‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science-Fiction’ explores the opposite extremes of the fantasy genre in this issue with a nice mix of Science Fiction and fairy tales. Most of the stories fall into one category or the other, so we’ll start with the fantasy.
‘Heartsmith’s Daughters’ by Harry R. Campion is a fairy tale about a village smithy whose wife is unable to have children. He manufacturers three daughters, one with a heart of cold iron, one with a heart of brass and one with a heart of gold. Their attributes match the metal of their cardiology in apt ways but they are soon the victims of evil men. A rather dark story, beautifully told. ‘The Color Of Sand’ by KJ Kabza is another excellent fairy tale featuring sandcats, enabled to talk by magic, and a good woman with a big son. To say more would be to give away the plot but it was written with the same kind of cadence as ‘Heartsmith’s Daughter’ and the same kind of language. Both have an omniscient narrator which allows for comments on the characters, something not possible with modern point-of-view techniques. Both are good clean fun and apt for inclusion in any children’s anthology. Both would sit comfortably alongside the classics of the genre.
‘Kormak The Lucky’ by Eleanor Aranson is similar. Kormak might not strike you as lucky at first because he is kidnapped from Ireland by Norwegian slavers and sold in Iceland. There he proves himself a bit too lazy to be a good slave and so is passed from master to master. Eventually, he ends up getting involved with elves, fey folk and the like in a long, involved story. It was a bit too long for my taste, to be honest, but readers more fond of elves and their ilk will like it, I’m sure. Elves and fey folk are not necessarily very nice, which is consistent, I believe, with the received wisdom. Fairy tales are often Grimm.
‘The Woman Who Married The Snow’ is by Ken Altabef, who apparently specialises in tales of an Inuit Shaman named Ulruk. This tale of Ulruk was interesting for the insights into the lives of people in the colder regions of the world and the glimpses of an intriguing system of magic. There are eloquent descriptions of landscapes and the prose is generally of a high quality. Although written in a more modern idiom, it does not sit ill with the preceding stuff.
‘The Miracle Cure’ by Harvey Jacobs is about trained doctors refusing to believe irrefutable empirical evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Gallstones feature, along with gallbladders, in this odd yarn. It’s probably more fantasy than Science Fiction so I will deem it as modern fairy tale to squeeze it into my classification system. Isn’t all today’s fantasy just modern fairy tales? Tricky things, labels. Words, too.
Amaranthine. That’s not a word that crops up often nowadays but ‘In the Mountains Of Frozen Fire’ by Rus Wornom is written in the style of pulp tales from a hundred years ago. He also uses ‘tenebrous’, a favourite adjective of HP Lovecraft. There are a number of exclamation marks! Commander Denis Cushing, to use the short version of his name, is a secret operative, designated M4 by the United States International Vengeance Force. He is in northern Asia on the trail of…the Cobra, a deadly killer also known as Agent ZX-12. Wornom has good fun with this parody and so will a like-minded reader. The fantastic element is probably more Science Fiction than fantasy so it makes a nice bridge between the genres in my review. Amaranthine, by the way, seems to mean eternal or everlasting in this context. It might mean red.
‘The Nambu Egg’ by Tim Sullivan is definitely Science Fiction. It’s set in the distant future when the Tachtrans Authority can beam people to a distant planet, Cet Four in this case. Adam Naraya has returned to Earth because he has a Nambu egg to sell to the head of a rich corporation, one Mr. Genzler. To tell more of the plot would be to ruin it for it’s the kind of tale where things are slowly revealed. Rest assured that the length of this paragraph does not reflect the very high esteem I have for the story.
’Oh Give Me A Home’ by Adam Rakunas is more Science Fiction but set in a much nearer future, alas. It’s really a modern western in which an almost ordinary rancher fights against the big rich guys who want to take over everything. He’s more scientific than Jimmy Stewart was in the classics and the rich guys are a giant corporation rather than a moustachioed villain who runs the town but it’s the same theme with a very contemporary and relevant twist. The bad guys even have a girl employee with a soft spot for our hero. Alas, in real life there actually are giant profit-hungry agricultural companies that want to patent everything and put the world’s farmers in hock to them forever. I name no names. They have lawyers, you know.
‘The Year Of The Rat’ by Chen Qiufan is translated by Ken Liu, no mean author in his own right. Broadening the scope of the magazine with foreign translations is an excellent policy, even though it means one less slot for the home grown talent to fill in an already competitive and limited market. Like Adam Rakunas’ updated western, this tale of unemployed Chinese graduates being used for rodent extermination is realistically bleak about how the world is going. The rats are genetically engineered and very dangerous. The former students conscripted to kill them are not happy in their work. There’s a nice undercurrent about how us little people can never be sure what’s really going on with so many vested interests feeding us disinformation. Chen Qiufan is a name worth looking out for but I won’t end a sentence with a preposition just because of that. Not with Uncle Geoff editing me.
A comedy murder mystery narrated by a giant slug makes a nice change from the above. Oliver Buckram delivers ‘Half A Conversation Overheard While Inside An Enormous Sentient Slug’, about one Lord Ash who has been murdered at his manor, possibly by his wife who has vanished. Ash had estates in the Kuiper Belt and the sentient slug was a servant so this is clearly set in the future. Elegant fun that proves brevity is the soul of wit. I hope we see more from Buckram.
I hope we will see more of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction, too, for years and years to come. Sometimes the stories seem strong on lush writing and perhaps less strong on plot. This issue was very strong on plot with every tale having a firm commitment to the story element of stories as opposed to character, theme or sensual prose. No bad thing. The fiction’s the thing, really, but it’s worth mentioning that the ‘Departments’ provide useful information on what’s good out there in film and books and ‘Plumage From Pegasus’ by Paul Di Filippo is as entertaining as usual.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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