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[Comments] (3) Reviews of Non-Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF 2008/08: As seen previously. Man, this magazine should be publishing my stuff. Also, I should actually send them more stuff. I finished reading "The Political Prisoner" and it was great all the way through, worth the price of the magazine by itself.

"Childrun" is a decent fantasy story, except... Look, characters in horror movies nowadays have seen horror movies and have some knowledge of how to avoid stupid mistakes. But almost nobody in fantasy stories has read any fantasy stories, usually because these stories tend to take place in a pre-printing-press world. But there's still myths and folklore, so I dunno. "Childrun"'s backstory wouldn't have gotten very far if some of its characters had read some fantasy stories. Or seen some horror movies, actually. Imagine being a character in a joke, and living for years and years in between the last line of the setup and the punchline, and not noticing anything unusual. That's the thing that bugs me about these stories, as well as any story in which prophecy is fulfilled.

"But Wait! There's More!" is a fantasy story whose characters (living in the present day) probably have read fantasy stories, and the story is better for it. There's no "this is just like such-and-such a story" but there's also no making obvious mistakes because the characters didn't keep up on the literature. Incidentally, this is part of what makes "The Political Prisoner" so great: the main character knows basically what's happening and why it's happening, but that doesn't reduce the horror or give him much power over the situation.

(Prove me wrong, but it also seems like characters in science fiction stories generally haven't read much science fiction, even when they're astronauts or computer programmers. This bothers me and I try to do the opposite, but it doesn't bother me as much as the equivalent in fantasy stories, because the universe of a science fiction story is rarely teleological, and in fantasy it often is. It's admittedly difficult and/or cheesy for an author to employ the tropes of science fiction in a supposedly realistic story when their characters will notice those tropes, but we live in a science fictional society right now, and navigate it in part with our knowledge of science fiction stories. So it's clearly possible.)

PS: Great cover art for "The Political Prisoner", which cover art incorporates a 1950s aesthetic that I don't think is justified anywhere in the text, a la the new BSG. Also, two of the people on the cover have just been shot but they look like they're just having fun with their friends in the parking lot.

PPS: Now that I think about it, "But Wait! There's More!" might have no fantasy element whatsoever.

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Posted by Brendan at Mon Jul 14 2008 18:00

I was in the middle of writing this when I got your kind offer via email, but as you may shortly surmise, I already have the magazine--I demanded that my family stop on the drive to Greenup, Kentucky this weekend so I could get it. (My subscription lapsed in May.)

I honestly couldn't figure out which story the cover art was for (even though, yes, TPP is the one with its title on there) until "Pillar of Salt" came up in the story. And then I was like, wait, where have I seen that recently?

That kind of happens to me a lot with F&SF covers, and indeed with SF novel covers.

Have I missed that you usually skip reviewing the short stories in favor of novellas/novelets? I suppose there isn't really a lot of substance to the former in this issue.

Posted by Brendan at Mon Jul 14 2008 18:33

Actually, I thought about this some more, and the Political X stories are of course Cold War story analogs from a Soviets-in-space perspective (submarine, gulag, hopefully next a prequel about Max's glory days in deep urban counterintelligence games). So I think the 50s aesthetic is justified by the subtext, at least.

Posted by Leonard at Mon Jul 14 2008 19:43

I'm not skipping the short stories per se, I'm just recommending the stories I liked and critiquing the ones I didn't like that I can give useful criticisms of. My general rule is to not say "I didn't like this story" unsolicited if that's all I plan to say. I didn't like "Childrun" a whole lot, but I can say why in a way I hope is interesting, and my dislike for it is something I dislike about fantasy in general.

If I got one of these stories in writing group I'd try harder to come up with constructive criticism. Since they've already been published and I'm just talking about them on my weblog I don't feel that need.


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