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Magazine Review: Fantasy and Science Fiction August/September 2009

# Publisher: Spilogale Inc
# ASIN: B00006KDW3
# Website: Fantasy and Science Fiction

I was one of the fortunate few who received a copy of the August/September 2009 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction for free in exchange for promising to blog about it. When the issue came not two days after I submitted my candidacy, I was pleased at the rapid response, and the thoughtfulness of the publicity department notifying me of my winnings right away. As one might expect, with such positive feelings already in place, I couldn’t help but enjoy the fiction and non-fiction in this issue. What follows is a few of my thoughts on the individual stories in the issue.

The issue begins with the cover story “The Art of the Dragon” by Sean McMullen. The narrator, art historian Scott, is there when a strange, metal dragon appears in Paris and eats the Eiffel Tower. The dragon continues his rampage through the city, but it quickly becomes evident that this dragon only destroys art and nothing else. Scott, as first-on-the-scene, quickly becomes an expert on the dragon, more so as the majority of his colleagues are eaten in the course of assuaging the monster’s peculiar taste. Scott wants to stop the dragon, but it takes some unusual circumstances for him to realize just what this dragon really is. McMullen’s story is a sociological treatise on the nature of humankind. McMullen questions our belief in our selves and our manifest destiny. Who are we, and what is it that art represents in the short 6,000 year history of this creature called man? McMullen’s tale is exceptionally clever, and the final conclusion of the dragon’s origin and purpose are quite surprising.

A ghost story about a middle-aged woman, “You Are Such a One” has an unexpected protagonist. Written in the not-often used second person, author Nancy Springer wants the reader to imagine that “you could not be a more middle-aged middle-class middle-American menopausal woman.” Through the repeated use of the word “you” in conjunction with “being” verbs, Springer even put me, a youthful, upper middle-class, male, into the mind of the character. The woman who we are is suffering from strange nightmare. But en-route to a funeral, the woman who is you encounters the house which appears in your dream. What ensues is a story about a crisis of identity for the suburban housewife and her role in the great American family. Partly feminist SF, partly eerie ghost story, Springer’s tale has both flair and unusual but effective styling.

Melinda M. Snodgrass writes and apologetic for atheism in “A Token of a Better Age”. An alternate history tale set in Rome, the story takes a myth of the Christian tradition and twists it into a scientific/sword and sorcery narrative. The story, set in the world of Snodgrass’s Edge novels, begins when two men (a Patrician and Centurion) encounter one another in the gladiatorial cages. One tells the other a story of his encounter in faraway Cyrene with a beast from another world. Though I disagree with Snodgrass’s attempt to paint faith and religion as foolish things, I was able to enjoy the story as a good piece of sword and sorcery with an ending that was quite unexpected but thoroughly creative.

Sophie M. White writes a three-stanza piece of poetry in “Obsolete Theories” that pits two old theories of how the Earth ages against each other. A nice piece that I enjoyed, even though I am effectively poetry-deaf.

“Hunchster” builds on the old but still important theme of technology versus the working man. The narrator, a poor working stiff in a town that has gone through two losses of large employers finds himself in a tough bind when a savant creates a machine which could destroy his livelihood. Though the theme is an old one that goes back to the days of Henry Ford and his assembly line, author Matthew Hughes mixes the science fiction and thriller genres to produce a story that thinks differently about technological innovation.

Gordon Van Gelder chose Tina Kuzminski’s “The Goddamned Tooth Fairy” as a reprint from the October 2000 issue of F&SF to be included in this issue because he felt that it best encompassed “the magic that passes between writer and reader.” The story is a humble one, simply relating the tale of a man and his daughter, two people down on their luck who need a little magic in their life. Ute tells us the story of his unfortunate circumstances as we watch him go on a date with Iris, a woman from his work. All seems normal till a strange man begins to give Ute advice, based on knowledge the strange shouldn’t have. The end result is a beautiful, engrossing tale of love and life that made me want to weep for myself and for its characters.

Necromancy and deceit are the primary motivators for Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Bones of Giants”. Tamim is a man living in a part of eh world mostly populated by the dead. Just as the young man appears ready to end it all, the necromancer Sakera appears ad offers to give him revenge on the ruling necromancer who killed his mother. The story is about choices, about making them and fulfilling them. Though interesting, the story seemed a bit disconnected, having some events that seemed to be filler, such as the necromantic process that Tamim went through. The story has the feel of a novel that ended up being a short story, and so is alternately too specific and too vague to feel completely cohesive.

“Icarus Saved From The Skies” is an English Translation of a story written in French by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynard. In it a man suffers from a curious malady that leaves him depressed but fascinates his medically trained lover. Chateaureynard has written a tale of marriage that replaces the traditional arguments over money with something entirely different. But what the reader encounters is a microcosm of life in a marriage, and how differences in character or motivation (manifested physically here) must come into accordance over a long period, sometimes even requiring an inciting event. The translation by Edward Gauvin is good, not dumbed down or simplistic and the essence of the story shines through quite well.

Lawrence Connolly writes another story about personal identity in “The Others”. In this tale, a planet research team must wipe out a nest of predators before they destroy the sentient beings they have been studying. But this research team is unusual in character and makeup. Connolly’s leading character is encouraged to discover her identity and her individuality from the group which first landed on the planet. The strange nature of the expedition team gives this story a unique starting point, and it explores the concept of “the other” both within and without in a consistent and entertaining way.

Rand B. Lee envisions a tale of near-future India. Using a tale within a tale to do this, Lee investigates what a person might be like if they had no feeling. Amrit’s unruly daughter is being threatened with “nannychipping” which would make her more pleasant to be around. But unbeknownst to Amrit, a member of her own family was one of the first early adopters of the technology, and that person warns Amrit against it with a harrowing tale about an utter loss of feeling, the complete inability to connect with one’s emotions. It is an opposing viewpoint to the Buddhist need for the removal of emotions to achieve Enlightenment. Lee’s story uses technology to postulate what such a person would be like. It is frightening, and Lee’s placing it in the context of family only makes it all the more poignant. It is a wonderfully chilling narrative, with a heartfelt and happy ending.

“The Private Eye” is set in Southern Louisiana. There, young JJ Link learns he has the power of telepathy through touch. When the daughter of the most important man in JJ’s small town is kidnapped, JJ gets roped into finding here using his unusual ability. Albert E. Cowdrey has written a story that is part comedy and part mystery. Though not wholly original in content (TV watchers might see similarities to the TV shows The Listener and The Mentalist) Cowdrey’s narrative is no less enjoyable, and his simple, put-upon, and down-to-earth protagonist was a joy to know.

Harlan Ellison chose the story “Snowfall” by Jessie Thompson to be reprinted in this issue of F&SF. In trademark Ellison fashion, he introduces the tale by not introducing it, and his choice reflects the same great editorial talent Ellison brought to Dangerous Visions. The story is a greatly disturbing one. The tale appears to have been born of pain, and its dark, dark story of a child in pain is rage-inducing and sorrowful.

“Esoteric City” by Bruce Sterling closes out the fiction of this issue. Sterling mixes religion, climate change and Dante’s Inferno to tell the story of Italian businessman Occhietti. Wizardly magic mixes with business sense and Christian tradition to create a strange story of good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice that is at times surprising and thoroughly engaging.