Review: May 2008 Fantasy and Science Fiction

Fsfmay2008_2I've been on a business trip for the last few days (hence my lack of posts). But while flying has lots of irritations--the delays, the security checks, the long waits--one upside is that I had lots of time at the airport and during the flight to catch up on my SF/F reading.

One magazine I read from cover to cover during my flight was the May 2008 Fantasy and Science Fiction. F&SF has been on a roll lately, publishing two stories--"Five Thrillers" by Robert Reed and "The Overseer" by Albert E. Cowdrey--which were so amazingly good I selected them as my stories of the week. This top-notch run continues in the new issue.

Both Reed and Cowdrey return with stories which, while not at the level of their earlier mentioned works, are still very good. Reed's "The Reunion" concerns a high school reunion where half of the class have gone on to achieve world-class results, a statistical outcome no one can explain until the daughter of a dead classmate begins to dig a little deeper. Unfortunately, Reed doesn't pull together the threads on this story as well as he did with "Five Thrillers," leaving me feeling a bit disappointed at the end. Still, this is a very good tale.

Like his earlier story, Cowdrey's "Thrilling Wonder Stories" is set in a Southern Gothic derived New Orleans, only this time during the 1950s. A young teenager named Farley has recently discovered that he is a bastard child--that the man who raised him isn't his true father. With Farley's imagination stoked by the pulp magazines of his era (hence the story's title), he imagines his true father as being from Mars. But when the truth rears its ugly head, he discovers that there could be another explanation--or perhaps an alternate life to be lived--inside an alligator in a dank, dark sewage pipe. This is a wonderful, horrifying, and ultimately haunting story.

My favorite story of the issue was "Firooz and His Brother" by Alex Jeffers. This fantasy, set on the ancient caravan routes of the Middle East, involves a man who finds a baby in the wilderness and raises the child as his brother. Well written and emotionally gripping, this story left me with a smile as a result of the story's tenderness and understanding of the human condition. Another story which left me with a warm feeling was "Rebecca's Locket" by S. L. Gilbow, which is an light-hearted and disturbingly funny tale of human technology and change. While the story isn't up to the standards of Gilbow's earlier stories--most notably the excellent "Red Card" from last year--this is a solid tale which makes one think about how far humans will go to avoid death.

I also loved "Circle" by George Tucker. Set during the south Florida real estate boom of recent years, the story focuses on Billy Black, a Seminole Shaman who works as a carpenter's assistant second class on the construction of a new high rise condo. But the construction has disturbed some ancient relics, leading to the typical curse and inevitable conflict with a greedy developer. But just when you think the story is going to embrace every stereotype of its genre, Tucker takes the characters and plot in new directions. After all, why shouldn't everyone--including the angry spirit--benefit during booming economic times! A fun, fun read featuring some very realized and fascinating characters (in the full sense of that word).

The magazine's final two stories are also very good, although I did have issues with both of them.  "Traitor" by M. Rickert is ripped from recent political headlines surrounding terrorism. While the story is well written, it was too forced for my tastes, almost as if the author was desperate to convince the reader to do a bit of societal soul-searching. Unfortunately, any story which applies its moral with the force of a sledgehammer inevitably turns me off.

This was also the problem with "Immortal Snake" by Rachel Pollack. This novelet is an excellent read for 95% of the story, as Pollack explores a fantasy future world where the leader of a nation is both ever-living and constantly facing eminent death. Both fast-paced and emotionally gripping, the story features amazing characters and storytelling--so impressive, in fact, that as I read the story I was certain I'd be selecting it as a story of the week. However, the story falls apart at the end as Pollack, like Rickert, applies the story's message to the reader's brain with the force of a not-so-subtle hammer. As if this hammering away at the message isn't enough, she even includes an author's note telling how the story was inspired by the history and recent events in Darfur. While this doesn't take away from the stength of "Immortal Snake," the ending keeps this story from reaching the level of a classic fantasy work, which is a shame.

So in short, this is a great issue of F&SF. While many of the major SF/F magazines have published excellent stories during the first four months of this year,  F&SF is leading the pack in both quality and the number of great and very good stories in each issue. If this keeps up, editor Gordon Van Gelder will be the leading candidate to receive next year's Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.