Good grief; the year is just speeding by: February, the shortest month, has gone. March is nearly gone, which means I’m late again. Personal health issues kept me from being timely; it appears there’s no magic bullet; I just have to wait it out and try various things. At least nothing’s life-threatening.
Speaking of magic, here’s the January/February issue of F&SF which, under Sheree Renée Thomas, continues to thrive in these pandemic times. I hope you all are too. In her introduction, Ms. Thomas talks about New Year traditions, among other things; she shared some interesting family traditions, like “Watch Night,” with us readers, and talked about self-reflection, and balance—between old and new, dark and light, etc. I hope we all looked both backwards and forward when the New Year hit us. On to the contents!
Glancing at the ToC (Table o’ Contents), I see one novella, four novelets, seven short stories, three poems, two book review columns, one film review column, a science column, a curiosities column, and a column from Paul Di Filippo. Oh, and a coming attractions column. What? No partridge or pear tree? That’s a pretty hefty set of contents for $9.99 US/$10.99 CDN cover price, I’d say. Let’s take a look.
The novella is called “The Art of Victory When the Game is All the World,” by Eugie Foster. I’m not sure whether to categorize this as SF or F, but in the end, it might not matter. In some ways it reads as a metaphor, but it’s the story of Master Technician 5, Mouria, who builds pueri, using vials full of things like intelligence, beauty, health (good and bad); these pueri struggle in an arena like life, to become champions. Mouria can, in a sense, become the puer she has built; but the thorn in her side is a Master Technician Level 4 named Treune. A fascinating idea and, sadly, the last story from Ms. Foster.
Christopher Mark Rose brings us an odd science fantasy story in “Ennead in Retrospect.” The protagonist’s parents had found a station (not built by human hands) at the convergence of “ley lines” somehow bound to the accretion disk around a black hole (or series of black and white holes?), and in the process of checking objects from the alien scree, the male half of the duo somehow used a knife to split into two people. It gets weirder from there. I’m not sure about the ending, but I enjoyed the writing.
“Animale Dei Morti” (“Animals of death”), is a modern Italian folk tale written by Nick DiChario, about Mario and his brother in the villagio of D—. There’s a family tradition that the one brother must give the bride away at the wedding of the other; if that tradition is broken, the marriage won’t last and bad luck will be the only result of the wedding. One small problem: Franco has gotten himself killed, and the only way to have him give the bride away would be for Mario to visit the strega (witch) Brunilda and have her revive the dead. You can probably guess how well that works out, but the fun is in the reading, so I’ll let you do that.
Karen Heller’s “Bone Broth” is a modern fantasy, set on Manhattan Island. The unnamed protagonist is a vegetarian who waitresses in Bill’s dingy restaurant. She was born with an extra thumb, but her parents had it removed when she was very young. Bill’s cook, Tito, is always making bone broth—and as any home cook or chef knows, bone broth is always richer—but she’s never tasted it. But some broths are made with older bones than others. And maybe some contain the marrow of giants (didn’t Ole Rolvaag write a book called Giants in the Earth?). An intriguing story.
Charles de Lint’s book review column, “Books to Look For,” talks about several books including Stephen King’s new book Billy Summers, which isn’t really a genre book, though it does throw in a reference or two to The Overlook, the hotel from The Shining. I always enjoy de Lint’s take on books.
Following him, Michelle West’s “Musing on Books” talks about a number of books including Andy Weir’s newest, Project Hail Mary. I enjoyed both book and movie of The Martian, but was a bit doubtful, but West has convinced me, and I’m going to look for this one.
“Prison Colony Optimization Protocols,” by Auston Habershaw, could in some ways be compared to Martha Wells’s “Murderbot” stories, in that they both concern an AI. In Wells’s case, the AI is an autonomous robot which has broken its safety protocols, though it still acts as a security bot for the humans it despises. In Habershaw’s story, the AI (“Roxie”) has done something equally bad or worse—and is sent (as a data core) to run a prison; finding out to its dismay that it is being punished no less than the hapless humans it’s “taking care of.” Its/”her” controller, an AI called “OneHorseTown,” has full control over Roxie’s code, deleting and rewriting at will. How Roxie strikes back (and what “her” sin is) are the crux of the story.
Paul Lorello’s “Full Worm Moon” is a full-on fantasy that would fit perfectly in a favourite paperback I used to own called Zacherley’s Midnight Snacks. It’s a little bit Fritz Leiber-ish, and a lot sui generis. I won’t attempt to describe it here, but I do recommend it.
