Readers of ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ will be familiar with the idea that an analytical knife can cut in different ways. Almost any issue of ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science-Fiction’ could be divided into those eponymous categories. It could also be divided, as on the contents page, into novelettes and short stories. Herein, it is divided into the serious and the comic.
I seriously enjoyed Marc Laidlaw’s story ‘Bemused‘, which though quite light in tone at the outset, tells a grim story. Gorlen is a musician, a handsome youth and fond of a good time with wine, women and the usual distractions. Spar is a gargoyle. At some time in the past, for nefarious reasons, a wizard exchanged one of their hands so that stone Spar has a fleshy one and Gorlan has one of stone. They are on a quest to track down the magician and force him to change them back. Ho-hum! Another fantasy set in a world of magic and with a slow beginning yet. But, by golly, it turned out to be a well-wrought yarn with many surprising twists. Furthermore, Laidlaw has the gift of turning a neat phrase here and there. By the last line, I loved it.
‘A 2157 cabernet from Oneil.Paris.’ One line from ‘After the Funeral’ by Daniel Marcus tells you it’s set in the future. Up to that point, apart from a mention of Oneil, London it might be a present day story of an academic’s widow wondering what to do with her life in the days after his death. By the time you get to the Canid, Professor Sam – who seems to be some sort of highly evolved dog, you know it’s a bona fide Science Fiction story – a highly literary Science Fiction story being of the slice-of-life ilk. I incline more to plots and a conclusion but it was interesting.
‘The Game Room’ by KJ Kabza is a sort of fantasy riff on ‘And He Built A Crooked House’ by Robert Heinlein. In Kabza’s house, rooms appear and disappear and the house is constantly changing in size. Some rooms lead to the outside world, which also varies. One by one, the occupants, a family it seems, start to leave until the narrator fears being left alone. One of those very odd, slightly confusing fantasies but entertaining in its way.
Jack Shade makes a welcome return to these pages in ‘The Queen Of Eyes’ by Rachel Pollack. The Queen, like Jack, is one of a number of ‘powers’ invisible to us ordinary folks going about our business. Jack is a Traveler and lives in a hotel in New York. If someone shows up and hands him one of his business cards, he is obliged to help them. When Sarah Strand comes down from upstate New York and hands him a card, he is obliged to start looking for her missing mother, who is the Queen of Eyes. This gets him mixed up with the Nude Owl, the Society of the Morning, the Association of Angels Demons and Elementals and other strange folk. Pollack creates a rich background for another long and engrossing tale. I hope there is more to come in this series and also hope that, in the long run, Jack gets what he wants.
‘Hhasalin’ is a city of shapers in the story of that name by Susan Palwick. Lhosi is a shaper, a small furry creature rescued from the orphanage by kindly humans whose children she used to play with. Now the kids are getting bigger and Lhosi is left alone more. Shaping, making objects appear as if out of nothing, seems similar to the ‘imaging’ of L.E. Modesitt’s ‘Imager Portfolio’ series but Lhosi has a small talent compared to his mighty heroes. This was a touching story with a nice kick in the tail, neatly done.
‘Half As Old As Time’ by Rob Chilson is one of those slightly chilling tales set in the far, far distant future when vast epochs of time have passed and the Earth is really, really old. Wrann, full of guilt, is on a quest to Urish Moor where he finds the city of Babdalorn, home of Crecelius, the Last Man. The atmosphere of ancient boredom is neatly delivered but the story is not boring. Chilson is apparently inspired by Jack Vance, one of the classic writers in the genre that I never get round to reading. If Chilsom’s work in homage is anything to go by, I should.
So to the comedy. An issue of MF&SF without an Albert Cowdrey story in it is like a royal baby delivery without a hundred photographers on the hospital doorstep, quite rare. This month‘s contribution, ‘Collectors’, is about the dark world of stolen objects d’art and the people who hide them away. Herman Goering hoarded the things when the Nazis conquered Europe and one particularly sacred item vanished after his death. Cowdrey blends a crook, a witch and a right-wing nutcase into a very entertaining yarn featuring the power of God, maybe.
Gods, eh? You can’t trust ’em, especially with your beautiful seventeen year-old daughter. ‘The Shore At The Edge Of The World’ by Eugene Mirabelli features a likeable god named Gabriel – ‘Call me Gabe’ – who spends an evening with a fishing village family. There’s a good point made at the end of this one which adds a poignant note to a mostly humorous tale.
‘myPhone20’ by Robert Grossbach is a neat extrapolation of the future for those devices that young people have permanently pressed to their ear nowadays. The lead character is an older man not inclined to keep up with the latest technology. Although the plot is fairly serious, the tone is humorous, as it is in ‘Affirmative Auction’ by James Morrow. This, though, is a story without a serious bone in its body. A ship of the Pan Galactic Virtue Patrol goes to Charleston in the year 1801 and attempts to impose fair play. Things don’t turn out as they or the reader might expect. Jolly good fun and the descriptions of the aliens were nicely grotesque. They were uglier than slugs. Oliver Buckram entertained us with a giant slug in the last issue. This issue he delivers ‘A Space Opera’ in three acts. It has Italian words, a tragic hero, a lovely heroine, dastardly villains and everything else you could wish for in an opera. I look forward to seeing it performed one day. It might be as good as Shakespeare, who features in ‘Rosary And Goldenstar’ by Geoff Ryman. The bard’s life and work is changed by a meeting with some early astronomers. It was clever and well-researched but somehow lacked clout.
Overall, however, editor Gordon Van Gelder continues to deliver the goods in this long established excellent magazine. The fact that he’s not afraid to include a considerable percentage of humorous stories may be the secret of his success.
(pub: Spilogale Inc. 260 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 7.99 (US). ISSN: 1095-8258)
check out website: www.fandsf.com