I’m running out of time to review this before the end of the month, so here goes. You already know, if you’re a regular reader, that I’m a big fan of F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). I have, literally, enjoyed every issue—and practically every story, column, cover, or cartoon—of this magazine I’ve ever read. We are sympatico, to put it plainly. The current issue is no exception (by the way, you can read all the nonfiction at https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/current.htm, you know). It contains one novella by Leah Cypess; three novelets (sic) by David Gerrold, Tim Powers, and R.S. Benedict; and short stories by Marc Laidlaw, Angie Peng, Peter Gleick, Ashley Blooms, James Sallis, Brian Trent, and M. Rickert; and a poem by Timons Esaias. Plus the usual non-fiction: a book column by Charles de Lint, a games column by Marc Laidlaw, columns on ISBNs, television, science, Coming Attractions, Curiosities by Paul Di Filippo, Karin Lowachee, Jerry Oltion, and Paul Di Filippo, respectively. Plus cartoons by Arthur Masear, Mark Heath, Nick Downes, and Bill Long. The cover (and our Featured Image) is by Bob Eggleton for “The Shadows of Alexandrium” by David Gerrold. Wow!
I’m not going to comment on these in any particular order; I like to shake things up a bit. So I’ll start with the “midlist” size: “Do AIs Dream of Perfect Games?” by Angie Peng. You don’t expect a story about baseball, and a “perfect game” in an SF/F magazine, do you? Well, this story is about Marissa Chen, a young woman and a lifelong baseball (specifically, the Cleveland Indians—can anyone say or write that name without thinking about Charlie Sheen?—and their pitcher, Dusty Johnson, who’s about to pitch his last game before retirement. And it’s also about things like dreaming, free will, AIs and the like (remember The 13th Floor?) Well written, but there’s not a lot new here.
Marc Laidlaw’s “Weeper” is from a fantasy world I’ve not seen, where Earth is one realm and the sky is another, filled with all sorts of magical things, apparently including jewels and other kinds of wealth. Plus beings; not the kind you necessarily want to interact with, either. Spar, the gargoyle, Plenth, the pregnant woman, and Gorlen, the musician are about to find out these things—and maybe a few things about life and death—when they encounter sky poachers. Some new ideas here, and I found it quite enjoyable.
“The Shadows of Alexandrium” is by David Gerrold, and it’s one of the novelets. The Proctor watches over The Alexandrium, which is to a library as the British Museum is to a single-celled organism. Or even more. It’s an infinity of infinite possibilities, some of which are created on demand, so to speak. I’ll give you a hint—there’s a Companion. And a—no, that hasn’t happened yet. Or has it? Loads of fun to read.
“The Writing of Science Fiction” by Timons Esaias is a short poem about a class. Or, like several of these stories, discovery. It’s interesting.
M. Rickert’s “This World Is Made for Monsters” is one thing, then it’s another. First, it’s about an alien spaceship arriving in someone’s cornfield, sparking an annual Alien Fest. It’s about how everyone reacted and behaved during the landing, and then it’s not. Read it and see.
“The Fairy Egg” is by R. S. Benedict. As the story opens, Bridget works at the local supermarket. She and Mike live in a trailer and keep a few chickens, but she realizes that many of the rich (or richer than them) people are locovores; and she begins selling her chickens’ eggs, especially the leghorn’s, to the rich people who want local/organic food. The leghorn’s eggs, because those are tiny and all white, no yolk. She calls them “fart eggs,” but tells the rich people they’re “fairy eggs,” with some B.S. story about how her Irish grandmother said they’d bring good luck. She has no Irish grandmother; her own mother is a crazy cat lady whom Mike rescued her from when she was 16 and he was 25. But since he rolled the car, Mike can’t work anymore, so Bridget has to work the supermarket and sell eggs, riding a bicycle that Mike grudginly fixed for her to ride. The good news is that she gets all her clothes second-hand for free, and the fairy/fart eggs sell like little hotcakes. The bad news is that Mike spends all his time on some site that tells him lies about the air they breathe, the food they eat, and Bridget. Things do not go well, but you’ll have to read it to find out how!
