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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May/June Issue Review

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) sent me an advance copy of the May/June issue for review on Hangininsac. These days, everybody wants to jump on the blog bandwagon, mostly because on the content – selling planet, there aren’t a lot of wagons that haven’t lost their wheels. Since I have read this magazine for about 20 years, I deigned to review the magazine for special release in Hangininsac.

This magazine has serious status in the geek world. While I was reading, I made every excuse I could to locate myself in geek oriented coffee shops. I shamelessly waved the issue around, until someone mentioned I had a copy they hadn’t seen. What greater pleasure can there be than saying, Oh, this little thing, it’s an advance copy. The editorial staff asked me to look it over. I smiled as I silently thought, I am somebody, dammit!

Since F&SF changed from eleven to six issues per year, the issues have gotten pretty hefty. The May June issue weighs in at a hefty 254 pages, not including classified ads and contest results. This magazine is not for literary wimps. It takes a while to read. Unlike some F&SF diehards who stay up all night so they can be first to comment on the F&SF website’s discussion forum, I usually leisurely savor each bi-monthly issue over a week or two’s bedtime reading.

This time was different. Since I had promised my review to none other than someone who put the initials ag/gvg at the end of an email, I knew I had to turn my review around in a reasonable amount of time. Reading three novelets and eight short stories over a couple of days was a new and refreshingly intense experience. I have gained a new respect for the world's slushpile miners.

Even condensed into two days, this issue was enjoyable to read. As I worked through the issue from beginning to end, I found the stories to be better and better. The Crocodiles, the last story in the issue, was my favorite. Steven Popkes put a new twist into the alternate history genre; alternate history, now with zombies! The story follows the life of a German scientist working on secret weapons development during World War II. Rather than working with heavy water, the Reich develops a disturbing and macabre recipe for zombies. You’ll need to get the magazine to find out how they do it, and what happens next. This story was so evil that I felt guilty for enjoying it so much. Funny, I feel the same way when I watch South Park.

Seven Sins for Seven Dwarfs retells the old Snow White story with a more clear explanation of the dwarfs added. After all, if they were such great miners, where were the riches in gold and gems? What did they keep in their seven locked chests at the feet of seven identical beds? Why did they sing and work all the time?

Dr Death and the Almost Superheroes tells the story of a person with superhero powers who didn’t quite cut it as a superhero. Dr Death lives the life of a vagrant, traveling from city to city by bus, using his superpowers to alleviate human suffering in his own unique way. As a bonus, this story provides an impressionistic but gritty view of contemporary bus travel in America. It makes dealing with the TSA seem almost bearable by comparison.

The Remotest Mansions of the Blood is set in a remote Latin American village where reality and magic collide. Alex Irvine adds a self-centered middle aged American man obsessed with one of the village’s younger women. This recipe yields an improbable and memorable stew of John Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Real Martian Chronicles is a rich gift from the late John Sladeck’s papers. Sladeck gave us mundane diary entries from the prosaic father of a mediocre mid – twentieth century British suburban family living through their first week at a Martian colony. The fist entry documents tea sets broken in transit, and suburban life on Mars goes downhill from there. This short story is a great work of satire.

In addition to these tales, this issue includes stories of chaste teenage romance in a small town overshadowed by magic in the local woods, further adventures of Fred Chapelle’s shadow thieves, the relationship between a young boy and his artificial intelligence (AI) controlled toy system, lifelong sisterhood embodied in works of art, and a foundling’s love for a Goddess.

I have subscribed to F&SF for longer than I have had any other periodical publication. It’s the familiarity yet freshness of the stories that keeps me waiting for the next issue to fall in my mailbox.

What makes this magazine stand out in the genre is that, in some small but important way, each story departs from the formula. Almost all the stories follow familiar fantasy or science fiction formulas. Several time-tested formulas, including rube becomes wizard’s assistant, families colonize Mars, and South American magical realism appear in this issue. However, every story throws a down and outside curveball into the formula. Whether it’s throwing a John Updike character into a magical realism village, or dwarfs with deep, dark secrets, I never know what to expect from each new story. That’s what keeps me waiting for the next issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good review. I can't wait to get my issue - being one of those peons who have to wait. I've subscribed since 1971 - which is pretty amazing as I'm only 35 years old.

Last year I decided to clear out some old stuff and sold the entire 1970's and 1980's copies of F&SF (& 1980's Asimov's) on eBay. They did surprisingly well.

Good luck on your reviewing career. You really did get me looking forward to the magazine.

You know who

Steve said...

I worked a little harder on this one, in case GVG Himself takes a look.

Unfortunately, blogged reviews do not qualify for SFWA credits.

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