The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2014: Afterthoughts

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2014
256 pages
4 stars

 

I finally have a weekend free to do some reviewing (for that matter, to do some reading for reviewing later). Weeks of stress and studying have come to an end. Time to get back into the literary saddle. My creative brain was wound so tight that when I sat at the keyboard last night, had one drink and next thing I knew there were 2,500 shiny new words before me. Awesome. If only they’d always come that easy. Not sure yet if they’re any good. Honestly, I’m afraid to look.

As with most issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction I enjoyed this one. While nothing in particular stood out and a couple stories didn’t do it for me, on the whole it’s a good read.

FSF May Jun

Which I’m going to do my best not to spoil. Promise.

The End of the Silk Road
David D. Levine
One-star-rating-1

I liked this story the least out of the issue. There are a few genres I don’t normally care for, but can read if they’re interesting enough. Detective mysteries are one of those genres, however The End of the Silk Road doesn’t have much in it to make it fresh. Several times throughout the story I felt I could skip whole paragraphs of familiar tropes that didn’t do all that much for the narrative. The story suffers an insufficiently entertaining first person protagonist, and wears its sci-fi skin like a bed sheet with eye-holes cut out.

Mike Drayton, PI has been hired to investigate the business of a Venusian drug dealer by his rival in love and life, Victor Grossman. If he can keep his hands off the dames and his head in the game, he stands to earn a tidy profit out of the deal, even if his employer is the last sleaze in the solar system he’d want to work for. But of course, it’s never that easy for a private investigator, and the past–both ugly and beautiful–has a way of stalking up on those lugging around too much baggage.

I rolled my eyes enough through this story to give myself eye strain, but if you’re a fan of detective mysteries and sci-fi settings, you’ll likely enjoy The End of the Silk Road a lot more than I did.

The Fisher Queen
Alyssa Wong
three and a half

Alyssa Wong’s take on mermaids in The Fisher Queen is both startling and intriguing. The story is as disturbing as it is poetic. Visceral without being graphic. Familiar and exotic. What I didn’t like about it came down to mechanics, specifically near the end where some things were left too unexplained to feel like the story concluded satisfactorily.

Mermaids are real. Lily knows it. Everyone says her mother was a mermaid, but she knows it’s not true. They’re just stupid fish, after all. She catches them for sale as an Asian delicacy. They’re ugly and dumb, and only worth what wealthy people will pay to eat something unusual. But there’s a seedy underbelly to the fishing industry that she doesn’t know about. Secrets, lies and questionable morals come to light when Lily joins her father on a deep sea fishing expedition and the truth is a deep, cold ocean.

The things I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about this story surprised me but ultimately, I couldn’t connect with Lily’s motivations, especially at the end. I don’t like it when characters experience a light-switch of inner change. The transformation always seems too sudden to be believable. Still, it is a gripping story, perhaps to inspire a few nightmares.

White Curtain
Pavel Amnuel (Translated by Anatoly Belilovsky)
4 stars

This was a bit of a confusing story to begin with. It took a while for the scene to settle itself, and the characters who keep interrupting each other and vaguely hinting at the past make trying to understand the science fiction or even the premise of the story a bit of a challenge. However, once the reader gets their footing steady enough, this is actually a very pleasant read.

Dima has been having a difficult time of it. His wife Irina is a year dead and he has exhausted every avenue he can think of to bring her back. His final option is to consult with their old friend and colleague Oleg, now considered by some as a prophet. Dima knows Oleg is highly skilled at splicing together realities to alter people’s lives, after all, they used to work together, but will Oleg even agree to help him after Dima stole Irina away from him, all those years ago?

The prose in this story make it a wonderful read, as well as the sad procession of emotions that really tug at the heart strings. It is one of the best stories in the anthology, in my opinion.

Presidential Cryptotrivia
Oliver Buckram
4 stars

Like much of Buckram’s work, this collection of totally true secret facts about each American president is short, witty and entertaining. For that, I can forgive the lack of a story here. These little tidbits of shocking revelations gave me a few giggles of which I’m always thankful to Buckram for.

Bartleby the Scavenger
Katie Boyer
3-stars-out-of-5

A bit of a caveat to this review: I don’t care for retellings, I don’t like dystopias and Bartleby the Scrivener alternated between boring me to sleep and frustrating me into high blood pressure. That said, the fact that I could give Bartleby the Scavenger three stars at all has everything to do with Boyer’s skill as a writer.

If you’ve read Herman Melville’s original story, then there isn’t anything all that new in Boyer’s retelling. Even the names are very cheekily similar, if not the same. I’m fortunate to have read the story in the recent enough past that it hasn’t dissolved into obscurity from my goldfish memory, and I was able to connect the dots between the two works. There are many, many connections.

I won’t spoil it further though. Boyer weaves the original tale seamlessly into a post-apocalyptic landscape with several dystopian embellishments embroidered into the pattern, and comes out with something that is as original as it is derivative. I didn’t enjoy reading it any more than I enjoyed reading Melville’s story, but Boyer is clever enough to bring all the elements together in such a way that I could at least tip my hat to the talent that it took to do so.

Rooksnight
Mark Laidlaw
4 stars

As soon as I saw the cover of this issue I was excited. It couldn’t be, could it? A continuation of Bemused from the Sept/Oct 2013 issue? Oh yes it could! I wasn’t disappointed either. The characters still hold up, and though the plot is nothing out of the ordinary for a fantasy, it keeps itself entertaining.

