The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2010

Michael Libling. Why that Crazy Old Lady goes up the Mountain.
An opening story with an audacious conceit bang slap in the middle of it (big spoiler coming…) A young boy is a keeper of a family secret, a secret place near the cliffs, a place where it’s possible to commune with the dead. The family know about it through being on the scene when someone came crashing down to Earth – someone no less than God himself.

With The Big Guy Upstairs quite definitely not upstairs any more, and quite palpably buried by them, everything has changed, and they are in effect custodians of those who now pass on, whose lives they are able to engage with.

The young man introduces a girl new to the neighbourhood, struggling with her own personal life issues, to the secret, and in doing so fulfils his own destiny.

It’s an unsettling story that lodges itself in the mind.

Fred Chappell. Thief of Shadows.
By way, I believe, of a prequel to previous ‘Shadow’ stories by Chappell featuring light-fingered Falco.

Elizabeth Bourne. A History of Cadmium.
A young artist finds out about her now late mother and herself, and the role of painting, and pigments, in their story.

John Sladek. The Real Martian Chronicles.
Sardonic wit in the form of a week’s mostly mundane Martian diary entries from a recent colonist.

Aaron Schulz. Dr. Death vs the Vampire.
A passenger with special abilities on a long-distance bus journey ponders how to use the special powers invested in him. But whilst he is Dr. Death, he realises another on the bus is putting his own special powers to darker uses, and there’s a showdown to be had.

Alex Irvine. Remotest Mansions of the Blood.
A dream/nightmare-like story, in which a rather self-obsessed mysogonistic alcohol who is seeking to find something missing in his life/himself finds himself in a strange little town in latin America. Following an earthquake, the current object of his obsession, Maria, introduces herself to him. And then, somewhat Gene Wolfe-like, the difference between what is real, and what is dream, and who is doing the dreaming, and what it all means, becomes very, very blurred.

Hilary Goldstein. Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves.
Retelling of the Snow White story, with the dwarves altogether darker than the Disney versions.

Dale Bailey. Silence.
My knowledge of American high school is drawn largely from stories like this, and the level of bullying endemic in them is terrifying! The bullying here is but a background and a contrast/complement to what the victims finds in the woods – something weak and needy, and very much out of place.

Rachel Pollack. Forever.
The Blessed Lady of Dark Forever tires of her job ferrying the dead, and takes a challenge from a sister to spend some time in human form, and in doing so becomes attached to the person whose form she takes, leading to a decision needing to be made

Robert Onopa. The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe.
A very sophisticated organic AI controlled train set is a perfect Xmas present for a young boy. It’s so advanced you would almost think it had a mind of its own….

Lokiko Hall. The Gypsy’s Boy.
A blind young, bereft by the death of the elderly gypsy woman to bought him and raised him as her own, finds solace in the arms of a wind spirit. But, like Orpheus, the need to look is to great, and is his downfall.

Steven Popkes. The Crocodiles.
A story about which I’m quite ambivalent. It’s told by a German scientist in the Second World War who has been transferred to a concentration camp to assist in research on creating ‘tote Manner’ – zombies. A virus has been found that causes death, followed by reanimation with a desire to kill. Surely such a thing could be harnessed for the war effort? Only when things go terribly, terribly wrong, and the scientist and his family entomb themselves in a bunker, does he show any level of humanity, and that a purely selfish one.

The description of the progress of the experimentation is told in a chilling manner – straight scientific reporting, echoing what must have gone on in the ‘medical experiments’ that did take place in such places. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the setting – when things that are virtually beyond belief in their horror really did happen, to make an entertainment around a fanciful variation seems wrong.

Libling, Schulz and Irvine the pick of the issue for me.

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