Review: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Sept/Oct 2022

In the latest issue of F&SF magazine: Ghost ships; a never-ending question in desperate need of
answering; the virtue of sadness and loss; meeting ancestors from millennia in the past; fiendishly dark fairytales; and mind- warping reality generators are just some of the themes we’ll be considering.

This latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has a total of 12 short stories and novelettes, a novella, and a quartet of poems that are as ethereal as they are intriguing. Along with a super cover by nine-time Hugo Award-winning artist, Bob Eggleton, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

So, as before, I’ll kick off with the poetry submissions, and round everything off with the longer articles.

Here we go:

The Drowned One – by Amanda Hollander, was inspired by a near-miss incident with a giant patch of hogweed when she was younger. You’ll find it a superlative blend of a condemned person’s last meal, the morbid consequences of what happens to a corpse left to rot in the sea, and of course, of letting your imagination run rampant on the subject of “what if?”
Something we’ve all done from time to time.

In The Time Traveler’s Defense, Dixon Chance has you taking a moment to reflect deeply on the age-old conundrum regarding chaos theory. You’ll see . . .
And ask yourself. Would you step off the track to chase a butterfly – no matter how beautiful – if you knew the consequences? For such a short poem, it carries a profoundly deep meaning. So Kudos there!

The Halloween Zombie – also by Dixon Chance, helps us witness the results of how a little knowledge can be a bad thing. And I mean, a r-e-a-l-l-y bad thing.
Yes, sometimes we might think we know enough to get by . . . but what if we don’t?
Ah, sometimes our own bias can come back to bite us.

And finally in the poetry section, When They Come for You – by Mary Soon Lee, ponders the epic reach of the ultimate question. But sometimes, it’s not the question that needs answering, but the willingness to see what lies on the other side of the asking.
It’s quirky and its quant . . . and far more insightful than you first appreciate.

In the Dream, by Meg Ellison – a writer I’ve followed for some years – we consider the perils of long-distance spaceflight. Especially when the tech used to induce sleep ends up opening a door into what lies beyond. Think The Sandman meets the Mary Celeste and you’ll be on the right track.
But is it a track you want to be on?
Discover what lies on the other side, and decide for yourselves.

Next came, Wolf Shape, by C. B. Blanchard. This was an excellent, modern-day twist on Little Red Riding Hood. (I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoiling it with too many hints). Nevertheless, adults sometimes need to stop, take a breath, and listen to childish concerns . . . even if what they say sounds farfetched.

Our first novella is One Day I Will, by Phoenix Alexander. A story that pays tribute to identity and belonging on a cosmic scale.
We often scoff at those enlightened ones who say they enjoy a special connection to the planet that sustains us. But just imagine, if you will, that as the human race expands out into the stars, we discover that such connections are not only real, but possible of soooo much more.
Witness then, Alexander’s portrayal of one such burgeoning relationship, and shudder at the implications.

Karim Kattan’s, The Witch of Endor, pays homage to the idiom: Revenge is a dish best served cold, and in some respects, also touches on facets of our previous story.
Imagine a land of plenty, where the people are hardy and harmony exists on all levels. Invaders come from a distant shore. Thinking themselves wise and sophisticated, they determine to turn this ‘nothing’ into something at the cost of those already living there.
But those who live in harmony with the land know a thing or two, and the elderly hermit residing high in the mountains foretells their doom. So they seek to end her in the most despicable, underhand way.
Find out how such treachery stretches out over millennia, before their just deserts are served.

My umbrella was well and truly up for – A Songstress in the Rain, by Lucas X. Wiseman.
This is a most excellent homage to the prohibition era. But we’re not talking illegal hooch dens here. Oh no. We’re talking about the consequences of being able to pull on somebody’s heartstrings in just that right way, that they are instantly smitten.
Yes, what would you do with the power to tell someone exactly what they wanted to hear, when they needed it?
Find out in this tribute to illegal thrills – and spills – on a dark and stormy night.

Our longest story is a novella; The Cottage in Omena by Charles Andrew Oberndorf. And I thought it the perfect testimonial to the age we live in. Of new and mysterious infections and of the rush by pharmaceutical companies to catch up; of our willingness to inject ourselves with ‘cures’ that have been pushed through at a rush; of our lack of preparedness to respond in a manner that will prevent such things from ever happening again.

