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Editor's Choice: Short Fiction Reviews
by David A. Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has been reading science fiction and fantasy for forty years. For the past four years he has edited TANGENT: The Only Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Fiction Review Magazine. It was runner-up for the 1997 Hugo Award. The intent of this column is to present reviews of selected short fiction that strike Dave's interest as his reading for Tangent continues. If you would like to read more short fiction reviews, try Tangent as it reviews every original story in all American, Canadian, British, and Australian professional SF & F magazines (as well as many others).

For more of David's opinions, we've put together a table of contents for other Editor's Choice columns.

Magazines
For information on the contents of an issue or for subscription details, you can try the following sites:
Asimov's Science Fiction
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
On Spec
Cemetery Dance
Interzone
OMNI
Talebones
Tomorrow SF
Current Cover
Realms of Fantasy, April 1998
"Unicorn Stew" William R. Eakin
"Egyptian Motherlode" David Sander & Jacob Weisman
"Juanito, The Magic Beans, and the Giant" Carrie Richerson
"Miss'ippi Snow" Deborah Thérese D'Onofrio
"Tiger. Tiger" Severna Park
"While each of the following stories is engaging in its own way, I found two to be more totally successful than their companions.

"Unicorn Stew" runs the emotional gamut from grisly to ultimately uplifting, showing the lengths to which a mother will go to protect one of her children from an abusive father. While I'm sick of dysfunctional family settings this one works very well. What marred this piece was an annoying character trait used by the author to set one of his characters off from the others. Rather than making this character easily identifiable, having almost every spoken line repeated twice eventually grated and distracted from an otherwise warm tale. Aside from my personal quibble, Eakin's evocation of the last of the modern unicorns was quite memorable.

The Sander & Weisman piece tries to marry rock with the summoning of ancient gods. Well enough realized for what it attempts, I found nothing substantially innovative or different to mark this as above others of its ilk.

It's always a pleasure to see one of Carrie Richerson's all too infrequent short stories. In "Juanito, The Magic Beans, and the Giant" she successfully reworks Jack and the Beanstalk with Cortez's murderous and suppressive time amongst the Aztecs. Otherwise imaginative and well-wrought, my only quibble was the rather expected denouement.

An elegantly crafted ghost story is my first...

Editor's Choice:
"Miss'ippi Snow" by Deborah Thérese D'Onofrio
"Miss'ippi Snow" is written in delicate, gossamer prose. Quite short, and thus all the more effective, it is a sad reflection by one southern woman during the Civil War, and her entreaties to her ghostly lover to choose the love she offers over the certain death war will bring. Even ghostly soldiers must make difficult choices, and Lady Death is more seductive than many would imagine. A quietly powerful yet understated commentary, it gives us to wonder whether death and war will ever lose their appeal for humankind.

The always exotic landscape of India serves as the backdrop of my second...

Editor's Choice:
"Tiger. Tiger" by Severna Park
A serial killer in near-future India exhibiting the gruesome traits of a man-eating tiger sets the stage for author Parks' flashback sequences of ancient man-eater hunts as they once were carried out in this fable-rich land. Her female detective Radha is the vehicle by which we learn of the young Rewati, and her magical encounter with a man-eater in times long vanished. Woven together expertly, the contrast between the present and the past is brought into fine relief as the poignant resolution effectively puts closure to both tales. Past and present are now at peace. Well done.

Commentary
The fiction in this issue of Realms of Fantasy is wonderfully varied -- as it usually is -- but while I realize the marketing reasons for placing buxom women, barbarians, dragons, trolls, and the assorted tropes of either high fantasy or sword & sorcery on the cover, it really isn't indicative of the fiction to be found within. Far from it. Would that the decision makers take a chance and just once try to attract new readers with more sophisticated cover art -- such as is found in their beautiful Art Gallery spotlight in each issue.

After all, if a younger audience is attracted to the present cover art, chances are they won't find the fiction in Realms of Fantasy to reflect this type of high fantasy or sword & sorcery art. If, as the theory goes, the traditional, more adolescent marketed art does get them to read the fiction, and they do find it to their liking, then a different sort of cover art won't make that much difference anyway. Except to perhaps attract the occasional "older" buyer who may have been hitherto put off by the done-to-death, cookie-cutter tropes of high fantasy or sword & sorcery art that glut the covers of so many novels elsewhere in the bookstore.

Finally, in her editorial Shawna McCarthy asks her readership what attracts them to fantasy over SF. In her (new) June editorial she supplies some of the answers she's received. I find a few of them alarming, distressing, and in some instances just downright inaccurate (as does she, so she states, from her many years in the business). My kudos to her for saying so in print.

I have the feeling I'll be explaining my own feelings on this subject at more length when I get around to reviewing the June issue of Realms of Fantasy. But for now (and if the 120 or so responses she's received so far are any indication), it would appear that those responding haven't read much other than high fantasy of the Never-Ending-Series variety, they want a comfortable read and nothing much in the way of a challenge, and they have an extremely limited and erroneous view of what SF is about, and the riches it has to offer. As a lover of both science fiction and fantasy -- in all of their many-colored varieties -- I find this a shame, and quite sad. I've always read science fiction and fantasy because I bore easily, and these two genre literatures are one (collective) place where, whether for escape, or more seriously challenging fare, I know I'm not likely to be bored.

So when I see comments like those Ms. McCarthy has presented from her readers in her June editorial -- where (I'm assuming younger) readers are limiting themselves to only a single type of fantasy because it is easy and comfortable -- and eschewing other forms of fantasy, and science fiction altogether because it's "too hard" to understand, it leaves me shaking my head at the newer generation of readers.

I'm not knocking anyone's taste at all; after all I love hamburgers, too. But I can't eat them day after day after day. It's not healthy, and more than anything else, it's boring. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Truesdale


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