Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - November 2005
zine ISBN/ITEM#: F&SF0805
Date: Oct/Nov 2005 /
THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION October/November - 57th Year of Publication
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has been doing October/November double issues for a long time and it really shows. They call it an anniversary issue and it is a special treat and more than just a longer-than-regular page count. Their competitors do this twice a year but not as well. I already knew this would be something special and could not wait to read it.
Now normally in these reviews, I discuss the best stories first and the lesser stories afterwards. But the best story in this issue is so great, that I am going to end my review with it, just like Gordon Van Gelder ended the issue with it All the rest of the stories rate a very good from me. The first is "The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi. He tells us of a future in which the petroleum has been all used up and energy is primarily taken from grain. This has radically changed the world economy and Bacigalupi weaves a nice little tale about an immigrant to America living with the situation. In "Help Wonted" by Matthew Hughes, Guth Bandar (from previous stories) has been thrown out of the Institute for Historical Inquiry because he said that the noösphere, "the great collective unconscious of humankind" had become, itself, conscious. He is thrown into a very interesting adventure to redeem himself. Clearly Hughes has more to tell about this character and I will look forward to it.
The first short story in the issue is "Helen Remembers the Stork Club" by Esther M. Friesner. I can't tell you too much about this wonderful tale without spoiling it. I can tell you that it involves a woman of a certain age remembering a bygone day in New York City but Friesner takes it in a direction you might not expect and the results are very good. In "Foreclosure" by Joe Haldeman, in 1967, a "man" walks into a woman's real estate office. He says that he (as part of an extra-terrestrial race) developed this planet and owns it. Humans have evolved on it and must leave by 2017 or be exterminated. How Haldeman solves this problem is just delicious. "Spells for Halloween: An Acrostic" by Dale Bailey is a series of one-paragraph definitions of words (from Hecate to Necronomicon) whose first letters spell HALLOWEEN. It is nicely done. "Billy and the Ants" is just the sort of story you'd expect from Terry Bisson. In it, a boy named Billy starts killing ants and things get out of control. It's one of those distinctly odd but fun stories that Bisson is known for.
One of the many things that makes this issue special is a story by Gene Wolfe. In "Gunner's Mate," a woman arrives on an island and attracts the attention of the ghost of a pirate. This is an entertaining little story in Wolfe's inimitable prose style. "Fallen Idols" by Jaye Lawrence is an amusing tale. In it, Zeus (yes, the god) turns up at a sex addiction meeting and tells his sad story about how Hera has left him for good. Things go on from there. "Sil'vry Moon" is another story by Stephen Utley is part of a series about scientists interacting in a settlement back in the Paleozoic Era (got there through time travel). In this one, a scientist with very unorthodox theories makes the trip back. In "Echo," Elizabeth Hand slowly reveals to us a world in which things have gone horribly wrong. The Echo of the title is a woman having to survive. Like many of the stories in this issue, it hearkens back to mythology and males good use of it. "Boatman's Holiday" by Jeffrey Ford is the fifth out of the nine short stories to make an explicit reference to Greco-Roman mythology. The boatman here is (of course) Charon who makes good use of a day off.
But the last story in this issue is a true gem. Usually, the stories that I call great are ones that I've rated a 9. Well this one got the first 10 from me in a long time. "Two Hearts" is by Peter S. Beagle and is a sequel to his classic novel, The Last Unicorn. The story begins with a little girl named Sooz whose village is beset by a griffin. Knights come from the king but are killed by the beast. Sooz decides that only the king can kill the griffin and sets out to his palace to ask him to come. On the way, she meets two familiar (to us) adults, a wizard and a woman who are old friends of the king and they accompany her. I will not give away any more but Beagle has written an absolutely wonderful story that is a worthy sequel to The Last Unicorn. I read the novel when it first came out, almost 40 years ago. I may have re-read it in 1981, before meeting Beagle at the World Fantasy Convention that year. I haven't read it since but it all came back to me. I'm sure that even people who have not read the novel will like this story. If this doesn't win some awards next year then there ain't no justice. In his introduction, Gordon Van Gelder freely admits that the story evoked tears from him. Well, it did that to me in at least two places. The story is also a bridge to another potential novel about Sooz, a character worthy of associating with the ones from the novel.
If you buy one science fiction magazine this year, buy this one. Heck, even if you don't usually buy magazines, buy this. If it had just the Beagle story, it would be worth it but there is more than that.