A succulent breast dispensing good recommendations (yendi) wrote,
A succulent breast dispensing good recommendations

Review: Aug/Sept F&SF

Last month, the folks at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction offered free copies of the August/September issue to folks willing to blog about it. Since free reading material ranks only after free food on the hierarchy of Free Things I Like, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Let's break things up by category here:

New Short Stories:

"You are Such a One," by Nancy Springer. A touching, occasionally gorgeous (and occasionally twee, alas), tale of a woman seeking a place in which she can be real. Good use of the second person to shake up what could have been a predictable tale of a woman's mid-life crisis.

"The Hunchster," by Matthew Hughes. Take a typical piece of flashfic -- complete with "surprise" ending -- and flesh it out with a huge amount of Stephen King-lite background about the characters and town until it's at a traditional short story length. That's what you've got here. The writing itself is actually pretty good, but the story is nothing special.

"Icarus Saved from the Skies," by Georges-Oliver Châteaureynaud (translated by Edward Gauvin). Beautiful prose (Gauvin surely deserves some of the credit, of course), but distinctly ugly characters, emotionally. A man who inexplicably starts to grow wings finds a woman who seems to love him only for those wings. It's meant (I'd assume) to be more a prose-poem than a narrative, so the fact that both characters would annoy me as real people is probably something I can overlook, but I don't find myself drawn back into the tale itself.


"The Art of the Dragon," by Sean McMullen. Great hook: A giant, invulnerable, cybernetic dragon appears over Paris one day and starts to destroy works of art, with any humans inside museums or near falling rubble merely unintended casualties. It eventually flies over the entire planet (although it explicitly skips LA, and although I'm all about snarking at the City of Angels, the Getty should have been an obvious target), before settling down for a nap. That's when things get dull, as we get way too much of the narrator and associates talking about the dragon and why it might be, but too little progress. And the ending itself is just weak.

"A Token of a Better Age," by Melinda Snodgrass. I am not a fan of Snodgrass's short stories, which I always find frustrating, as I share her general skepticism, and was a fan of her run on Star Trek: TNG (and I adore Wild Cards, even as I find her stories in the collections generally subpar). Suffice to say, this feels very much like a Snodgrass story, so if you like that sort of thing, you'll like this. The concept itself is certainly fine -- Roman history mixed with some Lovecraftian ideas. The writing itself just didn't click for me.

"The Bones of Giants," by Yoon Ha Lee.. This is the only entry in this collection that I see making it into one of the sixty-three annual "Year's Best" volumes. It's a superbly-crafted story involving necromancers, ghouls, and a quest for vengeance. There's also some great world-building, some interesting magic systems, and some nice subtle humor.

"The Others," by Lawrence C. Connelly. This is a direct sequel to a story I never read, but it stands nicely on its own, too, as the relevant setting -- that the Gamma copy of a cyborg named Cara has lost her access to the central computer in the process of colonizing a world -- becomes clear quickly enough. The story focuses on something I've got a soft spot for, namely the nature of individuality in a world featuring clones or similar beings. It's not Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang or even Singularity's Ring, but it's a fun, if predictable, story. And if the overall ending is predictable, there's a nice twist that got a laugh out of me. ETA: After writing the above, I went to the F&SF site, and saw that the story to which this is a sequel is available for free to read. I haven't done so yet, but kudos to GVG and his staff for deciding to make this available (and I hope this is something they'll regularly do for sequels).

"Three Leaves of Aloe," by Rand B Lee. A well-written story that never quite achieves greatness, mainly due to the tropes. Amit, a Mumbai-based call center employee, is told that her teen daughter -- suspended after her fourth fight -- will be expelled from school unless they agree to put a "nannychip" in her. A tale told by her uncle's wife convinces her that this would be a bad idea. The writing's fine, and I like the characters, but there's no real storytelling depth here.

"The Private Eye," by Albert E. Cowdrey. Shockingly, this is set in Lousisiana, an unusual twist for a Cowdrey story. It's a decent little tale, nicely capturing the setting and giving us some nice, larger-than-life characters. Nothing groundbreaking, but certainly worth reading and enjoyable.

"The Esoteric City", by Bruce Sterling. Sterling appears to do very, very good drugs. This is a gloriously fucked-up tale of a businessman, a mummy, a trip to hell, and of Turin. It peters out a little near the end, but is still a blast to read.

Reprinted short stories:

"The Goddamned Tooth Fairy," by Tina Kuzminski. If you told me that "Tina Kuzminski" was a pen name for Charles de Lint, I wouldn't be surprised. This is a beautiful little tale about a love, grief, and magic. It might actually be the best piece in this volume (which I guess is the point of a classic reprint). GvG provides a nice introduction.

Snowfall, by Jessie Thompson. Harlan Ellison provides what can only be called an Ellisonian introduction to the story, writing for nearly as long about the story as Thompson takes to tell her tale. Alas, I wasn't half as moved by the story as Ellison was. It's poetic and well-written, but there's just too little there.

Cartoons: Remember National Lampoon in the late '80s, when the cartoons were all written and drawn by folks who'd gotten the message to be tasteless, but hadn't figured out how to be funny? Well, replace "tasteless" with "somehow science- or fantasy-related," and that sums up this batch. Seriously, not one cartoon that was worth the space it took up. The magazine could have sold seven half-page ads and made money off these pages instead of paying folks for these clunkers.

Nonfiction: Columns by Lucious Shepherd (snarking on Watchmen), Elizabeth Hand (a well-written books column in spite of that fact that her taste and mine are completely opposed when it comes to the topic of Laura Miller, who Hand incredibly calls a "topnotch critic," a term I'd no more use for Miller than I'd use "topnotch actor" for Yahoo Serious), and Charles de Lint (good recommendations as always, especially for those of us behind on their Kim Antieau). All are worth reading. GvG has his now-infamous editorial, which has been discussed at length elsewhere, so I'll say nothing of it here (especially as it was a lot less relevent to my reading experience than the rest of the material above).

Overall, would I recommend this? I'm not sure I'd pay $6.50 for an anthology with only a few stories worth reading, but I'm also a picky buyer. Then again, the stories that are worth reading -- the ones by Yoon Ha Lee, Bruce Sterling, and Tina Kuzminski are all must-reads -- are very, very worth reading, and the weakest stories (once I drop my general inability to like a Snodgrass story) are also the shortest. So if you come across this, there's a lot of good material. Is it better than, say, any random issue of ChiZine, Lone Star, or Strange Horizons? Probably not (and since none of the latter cost anything to read, there's a longer debate about print vs webzines that I don't have time for today), but it's also no worse, and much as many folks (myself included) like to snark at the state of the print genre mags, this issue of F&SF, at least, still shows that the print mags can put together a great collection (cartoons excluded).
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