Friday, March 27, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction, April/May 2009

“The Spiral Briar” by Sean McMullen – Tordral, the master armorer, seeks help from those who have suffered from the actions of the elves. Tordral desires revenge against those in Faerie by combining elements, a necessity for anything, weapon or person, to cross worlds. The disparate group of men know only pieces of Tordral’s scheme, a secret kept to protect the project in case any single person becomes enchanted by the elves.

I liked the shifting point of view that drove each scene forward. I’m always a bit awestruck by the elves – their magic and enigmatic ways – but I also like to see their limitations and weaknesses. I think it’s the smug, prideful attitudes of the elves that gets under my skin, so stories like this that jab back at the elves make me grin.

“The Brave Little Toaster – A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances” by Thomas M. Disch – Five appliances, abandoned by their owner in a summer cottage, desire to leave the home they know to find their owner’s apartment in the city.

This reprint is a classic. It’s like a Disney cartoon (on paper). Though I’ve never read it before, it seemed familiar, like a story I might have heard as a child and forgot.

“The Avenger of Love” by Jack Skillingstead – Norman chases a thief who has stolen pieces of his memory – not the memories themselves, but the strong emotions connected to the memories. His pursuit takes him into a lawless world under the guidance of his childhood imaginary friend.

I felt a bit confused at times when I read this, but overall, the story made sense. I just wasn’t that into this one.

“A Wild and a Wicked Youth” by Ellen Kushner – Richard and his mother, Octavia, live outside the city, supported by the funding from Lord Trevelyan. The lord’s son, Crispin, is Richard’s best friend, though Crispin is not always an easy friend to have. When a drunken swordsman collapses near Richard’s home, Octavia compensates the man to train her son in the art of swordsmanship.

The narrative is something to be studied by writers, for the narrative and dialog come together impressively. The sexuality wasn’t explicit, thankfully, but I didn’t like where it went, particularly between Richard and Crispin.

“Andreanna” by S.L. Gilbow – Andreanna, an android tour guide, suffers injuries from a high fall, and technicians attempt to repair her.

The unique method of narrative was refreshing. All dialog or thought (as in the beginning), it tells quite a bit without focusing on anything distracting. Really interesting story.

“Stratosphere” by Henry Garfield – The narrator tells about his days playing professional baseball on the moon with the legendary Joe “Stratosphere” Stromboni who once hit a ball so hard that it went into orbit.

I grew up following baseball, so stories like this hit home with me (pun intended). In recent years, I’ve stopped watching ballgames in favor of other sports, so I could identify with a narrator who also seems a bit tired of the game yet still has nostalgia for days gone by. This was a nice surprise in this issue.

“Sea Wrack” by Edward Jesby – Gunnar, a man from the sea, visits humans on land while recovering from recent injuries. One of the humans, Greta, is drawn to Gunnar, if for no other reason than the fact that he is different.

This reprint wasn’t one that I cared much for. I wasn’t drawn to the characters in the story, and without that connection, I lost interest.

“The Price of Silence” by Deborah J. Ross – Devlin has recently joined Juno’s crew as their new medic. The ship’s assignment takes them to a planet named Winter that had been colonized ten years ago, yet neither the colony nor the orbiting space station respond to any hails.

I enjoyed the protagonist and narrative in this science-fiction story. Except for the sex scene (too explicit for my tastes at that), I really liked this one. It’s the type of space science-fiction I enjoy: intriguing, mysterious and moving at a good pace.

“One Bright Star to Guide Them” by John C. Wright – Thomas, middle-aged and displeased with life, discovers the fantasies of his youth and recalls the adventures he shared with three of his friends. A talking cat, Tybalt, calls upon Thomas to once more combat the forces of evil that now threaten to control England and the present-day world.

By far, this was my favorite story of the issue. Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, I felt like Wright’s fantasy world was well-established and adventurous. As a Christian, I found so many symbolic meanings that at times I felt like I was reading something by Lewis. That isn’t to say that Wright himself is a Christian (I don’t really know), but if not, he seems to know much Biblical truth. There is so much darkness in this world, and many are blind, bound in promises of pleasure that only lead to misery and death. Wonderful tale. Well told!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction March, 2009 Issue

Though I have reviewed other magazines in the past, I’ve never taken the time to review The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, even though I’ve been a subscriber for years. As a slow reader, I realize that my review of the March, 2009 issue may be somewhat untimely; nevertheless, I offer my belated critique.

“The Curandero and the Swede: A Tale from the 1001 American Nights” by Daniel Abraham – The protagonist brings his fiancĂ© to meet his family in Atlanta. After dinner and the engagement announcement, the men retreat to the porch, where Uncle Dab shares tales within tales of people in fantastical situations who find resolution through the guidance and intervention of odd characters, most notably the curandero.

I found the first tale within a tale a bit unexpected. I had to reread the previous paragraphs because I thought I’d missed something at first. I’m more used to short diversions rather than long meanderings. Once I adjusted to this style, however, the story flowed very well for me.

“The Unstrung Zither” by Yoon Ha Lee – Five adolescent terrorists are held prisoner after attempting to assassinate the Phoenix General. Xiao Lung Yun, at the request of the general, seeks to unlock a secret from the assassins by composing music based on emblems each one drew.

