The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction #730, March-April 2017

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ISFDB link

Other reviews:
Kat Day, Tangent Online
Steve Fahnestalk, Amazing Stories
Greg Hullender and Eric Wong, Rocket Stack Rank
John D. Loyd, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
Katherine Nabity, The Writerly Reader
Michael Penkas, Black Gate
Sam Tomaino, SF Revu
Various, Goodreads

Editor, C. C. Finlay; Assistant Editor, Robin O’Connor
Assistant Editor, Stephen L. Mazur; Assistant Editor, Lisa Rogers

Fiction:
Driverless ● novelette by Robert Grossbach ♥♥♥
The Toymaker’s Daughter ● short story by Arundhati Hazra ♥♥
Ten Half-Pennies ● novelette by Matthew Hughes ♥♥♥
The Man Who Put the Bomp ● novella by Richard Chwedyk ♥♥♥+
A Green Silk Dress and a Wedding-Death ● short story by Cat Hellisen ♥♥♥
Miss Cruz ● short story by James Sallis ♥
The Avenger ● novelette by Albert E. Cowdrey ♥♥♥
Daisy ● short story by Eleanor Arnason ♥♥

Non-fiction:
The Man Who Put the Bomp ● cover by Bryn Barnard
Cartoons ● by Arthur Masear (2) and Nick Downes
Spacemen Only ● poem by Ruth Berman
Books to Look For ● by Charles de Lint
Musing on Books ● by Michelle West
Robots in Your Pants ● science essay by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty
The Language of Loss, Trust, and Heptapods ● film review by Kathi Maio
Coming Attractions
Curiosities: A Beleaguered City by Mrs. Oliphant ● book review by David Langford

The fiction in this issue opens with Driverless by Robert Grossbach. This is an ‘If this goes on…’ story about driverless cars, narrated from the viewpoint of QuikTrip’s CEO:

I called a car for myself. It was close to two minutes before yet another competitor arrived, this time an Uber. Just…irritating. Really disturbing.
I shook my head and began walking slowly toward it when suddenly I heard the loud squealing noise of tires scraping on asphalt. A vehicle with a red-lit QuikTrip sign screamed around the corner and pulled up directly in front of the Uber, then backed to within an inch of its front bumper. The Uber’s door was already open. “Sir,” came the Uber’s voice, “are you ready to proceed?”
By law, New York City ordinance, one was obligated to use the first vehicle that arrived, or pay for it if you didn’t. The City Council’s way of equalizing competition and dissuading people from calling five different car companies.
I was about to respond when a second QuikTrip car came squealing around the corner and smoothly rolled to the curb within an inch of the Uber’s rear bumper.
I was, frankly, dumbfounded. I’d been around driverless cars — DCs as they’re now called — for a large portion of my adult life, but had never quite seen this exact situation. I decided to play along. “Yes,” I said to the Uber, entering the vehicle. “You have my destination.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Okay…let’s go.”
There was a nearly fifteen-second delay, then: “Sir, I’m afraid the vehicles in front and to the rear of me prevent my departure at this time.” p. 9

When his company’s cars start ramming the competition, and take a number of humans hostage, he is summoned by the security services to help deal with the problem.
The Toymaker’s Daughter by Arundhati Hazra is a fantasy set in present day India and tells of a wood carver and the daughter who paints his products. One day two of the carvings start talking, and their lives change forever. I found the storyline rather too straightforward but this writer promises to be an interesting new voice.
Ten Half-Pennies by Matthew Hughes is the first of a new series of stories in his Archonate universe, this time featuring a young man called Baldemaer, and it is a promising introduction. When Baldemar is first sent to school as a young child he is bullied and so befriends Vunt, a moneylender’s hired muscle. After he pays the man to intimidate the school thugs he is left alone. The story that follows tells of Vunt’s subsequent mentoring and employment of the boy, and how he is later involved in a plan to rob the man who by then is master of both, the moneylender Geberon. This is slickly done and my only slight quibble is about the ending, which seems rather rushed.

