Review: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

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Cover of August-September 2009 issueThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), currently in its 60th year of publication, is one of just a few remaining US-based magazines/digests in the genre.1 A look at the upcoming Aug/Sept 2009 issue shows that even after six decades, F&SF is still a solid publication for science fiction and fantasy readers.

It’s probably been 15 years since I read an issue of F&SF from cover to cover,2 so the launch of seemed a great excuse to reacquaint myself with the magazine.3 Overall the magazine matched my fond memories from years past, with over 200 pages of well written, thought provoking stories. Reading this issue of F&SF reminded me why I fell in love with science fiction and fantasy in the first place.

What Works
One of the things I most enjoyed about F&SF when I was growing up was the balance the magazine struck between columns and fiction pieces. That balance still feels right in this new issue — there are roughly 225 pages of fiction and 28 pages of nonfiction “Departments” as the magazine calls them. The bottom line is that if I’m buying a magazine of science fiction and fantasy, I want the vast majority of that magazine to consist of fiction.

Under the headings of “fantasy” and “science fiction,” there are numerous sub-genres (and sub-sub-genres), resulting in a diverse range of content, themes and styles. F&SF doesn’t limit itself to just one or two sub-genres, so the result is an eclectic mix of stories. The risk with such eclecticism is that sub-genre readers may find only one or two stories of interest to them in any given issue. I believe, however, that F&SF’s content illustrates how expansive and diverse fantasy and science fiction have become. And since fantasy and science fiction stories expose us to things beyond our everyday norm, it seems natural that a fantasy and science fiction magazine would expose us to stories beyond our everyday reading.

The fiction published in F&SF typically is of a very high caliber (as evidenced by the fact that every year stories from the magazine are nominated — and even win — Nebulas and other awards). The quality of the fiction in the Aug/Sept 2009 issue is no exception. It’s tough for me to pick favorites from the issue, but personally I most enjoyed Bruce Sterling’s “Esoteric City” and Sean McMullen’s “The Art of the Dragon.”

In addition, the story “Icarus Saved from the Skies” was a very short, wonderful find. It is from French fabulist Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud whose novels have not yet been translated into English.

Areas for Improvement
Ironically, what I most missed in this particular issue of F&SF were things that frequently appear in the magazine, but just happened to not be part of the Aug/Sept 2009 issue I reviewed.

For example, I would like to have seen at least one story by a new author. After reading the entire issue, a reader could come away with a sense that F&SF was playing it safe and sticking with proven authors for its fiction. Even the one author who makes her first F&SF appearance in this issue — Melinda M. Snodgrass — is someone who has a substantial, successful writing career. I understand that for marketing purposes you want to have some easily recognizable names in every issue (like Bruce Sterling ...), but I personally would love to see a new author debuted in each issue.4 The excitement of discovering author Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud in this issue (since his fiction previously has not been translated and published in English) reminded me how it feels to read a previously unpublished writer, with the promise of enjoying that writer’s yet-to-be-created future stories and novels.

I also unexpectedly found myself missing the Science department which normally appears in only two issue per year. I say “unexpectedly” because F&SF is first and foremost a fiction magazine. What I enjoy about F&SF’s occasional science articles is how they examine a science topic in the context of science fiction settings. In a recent issue (April/May 2009), for example, Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty examined the science behind balloons and went on to discuss how balloons might be used on other planets, such as Mars.

Up until very recently, F&SF was published 11 times a year — the August/September 2009 issue is only the third issue since the switch to the bimonthly schedule.5 The bad news is that readers now have to wait twice as long between issues. The good news is that even though there now will be only six issues per year, each bimonthly issue is substantially larger than the previous monthly issues. The editor estimates that over the course of a year, total content will be about 90% of what it was under the monthly publication schedule.

Contents of the Aug/Sept Issue
The August/September 2009 issue of F&SF contains:

  • Editorial (Department) — Gordan Van Gelder
  • “The Art of the Dragon” (Novella) — Sean McMullin
  • Books To Look For (Department) — Charles de Lint
  • Books (Department) — Elizabeth Hand
  • “You Are Such a One” (Short Story) — Nancy Springer
  • “A Token of a Better Age” (Novella) — Melinda M. Snodgrass
  • Obsolete Theories (Poem) — Sophie M. White
  • “Hunchster” (Short Story) — Matthew Hughes
  • “The Goddamned Tooth Fairy” (Classic Reprint, originally appeared in Oct. 2000) — Tina Kurminski; introduction by Gordan Van Gelder
  • “The Bones of Giants” (Novella) — Yoon Ha Lee
  • “Icarus Saved from the Skies” (Short Story) — Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud; translated from French by Edward Gauvin
  • “The Others” (Novella) — Lawrence C. Connolly
  • “Three Leaves of Aloe” (Novella) — Rand B. Lee
  • “The Private Eye” (Novella) —Albert E. Cowdrey
  • Films (Department) — Lucius Shepard
  • “Snowfall” (Classic Reprint, originally appeared in Sept. 1988) — Jessie Thompson; introduction by Harlan Ellison
  • “Esoteric City” (Novella) — Bruce Sterling
  • Curiosities (Department) — Patricia A. Martinelli

The issue also contains seven cartoons6 and boasts a cover (see above) by Cory and Catska Ench.

Next Issue
The next issue (Oct/Nov 2009) marks the 60th anniversary of F&SF. According to a short item at the end of the Aug/Sept issue, they’re already hard at work on the extra large anniversary issue. That issue will feature cover art by David Hardy and stories by Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg and others.

What Do You Think?
What do you like most (and least) about The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction? How does it compare to the other fiction digests (present and past) in the field? What memories do you have of reading F&SF? Please share your thoughts and experiences using the Comments box below.

Still to Come
During the coming weeks I will post detailed reviews of several of the pieces of fiction that appear in the Aug/Sept 2009 issue of F&SF. To begin, a review of Sean McMullin’s “The Art of the Dragon” will be posted on Friday, July 3.

  1. Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction and Fact are the other long surviving digests that immediately come to mind. Realms of Fantasy, which previously announced it was ceasing publication after the April 2009 issue, was recently purchased by Tir Na Nog Press and is scheduled to resume publication in July. []
  2. This is a scary admission from someone who claims to be both a reader and writer in this genre. []
  3. Disclosure: The F&SF circulation manager provided a complimentary copy of the Aug/Sept 2009 issue for review. []
  4. I realize debuting a new author in every issue may not be as easy as I’ve implied. For starters, it means that every other month the editor must receive or seek out a novella or short story of publication quality from a previously unpublished author. []
  5. []
  6. Cartoonists represented in this issue are Arthur Masear, J.P. Rini, John Jonik, Bill Long, S. Harris, Danny Shanahan and Tom Cheney. []

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