|Posted on Saturday, October 30, 2004 - 08:08 pm: |
Summary, F&SF, 2004
F&SF published 78 stories in 2004, for a total of about 604,000 words of fiction, close to the same word count as last year. Two stories were reprints, both by Alex Irvine. "Peter Skilling" had appeared earlier in 2004 in the online 'zine Salon under the title "Retroactive Anti-Terror", and "A Peaceable Man" has appeared in Irvine's story collection _Unintended Consequences_ in 2003. These totaled a bit more than 18,000 words, so about 586,000 words were new. I do think these are just the sort of reprints magazines ought to consider -- those from sources their regular readers might have missed.
The F&SF stories this year included 5 novellas, 27 novelettes, and 46 short stories. Four of the short stories were short-shorts (under 1500 words). I think that this was an outstanding year at F&SF, the best in a long time, and I think it was probably the best magazine in the field this year.
My favorite novella was Matthew Jarpe and Jonathan Andrew Sheen's "The Bad Hamburger" (December), a neat murder mystery in which the victim is an AI. Better for its extrapolation of how AIs might interact with humans than for its merely OK mystery plot. I suspect the consensus favorite is going to be Bradley Denton's "Sergeant Chip", which I liked well enough to put second on my list: the story of an enhanced dog, used by the military in a war that at least vaguely resembles the Iraq occupation, who finds his loyalty challenged by the perversity of his superiors' actions, finally placing it with a more appropriate group. Third would be Albert E. Cowdrey's "The Tribes of Bela", an adventure filled story of biological mystery, murder, and disaster on an alien planet.
Of the other novellas, I enjoyed R. Garcia y Robertson's "Stuck Inside of Mobile", a colorful alternate history tale of the Civil War, with submarines (and Jules Verne!), pretty girls who aren't quite what they seem, escaped slaves, and plenty of action. I didn't much like the fifth novella, Jim Young's "Ultraviolet Night".
I had bunches of novelets marked as outstanding. My favorite overall was, I think, Ysabeau S. Wilce's "Metal More Attractive" (February). (She used the byline Y. S. Wilce for a story (possibly set in the same milieu) in Asimov's. Wonder why?) This story is a lovely and cruel, sort of a Western (Mexican-style) set in a fantastical world, a convoluted tangle of marriage contracts, unsuitable love affairs, familial politics, and Magick. From the same February issue I also liked Paolo Bacigalupi's "The People of Sand and Slag" a great deal, a striking weird SF story, set in an environmentally devastated future, full of surprises.
Several of the best qualify as horror of one sort or another. Daniel Abraham's "Flat Diane" (October/November) is about a divorced man who unwittingly allows his daughter to become endangered when she sends a silhouette of herself (Flat Diane) in the mail. Also from October/November is Gene Wolfe's almost genially creepy "The Little Stranger" (7000 words by my estimate but listed as a novelet, and 7000 words is within my margin of error), about an old woman living in a gingerbread house, and gypsies, and a dead correspondent. Michael Shea's "The Growlimb" (January) concerns a Vietnam vet who has gone off to live in the woods, and who is convinced he has been followed for decades -- until developers, and a co-worker and her boyfriend, become involved. Michael Libling's "Christmas in the Catskills" is a strong Christmas horror story about a woman and her stupid husband who get marooned with a strange clan during a snowstorm.
Peter Beagle's "Quarry" (May) is wonderful adventure fantasy, about a young man and an old man, each followed by monsters (of different sorts), who join in an uneasy alliance to help the other. Also from May is a good, dark, cynical SF story by Robert Reed, "How It Feels", about alien visitors who like to possess humans for brief times to experience Earth, and how several different people respond to possession. (And yes, something else is really going on -- but let Reed tell the story!)
James Stoddard's "The Battle of York" (July) is a delight, telling the legend of General Washington, his battle-axe Valleyforge, his horse Silver, the evil giant Britannia, and a mission to the Mount of Rushmore from the perspective of 3000 years in the future.
Matthew Hughes in "Mastermindless" (March) introduced to short fiction readers his Vancean milieu (explicitly Vancean -- the conceit is that the stories are set in the age just prior to _The Dying Earth_), the same setting as his novels. This novelet, and two good short stories, "Falberoth's Ruin" and "Relics of the Thim", feature private discriminator Hengis Hapthorn solving somewhat mordantly flavored cases. But my favorite Hughes story this year is "A Little Learning", a novelet from the June issue, which doesn't feature Hapthorn. It tells of hapless scholar Guth Bandar's journey through various universes, or parts of the noosphere.
There were several other strong novelets. Two came from Charles Coleman Finlay. One ("After the Gaud Chrysalis") is part of an ongoing adventure fantasy series featuring a mismatched pair, the soldier Vertir and the scribe Kuikin -- this seems a priority of Gordon van Gelder's, to revive adventure fantasy, perhaps with a prejudice towards Leiber-style stories. The other was a dark SF adventure set in the asteroids, "The Seal Hunter". Robert Reed had a good story of the Ship, "River of the Queen". Two more strong SF stories set on other planets are Mark Tiedemann's "Rain from Another Country" and James L. Cambias's "The Ocean of the Blind".
Really an exceptional set of stories. Indeed I was surprised at going through my notes just how many novelets I really liked this year. And I haven't even mentioned a story I suspect may be among the most popular (though I don't rank it all that highly): Richard Chwedyk's "In Tibor's Cardboard Castle". Irvine's "A Peaceable Man" is also a good story, not on my lists partly because it's a 2003 story.
My 1-2-3 order would be Wilce/Bacigalupi/Beagle -- with maybe the Stoddard sneaking in. Not that there is an F&SF readers' poll ...
