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The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May/June 2011 - Volume 120, No. 5 & 6, Whole No. 695
Edited by Gordon Van Gelder
Cover Artist: Tomislav Tikulin
Review by Sam Tomaino
Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine  ISBN/ITEM#: 1095-8258
Date: 26 April 2011

Links: Fantasy & Science Fiction / Pub Info / Table of Contents /

The May/June 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has stories by Alexandra Duncan, Albert E. Cowdrey, Kate Wilhelm, Chet Williamson, Steven Popkes, Don Webb, Carter Scholz, Scott Bradfield, S.L. Gilbow, Ken Liu, and two from Robert Reed!

The May/June 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is another great one, with one story of Hugo quality and the rest, very, very good.

The fiction in the issue starts with "The Final Verse" by Chet Williamson. The issue begins with a story about music (and will end with one, as we'll see). Billy Lincoln has gone back and forth from playing country and bluegrass and has had a reasonably successful career. He is very familiar with a standard called "Mother, Come Quickly", which has the familiar theme of love and loss. There is a mystery to the song in that the final verse is shorter than the others and there has been much speculation on what the missing words might be. The song came from the backwoods of the Appalachians and when one of Billy's friends, a collector of folk music, says he might have a line on the missing words, Billy goes off with him to a place "where the two creeks meet". They find out in this well-written little tale.

Robert Reed has two stories in this issue and "Stock Photos" is the first. It's a brief story which begins with a man mowing his lawn and being asked to have his picture taken as a "stock photo" of lawn care. One thing lead to another and we find out something else is going on in one of Reed's classically subtle stories.

Albert E. Cowdrey gives us another great story, set in New Orleans in "The Black Mountain". This one concerns a structure called the Onion Dome Cathedral. In 1910, a group of immigrants from somewhere in Eastern Europe that called themselves the narod built the church under the charismatic leadership of a Father John (or Ivan). Father John was known to have mystical powers when it comes to healing the sick. Their form of Christianity was obscure, but they were known to venerate the Archangel Khorazin, the Guardian of the Gate. The church has been long abandoned and none of its faithful survive. A builder wants to replace it with a Recreation Center for poor children and this is where things begin to get tricky.

"Agent of Change" by Steven Popkesis a strictly humorous tale of the appearance of Godzilla-like reptile in the Northern Pacific where it sunk a Norwegian whaling vessel. We get a lot of different reactions to that and subsequent events and have a bit of fun on the way.

In "Fine Green Dust" by Don Webb, Leiden is a math teacher, stuck in Austin, Texas, in a near future in which the climate has become extremely hot. His wife had fled north but he is there for the summer. He notices there are fewer people around and a neighbor put a sign on his house with the enigmatic letters GTL. He notices that a young girl has been sunning herself at the neighbor's house, coating herself with a green dust. Is this a way to survive? A fine cautionary tale from down South.

"Rampion" by Alexandra Duncan is the issue's big novella. The introduction tells us this story takes place during the Umayyad caliphate in southern Spain. It's a star-crossed lovers story in which a Muslim man and a Christian woman fall in love and things go horribly wrong. It's a beautifully told tale, although the fantasy element is very slight.

The title "Signs of Life", in the story by Carter Scholz has a double meaning, referring to the elements of DNA and the situation of our narrator, James Byrne. Byrne has made a mess of his marriage and his life. He has wound up doing computer work at a firm doing genome research. He is assigned to look into junk DNA and starts looking for some sort of pattern. Scholz is one of the few writers that can make spending so much time in someone's mind work and that is some accomplishment.

"Starship Dazzle" by Scott Bradfield is another in his series about a talking dog named Dazzle. This time, Dazzle is sent out into outer space, mostly to drum up business for the wacky Robbie McShane. He does make First Contact with something as strange as everything else in this story. It all makes for an enjoyable read.

"The Old Terrologist's Tale" by S.L. Gilbow qualifies as a bar story, a tale told in a bar to a mixed group of listeners. In the group is our narrator, a young terrologist (a planet terraformer), an old terrologist, a statesman, a general, a busicat (businessman/bureaucrat?), a holostar and a faclicant (robot). The narrator has constructed a well-functioning world, but the statesman says it has no beauty. The old terrologist tells a story that expounds upon that criticism. You might anticipate some of the end here, but it was an enjoyable tale, nonetheless.

Next is "Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer" by Ken Liu. Renée is, in many respects, a typical teenager but in this future, after the Singularity, all humanity has been uploaded into the Data Center and lives in a virtual world. Renée is visited by her mother, who is an Ancient. She started life before the Singularity and lived in the physical world, before she uploaded. She tells Renée that she will be actually leaving Earth, to be sent to a robot on a distant planet, never to return. She wants to help Renée understand and takes her on a tour of the real world. Wow, this was a fantastic story and one I think is so good, I'm putting it on my Hugo short list for next year.

In the intro to "The Road Ahead" by Robert Reed, we are told that everyone on staff liked "Stock Photos" but that no one was quite sure what happened in it. They asked Reed if there was more to it and got this. It does tell us something more and it was somewhat close to what I imagined, but it leaves some more questions. Which is exactly what it should do!

I always know I'm going to enjoy a story by Kate Wilhelm and "Music Makers" certainly does not disappoint. Jake Manfred is assigned to write a tribute to Bob Wranger, a legendary blues musician who had died at the age of 92. Jake visits the man's house in Memphis, Tennessee, thinking just talking to an old friend of Wranger will be enough. He finds something he is not expecting and we get a wonderful story, just what we'd expect from one of the best writers in the field.

There's also a Plumage from Pegasus piece called "Building a Readership" by Paul Di Filippo. This one featured a writer named Paul who purchases a Lector 500 robot that can analyze his writing. He names the thing Reed but makes one mistake which is, eventually, rectified. This was a funny little commentary about writers.

I'm going to say it again about F&SF. Seek it out at your local bookstore, or, better yet, subscribe!

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