Review: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jul/Aug 2023

If you’re looking for an eclectic mix, you’re in the right place. There are world-sized crab gods; dastardly pirates; epic battles between giants and dwarves; hungry dragons; deliberately overused tropes; alien ant-farms, and theatrical extravaganzas galore.

And to think, these are only a handful of the delights on offer in. . .

This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 17 short stories, novelettes, and Novellas, along with a couple of poems that will stretch the boundaries of your imagination from the word go.

So, why don’t we do that, and begin, as always, with our poetry submissions.

How to Pack for a Quest, by Mary Soon Lee is a quant and invaluable reminder of the things that are truly essential before setting off on an adventure.
I suggest you read this poem at least twice, because, while most of her recommendations are as you might expect, others will catch you by surprise. . .
(And being quintessentially English, I thoroughly agree with her comments about tea).

A most excellent – and refreshing – start to the review.

I really enjoyed Gretchen Tessmer’s approach in, Lost Lines from Ariel’s Song, as she tells a prose-form story by the use of lines from playbills highlighting specific theater productions.
And this one would make Miss Marple proud, as we witness Murder Most Foul in a near Penny Dreadful setting.
You’ll see. (Though you won’t have to guess whodunit on this occasion).

And now for the short stories section:

A Time to Sing, by Eddie D. Moore, is the first of our short stories. And boy, is it exactly that. Short!
But do you know what? It’s a superb example of how to tell an action-packed epic in a few words. As with all great sagas, it has a beginning – a middle – and, yes, you guessed it, an end. All of it encompassed in a battle between giants and dwarves than can be told in two deep breaths.

And I’ll tell you something else: You’ll love it.

I’ll never forget A Time to Sing, and am very much looking forward to what else comes out of Eddie Moore’s imagination.

We continue the theme of giants in our next offering: The Giant’s Dream, by Beth Goder. A poignantly, bittersweet offering that reminds us all how easy it is to stumble through life without ever seeing what’s truly there; the bigger picture; the connections that unite us all; and the harmony that exists, just beneath the surface.
Our protagonist, Kalar, is one such being. Someone who is aware of what’s around her, and who appreciates the bond between all living things. More importantly, she understands how to contribute to a cycle with never-ending implications.

A poignant story, as I said at the outset. And one that reminded me – in some respects – of the closing scene from Men in Black as you make the connection, and see how everything is related on a truly cosmic scale.

If I’ve said it once, I must have said it a thousand times: I love tropes. The more the better. You can’t beat ‘em.  Well, if YOU feel the same way, then, What to Do When a Protagonist Visits Your Generic Village, by Dan Peacock, will be right up your street.

I grinned from ear to ear throughout, as Peacock is bound to ruffle few feathers by giving us a story, filled to the proverbial brim with overused tropes! As you’ll find out, it’s awesomely entertaining.
So, why not do what I did and nip down to your local tavern and raise a cup to a tale well told.
(What to Do When a Protagonist Visits Your Generic Village: So gloriously bad, it’s brilliant – and you’ll wish you’d thought of doing it first!)

In Pedastles, Proclivities, and Perpetuities, by Celeste Rita Baker, we take a tongue-in-cheek stab at the silver-spoon-in-their-mouth brigade. You know the sort: Designer this-designer that; condescending to others, and narcissistic to the nnth level; will drop labels and names as naturally as breathing; will turn any idea – however ridiculous – into the next moneymaking project; a totally unrealistic reality made manifest, thanks to the family name . . . All so that junior can inherit the lot and continue the charade into the next generation.
Absolutely priceless. I loved it. And all woven together with slick, witty dialogue that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end.

Now, if you’re looking for something truly different, then Plumage from Pegasus, by Paul Di Filippo, will rock your world.
As authors, we all know how difficult it can be to secure a dependable agent to represent our creative offerings. Think about it. If they have a position with a reputable company, then the work floods in, either through the door or into their inbox.

