The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2017, Volume 133 # 734 (magazine review).

January 19, 2018 | By | 1 Reply More

The last issue of ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ for 2017 includes one novella, five novelettes, three short stories, a poem, five articles, a competition and an index of everything published in the magazine during 2017. I’ll review them in order of length below.

The longest piece in this issue is Marc Laidlaw’s fantasy novella ‘Stillborne’, the eighth outing since 1995 for the bard Gorlen Vizenfirthe and his companion, the living stone gargoyle, Spar. They are searching for the mage who cursed them many years earlier, swapping over Gorlen’s right hand with Spar’s stone one. Gorlen and Spar hope to persuade him to swap their hands back, now that they have fulfilled the quest he set them. They encounter a band of pilgrims travelling to the town of Wumnall Wells, where they are to witness an event which only takes place every seventh year, the nuptial swarming of the supposedly telepathic Philosopher Moths. By coincidence, the bard hired to entertain these pilgrims is none other than Gorlen’s former lover, Plenth, whom he has not seen for twelve years. However, when they get to the town, it is packed with drunken tourists trampling all over the moths’ spawning grounds and it quickly becomes apparent that Gorlen and Spar’s search is likely to be fruitless at best. What can they do to rescue the situation? Laidlaw has written an interesting parable on over-consumption and the environmental damage it can cause, with clear relevance to the modern tourist industry. At the same time, he manages to tell an enjoyable story, aided by the engaging nature of the three central protagonists. Of these three, the star of the show is Spar, an animated gargoyle who repeatedly demonstrates a level of common humanity that many of the people around him seem to lack.

The first story in this issue and the subject of Kent Bash’s cover art, is ‘Attachments’, a fantasy novelette by Kate Wilhelm, whose first story for this magazine was published exactly fifty-five years ago, in January 1962! American Drew Charnov is near the end of a holiday in England when she finds two ghosts, called Timothy and Robert, attaching themselves to her during her visit to an ancient ruin. It turns out that this is the only way that can escape their confinement to the ruins. However, it’s dangerous for Drew, as they absorb energy from her whenever they touch her. Attach for too long and the subject dies. Each ghost has a task to perform before they can fade away and they need Drew’s help. Can she give them what they want without being killed by their touch? I enjoyed this modern ghost story for the interesting back stories of the two ghosts and for the way it was based on the intriguing concept of a ghost having to be attached to a place or to a person. The story also concludes with a lovely little twist which nicely defied my expectations.

Nick Wolven’s ‘Carbo’ is an amusing SF novelette which warns us about the potential risks of a marketing-heavy, consumerist approach to keeping the human ‘driver’ in a driverless car happy once they no longer have anything to do. The story is enjoyable and entertaining but I was frustrated by the unlikelihood of its central conceit, that a grown man whose car automatically displays adult material for him all the time, whether requested or not, wouldn’t find an excuse to avoid taking his mother on a road trip in said car.

R.S. Benedict’s ‘Water God’s Dog’ is set in ancient Sumeria. The narrator is Ur-Ena, the faithful and elderly servant of the water god Gamba, who becomes confused and frustrated when his deity and boss suddenly focuses all his attention on a dirty, surly beggar boy. What can Gamba possibly want from such a specimen? This story blends extensive detail of historical religious customs with intriguing fantastical speculations. My only concern was that neither Ur-Ena nor the unnamed beggar boy provided a particularly attractive or likeable central character for the reader to engage with. Nonetheless, I found myself intrigued enough to read the story right through to its unexpected conclusion.

‘Racing The Rings Of Saturn’ is Spanish author Ingrid Garcia’s debut in ‘MoF&SF’. In this far-future hard SF novelette, the pinnacle of motorsport is no longer Formula 1 but an annual competition between one-person spacecraft that zoom up and down through the rings of Saturn thousands of times, trying to avoid getting wiped out by large fragments of ice. However, Saturn’s crooked politicians are trying to rig this year’s race for their own nefarious reasons. Will the best person win? I had mixed feelings about this story. I loved the portrayal of the race and thought the politics was well observed. On the other hand, the way the story was structured made it quite hard to follow and the ending felt like an anti-climax.

