’s a kind of Confederate feel about it when Mars revolts in ‘A Diary From Deimos’ by Michael Alexander. It’s the story of a revolution on an Earth colony world. Told in the form of a patriotic rebel lady’s diary, it echoes and satirises all those successful revolts in Robert Heinlein’s fiction by making the rebels a bit sordid and a bit gun happy, too. Earth has freed the robots and Mars doesn’t want to follow suit, a situation somewhat analogous to the war between the states, at least if you take the simplistic view that it was all about slavery. The diarist is one of those fussy, silly women that Heinlein often mocked in his fiction and there are clever one line references to Asimov’s ‘The Martian Way’ and even ‘Bartleby The Scrivener’ by Herman Melville. Call me Ishmael if this isn’t the most fun a writer can have with an old theme. I loved every word of it.
That same war between the states is looming over all in ‘The Goddess’ by Albert E. Cowdrey, who now appears in this magazine almost every issue and why not. Justin Lamarck is the son, by a slave woman, of a rich and powerful plantation owner. On a trip to London to investigate cotton machinery, he meets up with a Hindoo (the old spelling is used) named Ganesh Srinavasan, who tends him when he is seasick on the voyage back home and becomes his partner in running the plantation when Pa has a stroke. Into this powerful mix is thrown Madeleine Delatour, a dusky-skinned, sensual seventeen year-old that Ganesh finds when he is looking for a female for Justin. He gets more than he bargained for from this worshipper of Kali, but he can cope with powerful women. These ingredients might have gone to make a big, thick southern novel, a bestseller even. Why Mister Cowdrey chose to turn them into a droll, slickly plotted and slightly dark fantasy I could not say. I liked it a lot but you may not. Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.
The other stories in this issue move far away from the Mason-Dixon line. ‘12:03 p.m.’ by Richard A. Lupoff definitely takes us into fantastical territory though the setting is the present day real world. Mister Castleman goes to see a psychiatrist and can tell her exactly how their conversation is going to unfold because he has had it many times before. His life tends to jump from one scene to another, changing when he touches a doorknob to leave a room and then finds himself entering another one for another repeated scene. This unfolds intriguingly and though the ending was one of those indefinite ones of which I am not fond, it was firmly fixed in the genre emblazoned on the cover of the magazine.
‘Give Up’ by Richard Butner is about Everest, in a way. For Jim’s forty-third birthday, he tells his wife, Charlotte, he wants nothing but buys himself a big blue tent that is an Everest simulation, a Backyard Everest. Jim and Charlotte are the local king and queen of trivia competitions, always winning, but he had been stumped a few months before when asked the identity of the two British explorers who died on Everest in 1924. He knew one was George Mallory who famously said, ‘because it’s there’, when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain but couldn’t identify the other bloke. This sparked an interest in Everest that led to the self-bought gift. Jim enters the tent and sets out to ‘climb’ Everest. Simulated Everest climbs are indubitably a good idea as I understand the Nepalese are now begging people to stay away because the mountain is covered in litter and corpses so popular has it become. The story did not, perhaps, live up to the originality of the concept but that might be because it reminded me of the many holodeck tales in ‘Star Trek’, of which I am not fond. (The holodeck tales, I mean. I am fond of ‘Star Trek’, obviously.)
Nonetheless, virtual reality is definitely an SF possibility that‘s becoming real and could have many applications. In ‘Theobrama Valentine’ by Rand B. Lee, it’s used in psychotherapy. The story is set in a far future with multiple alien species interacting on many worlds. Theobrama is a very special planet because of the chocolate plantations. The best chocolate known to sentients is produced there but the wealth this brings and the troubled background of the inhabitants, who started out as plantation slaves, makes it a hotbed of psychiatric troubles. Tuli is a psychiatrist who works with clients using virtual reality. Her last three clients have dismembered her while she was playing her role. An investigation is launched as this is unusual. Rand B. Lee delivers a highly entertaining story which is real hard core Science Fiction, full of weird names, strange terminology and great ideas. The notion that all emotional/rational species are subject to mental health problems is one I have not come across before. Aliens are usually presented as ruthless, evil, kindly, indifferent, logical and so forth but rarely as being as flawed as ourselves. Original.
Paul Di Filippo has a regular department called ‘Plumage From Pegasus’ which he fills with interesting stuff, often in the form of fiction as here. ‘Call Me Ishmael: LIKE/DISLIKE’ is perhaps a prediction of the future of publishing. First, spend years on social networks building up a vast array of ‘friends’. Then announce that you are going to write a novel once your customer base is all set up. Then let them in on it as you write so that it can meet with their approval. Electronic publishing is very probably the way things will be. The fact that the most appalling rubbish can become popular only makes it likely that more people will take up writing in the hopes of fame and cash. I am currently hard at work on ‘Forty Shades of Green’ the story of an Irish nymphomaniac. Note that this idea is now under copyright as it is in print. If anyone else makes millions with it, I will sue them for fifty percent.
‘Arc’ by Ken Liu opens with Lena Auzenne, in the winter of her days, being interviewed by reporters and recalling her life. When sixteen, she was made pregnant by a rich college boy who did a bunk. I didn’t like Lena when she left her baby with her parents to run off with another n’er do-well but, as she points out, the father also dodged his responsibilities and many people didn’t mind that so much, including me. Somehow a mother leaving the baby seems worse. Suitably chastened for my double standards, I read on. Lena eventually hitches up with the founder of Bodywerks, a company which has the formula for a long, healthy life. Meditations on the desirability of near immortality are not new to Science Fiction but this is a good one. Ken Liu impressed me last issue with his story ‘Real Faces’. One to watch.
Onwards. Mari is the seventh child in a big, out-going friendly family of blonde, sporty types who live in Norway, a land where, I believe, the blue parrots are easily stunned. Her fine skin burns in the mildest sun and she is more quiet and introverted than the rest of the family. There is a legend that one of her ancestors mated with a troll centuries before and that a child like her occurs every few generations. The obvious trick here is to make her an outcast but author Peter Dickinson doesn’t do that. In ‘Troll Blood’, she is an integral part of her big happy family. She falls in academically with a professor researching an ancient Norse manuscript and romantically with a hydroelectric engineer from England. When danger comes, she has to rescue the man she loves. This story had a lot of what Stephen King, in ‘Misery’, termed the ‘Gotcha’, at least for me. Pizza blackened in the oven while I read eagerly on to see what happened next. It was also a very good love story in a subtle but powerful way.
‘Contact’ by Sophie M. White
Because the sentences
Are broken up
More traditional poems
It was clever though
In a way.
I believe the usual way to review products of an anthological nature is to pick out the highlights and dismiss the rest with a line or two. I have done that with lesser magazines but I haven’t yet managed it with this one. Every yarn has some quality that deserves a mention, some impact that provokes a thought. This makes reviewing it a long job but such worthy stories, such worthy writers, should be saluted. In the teeming world market, it’s hard for talent to get noticed and in the declining short story market a magazine keeping quality fiction of this length alive deserves promotion. The electronic edition of ‘MofF&SF’ costs less than a pint of beer and will give you many more hours of pleasure. You can still have beer, mind. They are not mutually exclusive.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.50 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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