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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 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' 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 Nick Gevers

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The emphasis of the May issue of F&SF falls heavily on the side of Fantasy, and why not? The results, in the magazine short fiction field, that preserve far removed from the genre's customary bug-crushing Tolkienian gigantism, can be very pleasing, if the lineup here is anything to go by.

Technically, May's cover story, "Doing the Unstuck" by Paul Di Filippo, is SF; but this novelette, written in the author's best laid-back ironic-verbose style, is a fantasy in the fundamental sense, a tale of wishes dangerously granted and magical incursions repelled. Its gist is that a teenage girl named Erin, a standard alienated Goth-wannabe and worshipper of the band known as The Cure, wants a new and wilder hairdo, the drawback being that this comes in the form of a parasitic alien shaped just like such a coiffure; life- and world-changing events follow, all according to the logic of wish-fulfillment and archetypal rites of passage. Facile stuff, but ingenious and graceful in its breezy knowingness.

Not dissimilar in essence, but couched in some mockery of the splendid tones of High Fantasy, is another novelette, "Firebird" by R. Garcia y Robertson, strong evidence that its writer should avoid the bottom-of-the-barrel escapism of his time-travel jaunts (regularly featured in Asimov's), and cleave to a more straightforward variety of adventure narrative. "Firebird" is an amusing and entrancing account of how an orphan girl, kept in protective servitude by a forest witch in a colourful land-of-fable version of Old Muscovy, finds love and purpose in assisting a fugitive knight avoid capture by a tyrannical Prince; haunted woods and the hollowness of chivalric pretenses are marvelously evoked here, and sequels are both possible and well deserved.

So much for maidens finding themselves; a boy performs a subtler and much more sinister transformation upon himself in "Playmate" by Kit Reed, a fine short story that is the essence of suburban angst, and a profound meditation on how children are shaped, for better or worse, by their parents' regard. The same concise richness of implication distinguishes "Achronicity" by Raymond Steiber, a very impressive allegory on the human individual's plight in this Fallen world, born involuntarily, lulled into a long denial of death, and then caught up anyway in the grim dance of mortality; the protagonist is a human representative on a far world receiving instructions from mission headquarters, but the voice he hears over the air is hardly a mortal one, such is its cruel consistency. And Thomas M. Disch in even less space -- the four pages of "Jour de Fete" -- gives additional voice to the ritualization of human frailty, in a poetic glimpse of the violence mediaeval Europe contained with such difficulty, and which it released in such frenzied gasps.

The arch-veteran of the ironic SF short story, Robert Sheckley, communicates a certain horrifying paranoia rather effectively in "A Trick Worth Two Of That", a dark fantasy set mainly in still-ominous Transylvania; but his reliance on old-fashioned direct exposition leaves him very much in the shadow of the inspired rising fantasist Jeffrey Ford, whose "The Honeyed Knot" is a master class in how to tell one story straight while vouchsafing another (and greater) obliquely. Ford relates the oddities a creative writing instructor encounters in his students, all interesting and appalling enough; but the tale of the honeyed knot is his real subject, and the reader must assemble it into being from sundry clues, distributed through the text in the manner of Gene Wolfe. Ford's first collection, planned for 2002, is something to anticipate.

And then there is Richard Bowes. His "The Ferryman's Wife" is a finely-written novelette, an account of Time Rangers regulating the suburban 50s as part of a War against intelligences beyond the event horizon of human experience; in accordance with a prevailing sense that the Enemy is not to be known, the main conflict is offstage, and the drama of human jealousy that we can behold is also fugitive, implied, half-seen, certain of its hints proving very disturbing indeed. Especially glimpses afforded of an alternate Eighteenth Century London presided over by one Lord Riot. This series of tales should continue.

For those impatient with such sidewise methods of storytelling, there is always Lucius Shepard's Film column, his latest target being The Sixth Day, which he blasts asunder without subtlety or fuss. Long may his thunderbolts strike.

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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