Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 72, No. 2 (February 1987) edited by Edward L. Ferman

Stories included:
Saving Time by Russell Griffin
The Dutchman's Ghost Town by Andrew M. Greeley
The Children of the Sea by Patricia Matthews
The Greenhill Gang by Barbara Owens
The Anger of Time by J. P. Boyd
Bitch by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Backwater Time by Matt Corwin

Science fact articles included:
Sail On! Sail On! by Isaac Asimov

Full review: The February 1987 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is a passable issue of the publication, with a collection of good stories and a couple of marginal ones. I found only one of the stories in the issue to be below average, but conversely found none of the stories to be particularly noteworthy either. Overall, those who pick up this issue are unlikely to be disappointed by its content, but neither are they likely to be particularly excited by it.

The first and longest story in the issue is Saving Time by Russell Griffin, a time travel story involving a pair of university professors and their rather bumbling efforts as they travel into the past. The narrator, an unwilling participant in the journey, is dragged along by his eccentric companion who believes that the best way to impress his girlfriend is to hijack her time travel project and change the past. Needless to say, this does not work out nearly as well as he might have hoped, and the ensuring bizarre events are told with much humor. as humorous as the story is, Griffin never loses sight of the time travel aspects, and the various paradox issues that crop up in such stories are dealt with quite deftly as well. Overall, it is a well-told, although somewhat standard time travel tale.

Normally I'm fond of ghost stories, especially ghost stories that are ambiguous about the supernatural. However, The Dutchman's Ghost Town by Andrew M. Greeley just didn't work for me. Set closely after the end of World War II, a veteran finds a beautiful, mysterious, and possibly ghostly widow that he strikes up an odd relationship with. The story meanders with a dreamlike air while he escorts her about the southwestern United States until it takes an abrupt left turn into a horror film when they visit a ghost town. At this point, the story simply seems to fall apart, as there is no rhyme or reason given for the way events play out, nor was any groundwork laid for them. The story simply feels like two completely different stories that Greeley had lying around half finished and crammed together at the last minute. The other ghost story in the issue seems like it may have been originally intended for one of the many Thieves' World anthologies. In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Bitch, a female sorceress who must hide her identity fears she may have been exposed by a magical transformation that turns out to have been worked by a long dead malign spirit. The story is pretty straightforward, and the "big reveal" at the end isn't too surprising, but it is written well and enjoyable to read.

A fairy tale of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and violence, The Children of the Sea by Patricia Matthews is full of the same sort of bitter romance that one might find in classic tales like Wuthering Heights, but is thankfully free of the maudlin self-flagellation of those stories. Another story of jealousy and violent, The Greenhill Gang by Barbara Owens deals with a very odd collection of older women who have stumbled upon an unusual ability that allows them to take advantage of those around them. The story starts out with an ominous tenor that only increases throughout. It is a tall order to make little old ladies living in suburban Florida scary, but Owens manages to do so.

Given that the first story in the issue is a time travel story, one might expect that the two other stories with the word "time" in their titles might be as well. However, neither The Anger of Time by J. P. Boyd and Backwater Time by Matt Corwin deal with time travel at all. The Anger of Time contemplates a world in which extraordinarily long-lived individuals lurk among the general population, and tells the story of an instance in which one of them takes it upon himself to remind the rest of us "mayflies" that violence is not new, and the destructive tendencies of humankind don't rely upon technology to be realized. Backwater Time, on the other hand, is an odd little fairy tale about a man who has found and captured a fairy. There is little else to the story, making it one of the weaker ones in the issue.

Continuing, more or less, to build upon the discussion concerning antimatter that he began in the previous issue's science fact article Opposite!, Asimov deals with the question of how to power interstellar flight in the science fact article Sail On! Sail On!. After explaining why superluminal flight is an impossibility and discussing various currently feasible (and clearly inadequate) methods of traversing the reaches of space, Asimov turns to fission, fusion, and finally antimatter powered starships. Combining concrete science with well-grounded speculation, the article is quite good, although probably will not offer much in the way of revelation to most science fiction fans.

With a publication as long-running as Fantasy & Science Fiction it is inevitable that some issues will serve primarily as place-holders between other, better issues. The February 1987 issue, although loaded with decent to pretty good stories, seems to be one of those issues. Lacking any truly outstanding stories, this issue is worth reading, and will provide a science fiction or fantasy fan with some pleasurable entertainment, but probably not substantially more than that.

Previous issue reviewed: January 1987.
Subsequent issue reviewed: April 1987.

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