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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, founded in 1949, is the award-winning SF magazine which is the original publisher of SF classics like Stephen King's Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. Each 160-page issue offers compelling short stories and novellas by writers such as Ray Bradbury, Ben Bova, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mike Resnick, Terry Bisson and many others, along with the science fiction field's most respected and outspoken opinions on books, films and science.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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I don't quite understand why the March Fantasy and Science Fiction is packaged as a special "single-author" Lucius Shepard issue when it also contains unrelated work from Robert Reed, Robert Thurston, Esther Friesner, and Michael Bishop. Granted, the "book" has to have so many pages, and the Shepard material -- an appreciation by Katherine Dunn, a bibliography, an acerbic film review by the author and the featured story, "Eternity and Afterwards" -- while substantial, doesn't add up to the requisite pagination. But it really is a disservice to the other authors whose work comes across as filler in comparison to Shepard's highly thought-provoking allegory about moral decay, "Eternity and Afterward."

Dunn notes that, "critics have compared Shepard to Robert Stone, and called him the 'rock and roll Joseph Conrad.'" The comparison is apt. "Eternity and Afterward" plumbs the same despairing depths as Heart of Darkness with a depiction of human depravity that is even bleaker than Conrad. Funnier, too.

Viktor Chemayev is a hit man for the Russian mafiya. He is a cautious, methodical person who instead of spending his "blood-money" on lavish frivolities has carefully invested it. With the fruit of his earnings -- four million in gold certificates -- secreted in a money belt, Chemayev awaits an appointment in the Moscow nightclub Eternity, a fabrication dedicated to the solemnization of modern consumption and amoral excess. Chemayev seeks to purchase the release of his lover Larissa, a call-girl in the employ of Eternity's mysteriously legendary, and perhaps magical, owner, Yuri Lebedev, and flee to a better life in America. However, Chemayev's mafiya boss, Lev Polutin (note the symbolism here), seems to be aware of his intentions and may be planning to prevent the escape. But the biggest obstacle involves the limitations of Chemayev's personal character, one well suited to the requirements of his cold-hearted profession but perhaps not to that of "knight in shining armour." The seemingly drug-induced encounters in the bowels of Eternity peel back the fragility of a human being whose compromises to survive doom his quest for a better existence.

What happens once Chemayev passes into "the inscrutable heart of Eternity" -- and I'm sure Shepard is purposely and rightfully making the allusion to the famous Conrad tale -- is a study in the baseness of a human soul born and bred by the sensibilities of the modern industrial-corporate complex. One that affects all of us, not necessarily those who literally kill-for-hire, but perhaps are assassins of a more mundane kind.

If the illusion to Conrad is pretty obvious, so too is the "rock and roll" adjective in such passages as this which should bring a smile to any fan:

    "Do you fancy Irish, music, Viktor?...Bands, you know. Rock 'n' roll."
    "U-2," said Chemayev absently. "I like U-2."
    "Jesus! U2!" March launched into a simpering parody of 'In the Name of Love' and them made a flatulent sound with his lips. "Bono Vox, my ass. That ball-less little prat. I'm talking about real Irish music. Van the Man! Not some gobshite got up in a gold jockstap."
    "He's okay," Chemayev said.
    "What the fuck do you mean, 'okay'? That's soul music man! Ahh!" He made a dismissive gesture with the automatic. "That's what I get for trying to talk rock 'n' roll with a Russian. Your idea of music is some fat asshole playing folk songs on a lute."
One suspects that the opinions expressed here are those of Mr. Shepard, who most likely would find it difficult to land a writing assignment for the fawning Rolling Stone.

As for the other stories in this issue, of particular interest is Robert Reed's "Market Day," covering somewhat similar territory as Shepard in exploring the crushing compromises of the human spirit. Here Reed postulates on some other nasty side effects that the currently evolving agri-bioengineering revolution may be heading towards. Particularly relevant in light of the hysteria in Europe over "hoof and mouth" disease and how it has affected livestock and livelihoods.

Other stories include "Slipshod, at the End of the Universe," by Robert Thurston, an amusing alien/human love story, and Michael Bishop's "Her Chimpanion," a slight effort which I doubt would have been published had it been tossed off by an author lacking Bishop's considerable esteem. Esther Friesner's "Warts and All" is one of those "fractured fairy tales" -- this time a riff on the Frog Prince -- that contains such lines of modern enlightenment as this:

    "Whatever can you do, Mamma?" the princess Eudosia said to be a comfort. "Pappa has left us of his own free will."
    "A man does not know what his own free will is until a woman tells him," the queen replied. "You have much to learn, my daughter."
I've always been amused by these things, but I can understand how others could find this annoying.

No matter. While the Reed piece is certainly worth perusing, the primary reason to get this issue is Shepard's novella, which is not to be missed. The problem is that you're reading this review long after the issue has gone off the shelves. In the event that for some inexplicable reason "Eternity and Afterward" doesn't appear in some future "Best of" anthology, fortunately you can order a back issue directly from the Fantasy and Science Fiction website. Do it now; you'll thank me later.

Copyright © 2001 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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