The most recent story of Lee’s that I read was “Architectural Constants,” published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and fortunately for me, I found “The Unstrung Zither” to be more within my grasp as a reader. At one point somewhat early on in “The Unstrung Zither,” I guessed at the ending, but then the story shifted, and I doubted my guess. By the story’s end, I discovered that my first thoughts were fairly accurate, but I enjoyed the fact that my uncertainty kept me surprised. Well done.

“That Hell-Bound Train” by Robert Bloch – Martin strikes a bargain with the hell train’s conductor, agreeing to ride the train at his death if he’s given a watch that can permanently stop time. Martin’s only dilemma through life is to figure out the precise moment when he’s achieved ultimate happiness.

I think I enjoyed William Tenn’s introduction almost as much as Bloch’s story. Perhaps Gordon Van Gelder will regale his subscribers with tales of publishing adventure in future issues. I know I’d read them. As for Bloch’s work, I always enjoy the occasional man vs. devil story as each tries to deceive the other. A fun read.

“Quickstone” by Marc Laidlaw – Gorlen, a bard with a gargoyle hand, pursues the goyle who cursed him in hopes of having his hand restored. He discovers the goyle at the opening of the depths of the world, essentially a point between the land of men and gargoyles.

I really enjoyed this piece of adventure fantasy, and it was my favorite story of the issue. This is exactly the type of story I like reading the most, and I’d like to see more in the future. Actually, I’d like to read the next Gorlen tale. I hope there’s one coming soon to a magazine near me.

“Shadow-Below” by Robert Reed – Shadow-Below leads a class of adults and adolescents into the wilderness of the future, teaching the primitive ways of living off the land. I’d rather not give anything more than that away. Just read and enjoy.

This was a good issue, and I’m looking forward to reading the giant-sized issue that came in the mail earlier this week. Keep up the good work, writers and staff!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Six Ways To Not Look Like A Writing Newbie (Even If You Are One)

Here are a few helpful hints on how to submit to magazines without appearing clueless.

1. Format your manuscript. There are numerous places to find information for standard manuscript format. Many magazines have links on their sites for such standards. Writing single-spaced in Times New Roman is fine, but if you don’t reformat the story before you submit, it won’t set well with most editors.

2. Know the market. Don’t submit your 7,000 word story to a magazine that only accepts works between 1,000 and 5,000 words, and don’t submit fantasy to a romance magazine. If a story doesn’t fit the magazine’s guidelines, you’ll loudly proclaim, “I have no clue what you publish, but here’s something I wrote anyway.”

3. Address the editor. In your cover letter (and mailing address), use the editor’s name. Omitting this (or even worse, using the wrong name) will show a lack of research on your part.

4. Write a proper cover letter. There are numerous web articles on this as well as examples within writing reference books. Essentially, you’ll want to be brief, covering at least the title of the story, word count, genre and writing credentials. Even if you have no writing credentials, you won’t smell like a newbie unless your letter is strange. Examples of strangeness include: comments about how wonderful your story is, comments about what others think of your story, comments about what the editor should think about your story, comments about how you wrote the story, comments completely unrelated to the story, suicide threats, death threats, blood stains, teeth marks or hieroglyphics.

5. Use proper packaging. If you’re sending a story in the mail, don’t cram ten pages into a greeting card envelope. Use a flat envelope so that you’re not folding the pages. In a stack of slush, you want your story to stand apart, not the package you mailed it in.

6. Don’t send a follow-up query too quickly. If a market clearly takes 90 days to process submissions, don’t send an email two weeks after submitting. You don’t want to reveal yourself as an irritating person before the story gets read. At least wait until you’re working with an editor on rewrites to show your true colors.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Time to Gripe

I frequent a few writing and magazine message boards, and it’s inevitable that someone will post an inflammatory comment about editors, magazines or book publishers. Usually these have to do with rejection letters or wait times. The result of such posts: the poster looks foolish, and his or her rants have zero effect on the subject of disapproval.

I have a tip: don’t make such posts. I don’t care if an editor sent the nastiest rejection letter in the history of writing. It isn’t worth harming your own reputation over.

We must maintain a level of professionalism. The moment our name becomes attached to derisive drivel, we’ve added something shameful to our resumes. Rather than hope an editor would never hold it against us for shaming someone in a forum, it would be better to keep such comments to ourselves.

Some people think editors will never find their comments. After all, it’s a nearly dead message board that only other writers frequent. Ah, but wait! Google has a free service to give alerts whenever certain terms are posted on the web. As an editor, I might want to see how much my magazine is being promoted in blogs, web pages and forums, so I might add alerts for the title of my magazine, my name and the names of other editors on staff. You’d be safer hiding from the Eye of Sauron than Google alerts.

Another point to consider is how long a post may exist on the web. Forums can linger for years and years. Is your critical post something you want attached to your name for that long? What if people interested in your works run searches for you and discover some truly horrific things that you’ve said about others? It might turn their interests aside.

The bottom line is this: the Internet is public domain, and anything you post should be considered permanent and visible. Be careful what you write.