A new year and a new issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ with which to celebrate it. Hurrah!
The first thing I scanned was ‘The Via Panisperna Boys In “Operation Harmony”’, co-authored by Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo, two fellows clearly not frightened by quotation marks. Unless Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1934 and Marconi invented an iconoscope television that lets the watchers be watched, this is set in an alternative history. The lads of the title are a bunch of Italian physicists who flee to the USA to develop a weapon to fight Hitler. Quite a nice weapon really. Enrico Fermi is their leader and they enjoy playing music together. The other band members are Ettore Majorana, Emilio Segrè and Bruno Pontecorvo, all of whom can be found in Internet encyclopaedias. One of those stories that are good fun to read and was probably even more fun to write.
These historical fantasies are often entertaining, as is the case again with ‘The Man Who Hanged Three Times’ by C.C. Finlay. Consarn it, if this one ain’t set in the old west. Dagnabit, a fine tale of a drunk and no good citizen, who is accused of killing the Chinese woman with whom he lived in sin. He denies it but is found guilty and they try to hang him. The narrator of this one is interesting and it did not feature Hollywood made-up swearwords. That’s just me.
‘The New Cambrian’ by Andy Stewart is definitely my type of thing and might have been printed in one of those great SF magazines of the fifties such as ‘Astonishing’ (now ‘Analog’), ‘Galaxy’ or even ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’. It’s a good old-fashioned story of engineers and biologists working on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Dr Schneider, a female biologist, has been lost in a tragic accident in the ice-covered ocean, the first death on the planet. It shakes everyone. Our first-person narrator is her former lover, Ty. Their affair ceased when his wife Ana came to join them at the base. Human feelings interact with the complexities of life in alien waters to make an interesting yarn that borders on horror.
There’s more Science Fiction in ‘For All Of Us Down Here’ by Alex Irvine which extrapolates the continuing separation of society into the haves and have-nots. Perhaps I should say renewed separation. We got a bit more equal for a while. Anyway, in a not too distant future, the ‘haves’ can upload themselves to the Sing, which seems to be an orbiting computer complex. Their bodies are cared for but they soon lose the knack of using them properly. The story is about an encounter between a lad in Orono, Maine (that crossword puzzle favourite, as Stephen King once called it) and a Singular. It’s a neat family drama, but the context of the story is more interesting and I am sure there are other tales, probably a novel, to be extracted from this fascinating concept. Once the technology exists, I have no doubt there will be people delighted to upload themselves into their favourite computer game and spend eternity there, especially as the condition of planet Earth deteriorates.
Moving from the Sing to Song, Seth Chambers gets the editorial mature content warning for his novella ‘In Her Eyes’ and, rightly so, as the language is crude and direct. That suits the character of the lady in it. The gentleman and first-person narrator is Alex, who works in a museum, and it’s there that he meets Song, a not very pretty woman. He likes her, despite her looks, they go out and then there are some surprises. To say more would be to ruin it for the reader but it is a raunchy yet emotional story based on an interesting Science Fictional concept. A strong contender for the best story this issue, if the magazines still ran polls.
Paul Di Filippo has the regular ‘Plumage From Pegasus’ spot as well as the aforementioned collaboration and gives us ‘The Very Last Miserabilist In Paradise’. Science has solved all mankind’s problems and there is boundless energy, food for all and no work unless you want to, and all the benefits once dreamed of by SF writers. But one SF writer is not happy. Good fun as usual.
Albert E. Cowdrey is a welcome regular in these pages, often with comedy, but ‘Out Of The Deep’ presents him in serious mode. After an incisive description of fifties America, the protagonist, Pete, tells us how he met Alistair McCallistair, a rich kid, whilst on holiday on the Gulf coast. Time passes and Pete is a Viet-Nam vet and a bit messed up. McCallistair has avoided the war, as rich kids did, and now hires his old friend as a bodyguard because one of the bad guys is out to kill him. The fantastical element comes from McCallistair’s cook and concubine, a lady from the Caribbean with that ol’ black magic. It’s a great story with interesting characters, not least, the messed up ‘hero’. Cowdrey is a good old-fashioned storyteller who gives you a definite beginning, middle and cathartic end. You know exactly what’s happened and there’s none of that woolly vagueness that sometimes plagues the genre. He deserves to be on the bestseller lists and many of his yarns, because they are so strong as stories, would make good films, including this one. He could easily write straight thrillers, I think, and achieve mainstream success but clearly, he has a fondness for fantasy. We are lucky to have him.
‘The Museum Of Error’ is a longer entertainment from Oliver Buckram, who has contributed hilarious short stories in the past. Herbert Linden is the Assistant Curator for military history in the museum and is called upon to investigate when the petrified cat goes missing. The cat was turned to stone by the gorgon gun of mad inventor Theophrastus Morhof who accidentally petrified himself, too, and is also an exhibit. Evil rivals at the Science Institute may be responsible for the theft. Buckram’s inventiveness in dreaming up the exhibits for the Museum of Error is almost unbelievable and there’s a good gag in nearly every paragraph. It also works pretty well as a detective story. Thoroughly enjoyable.
‘We Don’t Mean To Be Kind’ by Robert Reed is set in a distant future when the universe is winding down and some creatures catch up with the Creator. The conflict is told from both points of view. An interesting concept at the far reaches of the fantastical and I’m not sure if I liked it or not. I’m pretty sure it’s good and that my hesitancy is based on residual Catholic guilt and the fear that He might be watching me read and judging.
Moira Crone gets away with ‘The Lion Wedding’ one of those fantasies set in the ‘real’ world that are generally written by and appeal to sensitive ladies. Well-crafted and some will like it but not really my type of thing. Likewise ‘The Story Teller’ by Bruce Jay Friedman in which a professor of literature finds himself in an afterlife where a story is demanded from him. It was okay but writers writing about writing should probably be confined to non-fiction.
The stories by Cowdrey, Buckram and Chambers more than compensate for the cover price of the magazine by themselves and the additional worthy material is a bonus. I should also mention the non-fiction articles but my electronic preview does not include the current ones and by the time I get a hard copy the review is done. Generally, they are excellent. The intelligent book reports of Charles De Lint and Elizabeth Hand give me good lists of books I don’t have time to read and so are frustrating. Readers with fewer tomes to be done will find them useful. On the other hand, a movie takes up less lifespan and the film reviews, by various contributors, highlight DVDs to look out for, often ones that have not been commercially successful but are well worth a watch. Also, they are not snobbish and will allow that a half-decent Hollywood action movie of the sci-fi sort can be entertaining, too.
So, ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science-Fiction’ is keeping alive several worthy traditions. For the Creator’s sake buy it and keep them going!
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/