Just imagine then, if a work of literary genius appears, quite out of the blue, from an author with no social media presence whatsoever – and who has made no effort to obtain representation – which nevertheless has the potential to blow the likes of Dune, Foundation, and The Expanse out of the water. Kerching!
They’d be on that author like a rash.
However, what might happen if said agents then discover the author is not only reclusive and reluctant to bask in the limelight, but . . . how can I say . . . different from what they expected?

You’ll find out in this terrific, cleverly crafted short story that’s presented from the point of view of one such literary agent who’s determined to do whatever it takes to grab a winner.
(And I’ll guarantee, you’ll love the clause included within the eventual agreement that seals the deal).

Approved Methods of Love Divination in the First-Rate City of Dushagorod, by Krista Ten, is an imaginative tale of one girl’s quest for love. But to find it, she is forced to subject herself prolonged and repeated procedures, as applied by the ‘established’ love divinators of Dushagorod.

The thing is, none of the conventional – or even unconventional – methods can find a single living soul, destined to be her mate. Which leads her to an unavoidable conclusion. What if her soulmate exists elsewhere? Ah, now there’s the thing.
Yes, Krista Ten entertains us with a cunningly deceptive story. A tale within a tale, if you will, that is far creepier than first appears.

Vanishing Point, by RJ Taylor, is one of those stories I felt an instant connection to, as I felt it portrayed the trap mankind has laid for itself by its increasing reliance of technology.
How so?
Well, let me explain it this way. I have no doubt that, one day, we’ll reach out to the stars; explore strange new worlds; discover life in varied abundance, etc etc. And for most of it, we’ll be led by evermore sophisticated machines and technology. But here’s the thing. Space is vast. And one day, we’ll run into something, somewhere out there, whose mere existence and sheer grandeur, will remain beyond our ken. A form of life that technology – built by limited, puny human brains – will be unable to categorize or comprehend.
How do you think we’ll communicate or make our intentions known then?
Vanishing Point helps us appreciate that there will come a time when technology doesn’t have the answers, and it’ll be good old-fashioned ‘gut feeling’ or ‘instinct’ that paves the way to true discovery. And kudos to RJ Taylor for portraying that breakthrough in such a relatable way.

This issue’s novelet, The Very Nasty Aquarium, by Peter S. Beagle is a wonderful tale, worthy of the very best bedtime stories. You know the kind, where good squares off against evil, and only the bravest of the brave can hope to vanquish the terror that lurks in the unlikeliest of places.

But when our heroines are two old ladies contending against the perils confined to an aquarium?

I daren’t say more for fear of giving away a truly delightful surprise. But enough to say, if YOU ever ponder the benefits of getting an aquarium, be very, v-e-r-y careful what you put in it. Because as our old dears find out, appearances can be deceiving. And oddly enough, wearing the right underwear is essential to survival.
You’ll see . . . oh yes, you’ll see.
(I grinned from beginning to end on this one. And I’m sure you will too).

Have you ever wondered how life came to be?
If so, then, The Pet of Olodumare, by Joshua Uchenna Omenga and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, will answer all of your questions in a marvelously evocative way. Gods; deities; humans; the very weft of space and time. This fable has it all; along with the reason why it is that humans age and die.
An absolute gem of a story that reminded me, in some respects, of the mood encapsulated in The Silmarillion during the creative phase. See what I mean, as you’re transported to a time and place that will leave you lost in reverie as you contemplate this story’s meaning.

Faith Merino’s offering, Serenity Prayer, has all the power of the pending lightning bolt you know is coming your way when you find yourself standing on the open plains as the thunderstorm approaches.
As you’ll see, it’s a story about indoctrination and tradition; of compliance and lacking the courage to say ‘no’ to something you know it wrong; of courage in the face of inevitability.
It’s deep. It’s inevitable. It’s personal. And delivered with strikingly descriptive pose as a parable, it’ll certainly convey the unfolding tragedy in all its brutality as it gets you thinking.

This is one that will stick with you!

