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

There are more than a few laughs -- along with a few things to think about -- in the May issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. For aspiring writer types, the laughs may be a little too close to home.

"The Essayist in the Wilderness" by William Browning Spencer presents an English professor who wins the lottery (itself a kind of fantasy) that allows his wife and him to chuck the drudgery of grading papers. They buy a retreat in the woods to devote themselves to their twin passions of reading and writing. While the wife is by far the more industrious writer, the highly self-absorbed narrator eventually hits upon the idea, notwithstanding his own lack of experience or aptitude in the great outdoors, of writing nature essays. Nature, however, has other ideas in store for the budding Thoreau, whose powers of observation remain totally oblivious to some unsettling changes almost to the very end.

The last resort of many an unsuccessful (and, unsurprisingly, not very good) writer is the vanity press in which the publisher is paid by author to put the book in print; with every near-relative, acquaintance and passer-by doomed to receive a copy. In "Our Novel," Don Webb comes up with a variation of this idea that some scam artist might actually be inspired to pull off, the dire consequences to the perpetrator of this scheme in the story notwithstanding. The idea is that aspiring mystery writers would have their unpublished work included in a collection of more well-known, albeit deceased, authors such as Raymond Chandler and Arthur Conan Doyle. This would make the book more marketable. Which is to say that each contributing author would buy 200 copies they in turn could sell, which shouldn't be too hard considering the illustrious company with whom their own work was kept. And it guarantees reviews that the book is only "half bad." Still, it turns out that the contributing writers (the live ones) get stuck with a lot of expensive hardbacks in their closets.

And it turns out that this is hardly unique. Writer wannabes across the country have succumbed to the same swindle. Which makes one particular group of writers decide to take revenge, with some unanticipated consequences for their collective literary career. File this one under: "So where do writers get their ideas?" And assume that Mr. Webb is not speaking from personal experience.

Creativity of a different sort is explored by Jeffrey Ford in "Creation" (which will also be the lead story in his forthcoming collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant). We're on more sober ground here in this exceedingly clever (what else would you expect from Ford?) examination of the creation myth and the corresponding loss of innocence in growing to adulthood.

The consequences and responsibilities of creation are also explored by the ever-prolific Robert Reed. In "Trouble Is," a human offers to help an android, but it quickly becomes evident his motivations are less than altruistic. The theological extrapolation presented here is that perhaps, notwithstanding what believers maintain, God really doesn't have much of a clue about creation, and that this lack of understanding and empathy results in interventions that only serve to add insult to injury.

But what if there were a way to achieve a union with, if not God, then an aggregate assemblage of intelligences? You may still choose to walk away from the promise of paradise. Despite the personal cost. That's the theme of Alex Irvine's "Chicken Itza." This issue's cover story, "The Mask of the Rex" by Richard Bowes, is steeped in another mythology dealing with the concept of fate and learning to live within its constraints.

To get back to the laughs, there's Paul DiFillipo's "The Short History of Hiram P. Dottle." Characteristic of a DiFillipo story is a bizarre opening which the narration subsequently explains how this peculiar situation was arrived at. Here DiFillipo presents the aforementioned Mr. Dottle, whose murder by his gold-digging wife results in a series of miraculous transformations that ultimately puts him in the service to the crime-fighting efforts of the Shade, a character right out of a 30s Saturday morning radio show. That Mr. Dottle takes the form of a sentient pipe might indicate that the author has himself be smoking something strange to come up with this marvelous entertainment.

In what the classic rock stations call a "Double Shot," we get not one, but two chances to enjoy DiFillipo's bent sense of humor. In his regular "Plumage from Pegasus" column, the untimely forced retirement of an eminent literary critic is revealed. It has something to do with a witch's curse that explains why the critic winds up as a television producer. Considering what's on the tube these days, maybe DiFillipo isn't trying to be funny so much as coming up with an explanation for an almost inexplicably absurd medium.

So, whether it makes you laugh or makes you think (or both at the same time), this is an issue worth perusal.

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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