Realms of Fantasy, June 2005

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"The Storyteller’s Wife” by Eugie Foster                

"Deliverance" by Jim C. Hines            
"Foxtails" by Richard Parks                    
"Midnight Hunt" by Susan Yi                     

"Moments Of Grace" by Aaron Schutz               

"Stones In Winter” by Karen D. Fishler              
This issue of Realms of Fantasy (RoF) is truly fantastic, filled with stories that outperform not only the competition in the other magazines of the genre, but also many previous issues of RoF.  A loosely unifying theme for the issue might be that the stories all seem to deal with passing/seeing through a veil/illusion or wrong impression to discover the truth hidden beneath the surface.

In “The Storyteller’s Wife,” protagonist Janie Harper encounters a faery illusion and must make a decision when all of her “choices stink.”  The story is a successful variation on the fiction template wherein a protagonist must rescue a loved one from an unknown fate in another world.  Author Eugie Foster has consistently used words to craft vibrant mental images in past stories, and this tale is no exception.  The story is replete with intense visuals (I call them eyeball kicks), especially while Janie is in Faerie.  But Foster doesn’t rely only on great imagery.  The author expertly builds tension early in the story, when Janie discovers her storyteller husband Tom’s empty wheelchair.  “…its solitary presence was sinister, like finding a dismembered finger or foot.  Folded neatly on the seat was a note.”  Foster’s characters Janie and Tom have a realistic back-story.  Both characters are mundane enough to be believable, and yet odd enough to intrigue the reader.  At its core, “The Storyteller’s Wife” is a love story, but the early elements that hint at suicide, and the sinister nature of the denizens of Faerie add a dark element that enriches the story.  Foster resists the temptation to end the story on a perfectly happy note, but the ending still seemed to lack some of the edge of the introduction.  Even so, I felt the author succeeded with this story.

Jim C. Hines
clearly knows how to create anticipation in his readers.  He opens his tale, “Deliverance,” with the line, “Claire waited until the 4th of July to tell me.”  Then the author spends a paragraph and a half on quiet setting development before slipping in, “Sitting there with my dead wife, I could hear the music from other apartments.”  “Deliverance” is a very different kind of ghost story.  One in which the worlds of the dead and living are not so clearly defined, and in which the positions of right and wrong are similarly blurred.  The moral ambiguity of the situation in which Terry, the protagonist, and Claire, the ghost of his wife, find themselves, pervades the tale.  What kind of life could a person have if their deceased loved one continued to exist in a sort of half-life?  How would one reach any sort of closure?  Protagonist Terry tries to happily ignore these questions when his wife Claire somehow “survives” her death, living on as a semi-solid entity, but conflict is inevitable when life somehow “finds a way,” and their delicate existence is challenged.  The author asks hard questions and pulls no punches in this realistic, literate, and socially relevant short story.  The characters are solid, and the dialogue is excellent.  The pace might be a bit slow for some readers, but I felt that it served this story well.

“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks is an intriguing story, rich with cultural information, an interesting-enough plot, and a delightful protagonist/narrator.  The tale is a twist on first person detective fiction.  The tone is a bit dry and witty, an interesting contrast to the more serious and courtly ancient Japanese setting.  The investigator, Yamada-san, is hired by a wealthy noble to find the nobleman’s son, who was kidnapped by the noble’s runaway wife.  The wife, it seems, is a disguised capricious creature known as a fox spirit.  The search is complicated by the possible interest of other parties, and Yamada-san finds himself in some sticky situations.  I felt the author succeeded in this story because of the way he made the old detective short mystery template seem new with the application of Japanese cultural myths and settings.  I also greatly enjoyed the irreverent voice of the narrator, which I felt served as a nice contrast to traditional Western ideas about stilted Japanese court culture.  One element that some readers might consider a flaw was the low level of tension.  While the humorous tone and sardonic references tended to blunt any sense that the protagonist was in real danger, I felt that the story still had some tension, and worked quite well.

Susan Yi disturbs deeply with the shudder-inducing “Midnight Hunt.”  In her story, the author develops a twist on the legendary hunters, who are seen from the perspective of half-human Kyle.  Kyle is the son of a father both non-human and inhuman.  Kyle’s human mother lurks in fear in the corners of their home, while Kyle’s father, a creature who enjoys breeding experiments, attempts to develop Kyle into a vicious monster that will thrive on the misery of humans.  The most disturbing of Yi’s visions center on the hunt itself, and the sensual temptations that draw Kyle toward his dark side.  Yi uses scent, a visceral sense, to communicate the raw urges that threaten to consume Kyle while tempting him to consume others.  I felt the author succeeded in creating a dark and sinister tone, as well as turning my stomach.  I do not recommend this story for younger readers, but mature readers should appreciate the skill with which Yi crafted “Midnight Hunt.”

After the cotton-mouthed horror of “Midnight Hunt,” I was ready for a story with a slower pace, and at least a few bright notes.  “Moments of Grace” by Aaron Schutz was exactly the story I needed to deliver me from the unrelenting darkness.  In this mesmerizing tale set in the hot, dusty South, a mysterious stranger enters the lives of a few hard-luck locals, changing things unexpectedly and forever.  The author seems to have struck upon a completely original form of magic for this story, and old hands in the genre should be delighted to read “Moments” for that reason alone.  I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what the “magic system” is, but I can divulge that besides this delightfully original magic system, Schutz delivers outstanding literary work of the quality one might find in a literary textbook.  Schutz reminded me frequently of Flannery O’Connor as he wrote about his characters.  The characters often possess exaggerated physical traits that reflect their inner nature, and they sink to the lowest depths of pain and self-destruction before experiencing brilliant moments of redemption and epiphany.  “Moments” is packed with incredible eyeball kicks, amazing dialogue, and even good poetry!  I heartily recommend this story.

Karen D. Fishler wrapped up the issue with another good piece of literary fiction, “Stones in Winter.”  While “Winter” had a tough act to follow, I do think Fishler succeeded with her short story.  The protagonist, a Nordic woman called Arnora, watches her family and her lover face certain death in battle against enemy soldiers.  Only Arnora has a special ability which allows her to see the legendary Valkyries as they sweep up the bravest of the fallen who will serve in the Valyries’ celestial army, and fight a battle at the end of time.  When the Valkyries come for Gudmund, her man, she confronts them in an effort to join the ranks of the brave dead.  Part of Fishler’s success was the way the Nordic legends come alive with her literary imagery, but another part had to do with her subtle and unobtrusive use of language.  The simplest parts of the story seem solid, lending strength to the whole.  This is a good love story, filled with action, power, and legend.

This issue of Realms of Fantasy was outstanding.  The editing was great, with slower or lighter stories inserted where needed.  The elements of illusion and introspection required thoughtful reading, and folks who enjoy literary fiction have plenty of great writing here to digest.