If you’re looking for something existentially different to usher in the spring, look no further: enchanting tales about the pitfalls of buying a dragon; university professors with a star trek fetish; galactic heists; ghost whispering; and a weremouse with attitude, are just a few of the topics we’ll be considering in. . .
This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 16 short stories and novelettes, along with 8 poems. Together with a cover – Mr. Catt – by Jill Bauman, there’s enough here to keep you entertained throughout the early months of spring.
And while we’re on the subject of spring, it’s rather apt that we start, as always, with our poetry submissions. And in particular. . .
One generation after the last flower, by Marisca Pichette, which describes the inevitability of our future if we don’t work hard to make a difference now. I found it profoundly moving, especially as it portrays how easily mankind would rather run from it problems, than stick around and put things right when and where it counts.
The Nomad and Paradise Lost Redux by Marge Simon offer a moving and evocative contrast regarding the need for change. In The Nomad, we meet a survivor. Someone who wanders a post-apocalyptic earth and who sees things differently from those who merely accept what is. He longs for a better world, but knows that will never happen until people change what’s in their hearts.
When paired with Paradise Lost Redux, we see the flip side of the coin, from the perspective of those who broke away from all the chaos and isolated themselves in a perfect community on the Moon. But are they truly free, or are those cloistered walls closing in like a prison? (Ouch!)
The Reluctant Ambassador and Why Our Parents Never Left Earth, are the first two of four poems by Michael Meyerhofer. Though brief, they aptly expose the very real problems of long-distance travel among the stars – the former also suggests a rather ingenious method for doing so. Brilliant stuff. And thoroughly entertaining.
Elegy Over Red Sands, by Robert L. Jones III, lingers on the subject of space and travel, this time, from the perspective of fossil remains.
I’ve often wondered what we’ll discover on faraway planets once mankind develops the technology to travel to other worlds. As this poem reveals, most likely, all we’ll uncover is evidence of long-extinct civilizations and the proud beasts that once lived there, leaving us with only the power of our imagination and the wonders of science to conjure what we’ve missed out on.
(I enjoyed this one, immensely. You might call it prose to ponder on).
Our final pair of poems, Falling into a Black Hole and White Hole, by Michael Meyerhofer, serves up a juxtaposition of context. And it’s cleverly done. And I particularly loved his superposition of perspectives. All those moments of time, stopped, reversed, inverted and refracted, serve as a contradiction of life as we understand it.
And now for the short stories/novelettes section:
The Five Lazy Sisters, by Kathleen Jennings, is a delightful homage, reminiscent in many ways, of the bedtime stories we used to delight in as youngsters, when imaginations ran riot, giving rise to lifelong legends of the heart. Little Red Riding Hood? Three Billy Goats Gruff? You’ll find tributes aplenty in this story, as it appeals to the child inside us all who still dares to wonder; who still dares to explore the perils of a magical forest and the sense of adventure such quests can bring. Give your mind’s-eye a bedside seat, and get ready to hold your breath!
I absolutely loved the subtle undercurrent running through, Remembered Salt, by E. Catherine Tobler. But you have to take your time and open your mind to appreciate it. It’s an exceedingly clever tip-of-the-hat to Baba Yaga, Slavic Folklore, and even the Wizard of Oz, for a saying from that film rings very true in this story: “There’s no place like home.” Even for a witch’s house, searching for a place to belong.
Our first novelette is, Mr. Catt, by Eleanor Arnason, an endearingly enchanting tale, exploring the depths of a person’s true character when the chips are down and life gets difficult. Yes, we sometimes think of those with an overdeveloped sense of morality and high standards as a bit boring.
Well, in Mr. Catt, we see how those qualities hide a deeper resolve: to always try and do the right thing. And how that tenacity can pay off in the most unexpected ways.
In Escape Velocity, by Amanda Dier, we are faced with a dilemma that is a poignant as it is provocative. How far would you go to realize your dreams? What sacrifices would you make to turn that dream into a reality? Deeper still, having started along the right track, what would you do to stay on course if some unexpected event threatened to derail you?
Give up and move on? Start again? Or – as our protagonist, Demelza, decides – would you consider something drastically radical to ensure your heart’s desire eventually came true?
