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

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2017

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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August 2017

"In a Wide Sky, Hidden" by William Ledbetter

"The Masochist's Assistant" by Auston Habershaw
"The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet" by Robin Furth
"There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House" by David Erik Nelson
"A Dog's Story" by Gardner Dozois
"I Am Not I" by G. V. Anderson
"Afiya's Song" by Justin C. Key
"An Obstruction to Delivery" by Sean Adams
"An Unearned Death" by Marissa Lingen

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Only one story in this issue is clearly science fiction, although the extraordinary events that occur in some of the others might be interpreted that way. When not set in the far future or in a fantasy world that never existed, they take place in strange versions of the past or the present.

Leading off the magazine is its only pure SF story, "In a Wide Sky, Hidden" by William Ledbetter. Human beings have explored many worlds throughout the galaxy by transmitting their minds into artificial bodies created at the point of arrival. The protagonist is one such explorer. As a child, his older sister, who designed vast, technologically sophisticated works of art, disappeared with a promise that she was going to create her masterpiece, and a request that her brother find her. Many years later, after journeying to multiple planets, he discovers what became of her. This a fine story, written with grace, clarity, and imagination. It balances sense of wonder with empathy for its characters.

The title character in "The Masochist's Assistant" by Auston Habershaw is a fellow who works for a magician. His duties include stabbing his master in the heart each morning. By cheating death in this way, as well as many others, the magician makes himself more powerful. The assistant, concerned with his standing in a world of rigid social standards, wishes to leave his eccentric employer, who cares nothing for the rules of proper behavior. He soon learns the price of his decision. The setting for this story so closely resembles a magical version of 18th century France that it's a bit disconcerting when elements foreign to such a time and place are introduced, but that's a minor flaw in an otherwise enjoyable fantasy of manners.

From a place resembling France under the Sun King we turn to a setting similar to England under Queen Victoria in "The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet" by Robin Furth. In this dark fantasy an aristocrat collects the skeletons of recently deceased women from grave robbers. A sculptor transforms them into works of art. On his forty-ninth birthday, the nobleman must carry his latest and most beloved creation to the sea as an offering to the ancient gods of the deep. Although vivid and compelling, this story may contain more fantastic elements than it really needs.

Readers familiar with classic science fiction will recognize a tribute to Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 story "—And He Built a Crooked House—" in "There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House" by David Erik Nelson. Not only are the title and the theme of the story similar, but a minor character, mentioned only in passing, has the same name as a major character in Heinlein's story. In modern Detroit two men who work for a fellow who buys abandoned properties in order to sell them at a vast profit are sent to examine his latest acquisition. It turns out to be a beautiful old mansion in immaculate condition, despite the fact that it is located in one of the worst places in the city. The moment the narrator enters the front door he winds up in the back yard. Other dimensional paradoxes abound. Once a way into the house is discovered, things take a darker turn. Unlike Heinlein's tale, which has the flavor of semi-comic science fiction, this story feels more like horror. The author paints a convincing, if unflattering, portrait of Detroit, and the reader learns much about real estate deals and locksmiths.

"A Dog's Story" by Gardner Dozois is a brief account of animals who are able to communicate with each other, unknown to people. A dog discovers the body of a murdered child. With the help of cats, rats, and a snake, justice is done. The outcome is satisfying, if not surprising.

"I Am Not I" by G. V. Anderson combines futuristic elements with a setting which resembles both the 19th and 20th centuries. Genetic engineering has resulted in a world where normal humans, known as Saps, are oppressed by grotesquely altered humans known as Varians. The narrator is a Sap born into a family of Varians. She is given illegal surgical implants to disguise her shameful secret and cast out. In order to obtain money to maintain her implants, she finds employment with a merchant who sells the body parts of Saps to Varians who collect such things. Many bizarre characters and events occur. At times the story seems to be weird simply for the sake of being weird, but it's certainly original and imaginative.

"Afiya's Song" by Justin C. Key is set in the American South during the time of slavery. A young slave has the ability to heal wounds, physical and psychological, with her singing. Eventually she is able to inspire an uprising, but only at a terrible cost. This is a powerful fantasy with elements of alternate history.

"An Obstruction to Delivery" by Sean Adams is a dry, black comedy about postal workers who have to make their rounds in underground tunnels, due to an unlikely set of circumstances. Some of the workers show up as skeletons, and it's up to an obsessive postman to solve the killings. The story is narrated in a series of short, numbered paragraphs with wry titles, often consisting of official-sounding lists or questions and answers.

"An Unearned Death" by Marissa Lingen takes place in a familiar medieval fantasy setting. In this world, many gods exist. When people die, they hope to be accepted by one of these gods, whichever is most appropriate to their passion in life. Those who are not taken into the afterlife by any god are doomed to never die, growing older and sicker in so-called boneyards. The theme is reminiscent of the immortal Struldbrugs in Jonathan Swift's satiric adventures of Gulliver. This story can be read as an allegory of extending the lives of the terminally ill.

Victoria Silverwolf lives on a wooded hilltop in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with sixteen cats and one human.