The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2011.

Stories by Esther M. Friesner, Deborah J. Ross, Chris De Vito, Albert E. Cowdrey, Geoff Ryman, Sarah Langan, Daniel Marcus, M. Rickert, Jon Armstrong, Donald Mead, Karl Bunker, Alan Peter Ryan.

Esther M. Friesner. Rutger and Baby Do Jotenheim.

A most bodaciously excellent yarn from Friesner, with a very unlikely couple – the titular Rutger and Baby. The former an academic, the latter a pole dancer. With her lapdog poodle, Mister Snickers, in tow, they find themselves lost in the woods. Help appears to be at hand, but they find themselves in a world of myth and legend, at the table of the Norse Gods, no less, in a whole world of potential pain.

Story by Saurub Ramesh, with research by Sarah Langan. The Man Inside Black Betty : Is Nicholas Wellington the World’s Best Last Hope?

A look at science, the popular interest with it, and what might happen should a black hole appear close to Earth, and just what actions to investigate potential problems may lead to. The titular Wellington is a self-taught genius, who may indeed be the last hope, and whether the public and the scientific community be behind the right action. An interesting glimpse into an intriguing situation and protagonist – an opening scene from a Hollywood blockbuster to whet the appetite.

Deborah J. Ross. A Borrowed Heart.

A tender tale of love and the ties that bind, against a backdrop of vampires, whoring, succubi and sapphic action

Daniel Marcus. Bright Moment.

A young man, part of a scientific mission that is going to change an alien habitat to suit human habitation, finds out something whilst surfing, and has a moral dilemma to face, whilst recovering from a wipeout that requires fairly major surgical intervention. On a blind reading test though I’d have plumped for the story being from Analog rather than F&SF. But then again, as I have the odd moan about there not being enough SF in F&SF, that would be a bit churlish of me.

M. Rickert. The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece.

A strange and unsettling tale, a sort of bastard offspring of David Lynch and Tim Burton (I know they are both male, which makes that conceit even worse…)

It took a couple of attempts for me to get into the story – I found myself a couple of pages in, but hadn’t tuned in to the frequency of the story. The story moves back and forth in time in the same paragraph, which feels a little awkward until you get used to it, then it totally works. Some of the background is revealed as the story progresses, but by no means all, leaving you with a strange, grieving couple, a very strange corpse painter, and a closing scene that leaves a strong impression.

Jon Armstrong. Aisle 1047.

A dark take on what shopping and the marketing thereof may become very soon. A product, packaging and promotion nightmare, wading through the jargon and terminology in the story embedding the reader deep, deep in that nightmare.

Chris DeVito. Anise.

If you’re going to start your SF story with a quote from Cordwainer Smith’s ‘Scanners Live in Vain’, you’re setting yourself a big ask to live up to that standard.

I’m pleased to report that DeVito does so, in spades. Inappropriate for younger readers, or anyone who doesn’t like explicit descriptions of the sexual act! Fortunately, I’m by no means a younger reader, and by a similar margin nor am I put off my explicit descriptions of the sexual act!

I had a bit of a dig at an Adam-Troy Castro story in Lightspeed Magazine recently (‘Her Husband’s Hands‘) which postulated a far future war veteran being returned home in the shape of just two hands linked to a backup of his final uploaded memory backup. DeVito covers similar ground, but in a much more believable manner. He looks, up close and personal, at a husband and wife relationship that is struggling after the husband had died, but is returned to life by the technology of the day. The story is seen through the eyes of his wife, who is struggling to adjust to the new relationship, the subtly changed nature of her husband.

DeVito handles her PoV well (inasmuch as I can imagine a female PoV), and gets some real passion and tension and believable tension in the story. It builds up to a climax (!) as her world crashes in around her and…

Donald Mead. Spider Hill.

Dark magic in a rural setting, as a young girl in her mid-teens finds out more about herself, and the reasons for the nude dancing under the full moon in the pumpkin patch.

Albert E. Cowdrey. Where Have All the Young Men Gone?

A dose of classic Cowdrey horror, albeit transplanted from the deep south to Europe. An American academic pays a trip to a military museum in an out-of-season ski resort, and is intrigued by the story of the young milkmaid, raped and murdered during the last war, who haunts the village, and particularly its young men (hence the use of the haunting song, which had Marlene Dietrich singing it in my mind as I read the story).

It’s handled with aplomb, leaving the reader on tenterhooks until the final paragraph…..

dang, more ellipses….

Karl Bunker. Overtaken.

A short morality tale, in classic Golden Age style, in which an aeons old spaceship full of frozen humans is overtaken by a much newer model spaceship, with a much, much new model humanity. Is the original ship, and its crew, obsolescent?

Alan Peter Ryan. Time and Tide.

The death of the younger son in a family, drowned on the beach whilst out swimming with his older brother, has an impact on his family. Two years later, the story isn’t over. The ending is a chiller.

Geoff Ryman. What We Found.

Ryman takes us to Nigeria, gives us the texture and taste of that country, and the strange family of the protagonist, a young man whose scientific research provides the sfnal element to the story which is otherwise largely domestic and familial. His research suggests that too much scientific study, too much replication, is affecting science itself. It’s not a full-on science story approach a la Benford, just passing notes on the research to reflect on the story.

Conclusion

Outstanding issue – both in quantity and quality : it felt like reading a Year’s Best SF/F/Horror volume!

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