The latest issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ has the usual mix of ‘Departments’ and fiction. The former are interesting but this review will focus on the fiction in reverse order of length.
The short stories first. I haven’t read Alan Dean Foster in a long time. A while back, in the service of SFCrowsnest, I manfully ploughed through his multi-volume adaptations of ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’. It is to Foster’s credit that when I watched the animated episodes he had adapted, I preferred his written versions. He clearly added something. Here, he give us ‘Claim Blame’, a western tale of two gold miners whose claim has been jumped by gnomes. They are stocky, muscular chaps who probably keep on singing all day long as they swing their pickaxes but O’Riley and McLaughlin don’t find them amusing. They seek help from giant Amos Malone, who knows a few tricks. He brings in some other assistance and things get complicated. This enjoyable tall tale makes many minutes pass pleasantly. Foster is so prolific one has the impression that he’s been around forever but he’s a mere stripling compared to some of the veterans of the genre.
‘Application’ by Lewis Shiner is an entertaining short-short in which a man’s old desktop joins in with the on-screen chat. The desktop is now part of a network and is full of useful but disheartening knowledge. The amusement is slightly tarnished by the depressing reality behind it of the current economic situation in the world, especially for those of us who need a job to live. Very good though.
‘Breathe’ by Steven Popkes might have been titled ‘Vampire Family Values’, albeit a different kind of vampire. Unlike the usual bloodsuckers, these take your breath away or your strength or your quick reflexes. Not completely, but they can suck a bit of talent from you for their own use. Will is the first person narrator, a biochemist doing research into his own condition because he doesn’t believe in magic. His brother, Brandon, is a doctor in a Boston hospital. Then their long lost old dad shows up with emphysema and the plot thickens. An interesting and original look at both vampires and family values.
Albert E. Cowdrey is back again (again!) with ‘The Ladies In Waiting’. Jimmy and Morrie run a business called Paranormal Services and first appeared in ‘Hartmut’s World’ a couple of ‘MF&SF’ issues ago. Here they tangle with an aggressive poltergeist who is making the best bedroom in an old southern B&B uninhabitable. Guest house owner Colonel Quitman is a large man with a white Stetson and a big gut but he sure shows our boys plenty of southern hospitality. The narrative is very amusing, as usual with Cowdrey, and the plot hardly matters but loose ends are nicely tied up. Interestingly, there is an editorial warning about passing this story on to younger readers because of some adult themes. Ahem. Prostitution is mentioned and Jimmie and Morrie are gay. In the bible belt, this might count as adult themes but here in the UK, the evening soap operas shown at around 7 pm are full of things much more risqué. However, I don’t regard that as a good thing and if American youth is still innocent let us, by all means, strive to keep them that way.
‘If The Stars Reverse Their Courses, If The Rivers Run Back From The Sea’ by Alter S. Reiss turned out well, though I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it in the first few pages. Colonel Andier is on an old motorboat in the harbour of some war-ravaged city where the former military dictator has been toppled. He smoked acrid cigarettes before being dropped off near a ruined mansion where he descends to the cellar to drink a bottle of good wine and kick an old corpse out of the way. It’s almost Graham Greene-land or ‘To Have And Have Not’ with Bogey and Lauren Bacall. An odd start to a tale with that long title but they turn out to match quite well. First person narration isn’t always the best option but it was a good one here, giving the opening that kind of hard-boiled, film noir atmosphere to which I have already alluded. A very satisfying piece of work.
If there are parallel worlds, then there are parallel versions of each of us in them. Perhaps key events were slightly different in their childhood and their lives took a different course so they turned out to be different people. This is the theme behind ‘Waiting For A Me Like You’ by Chris Willrich. Bob Flips between worlds using a Transparallel Gateway to attend a job interview. He is to be employed as a PR man, a complicated job in the multi-parallel worlds. It’s a big market. The classic formula for a Science Fiction short story is one new idea examined through the prism of its effects on human beings. That classic formula still works.
There are three good novelettes in this issue. ‘High Stakes’ is a welcome return for Naomi Kritzer and her heroine of the seasteds, Rebecca. The seasteds are a group of artificial islands set up by rich people sick of government interference and taxes and inhabited by the rich and their bond workers. These are, as revealed in ‘Liberty’s Daughter’ don’t have a great life but the rich are happy and isn’t that what counts? Here Rebecca is hired to assist a big TV company which is making a reality show about the seasteds entitled High Stakes. Workers will take part in various games and contests and the winner will have his bond paid off and become a free man. Another good story in what promises to be an entertaining series which will hopefully make it into book form eventually. The older reader, myself, (‘moss creeping up once heroic limbs’, as Gore Vidal once put it) is inevitably reminded of Heinlein’s ‘Podkayne Of Mars’ by this tale of an adolescent girl in a virtually lawless free market society. I bow to no one in my appreciation of old Bob Heinlein but Kritzer’s depressing view of how such a society would actually work is probably more accurate.
For light relief, Ron Goulart contributes another tale of Harry Challenge, an American detective in Edwardian London. ‘The Problem Of The Elusive Cracksman’ is an enjoyable piece of hokum in which the Mirabilis Diamonds have been stolen from Sir Rowland Killigan, inventor of Killigan’s Astounding Elixir, supposedly. A wayward son and a disgruntled former employee would be the chief suspects except that Sir Rowland himself saw a gorilla rip open the safe and carry it off. This ripping yarn should be enhanced with illustrations by Sidney Paget but he is no longer with us, alas.
‘Heaventide’ by KJ Kabza is a nice fantasy love story with a kind of Native American Indian feel to it. Daybreak-Under-Clouds is a single female who has the urge to go Traveling but she is a woman and only men Travel. Single females consort with men in the Traveler House in the hope of getting a husband. Clearly, this is a society where men have all the fun. The Council, including Daybreak’s own stern grandmother, Thunder-Within-Sky, tell her firmly that she cannot Travel. However, Boneoak-Within-Forest, a male Traveler, is very fond of her and helps her to build a boat. For Daybreak lives near a beach on a fjord and the tide goes in and out. A boat might take her out. This long story was low-key but quite touching and I rather liked it.
Finally, there is one novella. ‘Katabasis’ by Robert Reed is set in a world he uses for his novels but this fine novella works as a standalone piece of literature. It is set aboard a Great Ship which was manufactured in the remote past from the core of a Jovian world. Billions of years later, humans found the derelict just outside the Milky Way and began a voyage around the galaxy in it, picking up other species along the way, for a price. Humans have so far developed medicine that their brains are virtually indestructible so if their bodies are destroyed it hardly matters, new ones can be built.
That’s the setting. The tale is of a long journey across a rugged landscape that few can survive and which most of the participants seem to do just for the challenge of it. The exceptions are the porters who do it as a job, usually to pay off the massive debts they incurred paying for a ticket on the ship. One such porter is Katabasis, a formidable female biped with an interesting past. The best thing in this issue of ‘MF&SF’ and deserving of the space given to it.
The fantasy and Science Fiction many of us know and love originally emanated from American pulp magazines in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. ‘MF&SF’ has more sophisticated writing than those old publications but is upholding the same tradition. What can I say but keep up the good work, chaps.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.50 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
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