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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 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 June issue of F&SF is a nostalgia fest. Five writers look backwards, their gaze simultaneously longing and, usually, ironic; and, unsurprisingly, the majority commemorate the former (apparent) openness of America. Oh! for the 20s and its robust echoes of the Old Frontier. Oh! for the times when men were men and could fly biplanes, box in makeshift rings, or tinker with dangerous technologies without state and federal regulation. Oh! for the pop culture of those times, with its dearth of artifice, its simple dedication to adventure! Or sentiments to that general effect. With artifice added. With a new cynical take on adventure. With the gloss that 75 years as a self-conscious genre brings...

Jack Dann's long new novella, "The Diamond Pit," is a tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald, specifically his story "The Diamond As Big As the Ritz." There is a 20s setting; the obscene facile wealth of the period's tycoons is symbolized by means of a secret mountain in the Rockies made up mainly of diamond, and presided over from a private slave-staffed Shangri-La by a megalomaniacal multi-millionaire. He has a standard spoiled beautiful self-absorbed daughter; her affair with a captive pilot (shot down, like others, because he overflew the mountain) complicates an already fraught scenario of family intrigue and solipsistic moral collapse; an ambivalent chaos ensues. The tale's utter improbability is a fair and observant measure of the evanescent Jazz Age; the breeziness of Dann's narration is agreeable and perfectly pitched to his theme; and his characters, while true in every detail to the types of their epoch, undergo inversions that prefigure those types' extinction in Depression and World War and the burgeoning of federal authority. "The Diamond Pit" is an articulate and knowing elegy, one of the most intelligent SF novellas of the year.

Robert Thurston's "The World's Light Heavyweight Champion in Nineteen Twenty-Something" adds a quiet note to Dann's extroverted extravaganza. The narrator is a maker of historical documentaries (or something vaguely similar) who travels in time for on-the-spot footage. Having, superficially by accident, heard the reminiscences of an ancient one-time boxing pro in a contemporary bar, he heads for the 1920s, there to meet the champ in his prime and resolve certain nuances of his own ancestry. Thurston handles memory and its perplexities very deftly; his story is genuinely affecting, cogently true.

No such subtlety distinguishes Allen Steele's recursive entertainment, "Tom Swift and His Humongous Mechanical Dude"; his nostalgia is flagrant, his satire stentorian and straight. What if the original heroic inventor and genius, Tom Swift (subject of various rather rubbishy pulp adventures from about 1910 onwards, most attributed to Victor Appleton), living on into the present day, had a son, a namesake, a chronic weedhead, whose juvenile delinquency, exaggerated by appropriations from his father's warehouse of mechanical wonders, plagued parent, public, and police alike? Steele's answer is amusing enough, suggesting at once the decayed state of contemporary youth ambition and the heedless hubris of an earlier generation; possibly a golden mean should be found.

June's remaining stories are less specifically and effectively targeted than the main group. "Tomorrow" by Albert E. Cowdrey is about a deadbeat, a Sybil, and a slave in Ancient Roman times; unfortunately, the entire piece is essentially a not terribly original joke on the famous ambiguity of oracular prophecy, and the punchline is gratuitously obvious. Yoon Ha Lee bravely attempts to marry High Fantasy with mathematical principles in her novelette "Counting the Shapes"; but her nostalgia, unwisely, is for the days of medieval science and philosophy, when knowledge was holistic and easily applied. The tale's impact is muffled and utterly generic, its situations and characters cardboard and its theorems literal and lame. Those who fight the demon empire, those who garrison the Watchlands, should be made of sterner stuff; and the author should relinquish the pap of the cod-medieval.

But Dann and Thurston give the June F&SF a potent retrospective lustre. The 20s was a doomed decade, a flawed diamond; but in such skilled hands its effulgence beckons on.

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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