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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2001
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, founded in 1949, is the award-winning SF magazine which is the original publisher of SF classics like Stephen King's Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. Each 160-page issue offers compelling short stories and novellas by writers such as Ray Bradbury, Ben Bova, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mike Resnick, Terry Bisson and many others, along with the science fiction field's most respected and outspoken opinions on books, films and science.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

The February 2001 issue marks a transition for Fantasy and Science Fiction with the formal announcement of its sale last October by longtime publisher Edward L. Ferman. Seeing as how Gordon Van Gelder, editor since 1996, is the purchaser, any radical change in content would seem unlikely. Indeed, an earlier announcement that the longstanding Science column would be discontinued apparently has been rescinded, though it's unclear whether this means regular contributors such as Gregory Benford will continue in this slot. I always thought the column was a bit incongruous to the largely fantasy fiction, but what do I know? Certainly Ben Bova's speculations in this issue about the physics of sexual relations in the weightlessness of space is amusingly thought provocative.

Equally amusing and thought provoking, at least in the sense of understanding the references, is Harlan Ellison's "From A to Z in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet," though as a series of vignettes it doesn't add up to a full-fledged story. (And the fact that this story was originally acquired by Ferman way back in 1991 [!] indicates how difficult it may be to determine when the Van Gelder era actually starts.) This is one of those performance-art stunts for which Ellison is famous -- pounding out tales on his manual typewriter in a bookstore window, the subject matter suggested by the store's patrons. This time the gimmick is to write an abecedarian story based on obscure mythological creatures. My favorite is "N is for Nidhoog," probably because it's an entry that develops beyond a quick joke, about a hanging gone nicely astray. The entire concept works because of Ellison's famously singular attitude and cleverness, though at times it calls to mind the adage that you can be too clever for your own good.

The other novelet length work is a more conventional narrative, and a more disturbing one in that it is grounded in the tragedy of uncontrollable chance circumstances. Amy Sterling Casil's "To Kiss the Star" explores the state of mind of the severely handicapped and the courage to continue day-to-day existence. A chilling read because the hopeful outcome of the story depends on science fictional speculation, reminding us all the more that, as Phil Ochs used to say, "There but for fortune go you or I."

These two very different works bookend an impressive collection of short fiction that demonstrate how effective storytelling is not so much the originality of an idea, but the originality in developing familiar archetypes in startling ways. The beautifully written "Moorina" by M.Rickert is based on the Irish fable of the selkie, while Garth Nix's existential parable is narrated by the magical forgemaker of Excalibur, King Arthur's sword and symbol of power. Also verging on existential truth, though in the traditional action-adventure mode, is M.Shayne Bell's "Red Flowers and Ivory." In a friskier vein, the wry "Fish Story" by Harry Jacobs reminds me of classic John Collier. A similar effect is achieved in "The King of New Orleans" by Albert E. Cowdrey, whose combination of exotic New Orleans setting and politics makes a potent brew about how native culture is defined by creative assimilation of even the strangest immigrants. "Queen of Thieves" by Michael Thomas provides a Dickensian spin on how those who must compulsively steal to survive develop the wits to outsmart their social and economic betters. Filling out this considerable bill of fare is Carol Emshwiller's weird meditation on the powerful emotions of motherhood.

Though it's not technically a short story, Paul DiFillipo's regular "Plumage from Pegasus" column posits with tongue-in-cheek the threat of electronic media to the print industry in the guise of a "Tom Swift" adventure. Speaking of fantastical publishing situations, probably the most amazing thing about the change in ownership of Fantasy and Science Fiction is that someone thinks they can actually leave their day job and buy a single magazine to run and hope to make a living off of it. That's the nicest fantasy of all -- let's hope that in the fairy tale tradition these authors draw upon there is a happy ending for the current owner in which publishing dreams come true.

Copyright © 2001 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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