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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2002
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2002
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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When I was a kid, I used to watch a television show that had a brief run in the late 50s called The People's Choice in which actor Jackie Cooper would stumble about in various situations doing sundry stupid things that were supposed to be a cause for humor. (Which just goes to prove how little the sitcom premise has evolved over the last half century.) The gimmick was that the main character's basset hound, who went by the name of Cleo, provided a "secret" running commentary -- held strictly in confidence between herself and the viewer -- about just how ridiculous the show's characters were behaving. The humans, of course, were totally oblivious to the superior intelligence of a supposed "dumb" animal.

The famous Mr. Ed series was a little more successful with the formula; this time a talking horse would provide guidance to Wilbur, the hapless human. Disney, of course, has built an empire on the notion of talking animals. In popular culture, what wins the mass audience are four-legged creatures anthropromorphized via some hip actor's voice-over, the latest example of which is Eddie Murphy as a donkey in the movie Shrek.

In "Dazzle's Inferno," the cover story of the June Fantasy and Science Fiction, Scott Bradfield takes what could be -- and usually is -- easily a "too cutesy" idea and puts some real bite into it. Dazzle is a pooch apparently without a master, but still subject to human interventions supposedly in the dog's best interest from such well-intentioned folks as the SPCA and Animal Welfare Agents.

"So I don't get it," Dazzle opined to anybody who would listen. "They de-worm and de-louse us, shoot us full of antibiotics, and when we're healthy enough, they throw us into this steel trap where we're expected to piss through the floors and drink out of rusty bowls. But that's all part of the process of deindividuation, isn't it? Killing off the yeasty organic boil in our blood, while committing our bodies to this state of immaculate unliving called Animal Preservation. What they want to preserve, of course, is everything that isn't animal..."
The "anybody who would listen" constitutes Dazzle's fellow canines, and one mutt, called Grunt, in particular, though for the most part the reaction to his ongoing rants is, at best, tolerant indifference. Much like Jackie Cooper with Cleo, people aren't privy to Dazzle's pontifications. However, when an animal researcher "saves" Dazzle from the pound to serve as a subject for an inter-species communication experiment, she doesn't like what she gets to hear. Or, as she so eloquently puts it to Dazzle, "I think it's time for you to shut the fuck up, you stupid annoying mutt."

Unfortunately for Dazzle, his rambling monologue puts him in a tight spot that requires ingenious thinking to extract himself out of, but which also requires a significant compromise of his oft-stated principles. The concluding bit of philosophizing, in which it turns out that Grunt more than the over-intellectualized Dazzle has an actual clue to the meaning of existence, provide an apt Aesop Tale for our times.

Modern morality tales continue with "Sam" by Donald Barr, which combine two contemporary prevalent trends -- the popular corporate response to cut costs by firing people and the rise of Alzheimer's in a growing aged demographic. Sometimes we tend to forget certain casualties of circumstance in a sort of self-imposed Alzheimer's. "Sam" depicts the struggle to both remember and be compassionate.

While both of these stories are humorous in their own way, "Dating Secrets of the Dead" by David Prill gets my vote for the issue's outright sickest premise with a sappy ending worthy of any romantic comedy. Tim Burton should consider the film version.

Also on the subject of mortality, though a more somber meditation, is Robert Sheckley's "Sightseeing." Fate is equally unforgiving even in the multiple universes of quantum realities portrayed in Yoon Ha Lee's "The Black Abacus" in which the only thing you learn from mirrored histories is that you are doomed to repeat yourself. In contrast, Shelia Finch's "Miles to Go" suggests we can master our fate, but not without certain costs, in depicting a famous wheelchair athlete who weighs the tradeoffs of a new surgical technique in restoring his ability to walk will also destroy what has come to define him.

The two stories that round out this month's fiction are, to varying degrees, inspired by past Masters of the form. John Morressy's "When Bertie Met Mary" is a humorous homage to classic works you wouldn't ordinarily pair together -- H.G. Wells's The Time Machine and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And the lead novelette by Ron Wolfe, "Our Friend Electricity," haunts the Bradburian territory of the Dark Carnival:

I loved Tori. Tori loved Coney Island. The moral is such an old one, maybe you know it already. Don't take any wooden nickels.
Good advice. Here's one more piece of advice -- your nickels would be well spent on this issue.

Copyright © 2002 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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