The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2016

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Gregory Benford. Vortex.

Martian adventure featuring Julia and Viktor, scientists who appeared in his novels ‘The Martian Race’ and ‘The Sunborn’. It’s the kind of scientist fiction you would see more often in Analog than F&SF.

Here Benford sets up an issue with the deep-lying microbial ‘life’ on Mars – Julia and Viktor are called in by a team of Chinese scientists, and there appears to be something impacting on it. To complicate matters there’s a political shit-storm back on Earth, echoed by what happens on the Red Planet.

Alex Irvine. Number Nine Moon.

Straight after a story that hinges on number two’s on Mars, we have a story set on Mars with Number Nine in the title (strange forces at work here…).

Here Irvine sets up an Analog-y style story. But only -y in the way it sets up two (initially three) people who find themselves in a very difficult situation, needing to use their wits to survive. Irvine’s characterisation makes the story more than just scientist fiction, as his protagonist Steuby is a rounded character, who has an inner monologue that convinces, although his continuing one-way dialogue with the one of his pair of team-mates who has shuffled off the martian coil is quite worrying to his remaining partner.

The theme of the story is humanity pulling in on itself, a turtle withdrawing it’s head into it’s shell (Irvine’s imagery), and it’s a good read.

Bennett North. Smooth Stones and Empty Bones.

A first-published story, which bodes well for her writing future.

It’s more of a horror story than F/SF, but it’s well handled. A young girl is getting the eggs from the chicken coop, and finds the skeleton of a fox inside the coop. One that is running about. She removes the skeleton from the coop and her garden, and we learn more about her, and her mother, who is some form of a witch. It’s a contemporary setting, and with a contemporary touch with her girlfriend’s brother going missing, things start to take a darker turn.

The nature of the stones buried in her garden is revealed, but she is reluctant to use them to help her lover’s brothers. And in a neat final paragraph we find out the full extent of her reluctance.

David Gerrold. The White Piano.

A ghost story the editorial intro indicates, so I shall pass on to concentrate on the SF.

Nick Wolven. Caspar D. Luckinbill. What Are You Going to Do?

The titular executive finds his name being taken in vain in media terrorism. The story felt to me like it should have been four or five pages, but it didn’t sustain my interest for the 20 pages it is.

Terry Bisson. Robot from the Future.

Charming little story told by a boy in a near future, post-Greaning, who relates a visit from a Robot from the Future, in search of the fabled gas-o-line in order to return to it’s own time (in the far future). Luckily he has wily old Grandpa R to help out.

Leo Vladimirsky. Squidtown.

Vladimirsky returns to the dark, near-future of his ‘Collar’ (Mar/Apr 2014), which I admired for it’s background, but wanted more from the story. Ditto here, to some extent, as the ‘story’ is essentially a conversation between a brother, returned to his home town after a gap of ten years, with his sister. He has spent a lot of the last ten years either in the D’Allahs (which seceded from the USA), or in prison, having had his tongued excised…

She has spent the last ten years (re)building a future for the town, and he has to decide if this is still home.

Interesting world-building, which could stand more exploration.

Betsy James. Touch Me All Over.

Hilil, named after her grandmother, is one of the finest twiners in her village. Until she picks up a strange knife, and finds that not only can she no longer twine and make knots, but rather, everything she touches that is man-made, falls apart.

Leaving her family and village behind, her future looks bleak (and short), until a chance encounter….

Matthew Hughes. Telltale.

Raffalon the Thief returns to the pages of F&SF.

Albert E. Cowdrey. The Visionaries.

Jimmie and Morrie of Paranormal Services return to the pages of F&SF.

E. Lily Yu. Braid of Days and Wake of Nights.

Dedicated to Jay Lake and Bronwyn Lake, E. Lily Yu looks at the painful issue of loss and bereavement through cancer, and how a unicorn in Central Park might offer a different resolution.

Excuse me while I head over to Jay’s blog, after some months absence, to re-read some of the blogs, and think deep thoughts.

Conclusion

Three SF stories set on Mars start the issue, other good SF, and Raffalon and Jimmie and Morrie return to grace the F&SF pages.

Also reviewed by Nicky Magas on TangentOnline here.

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