The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/Jun 2015, Volume 128 # 719 (magazine review)

May 29, 2015 | By | Reply More

The May/June 2015 issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ is the second one to be edited by C.C. Finlay and he takes the opportunity to do something unusual again, after leading the last issue with a Chinese novella in translation. This time the innovation is that all nine stories found within are Science Fiction rather than Fantasy. Given the name of the magazine, this seems quite a bold move. Does it work?

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There are five short stories, three novelettes and one novella in this issue. I’ll run through them individually, starting with my favourite, David Gerrold’s novelette ‘Entanglements’, which is also the subject of the bold and simple cover image by Michael Garland. The story is semi-autobiographical and is a sequel to Gerrold’s 1994 novelette ‘The Martian Child’, which won several major awards. It starts as a hilarious rant about Gerrold’s fictional acquaintance Dan Goodman, a hanger-on who always seems to appear when free food is on offer. So when Gerrold decides to hold a party for his seventieth birthday, he’s not that surprised to find Goodman turning up amongst all his showbiz chums. What he’s not ready for is the present that Goodman gives him, a gizmo that looks like a mobile phone but which is much more than that. When Gerrold starts playing with it, he finds himself confronting the ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics as he is shown alternate versions of himself as he might have been. How he deals with Goodman, the gizmo and the revelations it presents is simultaneously hilarious and deeply touching. David Gerrold has had two previous stories published in MF&SF over the last year that I’ve been reviewing it. I enjoyed them both but ‘Entanglements’ far surpasses them in its breadth of expression and its ability to contrast light and dark. It certainly qualifies as the best piece of short fiction I’ve read so far this year.

The longest story in this issue, which came a close second to Gerrold’s piece in terms of my enjoyment, is the novella ‘Entrepreneurs’ by Robert Grossbach. This is the tale of Morton Rushman, a science geek born in 1941, who grows up to be good at electronics but rubbish at career development. He works for a succession of firms and bosses, none of whom recognise his talents until, faced by the usual mid-life crisis, Morton sets up his own company. This is just as bad a move as everything else he’s ever done, until he’s approached one day by tiny aliens, shaped like Polo mints, who have an unusual business proposition for him. Is it possible that Morton’s geekiness might finally pay off? Like Gerrold’s novelette, Grossback’s novella mixes humour with pathos to great effect. Morton Rushman appears to be one of life’s losers, yet his ability to pick himself up after every knock back and get straight back into the game makes you love him. Contrast that very human story with the laugh out loud humour that comes from encountering aliens so small that their spaceship is frequently mistaken for a drinks can and you’ll hopefully start to see why I enjoyed this story so much.

In a completely different vein, I found Caroline M. Yoachim’s short story, ‘Four Seasons In The Forest Of Your Mind’, absolutely enthralling. Within a mere seven pages, Yoachim tells a hard SF story that starts from the point of view of an individual nerve cell within a baby’s brain and telescopes out to encompass the fate of millions of species that have been drawn to an exoplanet thirteen light years from Earth. This may be Yoachim’s first sale to MF&SF but her long pedigree of publications in other quality magazines is evident from the extraordinary amount of story she manages to pack in to so few words.

James Sarafin provides the first of two time travel stories with his novelette ‘Trapping The Pleistocene’. What really impressed me here was the fact that Sarafin managed to sneak three completely different settings into a story that should just be about two. Here, the story’s present is a far future Earth where most people live at the top of sky towers that resemble giant mushrooms, ignoring the real world in favour of their web-enabled virtual interactions. Meanwhile, the story’s hero, Jack Morgan, is one of the few people who still lives on the ground, farming, fishing and hunting to provide for his family. When the sky tower people invent time travel so that they can clone creatures that have been extinct for 25,000 years, they find that they need Jack’s practical skills if they’re to be able to take tissue samples from the giant beavers of the Pleistocene. However, faced with mammals two or three times larger than he’s used to, even Jack has to admit that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. This is another story that provides a wonderful mix of action and reflection, all set off by impressively realised settings of the past, present and future.

The other time travel tale is ‘A Turkey With Egg On His Face’ by Rob Chilson. This appears to be a conventional short story about a love triangle in contemporary rural America until it turns out that George, the nicer of the two men in the triangle, is not half as dim-witted as he seems, having managed to build himself a time machine with which he obtains rare and unusual gifts for his would-be sweetheart, Chloey. I enjoyed the story but felt that the SF element was never exploited to its full potential.

The lead story in this issue is Lisa Mason’s novelette ‘Teardrop’. Humans are busy exploiting the resources of every exoplanet they can get to, regardless of the wishes of the locals, but when John Dixon heads out to survey humanity’s next target, he falls in love with alien barmaid NanaNini and adopts the planet’s customs and lifestyle. When a follow-up team are sent in to find out why Dixon has stopped reporting back, he has to decide which side he’s really on. This story, whose plot is somewhat reminiscent of ‘Avatar’, is written in a style that took me a little getting used to. However, once I was ‘in the zone’, I found it immersive and thoroughly enjoyable.

‘The Laminated Man’ by MoF&SF regular Albert E. Cowdrey starts as a regular crime story, with FBI Agent Cairns trying to solve the murder of Aron Cervik, a Serbian fraudster. However, the more he investigates the background of the prime suspect, Cervik’s associate David Magister, the stranger the trail gets. Magister has bought up a huge tract of land in the middle of rural West Virginia and seems to be building a high tech factory there, focused on the use of 3D printers. Printing what, though? I thought this was a really interesting fictional exploration of how a new technology might be used, with some SF tweaking, for deeply nefarious ends.

Sarah Pinsker’s piece, ‘Today’s Smarthouse In Love’, is a whimsical short story about the barriers to love if you’re an AI-enabled house who falls in love with the non-AI-enabled house next door. The story was amusing enough in a quirky way but I found it difficult to build much interest in the fate of, what was at the end of the day, a house.

‘In The Time Of Love’ by Amy Sterling Casil tells the story of love rat Brian, who is cheating on Cara, his physicist wife of ten years, with Daria, the sexy manager of the local Starbucks. When Cara shows him the research she’s currently working on, he goes off to the garage and builds a working model of the construct she’s been modelling and promptly finds out that his version has the ability to stop time. Rather than show it to his wife immediately, his first thought is to take it over to his girlfriend’s place so that he can have more sex with her without his wife noticing how long he’s been gone for. However, when Daria finds out about his machine, she thinks it’s deeply creepy and things start to unravel. This was a well-constructed, well-observed story but I found myself dissatisfied at the end of it, as Brian never really got his comeuppance.

As usual, the fiction is complemented by several non-fiction articles. These include book review columns by Charles de Lint and Elizabeth Hand, two film reviews by David J. Skal and the regular ‘Curiosities’ piece, this time by Dave Langford, talking about a 1971 collection of five supernatural crime novellas by Edward D. Hoch. All of them are as interesting and entertaining as ever, with Charles de Lint’s thoughtful reviews of an eclectic set of books being my personal favourite.

I noted in my introduction that editor C.C. Finlay had chosen to fill this issue entirely with Science Fiction stories. Does that decision work? I’d have to say that it does. All nine tales found within may share their genre but they are otherwise a varied bunch. Unless you’re a dyed in the wool fantasy fan who detests Science Fiction, I think you’ll find much to enjoy here. If you only read fantasy my guess, although that’s all it is, is that the editor will line up a fantasy-only issue in the not too distant future to even things up. For everyone else, this is another copy of MF&SF that’s well worth seeking out.

Patrick Mahon

May 2015

(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)

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