Friday, February 21, 2003

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for February 2003

When I reviewed the January issue I was making noises about renewing after all, but now I'm kind of glad I didn't.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Seasons of the Ansarac." Except that the idyllic existence described therein is a little too idyllic. I do like the way that LeGuin's anthropological sketches reflect on our own culture and raise questions about it, but I don't know if they're stories, exactly. Of course, the same could be said of some of Borges's work, so perhaps I shouldn't quibble. I did enjoy reading it, but I wonder if anyone who wasn't a Grand Master could get away with it.

Next is "A Quartet of Mini-Fantasies" by Arthur Porges. It is, indeed, made up of four very short shorts, each of which must I suppose be looked at individually. The first is creepy and effective. The second, a bit overblown. The third is a joke, and not a very good one. The fourth feels unfinished. The problem with short shorts is that they must be dense with meaning in order to have any impact. Every word must mean something. It's something like poetry in that. (Something like, but not identical to.) To me, these don't justify their own existence. They are snippets, some of them fragments of something larger, some devoid of meaning and thus pointless. I think of Yasunari Kawabata's "palm-of-the-hand" stories. Longer than these, true, but dense with ideas and questions which haunt the reader long afterwards. These are like crackers. Light wafers. If they were wildly entertaining I wouldn't care that they don't contain the secrets of the universe. But they aren't wildly entertaining.

Jack O'Connell's "The Swag from Doc Hawthorne's" is a worthy follow-up to his previous story in F&SF, "Legerdemain," about which I can recall little except liking it. That story was about books, though, and this one is too, although it mainly concerns two burglars named Darcey and Yuk Tang. From a very realistic and reasonable description of their lives, their jobs, and their disciplined approach to robbery, the story becomes weirder, with an informant who flakes and runs, and a couple of buyers for loot the pair haven't stolen yet. The ending is ambiguous and frightening, though it could be a little more so. Good story.

James Sallis has a story here called "The Genre Kid," which is odd and possibly a little too clever, but nonetheless thought-provoking. The medium in which the young artist works is a bit unusual, but I won't give it away here.


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