Fantasy & Science Fiction

June 2008

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 114, No. 6
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

This was an uninspiring and pedestrian issue for me. Michelle West, who I think is my favorite F&SF reviewer on average, does have a good column about three takes on angels and demons (and it's always nice to see good reviews of Dust, which I thought was excellent). But otherwise, not a lot that stands out.

"The Art of Alchemy" by Ted Kosmatka: I wanted to like this story more than I did. The characters interested me from the start, a romance angle that felt relatively fresh and worth reading. Unfortunately, it then partly degrades into a typical industrial spy thriller with a fairly predictable do-gooder sort of motive and ending. There was one successful unpleasant surprise, I liked the neat tricks with metal, and it was entertaining exercise reading, but there isn't a deep enough or creative enough theme for it to stick with me. Still, one of the better stories of the issue. (7)

"Fergus" by Mary Patterson Thornburg: I may have just missed the point of this one. I agree with the introduction that there's an intriguing mystery at the heart of the story, but there doesn't appear to be any explanation for it and the story didn't offer me enough clues to even narrow the field of possibility. I can think of a lot of explanations, but it's not the sort of mystery (at least for me) where that's enjoyable in its own right. I wanted to know what was really happening and the story never told me. It may possibly work better for people who either see more clues or who like the ambiguity more than I do. (4)

"The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D." by Al Michaud: Michaud's stories, at least the Clapboard Island ones, are the sort of stories where many of the characters talk in dialect and most of the humor comes from their remarkable stupidity and small-town "charm." Given that I generally hate this sort of thing, it's probably not surprising that I'm not a Michaud fan. This, however, is the best story of his that I've read and had me interested in places. I think that's mostly attributable to some amusing banter between the villains and one of the supporting characters and a lot of action. If you like the small-town, low-IQ humor style, this isn't a bad entry for the genre. (6)

"Character Flu" by Robert Reed: This very short story is all about the punch line (and hence essentially impossible to discuss without spoilers). It's a good punch line. Reed pulls off the sudden perspective-shift ending that rewrites the story in the last few lines, something that he's often good at. (7)

"Monkey See..." by P.E. Cunningham: There's a travelling warrior with a talking sword sent to troubleshoot problems for the emperor, who encounters an apparently abandoned village with magic at work and has to sort matters out. Classic sword and sorcery fare, reasonably told, with no surprises. More good exercise reading. (6)

"Litany" by Rand B. Lee: This is another story that I wanted to like more than I did in the end. The superposition of the world of a long-lived magical viewpoint character and a normal smallish town is a standard background, but I liked the symbolism and archetype hunt and thought it had potential. Unfortunately, that potential never amounts to much and the ending left me disappointed. It's something of a twist, but not enough of one to be a good payoff for me. Points, though, for avoiding the standard vampire motifs (although there is a touch of were) and a semi-interesting magic system. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-06-25

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