Thursday, February 4, 2016

Reading the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Dec/Nov 2015)

Since I've been writing and submitting short stories to magazines, I thought it would be wise to read a few of them to see what the editors there like. I decided to start with the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several reasons. First, it's well-established--it's been around since 1949, and over the years it's had plenty of short stories nominated for prestigious awards, including the Nebula and the Hugo awards. Second, and perhaps equally important, I've found them to be a great magazine for writers. The submission process is easy, and I get a very quick response from their editor, C.C. Finlay. Though I've not yet had a story accepted there, Mr. Finlay has always offered me a short critique of the rejected story, as well as encouragement to send more. That's helped me keep going even when I've gotten tons of rejections.

I found F&SF at my local bookstore, though it's also easy to buy on their website and on Amazon. Considering the prices of most books (and it's pretty much the length of a short book), it's very affordable. I bought the 2015 Nov/Dec issue, and I've been very impressed with the overall quality of the stories. My favorite ones were "Dreampet" and the novelette "Tomorrow is a Lovely Day." "Dreampet" begins like a fairy tale of the future, where pets are genetically customized. Kittens stay kittens forever, and they grow pink and purple fur with a child's name written in it. The narrator works for the Dreampet company, and he appears deeply enthusiastic about his products, having given Dreampets to each member of his family. Yet, his family's indifference and neglect of their splendid pets introduces a creepy, discomfiting note to the story that builds to a disturbing conclusion. 
"Tomorrow is a Lovely Day" is a hard to describe--it's the story of a man stuck reliving a terrible day over and over, stuck in a nightmare that he hates. As the story unfolds, he slides deeper into the horror of his situation. Can he figure out a machine's mysterious last riddle, or will he be doomed to relive the same bitter moments again and again?

I enjoyed many of the other stories in the magazine as well, including the tragic and haunting "Gypsy" and the thoughtful meditation on war in "Thirteen Mercies." The only one that didn't work for me was the first story, "The Winter Wraith." While the story was atmospheric, it lacked a strong climax, and the ending felt too ambiguous. The other story with a subtle, ambiguous ending, "Cleanout," had a stronger emotional core and more interesting characters. F&SF has non-fiction articles as well, including book and movie reviews, and these were interesting and turned me on to books and movies I'd like to check out.

Overall, I'd recommend this magazine to anyone who's interested in reading or writing science fiction and fantasy. The stories are really strong, and it always helps to see what editors like.

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