This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 11 short stories and novelettes, and four poems that are as sweeping as they are thought provoking. Together with an awesome cover by Mondolithic Studios that grabs your attention as soon as you lay eyes on it, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to put you in the mood for all manner of end of year festivities.
So, let’s dig straight in; beginning, as always, with the poetry submissions:
cauldron – (and yes, that’s with a small ‘c’) by Crystal Sidell, is a spellbinding poem prompted by a limited recipe from the past, to which she added a dash of insight; a touch of flair; a sprinkling of creativity, and a whole load of originality.
A timely lesson to us all about the power of words when focused by an innovative imagination. And of course, a great introduction to the review.
Crystal follows this conjuration with another offering: Queen of Cups, an evocative love story that also explains why it is we are often drawn to people of a certain temperament. I rather liked the way she delved into the mysteries, helping us understand how important it is in this over-pressured and hectically scheduled world to simply make the time to stop and listen. Because if we did, then more of us would hear the ‘voice’ hidden within, waiting to guide us toward a better future.
How many of us have been held, enthralled, by the company of bees when we’ve sat in the garden on a summer’s day enjoying a refreshing drink? And I wonder, how many of us have also yearned for the ability to communicate with our industrious little friend that much better?
Well, in Familiar – by Shelly Jones, we learn a secret or two from an expert as to how we might make that happen. I suggest you listen closely, as this poem just might change your life . . . for the better.
A pair of prose poems by Jay Sturner – Final Gathering and From Below, come next. And I’ve included them together because they both highlight a disturbing and all too commonplace theme . . . albeit from two slightly different angles: mankind’s tendency to spread across the surface of the globe like a cancer, giving no thought to the damage our concrete jungle inflicts on the flora, fauna, and esoteric creatures that share the planet with us.
As you’ll see, Final Gathering addresses something that the more enlightened reader already knows: We’re not only killing the planet, but the magic that sustains it. And as From Below so poignantly highlights; did we seriously think the Earth would keep putting up with such nonsense without fighting back?
Kudos to Jay for warning us before it’s too late.
But I wonder . . . how many will actually listen?
Our first novelette, Sacrificial Drones, by John Shirley, is a deeply insightful story about the long play. About a dish that can never be too cold. About a little boy’s focus and determination to right a wrong. A wrong, that he carries through his long and lonely life until the fateful day he’s finally in a position to put things right.
But the clever thing about this story is that the little boy in question isn’t just out for revenge. Oh no. He lights a beacon along the way that ends up getting passed from generation to generation. One that justifies his course of action in ways we can’t begin to comprehend.
This one is deep. Sit down with a large coffee to enjoy it. . .
Though the Heavens Fall by Louis Evans is a superb story that stretches the realms of possibility as much as it gives us a brighter hope for the future.
Imagine a space-faring galaxy of the far and infinite future, where intelligent species, completely unfamiliar to one another can meet, communicate, and begin to build a relationship on the basis of “the Protocol” – an ancient set of guidelines by which language and behavioral barriers can be overcome, and through which, two completely diverse societies can begin to establish a bond of mutual trust and understanding.
Sounds marvelous, doesn’t it? Even so, there are bound to be those occasions when one people’s established customs or sense of justice are sparked sufficiently to raise tensions. So, how to deal with such matters when they arise?
Ah, find out for yourselves in this wonderfully moving tale that will knock your imagination out of orbit and into the far-flung expanse of deep space. That’s where we truly belong, and this story will take you there in leaps and bounds.
Bennett North’s, The Shotgun Lucifer, is an excellent example of how to write a short action adventure from the perspective of those whose senses have evolved differently from ours. Yes, just imagine being able to hear colors or see the huge gamut of sounds about you. And then envisage – if you will – the impact of someone like us entering that world? How would we be treated, do you think? As pariahs? As disabled? Or – as happens so often with humanity – as a tool to be used?
We consider that dilemma in The Shotgun Lucifer. And rest assured, your perceptions will be forever changed.
In a Child of Two Worlds, by Vida Cruz-Borja, we receive a timely lesson about truly knowing yourself.
Adelfa Marquez is a girl growing up as a creature of two worlds. In one, she learns of the old ways and the life of service to others – man and beast alike – that such things entail. In the other, she strives to master the skills of a sorceress, so that she can adopt a position of prestige among the social elite of society. Adelfa is unsure of which path to follow. However, she has until sunset on her 16th birthday to decide, after which, she will be forever shaped by time and circumstance.
What path does she choose? Find out, in a tale that highlights how important it is to learn who you truly are before making decisions of lasting consequence.
Optimist Cleaver’s Last Transmission, by J. C. Hsyu is a remarkably entertaining insight into the world of post-apocalyptic courier services. . .
With a delicious twist.
What that twist is, exactly, you’ll have to find out for yourselves, as it’s hard to discuss this story without giving away essential aspects of the plot. Buuut, if you think along the lines of, Love Death + Robots & Cowboy Bebop meets Arcane – League of Legends, you’ll be on the right track. A fast track, that is, to one of the most innovative stories I’ve read in a long time.
