“In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers is the novella in the January/February 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and it’s a doozy. It’s one of a number of stories and movies I’ve seen lately that address the question of what it is we love when we love someone. Do we love a mind? A body? Both together? Must they be unchanging? They can’t, really, can they, because we all age and grow; change is actually the only constant. And the question goes deeper, to the nature of the mind as an organic, chemical, electrical entity. Chambers examines all of these questions in a love story about a man and an unusual woman; I won’t say more so that you can discover her secrets for yourself (and she is very secretive).
There are five novelettes in this issue. The first is “The New Cambrian” by Andy Stewart, a science fiction tale about an expedition to Europa to study life beneath the surface of the iced-over water world. As the story opens, Ana and the first-person narrator, her husband, are learning of the death of Dr. Schneider. The narrator had been having an affair with Dr. Schneider, and Ana doesn’t know of it; he must therefore hide his reaction to her death. He does not do a very good job of that, though, eating huge quantities of food in a seemingly odd grief reaction, food which he later vomits up along with something living, something of Europa. The story has a tinge of Alien about it, but it’s all rather muddled, with science, love and horror mixed up so thoroughly that none of the elements shines.
C.C. Finlay’s “The Man Who Hanged Three Times” is one of a recent spate of stories sent in the Wild West. Jeremiah Pritchard is the unlucky man of the title, condemned to die in Raw Gulch, California, for the murder of Pearl, the Chinese woman he lived with. Pritchard says he didn’t do it, and apparently the powers that be agree with him, because the gallows will not kill him; the trap doesn’t work, the rope frays, anything that can go wrong does go wrong. But Web Suffield, the judge’s son, isn’t content to let Pritchard escape his sentence, not even for a day. Web was the one who discovered Pritchard, nearly dead drunk beside his wife’s dead body, on a claim owned by his father. We ultimately learn that there are reasons for Web’s hatred, as well as the identity of the narrator of this engaging, but rather unoriginal, tale.
“The Via Panisperna Boys in ‘Operation Harmony’” by Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo is an alternate history of the science of war in general, and of World War II and the Manhattan Project in particular. Chillemi and Di Filippo are having fun with their world, but the tale strains credulity with inventions that defy physics without explanation.
I enjoyed Albert E. Cowdrey’s “Out of the Deep,” set on the Gulf Coast in an area called the Redneck Riviera. The first-person narrator is Pete, a middle-class kid who befriends Mac — Alistair McAllister, whose blood is considerably bluer — in childhood days on the beach in the 50s. They stay friends throughout their adolescence, until Pete goes to Vietnam and Mac doesn’t, like so many rich men’s sons. Pete comes back a mess, but not so much that he doesn’t head south to Biloxi when Mac calls and asks for help on the basis of their old friendship, however dead it may be. It seems Mac owns some valuable real estate that, in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969, is likely to be turned into hotels and casinos. Karl Karageorgevich wants that land at a bargain, and Mac doesn’t want to sell it to him; so Karl is going to kill him. Mac wants Pete to help him avoid that fate. It would be a straightforward tale were it not for the presence of Yma, Mac’s housekeeper and mistress — and his protector as well, for she can wield magic. The story has the flavor of 60s without being about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; the jungle is ever present. It’s that flavor that makes this tale so delicious.
“The Museum of Error” is a silly story by Oliver Buckram. The museum of the title is a collection of failed inventions, full of perpetual motion machines that wind down each day, robots that think they are human, would-be flyers who plummeted to their deaths. Herbert Linden is the Assistant Curator for Military History, and he’s mighty attracted Rose Kramm, the daughter of the museum’s Director. As Herbert reports to work after a vacation, he is called to the Director’s office and assigned a critical task: Pete the Petrified Cat has gone missing, and he must find it and return it to its rightful place in the gallery in which it belongs. There is much whimsy and foolishness here before everything turns out right, as we always knew it would. There are some humorous moments for those paying attention to the various exhibits described as the action whizzes by them.
The first of the four short stories in this issue is “The Story-Teller” by Bruce Jay Friedman, about an English teacher who finds himself in an afterlife where he is asked to write stories. All he can remember is novels, though, and he finds himself in some difficulty as his 24-hour deadline draws near. It’s a nice in-joke for lovers of literature, but the plot itself is trite. “The Lion Wedding” by Moira Crone wants to be an allegory about a woman who marries a lion, but it never quite coalesces. Alex Irvine’s “For All of Us Down Here” draws a picture of a post-singularity world, and particularly of those who are left behind while most of the population is uploaded from bodily existence into one of bits and bytes. “We Don’t Mean to Be” by Robert Reed is about the death and rebirth of the universe, and particularly about the death of God. It is too short and epigrammatic to work well.
The book review columns by Charles de Lint and Elizabeth Hand are useful, as are the movie reviews by David J. Skal. Paul Di Filippo’s “Plumage from Pegasus” column is as amusing as ever. The science column by Paul Doherty and Pat Murphy is about the Mars rover, Curiosity, and might be the most interesting and informative work in this issue, with plenty of detail about the capabilities of the rover and its mission.