Have you ever wondered how it is that, no matter where they might be in the world, animals know the way home? They possess an instinct, an innate ability to be pulled in the right direction to that one place they feel they truly belong. If so, you’re not alone, and in We Go on Faith Alone, K.S. Walker explores this subject in a profoundly clever way.
We’ve all of us moved house. We’ve all of us experienced that transition, whereby an unfamiliar building gradually soaks into our soul, so that we feel as if we belong there. We’ve all of us got that special space within our homes that we tend to go to nest in. To escape it all. To hope and dream and plan for the future.
K.S. Walker builds on those instincts, and uses them like a lodestone to draw you through the life of a couple going through such a transition until. . .
Ah, that would be giving it away. But let me just say, the twist at the end is outstanding, and totally blows you off course.
I loved it!

Little Bird, by Jill McMillan, is an eerily provocative tale that trails an icy finger down your spine throughout its narrative. And it’s skillfully delivered. The menace tempts you, from the corner of your eye. It’s like a heat mirage in the desert. Like peeking out from behind a curtain when you know something’s there.
But how to explain it, without spoiling the main thrust of this story?
I’ll give you a clue: When is a cage not a cage?
Answer that, and you’ll be on the right track.

Gather Me a Treasure, by Jordan Chase-Young is another of those stories, short in length but boundless in scope. And in the few minutes it takes you to read it, you’ll be reminded of the dangers involved in trying to call back those we’ve loved and lost to death.
After all, once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box, you can’t put back what you’ve unleashed.
A möbius-strip of a Greek Tragedy with an unhappy-happy ending that will make you shiver.
Great stuff.

NPC (or Eight Haxploits to Maximize Your Endgame Farming: A Player’s Guide), by DaVaun Sander, kinda grabs you from the start. I mean, how could you not be captured by a title like that?
And it doesn’t disappoint. . .
After all, mankind’s scientific achievements have exploded over the past century, and the last few decades in particular, leading to ever more sophisticated technology that is as interactive as it is AR immersive. But here’s the thing. . .
Do you ever think there’ll be a time when AI’s involve might link everything we’ve designed together, and end up playing against the human race in one huge multiplayer game?

Bear that in mind as you read through this tale. As you’ll see, it’s a story with byte.

Our Novella, A Half-Remembered World, by Aimee Ogden, is as profound as it is sublime, and set in a world that is impossible to comprehend fully, while at the same time, stirring feelings that are evocatively familiar.
I found it enthralling, as Ogden not only created a complex society/sphere in which to set her story, but she also ensured to disturb me at the same time, by adding a totalitarian element, through which her creations are forced to struggle.
But as is so often the case, it’s when people are forced to struggle that they truly grow. . .

As you’ll see.

A Meal for Frederick, by Nick Thomas, will take you by surprise, as it’s a delightfully emotional tale about family, and the things that add to their story and holds them together over the years. You know the kind of things I’m talking about. A certain place; a particular song; a knickknack picked up on holiday one year; or an afternoon project spent building something with the kids that’s only supposed to last a day or two, and ends up staying with you forever?

As is the case with Frederick.

Follow his story – as told from the perspective of a member of his adoptive family – and prepare to be moved.
Hats off to Nick Thomas. It really is THAT good.

Our final story, The Day of the Sea, by Jennifer Hudak, is a powerful reminder as to how insular people can be, and how – when it comes down to it – our arrogance is nothing but a tiny blip in the greater scheme of things.
Our story centers on a particular community that lives by the coast. A community whose customs and tradition has been molded by tales of the Sea and the bounty it can bring.
But what happens to such a community when they stop holding the very thing that sustains them with reverence, and come to look upon her with an air of judgment and self-entitlement?

As you might imagine, it doesn’t bode well. For something as vast and all encompassing as the sea exists on an entirely different level from puny humans, and remains true to its nature . . . no matter how much we might wish it otherwise.


As I look back over this edition, I have to confess how easy it was to review. I enjoyed the way some of the authors experimented with writing taboos and clichés, and how similar themes were expressed in a variety of refreshingly different ways.

But isn’t that what makes fantasy and science fiction just about the best medium ever? You can take everyday topics, add that special ingredient, and turn the ‘normal’ into something truly magical.

So, as you read through this latest edition of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, why not use its contents to inspire YOU into creating something extraordinary? (And I’ll look forward to reviewing it in the near future).

Until the next time. . .

Andy Weston

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