This is the first (I believe) issue of F&SF that has been fully edited by the new editor Sheree Renée Thomas. Her appointment as editor is a significant milestone in the SF/F genre(s): she’s the second woman and first PoC (Person of Colour) editor in the magazine’s history, which means the first like her to edit a major genre magazine. Kristine Kathryn Rusch was the first woman to edit F&SF. I expect Ms. Thomas to bring an entirely new sensibility to F&SF, and I think she’s started out on the right foot with an editorial explaining why this issue is dedicated to the late Octavia E. Butler. If you’ve never read any of Ms. Butler’s work, you’re in for a treat; I will say no more, as Macca (Mr. Paulie McCartney) said in Help! The main thrust of the editorial revolved around Ms. Butler’s maxim, from The Parable of the Sower: “All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you.” Wise words indeed.
It’s a big issue, chock-full of stuff, with eleven stories, four poems, the usual columns: a competition and a previous competition result; Charles de Lint’s book column; “Curiosities” (a review of an old Octavia Butler book) by Michael A. Gonzales; Jerry Oltion’s science column; a funny “Plumage From Pegasus” by Paul Di Filippo; a look at the numbers in genre publishing from Arley Sorg (of interest to both writers and readers); and Karin Lowachee’s look at horror in film and television for 2020/2021. Holy cow, that’s a lot for your money! Now let’s look at the fiction and poetry.
“A Father’s Hand” by Stephanie Kraner is the story of Logan, and of his father, who was, or became, a robot. At some time in the past humans and robots had apparently gone to war, and the result hadn’t been good for either side. At any rate, Logan’s father—whether he was his biological father or not—had raised Logan, told him stories, taught him things, and generally led him through the ruins or whatever was left. But at some time, Logan’s father had lost the power of speech, and many, if not most, voluntary motions: for example, his mechanical hand couldn’t let go of Logan’s flesh-and-blood hand, and had gripped it so hard, for so long, that the hand had essentially died. Logan had had to adjust; the story is about Logan, and adjustment. Nicely written, but not as upbeat as one might like.
Robert Grossbach’s “Refugees” is a novella, the longest work in the magazine, which tells the tale—in great detail—of Morton Rushman, the hapless defendant in a suit by New York State. What would you do if tiny alien spacebeings told you they were on the run, pursued by more of their own kind for an offense that made little or no sense to you, and asked you for your help and shelter? Consider if they came to you in a spaceship the size of a soup can, and said that if you didn’t help them, they’d probably be wiped out, and only you could help them? Would you turn them over to the authorities? Would you do what you thought was the right thing, give them sanctuary? Well, Morty did, and it didn’t turn out well for him. This is sort of a seriocomic story—maybe a bit long for what it was, but interesting none the less. (The ending reminds me of the chorus of the Animals’ song, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”)
“Dontay’s Bones,” by Danian Darrell Jerry, moves really quickly. It’s informed by modern urban society, specifically that of Memphis, Tennessee, which in Mark Twain’s time was often called “Bluff City.” The kids, Dontay and Nardo, are not the middle-class kids living in or around Graceland, but hardscrabble kids surviving the best they can in a society that doesn’t value them. It’s extremely well written—even lyrical in its own way—but I found it depressing. Maybe I was supposed to.
Maurice Broaddus’ “Babylon System” concerns Lij, who has come from Jamaica to a prison in what Rastafari like him call “Babylon,” from the Biblical reference. Lij is a “Bobo Rastafarian,” a warrior. The prison is very mechanized—there are arachnoid guards, for example—and run by humans who consider the prisoners as disposable, interchangeable units. Lij can and does lose focus in the prison, but eventually recovers his main aim, which is to help his fellow prisoners remember that they are human beings and can win out over any system—even Babylon’s—if they try. A well-written, hopeful, and upbeat story!
“Goodwill Objects,” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, is—like many of her stories, sui generis. Thirty-some years ago in the days of the “Moscow Moffia” (as Algis Budrys called us), the writers’ group from Moscow, Idaho, we were always happy to see one of these quirky, memorable stories hit the workshop. Although we called her “Nina” (after all, it was her name), these were always special, and clalled “Kiriki” stories. Although she’s not the most prolific of our original group, I think she was, and is, the best writer. This story is about Cody, who’s not exactly a world-beater, but one day he receives a package from his ex-girlfriend. Their parting was somewhat acrimonious, so Cody opens the package over a sinkfull of water, in case he needed to drop it in so it wouldn’t explode or something. What it actually contained was a plastic doll face, from a Goodwill thrift store, with attached hands. What happens with the doll face isn’t even the most startling thing about the story. What happens to Cody, is. Like I said, one of a kind.
