Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review - Realms of Fantasy (December 2010) edited by Douglas Cohen and Shawna McCarthy

Stories included:
Queen of the Kanguellas by Scott Dalrymple
Maiden, Mother, Crone by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky
The Banjo Singer by Dennis Danvers
Tools of the Devil by Jerry Oltion

Full review: Having changed hands twice in the recent past, first being saved from imminent closure by Tir Na Nog Press, and more recently resurrected from the dead a second time by Damnation Books, Realms of Fantasy is a magazine in trouble. As one might expect, the uncertainty generated by this quickly changing ownership seems to have unsettled the editorial staff, and as a result the quality of the magazine has been fairly uneven over the past year. While there have been some reasons for optimism, the most recent issue has some fairly glaring production errors that are simply unacceptable in a professionally published periodical. In short, while the fiction contained in the most recent issue is fairly adequate, the layout of the magazine is a mess. Unless Damnation Books can rectify this problem quickly, I fear their tenure as owners of an ongoing concern may be lamentably brief.

First, I'll get the bad stuff from the issue out of the way. The magazine contains at least three noticeable production errors. The first seems small, but is visually annoying. In the middle of Queen of the Kanguellas and the article about artist Terese Nielsen, the page format shifts from a two-column layout to a three column layout for no apparent reason. In Resa Nelson's article concerning the making of the first part of the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the font size of the text changes a couple of times, seemingly at random. Most annoyingly, the Dennis Danvers story The Banjo Singer starts on page 49, jumps backwards (with no indication on page 49) to page 36, runs to page 39 and then jumps forward to page 46. Obviously, when one gets to page 36, this is quite confusing, and then when one does begin the story, the random, and to my eye completely unnecessary, jumping about makes the story very difficult to enjoy. Quite simply, these are problems that are completely unacceptable in a professional publication. Even the page count of this issue is down, about a half dozen short of the usual size for an issue. I hope the various errors are a hiccup resulting from the shifting ownership, but as a result of them, I am not filled with optimism for the future of the magazine.

The issue leads off with an extended article by Resa Nelson concerning the upcoming movie adaptation of the final book in the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The movie is splitting the book into two movies which is unfortunate as I've always regarded this book as the one in the series most in need of trimming. This cinematic decision is not Ms. Nelson's fault, and her article is informative and well-written, despite the aforementioned formatting miscues. The Artist's Gallery in the issue features Terese Nielsen, whose primary claim to fame is her work illustrating Magic: The Gathering cards. Presumably because of the truncated nature of the issue, the usual Folkroots column is missing from the print version, having been relegated to the magazine's website.

But the meat of Realms of Fantasy is always the short fiction, and in this regard, the December 2010 issue is at least adequate. The first story in the issue is the Scott Dalrymple piece Queen of the Kanguellas, set in mythic Africa. The story follows a young European woman raised among African tribes as she journey's back to the land she grew up in to find her missing father and a legendary and feared mystical tribe. She wanders the countryside, overcoming obstacles, but never quite fitting in, caught between the two sides of her background. Eventually she, and a collection of other misplaced souls find their place, but it isn't exactly where she intended to get to when she started. The story is dream-like in tone, and though somewhat opaque at times, still quite good.

I always wonder about short stories with multiple authors. It always strikes me as strange that a work so brief would be co written. Maiden, Mother, Crone by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky is a fairly straightforward witch story in which a woman has to hide her status from her unsuspecting family to avoid persecution by a male-dominated church. The twist is that witches are only powerful in groups, an the impending birth of her daughter threatens to reveal her secret. The story is not bad, but pretty predictable. The Banjo Singer by Dennis Danvers is more difficult to read than it should be, due to the bizarre formatting of the magazine, but it is still a good story about a girl with a magical voice and the jealous hatred this inspires in her father.

The best story in the issue is the last, the Jerry Oltion penned Tools of the Devil. In the story, a girl raised by religious fundamentalists rebels in a serious way by making a deal with the devil. The twist is that she has no intention of foiling the devil and happily pursues her own soul's destruction only to find out that things don't work out at all like she wanted them to. The plot twist is fairly unexpected and truly ironic.

Despite some fairly egregious formatting errors, the December 2010 issue of Realms of Fantasy is a fairly decent issue considering the turmoil that has plagued the publication over the last couple of years. Although it is a little short, and the included fiction is for the most part fairly mediocre, it is better to have a living, breathing (albeit on life support) genre magazine than a dead corpse. If Realms of Fantasy can recover and begin turning out strong issues again, then this will be seen as the turning point, and that is something to be happy about.

Previous issue reviewed: October 2010
Subsequent issue reviewed: February 2011

Realms of Fantasy     Douglas Cohen     Shawna McCarthy     Magazine Reviews


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