Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Review – November-December 2020

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2020 by C.C. Finlay

The review of short stories is relatively neglected on Goodreads. Which is a pity, because short stories are a microcosm of the writer’s craft. Also, think how many characters that have become immortal began their literary lives in short stories—Sherlock Holmes, Conan the Barbarian, Father Brown, and a pantheon more.
In this review, I take a look at the November/December 2020 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. My method is, admittedly, arbitrary: choosing from a selection of very good tales, I mention only those that particularly appeal to me, and from those I choose only one to analyze in greater depth. (And I don’t simply score each story out of ten, as I have seen done.)
The Nov/Dec issue is good value for money: ten stories, three poems, and other interesting material.
I thought the stories were all of high quality.
My 3rd favorite is, ‘Skipping Stones in the Dark’ a tightly-written short story by Amman Sabet. On a generation-ship, the well-intentioned AI in command fails to understand the selfishness of the human psyche, and logically, inexorably progresses from being overly sensitive and indulgent to cruelly callous with horrifying consequences. I spent some hours trying to disentangle Sabet’s compelling and chilling setup and came to the conclusion that if he plays chess, I wouldn’t like to play against him.
My 2nd favorite is ‘The Bahrain Underground Bazaar’ an atmospheric novelette by Nadia Afifi. An older woman, dying of cancer, becomes obsessed with visiting the underground bazaar where—in a shop equipped with the appropriate Sci-Fi gear—she trawls the last memories of dying people. She experiences the death of an old woman, a tour guide who fell from the cliffs of Petra in Jordan and decides to visit the area in the flesh, with self-revelatory consequences. The author’s love of the Middle East (she was born in Bahrain) come through in this evocative, sensitively told tale.
My favorite is ‘La Regina Ratto’, a novelette by Nick DiChario. In a witty, crisply paced opening scene, three male rats confront hard-working but shy Giuseppe. After some hard bargaining they agree to a compact, and sing:

“Friends with Giuseppe
that’s what we’ll be,
rattily, tattily,
all of us free…

Time passes and Guiseppe confides his struggles to them. The rats tell him he smells like a loser, but also counsel him on how to overcome his problem. So when Guiseppe’s new boss arrives—it turns out she is a rat too—he turns on the positivity and sweeps her off her paws. As their relationship progresses his bachelor companions become despondent. ‘She’s a queen rat,’ they explain. ‘She’s marked you as her own.’ They tell him that he is already lost to their friendship, and warn him, above all things, not to sleep with her…
Beautifully orchestrated, this tail (oops, tale—it’s a fable really) slyly turns #metoo on its head, and mounts to an operatic climax of Verdian proportions with jealousy, recrimination, and murder.
I promised myself I would apply writer’s craft to analyzing my story of choice—meanly, wickedly trying to poke holes in it, but that’s very hard to do with this one. It’s tone is consistent: a comic opera buffa with some darker notes, particularly at the end, but even so it never stops being light, graceful, atmospheric, and appealingly fabulous. Given its tone, the characters are vividly sketched, and the relationships between them convincingly motivated. Obviously, the light tone means that the gruesome ending is tinged with bathos rather than gut-clenching horror, but the author’s restraint does him credit rather than its being a drawback: the literary integrity of the piece is preserved. The plot is revealed with compelling logic, and the twists, when they come, add freshness that keeps the reader hooked. The stakes and tension mount inexorably and the reader begins to feel quite strongly for poor Giuseppe (and his forlorn rat friends).
A fine piece of work!

View all my reviews

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