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

I am writing this on the very day of the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, the September issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction contains a piece by Bruce Sterling that is, as far as I know, the first speculative work on the post-9/11 zeitgeist.

Felix Hernandez is a plumber who makes a lucrative living unclogging the drains of mall shopkeepers. Security checkpoints regulate entrance to the mall, but the bomb and weapon detection devices are somewhat less than reliable:

The machines broke down so much that it was comical, but the security people never laughed about that. Felix could endure the delay, for plumbers billed by the hour... The line of hopeful shoppers grimly waiting to stimulate the economy, shifted in their disgruntlement. It was a bad, bleak scene. It crushed Felix's heart within him. He longed to leap to his feet and harangue the lot of them. Wake up, he wanted to scream at them, cheer up, act more human. He felt the urge keenly, but it scared people when he cut loose like that. They really hated it. And so did he. He knew he couldn't look them in the eye. It would only make a lot of trouble.
A powerful satiric depiction of how the conformist consumerist mind-set alters little in response to the bureaucratic and technological ineptitude in a near-future America beset by heightened levels of terrorism. The story's title, "In Paradise," reflects the multiple layers of irony here. It is a sly comment of the American political ideal -- that "paradise on the hill" the early settlers saw as a refuge from religious intolerance but from which the oppressed too often became oppressor -- and the somewhat less profound paradise of our consumer culture -- the shopping mall. Add to that the focus of the plot -- the American Felix's elopement with a Moslem woman (whose separate "state" religions envision some sort of afterlife paradise in return for following certain prescriptions of behavior, of which obedience is a primary postulate) violates not only the strictures of her Iranian family, but the laws as enforced by Homeland Security forces monitoring the activities of illegal aliens from terrorist states. A sympathetic Homeland Security agent offers a way for Felix to extricate himself relatively unscathed, but at the cost of renouncing his wife and the paradise of wedded bliss. Instead, Felix chooses to renounce the comfort of his middle-class existence and takes on the identity of an illegal alien himself. Only by becoming a stranger in his own strange land can Felix hope to find the one paradise that does not belong to fools. Highly recommended reading.

Equally ironical, though sadly and certainly unintentionally, is the unusual front and back cover artwork for Robert Reed's "The Majesty of Angels," a nice addition to the "what happens in the afterlife" file. Ron Walotsky assigned his students at Flagler College in St. Augustine the task of illustrating the cover story commissioned to David Hardy. The winning entry by Jenny Kerr appears on the back (you can see all the contributions from Walotsky's class at the website). Unfortunately, it also serves as a sort of homage to Walotsky, who just recently passed away and whose own work graced almost 60 F&SF covers since 1967.

A long tradition of another sort is upheld by the centerpiece novella, "Mr. Gaunt" by John Langan, a fine piece of horror that does Henry James and Edgar Allen Poe proud. It concerns such things as forbidden rooms and that when someone tells us not to open the door to them, there's probably a very good reason.

Equally disturbing is Greg van Eekhout's "Will You Be an Astronaut" which nicely grafts the 1960s hero-worship of the intrepid "spam-in-can" cold war adventurers onto an alternate reality in which Earth is being invaded by something more ominous than the Communist threat. It's a sober reminder, particularly pertinent these days, of the precise role of the foot soldier.

On the considerably less serious side is Esther M. Friesner's take on the college application essay, "Why I Want to Come to Brewster College," probably the first academic satire that incorporates a Japanese monster movie motif. Equally funny is Albert E. Cowdrey's tale of a science fiction writer whose dim-witted nephew discovers he can walk through walls, which results in a dominoing cascade of unnatural breeches. "The Game is a Foot," by John Morrisey is one of his Kedrigern wizard tales. While nothing particularly clever or original, it has an amusing moment or two.

The short story by Jack Cady, "Weird Row," is precisely that, weird. The plot concerns a trio of misfits working in a book packaging factory in a surreal reality in which the written word can literally be stripped of its underlying significance and beauty and pulped into pablum for the masses. (Hey, maybe not so surreal, doesn't that describe much of modern publishing?) This troupe of malcontents liberate words and phrases and "release" them back into the natural world. Here's how they spring "pulchritudinous" out of the sterilized books and into the Nevada desert:

Pulchritudinous dances likes a tiny blue flame beneath a desert sun. It rises above desert sage, skimming like a splendid bird. It bounces playful. It dives, circles, and sports around us as it seeks a destination. It finally heads out in the general direction of Tennessee. It's gonna have one whale of a hard time making it in Nashville, but at least its free of Reno.
But you know, that's not really the really weird part. The day after I read this story, my kid comes home with her weekly spelling words. Guess which one is at the top of the list. Yep, none other than "pulchritudinous."

Looks like it made it even past Nashville.

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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