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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2002
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 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


"We're all doing the same thing," he had said once. "The astronomers, physicists. mathematicians, philosophers, palmists. tea-leaf readers, we're all looking for the answers to the same riddle, the meaning of existence. Some of us use math and physics, rigorous scientific theory and experiments, others use intuition and rituals, but the search is the same. We all know there's more than meets the eye out there."
Seems to me that you could easily add "science fiction and fantasy writer" to that list of searchers. Indeed, the situation addressed by this character in Kate Wilhelm's lead story. "The Man in the Persian Carpet," is to one extent or another shared by all the fiction -- as well as non-fiction -- in February's Fantasy and Science Fiction issue, not to mention the genre, and literature as a whole. Which, I think, is why most of us read this stuff. Not just for fun -- though some of these stories are quite fun -- but to ponder what it might be that "more than meets the eye out there."

Besides a sort of shared theme -- how we live with the decisions we make at certain critical "Forkpoints" (the Shelia Finch title about a worn-out actress who has made some seemingly bad choices) and possibly correct them -- this issue also struck me as the classic type of thing I devoured at the archetypal "golden age" of 12. Wondrous tales of time travel, beings from another world who turn out to be humans just like us but with the benefit of a literally broader perspective of the universe, a Twilight Zone vignette of a cynical character beleaguered by strange technology, a couple of ghost stories of both the ephemeral and literally re-emerging from the grave variety. Just the thing to while away a rainy Saturday afternoon or a day beneath the bedcovers sick from school.

Wilhelm's time travel piece explores how we perhaps never fully comprehend how our youthful decisions affect not only us, but those important to us. In a similar way, Steven Utley's "Foodstuff," another one of his time travelling Silurian Tales, works the theme of how even someone supposedly crazy can affect our view of reality. "Black Dust" by Graham Joyce is a fairly run-of-the-mill ghost story, and while Robert Sheckley also visits familiar territory -- that of a curmudgeonly science fiction writer beset by a pair of talking shoes ("shoes with soul" in other words) that attempt to straighten out his wayward life -- it is still quite amusing. The best stories here, for my money, are Jack Williamson's "Afterlife" and Dale Bailey's "Death and Suffrage." Williamson manages to take a stock SFnal theme -- a visitor from outer space becomes a Messiah figure -- to a thoughtful consideration about how choices based on faith alone can prove fatal. As for the Bailey story, here is what editor Gordon van Gelder has to say:

Okay, don't believe your editor. No one will blame you. But there are papers and documents to prove it, a contract dated October 2000, a check, email correspondence. Fact is, the... story was written before November 7, 2000.
The beauty of this story is not, however, that it seems to predict the unprecedented Presidential election results in which no one clearly won and required a last minute recount, the beauty is in the haunting metaphor of how death influences how you live.

Speaking of changing the living, Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre contribute a piece on the decisions humanity is making as it fuses biology with technology in our already cyborged world. Also of interest in the non-fictional department is Elizabeth Hand's review of Samuel Delany's classic novel, Dhalgren, if only because that book, whatever else it is about, raises the question of how little choice we sometimes actually have in confronting change.

Some people are worried about the future of the genre because the average 12 year old has become jaded by the special effects of movies, computer games, and the technologies of ordinary every day life that have destroyed the sense of wonder such stories generate. I think those concerns are misplaced. It may be true that written stories that are just about time travel, or visitors from outer space, or the living dead might pale in comparison to a mediocre night of programming on the Sci Fi Channel. But such stories as these inspire a different sense of wonder. If there is anything to worry about whether the genre can attract a new crop of younger readers, it's not that they are too technologically jaded, it's that they are not yet old enough to understand this sense of wonder, a sense that can only be shared by those old enough to have gone down -- and perhaps regretted -- how we've traveled down our own personal forkpoints.

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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