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The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2019, Volume 136 #741 (magazine review).

May 30, 2019 | By | Reply More

The January/February 2019 issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ includes a novella, two novelettes and eight short stories, as well as the usual mix of non-fiction. I’ll review a selection of the pieces, starting with the longest item, the fantasy novella ‘The City Of Lost Desire’. This is Phyllis Eisenstein’s latest outing for her magical bard, Alaric, who first featured in the magazine in the 1970s. The story is also the inspiration behind Jill Bauman’s colourful and intriguing cover picture.

On this occasion, Alaric is at the end of another journey across the desert as part of his friend Piros’ trade caravan. Their destination is a city whose unnamed King is addicted to the appropriately-named Powder of Desire, a bulk load of which forms the centrepiece of the goods they have brought to sell to the city’s inhabitants. However, with the King semi-permanently addled by this drug, others in the kingdom have agendas to promote and some of these involve Alaric, whether he likes it or not. Will he recognise the risks he’s facing before it’s too late?

I thoroughly enjoyed this fantastical adventure story. Eisenstein is brilliant at filling her tales with sensuous detail and, on this occasion, she has outdone herself. In Alaric, we have a wise and thoughtful protagonist, who is a pleasure to spend time with, while the large supporting cast all come across as real people with their own personalities. The story has some interesting things to say about free will, duty, class and destiny but the serious points are all integrated into the story seamlessly, rather than feeling like an artificial add-on. All in all, this is a hugely entertaining novella and my personal highlight of the entire issue.

The first of the two novelettes is Andy Duncan’s supernatural story, ‘Joe Diabo’s Farewell’, tells the tale of a small group of native Americans helping to build a skyscraper in 1920s New York. Joe is their riveter, a job he’s brilliant at, until there’s an accident. What happens afterwards is an exploration of the role of Native Americans in the building of modern America and the extent to which this has been airbrushed out of history. Duncan has an easy style and the story was fun to read and a fascinating education. However, for me, the storyline didn’t seem to hang together, the supernatural element of the story felt rather tacked on and, ultimately, I felt that this was more a sequence of events that happened to the main character than a story with a fully integrated plot. An enjoyable story but it could have been so much more.

The other novelette, ‘Blue As Blood’ is an SF story from Leah Cypess set a few decades after mankind’s first contact with aliens. The Pinj are large insectoid creatures with advanced science and technology. They are generally distrusted by humanity, not just because they look so alien but also because they are secretive about their intentions and seem grudging in their willingness to use their advanced capabilities to help humanity. However, our protagonist Nina, a 10 year-old human girl, is one of the relative few who have benefitted directly from the appearance of the Pinj, having been cured by them of an otherwise terminal genetic disorder.

With the cure, though, Nina has also inherited the Pinj’s visceral hatred of the colour blue. So when her parents bring her back to Earth, after she has lived her entire life on a Pinj colony planet where nothing is blue, how will she cope? Having very much enjoyed Cypess’ last story in MoF&SF, I’m afraid I was disappointed by this one. It is clearly intended to be a morality tale, instructing readers on the importance of tolerance. For me, at least, it does the precise opposite. As the story progresses, Nina acts increasingly intolerantly towards almost everyone she meets. This is because they don’t understand her physical discomfort when she sees anything blue, which angers her greatly.

Had Cypess made Nina a more sympathetic character this could perhaps have worked. Unfortunately, she hasn’t. Nina comes from a privileged background, goes to a private school, wants for nothing and ultimately learns to live with her dislike of the colour blue, yet still whinges endlessly about it. As a result, I quickly lost all sympathy with her and her sense of middle class entitlement.

Turning to the short stories, I enjoyed ‘To The Beautiful Shining Twilight’, urban fantasy novelist Carrie Vaughn’s first piece for the magazine very much. The story is about Abby, a middle-aged coffee shop owner, who is visited by a faerie thirty years after they last saw each other. What does he want and is she willing to help him? The story is small and gentle but plays out beautifully to a fitting conclusion.

Robert Reed is a regular contributor to MoF&SF and ‘The Province Of Saints’ is a contemporary cop story whose SF element consists of a new drug which increases the user’s levels of empathy with dramatically counterintuitive results. This is Reed at his brilliant best, putting together strong characters, fully realised settings and an original plot device to create a memorable and thought-provoking tale.

Probably the most disturbing piece in the magazine is Adam-Troy Castro’s ‘Survey’, an SF story in which hard-up 19 year-old student Stephanie agrees to take a survey as part of a research project, in return for a very generous payment of one thousand dollars. However, she soon finds out that the saying ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ was made for situations just like hers. In a mere seventeen pages, Castro takes the reader to places that many of us may not be keen to revisit in a hurry but he does it authentically and to great effect.

The other short story I will highlight is Marie Vibbert’s ‘Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams Of Trochees’, a military SF story which contrasts the gradual dehumanisation of the soldiers with the increasing sentience and humanity of the robust and thus long-lived robots that work alongside them. The story takes an unusual perspective but examines it with wit and insight.

Alongside the stories there’s the usual mix of non-fiction columns. The highlight for me on this occasion was E.G. Neill’s review of the 2018 film ‘Venom’, which is absolutely coruscating in its condemnation of the film-makers for the moral choices they made throughout the story.

I’m a little behind in my reading of MoF&SF but as so often, it’s well worth the wait. The novelettes weren’t to my liking but almost everything else was highly enjoyable

Patrick Mahon

May 2019

(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 8.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISSN: 1095-8258)

check out website: www.fandsf.com

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Category: Fantasy, Magazines, Scifi

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