Monday, February 7, 2011

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 118, Nos. 3 & 4 (March/April 2010) edited by Gordon van Gelder

Stories included:
Amor Fugit by Alexandra Duncan
Star-Crossed by Tim Sullivan
Waiting for the Phone to Ring by Richard Bowes
Class Trip by Rand B. Lee
Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History by Albert E. Cowdrey
Make-Believe by Michael Reaves
Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot by Ramsey Shehadeh
The Frog Comrade by Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Fairy Princess by Dennis Danvers
Blue Fire by Bruce McAllister

Science fact articles included:
The Wild Blue Yonder by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty

Full review: The March/April 2010 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is one of the better ones in that has been produced since the change to bimonthly issues. Unlike some other issues that have a mixed bag of stories with a few highlights, a body of mediocre ones, and a couple of anchors weighing down the issue, this issue has uniformly good quality fiction punctuated by a few superior stories. The only drag on the issue is the somewhat less than impressive science fact article that probably should have simply been left out of the issue.

Star-Crossed by Tim Sullivan is a sequel to the previously published Planetesimal Dawn, featuring the same characters. This time they go on a wild journey through space and time traveling between dimensions. Characters once thought lost return and multiply as they hop between realities to try to stave off the destruction of their comrades. The story is quite convoluted, but never so much so that one loses track of the plot. Class Trip by Rand B. Lee is also a convoluted story, made even odder due to the fact that it is told nonsequentially, detailing the budding relationship between a human child and a truly alien alien. The story ends up making sense, but doesn't really come together until the very last bits, requiring the reader to mentally juggle a lot of out of context material until the appropriate context becomes apparent. This somewhat difficult storytelling device is necessary for the story to work, and doesn't prevent this from being a very good one.

Albert E. Cowdrey's story Fort Clay, Louisiana: A Tragical History is featured on the front cover of the issue. It is more of a horror story than a fantasy, concerning the mysterious events that doomed a Union garrison occupying an isolated island fort near New Orleans. It is appropriately creepy, but somewhat predictable, with the only thing making it really noteworthy being the Civil War backdrop against which most of the story plays out. Make-Believe by Michael Reaves is also a horror story, but with its cast of child protagonists and child-like villains it is actually much more effectively scary than Cowdrey's effort. A story about four kids at play that takes a seemingly supernatural turn, the commonplace nature of the surroundings make the horror all the more chilling in this story. Though the story falls back on the old standby device of having it told by an author recounting an event from his childhood, I still found it to be quite good. Also something of a horror story, but of a somewhat different character is Blue Fire by Bruce McAllister in which a fictional Pope confronts a child vampire in the Renaissance. The story delves into some religious questions relating to vampires that most stories ignore. The horror of the story is the theological trap in which the child vampire is caught rather than any threat that he, as a "blood-drinker" might pose to others. With its unusual angle, it makes the vampire story seem almost fresh again, which is a fairly major accomplishment for a short story.

Waiting for the Phone to Ring by Richard Bowes also revolves around a writer as the central character, this time a down-on-his-luck author asked to revive and revise a story he wrote while he was much younger for an old friend. The story dances on the edge between fantasy and delusion, revolving around a small circle of friends tied together by their common association with a strangely compelling, but long since dead, musician who may, or may not, have had psychic powers and may, or may not, have killed his teacher who may or may not have been his lover. The story weaves together several lives, although sometimes it is difficult to follow the various threads as it tires to be more artsy than Bowes really has the skill to pull off. It is still a decent story, but probably needed more editing.

Amor Fugit by Alexandra Duncan is a modest fantasy about a girl who lives with her mother by day, her father by night, and who has a ill-fated infatuation with a boy she meets. The story has a fairy tale like air to it, seemingly told from the perspective of an unknowing denizen of the timeless fairy realm who confront the real world for the first time. It is a bittersweet, touching story. Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot by Ramsey Shehadeh is a humorous fantasy about the incompetent wizard Epidapheles as told from the perspective of his long-suffering sentient, invisible, ambulatory chair named Door. The wizard sets out to solve the problem of an idiot King besotted with an ocelot and gets entangled in court politics in which supporters of the Queen seek to replace the King on the throne with her. Door and Epiphalides have a sort of Jeeves and Wooster relationship that infuses the entire story with humor. Door has something of a happy ending, as does the Queen, although not in a way that undermines the rest of the story. The Frog Comrade by Benjamin Rosenbaum is another story told with a fairy tale sensibility, but this time it is a subversion of the classic frog and princess story. It turns out that the frog is a socialist, and the princess lives through political upheaval that leads through a socialist state to a capitalist state and finally finds love. In the end, the princess does kiss the frog, but she ends up even more confused than ever. The story is told with humor, and although the politics are fairly simplistic, the story is still good.Despite its title, The Fairy Princess by Dennis Danvers is not a fairy tale story. Instead, it is a fairly unsettling tale about a woman working the night shift as a factory dedicated to making robot sex toys. She uncovers a conspiracy with a surprising source, and makes an unusual friend.

The issue also includes the science fact article The Wild Blue Yonder by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty. Unfortunately, like most science fact articles in Fantasy & Science Fiction (and as far as I can tell, all science fact articles that Pat Murphy has a hand in writing), the article is not particularly interesting or insightful. The article talks about model airplanes and taking play seriously as a way to learn physics. It makes some noises about the Bernoulli effect not actually working, but doesn't really back that claim up very well, and doesn't really say anything else that makes the article particularly worth doing much more than skimming through.

With the exception of the weak science fact article, everything in this issue makes for an enjoyable read. The funny stories are funny, the scary stories are scary, and the strange ones are strange, and all of them are insightful and interesting. All of the stories range from decent to pretty good, with the best probably being either Blue Fire, Amor Fugit, or Class Trip.

Previous issue reviewed: January/February 2010.
Subsequent issue reviewed: May/June 2010.

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