It’s a tough life being a traveling bard, tougher still when you’re on a mission with a gargoyle. You never know where your next meal will come from. Sometimes you’ve got to steal it from a nest, and sometimes you’ve got to accept dinner invitations from suspicious folks. After the bloody events of Rooksnight, however, I’m not sure if Gorlen will seriously consider either option in the future.

One thing that did snag me a bit was that the prose–especially in the beginning–felt very self important. I wouldn’t have minded this all that much if the POV had been more closely attached to one of the characters. This not being the case, it stumbled my reading a little bit. Fortunately, this quirk seemed to be shaken off later in the story as the action picked up. Laidlaw is a master of evocative description, and the story ended very strongly, with a nice full circle turn-around that always delights me in fiction. I hope to read more of the adventures of Gorlen and Spar in subsequent issues.

The Memory Cage
Tim Sullivan
3-stars-out-of-5

I’m a little on the fence with this one as I find myself with a lot of Sullivan’s writing. On the one hand, the emotions in The Memory Cage are clear, crisp and painful. On the other, the mechanics of it, the drawn out exposition, the sci-fi necessary dystopian setting, and the overly familiar genre tropes bogged me down as I read it. I think I enjoyed it, but I can’t say that for sure.

Death isn’t the end, at least not definitively. Not any more. Not since the discovery of little pockets of revived consciousness, floating about in space, charged up by the interaction of particles. Jim can’t explain it–he’s just a technician, but he’s been honing in on his late father’s signal for a while now, searching for answers to the wrong questions while the those back on Earth destroy themselves.

There’s a lot of information in this story that I’m not sure all relates, but it is put together well enough that I can’t decide if it made the read difficult or not. Really, I think I liked and disliked this story in exactly equal proportions.

The Shadow in the Corner
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
3-stars-out-of-5

Despite a small victory up there with Bartleby the Scavenger, this is yet another story which I will have to admit ignorance of the source material. At least regarding specific details. The Cthulhu mythos is pervasive enough on the internet that it’s impossible to not have some knowledge of it.

Arnold Boatwright and Agrawal Narendra are just two scientists out of many who have tinkered with the secrets of the universe they’ve got no business messing with–as all good scientists do. It’s clear that the experiment (given the Frankenstein treatment of “the details are too horrifying to ever be made public”) has gone gone wrong, but no one knows just how horribly wrong. Well, Agrawal does. He saw… it. Directly. Everyone else saw… whatever it was second hand. Through a recording that they can’t get to play the same way again. Now Agrawal is convinced there’s something in the corner. A shadow. And it’s getting closer. And closer.

And closer.

Containment Zone
Naomi Kritzer
3-stars-out-of-5

I think the thing that kept me most from enjoying this story was the fact that I couldn’t pinpoint the protagonist’s age. In the end I placed her somewhere near to fifteen, but only because there were moments when I thought she was as old as twenty, and others as young as eight. This inability to accurately picture her in my head kept me largely out of the story, like an anxiety lingering on the fringes of the mind can ruin an otherwise pleasant day.

Rebecca is just like any other (?) aged girl, except that she lives with her father on a seastead off the coast of LA called New Minerva, free of things like national laws and regulations. When one day a mysterious illness strikes Min and several other seasteads, her father dumps Rebecca with one of their neighbors and disappears to fight the new infection, only appearing again briefly to give Rebecca and her host family a trial vaccine. But sitting quietly inside and waiting for the crisis to blow over is just not something that precocious children do, and confident that the totally untested vaccine will keep them safe, Rebecca and her friend Thor venture out of their quarantine to see just what the heck is going on. And boy, the skeletons are tumbling all the way out of the closet.

The pacing of this story is a little off from my personal tastes. It starts very slowly and ends in a sprint, to a sudden and unsatisfying conclusion that again made me question the protagonist’s age. The fact that I couldn’t decide if the story was supposed to be taken seriously or as a playful bit of fun at the expense of more melodramatic sci-fi also made reading this one a little uncomfortable, but in the end the characters were entertaining enough, at least to read it without much difficulty.

The next book on my reading list is Empires of Sand by David Ball. I swear I’m going to finish it this time, guys.

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7 thoughts on “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2014: Afterthoughts

    • Haha~ yeah, I’m pretty picky in my reading. It’s sometimes hard to review things, because I don’t want to give something an unfavorable rank, just because I didn’t enjoy it, especially when it’s otherwise well written.

  1. The Fisher Queen sounds intriguing. I tend to have more positive feelings towards something that is a bit different, even if the story has flaws. Thanks for the great reviews!

  2. I’m the author of “The Shadow in the Corner.” I just wanted to thank you for a lovely review that’s totally in the spirit of the story. You may not be familiar with HP Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos directly, but I promise you — you get it.

    So, so, so many thanks!

    • Well, that’s heartening! I’m sorry if I missed something in my ignorance of the source material. I enjoyed it all the same, though. Thank you for writing such a chilling story. I’m glad you liked the review. 🙂

      • I don’t feel you missed anything. There are names of old Lovecraft characters sprinkled here and there like seasonings, but you don’t need to recognize them for the story to work.

        I’m just thrilled that you had a good time with it.

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