Yes, we consider such a predicament in, Escape Velocity. But be warned. The subject matter will have you thinking deeply about how much of yourself you can sacrifice before losing your humanity.
Pantoum on a Generation Ship, by Lauren Bajek is one of the most ambitious short stories I’ve ever read. And let me explain why. . .
Although I’m a reviewer of fantasy and science fiction, I’m also a published author in my own right. (Of speculative fiction and poetry). And when it comes to poetry, I’m always fascinated by just how many different forms there are; free verse, rhyming, Fibonacci and Haiku, just to name a few.
So, when someone is brave enough to try and incorporate one of the most complicated forms of poetry there is into an actual story . . . and it still makes sense? Well, I’m all in.
Pantoum on a Generation Ship contains elements of – as the title implies – Pantoum poetry. A form of prose where the second and fourth lines of the first stanza are repeated as the first and third line of the second stanza. And in this story, Lauren Bajek stays true to that form, while delivering a wonderful tale about the ongoing changes and continuity of life down through the ages, as seen from the perspective of Generation Ship Prudence.
(But as to who/what Prudence is exactly? Ah, you’ll have to work that out for yourselves)
And kudos to Lauren Bajek for such a great piece.
The Subway Algorithm Is Half-Constructed by Marie Vibbert, delivers a timely warning about taking things – and people for that matter – at face value.
Yes, there’s more to human relationships than just getting along and agreeing with everything your friends say. You have to have the courage and the resolve, to stand up for yourself and introduce a little chaos now and then.
See how our protagonist discovers that for himself, thanks to – of all things – an ‘AI learning machine’ project at university. (Who said real life and computers would be dull?)
If you like stories with a twist, then you’ll love Solar Boy, by K.C. Ahia. But how to explain it without giving away the plot?
Cam Newton’s desire to make the most of his engineering diploma has gotten off to a slow start. As he soon discovers, even getting a job on the most basic mining ship is an uphill struggle. So his dream of working on a solar ship seems nigh on impossible. . .Until he signs on to the Fantasy, that is, for his fortunes seem to take a quantum leap forward when an unexpected – yet golden – opportunity to shine presents itself.
Alas, this is a cautionary tale. And as you’ll learn, all that glitters might not be gold. Or if it is, then it’s the kind of gold only a fool would be taken in by.
A cleverly executed story that will make you smile.
Mathew Lebowitz’s, Ouroboros, is another story I have to be careful reviewing, as it’s cunningly deceptive from the outset.
In what way?
Well, the title gives you the first clue: Ouroboros – an alchemic/Gnostic symbol representing the eternal cycle of renewal and rebirth. In cybernetics, that symbol also signifies self-referential feedback, and in particular, the concept of how we can grow or are conditioned by our responses to repeated/new situations.
Add to that the story arc’s subtle homage to The Matrix, Inception and The Peripheral, and then you’ll be on the right track. I daren’t say more for fear of spoiling a darn good yarn. But suffice to say, Ouroboros is as chilling as it is immersive. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Moonlight, Wing-Wake in Fog, by Rick Hollon, captured my imagination from the get-go. From title to content, it’s a touching tale of hope and betrayal; of community and isolation; and especially, of a brighter future never to be realized.
Whether we realize it or not, we all wear masks. Sometimes, those masks serve to protect us from our own petty weaknesses and foibles. At other times, though, our masks can become a crutch causing us to stumble, thereby causing harm to those around us.
Moonlight, Wing-Wake in Fog addresses the repercussions that lying to yourself can have on others. And it does so in a truly bittersweet way.
Nuzo Onoh’s offering, The Madding, is as ethereal as it is transportive, taking you to another world where witches hide in plain sight, and normal people go about their business, afraid to look too closely for fear of discovering too much.
But the bravery of one little boy can make all the difference, though it costs him dearly. To find out how much, involve yourself in this story and applaud his sacrifice.
The Sweet in the Empty, by Tade Thompson, was a moving and evocative tale about what truly matters.
Rulers change. Religions come and go. War is never too far away. The stain of prejudice may ebb and flow, but it’s always there, lingering in the background. And when these things affect your family, well . . . sometimes you just have to make a stand, no matter the cost.