Digressing for a moment, let me point out this month’s cover by the very versatile Bob Eggleton, illustrating David Gerrold’s story “The Shadows of Alexandrium.” Bob’s an 8-time Hugo winner for art, and a one-time winner for “Best Related Book,” according to Wikipedia; he’s also won a Chesley (from The Association of Science Fiction Artists, ASFA) and been GOH at a Worldcon. Bob paints just about anything you can think of, but he really specializes in dragons and Godzilla. Click on his name for a link to his website. Okay, back to the magazine.
Next up: “Plumage From Pegasus,” by Paul Di Filippo (subtitled Keeping up with the ISBNs, or, Mary Sue, C’est Moi). Some people say “you are what you eat”; others, like Sid Saker the protagonist, might say “You are what you read.” Certainly, some books can be said to change a person’s life, but maybe to a lesser extent than the book Sid reads. But Sid needs to watch out! Like a deal with the Devil, there may be a clause he didn’t count on!
James Sallis’ “The Cry of Evening Birds” is a very short piece. Our unnamed protagonist, a woman, has been married to Bean for a long time, and they had a son, Ben, who is no longer living. She has the money to “order changes” in Bean—not an easy decision—which will take place at 6:30 p.m. When you read the story you will understand why, but maybe not empathize. I did, and I didn’t, not exactly.
“The Martian Water War: Notes Found in an Airlock,” by Peter Gleick, takes place (duh!) on Mars, and is told through notes: first a message left by a dying Martian, and secondly through historical notes. The Martian is one of the first humans born on Mars; by 2115, the time this takes place, there are thousands of Martian colonists and firstborns. Problem is, Mars is an arid planet, not really suitable for this kind of expansion. The three big colonies share the water resource amicably until several disasters occur. Gleick is a scientist working on water and natural resources, and the story reflects that. Not bad for a first story!
Ashley Blooms’ story “Little and Less” takes place in a world where climate change has heated the Earth; Laurel lives alone in a shelter her father built against the supposed nuclear war that never came. She is a savior; her shelter is full of animals she’s keeping safe against the known and unknown dangers of this post-apocalyptic planet. It’s not safe outside the shelter, and Laurel will save every animal she can. A chilling little tale.
“The Dog and the Ferryman” is by Brian Trent. It’s a fantasy, sort of, and the ferryman referred to is Charon; you’ve heard of him and the job he does on the River Styx? Well the titular dog is Buster. Charon is asleep on his boat when Buster shows up. Both are surprised, but Buster is friendly. Is Charon friendly? Read it and find out! (A cute little tale.)
Everyone knows who Tim Powers is. His newest F&SF story is “My Name is Tom.” Tom, like everyone else, lives on a ship. It’s an enormous ship (it would have to be for everyone to be on it, wouldn’t it? Nobody knows where the ship is going, but it’s been going there for a long time. There’s supposedly a tiny ship on a map on a wall of the Grand Salon that shows where the ship is and where it’s going, but Tom’s never seen it. He’s looking for his wife, Ruth, who may have gotten lost. Lots of people get lost on the ship, including the Plimsoll Line Gypsies. Maybe the ship is inside out; maybe it’s going somewhere Tom doesn’t want to go. An interesting story.
And the biggest story in this issue is “Of Them All,” by Leah Cypess, is a fairy tale. Not one you’ve heard before, but pretty close to all the old ones you grew up hearing. Margarete is a princess, like in all those old tales; she is given a gift by the fairies at her christening, like in all those old tales; she is to marry a prince and cement two nations’ relationships, just like in all those old tales. But the gift the fairies gave her is beauty (just like… well, you get it) with a lttle bit of a twist. But when is a gift not a gift? The fairies are not the only ones in the kingdoms with powers; there are also the dvergar, with whom they’ve been in contention for ages. What if they can also give gifts… or remove them? This is a lot deeper than most of those old tales!
If you have any comment at all, feel free. You won’t hurt my feelings if you didn’t like it! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!