Phantaxis: Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine – August 2017 (magazine review)

I’m a bit late with this review of the August 2017 ‘Phantaxis Quarterly’ because I got bogged down in other reading, for which I’m sorry. Anyway, it was as good as I expected with stories covering a wide range of Science Fiction and fantasy themes.

For a wonder, there’s more Science Fiction than fantasy! The first story, ‘For Hannah’ by Mark Bilsborough, is about a voyage to the stars. Very wealthy Jim has booked very expensive passage on a starship to go to his true love. He’s forked out for a VR version of her to keep him company on the voyage. Jim is a genius with no social skills, so Hannah is his best bet for happiness. The story had many short scenes in order to cover its long time span, which made it a trifle bitty to read but the sentiments were realistic.

‘Playmates’ by Arlen Feldman is a clever riff on that old Ray Bradbury story where the family goes into a futuristic playroom and gets eaten by a lion. ‘Evens And Odds’ by Vanessa Kittle tackles the theme of created life and its rights and gives the hero a real dilemma. Another good one.

Continuing with solid Science Fiction, we get a number of dystopian futures. ‘The Ship Of Theseus’ by Philip Brian Hall has policeman Bosola investigating a pro-death cult. Usually, no one would care but a Senator’s daughter may have joined. Hall uses a hard-boiled detective narrative to explore a future where everyone has long lives and it works.

That future is not at all bad compared to ‘The Wheel Of Fortune’ by Matencera Wolf, where people are divided into Firsts, Seconds and Thirds in a strict hierarchy. It’s positively delightful if measured against ‘Urgent Care’ by Dale T. Phillips, where doctors demand cash on the nail before they’ll treat you and you have to bribe the security guard just to get into the hospital. Allen Kuzara’s ‘F-Bombs’ has a milder dystopia but it’s subtly conveyed by the conversations between a divorced father and his every-other-weekend daughter.

None of these stories raise any truly original Science Fiction themes but they do prove that there are a zillion good yarns to be made by shining a light from a different angle on the old ones, keeping the genre fresh. Romance books have been tackling the one theme for a couple of centuries now and they’re still going strong.

All the above provided fine entertainment but my favourite SF yarn came from fellow Brit C.R. Berry with ‘The Home Secretary Is Safe’. Hapless Cody Evans gets caught in a time loop on a train. This was beautifully handled and worked all the better because it had no complete explanation at the end. There was a conclusion, though, without which a story is not a story, just some words in a row.

To the fantasy, then. ‘A Guy Walks Into A Bar’ by Russ Watrous and Mike McHone is a sword and sorcery spoof delivered by two chaps chatting in a pub. One is a dwarf. The fine fantasy vocabulary helped put the joke across. Good fun but the centrepiece of this issue is ‘Daughter Of The Western Winds’ a novelette by Jenni Wood in which three half-breeds are sent to defend a city full of ungrateful humans from a howling horde of Oni, magical, troll-like creatures that sometimes rape human women. The offspring that survive, like our heroine, are sent off to a temple where they are trained to fight and defend humanity. The first two pages are a lesson for less gifted writers in how to give physical descriptions of the three main characters without stopping the narrative and from there it gets better. A really excellent fantasy story that deserves book publication.

When I first read ‘Phantaxis’, I was amazed at such quality in a magazine paying semi-professional rates. Reading it again, I’m no longer surprised but I’m still delighted. It could stand unashamed on the racks next to any of the venerable professional publications that are the gold standard of the genre.

Of course, magazines don’t feel shame. They don’t feel anything. They’re just a mix of pulped up trees and ink. A magazine with feelings? What a silly idea! Might make a good story, though. I wonder if those top shelf magazines feel used and dirty.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2017

(pub: Phantaxis. 168 page paperback: Price. $ 3.54 (US) ebook or $ 7.99 (US) paperback, £ 2.68 (UK) ebook or £ 6.07 (UK) paperback. ISBN: 978-1-97425-879-6)

check out website: https://phantaxis.tumblr.com/post/161003704857/phantaxis-science-fiction-fantasy-magazine-issue

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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