Corey Flintoff’s story, “Molly Whuppy,” is pure folk tale—fantasy rather than SF—but so well done you might think it’s an actual Irish folk tale, which I don’t think it is. During a famine, before the time of Arthur, a man named Whuppy decided to leave his three youngest daughters out in the forest to forage for themselves, to live or die as it may be. (He couldn’t afford to feed his whole family, but was too kindhearted to kill them outright.) The three were small and thin enough to be taken for elves by the folk they met on their journey from here to there, but Molly was able, through use of her long, tangled red hair, and her wits, to see her sisters married and herself well off. You’ll have to read the story to see how that all came about!
There are four poems in this issue; one is by Alan Dean Foster, called “The Devil’s Coachman”; two are by Derrick Weston Brown: “Red Giant” and “White Dwarf”; and one is by Linda Addison, called “The Un-Awakened.” I’m a long-time fan of rhyming poetry, but Alan Dean Foster’s long poem’s an odd one: sometimes two lines in one verse rhyme; sometimes, none. But the poem’s at least got a point. I wish it were one way (rhyming) or blank verse, but that’s just personal preference. Derrick Weston Brown’s two poems are both shorties, and both blank verse, continuing the twin themes of Octavia Butler and change. I liked them. Linda D. Addison’s poem is longer than Brown’s, but shorter than Foster’s, and again follows the twin themes of Butler and change. It, too, is blank (non-rhyming) verse.
“When the Water Stops,” by Eugen Bacon, is a chilling little episodic story about climate change and what we may come to. As well written as it is, its implications are ugly and at least somewhat possible (though, I hope, not at all probable). I guess you don’t have to like something to recognize a possibility (no reflection on the author’s skill at writing).
“The Plus One,” by Marie Vibbert, is a pure SF story set on a near-future Mars, where different governments have set up habitats. Blaine is a U.S. Marshal, with authority only over U.S. settlements. She’s called to look at a body found in a deflated survival tent, to determine whether the person was a U.S. citizen, and whether there was any foul play. What she finds, in an odd twist on Tom Godwin’s “Cold Equations,” is absolute indifference on the part of those who knew the dead person. It’s the kind of story that should raise the reader’s emotions, as the Godwin story did, but for different reasons. And it ends on an upbeat note, which I liked very much.
Pan Morigan’s “Severed Fruit” is an odd story, pure fantasy as opposed to SF. It’s about influences, in some ways; about what we leave behind us, and how we influence people and events during our time on Earth. It’s quite vivid, and I’m not quite sure what I thought about it, though my impression is generally favourable due to the writing, not necessarily the subject matter. It’s one of those stories you have to ponder before you come to a conclusion about it.
“Drunkard’s Walk,” by James Enge, is also fantasy. It’s been a while since I read any Jack Vance (years, actually), but in some ways this reminds me of his work. Morlock Ambrosius (name a combination of a wizard and a creature of darkness?) comes to a town in search of food and drink, but discovers there’s little of either, except for what he has brought in his pack. He discovers that he and everyone else are trapped in this town; he finds a young man who’s attempting to find a solution. It’s kind of odd, but well written.
And, finally, we come to another long one: “The World, A Carcass,” by Rich Larson. It’s kind of a fantasy version of Mexico or Central America around the time frame of the Aztecs (though lacking actual Aztecs); Daxla’s father is dead, and is given “sky burial” by being put on a kite which has bladders attached full of some kind of lift gas (probably hydrogen). We find out that her uncle is now going to control her life. This one’s hard to discuss without giving too much away. Suffice it to say that Uncle doesn’t get everything his own way. There are terrific characters like “Nobody,” who lost his name and was reduced to a guard (and his pet spider); the whole milieu is described quite well, and it comes to a satisfying conclusion. That’s all I dare to say so I don’t spoil it for you. I liked this a lot.
On the whole, a terrific “first issue.” I look forward to the next one with great anticipation!
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