And if YOU enjoy it half as much as I did, you’ll be onto PpalliPpalli couriers – posthaste – to send your next package.
Crypt Currency, by Sara Ellis, is a prime example of what happens to those with a reputation for deathly double-dealing and black-market trafficking who suddenly let morality get the better of them. Because don’t forget, in those kind of circles, having a conscience can lead to dire consequences. And when those shadowy organizations use a mixture of magick and hi-tech hacking to achieve their aims?
Well, it’s no wonder that every action our heroine, Juniper, considers results in a deadly reaction. Yes, backstabbing, grave robbing, and human bootlegging abound in this speculative thriller that blends the mood of Mr. Robot & Cyberpunk Edgerunners with a spot of Taken, rather nicely.
I thoroughly enjoyed the moral of this novelette, and I’m sure you will too.
Iconophobe, by Sam J. Miller is a cautionary tale of how invasive the roots of indoctrination can be. In this case, those planted by a religious faction committed to the abolition of photography. A quirky and rather photopositive & ingenious premise on which to build a story.
Ethan thought he’d escaped the Iconophobe cult six years previously, and had become rich and famous because of it. Always on the move, never able to rest, scared for his life, he’d been a marked man since then.
Until the fateful day the Iconophobes were no more.
Only then – standing on the cusp of being free forever – did Ethan discover just how deep the roots of indoctrination ran. . .
A warning to us all, perhaps, that sometimes, it’s our own foibles that bind us, and not the crutch we hang them on.
Our final novelette in this edition, To Carve Home in Your Bones, by Aigner Loren Wilson, is a profoundly disturbing and ethereal account of endurance, discovery and a longing to make it home.
A group of girls awake on a beach having survived a calamity that has already claimed the lives of some of their party . . . but as they find out, death is only a heartbeat away.
Yet, from where does the greatest danger come? The flora and fauna of the strange island they now find themselves on, or somewhere closer to home?
I find it difficult to write about this tale without divulging important details from the story arc. Something I simply won’t do. (As you’ll see, Aigner Loren Wilson does that in a masterful way as her offering develops). So let me say this.
To Carve Home in Your Bones is a powerful and disconcerting narrative that skillfully incorporates aspects from Lost, The Hunger Games, and ABC’s 2005 sci-fi series, Invasion in a complex, yet entertaining way that grips you from beginning to end as the girls decide their own fate in the strangest of ways.
You won’t want to miss it.
Skin of the Beast, by Alexandra Flores, is the shortest story on offer, but as I quickly found out, it’s one of the most powerful for its novelty and imagery.
I’m sure all of us have heard the story of Beauty and the Beast. You know, the folk tale about a damsel in distress who gets lured into a mansion where she is bound in servitude to a horrible monster who – as it just so happens – turns out to be a prince is disguise. Or what about The Witcher episode with the Porcupine Prince who changes back into a charming man at certain times of the day?
Well, in Skin of the Beast, we get a truly macabre twist on this popular trope. And boy is it a good-‘un. Very good, in fact, as it revamps the entire concept of ‘girl meets fairytale prince/Mr. Niceguy in disguise’ into something far darker, far more sinister, and much more fun.
Check it out and heed the warning so YOU don’t get caught by surprise – IF you go down to the woods today. . .
Santa Knows, by Jo Miles is a wonderfully evocative story about the true meaning of Christmas. And the TRUE meaning is rather different to all the “jingle bell pizzazz” and glitz the adverts would have you believe. Oh yes, being Santa is a serious job carrying a huge amount of responsibility. . .
And if anyone was ever foolish enough to try and spoil the meaning of Christmas or tarnish Santa’s good name?
You see, Christmas has become soooo commercialized that people forget some of the more obscure and long-forgotten legends surrounding the Santa/Christmas mythos. Until now. Because this tale will remind you of one of the most important aspects about that mythos:
If there’s one person you don’t want to annoy. Not ever!
The final opus for the Nov/Dec issue is, Water Music, a sublime and touching piece by Michael A. Gonzales.
It’s often said that the greatest musicians touch the hearts and souls of their audience by pouring something of themselves into their compositions, creating a connection that appeals on a personal, almost primal level with each and every listener.
But have you ever wondered how such maestros manage to do that? How do they become so skilled; so adept; so intuitive at creating a vibe that allows them to stir another person’s emotions so powerfully?
While practice might make perfect, I wonder, are there those occasions when certain individuals get a little help?
Well, in Water Music, we delve into that aspect of creativity, and see the consequences of upsetting your muse. For while an artiste can certainly express themselves in their own unique way, they must never forget the source of their inspiration, and the consequences of neglecting such guidance.
As I look back over this edition, I have to say how much I enjoyed the diversity of the poems and stories it contains. We have pulse-racing action and adventure; heart stopping horror and dark fantasy; the morbid and macabre; all the way up to the downright fun and entertaining. Yes, this end of year edition has it all.
The perfect Christmas gift for the more discerning reader in your family.
So, until the next time . . .
I wish you and yours a splendid holiday season, and an even better Happy New Year.