Douglas Cohen (douglascohen) wrote,
Douglas Cohen

Realms of Fantasy: October 1994 (Issue 1)

Welcome to part one of what will be an ongoing retrospective.  I will read the fiction in each issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine and offer my thoughts as Assistant Editor of fiction.  I will touch upon the art and nonfiction features as well.  A few of the early retrospectives will be out of order, because I'm still scrambling to assemble the final few issues for a complete set of RoF.  Once I have these, I will blog about each issue in order of publication.

So, let's jump in, shall we?

The honor of the first cover ever for RoF goes to artist Michael Whelan.  It features a wounded warrior with a dragon in the background.  Inside, it was interesting to note a couple of features the magazine no longer has, such as the editorial column and the Letters Page.  Also, contributer bios are in the back instead of the front.  Other than Shawna, there are almost no names in the masthead still with the magazine.  The publisher and editorial director--Mark Hintz and Carl A. Gnam--are still around.  While she isn't in every issue, Terri Windling is in the first issue with her popular Folkroots column.  Other than this, the only other name I saw that you can still find in the latest masthead is Diane Bonifanti, the business manager.  But the supporting editorial staffs are different, as is the art director, and all the other people in various branches that help run a magazine.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because the magazine is in its 13th year (at the time I'm writing this anyway).  But it's still interesting to note.  Since the art is such an important part of each issue, I will note that the magazine's original art director is Ronald M. Stevens. 

A rundown on our first nonfiction columns are as follows:

Book reviews are handled by Gahan Wilson.  The first books he covered are: The Hollowing by Robert Holdstock, Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 7 (covering 1993), edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, and Skin by Kathe Koja.  There is also a defunct mini-column called "Books to Look For," but I'm going to skip on listing each of those each issue.  Our first movie column is handled by J.B. Mauceri, who covers Frankenstein, directed by Kenneth Branagh & produced by Francis Ford Coppola.  Our first folkroots column is handled by Terri Windling, as she covers the Green Man and the Lore of the Woods.  Terri also covers our first ever Artist Gallery, where she profiles Brian Froud.  And in our first gaming column, M.C. Sumner covers the following: The Horde (3DO Multiplayer and PC CD-ROM from Crystal Dynamics), and Magic: the Gathering from Wizards of the Coast, back when it was relatively new and before they acquired TSR.

On to the fiction ...   

In terms of the stories, Shawna did an excellent job in this first issue of establishing that Realms of Fantasy is a magazine interested in publishing all sorts of fantasy stories.  Since it was the first issue, to lure readers it looks like Shawna went out and got stories by Roger Zelazny and Neil Gaiman.  But we'll get to those stories in a moment. 

The first story ever published in RoF is "Twixt Dust and Dawn" by L. Dean James.  Accompanying artwork is by Luis Royo, which makes his work the first interior illustration to appear in the magazine.  This is a high fantasy tale that starts, in, of all places, a bar.  On the surface this seems rather cliche.  However, there is nothing wrong with the tale itself, as it tells the story of a warrior-woman tries to reclaim her ancestral throne from an evil magician with the help of a fey who has other ideas.  And if Shawna selected the order of the stories in this issue (I'm uncertain whether it was her or Carl Gnam, the Editorial Director, handling this), I would propose this was her thinking: she wanted to lead off with a well told but familiar feeling high fantasy tale, something the typical fantasy reader of the mid-nineties might expect.  And from here it would be a launching point as she would publish fantasy stories across the board.  In fact, I think this might be the last high fantasy story that starts in a bar that I've ever seen in the magazine.

Next up we "Pest Control" by Chuck Rothman.  Art is by Gary Yealdhall.  This one is a funny fantasy tale about a house infested with magical pests and the exterminator hired to deal with them.  Of all the authors in the first issue, the only one I've seen submissions from since coming to ROF is Chuck.  And just last year he published a story in our pages called "Spare Change."

After this we have "The Land Down Under" by Billie Sue Mosiman.  Art is by Mary O'Keefe Young.  This is the first science fantasy tale published in the magazine.  This one deals with a far-flung future where magic and science are practically indistiguishable, and the greatest healer of the time attempts to treat her granddaughter's sick mind.

Then we have "The Shrouding and the Guisel" by Roger Zelazny.  Art is provided by Doug Andersen.  Zelazny's story is actually an Amber story, in which the great wizard Merlin wakes to find himself making love to a long-lost love who needs his help to defeat an unconquerable beast.  To my surprise, I didn't enjoy this one.  Everything I've read by Zelazny (admittedly, not enough by far) has always left me hugely impressed.  In all fairness, I'll note that I haven't read any of the Amber books (yet), and this story takes place after the 10th book, which I believe was the last.  Perhaps if I knew something about the world of Amber I would feel differently about this story.  I expect that one day, after I've read the Amber books, I'll go back and give this story another try.

Following this we have "The Redemption of Silky Bill" by Sarah Zettel, with art provided by David Beck.  This one kills two birds with one stone by being our first Wild West fantasy and our first deal with the Devil story.  As to the particulars (without providing spoilers, of course!),the cowboy Silky Bill is out to save his soul and those of all Native Americans in the ultimate card game with the Devil.

Next up we have "Troll Bridge" by Neil Gaiman, with art provided by Gary Lippincott.  This one is reprint (something I've yet to see in RoF since I joined the team), though I'm afraid it isn't mentioned in the magazine where this one was originally published.  As to the story itself, it's an adult fairy tale about a young boy who encounters a troll beneath a bridge who bargains to save his life.  These bargains continue over the years, leading to an unexpected result.  This story was originally  nominated for the 1994 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction.  Since it's a reprint, RoF can't take credit for this.  Still, it's worth mentioning.

Finally we have "The Beholder" by Jean Lorrah, with art provided by Carol Heyer.  This one is high fantasy with a romantic flare.  I'd like to note that sandwiched between the first tale (which is also high fantasy) and this, the last tale of the first issue, we have a funny fantasy set in modern times, a science fantasy, a Roger Zelazny Amber tale, a Wild West fantasy, and an adult fairy tale.  In other words, enough content has already been provided to let readers know that this magazine will indeed cover all the realms of fantasy.  I make a point of saying this because every so often I read about people complaining that RoF was supposed to be a magazine all about high fantasy.  No, it wasn't.  It's clear from the fiction in the very first issue, not to mention that in the last line of Shawna's very first editorial she makes it plain that she has a very broad definition as to what fantasy is.  As to the story, I believe Shawna's editorial byline to this one sums it up best: Challenged by a love-struck prince to break a wizard's hideous spell, a young witch learns a lesson about love's ability to defeat even the most powerful magic.
So that wraps up the premiere issue of Realms of Fantasy.  And my favorite story?  "The Land Down Under," by Billie Sue Mosiman.  And my favorite artwork?  David Beck's illustration to "The Redemption of Silky Bill."  I'm missing issue two (for the moment), so I'm currently reading issue three.  I'll share some thoughts on it when I'm done.  Until then ...
Tags: rof retrospectives
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