David Erik Nelson’s fantasy novelette ‘Whatever Comes After Calcutta’ is set in contemporary rural Ohio. When lawyer Lyle Morimoto’s first case of the day unexpectedly finishes early, he heads home for lunch, only to find his wife Olivia in bed with a local police detective! In the confusion that follows, a panicked Olivia grabs Lyle’s gun from the bedside cabinet and shoots him with it, before running away from the scene with her lover in tow. Some minutes later, Lyle regains consciousness and finds that his wife’s poor aim has left him largely unharmed, except for a ruined left ear. Feeling strangely philosophical about what’s just happened, Lyle goes for a long drive, hoping to relax and sort his head out. Instead, he drives past a field where a woman is being lynched by a vengeful and heavily armed mob. Should he try to intervene? This is an excellent story which marries its two sub-plots together seamlessly. I had great sympathy for all the characters, major and minor, while the genuinely unsettling ending took me completely by surprise.

In ‘Big Girl’, Meg Elison’s debut in MoF&SF, fifteen year-old Bianca Martinez wakes up one day to find herself sat near the Richmond Bridge in San Francisco naked. Oh yeah and she’s become 350 feet tall. The response on social media is just as lurid as you might expect, even after people realise that she’s a minor, while the authorities seem totally unable to do anything meaningful to help her. What should Bianca do? I enjoyed this riff on the 1958 film ‘Attack Of The 50 Foot woman’, which provides a very different perspective on the central character’s experience, helping us to see the many downsides of the situation from her viewpoint. It’s a strong debut story with real emotional impact.

It’s a pleasure to see SFWA Grand Master Larry Niven appear in the pages of ‘MoF&SF’ once again. ‘By The Red Giant’s Light’ is a hard SF short story set in our Solar system’s far future, when the Sun has expanded to become a red giant. Dardry, a cyborg who has lived alone on Pluto for many thousands of years, is excited when a group of AI-controlled robots lands nearby as she has a big problem that she hopes they may be able to help her to solve. However, her initial attempts to speak to them are met with a stony silence. Can she get them to talk to her? I was truly impressed by Niven’s ability in a mere seven pages to make us care so deeply about the fate of a cyborg and an AI, both of whom are very far from us in time and space.

‘Marley And Marley’ is J.R. Dawson’s debut in ‘MoF&SF’. It’s a time travel tale in which a 28 year-old woman called Marley is engaged by the Time Law Department to travel back through time and become her twelve year-old self’s guardian after she is orphaned. This doesn’t seem to be a very good idea as the younger Marley has high hopes for her future and resents her older self for having failed to achieve any of them. However, things start to change when she finds out why. Although the storyline is necessarily somewhat convoluted, the plot is intriguing and I found myself warming to these initially unsympathetic characters as the story unfolded.

On the poetry front, John W. Sexton gives us ‘Down At The Goblin Boutique’, a short and unusual piece comprising an exchange between a goblin tailor and its client.

There’s all the usual non-fiction columns, too. I’d single out two in particular. Michelle West’s ‘Musing On Books’ provides thoughtful and interesting reviews of four books by female authors, split evenly between SF and fantasy. I was particularly pleased to see included ‘The Last Good Man’, an excellent military SF novel by Linda Nagata that seems to have received less attention than it deserves. Meanwhile, the regular ‘Science’ column by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty continues a discussion of invisibility from the last issue, focusing this time on the many way that the human eye changes in low light conditions to enable us to continue to be able to see in the dark. However, there’s a sad postscript to this article, reporting that co-author Paul Doherty died as the issue was going to press, from complications due to cancer. Condolences to his family and friends.

A glance through the index of everything published in the magazine during 2017 is sufficient to remind me of the huge variety of material they have made available, including an impressive mix of stories from new and established writers covering a wide range of sub-genres across the SF and fantasy fields. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, if you’re interested in reading new genre fiction at sub-novel length you would be very well advised to invest in a subscription to ‘MoF&SF’.

My personal highlights for this issue are Marc Laidlaw’s novella ‘Stillborne’, David Erik Nelson’s novelette ‘Whatever Comes After Calcutta’ and Larry Niven’s short story ‘By the Red Giant’s Light’, each of which demonstrates the storyteller’s art in spades. I enjoyed everything else I read here, too, though, so I’m happy to give this last magazine of 2017 a full five stars. ‘MoF&SF’ continues to deliver high quality genre fiction in every issue and I look forward to seeing what they publish in 2018. In the meantime, a Happy New Year to you all.

Patrick Mahon

January 2018

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

check out website: www.fandsf.com

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Category: Fantasy, Magazines, Scifi

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