There were also quite a few very fine short stories. At the top I'd list two from April ("The Seventh Daughter" by Bruce McAllister and "Gas" by Ray Vukcevich), "Jew if by Sea" by Richard Mueller (May), two more from July ("A Balance of Terrors" by Albert E. Cowdrey and "Johnny Beansprout" by Esther M. Friesner), two from August (Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Start the Clock" and Carol Emshwiller's "The Library"), and finally three from October/November (Michael Kandel's "Time to Go", Robert Reed's "Opal Ball" and M. Rickert's "Cold Fires"). There was also good work from Charles Coleman Finlay, Kit Reed, A. A. Attanasio, Steven Utley, Matthew Hughes, and James Patrick Kelly.
Of these I would have "Opal Ball", Robert Reed's story of a couple who fall in love in a future ruled by predictive gambling pools, despite the pools' prediction it won't work out; ranked just barely ahead of Rosenbaum's "Start the Clock", in which people are frozen at a their biological age for a long time -- how do they adapt, and do they change when there's a cure? Third? McAllister's story, perhaps, or Cowdrey's.
Robert Burke Richardson
|Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2004 - 12:20 pm: |
Thanks for the rundown. You mention one or two stories that for some reason or another I missed. I'll go back and check them out while I wait for the December issue
Sean T. M. Stiennon
|Posted on Monday, November 01, 2004 - 12:50 pm: |
"A Little Learning" by Matthew Hughes was reprinted from Silver Lake Publishing's anthology Fantasy Readers Wanted--Apply Within, wasn't it?
|Posted on Monday, November 01, 2004 - 05:48 pm: |
Thank you, Sean, you are correct of course. I had forgotten that. Update the "total new fiction" count to approximately 575,000 words.
(I remain grateful to Gordon for reprinting the story, to be sure -- I had not seen the Silver Lake anthology, and wasn't likely to.)
|Posted on Monday, November 01, 2004 - 10:52 pm: |
Rich, who asked you?
|Posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2004 - 01:15 pm: |
Thanks, Rich. I don't even read every story in every issue of F&SF I get, much less everything in all of the other magazines I subscribe to or can get online, and I would miss out on some good stories without hearing the opinions of people who've read more. I look forward to your summaries of all the other short fiction markets again this year.
|Posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2004 - 06:51 pm: |
So did I. Thanks, Rich, for providing us with this most interesting report!
|Posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2004 - 07:56 pm: |
Thanks, Charlie and okiefolkie.
I confess I don't quite know what to make of billieD's post -- after all, skipping stuff you don't care for is always an option. Perhaps they were commenting only on my note about reprinting the Hughes story ...
I would love to hear what stories other people preferred last year.
|Posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2004 - 08:36 pm: |
I don't know either, but I love the constant references to my Guth Bandar story. As Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said, "Publicity is good. Good publicity is better."
Gordon tells me another Bandar adventure will run in the February issue.
Gordon Van Gelder
|Posted on Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - 05:20 am: |
I didn't ask, but I certainly read year-end assessments like this one and I welcome others. It's great for me to hear what worked best for different readers and what didn't work as well.
|Posted on Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - 03:09 pm: |
I loved Mastermindless and Rain From Another Country.
Thanks for the other recommendations!
|Posted on Sunday, November 07, 2004 - 03:38 pm: |
I always enjoy reading summaries like Rich's, too. The only thing is it makes me sad when I realize how far behind in my subscriptions I am.
|Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 07:52 am: |
I wish my opinions could be as authoritative as Rich Horton's but I fell behind reading the magazine this year. Though my opinions are half assed at best I just love this kind of thing and I can't resist.
F&SF has the best covers in the business. My favorite was the January cover by Cory and Catska Ench. I also liked the July Kent Bash cover and the March Ron Miller cover.
Oddly none of the issues I've gotten to so far had any novellas in them. However Horton lists Young's novelet "Ultraviolet Night" as a novella. So I'll consider it a novella and take the opportunity to contradict Horton. I loved this story of futuristic corporate intrigue. It prances merrily on the cult of the CEO and cavorts among the tombstones of management algorithms and organizational strategems. It's an off kilter story and it doesn't make much sense in the end but I loved it.
I must concur with Horton on novelets. There were many to like even though I read just a little over half the magazine this year. It's difficult to list only three. Charles Coleman Finlay's "The Seal Hunter" from January is probably my favorite. It is worthy of inclusion under Naturalism in an English textbook anthology. An iceberg tale if ever there was one with a surface story as engaging as you could hope for. I was as impressed with Finlay's talent here as I was entertained by his story. Next is Bacigalupi's "The People of Sand and Slag" though I don't consider either of these stories better than the other. They're both knock down middleweights. "Slag" is Mad Max done as sitcom. Bacigalupi has taken the theme of ecological collapse and made it brand spanking new. And appealing! bravo! Third may be Lisa Goldstein's "Finding Beauty" from Oct/Nov. This was a sharp retelling of the sleeping beauty myth which still haunts me. I also really really liked "The Growlimb" by Michael Shea and "The Ocean of the Blind" by James L Cambias from April.
My favorite short story was "Pervert" by Finlay in the March issue. A haunting and weird story about gender relations in a convincing if cryptic world. Dale Bailey's "The End of the World as We Know It" is a dead on emulation of Harlan Ellison in voice and content but is a rejection of and rejoinder to HE's themes and narrative tactics at the same time. At least to my pitiful brain cells. This is my favorite last man on Earth tale ever. Third is "Serpent" by James Patrick Kelly from May. This is a deceptively blithe stand up routine from The serpent addressed to humanity. With Kelly behind the schtick the old snake still has some bite left.
A very entertaining and enriching half year or so.
|Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 09:04 am: |
Thanks for the kind words on my stories, Jack.