Here, we see just how much ‘family’ means to one man, and of the steps he’s prepared to take to protect it. If ever there was a story to be savored, then this is it.
The Station Master, by Lavie Tidhar, is set in his extremely popular Central Station Universe, a place that becomes a hub of far future humanity and machines following a worldwide Diaspora to the stars.
In this story, we look in on a typical day in the life of Djibril Todd, the eponymous station master, as he serves the community of Yaniv Town, on Mars.
And what a pleasant little drop off it is, as Tidhar manages to use his story as a medium to deliver a heartwarming and timely reminder to us all:
No matter who we are or how far we roam, it’s that sense of routine, that sense of ‘belonging’ that can really make a place seem like home. So, why succumb to the rush, rush, rush of the world about us, when – let’s face it – it never allows enough time for anything? Wouldn’t it be better, perhaps, to simply make space for yourself, now and then, so that you get the chance to take delight in what’s right under your nose?
I really enjoyed the moral of this tale, and I’m sure you will too.
Spookman, by Jonathan Louis Duckworth takes a candid look at the way life is always out to get you . . . even in a post-apocalyptic world where myth and legends walk among us.
Rood Farook is a Spookman, an individual blessed with the ability to track and help the already dead on their way into the afterlife, no matter how long ago their passing took place. And he’s good at his job too. Resolute if needs be. Sympathetic when the occasion calls for it. An all round professional, respected among his kin.
Because of this, he’s commissioned to find a living boy who has reportedly run away and gotten himself lost in the Painted Forest. And Spookmen don’t hunt for the living. Not ever. However, circumstances run away with themselves, and Farook finds himself accepting the job against his better judgment.
How do things turn out?
Let’s just say, no good deed goes unpunished. And as you’ll discover, the consequences of ignoring that mantra are never far away.
You just know you’re on a winner with our second novelette, the charmingly entitled, The Weremouse of Millicent Bradley Middle School, by Peter S. Beagle. I mean . . . just reading the title makes you smirk. And your smirk will grow into a smile before you’ve finished the first paragraph. And by the end of the story? Ha! My cheeks were aching from all the grinning.
And I’m sure yours will be too.
A malevolent math teacher – who just might be a witch; sassy kids, with mouths too big for their own good; and sage down-and-outs, possessing encyclopedic knowledge on all things arcane, give rise to one of the most entertaining romps through the imagination I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Think The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, meets Hogworts with a snippet of Nightbooks thrown in, and you’ll be on the right track. It’s great fun, and even manages to capture the vibe of Stranger Things. So get a coffee for this one . . . and enjoy.
Piggyback Girl, by M.H. Ayinde is a superbly disturbing story about the future of the social media and influencer society that we’ve allowed to become so prevalent nowadays. And you’ll appreciate the depth of Ayinde’s concern, when you realize just how many blogs and TV series have been spawned around the world, thanks to an ‘influencers’ audience. It’s true to say, fortunes have been made and careers and reputations ruined because of the power – and reach – that various influencers wield over the public’s decision to buy things, or look on them as popular.
And this story takes influencing to the next level. As the title, Piggyback Girl implies: just how much of yourself would you be willing to share for fame and fortune? Because remember, there are some real weirdoes out there, and IF they’re granted the opportunity to really get inside your head . . . who knows what might happen?
Our final story, Mnemonic Longings, by Marlon Ortiz, provides – on reflection – a fitting conclusion to this edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as it will leave you feeling in a reflective, somewhat melancholy mood. A clever move on the author’s part, as were dealing with matters of the heart. And of all the myriad sayings there are about the heart, this story is, perhaps, best summed up by:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
After reading Mnemonic Longings, you’ll appreciate why I selected this particular quote, as it accurately portrays what our two main characters feel when the time eventually comes to set matters to rest.
An excellent story. And one that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last words.
Looking back, I have to say how much I enjoyed reviewing this edition. There are stories here to make you laugh, to make you cry, to get you thinking. And most of all, they’re there to be appreciated and put a spring in your step . . . which is rather apt, seeing as how it’s the Mar/Apr issue.
So, until the next time . . .
Keep reading. And remember, keep spreading the word.
Source: Auto Draft