Last week John Joseph Adams posted a promotional giveaway for the July 2008 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Adams offered a deal: You get the free issue if you promise to blog about it.
For the past 25 years I’ve read very little short fiction. Lately I’ve been writing some short fiction myself, and have become interested in learning what makes excellent short stories excellent. I began picking up the odd copy of F&SF and other speculative fiction magazines to study as well as to enjoy. This promotion seemed right up my alley.
I ordered my copy on Thursday, received it on Saturday, and read the final story tonight.
Here are the stories and my reactions (no spoilers here).
"Reader’s Guide" by Lisa Goldstein. I was surprisingly touched by this lovely story about one of the more mysterious aspects of the art of writing fiction. I can’t say anything about the plot without giving away the beauty of the story, but the story is written in the form of a reader’s guide.
"Fullbrim’s Finding" by Matthew Hughes. A "discriminator" goes in search of a client’s lost husband, who has himself gone in search of the meaning of life. (From this story alone, I get the sense that a discriminator is something like a galactic private investigator. F&SF’s intro to the story suggests that the main character has appeared in other short stories and novels, and I suspect that "discriminator" is clarified in those).
"The Roberts" by Michael Blumlein. Technology helps a man solve the problem of finding a "perfect" mate. But what if the imperfections are not in the mate?
"Enfant Terrible" by Scot Dalrymple. A story of a man doing a job that is both necessary for the protection of society, and dirty enough that it’s best kept quiet. Dalrymple tells this story second-person point of view–i.e. the main character is "you".
"Poison Victory" by Albert E. Chowdrey. In late 1949, a German chemist struggles to atone for his role in bring Germany to victory in WWII.
"The Dinosaur Train" by James L. Cambias. A setback in a family business–a sort of circus with live dinosaurs–brings three generations of unresolved conflicts to the moment of truth.
My strongest reactions were to the two more experimental stories. I liked "Enfant Terrible" least, specifically because of the second-person point of view. Second-person always makes me fear that the perspective was chosen more for the author’s amusement than for its ability to illuminate the story. In this case I stumbled over the POV, and it didn’t offer any compensations that I could see. I liked the story, but I liked it less for the POV.
The story I liked most was "Reader’s Guide." I enjoyed my initial puzzle of "how the heck do you tell a story in the form of a reader’s guide?" As it turns out, there’s something about the experimental form that seems necessary to the story. The story itself arises partly from the form, and without that form would not be as effective. That’s an experiment that works.
When I pick up an issue of a fiction magazine I expect to enjoy one or two of the stories. I enjoyed all six of these stories.