Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review - Fantasy & Science Fiction: Volume 116, No. 2 (February 2009) edited by Gordon van Gelder

Stories included:
Shadow of the Valley by Fred Chappell
The Texas Bake Sale by Charles Coleman Finlay
Winding Broomcorn by Mario Milosevic
Catalog by Eugene Mirabelli
The Night We Buried Road Dog by Jack Cady

Full review: The theme for this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is apparently "weird stories". Each of the tales in this volume is bizarre in its own way, including the classic reprint The Night We Buried Road Dog, an ethereal ghost story revolving around an automobile graveyard. Not all of the stories are strange, and not all of the stories are good, but overall, this issue is one of the better ones, buoyed largely on the strength of the excellent classic reprint.

Shadow of the Valley by Fred Chappell is a strange fantasy about an expedition to a dangerous valley where plants consume shadows. The protagonist aligns himself with a collection of bandits, and there are numerous turns of events as rivals and obstacles crop up that have to be dealt with along the way. In the end, the protagonist finds more than he expected, and uncovers a mystery where he didn't expect to find one. The Texas Bake Sale, by Charles Coleman Finlay, is a post-apocalyptic science fiction story involving a unit of Marines trying to make their way after the collapse of the government. The story is humorous in tone, but serious in nature. The story asks the serious question of what obligation soldiers have to their nation when that nation has disintegrated, and where exactly the line might be drawn between struggling military unit commandeering supplies and bandits engaged in thievery.

Winding Broomcorn by Mario Milosevic is an odd little fantasy about a maker of handmade brooms. It is a little bit of a ghost story, and a little bit of a witch story. The story isn't all that interesting and doesn't really have a whole lot to recommend it. Catalog by Eugene Mirabelli is a bizarre alternate reality tale as a man tries to pursue a woman he loves from the pages of an L.L. Bean Catalog across the realities of various pieces of reading material. It is weird, but in a way that should appeal to people who have lots of books and magazines lying around their house, as the central character seems to drift between characters who seem to share only the potential connection of being from periodicals and books stacked together on a messy coffee table. The story isn't really deep or meaningful, but is a fun little piece of weirdness.

Continuing with the inclusion of classic reprints, this issue includes the magnificent The Night We Buried Road Dog by Jack Cady. A ghost story rooted in the love of cars and the open roads of the large empty expanses of the middle part of the United States. Cady captures in a manner that many "coastal-bound" readers may not understand, the combination of love and fear that the dwellers of the "big square states" feel for those long lonely journeys on the empty stretches of highway that criss-cross the plains, deserts, and mountains of the heartland. The story occupies the same dreamlike space as a driver on a long journey who is caught between being fully alert and asleep as the endless miles roll by. It is rightly regarded as a masterpiece, and though it isn't really fair to compare the otherwise decent stories in this issue to it, they simply come up wanting. This comparison highlights what, to me, has proven to be one of the problems with the idea of plucking great classic stories from the various editorial eras of the magazine and reprinting them: They are generally so good that the other stories in these issues simply pale in comparison. Unless you already have a copy of this story in another publication, this issue is worth recommending just based on the strength of this one story.

While the remaining stories in this issue are a more or less equal mix of average to good, The Night We Buried Road Dog raises the whole issue to being very good. As a result, although not all of the individual stories can get a high recommendation, the issue as a whole gets a strong recommendation.

Subsequent issue reviewed: March 2009

Nebula Award Winners for Best Novella

1994 Hugo Award Nominees
1994 Locus Award Nominees
1994 Nebula Award Nominees
1994 World Fantasy Award Nominees

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