The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2010.

Ian R. MacLeod. Recrossing the Styx.

Very dark, top quality macabre humour from MacLeod.

The Glorious Nomad is a massive, nuclear-powered cruise liner, taking its rich, elderly passengers for tours around the Mediterranean. However, many of the passengers are not only rich and elderly, but technically quite dead – rejuve therapy and replacement body parts enabling them to live on, with carers with whom they have a very close relationship. Resident tour host Frank Onions finds his monotous life enervated by the appearance of one carer – a very, very glamorous blonde, pushing her very, very elderly, and very, very rich husband around the decks. Can he possibly find a way for the two to be together?

There is a way, a ghastly way, and whilst Frank gets what he wanted, its very much the case that his love gets what she wants, and for him there is a high price to pay.

Michael Alexander. Advances in Modern Chemotherapy.

Alexander is evidently an analytical chemist who clearly draws on his professional expertise to create a story set in an oncology ward that rings true you can pretty much smell that awful chemical small that hospital wards invariably have.

As a new writer, writing about what you know is advice often given and generally followed, but whilst many authors at the start of their writing careers manage that, the next bit, writing a really good, impactful story, is generally beyond them. Alexander manages this.

Without being mawkish .. and big spoilers coming … his story about how those in the terminal stages of cancer are able to communicate telepathically, and to communicate telepathically with those past the terminal stages, if you get my drift, steers clear of mawkishness, and takes his main character, and the reader, to the brink of somewhere quite beyond our ken…

Rick Norwood. Brothers of the River.

Two brothers from a village, in the days before the flood, are able to attain the old strong magic, but in testing the limits of their magic, come face to face with older, darker magic. Will the young, new gods prove stronger? And have I missed an allegorical element?

John Langan. The Revel.

An intelligent piece of metafiction, an antidote to the current crop of forumalaic horror/vampire/zombie fiction/television.

Langan provides an overview of a multi-persective werewolf horror story, breaking the fourth wall wide open, as he detailing the whys and wherefores of the characters in the story. The narrative moves along smoothly, detailing the headlong flight for survival through the woods, as all stories must start; critiquing that narratives, providing the background to the characters; referencing external influences, such as Robert Frost; and including the reader as a participant observer in the story.

Langan’s providing the reader with several really clever stories in F&SF over the past decade. Click his name in the tags listing above to retrieve them.


Brenda Carre. The Tale of Nameless Chamelon.

A first fiction sale it would appear, although you would need to be told that, as you wouldn’t guess it from reading the story. Not quite my cup of tea – a tale of ancient oriental intrigue, with an evil prince, wise ones, a cunning urchin, magic sword, and jade statues which can dispense wisdom, but certainly the plotting and writing were of a higher standard than many first stories.


Albert E. Cowdrey. Mr. Sweetpants and the Living Dead.

Five Star Protective Services are called in to protect a famous local writer when his ex-lover become an ex-person. Manny is keen to find out what exactly going on, as clearly the deceased ex-lover can’t really be haunting his client. Except that the evidence keeps stacking up in favour of necro-revenge. There’s a memorable denouement at a fancy dress party, in a story that has Cowdrey’s trademark wry humour and detailed observations.

Richard Bowes. Pining to Be Human.

The latest in several autobiographical stories from Bowes that have appeared in F&SF and which are to form a forthcoming book.

It’s another impactful story, featuring a young man going through psychotherapy, reflecting on (or refusing to reflect on) his childhood and youth, time in high school, and getting out of the army draft, tied in to his homosexuality. Intensely personal, and with a fantastical element that’s gentler than most that appear in the magazine, part of a substantial series.


Ramsey Shehadeh. Epidapheles and the Inadequately Enraged Demon.

Editor Gordon van Gelder notes in the his introduction to the story that the predecessor story, ‘Epidapheles and the Insufficiently Affectionate Ocelot’ got mixed reviews, including some which very vocal in their dislike. Looking back on my review of the story I anticipated myself having made a somewhat critical comment about it, but found that I noted a ‘gentle Pratchettian comedy’. More of the same.

Ken Altabef. The Lost Elephants of Kenyisha.

Set on a Tanzanian wildlife reserve, quite vividly portrayed – you can feel the heat and smell the wildlife.

There’s a conundrum to be addressed – there are clear signs of an elephant herd running amok through villages and through the reserve. But there isn’t a herd anywhere nearby. Experts are called in, and they finally strike lucky, getting very much in the middle of the stampede. The smell, the noise, the palpable sense of emotion from the elephants are all tangible. However, the herd isn’t.

In the end it is an older ‘magic’, rather than a modern scientific solution, that identifies what is happening, and why, and what the greater consequences for us are. A story with a strong message.

Heather Lindsley. Introduction to Joyous Cooking, 200th Anniversary Edition.

Short funny.

Sean McMullen. The Precedent.

As bleakly intense a take on climate change and its consequences as you’ll find. It’s not so much the consequences on the climate, but the consequences for those deemed to have contributed to climate change, who receive summary justice.

And those deemed to have contributed are pretty much anyone – SUV drivers, the overweight, or simply getting a second doctorate. It’s the person quilty of this latter crime who takes us on a journey to a hellish place of retribution, where the case against those charged with climate change crimes take little time. For the lucky ones death follows very quickly. For the less fortunate, death can take a longer time, including the horrifically ironic ‘death by greenhouse’.

In avoiding this fate, the climatologist could perhaps be seen to have beaten the system, but it is entirely the opposite. The stuff of nightmares.

Summary

Langan, Bowes, MacLeod, McMullen the pick of an extremely strong issue.

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