Fantasy & Science Fiction

February 2009

Cover image

Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 116, No. 2
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 162

Charles de Lint apparently really likes Twilight and specifically the last book of the series, Breaking Dawn. Again, not what I would have expected. Elizabeth Hand's taste is somewhat more reliable for me in terms of writing quality, but in reviews of a year's best volume, a horror novel, and a Japanese ghost story, nothing grabbed me. Lucius Shepard writes the movie evisceration of this issue, which is quite entertaining — as usual for negative reviews of things I was never going to watch anyway.

"Shadow of the Valley" by Fred Chappell: We're back to the world of Astolfo the expert shadow thief and his apprentice Falco for more of his adventures in procuring rare items and being taught the trade the hard way. The style is the same slyly restrained and ironic approach I came to appreciate in earlier stories (reminiscent of Matthew Hughes), but unfortunately there's very little of Astolfo and quite a bit of fairly boring adventure. Falco and Mutano are competing to retrieve rare plants from a deadly valley that devours shadows, and the plot consists mostly of Falco proving his ability to handle a band of outlaws and play tricks on Mutano. There isn't enough action and enough twisty ideas, and without Astolfo playing the Nero Wolfe to Falco's Archie, Chappell's style isn't as much fun. (5)

"The Texas Bake Sale" by Charles Coleman Finlay: It's a story about a band of Texan Marines surviving in a post-collapse US by charging toll to passing convoys, heavy on military loyalty and comraderie. By all rights I should have hated this story, but Finlay pulls it off surprisingly well, helped by the amusing excuse that the band uses for its convoy tolls. There's nothing much to it plot-wise — it's essentially a pirate story on dry land — but it's strangely charming and entertaining. (6)

"The Night We Buried Road Dog" by Jack Cady: This is the reprint story of the issue. I almost didn't read it since I've read and reviewed it before and it's a quite substantial novella. (Indeed, the introduction explains how Kristine Kathryn Rusch fought to run it as a new editor of F&SF against the wishes of the publisher and won, and was concerned Gordon van Gelder wouldn't want to run it as a reprint for similar reasons.) But I decided to start it and got sucked into the story.

"The Night We Buried Road Dog" is about cars, about life in rural Montana and on the open road, and about Brother Jesse, a wheeler and dealer who starts an auto graveyard to bury his '47 Hudson. It's about lonely open roads, privacy, friendship, understanding people, and letting people be themselves. It's only barely a fantasy: the touch of ghost story is just enough to create a sense of potential and the reader's mind open about what might happen. It's a character story rather than an idea story, but it's beautifully and hauntingly written. Thinking back over the plot, it feels slow-paced and uneventful, but Cady effortlessly had me turning the pages.

This story surprised me the first time I read it and surprised me again on a re-read. The second time through, it was even better than the first. It's one of those stories about people that has no easily-summed-up moral, but which leaves one going "yes, that." (8)

"Winding Broomcorn" by Mario Milosevic: A man who makes brooms from broomcorn runs into a witch, who helps him through emotions that he's not dealing with. The obviousness of the general plot and the Wiccan ritual bits left me cold, but some of the emotional portrayal was warm and sweet. (6)

"Catalog" by Eugene Mirabelli: Following a somewhat surreal angel story, Mirabelli moves on to a very surreal story about alternate realities inside magazines and catalogs. I'm not quite sure what to make of this one: parts of it didn't come together for me, but parts of it I quite liked. The ending is sweet to the point of being a bit too easy, a drift into happily ever after, but I can't say it's out of character for the rest of the story. This isn't a rough story. It's wish-fulfillment filled with people who understand. Most of it's unlikely to stick in my head, but the woman with the staple in her navel was a brilliant touch. (6)

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-05-18

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