The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2023, Volume 144 #765 (magazine review).

The test of a good story is whether it is memorable. If elements of it stay in the mind for good reasons, it illustrates the craft of the author. This is a problem with stories that have surreal elements and that can only really be appreciated after more than one reading. The imagination required for an SF story to stand out is far greater than the simple telling of a relationship between the characters. Where aliens are involved, using words does not always convey the image that the author carries in their mind and leaves the reader much extrapolation to do.

The longest story in this issue is a novella, ‘Best, Last, Only’ by Robert Reed. He has been writing stories about the Great Ship since 1994 with the publication of ‘The Remoras’ in MF&SF. The Great Ship has been travelling around the galaxy for a very long time and contains a range of habitats fashioned for the various alien species that live there. There are humans aboard but they have bioceramic brains which gives them virtual immortality. The two that feature in this story are Perri and Qui Lee, who have featured in other stories.

The focus for this novella, though, are a species that call themselves the Best. They are huge by human standards, have two legs, four wings and elongated heads. They have been ousted from their home planet they call Eternal Feast and are on their way to a new one. One of the Best, called Keen, is left behind when the others leave. He is the ‘Last’ and, later, the ‘Only’ of the title. Although there have been stories and novels about ships circulating the galaxy at sub-light speeds and various means of longevity for humans, it is the development of the alien, Keen, that is the focus and star here. The pace is leisurely, as it takes place over a long period of time and the dramatic events tend to take place off stage.

‘Floating On The Stream That Brings From The Fount’ by Prashanth Srivatsa has a distinctly surreal method of propulsion through space. Here the Engine creates fuel for spaceships from stories. The problem is that the writers are getting less creative so there is a danger of the fuel running out. Draupadi is captain of the Marammat. They are following a rumour as to the whereabouts of a Great Library which will keep the Engine working for a very long time. There is the potential for great wealth for the crew that finds it first.

Closer to home and using more traditional propulsion, ‘The Bucket Sop Job’ by David D. Levine is a heist set on Titan.

Even more surreal is ‘A Creation Of Birds’ by Tegan Moore, in which Rose wanders through a landscape where everyone has a bird-like ‘Secret’ accompanying them and are named after birds. It appears that she is creating her own afterlife.

‘Cowboy Ghost Dads Always Break Your Heart’ by Stephan Slater has a second person narrative. Some children appear to be invisible to others but, in this case, there is a reason as the protagonist is finally told that their father is a ghost. They go looking for the missing parent in a ghost town. This is a gentle story about coming to understand what makes you the person you are.

Another unusually structured story is ‘The Past Is A Dream (The Launch Of A Blacktopia)’ by Maurice Broaddus. The founding of the First World colony on the moon is told in quotes and sound-bites, leaving the reader to piece the facts together. It is the story of Astra Black and how Ghana reached the stars.

For those who like their mythology upended, ‘Persephone’s Children’ by C. B. Channell is a good example. Persephone sneaks out of Hades with her daughter, Melinoe, to meet up with her son, Dionysus. Things go wrong and as a result of spilt, cursed wine, nightmares enter the world.

It is generally accepted that if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Desperate people, though, are prepared to chance it. In ‘Off the Map’ by Dane Kuttler, Ava is offered a dream place on a new development that claims to be able to teach her to be a good parent and prevent her children being taken away from her. Everything is fine until the storm hits the community. Then she and the other inhabitants discover the truth. The story is a comment on the unscrupulous nature of big business.

As usual, there is a good mix of fiction, poetry, reviews and articles. Something for everyone.

Pauline Morgan

February 2023

(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 9.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISSN: 1095-8258)

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