M L Clark’s “Proximity Games” is SF. Trudy’s family (she, her mom & dad) is on the list for going up and out, though many families have left already. Her best friend Andrea won’t be going out; she decries the very idea of leaving for space. When Trudy’s family finally leaves, they must spend time observing a planet from space before anyone is allowed to land. And finally, when Trudy is 26, she makes planetfall to study the “Jellies,” a sentient waterbound species possibly similar in brainpower and outlook to dolphins, and who seem to spend their lives in play. An interesting study.
Two poems follow, by Bogi Takács, “Advhena magnifica/Symmetry Violations I” and “Land Earthside/Symmetry Violations II”; those are followed by “Le Coup de Foudre” (Love at First Sight) by Gretchen Tessmer. All good SFnal poems.
Maiga Doocy has an interesting fantasy called “Salt Calls to Salt.” Apparently Zelda’s family (at least the distaff side; we don’t hear about the male part) has a habit of becoming some kind of water being; her mother lives in the ocean. If Zelda lets herself go, or forgets those things that keep her anchored in her land life, scales appear on her body (mostly the legs). She can reverse the scales with some hard mental work and by throwing herself into her actual work, though it takes time. Question is, how long can she keep this up?
Cara Mast has written a story called “doe_haven.vr” which is about a woman named Jenny who spends much of her time in a shared VR (virtual reality) world as a deer. (Yes, a doe—a female deer.) She’s managed to find a small corner of this virtual MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) where she spends her time eating berries and doing doe things. She’d rather not interact with people any more than she has to—but someone has intruded on her “private” corner. How to handle this? Would this be the ultimate thing for a furry, to actually virtually inhabit an animal body? I don’t know myself, as I’m not one.
Karin Lowachee’s “Films” column addresses the first season (Season 2 is, I believe, now streaming) of “Raised by Wolves.” I didn’t read this, as my wife (the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk) and I are planning to watch both seasons soon, and I don’t want to prejudice myself for or against. It really looks tempting from the promos, though.
Jerry Oltion’s Science column is called “The Ladder of Time,” and it was prompted by some asshat who recently cut down a 276-year-old tree (Jerry counted the rings) where he lives in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jerry uses this as a springboard to talk about measuring time. Good column!
Paul Di Filippo’s Plumage from Pegasus column is titled “Take a Letter, Maria,” and is a romp about an awards ceremony for professionally-written “Open Letters.” (Aren’t you tired of all the amateur and amateurish ones out there? Things like this are best left to the pros.) You’ll chuckle at the measuring stick used to compare letters.
“The City and the Thing Beneath It,” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo is a cute and clever story written by an Igbo from Lagos, Nigeria. Some of it is written in dialect, but the dialect is not terribly hard to figure out (The City can talk and it’s saying “Who sen’ una message? I don dey here, I go still dey here. No dey piss on top my head dey lie say na rain dey fall.”) (Some things are found in all times and places, right?) Anyway, something fell out of a tear in the sky in Lagos, but the powers-that-be control all the media and say nothing fell, and whoever says it did—or took a photo—are enemies of the people. A truly bittersweet little tale.
Joe Baumann’s “There Won’t Be Questions” is a fantasy about young friends Nigel and Harry. Harry thrills when Nigel kisses him, but nothing ever happens past that. Then Nigel discovers that Harry has a talent: Harry can call lost animals into a shoebox in his closet, though that talent is not without its cost. Harry suffers intense pain after using it. Nigel uses Harry’s talent to get what he wants; Harry discovers that using it to get what he wants may cost more than he wants to pay.
“The Gentle Dragon Tells His Tale of Love” by J.A. Pak was, Pak says, written by the dragon him/itself. It’s a well-written fairy tale involving a legendary dragon named Faine, a shipwrecked woman named Lark, and a young dragon named Droon. A pleasant story.
Finally, Pan Morigan’s Curiosities column is about The Hearing Trumpet (1976), an SF novel by Leonora Carrington (1914-2011), a British-born Mexican surrealist artist. The novel combining feminism with surrealism, it appears, Morigan also mentions that Carrington was unable to surpass her white heritage. Interesting stuff.
There are cartoons in this issue by Mark Heath, Ali Solomon, Nick Downes, and Arthur Masear, but the ones I found funniest are the two by Masear.
And now some sad news: back in 2015, in my column number 112, I wrote an article on writer Ed Howdershelt. He wrote a number of book series, and I enjoyed his writing quite a bit (you can find the column by clicking on the column number above). But during the pandemic, I lost touch with Ed, and just a couple of weeks ago thought I’d remedy that by getting back in touch, but my email went unanswered. Checking around, I discovered that in August of 2019, Ed unfortunately left us and went to that great convention in the sky. You can read his obituary notice here. I’ll miss his writing and slightly unconventional outlook on life.
Comments? Anyone? Bueller? You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!