The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2015


Jeffrey Ford. The Winter Wraith.

It’s a cold, bleak winter, and the task of taking out the dead christmas tree appears to be not quite as straightforward as it might…

Tim Sullivan. Hob’s Choice.

A story that exists in two quantum states : easy to read and not easy to read.

If you want an easy to read story, with lots of dialogue, and not too much to exercise the grey matter, the story remains in that easy to read state. However, if you are the kind of person who, for example, gave up reading Analog some years ago due to the nature of the stories it was publishing, the easiness of reading becomes problematic. It reads like something written 50 years ago.

And, having just written the previous paragraphs, I’ve just realised that this story is a follow on from two previous stories, which I summarised thus :

‘Through Mud One Picks a Way’ (Fantasy & Science Fiction Nov/Dec 2013) – Lacking a bit of subtlety and texture – more like an Analog than an F&SF story, more Aerosmith than Patti Smith. Full review more details

‘The Nambu Egg’ (Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/Aug 2013) – An SF story that failed to engage, on two counts your honour : firstly, it’s mostly dialogue, secondly the protagonist keeps way too much close to his chest. Full review here.

So, safe to assume that if there is a further story in this sequence, I’ll skip it.

Carter Scholz. Gypsy.

Warning : spoilers ahead.

The longest story in the issue, and it is (with the one final issue) a cracking story. There’s an echo of Arthur C. Clarke in the way Scholz blends technology, societal issues, and challenges on an individual level. He paints a bleak near-future for humanity, pulling no punches in the opening as he describes how quickly things have gone bad.

Climate change, politics, capitalism, technology, religion, individual stupidity all contribute to a rapidly worsening situation, and the outlook for humanity is desperate. Against this, one charismatic scientific genius sets up a plan to leave Earth and head for a nearby star. The small crew go into hibernation on the voyage, carrying a small payload to help seed a new start on a distant planet.

The story is told through the viewpoint of individual crew members who are brought back to consciousness to deal with problems en route. With each we find out about their life, the challenges they faced to get to this point, and the challenge that they face that has caused the ship to bring them out of hibernation. And in doing so we find out more about what has happened on Earth, the human frailty, the greed – and just how bad things are. It’s in depth and detailed, and rich.

And as the journey gets closer to it’s destination, problem upon problem arises. There’s detailed technological discussion to complement the human stories. And it leads up to what should be a tale of heroic failure – of a now depopulated vessel missing it’s mark and heading out into the infinite vastness, an elegaic, poetic ending to humanity’s tale, indicating that it’s cold out there and so inhospitable that even Drake’s Equation does not solve Fermi’s Paradox. The equations are just too cold.

Instead Scholz has his finale feature message received from Earth, a beacon of good news, telling the surviving crew member that things have been turned around, and there is still a future for Earth.

Harvey Jacobs. The Fabulous Follicle.

Morris Fein’s barbering business takes an upturn thanks to him targetting a new client base. Rather than concentrating on the top, sides and back he’s now focussing on the whole body. And when it’s a blue moon, that makes for a particularly busy month.

Bruce McCallister. DreamPet.

A story which starts with a successful executive bringing the latest genmod puppy as a present to his daughter’s birthday party. However a potentially saccharine story doesn’t evolve, as the daughter is blase about this latest present, mom is too busy with her own life and loves, and dad is left to make a visit to a company who offers specialist services to those who want to do other things to genmod animals*….

(* hunting, not, you know…)

A story that was pitched as a movie back in the day – which would start out My Little Pony and end up Predator/Do Androids….

Naomi Kritzer. Cleanout.

Several of Kritzer’s ‘Seastead’ stories have appeared in F&SF over the last couple of years, clearly popular with the readers and editor, but I baled out very early on, not being able to engage with a story of teen angst and drama.

I’ve liked her other non-Seasted stories, and ditto this one. It features three sisters who are clearing out their parents’ house. Dad died a few years back, and mom is in hospital now, very likely to follow suit. There have been tensions between two of the sisters, and all three are infertile, which two having adopted children. And in this subtle and effective/affecting story, the reason behind their infertility, and just exactly where their emigre parents did originally come from, are the sfnal elements.

Norman Birnbach. It’s All Relative at the Space Time Cafe.

A first SF story from an established writer, who is an SF reader, as the story clearly shows.

A light-hearted look at love, amongst an investigation into the disappearance (or not) of Schrodinger. The plot is just a way to get a guest appearance from every scientist who has a science theory relevant to SF who ever drew breath. And there are a lot of them from Copernicus and Ptolemy to Hawking and Hubble, all making pertinent and apposite comments. Whilst a previous story in the issue featured hairy canines as barbering customers, this story is entirely a shaggy dog.

Robert Reed. The City of Your Sould

Reed takes a different perspective on airplanes that go missing. Here he posits, in an almost Stephen King-type story (‘Langoliers’) how passengers queuing to board a plan react to a strange breaking news story – a whole city that appears to have gone missing.

However, when they land, there’s no such news story…. What exactly has happened?

Lisa Mason. Tomorrow is a Lovely Day.

Another day(s), another dollar for Benjamin – a struggle to get out bed, relationship with Molly not in a good place, poppa in an even worse place. And he spends his day(s) monitoring a machine, a grade 3 security guard. Today(s) Chief Scientist Schroeder makes yet a another rare appearance, and they discuss, as they did yesterday(s), what the future may hold. When it comes. If it comes.

A clever piece of writing by Mason.

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