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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 2004
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 2004
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 Chris Przybyszewski

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The December 2004 edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction offers a study on why short fantasy is so danged hard for so many writers. The problem is not one of content or form. That is, fantasy has its writers who have fantastic imaginations, and who deliver that imagination with heavy subtext. Many of these writers are skilled artisans whose writing acumen generate excellent prose (and poetry, for that matter). However, the fantasy writer works with one handicap in that he/she generally feels an urge to explain a novel's-worth of universe into five thousand too-short words.

It's a question of immersion: how does a writer pull a reader into a world that does not exist? One method to immediately immerse the reader is to allow exposition to carry the story. Where a writer should use action and dialogue, he/she uses lengthy narrator explanations that summarize backstory, etc.

An example of this is "Virgin Wings" by Sydney J. Van Scyoc. The story details the hardships a young love must face under pressures from differing religious viewpoints. It's a simple story about how one must choose belief in one's god or the belief in one's relationship with another. The simplicity of the story, and the power with which Van Scyoc tells it are overwhelmed by the enormity of the world. Van Scyoc attempts to give the reader sufficient history, culture, and religious dogma, but also she must build the relationship between the two main characters.

Truly, the world details are very good and are worth reading. Also, Van Scyoc paints a vivid tapestry on which hundreds of stories could be told. However, the main crux of this story are the characters going through this important moment. I would prefer to have a thinner world, one left more to my imagination, while seeing more of what Van Scyoc has to say about the two characters.

Van Scyoc's challenge was compounded by her choice to use a third-person omniscient point of view. Though limited, the narrator knows a ton about the world in which the story sits and the narrator has little reason not to tell the story of the world along with the story of these two people. After all, a third person omniscient does not belong only to the characters rather to the world itself.

A second issue is that Van Scyoc goes the typically realist route of so many fantasy writers. This is not a bad thing since many fantasy readers want a realistic world that has sights, sounds, and feelings that seem up close and personal. However, one of the burdens of realism is a certain level of detail that enables a description to feel like it lives and breathes. Minutia in description gives a scene life. Happily, it does seem that Van Scyoc picks the right details to display her world to efficiency. Perhaps she will realize the richness of her imagination and allow for more room in which to tell a story.

John Morressy takes a different route in "Walter and the Wonderful Watch," which is written like a fairy tale or Aesop's Fable. Instead of heavy description, Morressy thins the world in lieu of dialogue and action. The story of Walter and his journey to the big city progresses quickly. We see little of his past life or his world rather than his act of moving from his childhood home.

The story follows a well-known prototype of young but special lad gets help from mystical creature (his watch) to find instant fame and fortune at the cost of those stupid and in power.

Whereas Van Scyoc perhaps gives too much about her world, Morressy does not give enough. In a few short pages and without conflict, Walter gets everything for which he could dream. In a few short pages, Morressy shows a world changing event. In fable fashion, Morressy presents the moral of "don't waste time."

The efficiency of the story, and that the story's form matches the moral is appreciated. Morressy wastes no time himself in telling the story of finishing it. However, perhaps the speed is too great, and Morressy misses his chance to tell something memorable about a talking watch and the boy that would be king. Instead, the result is a passing glance at a short story that will be forgotten soon after it has been read.

While "show, don't tell" is still a valid maxim for many writers, fantasy writers need to see the balance between exposition and action to a higher level than certain counterparts.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.


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