I’m going to start my post with the disclosure that most people would stick at the end: the magazine issue I’m about to review was sent to me free, on the condition that once read, I would blog about it. Gordon van Gelder sent out fifty advance issues of the July 2006 edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine to various people as part of a promotion announced here and I was one of the lucky ones who heard about it early enough to ask him for a copy. However, I should add that I’ve been intending to invest in a subscription to F&SF for a while, and that I’m going to be honest in my appraisal of the stories in this issue.
But first: the Departments. Charles de Lint’s reviews are, well, fine, but I don’t read much fantasy and don’t have much interest in the genre, so it’s not that useful to me. I did like the columns by James Sallis and Kathi Miao, however, and the Curiosities section has long been an interest of mine.
The fiction: I’ve been more impressed with some other recent issues. I think my votes for best stories in this issue would have to go to Terry Bisson’s “Billy and the Unicorn”, Steven Popkes’ “Holding Pattern”, and Heather Lindsley’s “Just Do It”. The first is just nasty cruelness, but such an attack on neat, clean, nice urban fantasy/fairytale that it had me giggling in glee: a porno-junkie murderous unicorn? The critters claims that boys would like unicorns if they knew that the beasts were really like, and I have to say I enjoyed this unicorn much more than the other varieties I’ve seen before.
“Holding Pattern” is a weird tale about identity, which explores something like a biotech version of the slippery-identity-focused questionings in Greg Egan’s shorter works, especially the ones with the jewel-brains like “Learning to Be Me”. If someone altered you biologically and gave you all his memories, how culpable would you be for his actions, when they suddenly feel like they’re your actions? And “Just Do It” was a gleefully sarcastic piece of No Logo-ism, which believe it or not I mean as a compliment. I don’t believe that marketing actually will take the form it does in this story, but if you read it as metaphor, it certainly does ring true: advertisers do want to mess with your mind and implant stupid, nasty cravings into your mind just to get at your money. Great story.
I was really unimpressed with R. Garcia y Robertson’s “Kansas, She Says, Is the Name of the Star”. Basically, I saw no reason why this thing had to be all riffing on the film The Wizard of Oz. Another blogger described it as fanfic that was aimed at “perverting” the original, and to me, all the fanfic element did was weaken it. The characters didn’t convince me, the setting seemed, well, hokey; there didn’t seem to be much of a point to any of it… whereas, with a little work, the storyline could have been much more interesting, and the story could have been honest-to-goodness decent fiction. Reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction lately, I recall his disenchantment with some of what he calls “metafiction”, the noodly riffing off of other works for the sake of, well, being postmodern or getting some kind of force from the connection of one’s story with a famous work of literature. As far as I’m concerned, the riffing crippled the story, though. Too bad.
Robert Onopa’s story is somewhat better, though it too treads familiar ground. For one thing, the ending harkens back to even the first alien-invasion story I know of, and even if roles are reversed, it doesn’t help much. Still, the events in the storyline were alright, and it did keep me reading till the end. Same goes for Jerry Seeger’s “Memory of a Thing That Never Was”… I never felt quite compelled to throw the magazine across the room, but the fiction didn’t really blow me away.
The biggest frustrations, for me, came from the two stories I’d say were more specifically fantasy. Now, yes, I do prefer SF. But I also enjoy some kinds of fantastical fiction: China Mieville is high on my list of respected authors, even just for his efforts in Perdido Street Station alone. Matthew Hughes’ “The Meaning of Luff” lost my interest quickly, as, in fact, do a lot of stories in F&SF and Asimov’s which are introduced by noting that the protagonist is a popular character who’s appeared in stories in the mag before. It’s not as if I hold this against authors: I mean, linked short stories are sometimes wonderful! I love Bruce Sterling’s linked stories in A Good Old-Fashioned Future and of course in Schismatrix. But I find the stories that use recurrent characters just tend not to be the kinds of stories that satisfy me. It’s one thing to write character-driven fiction. It’s another to inject a specific character into scenario after scenario. The latter just doesn’t work for me very often.
The biggest piece of text in the issue, though, is one I have mostly tentative gripes with: Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire”. Look at the title for a moment, read it again. What the hell does it mean? If you need to pause and actively think about it, you’ll get a sense of what reading the story is like. It’s as babbly as some of Stross’ short stories (especially the ones that ended up in Accelerando), except it’s whatchamababbly fantasy, or phantasie, or whatever we call fiction with magick in it these days. The construction of the voice is part baroque and part gothic and part dark fantasy, with a pinch of Calvino, but I simply found the prose too opaque, and too continually given to self-interruption and self-advertisement. There’s nothing wrong with athletically artful writing, of course, but sometimes I had to actually think to parse sentences. Since in my experience I am both a fine reader and possessed of a decent vocabulary, I believe that when I experience something like that, it often signals something’s going slightly wrong.
But for all my reservations, I still had a good time reading the issue; I enjoyed enough of it to not have abandoned my planto subscribe. There aren’t many magazines I read cover to cover, but F&SF is one that I do find worthwhile, though sometimes I skip the odd stories that don’t suit my tastes. The July issue should be out soon in North America, if it isn’t out already, and I would say that you could do worse than to get yourself a copy. It provided me with several hours of entertainment, anyway.