Monday, June 09, 2008

Fantasy & Science Fiction: July 2008

The good people at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) offered up the July 2008 issue of their magazine to bloggers to read and review. As I fit the bill, I requested and received a copy. This is a magazine I have considered subscribing to, and one which had a good number of stories included on the list of Nebula Nominees and is considered one of the Big Three SFF magazines. So, why not?

This issue opens with “Fullbrim’s Finding” from Matthew Hughes. It is a Henghis Hapthorn story, which may mean something to those familiar with the character. Henghis has appeared in several stories as well as two novels from Hughes. Hapthorn (unnamed in the story, I believe) investigates the disappearance of Doldam Fullbrim, a scientist of some renown. From the start, I was bored. The fact that I was not familiar with the character had no bearing on my interest in the story, but this is just one of those tales that didn’t work for me. Not the most auspicious of starts to the issue.

“Fullbrim’s Finding” is followed by two sections of book reviews. Charles de Lint covers Duma Key and a Repairman Jack novel. James Sallis takes on The New Weird and The Dragons of Babel. De Lint succeeded in making me more interested in Duma Key than I was from reading the short story the novel is expanded from, and Sallis does good work in his section.

For those keeping track at home, the opening story in the magazine was underwhelming, but I like the reviews.

On to the second story, this one from Lisa Goldstein: “Reader’s Guide”. Loved it. It starts as a list of questions as one might find in those reader’s guides at the back of YA novels (or book club editions), but the questions turn ridiculous. “10. Are these symbols and coincidences so obvious that Donny might come to suspect that he’s in a story?” Just perfect. Then it moves into the story of the person who wrote the reader’s guide and the story gets even better.

“Reader’s Guide” is followed by the lone novella in this issue: “The Roberts” by Michael Blumlein. Here we have cloning (eventually), but really a story of a man who loves a woman and when in love he does his best work as an architect. When he does his best work, he begins to neglect his woman, and thus the work suffers when the relationship falls apart. Rinse, wash, and repeat. It ends in cloning. Other than my fairly basic disgust with the man, who should be adult enough to know how to prioritize or accept, the story is fine. I can imagine some readers will delight in “The Roberts”, others will be bored. I’m somewhere in between. I expected a bit more from the novella and I’m not sure I got it.

Not much to say about Paul Di Filippo’s “Plumage from Pegasus: Galley Knaves”. I started out thinking it was nonfiction, but by the end, I think there is a healthy dose of fiction in it. It is an interesting story (sort of) of the lengths publishers may / could go to get their Advanced Reading Copies noticed by reviewers. Silly, fun, but what the hell is this supposed to be?

Scott Dalrymple’s “Enfant Terrible” is a highlight of this issue. A man from “university” looks in on an elementary school class for extraordinarily gifted children. The story is told straight, but there is still a decent layer of humor in the story. Good stuff.

Albert E. Cowdrey's novelette "Poison Victory" is something I did not expect to like, but I did. It is an alternate history tale set in 1949 AFTER Nazi Germany won the war. It features a former soldier turned landowner recounting a dual story: his actions in the war which allowed the Nazis to win, as well as his quiet rebellions in 1949 Nazi Germany. Well written and dark, "Poison Victory" was an unexpected story, but a solid one.

This issue concludes with "The Dinosaur Train" by James L. Cambias. It's about a traveling dinosaur show in the present day (or in the 80's, I can't tell) and a sick dinosaur. It was...I don't know. Fine. Boring. Moderately readable. Sort of compelling. A mixed back that didn't amount to a whole lot? All of the above. I expected a bit more from this one and got a bit less (which is the exact opposite of my experience with "Poison Victory".

So, now, having read the July 2008 issue of F&SF, would I actually spend my hard earned money on a subscription?


I’ve been far more impressed with the Nebula Nominees which have come out of the magazine than I have been with the stories in this collection. Naturally I wouldn’t expect every story to be Nebula level, but I was disappointed with this issue. There were two stories that were good (“Enfant Terrible” and “Reader’s Guide), another that I liked but I can’t get excited about (“Poison Victory”), but overall a bunch of blah. That’s my basic impression of this issue: Blah. There is nothing to get excited about here and as a promotional copy I would have hoped that the quality would be a bit better than average to really excite new readers. It didn’t. I would not actively seek out a subscription to F&SF based on this issue or recommend that others do the same.

Reading copy provided courtesy of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback. An honest evaluation of "blah" means more to me than an insincere rating of "great".

Just to address your last point, that " a promotional copy I would have hoped that the quality would be a bit better than average to really excite new readers.", I want to point out that this _was_ an average issue. The idea behind this promotion was not to hook new readers with a socko-boffo special issue. Instead, the idea was to take a typical issue and see how a few dozen people respond to it.

So now I know that if I want to get you to subscribe, I've got to do better than this issue. That's valuable information for me. Thanks most sincerely.
---Gordon Van Gelder

Joe said...

Thank you for the response, Gordon.

I get what you're saying about the "average" issue. I think my disappointment in that was as much that I know you have had stronger lineups than this one, but it makes sense that if this is an average overview of what F&SF is, sending out an All Star issue would not accurately represent what you publish on a monthly basis.

Not that I would mind receiving an All Star issue, of course.

Unknown said...

You really had me going there. I was sure you were going to recommend it.

Thanks for the frank opinion, in any case. I do appreciate it.

Joe said...

CB: That's the funny thing, I liked some of the stories, but even as I finished a story I didn't have this overwhelming sense of satisfaction with the magazine as a whole. I can't quite explain that.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like you just wanted more from the issue than you got. That's fair. I suspect that if you'd liked the novella more, you'd feel more satisfied with the whole issue.

Joe said...

I'd wager you're right about that.