Filler content with F&SF

A magazine review that originally appeared in The Fix #1:-

Reviewed by Peter Tennant

With fifty years of publishing under its belt, F&SF’s pulp origins are reflected in its production values, with cheap paper and a glossy cover that’s so flimsy my first instinct was to fold it over a comb and attempt to make music. Permanence clearly is not an issue. Having said that, in terms of content for money it gives excellent value, with 160 pages of text, and even allowing for postage outside the USA, for less than $4 an issue. And there’s nothing of the bargain basement about F&SF’s written content.

The full colour cover by artist Jill Bauman is an uninspiring shot of a space girl having a bad hair day. Interior artwork is conspicuous by its absence, unless you allow for the five cartoons by various hands, most of which failed to hit my funny bone. On the non-fiction side of things F&SF has most departments covered, with interesting and in-depth book columns by Charles de Lint and Robert Killheffer, a science column by Gregory Benford, and Mike Ashley digging into his archives to rescue another worthy volume from obscurity. The real star here though is Lucius Shepard, casting a cynical and world wary eye over the realm of film, a bravura performance that blends insight into popular culture with a corrosive wit to devastating effect, so much so that I almost felt sorry for the guys on the receiving end, but I guess Arnie and co can look after themselves.

On the fiction front there are five short stories and three novelettes, with the latter taking most of the honours. Leading off, Paul Di Filippo’s ‘Doing the Unstuck’ is your usual, everyday story about a Goth girl saving the world from destruction at the ‘hands’ of an alien who resembles the crowning glory of Cure singer Robert Smith. It’s tongue in cheek stuff, deftly sending up a whole parcel of genre clichés and fuelled with a gonzo inventiveness. ‘The Ferryman’s Wife’ by Richard Bowes is one in a series of stories about agents of the Time Rangers, combatants in a war being fought across the centuries. Anderson and Leiber spring to mind, but the vocabulary owes more to the spy fiction of Le Carre. Bowes shades in enough detail to intrigue and interestingly explores the relationship problems engendered by this scenario rather than taking the more obvious slam bang action route. Finally there’s the hugely enjoyable ‘Firebird’ by R Garcia y Robertson, a straight-forward fantasy set in a Russianesque world and packed with werewolves, witches, warriors and dwarves, a plot driven piece that’s delivered with exhilarating verve and pours a fresh coat of paint over old ideas.

The quality of the short stories is not as consistent, though they start well with Kit Reed’s sinister tale of a ‘Playmate’ who comes to stay, in which a mother’s ambiguous feelings about her own son provide an extra frisson of alarm. ‘Achronicity’ by Raymond Steiber has the interesting concept of aliens with no sense of time, but doesn’t put the idea to much good or develop it rigorously. Robert Sheckley’s ‘A Trick Worth Two of That’ starts well with a send up of the horror genre’s oldest fixtures and fittings, seguing into an intriguing discussion of what we mean by the term supernatural, but fizzles out in ‘and then I went mad’ mundanity, becoming as much a cliché as the things it parodies. More rewarding is ‘The Honeyed Knot’ by Jeffrey Ford, the most substantial of these shorts, in which a series of strange events with an urban myth quality to them are tied together by an ancient mystical treatise. This is a story that makes the reader work and effectively suggests more than it states, so that its events linger in the mind long after the final word has been read. Last and least, we have Thomas Disch’s ‘Jour De Fete’, a well-written but pointless account of an ancient ceremony.

F&SF is not a magazine at the cutting edge of genre literature, but there’s a lot more here to enjoy than not, and if you want quality fiction in an F/SF mode and at a bargain price then this hanger on from the Golden Age of magazines is still hard to beat.

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