Fantasy & Science Fiction

I got an issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the mail the other day. In this Internet era it's nice to get something more than junk mail in your home mailbox, especially when it's unexpected. Ok, wasn't entirely unexpected: I asked for a review copy, but I'd forgotten about it. So, like a friend whom you've invited over for dinner, but forgot to write down the date, I was happy but surprised to see the manila envelope waiting for me on the front porch.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I have a long history. In high school my friend Stuart Pope introduced me to it via Robert Silverberg's "Lord Valentine's Castle," which was being serialized in F&SF before it was released as a book. By my Junior year I'd already read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and also the Lord Foul's Bane trilogy, which was was popular at the time and also ran in the vein of dwarves, elves and rings. But I didn't consider myself a "fantasy" fan, siding more with sci-fi writers like Philip Dick, Arthur Clarke, and John Brunner. Likewise, most of the short stories I'd read came in single-author collections. In F&SF I found a magazine that successfully merged fantasy, horror, and a certain style of science fiction into a single volume. I had to have more.

The same summer I discovered F&SF we spent several weeks at my family's rustic cabin in the woods near Port Orford on the Oregon coast. Since then I've made it a habit of picking up new and old issues of the magazine for reading by the lantern as the night fog rolls in from the beach, or in the mornings as the sun chases away the dew. Periodicals Paradise in NE Portland has a near critical mass of reading material, and so I'm performing a public service buying my back issues there, reducing the chance of a pulp explosion. I get about five issues from various decades. They all have a similar format: two or three novellas or "novelets", four or five short stories, some book reviews, a film review, maybe a serialization of a novel, and a couple cartoons. For years (30 years?) the cartoons were 100% Gahan Wilson, but more recently other contributors have squeezed in. In addition to the stories the magazine also ran the occasional contest organized around sci-fi books. I remember one contest asked people to contribute a book title with one letter added to make it funny. The winning entry was either "The Motel In God's Eye" or "Dog Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."

On the masthead it proclaims "61st Year of Publication." In that span of time quite a few writers have had amazing careers grow and flourish. I have an issue from December, 1958 that shows stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Algis Budrys, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Lieber, and Anthony Boucher on the cover. Not until you read the table of contents do you see that Ron Goulart and Walter Tevis are also contributors! By 1968 the "19th Anniversary All-Star Issue" mentions Goulart on the cover, along with Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and the ever prolific Asimov. F&SF continues to showcase both well-known and up-and-coming authors. I have an issue from 2004 with stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Sheckley and Paul Di Filippo (without F&SF I wouldn't have discovered what an inventive writer Di Filippo is).

A couple of years ago, as an experiment, I wanted to explore how science fiction has been affected by the events of September 11th, 2001 and the World Trade Centerdestruction. I decided to focus on short stories I found in F&SF, picking some issues from the late 90's, and then some post-2001. Although the sci-fi and fantasy realms deal with the end of the world nearly every day, I could tell some authors were deeply influenced by the shocking events of 9/11/01. One story by Joyce Carol Oates, set in a post-apocalyptic world where everything is just running down echoed the way I felt for most of the rest of that year. Likewise Robert Reed's story "The Majesty of Angels" from September, 2002 tells the story of a massive catastrophe on Earth, and the angels have come as flight attendants on a surreal jumbo jet to guide the victims on their trip. And, although I'm unable to find the issue, I'm sure I read the short story that the movie "Knowing" is based on it the pages of F&SF (trust me, the story was better than the movie).

F&SF isn't all heavy material, however. The current issue has a good mix of stories: a fantasy tale of a woman who put her life into her painting, a tongue in cheek story of the "real" Martian chronicles, a twisted vision of a toy train set gone bad, an alternative WWII story where the Nazis planned to release zombies as their ultimate weapon, and more. As I read through the issue I got wrapped up in the stories, each one a little vacation from daily life. A vacation, maybe in a cabin, in the woods at the coast, reading by lantern light as the night rolls in.

You can read more about The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction or subscribe at their web site www.sfsite.com/fsf/. Here's what other people are saying on the internet about the May-June 2010 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

This site has an index of all the past stories and authors, while this site has a nice archive of F&SF cover art.

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