The July 2008 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction arrived a few weeks ago. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleased to find that it’s a small but thick volume, with non-glossy paper that lends it the feel of a short novel, rather than a magazine. On the cover was an impressive art piece of a futuristic city. A rising (or possibly setting) sun illuminates the buildings, which appear to be constructed of metal or a smooth polymer. Many of the buildings are shaped like hands. There’s monorail train in the foreground, yay public transportation. Strangely, the sky at the bottom-left and top-right corners of the image seems to be littered with flying metal garbage – is it falling, or exploding, or what? Turns out, the cover art was designed for the novella “The Roberts”, but I still don’t get it. Then again, I never get art.
Inside I perused the table of contents, which was nestled between ads from Tor and Eos Books. One novella (55 pages), two novelets (19-20 pages), and three short stories. The first two short stories were 7-8 pages, but the third was 18 pages – what’s that about? I was slightly disappointed at how little space was devoted to short fiction overall. I prefer short stories because they give you a chance to sample the author’s writing genre and style, without having to commit to 20-40 pages.
“The Roberts” by Michael Blumlein
I have to admit that I dove right into this piece, not realizing that it was novella-length. Maybe that’s why I felt like it was moving too slowly for a short story. Basically, this one is about an architect whose life is defined by the three women that he falls in love with (at different times, of course). It’s futuristic sci-fi, in that human cloning and a living-cell-based construction polymer are key elements to the story. Unfortunately, I had trouble sympathizing with the protagonist (Robert), whose workaholic habits seem to doom his every relationship in a cyclical manner. He can’t find the right woman, so he has one cloned (this part was interesting), then he can’t make time to spend with her, so he clones himself. He was unaware, of course, that at the same time, his clone-wife had gotten him a little present – a Robert clone with some subtle personality improvements. This, as you can imagine, makes for some drama and some humor, especially when Robert’s first self-clone takes to calling himself Róbert. The writing was good quality overall, but the story failed to keep my interest. Those are the breaks.
“Reader’s Guide” by Lisa Goldstein
Okay, I have no idea what’s going on with this one. It’s listed under “Short Stories” in the TOC, but the format is very strange. Most of the paragraphs are numbered, like poetry. The first several numbers are questions, as if part of a reader’s guide from an English Lit textbook. But it’s all so disorienting that I felt lost immediately. Skimming, I pick up that the narrator is an “acolyte” to the “Lord of Story”… the nonsense continues, and I quickly give up on this one.
“The Dinosaur Train” by James L. Cambias
This long short story proved to be my favorite piece of fiction in the issue. It’s a historical fantasy set in 1980 – a coming-of-age story about a teen’s final summer working on his grandfather’s dinosaur train (a traveling circus of live dinosaurs – that’s the sci-fi part). Yeah, the descriptions of dinosaurs were interesting and all that, but the real-life elements of this story were what stood out, to me at least. You have the protagonist whose romanticized hopes for a future with the family business are fueled by his grandfather. His father, somehow estranged from the grandfather, tries to pass along some fatherly advice: go to college. Public interest in the show wanes, as public interest is wont to do, and the grandfather proves to be cantankerously stubborn, as some grandfathers are wont to do. I won’t say any more, because this is the story in the issue that’s most worth reading.
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