The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April/May 2009

The first of the now double-size but bi-monthly F&SF. The disappointment of now to be hearing a copy of F&SF coming through the letter box only six times a year is mitigated by the fact that it now makes an even meatier thump when hitting the floor.

Sean McMullen. The Spiral Briar.

Some fantasy to start the volume. AD 1449 sees a battle between humans and the faerie being tipped in one sides favour by the invention of a steam-powered boat.

Sir Gerald is the noble, who carries out a daily ritual in the half-light, on guard against those which have stolen his sister, commissions the device from an inventor who is working very much to his own agenda.

With the vessel tested, the brave souls who crew it are able to cross the barrier to the world of faerie and wreak a revenge on those who have been tormenting humanity, right some wrongs, and resolve some hidden identities.

Jack Skillingstead. The Avenger of Love.

Norman finds things getting very strange. Stroke? Or memory thievery?

He resolves to find out what is happening, aided by a dog who may or may not be his old family dog, and is able to come to terms with old losses.

Ellen Kushner. “A Wild and Wicked Youth”

If you read ‘Swordspoint : a Melodrama of Manners’ and wondered how Richard St. Vier gained his fluency with the sword, then this is the story for you.

If you haven’t read the book, but like mannered medieval fantasy with a lighte touche, and would find a story about how a young man gains swordskills that will doubtless set him up for adventures in his later life, then this is the story for you.

S.L. Gilbow. Andreanna.

In constrast, a far future story featuring a droid who is suffering from an unfixable problem caused by a boot virus, probably tells us more about the human condition.

Henry Garfield. Stratosphere.

A baseball-on-the-moon story. A home run achieves a perfect orbit, but rather than this feat of gravity defying science being the crux of the story, it is in fact the background to the baseball league politics and the person who put the ball up there which engages.

Deborah J. Ross. The Price of Silence.

Over ten years since her last appearance in F&SF (then writing as Deborah Wheeler), and a very strong SF story indeed. The only beef is that it’s over all too quickly, with characterisation and scene-setting worthy of more investment.

A colony planet has stopped communicating, and a ship that has been sent out to investigates find a devastated world, and an orbiting space station whose crew (now all dead) appear to have been wanting to hide something.

The small boarding party are able to get sufficient information from the space station computer for one to realise that what was found on the planet is best kept secret, and to do so will require a sacrifice.

Ross provides some sutble prose, and in the short space available, some believable human emotions and motivations.

John C. Wright. One Bright Star to Guide Them.

A middle-aged man finds that the world of his youth comes calling. That world is a Narnian/Tolkienan fantasy world, and whilst he is willing to heed the calling, those with whom he shared his youthful adventures are to varying degrees less keen (or able) to rejoin battle.

There’s a wealth of background in the story, which evokes the longing of the main protagonist, and I’m guessing that those with a penchant for fantasy will hoover this up. For me it was just too derivative, down to the Tolkienesque poetry (one brave soul to hold they key, to find the charm and learn it, one bright sword to smite the Dark, one bright flame to burn it.)

For me, it reminded me of the more satisfying ‘Return to Cockaigne’ by Paul Di Filippo, from Interzone #163, back in January 2001, which addressed a return to youthful challenges.

Conclusion.

In addition to the new fiction, there are two classic reprints (‘The Brave Little Toaster’ by Thomas M. Disch, and ‘Sea Wrack’ by Edward Jesby). Deborah J. Ross and S.L. Gilbow are the pick of the issue for me, and the advantage of a double size issue is that (hopefully!) there’ll be a couple of top quality SF stories to read in each issue from now on!

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  1. Best SF | John C. Wright. Twilight of the Gods. (Year’s Best Science Fiction 27th Annual Collection) - February 19, 2011

    […] redolent of both his ‘One Bright Star to Guide Them’ (F&SF April/May 2009 – link), and the much earlier ‘Guest Law’, also collected by Dozois, way back […]

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