Many of the stories in the May 2011 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction have two broadly recurring themes, music and the apocalypse.
The Final Verse’ by Chet Williamson tells of a folk song with a long, dark history and of two bluegrass musicians’ attempts to track down its missing last verse. It’s dark, chilling, and steeped in authenticity. Highly Recommended.
The ubiquitous Robert Reed, who seems to be everywhere –but who actually only appeared twice in F&SF in 2010- returns with two stories, the first of which is ‘Stock Pictures.’ An old man is mowing his lawn when a beautiful woman and her companion stop and ask if they may take pictures for use in books and catalogues. It’s a strange yet effective story which the editor’s notes say caused a certain amount of discussion in the F & SF office, and like many of them, it’s hard to say what it’s about. Nonetheless, Recommended.
‘The Black Mountain’ by Albert E. Cowdrey takes the reader to a relatively unvisited part of the French Quarter of New Orleans, where a developer does recurring battle with his friend over the fate of New Orleans’ historical buildings.
Steven Popkes’ “Agent of Change” is one of several stories dealing with environmental catastrophe (as is the Cowdrey), this time adopting a light-hearted tone. A real-life Godzilla is found in the North Pacific, and begins to munch whaling vessels. Recommended.
“Fine Green Dust” by Don Webb tells of the end of the world; this time it really is with a whimper, rather than a bang. One of the strangest stories to come out of Austin, Texas.
Alexandra Duncan’s novella ‘Rampion’ is at the core of the issue. Set in the dying days of the Umayyad caliphate in southern Spain, it sets a bittersweet love story between a Muslim man and a Christian woman against a backdrop of the breakdown and descent into anarchy of a multicultural society. Much of F & SF’s ‘Ye Olde Fantasy’ is little more than modern man and woman draped in clothes, but here Duncan dives deep under the skin of the hero and his society. Highly Recommended.
‘Signs of Life’ by Carter Scholz is another in the long line of stories about scientists in which science itself is a protagonist, of which perhaps the most famous is Gregory Benford’s Timescape. This time the scientist is Jim Byrne, casualty of a collapsed marriage, unable to connect with his colleagues, driving all around him away. Byrne is in the last chance saloon of research when he stumbles across recurring sequences in junk DNA strand, but even when his life looks to be turning around, Byrne sabotages its recovery. Highly Recommended.
Scott Bradfield’s ‘Starship Dazzle’ features the latest adventure of Dazzle (“the world’s first surgically adapted talking mutt,”) who has been gracing the pages of F & SF for over a dozen years. This time Dazzle has talked his way into NASA and is fired off into space to make First Contact, while Bradfield’s wry wit is turned on the world of consumerism. Recommended.
‘The Old Terrologist’s Tale’ by S. L. Gilbow is a campfire story. The campfire may be on another world, thousands of years in the future, but the men (and women) sit around the fire, just as in any traditional tall tale. It’s an effective reworking, though and is Recommended.
Robert Reed returns with ‘The Road Ahead,’ a sequel –or perhaps a prequel- to ‘Stock Pictures, in which much is explained, but Reed leaves some questions to remain. Recommended.
Kate Wilhelm’s novelette ‘Music Makers’ concludes the issue with another musical story; novice reporter Jake Manfried is sent to interview the companion of a dead musician in Nashville, and finds a beautiful house in the middle of a commercial district. He also finds the musician’s extended family. Wilhelm brings all her charm and fifty-plus years experience to bear on a seductive, poignant tale of blossoming love in the Deep South. Outstanding.
Another fine issue, this one with cover art by Tomislav Tikulin
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