The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2021, Volume 140 #754 (magazine review).

The question often asked is why should I bother with magazines when there are plenty of novels out there waiting to be read? The reasons can be varied. They are a good source of varied short fiction, both at novelette and shorter lengths. Mainstream publishers are wary of original anthologies, claiming there is no market for them. The independent presses thrive on them but the potential reader has to search them out.

A regularly produced magazine such as ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ has a regular output and will introduce new writers that the novel reader may not have experienced before.

MF&SF has been gracing shelves for over seventy years so it must be doing something right. This issue, number 140, has the pagination of a regular paperback and eleven pieces of fiction as well as other items including book reviews and a science column.

The only well-known author in both sides of the Atlantic (I’m not counting Charles de Lint as his contribution is reviews) is Harry Turtledove. His story ‘Character’ considers the tribulations of being invented by an author. The narrator complains of not being able to act independently, only as his creator instructs so can only interpret the world from a narrow perspective. There are disconcerting gaps as the author cuts between scenes, then re-writes in a completely different setting or changes the plot. It is an exercise in observation from the point of view of the creation and the tribulations authors put them through.

The cover image from Monolithic Studios is a collage of elements producing the surreal imagery that fits perfectly with the content and style of the lead story, ‘Crazy Beautiful’ by Cat Rambo. The story itself is a collage which builds into a sinister image of AIs misunderstanding the concept of art.

From the surreal to space SF, C.L. Polk’s novelette ‘The Music Of The Siphorophenes’ is a startlingly original story packing a lot into a small space. Reese is the owner of a spaceship that can be chartered by tourists to take in the sights of the Solar System. She reluctantly agrees to take the very wealthy Ansa Veda to the Outers (areas beyond Uranus) for an encounter with the Siphorophenes (Sirens), huge alien creatures that live in the vacuum. It is a dangerous region populated by pirates. They do encounter the inevitable pirates but rescue an infant Siren. In order to save its life and reunite it with its own kind, the women have to acknowledge their fears. For me, this was the best story in this volume.

For those who prefer fantasy, there is ‘Manikin’ by Madeleine E Robbins. In some ways, a classic tale of a land constantly at war. In order to protect her child from the fate of most boys, Taba goes to a witch to get her to cast a glamour over the child so that everyone believes he is a girl. The effect will last only as long as the manikin that holds the magic is kept safe.

Of the other stories, one worth mentioning is ‘The Bletted Woman’ by Rebecca Campbell. I don’t actually like the story, but it has the same effect as an earworm. It is unforgettable, partly because of the imagery it employs. Bletting is a form of rotting. The fruit of the medlar tree is not particularly pleasant until it begins to rot when the flavour changes to that of honey. The woman in the story is aware that she is following her mother’s life-path and developing dementia. In a world who’s climate has disintegrated over her lifetime, she volunteers for an experimental treatment that might allow life to continue existing when all fauna has perished.

There is a good mix of fiction in this volume and while not everything will be to the taste of all readers there is sufficient variety for even the most exacting reader to find something to please them. MF&SF is an enduring outlet for short fiction and deserves to be supported.

Pauline Morgan

March 2021

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

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