The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2019, Volume 136 #742 (magazine review).

The March/April 2019 issue of ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ contains a bumper crop of pieces, including a novella, three novelettes, eight short stories, two poems and six articles. I’ll highlight a selection of my favourites.

The longest item here is R.S. Benedict’s fantasy novella ‘All Of Me’, which follows the complicated fortunes of Isabel del Mar, a beautiful Puerto Rican film star, singer, model and all around seeming force of nature. In fact, that’s exactly what she is. Isabel was originally a crustacean-resembling mermaid who rescued an actor called Eddie Haines from drowning when he fell off his producer’s yacht in a drunken haze. Having fallen in love with Eddie, Isabel spent a year in cosmetic surgery to make her look human, before promptly becoming a Hollywood sensation alongside her man.

She quickly becomes so in demand that she starts using one of her non-human genetic traits, the ability to regrow the whole organism from a small part. By cutting off a toe or a finger, which soon regrows, she can produce a clone of herself which can then fulfil one of the many jobs that are demanded of her. However, when one of these clones is murdered, the others start to panic. Who would want them dead and why? This is an intriguing, multi-layered story which explores some extremely important issues, including sexual harassment in the film industry and historical examples of forced sterilisation, from a fresh and engaging perspective.

I ultimately found it interesting and enjoyable to read. However, had I not been reading the magazine for review, there’s a risk that I would have given up this story half-way through, as the narrative switches point of view between several different Isabels at seemingly random points, making it pretty difficult to follow. All in all, a good story, rather than a great one.

Three of the other stories in the magazine were, to me, near perfect. ‘The Plot Against Fantucco’s Armor’ is the latest instalment in Matthew Hughes’ series of novelettes featuring Baldemar, thoughtful henchman to the wizard Thelerion. This time round, Baldemar inadvertently gets caught up in court intrigues revolving around the question of who will succeed the Duchy’s ruler, Duke Auerbrache.

Like so much of Hughes’ fiction, this is an enjoyable, intricate and extremely well-told story, filled with interesting new characters, novel insights into the characters we already know, frequent incursions of rather dry humour and a resolution that moves Baldemar’s own story in a new direction. The name of Matthew Hughes is one of those I most look forward to seeing on the cover of MoF&SF and, once again, he does not disappoint.

The SF novelette which provides the final piece of fiction in this issue was almost equally good. Despite a slightly long-winded title, Rich Larson’s ‘Contagion’s Eve At The House Noctambulous’ portrays a fascinating scenario. Burgewick is the younger son in the powerful House Noctambulous, about to take part in his first hunt to mark Contagion’s Eve. In doing so, he needs to avoid becoming the focus of his elder brother Mortice’s quick and cruel temper, try to impress his parents, relatives and friends and, most of all, master his own fears and moral qualms.

Larson convincingly portrays an alien, other-worldly setting, populated with characters that mix the familiar with the unfamiliar. The rite of passage plot is familiar enough, yet the novel story elements give it a fresh outing. I should also at this point make reference to Kent Bash’s colourful and energetic cover image illustrating this story.

‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Bullets’ is another in Gregor Hartmann’s series of SF short stories set on the planet Zephyr. This time we’re treated to a police procedural as Inspector Philippa Song tries to solve the murder of an investment consultant. The interpersonal dynamics between Song and her assistant, Jun Helenson, are wittily observed, while the clever plot kept me guessing right to the final page.

The other short story that captured my imagination was Nick DiChario’s ‘Bella And The Blessed Stone’, a humorous parable that lampoons our modern appetite for clickbait while highlighting the personal tragedies that often lie behind the headlines. This piece is a great example of the short story form, saying everything it needs to say in a mere six pages, then stopping.

The third novelette in this issue was only marginally less successful than the other two. ‘Postlude To The Afternoon Of A Faun’ is Jerome Stueart’s debut in MoF&SF and tells the story of Mr. Moonlight Dance, an immortal faun who used to be a talented musician, until a jealous rival stole his clarinet and got his goons to crush Dance’s legs, breaking his spirit in the process. After a century living in miserable obscurity, he decides that he’d like to try teaching music.

The pupil he’s sent is a young man called Eric, who is struggling with his identity. Should he stick to being a boisterous, popular football jock or give that up to re-engage with his sensitive, musical side? When I started reading this story, I was a little concerned that it might turn into a pretentious and self-involved piece, of interest solely to jazz musicians who read fantasy in their spare time. Thankfully, the story is far more inclusive than this, tackling universal concerns around identity, loneliness and how we find our place in the world. Mr. Dance and Eric both come across as kind and generous but also vulnerable, so it’s a delight to see each of them help and in turn be helped by the other. This is a genuinely uplifting story and suggests a bright future for its author.

My favourite non-fiction article in the current issue was Charles de Lint’s book review column. This is always filled with interesting and thoughtful commentaries on the titles that Mr. de Lint has chosen to review. In this case, the first item in his column was about Stephen King’s recent novella ‘Elevation’.

His commentary was so positive and engaging that I found myself getting hold of said title shortly afterwards. To my great delight, the novella turned out to be just as good as had been suggested. Charles de Lint’s columns are excellent examples of the reviewer’s trade and it’s a pleasure to acknowledge this particular one here.

In conclusion, this was another strong issue of MoF&SF. It’s not long now until they produce the September/October 2019 issue which will mark their 70th birthday. I can’t wait to see it, even if I’ve got a bit of catching up with old issues to do first.

Patrick Mahon

September 2019

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

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