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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2000
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2000
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

Say you're in the magazine section of your local bookseller and you notice they stock each of the Big Three -- Asimov's, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. (Considering the likelihood of this happening, you're probably in one of those superstores that, for all we bitch and moan about them, do offer depth of selection.) But you don't have the time to read all three. (You might not have the money, either, but the other amazing thing about those superstores is the way they let you take stuff off the shelves and read it while having a cappuccino without actually buying it first, as if it were a library. Admittedly, the cappuccino is way overpriced, so they still get you; nevertheless, while I'm not advocating this practice -- all these magazines need and deserve your financial support -- it's just something else you can't help but like about the Borders/Barnes & Noble phenomenon, despite your better inclinations.) Without even looking at authors or titles or even artwork (consider this a blindfold test), which magazine do you buy?

Well, if you're primarily into hard SF, you probably go with Analog. Looking for something a little more eclectic, you might go with Asimov's. But if you're interested primarily in fantasy, well, what else would you pick but a magazine that's got the term right in the title? But what kind of fantasy would you be expecting? Sword and sorcery? Magic realism? Slipstream? Humorous? Literary?

My own expectation would be to find a mix of all of these. A perfect example of which is exemplified by the June issue, whose cover art depicts the work of that famous fantasy writer (unless you're a snobbish "lit type" who prefers to think of her work as "gothic" so as not to admit you actually read that kind of stuff) Joyce Carol Oates. Her novelette, "In Shock," is one of those "am I crazy or is this really happening" stories. Rachael rescues a creepy-looking boy who rides his bicycle across some fallen power lines, in the process receiving a nasty shock as thanks for her heroism. Upon recovering, Rachael strives to find out what happened to the boy, but the rescue squad didn't find any boy, nor does anyone fitting the boy's description live in the neighbourhood. Equally curious, Rachael begins seeing people and things that, when she stops to think about it, shouldn't be there. While the concept isn't all that original, the execution of the story -- the moodiness Oates is noted for coupled with a character pondering the wisdom of her choices in life, with which we readily may identify -- certainly makes it a chillingly worthwhile read.

Another big name is Ursula K. Le Guin, who once again plumbs her background and interest in anthropological subjects, this time in a tale about God in "The Birthday of the World." Now this isn't the Judaeo-Christian sort of God in the heavens, but rather the oldest brother and sister in a hereditary ruling class who, upon getting married following the death of their father (Le Guin once again making a pointed criticism of patriarchal social structures), collectively become "God." The narrator, destined to become the female part of Godhood, recounts the disruption of her self-image of divinity brought about both by a younger sibling's bid for power and the arrival of stranded astronauts. The birth of the new world that comes about may not be the most pleasant, but it may be preferable.

If you're looking for fantasy of the questing variety, Chris Willrich should do the trick, though I'd say his "Thief of Two Deaths" is a bit more "literary" -- at least in the sense that you have to think a bit about what's going on -- than straight-ahead sword and sorcery escapism. Poking fun at the genre, or, to be more precise, the genre's source of inspiration, is "Le Morte D'Volkswagyn." While this is a joke that begins to wear thin even at less than two pages in length, anyone who's ever taken a course in Middle English or tried to read untranslated Chaucer should at least smile. The rest of you may not.

In "The Foster Child," William Browning Spencer also serves up some literary references, though you needn't be conversant in Yeats and "Sailing to Byzantium" to appreciate how a child makes a choice, or perhaps has the choice made for her, of which reality to live in. Gary W. Shockley's references are more contemporary, ironical Friday the 13th sort of horror. This was the one story that didn't quite click for me, although part of the problem may be reading what the story's introduction aptly describes as a "weird Halloween episode" in the summertime.

If you were to decide to pick just one story to read while having that cappuccino, though, I'd recommend "Three Merry Pranksters at the Louvre" by N. Lee Wood. This is a story about friendship among young artists in Paris -- and the loss of that friendship over the years -- told by their erstwhile patron. Hints that the patron is something unusual lead to a surprising pay-off in the final pages that, like all good fantastical literature, says a lot about the human condition, even if the ostensible narrator isn't part of it.

The magazine's title also references "Science Fiction," though it may seem like an afterthought. Gregory Benford's semi-regular "Scientist Notebook" column, which has always struck me as incongruous to most of the magazine's content, represents the token SF-related piece. That said, Benford's ruminations cleverly juxtapose his own frustrations in dealing with Hollywood suits who want to bastardize his work for the silver screen with an interesting history of how the development of technology shaped the Californian zeitgeist. Also worth the price of the issue.

Especially if you've already spilled coffee on it.

Copyright © 2000 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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