Dominating this issue in size, quality and pedigree is The Man Who Put the Bomp, a 31,000 word ‘Saurs’ novella by Richard Chwedyk. This is the fifth story in his series about a refuge house for genetically engineered, toy-sized dinosaurs which were originally made as companions for children. When their manufacture was eventually discontinued (they were considerably more self-aware than the makers had intended and, in the meantime, experienced dreadful neglect and treatment) some of the survivors ended up in a house run by the Atherton foundation.
I previously read the first story in this series and liked it a lot and, before starting this one, I reread it and then read the sequels.1 Once again we are reunited with (among others) the hyperactive Axel, the compassionate Doc, Tibor (who thinks he is—and may be—Emperor of the Universe) and grumpy Agnes:

Tibor, small enough to fit in a human hand, always wore an intense scowl, like a Puritan judge or a cartoon nemesis. Along with his volcano-shaped hat, Tibor had donned a powder-blue ribbon; he was on “official”
Tiborean business.
He was following Axel, who had run up to Doc, shouting, “Doc! Doc! Did I tell you about the dream I had last night?” He pulsed with energy, shifting his weight from leg to leg.
Doc smiled and shook his head. “You’ll tell me now, no doubt.”
“I was in a big station! Like a train station. It was tall, like it had no ceiling, with big steel girders, all blue, way above, and windows as big as this whole house!”
“Tibor is here!” Tibor announced himself, expecting universal recognition but receiving none.
“A transportation center,” said Doc. “In some great city.”
“Humans were everywhere, hundreds and hundreds of them! They were walking around because there were all sorts of places to buy stuff and food carts everywhere! I could smell caramel corn! So much stuff happening! I wanted to see…hear…everything!”
“Here is Tibor!” Tibor tried again, in his soft, insistent voice, but to the same lack of effect.
Doc listened patiently to Axel. “You weren’t afraid? Humans are not very careful about looking at who might be underfoot.”
“A human was carrying me. I was in his arm, sort of like when Tom carries me. But it wasn’t Tom. In the dream I knew who he was. Now I don’t. Why is that?”
“Dreams don’t speak to us,” said Doc. “They whisper.” He hoped Axel might take the hint.
“Behold Tibor!” Tibor whispered, but no one beheld him.
“It was a good thing,” Axel continued, his voice somewhat lowered. “I was looking at everything, but the humans didn’t look at anything!”
Doc nodded again. “Humans have a genius for ignoring the beauty of the world, and its dangers.”
“Tibor, universe-maker! Tibor the Benevolent! Field Marshal Tibor! Tiborius Doctor Honorus Tibor! Maharishi Mahesh Tibor!”
“When I woke up, I wanted something! I wanted it real bad! But I didn’t know what!”
“Some common sense!” Agnes called out from under the table.
“Tibor! Tibor! Tibor! Tibor!”
“It was…everything! To see for real! Not just a dream!”
“Someday you shall.” Doc leaned forward and patted Axel on the head. “Someday you shall.”
“You’re an idiot!” Agnes shouted. “You were out there — that’s why you’re here!” p. 86-87

The passage above may give you the idea that this is a rather light or juvenile piece, but each of the stories has dark depths, mostly relating to the saurs’ historical mistreatment. These can be quite upsetting.
In this story a man called Danner, the creator of the saurs, gets a message from one called Geraldine, and he subsequently arranges a visit to the house to see her. He is accompanied by an ambitious young woman called Christine Haig, who has been instructed by her bosses to covertly obtain DNA samples from the saurs. The other main thread in this one is Tibor’s discovery of a child’s car called VOOM!, and Axel’s efforts to get it operational again.
Anyone that has enjoyed the previous saur stories will enjoy this one, even though it has a rather contrived and far-fetched ending. I would also note is that this story doesn’t really advance the overall series: it rather spins its wheels (ahem). Even though there are another couple of super-science teasers (the ‘spaceguys,’ space portals and universe creation have all been hinted at so far) the question initially asked of Danner by Geraldine isn’t answered. Normally, I’d be getting rather tetchy about the lack of progress after a grand total of 87,000 words, but the fact that I’m not probably tells you something about the skill of the writer.

A Green Silk Dress and a Wedding-Death by Cat Hellisen is a story about a young woman who works gutting fish and the spirit she sees in the river. Later, this fish-like creature is caught by the owner’s son and he asks her to help him escape. The writing is evocative, and the contents are a mix of the traditional and modern, i.e., the woman’s life has the feel of that of a peasant in a medieval village but her boss drives a car.
This isn’t a particularly complicated tale but it is one of those stories that seems to have a dreamlike progression that slides straight into your subconscious.
Miss Cruz by James Sallis is about a guitar player who suddenly finds that what he imagines, people do. A crooked sheriff later becomes the focus of his attention. This is a reasonable idea and it is developed, but the story is never anything more than a notion.
The Avenger by Albert E. Cowdrey is an entertaining and colourful novelette about a Louisiana lowlife called Marv trying to shakedown a wealthy couple who he is partially related to. After the husband dies Marv persists, so the wife hires a PI called William Warlock to protect her and to get justice. (Marv’s intimidation caused the death of her husband.)
The story contains some minor fantasy content but is mostly concerned with the ongoing campaign of intimidation waged by Marv, which starts to fail ever more spectacularly as the story procedes .
Daisy by Eleanor Arnason is another PI story. This time the investigator is female and the job is to find a mobster’s pet octopus. When the PI tracks down the creature, she finds (spoiler) that the octopus is highly intelligent and can communicate with her. If you can suspend disbelief for this unexpected and rather dubious twist it is an enjoyable enough piece.
By the way, I note that this not only follows another PI story (it may have been a wiser to separate this one and the Cowdrey), but it is also the third in a row which features or otherwise mentions police corruption. Are things really that bad in the USA, or is this just lazy storytelling?

