Realms of Fantasy February 2005

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"Returning My Sister’s Face" by Eugie Foster
"All Fish and Dracula" by Liz Williams
"Fir Na Tine" by Sandra McDonald
"Crab Apple" by Patrick Samphire
"The Good Doctor" by Melissa Lee Shaw
"Peas and Carrots" by Michael Canfield

ImageShawna McCarthy has done it again. Realms of Fantasy has long been one of my favorite magazines. I was once a subscriber to its sister publication, the late lamented Science Fiction Age, which had much the same format, and I’m glad to see that Realms is still thriving. This issue could easily be called the ghosts, vampires, and monsters issue, as all but one of the stories features one of these beasties. Here goes . . .

Eugie Foster’s "Returning My Sister’s Face" is a Japanese ghost story about a young samurai named Yasuo and his beautiful sister, Oiwa. When the girl dies—with half of her face horribly mangled—for having an alleged affair with her husband’s servant, her angry spirit appears to Yasuo and makes him promise to restore her honor, her "face." What follows is a tale of revenge as delightful as it is grisly. I was a bit confused about why the girl’s ghost demanded her brother’s help, then kept interfering on her own, but her method of revenge is much more delicious than what her flesh and blood brother comes up with. Asian folk tales and legends appear to be a rich story vein, and Foster mines it well. The comparisons of honor to Oiwa’s face, which was made ugly by poison and disfigured even more after her death, were nice touches. Besides, I am sucker for tales of ancient Japan, especially if they are as well-researched and entertaining as this one.

The next piece is also a ghost story. Or a fish story. Maybe it’s a vampire story. In "All Fish and Dracula," author Liz Williams takes us to the dying English fishing village of Whitby for an annual Goth festival. What fishing villages have to do with Goths is beyond me, but that isn’t the point of the story. A young Goth girl named Katya travels there with friends and has a Gothic good time until her friend Lily is murdered, bitten in the neck by something. Then Halloween rolls around. Referred to by the Goths by its original Celtic name, Samhain, it is the day when the veil between worlds is thin, and the dead can return. Lily’s boyfriend, Julian, is convinced she will return along with them, and runs off into the rain-soaked night. When Katya follows him, she confronts what has been coming back for its revenge on the town. This great little story is subtle without being too subtle, and has an ending you never see coming. It also pokes a little fun at the Goth lifestyle without belittling it. Vampire stories are hard to do well, but "All Fish and Dracula" is a great twist on an old, old trope.

"Fir Na Tine" by Sandra McDonald leads us away from the realm of ghosts into Irish mythology. All her life, Lisa has been captivated by men who are literally made of fire, beginning when she was a child and saw a boy belch fire into a trash can on the playground. She spends the rest of her life searching for such men who can give her the fiery passion her body craves, but when she finds one, Lisa discovers that if she stays with him she will get burned, literally. At the end of the story she learns why some women can feel the flaming touch that she cannot. This is a nice story, though it felt a bit long.

Patrick Samphire’s "Crab Apple" is the story of a young boy named Joshua, whose father is dying of cancer. With his mother gone, it is up to Joshua to take care of him. One day, his father collapses in the kitchen, and Joshua finds a disheveled girl standing over him, her hair matted and full of leaves, her clothes dirty. She runs out the door, but he sees her later on at school (after calling an ambulance for his father, of course). Her name is Emma, and she has something important to teach him about embracing his inner wildness in order to deal with his father’s illness. She also has a strange connection to a dark faerie-like tree creature which emerges from a gnarled old oak near Joshua’s house, a connection which is never explained. This creature is called Crab and he makes Emma start turning into a creature like himself by feeding her a crab apple. This and Joshua’s father referring to the cancerous growth in his lung as a crab apple give us the title of the story. In the end, the science fiction fan in me wanted a little more explanation, but this is still a nice, subtle faerie tale about hope and embracing the wildness inside us.

The lines between good and evil, human and monster, are blurred wonderfully in Melissa Lee Shaw’s "The Good Doctor." Set in a struggling village in Bolivia, "The Good Doctor" follows Paolo, a club-footed physician’s assistant, as he runs the small village hospital for Dr. Baudouin, who only works at night. Yes, it’s pretty easy to figure out what this story is about once you know about the Doc’s working hours, but the ending is not so easy. Despite his inherent nastiness, Dr. Baudouin has done a lot for this poor village, and in the end, the most horrible act in the story is committed by Paolo in order to protect him. This is a grim, fascinating tale full of interesting, complex characters and a lot of emotion.

Lastly, all the world is literally a stage in Michael Canfield’s "Peas and Carrots." In this tale, a character in a play, Handsome Stranger with Newspaper at Next Table, has taken on a life of his own and named himself Sam. Sam is determined to get the attention of the main character, Sophie, so they can run away together. But Sophie is still tied down by the script. The story details his successive attempts to break her from the confines of the script. "Peas and Carrots" is absolutely delightful. Lighthearted and clever, it makes for a refreshing change from the darkness and monsters throughout the rest of the issue. It also makes good use of stage lingo. The title of the story is the phrase that background characters say to each other in order to sound as if they are having their own conversations, and the story also refers to the fourth wall and the house invisible when talking about the theater itself. Every writer has had characters get away from him or her, but I believe Canfield is the first to ever write about the occurrence so cleverly.