Sunday, September 16, 2007

F&SF SEPT. 2007

The Sept. issue of F&SF starts of with a story from Alexander Jablokov, "Wrong Number." Normally, I enjoy his work but this story took too long getting to the heart and too much time trying to be cute about what was going on. I just didn't have patience and abandoned it, the first time that's happened with F&SF this year.

After two books columns (by Charles DeLint and James Sallis) covering (among other things) Jonathan Lethem's You Don't Love Me Yet and the Lou Anders-edited Fast Forward 1 (both of which I read this year), came "Envoy Extraordinary" by Albert E. Cowdrey. It's a humorous tale of a pompous diplomat sent to defuse a situation with the tyrant of a backwards planet. Naturally, things don't turn out quite so well. It's a solid story.

Another humorous story follows - "Atalanta Loses at the Interpantheonic Trivia Bee" by Heather Lindsley. It's the story of how Hippomenes woos Atalanta in the midst of, well, a trivia. Atalanta is on a team with Aphrodite, Athena, and Artemis; Hippomenes is teamed with Zues, Apollo, and Hermes. It's a fun story.

John Langan delivers a much more serious story with "Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack In the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers." It's the story of Wayne and Jackie, two friends on the run from the horrors of the Pack in an apocalyptic world. Oh, and Jackie is 8 months pregnant. It's told as a very short story (in bold) but also as a very detailed story (after every bold entry is a longer explanation in regular typeface). The story is very gripping and well-written and you're not sure what to make of it. Are these things really happening? Or is one of them hallucinating the whole thing? This is fiction at its highest quality.

More mythology and humor arrive in the form of a very short story that is formatted as a list in "Requirements for the Mythology Merit Badge" by Kevin N. Haw. Pretty much what you get and it's enjoyable.

You know, I usually glide over Lucius Shepard's movie reviews without comment but I had a thought as I was reading his put-down of Next. He may rip a movie but I always get the sense that he is disappointed with each and every movie that doesn't do its job. Some critics you think are writing negative reviews just because they can. Shepard writes negative reviews with anger that they weren't better than they were. That's a rare skill. Of course, he is one of the best writers we have today across all genres and mediums, so that shouldn't be surprising. And it isn't, really. I just thought it should be said.

Robert Reed is up next with the sixth story I've read by him this year, "If We Can Save Just One Child..." It's a future where illegal cloning of children is being done for nefarious purposes and has multiple viewpoints that shift around each other. At the center of most of those vignettes is Gary Olsen, who may or may not be participating in those illegal activities. It's a solid story with a quite a bit to think about as you read it. Not Reed's best but they can't all be.

The final story in the issue (after a Science column) is Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" and it is a fantastic story. It is a tale told by Fuwaad ibn Abbas to the Caliph and is set in Baghdad and Cairo is some unnamed past. The story is very much concerned with the past and the future and how neither can be changed. Fuwaad tells of his meeting with an alchemist, Bashaarat, who has built a Gate of Years, through which one can go 20 years into the past or future. Bashaarat tells Fuwaad several tales of people who have used the Gate both ways and that leads to Fuwaad also going through the Gate. The stories within the story are very well told and full of interesting implications. This is one of the best time travel stories I've ever read and I have a particular love for the genre. It is also one of the best stories of the year, if not the best, and I predict it will be winning awards next year and will appear in all the year's best anthologies.

The presence of the Langan and Chiang stories make this already solid issue of F&SF into a great issue.

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