The cover on this issue is for The Man Who Put the Bomp, and it is by Bryn Barnard. The foreground looks a little amateurish, but the angle of the building makes it quite eye-catching.
I rather liked the Cartoons in this issue for a change, especially the ones by Arthur Masear. The one with Death arranging an appointment with the cable guy is probably the best of the two.
The low point of the issue is the book review section. Books to Look For by Charles de Lint isn’t bad particularly, he just does his usual context-less reviews (who are these writers and why should I read them?) of half a dozen or so books that sound like fairly formulaic stuff, vampires, druids, etc. I have to confess I started skimming halfway through. The material typically covered in his column does not seem to match the depth and breadth of the fiction in the magazine.
Musing on Books by Michelle West is much worse. It starts with a couple of hundred words on the result of the recent US election, and the demons that have been unleashed, and how she couldn’t concentrate on reading for and writing this column and so missed a deadline. Frankly, I see enough of this sort of thing on Twitter, and think it is extremely poor form to include it here: what on Earth were the editor and publisher thinking?
As for the reviews themselves, they aren’t: the one for Aliette de Boddard’s The House of Binding Thorns is more synopsis than anything else. West takes a page and a half to give a plot summary of the book but only three or four paragraphs introducing and commenting on it—this in a column that runs to seven pages of text in total. F&SF used to have reviewers like James Blish, Damon Knight, Judith Merrill and Algis Budrys—now we have this.
Robots in Your Pants by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty continues the robot theme from last issue with a short and interesting science essay about robot suits and exoskeletons.
The Language of Loss, Trust, and Heptapods by Kathi Maio reviews the film Arrival, which I’ve seen, but it was interesting to see Maio’s comments (which are pretty much spot on) by way of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Contact.
Spacemen Only by Ruth Berman is an OK and fanciful poem about what it says.
Coming Attractions not only trails next month’s stories but also mentions that the electronic edition of the magazine is now available from Weightless Books as the magazine’s exclusive distribution deal with Amazon has ended. As I’ve never been that keen on the rather clunky Kindle edition (F&SF doesn’t do the enhanced edition like Analog and Asimov’s do) I took the chance of changing to Weightless and getting the PDF format.
This version of the magazine wasn’t all I was hoping it would be and, to be blunt, seems rather half-finished compared with other PDF format magazines I receive (Computer Shopper, Computer Active, Uncut, Home Cinema Choice, etc., etc.) which provide what is essentially a high resolution colour copy of the magazine. The F&SF PDF edition opens with a grainy, low resolution cover on a larger white page rather than just the cover on its own.2 Further, this larger than expected white page seems to have been used for the internal content as well. Rather than the text block occupying the same area as in the print magazine it is smaller, which has the effect of reducing the print size. In any event, all that white space around the text just looks odd.3 There are also several blank pages where the magazine adverts would normally be. Why were these omitted? I personally like to look at these—sometimes there is material of interest—and in any event you would think the magazine would want to give their client’s advertisements the maximum circulation. Again, these blank pages just make the PDF version of the magazine look odd and unfinished. I hope these problems will be addressed in future issues.

Overall, a fairly good issue of the magazine with a number of solid stories and no fiction I disliked. Putting out a publication that can do that issue after issue is quite an achievement.

  1. The previous four stories in the ‘Saurs’ series are: The Measure of All Things (F&SF, January 2001), Bronte’s Egg (F&SF, August 2002), In Tibor’s Cardboard Castle (F&SF, October-November 2004) and Orfy (F&SF, September-October 2010). Bronte’s Egg won a novella Nebula Award and was runner up for the Hugo. The best of them, in my opinion, is Orfy.
  2. An iPad screenshot of the PDF cover as opposed to what I would expect:
         
  3. An iPad screenshot of an internal page compared with what I would expect:
         
    The text block in the RH one is larger than that of the print magazine—you don’t need the same margins as the physical magazine as binding and reader’s thumbs are not a problem.

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