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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Fantasy Magazine #55, October 2011

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Fantasy Magazine #55, October 2011

“Unnatural Disaster” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“The Secret Beach” by Tim Pratt

Reviewed by Indrapramit Das

As per usual, this month’s Fantasy Magazine serves up two original stories and two reprints, along with the usual non-fiction supplements.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Unnatural Disaster” reads like a straight-up horror story without much actual horror, either psychological or physical. It follows Jaclyn Tadero, big-city cop from Chicago turned small-town police chief of Whale Rock, Oregon, as she struggles to adjust to this change. This struggle is unsubtly mirrored by her conflict with the rather perfunctory supernatural (maybe not even that) threat of a “sea creature” that lures people on the town’s beach to their deaths by playing dead, all set to the dramatic backdrop of a storm with its accompanying tsunami warning (this actually plays out well, providing an oddly satisfying rainy-day atmosphere that doesn’t so much evoke dread as comfort at its horror-story familiarity).

But really it’s just about this character dealing with her boilerplate back-story, which is supposed to explain what she’s doing as police chief in a town she hates. The story aspires to the kind of detailed, exposition-heavy characterization one might find in a novel but isn’t suited to a story of this length. The characterization, and Jaclyn’s arc in the story, is all surface and no nuance--so generic (like the story’s creature) that I couldn’t bring myself to care much about the police chief and her constant annoyance at the locals, nor about the danger posed by the local monster. There’s no sense of building dread, no sense of real threat, no sense of wonder or amazement at something unknown washing up on a beach. The narrative is too devoted to Jaclyn feeling sorry for herself for anything else to come through, including the fear that a nameless predator from the deep should rightly evoke. As a result, I was never worried for Jaclyn or anyone else in the town, even when things get predictably out of hand. The story’s decently written and inoffensive, but it feels like something hammered out without much passion or inspiration.

Tim Pratt’s “The Secret Beach” fares a bit better, if in a bit of a gimmicky way. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story because it might surprise you (which is always a good thing). But essentially, it takes the trope of a regular guy (here a burned-out alcoholic) finding a portal to a secret alternate world, and subverts it with some cleverness that hinges on the common theme of the destiny that regularly seems to favour heroes but doesn’t bother with other people in fantasy worlds (who then have, one might argue, something heroes don’t: free will). The story also features a shockingly bland (if pretty) fantasy world, though that might be intentional. A good, if forgettable, read with some interesting things on its mind. One commenter notes that the conclusion leaves one hanging. I would disagree completely, and say that the story ends exactly where it should. Any more and it would sink very quickly.

Overall, not a standout issue for this often excellent magazine.