The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2018, Volume 135 #740 (magazine review).

After a rather hectic Christmas and New Year period, I’m finally catching up with writing reviews I started several weeks ago, including this one of the November/December 2018 copy of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’. This issue includes 4 novelettes, 7 short stories, a poem and the usual mix of non-fiction, as well as an index covering everything published in the magazine during 2018. I’ll focus here on my highlights.

The issue opens with Jeffrey Ford’s ‘Thanksgiving’, a fantasy short story about five people who realise with some alarm that ‘Uncle Jake’, who has come to Thanksgiving dinner with them for the last fifteen years, isn’t actually related to any of them. Who is he and how can they make sure he doesn’t turn up again next year? This forms an intriguingly spooky start to the issue.

‘The Lady Of Butterflies’ by Y.M. Pang is a beautifully written fantasy novelette about the evolving relationship between Lady Rikara, personal bodyguard to the Emperor, and Morieth, an otherworldly woman from a distant country who arrives in the Palace gardens one day with no clear idea of how she got there. Despite being unable to speak their language, Morieth captures the Emperor’s heart almost immediately.

Given that he’s already married, this is a bit of a problem. Since Lady Rikara knows enough of Morieth’s language to translate for him, the Emperor asks Rikara to take the newcomer under her wing. She does so reluctantly but soon warms to the enigmatic stranger and tries to help her recover her memory, with potentially fatal results. It’s difficult to overstate my admiration for this story, which is near pitch-perfect in almost every way. I will certainly watch out for other stories by Y.M. Pang.

Sean McMullen’s ‘Extreme’ is an SF short story about George Kensington, a man who is genetically predisposed to an addiction to extreme thrills. After spending time in hospital following his latest escapade, he is approached by a secretive woman who offers him an obscene amount of money if he will join a high risk, top secret mission for her shadowy employers. Given how dangerous it sounds, he instantly signs up.

Who are his paymasters, though, and what is their real plan? This is a fascinating hard SF story, even if at times it feels more like the start of a novel than a standalone short story. McMullen does very well to portray Kensington, a self-confessed psychopath, in such a way that I empathised with him from one end of the story to the other.

‘The Iconoclasma’ by Hanuš Seiner is another very welcome piece of fiction in translation and I applaud MoF&SF for regularly exposing English-speaking audiences to stories originally written in other languages. In this case, the author is a Czech physicist and the story has been translated by Julie Novakova, a Czech author in her own right who has recently edited an anthology of Czech speculative fiction in translation.

Seiner’s SF novelette, which is also the inspiration for Alan M. Clark’s suitably dramatic cover for the magazine, tells of the problems that follow after mankind discovers a method for near instantaneous interstellar travel. This transforms humanity’s fortunes but when almost the entire crew of a space destroyer are killed by an unidentified foe, it starts to become clear that the huge energies involved in translating starships through interstellar distances aren’t free.

Now it’s time to pay the bill. Seiner tells a fascinating tale, marrying the excitement of military SF to the maths and physics of his professional life while never forgetting to base the story in the experience of three-dimensional characters that the reader can relate to. I found this hugely enjoyable and hope to see more of Seiner’s work in translation in future.

At the other end of the length scale, Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s ‘Overwintering Habits Of The North American River Mermaid’ is an extremely effective flash fiction story about mermaids, all played out in fewer than 125 words.

‘Other People’s Dreams’ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a short fantasy about the dream-weaver Rowan and her apprentice, the orphan Bardo, and what happens to them both when they have to travel off-planet to undertake a potentially lucrative job for someone from Rowan’s past. I was entranced by this wonderful piece, filled as it is with complexities, surprises, tragedy and beauty too.

J.R. Dawson’s ‘When We Flew Together Through The Ice’ is a short SF piece about two sisters, Merribelle and Sarah, who are stolen away from their poor farmstead on a colony planet by their mother. She is a woman whose thirst for adventure far outweighs her concern for the dull husband she leaves behind or the daughters she drags into a life of crime. Dawson tells the story with great intimacy, taking us to the heart of this family drama and, as the plot winds forwards to its almost inevitable conclusion, we can’t help but be touched by the pathos of this tragic tale.

In addition to the above, there are also novelettes by Robert Reed and Geoff Ryman, short stories by Nick DiChario and Bo Balder and a short poem by Ruth Berman. Although they were, for me, overshadowed by the pieces above, you may well see something in them that I didn’t.

There’s the usual mix of non-fiction articles, including three review columns, two for books and one for films. My highlight this time round was Jerry Oltion’s ‘Science’ column, where he provides in a mere six pages a fascinating overview of the main options for propelling a spacecraft out to the rest of the Solar system and beyond.

The year-ending issue of MoF&SF for 2018 contains several excellent stories spanning SF and fantasy and caps another year of high quality short genre fiction. My thanks to editor Charlie Finlay for repeatedly finding new and interesting authors and stories with which to entertain us. If you enjoy short stories and aren’t yet a subscriber, give yourself a late Christmas present. You won’t regret it.

Patrick Mahon

February 2019

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

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