Yes, in The Cottage in Omena, we are reminded of how little we actually know of the world about us. After all, can YOU name everything growing in your garden? What about on the land next to your home or down at the shoreline by your favorite lake? And that’s the thing. The more we pump chemicals and pesticides into the land, the higher the likelihood that something might react with what nature has provided. And for all our ingenuity, it doesn’t take much for society to come crashing to its knees. As we so recently found out to our cost.

So, as you read this novella, be reminded of how easy it is for the fantastical to become reality.
And be afraid.

Déjà vu: Eua de Parfum for Men, by Remi Martin, is a poignant tale of loss and fond reminiscence, smudged by the passage of time. But oh how our memories can crystallize into blazing clarity, thanks to a certain picture. A scene. A song. And yes, especially a fragrance.
And in this story, we see the lengths that some people go to, to cling onto the image they’ve built in their mind’s eye of someone they’ve loved.
But remember . . .
It’s isn’t always the happiest, fondest recollections that make our memories work. Sometimes, you have to dip into the sad times too, because THAT’s where the most powerful emotions reside.
(A bittersweet example, this one, of what makes us who we are).

The Summer Diver, by Samantha Murray is centered on knowing yourself.
Every year, the girls and women of Aberfy dive into the sea. And every year, one doesn’t come back. Life in Aberfy is centered on duty and loss; on sacrifice and acceptance; on truth and strength. And Lila’s journey is no different, until she is faced with the most profound truth of all: Know thyself. And accept what that means.
I wonder . . . how many of us would be as strong?

Our next novelette, Le Sorcier De Lascaux, by Douglas Schwarz is a spellbinding tale that touches on a special inheritance. One that follows the same bloodline down through the centuries and over thousands of years. And if I may say, you’ll really enjoy this one, because it’s as immersive as it is poignant, and might just explain why it is that certain gifts or vocations run in families.
Listen closely. This story might be speaking to you. . .

You and the Wolf Boy, a story by Linda Niehoff, is the shortest on offer, but one of the most provocative. Why?
Well, you know the way it is on Halloween, when the night has run its course and you’re about to turn the porch light off. Isn’t there always one straggler who ignores etiquette by calling when it’s most inconvenient? What do you do on those occasions? Switch the light off and ignore them, or do you open the door and play things through.

Well, in this brief tale of decisions and consequence, our protagonist opens the door to. . . ?
Ah, you’ll find out soon enough.
Suffice to say, the ending is in YOUR hands.

The Charcoal Man, by Constance Fay contains a different warning.
Shade isn’t like other boys. He can see between the boundaries of then and when, allowing him to discern that moment when life is no longer life. And the thing is, he can do something remarkable in that moment. Unfortunately, Shade is so captivated by his gift that he gives little regard to the consequences of his actions, and when the day comes to balancing the scales . . .? A lesson to us all about reaping what you sow.

We face something of reality flip in Gerri Leen’s short story: Tangle Her in Quicksilver Breath. And it’s a rather good one too.
We’ve all heard the fairytales about the wicked witch who covets power and kills everyone who stands in her way. You know the one. The dark queen who covets her beauty and who will do anything to keep it. Buuuut. . . .
What if it wasn’t the witch that was wicked?
Ah, we look into that particular twist in, Tangle Her in Quicksilver Breath. A story that will definitely make you reflect on your life.

And concluding this issue is our final novella: Les Chimères: An Ode, by Molly Tanzer. A poke in the eye at mankind’s tendency to avoid addressing its real problems, either by ignoring them entirely, or pretending everything’s fine, thanks to avant-garde technology. (I can’t say more for fear of spoiling the surprise awaiting you.)
However, our expansion into the stars could very well mean we take our problems with us instead of working through them. And the results?
You’ll find out, in a clever story that reminded me in some respects of the Beyond the Aquila Rift episode of Love, Death & Robots. It’s poignant, and as unsettling as it is satisfying.
Just the thing you need to round off a great collection of stories.

**********

Looking back over this edition, I have to say again how impressed I was by its content and variety. All of the submissions reflected a quality that helps stretch the imagination and tickle the fancy in a uniquely personal way. Horror, suspense, curiosity, or sheer flights of fancy. This issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has it all, so I know you won’t be disappointed.

Now it’s over to you.

Until next time . . . enjoy!

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