Visions of Paradise

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fantasy & Science Fiction

I have been reading several issues of prozines recently, both current and vintage and, as is typical with prozines, there have been both excellent and mediocre stories.

The vintage issues I have been reading are the first two issues of Worlds of Tomorrow dated April and June, 1963. The feature story was a two-part serial People of the Sea, by Arthur C. Clarke, which was released in book form as the YA novel Dolphin Island. It does read like a YA novel as the protagonist Johnny Clinton is an orphan who dislikes his adopted family thoroughly, so he stows away on an international freighter (which floats above the ground or water) which crashes into the ocean near Australia. The crew escape on a small lifeboat before Johnny can reach them, so he is stranded on a piece of driftwood until rescued by dolphins who take him to a nearby island which is devoted to research on human-dolphin relations.

People of the Sea is a minor novel, but Johnny’s adventures on the island, as well as the scientists’ attempts to reach some type of pact between dolphins and killer sharks, are enjoyable throughout and worthwhile reading.

Other worthwhile stories in the issues include Robert Silverberg’s “To See the Invisible Man” (reviewed in VoP #146 as part of his collection Phases of the Moon), the always-reliable Robert F. Young’s “The Girl In His Mind,” Murray Leinster’s “Third Planet,” John Brunner’s “The Totally Rich” and Keith Laumer’s “The Long-Remembered Thunder” (one of his serious stories, which I enjoy much more than his humorous stories, such as “The Star-Sent Knaves” which was also in these issues).

The current prozine I read was the April-May 2009 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the first issue under its new bi-monthly publishing schedule; yes, I am rather behind in my prozine reading, even though I only subscribe to that lone magazine. This does not bode well for my renewing my subscription in another 18 months.

My main complaint with F&SF is that it is a lot heavier on the F than it is on the SF, but I subscribe to it rather than either Asimov’s or Analog because its stories tend to be better overall. This issue had 6 novelettes in it, four new ones and two reprints as they were celebrating their 60th year of publication. One of the reprints was Thomas Disch’s classic “The Brave Little Toaster,” which I had not read since its original appearance in 1980. It is a pure children’s tale, but told straightforward without condescending and deserves its near-cult status. I even enjoyed the animated version which my sons and I watched numerous times when they were young.

The other reprint was Edward Jesby’s 1963 story “Sea Wrack,” which was well-written, although its ending was somewhat abrupt.

Of the original novelettes, my favorite was the lone sf story of the group, Deborah J. Ross’s “The Price of Silence.” I had never read a Ross story before, only knowing her as one of the writers carrying on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series after the author’s retirement and eventual death. Since I have never read stories by authors in somebody else’s classic series, I did not expect much from this story. It told of a spaceship investigating a space colony which had stopped communicating with Earth entirely. I was not expecting the direction the story eventually took, but found it strong and convincing. Perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh on writers such as Ross, Adrienne Martine-Barnes, Mercedes Lackey (the Darkover crew), Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert (the Dune crew), but I still hesitate to read any of their recreations.

Of the fantasies, I most enjoyed Ellen Kushner’s novelette “A Wild and Wicked Youth,” which was apparently a prequel to her novel Swordspoint, telling how an innocent child became a gifted swordsman. It was good enough that I am interested in reading the novel too.

Of the short stories, worth mentioning is Jack Skillingstead’s “The Avenger of Love,” which was dedicated to Harlan Ellison and has the same effect as a typical Ellison story: punchy, dramatic writing, intended to achieve a quick emotional impact without much depth or standing up to much thought. I have always considered Ellison stories enjoyable reading but more like a sweet dessert than a fulfilling meal, and Skillingstead’s story had the same effect on me.