If you’re looking for a truly spectacular blend of ancient history and far-future adventure, then look no further. This issue has whales that sing directly to the stars; tips of the hat to Lord of the Rings; revenge-seeking mummies; AIs that threaten to make humans redundant in just about every aspect of life; and dingy drinking holes on even dingier moons in which to make new besties.
But, hey, these are only some of the topics you’ll find in. . .
This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 14 short stories and novelettes and 5 poems. And with a cover – The Dire Delusion – by Maurizio Manzieri, you’ll see that there’s enough here to keep you fully absorbed until we’re well into summer.
As always, we’ll begin with our poetry submissions.
By Starlight and Silverlocks, courtesy of Gretchen Tessemer, are the first two poems opening this round of reviews. And what better way to kick everything off than by taking everyday subjects – in this case, one of nature’s shyest creatures and a good old-fashioned fairytale – and sprinkling them with a dusting of childlike curiosity, a touch of ingenuity, and a final pinch of pure, unadulterated creativity.
You’ll see the results in the first two poems. Such tiny little stories. Yet they’re packed with enough magic to set the imagination ablaze. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and will be sharing them with my granddaughter tonight!
Shaoni C. White’s The Wren in the Hold and Without Any Sound but the Sea, maintain a theme of wonder, but from two polar opposites.
In The Wren in the Hold, we witness the horrors of genetic tinkering, from the perspective of the eponymous wren. A truly powerful piece, as it highlights there’s much more to DNA than mere code.
Without Any Sound but the Sea reminded me, in some aspects, of the fables surrounding Andromeda, Selkies and Merrows, some of which relate to bad omens. A clever tribute, really, because such legends still abound today, reminding us that for all their beauty, such things can be cruel mistresses.
I really connected to our final poetic offering, Project Exodus, by J.A. Pak, as it highlights mankind’s thirst for knowledge and our penchant for exploration rather nicely. . .
Which often seems to come at a price!
The latest NASA missions are reaching out to the Moon, and from there, on toward Mars, where we eventually hope to establish colonies that will serve as springboards, out into the vast reaches of space.
But do ‘space’ and those other planets and moons really want us, when we’ve neglected what we already have? As the poem highlights, it won’t be until we’ve left, that the Earth will be in a position to reclaim her former glory.
And then? Ah, we’ll probably want to move back, because what a place it will be without us there to mess it up.
And now for the short stories/novelettes section:
A Truth So Loyal and Vicious, by Fatima Taqvi, is the first of our novelettes. And it’s a great story to introduce us to the main thrust of our review.
Imagine, if you will, that your life depended upon you answering three questions. Not about astrophysics, the works of Tolstoy, or the history of the dinosaurs or anything as abstract as that. Oh no. These questions are related to you, personally.
The thing is, if you want to answer those questions accurately, you not only have to know yourself – and I mean, r-e-a-l-l-y know who you truly are – but you must also answer them honestly.
Do you think you’d be able to do that if such answers exposed what you genuinely think about yourself and others, while allowing people to see beneath the mask you wear every day?
Well, THAT’s the dilemma facing twins, Sukh and Dukh, in our opening story. And as I hinted at the outset, it’s poetically portrayed, and contains a powerful message we all need to pay heed to.
I absolutely loved it, as it put me in an enthusiastic mood for what’s to come.
Time and Art, by Barbara Krasnoff, contains a poignant reminder for us all:
None of us knows how much time we have left to us. It might be days; weeks; months. Some might be fortunate to have years and decades stretching ahead of them before they reach their journey’s end. So, how do you feel life has blessed you . . . or otherwise? Are you the type of person whose been stuck in a rut for years, forever complaining about how you wish life was better while doing nothing about it. Or are you determined to live every second to the full?
And that’s the point of this story. It’s not about how much or how little time we have left remaining that counts, but how we spend it. . .
As you’ll see, in this subtly charged and often touching tale that will leave you in a deeply reflective mood.
For the Benefit of Mr. Khite, by Zig Zag Claybourne, is a profoundly intriguing story. One in which society has become so advanced, that the super intelligences and AIs overseeing it are able to read and measure every nuance, happening, coefficient and probability to the nnth degree, thereby allowing them to predict and provide a perfectly balanced lifestyle for its citizens, synthetic and human alike. Nothing ever occurs without their benevolent guidance.
Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it?
What happens, then, when it finally dawns on one of those entities that the utopia they’ve built is, for all intents and purposes, a perfectly constructed prison? A place where the joy or sheer thrill of new discoveries will never happen. After all, when you know everything there is to know, how will you ever be surprised?
Kudos to Zig Zag Claybourne for considering such a conundrum in a cleverly crafted tale that helps us appreciate being human is all about the little imperfections we carry with us. And the never-ending catalogue of new sights, sounds, sensations and myriad other things that remind us how tiny we really are.
(And a special ‘shout-out’ too, to the tongue-in-cheek reference to jazz and a planet full of inconsistencies). I almost choked on my coffee!
In I Paint the Light with My Mother’s Bones, by K.J. Aspey, we are faced with a humdinger of a tale that carries an ominous, sanatorium vibe. Our story-teller is a little girl – or at least, she used to be. Long ago – before she got trapped in a cave that was also something else. But now it’s her nest, a place from where she fights a darkness that wants to rise up and eat the world.
You get an idea as to where she might be through a series of ingenious references, sprinkled – like clues – throughout the narrative.
I really appreciated the thought that went into this story, and the broken milieu in which it was set. You’re in for a treat. . .
(And see if you can spot the subtle reference Aspey included, near the end, to a gift that Frodo Baggins received before he journeyed into his own darkness) Superb!
We Are Happy to Serve You, by Margaret Dunlap, is a great example of a ‘hot-sauce’ story. It’s short; it’s zingy-sweet; and boy, does it hit the right spot. Better still, it concerns a subject we can all relate to: Being needlessly – and avoidably – messed about when you have your heart set on something. And worse still, being fobbed off with insincere, sickly – saccharine-sweet responses.
I wish I could expand on my comments, but the full, delicious impact of Dunlap’s story would be spoiled. (It really is THAT brief). Regardless, for all its brevity, it packs such a punch that I’m sure you’ll relish it as much as I did.
Brilliant, self-serving, 5-chillies fun!
I felt an instant connection to Titan Retreat, by Ria Rees, as it deals with the very personal issue of how people react to the trauma life can inflict on us. We’re all of us different. One person’s way of coping with pain might work for us, individually, or it might very well prove repulsive. And that’s the point. When such things happen, we have to find what’s right for us, and grab it with both hands.
In Titan Retreat, we meet Denner, a man still coming to terms with the loss he suffered in the past, and the lengths he goes to put everything behind him.
Have your hankies ready, as this is a bittersweet story that’s bound to pull on your heartstrings.
If you like stories with a twist, then you’ll love Knotty Girl, by Melissa A. Watkins. I’ll have to be careful not to give anything away with this one, but if you think of Rapunzel meets aspects of Malificent and The Last of Us, then you’ll be on the right track. Yes, there’s a sinister, almost dystopian vibe to this story, and an ongoing mystery that needs to be unraveled.
And unraveled it is. . .
So, let your hair down and dive right in. You won’t regret it.
Fawaz Al-Matrouk’s, On the Mysterious Events at Rosetta, is a cunningly intelligent story – portrayed by way of a written report that deals with the contents of an exchange of letters between our main protagonists – regarding the brutal deaths that took place following an archeological dig at Taposiris Magna in the year 1800 AD.
And by adopting such an approach, Fawaz Al-Matrouk is able to weave the entirely plausible into a fantastical story arc, while at the same time delivering a powerful message about the hurdles that have to be navigated when two cultures with different customs and beliefs are brought together under trying circumstances.
As you’ll find out, it’s totally immersive. I was there, sat at a desk, reading by candlelight as our main characters told their stories by way of correspondence, and was able to visualize the events they depicted taking place before my eyes.
And isn’t that the kind of response all authors aspire to?
If you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, then our second novella, The Dire Delusion, by Matthew Hughes, will be right up your street. Think wizards; think witches; think acolytes; think no-nonsense investigators trying to keep the peace between bickering guilds and factions, and you’ll be on the right track. A track weaving through a gumshoe/western-style whodunit of a plot, where double-dealing no-gooders and nefarious villains strike fear into the hearts of everyday folk, as they go about their business.
