Fantasy & Science Fiction

June 2006

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 110, No. 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

For an issue centered around a novella from an author who isn't my favorite (to say the least) this issue was surprisingly good. I expect it will be quite popular with people with taste similar to mine but who also like Laird Barron. The books columns were average at best, but I was amused by the film column pan of Uwe Boll.

"Animal Magnetism" by Albert E. Cowdrey: I've read quite a few of Cowdrey's stories for F&SF, but I think this one is my favorite. It has one of his better grasps of character, a wonderfully quirky premise, and several scenes that made me smile happily. Being a dog person probably helps, but his take on the relationship between a gay man on the rebound from a failed relationship and his new dog is charming, surprising, and sly. I'd love to read more stories about Trixie. (8)

"Counterfactual" by Gardner Dozois: The previous story was a character story with a neat idea. This is a pure idea story without much character but with an effective bit of layering. The main character is a journalist and writer in a world in which the Civil War came out much differently, and who is working on an alternate history story himself that verges back closer to our actual world. (Shades of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle.) There's a bit of plot, revolving around a speech by Lindberg and glimmers of other events in our own world, but most of the appeal is watching someone try to understand how the world could be different than it is, when we know that his reality isn't the true one. (6)

"Why the Aliens Did What They Did to that Suburb of Madison, Wisconsin" by Tim McDaniel: This story is just twisted and wrong, and I loved it. It's one of those where the humor will either hit you right or it won't, and since it's only three pages long, there's not much I can say about it without ruining the punch line. (8)

"Hallucigenia" by Laird Barron: It's not fair for me to review Barron's stories, since obviously his writing just isn't my thing. For one thing, I consider him a horror writer, not an SF or fantasy writer, and I'm not a horror fan. His stories are all about strange things lurking and destroying people's minds, with a Lovecraftian overtone but with detailed, grounded, realistic description that's very different than Lovecraft's style. This one features better characterization than many and manages good control over pacing and suspense despite the long length. It has a typical gross and horrific ending, and I expect people who like psychological horror will enjoy it. (4)

"Terms of Engagement" by C.S. Friedman: This, on the other hand, is a gem of a story. The premise may sound somewhat like horror (it is about cockroaches, after all), and some horrific things happen, but it's dryly amusing and written with excellent tone and delivery. The first-person narrator won me over completely, and I loved how her bargain with the cockroaches plays out and makes perfect logical sense in the way that only good fantasy can. (8)

"The Protectors of Zendor" by John Morressy: It's a Kedrigren the wizard story by John Morressy, so anyone who's read his previous work pretty much knows what to expect. There's the same world-weary tone from Kedrigren as he works his way through another magical puzzle, a story that never takes itself particularly seriously, and a slightly twisty plot that never feels like it poses significant peril. This one seemed a touch better than the average. Good light reading, but not memorable. (6)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-09-27

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