Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2003
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2003
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

According to editor Gordon Van Gelder, this month's special Barry Malzberg issue was inspired by the serendipitous submission of two separate pieces of fiction that feature the cranky semi-legend. "So I contacted Barry about writing that essay he'd been promising to write, his memoir of working for the Scott Meredith Agency," Van Gelder notes in explaining why, in this case, there isn't any new fiction from the honored author in question. (There are, however, reprints of two shorts: "A Short Religious Novel" from 1972 and "A Clone at Last" written with Bill Pronzini from 1978. While the latter provides a humorous punchline, the former is more substantially thought-provoking with an exquisite last line.) So Malzbergians might initially feel a bit disappointed to learn there's nothing new (even recently new -- in fact, Malzberg hasn't published much fiction in the last ten years) from their champion here. However, his "Tripping with the Alchemist" is hardly a let-down. Given the amount of chatter in certain circles about the sorry state of publishing (which actually tries to make money by appealing to the lowest common denominator; I'm shocked, absolutely shocked to learn), it's a good reminder there is nothing new under the sun.

The publishing agency where Malzberg worked from roughly 1965 to 1971 represented such authors as James Blish, Damon Knight, Evan Hunter, and Norman Mailer, among others. It also published pornography that, in those days before Internet connections to the webcams of self-described horny housewives, was under investigation from the FBI for moral corruption. But Malzberg's subject is corruption of another sort, and not just that of revered authors who hired themselves out for hack work because it paid the rent. It's the colorful corruption of Scott Meredith and the publishing industry. Here Malzberg quotes fellow curmudgeon (and certainly deserving his own special issue one day), Norman Spinrad:

"[Scott Meredith] taught me what I needed to know. I hated it but it was the most valuable thing that ever happened to me as a writer. Scott taught me publishing! Scott showed me early what a cesspool it was, what shit it was, I never had to be disillusioned after that."
However, Malzberg obviously has fond memories of "those long twilight afternoons in the late 1960s with Revolution on the office Muzak and the furious fee man doing heroin in the men's room, taking a break in mid-report to share supplies and anecdotes. Mailer and Gerald Green and Harry Kemelman prancing through the offices..." All gone now, many departed of this life. "What say, folks? Light the pyre, hold it high, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of Kings. The long day has closed, the Captains and the Kings depart. But the Word and those, who living, die through it remain."

While Malzberg is still among the living, John Kessel imagines what his reception in the afterlife might be in "Of New Arrivals, Many Johns, and Music of the Spheres." The conceit here is that there are two groups of writers in the afterlife drinking gin and commiserating, one the literary folks the other the genre geeks. As it turns out, Malzberg finds he isn't welcome in either camp. This story also inspires the cover art, with a violin wielding, grey-suited Malzberg surrounded by various personages who appear in Kessel's literary afterworld. How many can you guess without referring to the inside key? Perhaps one problem with Kessel's story -- which really isn't a problem with the story but with the general state of literacy -- is that readers of a certain age might not have a clue who some of these people were.

"In for Malzberg, It Was They Came," Daniel P. Dern imagines aliens who have come to Earth seeking revelation from their seer, "We have read the sacred literature and its many writings of prayer... We have come these great distances, in our eight cylinder engine of the night, seeking truth, seeking but to touch the hem of your garment." Alien or otherwise, the fictional Malzberg is as disdainful as he might be of "real" fans. "I'm sorry. You've mistaken me for his books. I am not who you think I am."

Of things not Malzberg, the novelet by Paoli Bacigalupi, "The Fluted Girl," is a wonderfully creepy coming-of-age tale. The fluted girl in question is a twin bioengineered with unique fragility to perform a strangely beautiful talent. The gradual revelation of what makes the girl "fluted" is a master stroke, as is her last-second decision to escape her plight.

Along the same thematic line, David D. Levine's "The Tale of the Golden Eagle" is a nice spin on the Pygmalion myth, only here it involves the ethics of what direction is best -- human to object or vice versa -- to make the transformation. "The Twenty Pound Canary" is advertised as Jack Cady's tribute to Damon Runyon, one of those authors who appears in Malzberg's afterlife who perhaps shares a similar reputation in contemporary obscurity. It's a cleverly written piece about the proverbial small town amateur scientist and the girl whose unrequited love can finally be fulfilled due to an unforeseen experimental outcome.

Bill Vaughn's "Mabiba Overboard" imagines a flooded American east coast in which the states try to assert their sovereignty over territory that is largely under water. The storyline involves an entrepreneurial pair of female looters and how they outwit a series of corrupt border patrol boats, related as a sort of "tall-tale" typical of the black oral tradition. It's a slight tale, but it has its amusing moments.

An editorial note before M. Rickert's "The Super Hero Saves the World" describes it "as a blend of Latin American magic realism and North American superheroism" which is as good a description as any. Basically, it means that you're not quite sure what it is supposed to mean, but you suspect it must mean something significant. Even if you don't get it (and I'm not quite sure that I do), there's some nice imagery:

"When she was three a python swallowed her alive. Her mother was dead but when they cut Marcado out, she sucking he thumb, peacefully asleep. The rescuers crossed themselves, then spit on the red ground. Her father stared at her in the split belly of the beast, the odd stamen of its brutal flower, until the cook, who as used to dealing with the bloody facts of appetite, pushed past the men and lifted her out."
Also of note is Lucius Shepherd's Films column, which concerns celluloid interpretations of Biblical stories, in particular the Left Behind series based on the books that imagine a modern apocalypse in accordance to the Book of Revelation. It would be easy to take crack shots at the one-dimensional approach of material that has an underlying evangelic intent, but Shepherd is remarkably restrained. He doesn't criticize the work on the basis of ideology, but rather on creative execution. "Thus, though the Left Behind movies are somewhat effective, by attempting to make their central myth too ordinarily credible, by neutering the fantastic elements thereof, they must in the end be seen only as for what they intend to be: ingenious and rather crude manipulations of a towering legend."

In contrast, I might add, to the towering legend who resists crude manipulation celebrated in 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.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide