"Orfy" by Richard Chwedyk
"Eating at the End-of-the-World Café" by Dale Bailey
"The Door in the Earth" by Alexandra Duncan
"The Literomancer" by Ken Liu
"Uncle Moon in Raintree Hills" by Fred Chappell
"The Window of Time" by Richard Matheson
"How Seosiris Lost the Favor of the KIng" by James L. Cambias
"Blind Spot" by Rick Wilber and Nick Dichario
"Steadfast Castle" by Michael Swanwick
"About It" by Terry Bisson
"F&SF Mailbag" by David Gerrold
Reviewed by Sarah Joynt-Borger
Fantasy and Science Fiction, which recently went to a bi-monthly format, creates a thematic flow in this issue which deals with our blind spot: on morals, on politics, on death and what happens after. Many of these stories bring up questions that are left unanswered, and most seem to ask the reader to wander into dark and uncomfortable areas—and then dares them to find their own way out.
In “Orfy,” Richard Chwedyk returns to the world of his beloved ‘saurs, first introduced in Fantasy and Science Fiction. In “Orfy,” the ‘saurs deal with the death of a beloved elder ‘saur, having deep discussions which touch on life, death and what it all means with a charming, if sometimes simplistic fashion. Fans of the ‘saurs will welcome this addition to the world, and newcomers to the series will enjoy the rich, well-told story of those, once abandoned, who refuse to abandon each other.
Countering the light, child-like tone of “Orfy,” Dale Bailey’s “Eating at the End-of-the-World Café” takes a look at an Orwellian world only a few heartbeats away from our own, a city called Acheron, and the temptation of the Pit. Deftly told, dealing with large matters of a police state, child illness, poverty and desperation, Bailey never allows his words to become preachy or pedantic, showing his main character, Eleanor, in an unflinching light, and yet her plight is so desperate that in the end, Eleanor’s choice can be understood, even sympathized with, as the reader wonders what they would do, if…
Dark to the point of hopelessness, nonetheless Bailey paints a scarily-accurate picture of what humanity can become, when choices narrow down to bad or worse.
In “The Door in the Earth,” by Alexandra Duncan, family dynamics take on a sinister, supernatural twist. Two brothers reunite with their mother after she abandoned her family two years prior. She has turned away from the suburban life, and moved into an ancient cave in the Appalachian mountains with her new back-to-nature hippie boyfriend. The cave, of course, has a mysterious door which emanates cold and evil—that, of course, only the older brother can feel.
While never truly varying from the haunted-by-something-evil formula, “The Door in the Earth,” is well written enough to be entertaining, if not surprising, and the sparse, emotionally loaded interactions between mother and sons rings solid and true.
“The Literomancer” by Ken Lui also centers on family dynamics, and the betrayal of a child by their parent, though this story centers on a young American ex-pat in Taiwan in 1961. Ostracized by the other American girls on the base, young Lillie Dyer finds understanding and friendship with a Chinese refugee, Mr. Kan, and his adopted grandson, who dreams of someday playing for the Boston Red Sox.
With the help of Mr. Kan, Lillie stands up to the mean-spirited girls—but more importantly, Mr. Kan shows her the magic of literomancy…of pulling apart words to see a person’s past, future and present. Though Mr. Lui uses both Chinese characters and English words, the magic is truly apparent with the Chinese ideograms.
The story ends on a dark note (Fantasy and Science Fiction puts a note in the beginning of the story warning parents of younger readers to vet the story first), and also brings up uncomfortable questions on American paranoia and politics in the 1960’s without truly addressing them, and seems to rush towards its conclusion after slowly, and beautifully, building up to it, which might leave some readers slightly disconcerted with the sudden dark turn the story takes.
With “Uncle Moon in Raintree Hill” by Fred Chappell, the author revisits a story he admits he’s told before—most recently in “The Invading Spirit” in Amazing Stories back in 2005. Two young children fight the ‘Dark Raptor,’ a spirit of death, darkness and evil choices, attempting to save their grandma’s, and then their own, lives.
While the story is filled with dark, dramatic and poetic images of Halloween and leering, lost adults, of children teetering on the cusp of adulthood, of adults on the cusp of insanity, it doesn’t deliver on its early promise, providing an entertaining trip to a disconcerting destination.
Next, Richard Matheson, yes, that Richard Matheson, he of I am Legend, The Shrinking Man, and Bid Time Return, writes a quiet, gentle story of an elderly man facing his youthful regrets in “The Window of Time,” an unsurprising but charming story of time travel and first love, a return to periodical fiction by the man who is a master at the top of his craft.
“How Seosiris Lost the Favor of the King” by James L. Cambias takes a sharp turn out of dark, speculative fiction into the world of historical fantasy, dealing with a Pharaoh’s out-of-favor wise man, his apprentice, and the evil magician from the north. With dreams, prophecies and curses, “Favor of the King” trips lightly from plot point to plot point, a refreshing, though not light-hearted, change of pace from the earlier stories in this issue. Fans of Cambias’ science fiction may be pleasantly surprised as he tries his hand at fantastical history.
While the SF or fantasy elements are almost non-existent, “Blind Spot” by Rick Wilber and Nick Dichario is a lyrically told, character driven short, a touching study of one man’s too-late attempt to forgive a father who’s potential dominated his life and who’s bitterness destroyed it. Opening by evoking long, pleasant summers at first, and then revealing dark family secrets immediately after, we follow Danny as he returns home, after twenty years, to bury his father, a minor league pitcher with a temper and a drinking problem, who pitched one ‘perfect game’ before spiraling out of control. As he prepared for his father’s funeral, Danny reflects on that game, and what could have been.
By far the most imaginative story in this issue, “Steadfast Castle” by Michael Swanwick takes the old SF staple of rebellious AIs and takes it down a smart-house-meets-femme-fatale path that is both disturbing and thought-provoking as the dialogue (the entire story is told as a dialogue between a cop and a house) unfolds like a Philip K. Dick-ian morality tale.
“About It” by Terry Bisson is an odd little tale about…well, about an ‘it’ that a janitor at a research and development facility takes home when ‘it’ fails some genetic test. A slow moving character story, “About It” stops just short of being a deeply moving piece about friendship and death, missing some crucial piece to make a true emotional connection to its readers.
Lastly, there’s the “F&SF Mailbag” by David Gerrold, a quick piece of comedy posed as “Letters to the Editor.” Each letter addresses a science fiction gaff by the editors (using time travel to steal stories written in the future, etc), written in full, expansive, my-opinion-is-worth-more-than-your-fact tone well known to anyone who has ever read a true letter to the editor. Definitely good for a chuckle or two, the joke ends before it wears too thin.
With this issue, Fantasy and Science Fiction touches on awkward, dark subjects—childhood and betrayal, the line between right and wrong…and demands its readers think about, rather than simply absorb, what they read. While not every story may be for every reader, the selection, as always, is of excellent quality.
|< Prev||Next >|