Its great fun. And I actually found myself grinning on several occasions as I reviewed this item. So get yourselves a coffee. Sit back. And enjoy. . .
Kiran Kaur Saini’s offering, Amrit, has all the charm of a ‘feel good’ film, and is equally as endearing as it is amusing.
Fox Singh is a fiercely independent widower, living by himself in a rundown apartment where – in homage to his couldn’t care less character – he’s let things slide. Both in his home and with his neighbors. And then out of the blue, he receives a knock at the door, only to discover he’s been provided with a Senior Well-Being Unit – Amrit.
What follows is a Bill Murray – grumpy old man – style story, where a set in his ways, cantankerous old devil is gradually reminded of what it’s like to be alive, and of all the things he has to be grateful for.
I found it a delightful tale, and am sure you will too.
In Time, All Foxes Grieve Westward, by Lark Morgan Lu, we’re offered a timely consideration of the pressures on those trying to balance the weight of long held traditions with familial expectations and societal convention. And Lu delivers this juxtaposition of a tale from the perspective of a woman from New York, helping out a friend on a long overdue journey to visit his mother.
As you can imagine, friction and peril abounds. All of it delivered in a style reminiscent of Good Hunting (Love, Death & Robots) mixed with Lee Myung-han’s Korean drama, Tale of the Nine-Tailed.
A spellbinding and thought provoking combination if ever there was one. (And I especially appreciated the history Lu incorporates into the title of this story, as it tells a tale in itself . . . and not a happy one).
A Conjure-Horse in San Ouvido, by Ferdison Cayetano, will certainly have you rooting for the good guys, as it covers a theme that’s all too common in this day and age.
We’ve all seen those films and read stories where prejudice and hatred abound, even against those who are supposed to be on the same side. Well, in this ethereal rendering from Ferdison Cayetano, we see the consequences of ignoring simple decency and morality, and are given an example of what happens to those who insist on pushing things too far.
I found it profoundly satisfying. (And I know I won’t be the only one).
Highway Requiem, by T. R. Napper, provides a timely warning as to the inevitability of the slow march of technology. And we can appreciate why. The more advanced we become; the more people lose their jobs to automation. It’s invasive; almost omnipotent in its reach; and as for its tireless ability to keep watch, Big Brother style?
Ah, little wonder, then, that our protagonist, Kevin, feels he’s fighting a losing battle. He’s a trucker, but the advent of AI has already eaten its way into his livelihood. After all, why would big companies pay for fragile, sleep-riddled, rest-hungry humans to do a job when an AI can do in half the time at a fraction of the cost? Unless they’re willing to bend that is.
Ghost towns. Derelict diners. Bandits. Desperate drivers willing to take unhealthy – even deadly – risks just to scrape a living. These are just a few of the knock-on effects of such modernization. And as Kevin comes to realize, that kind of existence can eat away at your soul and your will to live.
Let’s all take a moment to learn from his mistakes in this distressing tale that will help you appreciate just how far down that slippery slope we already are.
Our final story, The Lucky Star, by Dr. Bunny McFadden, is a spirited little reminder that, no matter where in the universe you go, you’ll always find likeminded souls who just might turn out to be your next best friends.
I’ve got to be extra cautious not to give nothing away here so I don’t spoil the surprise, but if you think along the lines of the sci-fi film, Outland, meets the TV Series Cheers (Where everybody knows your name), delivered with a Cowboy Bebop panache, you’ll be on the right track.
It’s fun; it’s in your face; it’s gritty. And most of all, it’s an excellent story which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Looking back over this review, I have to express how much I got a kick out of the variety of stories and poems I read. Not just in subject matter, but style too. There were submissions that made me laugh; made me sad; got me involved; and made me spit with anger.
Most importantly of all, they made me lose myself in the realms of “what if” – And THAT’s how I like to spend my days.
So, until the next time, keep yourselves busy with this latest edition of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. And remember, if you like what you read, then make sure all your followers find out about it.
Take care now. . .