Around a week ago, I received a copy of the big October/November double issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction for review, with the promise that I would be sure to blog what I thought about it, good or bad, after I read it. As has been typical lately, the moment it arrived, so did a massive case of life, so it is now--a full week after its arrival--that I get a chance to jot down my thoughts.
I was very excited to dive right into the the magazine, and even more so when I saw on the cover that it featured the work of local author Carol Emshwiller ("The Start of the End of it All"), "Bones of the Earth" author Michael Swanwick, and even Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King).
Before I get into the writing, the magazine looks great. Everything from Max Bertolini's gorgeous cover art to the greyscale advertisements to the pulpy page weight screams nostalgia while the beautiful print and terrific stories show how far the genre has come. At nearly 250 relatively ad-free pages per $6 issue, I defy you to find a better value in terms of pages per dollar (a value that gets considerably better if you purchase a subscription for a year or two--$3.18 and $2.55 per issue respectively). Of course this value assumes that the stories are readable...
...and the stories are more than readable. The short stories almost entirely left me wanting for more,
like when Albert E. Cowdrey brought back Detective Fourtney and Chief Tobin to solve a fantastic
mystery in a Hurricane-Katrina-shattered New Orleans in "Inside Story." Terry Bisson's
"Private Eye" twists and turns as it delivers. The aforementioned Carol Emshwiller continues to delight
in "Whoever," was whimsical and entertaining. I was utterly enamored with Laurel Winter's take on completely understanding quantum
physics in "
Going Back in Time," and found Michael Swanwick's beautifully told "The
Scarecrow's Boy" lovely. My current favorite short story in the collection, however, was penned by M.
Rickert. I have always enjoyed seeing an author take on the social and political ramifications of the
future, and "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account" treats future
abortion in a thought provoking (if not, at times, maudlin) manner.
All three novelets completely grabbed me as well, although one was slow in doing so. "Days of Wonder" by Geoff Ryman is one of the few future stories I have read in which animals, rather than humans, have a leading role. While it may sound gimmicky, the story itself was superb. Tim Sullivan's "Planetesimal Dawn" is a great example of an action-sci-fi tale, and it delivers brilliantly. Robert Reed, apparently a frequent contributer to the magazine, wrote the novelet that was slowest to grab me, but once it did, maintained the tightest hold. "The Visionaries" starts with the feel of a meta story about a struggling writer, but slowly evolves into a really compelling and interesting little mystery. There is a lot of depth in these scant 22 pages, I highly suggest you give it a try.
Even the articles contained in this publication are top notch. While I disagree with several of Michelle West's viewpoints, her views on the latest works of Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Marjorie M. Liu's are insightful, well thought out, and--more importantly--well formed. West manages to do something at which many other reviewers manage to fail so miserably: review with enough information backing your opinion that the reader can reach a conclusion of their own (and no, the irony is not lost on me here.) Lucius Shepard's "Films: Things That Go Clank in the Night" was a hilarious review of "Iron Man" was highly entertaining, if not entirely biased. Typically, in these sorts of publications, I read the stories, the reviews, and I briefly skim the other "filler", but this issue was blessedly scant on filler. Even articles in which I had no initial interest, like "Science: Rocks in Space" by Paul Doherty and Pat Murphy and "Curiosities" by Fred Chappell, ended up capturing my attention for the duration, compelling me to finish them.
There were really very few low points. Those that I did find were the shorts submitted by Steven Utley, Scott Bradfield, and Stephen King for "Sleepless Years", "Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter's Guild", and "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" respectively. Frankly, saying that these were my least favorite parts is really saying a lot, as none of these stories are what I would consider bad; they just did not hold up as well as I felt the rest of the collection did. "Sleepless" was an interesting idea that felt like it dragged. "Dazzle" was humorous, but felt mildly like a cliche. Stephen King's story surprised me the most, because it was really engaging, but I could not shake the feeling that I had read the whole thing before; so much so that I got up, walked to my bookshelf, and picked up Stephen King's "Nightmares & Dreamscapes." On page 296 the story "Sorry, Right Number" unfolds in a manner reminiscent of, if not similar to, the short story contained in this magazine. That fact just detracted from my enjoyment of the short too much.
I really did not want to write a glowing review of this thing. I know that it makes me look like a paid shill, somehow, but I honestly cannot recommend this enough. The series of shorter stories lends itself well to my limited time for reading fiction, and the cost lends itself well to my limited funds. If the other 10 issues per year are of the same quality, I do not think it is possible to go wrong with a subscription to this magazine. In fact, I feel strongly enough about it that I fully intend to start a subscription on payday, and I cannot provide higher praise than that.