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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction, Still Classy After All These Years

The two somewhat related genres of fantasy and science fiction sometimes hold hands and often clash. Fantasy evokes the dream world of anything that you might dream or imagine, while science fiction attempts to stay within the bounds of, well, science. In the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, they have found a happy and lasting marriage. This publication has been around since before I was born, and that longevity says something about quality. I am not talking about the ivory-tower academic definition of quality, but rather the editorial savvy that manages to select stories that keep readers reading and coming back for more.

Established and emerging writers often find themselves sharing these pages, and they often read this magazine to keep up with trends in the field. I read it for pleasure, as well.

The first thing that I noticed about the August/September 2009 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction (affectionately known as F&SF) was that it is very thick. In fact, it is as thick as some paperback books – maybe thicker. They have gone from monthly to bimonthly and expanded their content to fit two months of material into a single issue.

This is still the familiar newsprint magazine with a glossy cover, and it still features established and emerging writers of stories that ask us to suspend disbelief for the few minutes or hours that it takes to read a short story or novella.

Inside I found the customary editorial by Gordon Van Gelder – the editor and publisher of F&SF – seven novellas and three short stories, plus the departments – Books to Look For, Books, Films, Coming Attractions, and Curiosities. Here and there I see an ad, a cartoon or a poem. Yes, this is the same familiar magazine, but thicker and heavier.

Rather than attempting to read and review every story and novella in the magazine, I have selected two of each that stand out in my mind.


“The Art of the Dragon”, by Sean McMullen

I have always loved dragons, especially the one in that movie with Sean Connery as the dragon’s voice. That having been said, I opened this story with high expectations. I found a story about art that happened to have a dragon in it, but I was not disappointed. This fast-paced tale has plenty of action and plenty of ideas to digest. It kept me thinking long after the last word reached through my eyes and into my brain.

“A Token of a Better Age”, by Melinda M. Snodgrass

This jewel of a story really sparked my interest. The title alone drew me in, and soon I found myself immersed in a magical world where my favorite mythical creature – the dragon, of course – ravages the countryside. In a dungeon in ancient Rome, two condemned men share the stories of their lives. The Centurion and the Patrician both hope to survive the arena and walk out free men, but both know that their hope is as thin as a veil of gossamer.

Short Stories

“You Are Such a One”, by Nancy Springer

I’ve already read and heard enough stories about middle-aged, menopausal women, and yet this story does have something to offer. I just can’t get past the cliché opening.

“Hunchster”, by Matthew Hughes

This little gem of a story revolves around a poker game and a kid with Asperger’s syndrome (a fancy term for something like the middle ground between autism and hyperactivity ). The moral of the story is that crime doesn’t pay, but it is presented in a fresh and interesting way.


Overall, F&SF stands out for its high quality of writing and editing. It is well worth the price of a subscription.