The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/Jun 2016, Volume 130 # 725 (magazine review)

July 20, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

The May/June issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ includes one novella, five novelettes, five short stories and the usual mix of non-fiction. I’ll review them in that order.

may-june 2016 cover small

The cover image is a dramatic action shot of a near-naked warrior jumping off a ledge to attack a huge crouching humanoid, seemingly made of stone. The contrast between the two clearly depicted figures in the foreground and the smeared out background crags provides a strong sense of movement, making the picture an excellent advert for Ted Kosmatka’s novelette, ‘The Stone War’, which closes the magazine. More on that later.

The longest piece in this issue is Pat MacEwen’s urban fantasy novella ‘Coyote Song’. Set in California and drawing on her law enforcement experience along with her Native American heritage, MacEwen tells an enthralling tale of the exploits of Yutu, a Native American crime scene investigator, and her Haitian boss, Nathan, who between them get into very deep waters, supernaturally speaking, while investigating the mysterious deaths of two Cambodian brothers. The interplay between Yutu and Nathan is portrayed with great affection, the law enforcement setting is drawn with great authenticity and the magical elements of the story are well-integrated into the everyday world. I’m not always a fan of urban fantasy stories but I really enjoyed this one.

The first novelette in this issue is Charlotte Ashley’s ‘More Heat Than Light’, an alternate history SF story set in Canada just after the French Revolution. Louis-Ange Davy is a French Canadian Army Lieutenant with republican sympathies whose loyalties are severely tested when a superior officer takes a hard-line view of local civilian unrest, with tragic results. However, in addition to these professional problems, Davy also has a secret to hide. When personal and professional mix, all hell breaks loose. Although Ashley does an excellent job with the setting and the historical period, I ultimately found this story frustrating. Davy’s secret seemed rather obvious to me, almost from the beginning of the story. When it was eventually revealed, I didn’t feel that Ashley made enough use of it to warrant its inclusion, leaving this as an interesting enough alt-history story but nothing more.

My favourite story in this issue was the next novelette, Brian Trent’s ‘Last Of The Sharkspeakers’. This is a far future SF tale set inside the hollowed-out asteroid Ceres, where ‘normal’ humans co-exist rather uncomfortably with post-human scavengers who have evolved over hundreds of generations of living in low gravity in caves near the spinning asteroid’s poles. When three of these so-called ‘beltbugs’ hack into one of the dominant humans’ ‘voidsharks’, living spaceships controlled by electronic implants, they are captured and offered a deal. If they use their hacking skills to help the humans defeat the voidsharks of their mortal enemies, the Icari, they will be given enough food and medicines to solve all their tribe’s problems. Is this an offer that’s too good to be true? Trent has produced an exceptional story here, mixing fascinating speculations about the possible evolution of human bodies, societies and religions if we start living elsewhere in the solar system with an emotionally rich cast of characters set into conflict with one another. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

‘Steamboat Gothic’ returns to a story universe that Albert E. Cowdrey last explored in this magazine in August 2009. Here we follow the investigations of Sheriff Russell Chew of Southern Louisiana as he tries to get to the bottom of a multiple homicide at a historic mansion that’s been rented out to a film crew from Hollywood. This dark fantasy is extremely well-written, marrying an authentic setting with an engaging, fast-paced plot. However, I found the casual corruption of almost every public official depicted, along with the unsavouriness of nearly every other character, thoroughly depressing, leaving me ultimately uninterested in the outcome of what would otherwise have been an excellent story.

William Ledbetter is a former aerospace engineer whose expertise shines through in his SF novelette, ‘The Long Fall Up’. Veronica Perez is a woman who has decided to make a stand against the restrictive regime on humanity’s biggest space station by escaping aboard a stolen spaceship. Her aim is to prove, by personal example, that a baby conceived and grown to term in zero gravity won’t necessarily suffer from terrible birth defects, as the propaganda of the station’s private owners insists. Scared that she will set a precedent that could harm profits and their control over the station’s workers, the Jinshan Corporation send one of their security agents, Jager Jin, in pursuit with orders to stop her at all costs. As his mission progresses, though, Jin starts to question his employers’ version of the situation, as his initial impression of Perez as a selfish, radical ecofeminist with no interest in the health of her unborn child turns out to be rather wide of the mark. But can he stop the AI aboard his own ship from carrying out his employers’ wishes? This story puts an exciting plot alongside several fascinating characters, not the least of which is Huizhu, the intelligent AI that controls Jin’s ship. I think it proves that spaceship-based SF can succeed through a focus on characterisation and invention without any need for recourse to the sorts of special effects so beloved of the SF genre in Hollywood.

The final novelette in this issue and the subject of the cover picture, as mentioned earlier, is ‘The Stone War’ by Ted Kosmatka. This highly original fantasy story takes place across many thousands of years on a prehistoric fantasy Earth. As civilisations rise and fall, the one thing that stays the same is the static stone figure crouching in the hills. From time to time, people wandering in the wilderness come across this huge effigy but, as it does nothing, they move on. However, the first time that a hunting party sees it, one of them decides to poke it with his spear. Bad idea. The stone figure stands up, turns to face his attacker, snatches his spear and guts him with it. When the dead man’s friends try to fight back, it kills each of them, too. Then the stone man crouches down again and is still for another age of men. This carries on into medieval times, when a local king hears a rumour of the magical stone man and decides to investigate. Can the stone man be used as a weapon against his enemies or are there dangerous subtleties to its actions? Kosmatka has produced an unusual, fascinating and captivating story here, a fabulous fable told with an extremely deft touch.

Turning to the short stories, Rich Larson’s ‘The Nostalgia Calculator’ provides some amusing speculation on where our current obsession with the recent past may end up taking us. ‘The Great Silence’ was originally written by Ted Chiang as the textual accompaniment to a video installation by artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. It works equally well as an SF short story, finding an original and thought-provoking way to contrast our fascination with the search for extra-terrestrial life with our seeming lack of interest in the survival of the many highly evolved species with which we share our own planet.

Joseph Tomaras’ ‘Caribou: Documentary Fragments’ uses a mock-documentary style to examine the issue of the abuse of prisoners of war through a near-future SF lens. Although I found the story itself compelling, I was less convinced by the McGuffin used to turn it into SF.

‘Ash’ by Susan Palwick is an excellent fantasy story about a retired lecturer whose house burns down while she’s away on holiday. When some of her incinerated belongings start to reappear, miraculously whole once more, she gets more than she bargained for. Palwick does a great job here of writing a story that leads you in one direction almost to the last page before springing an extremely surprising final twist on the reader.

The final short story, ‘The Secret Mirror Of Moriyama House’ by Japanese author Yukimi Ogawa, is a fascinating fantasy about a young woman who is helped to recover from a personal tragedy by her magical elderly neighbour, a ‘patcher’ who helps the recently deceased prepare themselves for the afterlife. Both main characters are quietly sympathetic and the story pulled me in gently but insistently on its way to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s slightly less non-fiction than usual here, consisting of two book review columns and one TV review. However, David J. Skal’s review of the Amazon Prime adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man In The High Castle’ is so well argued that it entirely makes up for the reduced word count.

The third issue of MoF&SF for 2016 is a real winner. There’s a pretty even mix of fantasy and SF and I enjoyed the vast majority of the stories. Roll on issue four!

Patrick Mahon

July 2016

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

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Category: Fantasy, Magazines, Scifi

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Comments (2)

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  1. Eamonn Murphy says:

    A very thorough review with every story getting a mention. I’m sure F & SF editors and writers appreciate the time and effort Patrick puts in to doing a decent job of it in these days of the quick scan and the zero attention span.

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