Douglas Cohen (douglascohen) wrote,
Douglas Cohen

Realms of Fantasy: June 1995 (Issue 5)

Part three in my ongoing retrospective as I read the back issues to Realms of Fantasy and offer my thoughts, all the way through to the present issue.  Unfortunately, the Realms warehouse didn't have all the back issues, so I'm doing my best to hunt down the missing issues through other means.  This explains why my first entry was about issue 1, the second entry about issue 3, and the latest entry concerns issue 5.  Issue 4 arrived in the mail today, and I'm expecting issue 2 very shortly.  After I've read these, by the time I read and discuss issue 6, I hope to read and journal about the issues in chronological order for the foreseeable future.

Now, issue 5 ...

The cover to this one is by Michael Whelan, which marks his second illustration to appear in the magazine,  It depicts a fire-breathing dragon.

In the masthead, it should be mentioned that this marks the first appearance of Rebecca McCabe.  Before Douglas Cohen, Assistant Editor, there was Carina Gonzalez, Editorial Intern, and before her there was Rebecca McCabe, Editorial Assistant (though her title would later change to Assistant Editor).  Why each of us has/had different titles, I don't know.  Ask Shawna.  I'm not going to.  And while there were some differences here and there for each of us, we all filled the same basic role.  The most important part is dealing with the slush.  We are the ones responsible for crushing the dreams of new writers, and occasionally we also help bring these dreams to fruition.  Over the years other names have been mentioned in the masthead that use the term editorial assistant or editorial intern, but I checked with Shawna and none of them filled this role the way we did.  They were down in the publisher's office in VA,  and I can only surmise their roles were more in the areas of copy editing/proofreading.  There have only been three slush readers (a term I don't like if truth be told, because it implies this is all I do for the magazine--it isn't, which is why I'm the assistant editor).

Rebecca was the first of us, and she held this role the longest.  Going by the mastheads, she was there from June 1995 all the way through April 2002.  That's 42 issues, a stretch of seven years.  To put things in perspective, as entrenched as I am here at the magazine, at the time I write this I've only been doing this two years and a little over three months, not even close to Rebecca's tenure.  She was part of the team for a long time.  If I'm discussing the fiction of Realms of Fantasy then she certainly deserves a mention here as one of its editors.  There will be others as we move along.

A rundown of this issue's nonfiction is as follows:

Gahan Wilson & Dan Silver handle adult books, with Gahan reviewing Worldwar: In the Balance by Harry Turtledove and Holy Terror by Josephine Boyle, and Dan reviewing Daughter of Prophecy by Anne Kelleher Bush and Sword and Sorceress XII, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  In the Movie/TV Column, newcomer Eric Niderost covers First Knight, Braveheart, and Rob Roy.  Folkroots is once again handled by Terri Windling, and she discusses how Native American legends inspire magical fiction, art, and music.  In the Artist Gallery, Jane Frank profiles the works of artist, Les Edwards.  And in Games, M.C. Sumner reviews Kilk & Play, which allows you to design your own game, The Great Dalmuti from Wizards of the Coast, another card game by the creator of Magic: The Gathering, and Ecastia, a game for the PC.

Onto the fiction (though I wish I had read issues 2 & 4 first, to better track the evolution of the magazine's fiction) ...

The lead story is "Bread Crumbs & Stones" by Lisa Goldstein.  Art is by Paul Salmon, which is his second illustration in the magazine.  This story is a reprint from the Datlow/Windling anthology, Snow White, Blood Red.  It is RoF's first story involving people of the Jewish faith.  Set in contemporary times, it uses the fairy tale of Hansel & Gretal as a metaphor for the ovens that Nazis killed Jewish prisoners in during WWII.

I would term this piece as surrealism, which would be the first surrealistic piece to appear in the magazine.  While surrealism is often more complex than the definition I'm about to offer, for the sake of brevity I'll use the following definition: surrealism is fantasy that is primarily achieved through the use of metaphors and/or symbolism.  The tangible element of the fantastical is often absent or slight in such pieces (please, no arguments--we could spend a week debating over what surrealism is, along with all its nuances).

This is actually one of two surrealistic pieces in this issue.  And I think it's important to note their appearance in the magazine, as I believe surrealism is probably the most unrecognizable form of fantasy to the general reading audience.  Including such stories in an early issue signals to readers that this truly is a magazine for all realms of fantasy.

 If you rewind to ten years ago, I would have been one of these people.  Actually, I would have sneered derisively, convinced this was literary fiction with no place whatsoever in a magazine like Realms of Fantasy.  Whether they like it or not, even traditionalists will recognize things like urban fantasy & magic realism as fantasy literature.  It's just of a sort they don't like.  But some people don't get surrealism, not if it's supposed to be fantasy literature.  It all comes down to whether you're willing to accept stories that often rely heavily (or solely) on metaphors and symbolism to achieve the fantastical (again, the disclaimer of a simplistic definition).

I'll admit this form isn't my favorite kind of fantasy.  In fact, I usually hate it.  The metaphors and symbols that most authors rely on (in my slush anyway) are terribly plain.  Sometimes I'll reject a piece of what's supposed to be surrealism and scribble a quick note along the lines of "There's some nice writing here, but I don't consider this fantasy."  I'm sure a certain % of these writers get annoyed because they figure I just don't understand surrealism.  The thing is I do.  The problem is that when the metaphors and symbols are plain or cliche, the story falls short of fantastical and becomes mundane literary fiction.  The metaphor of hell-on-earth is cliche.  So are most dream metaphors authors come up with.  These are what I see most often in the slush.  You need to reach for something more powerful, more beautiful (or ugly), more original and thoughtful to convince me this is fantastical fiction.  Fortunately, both of the surrealistic pieces in this issue do precisely this.        

Anyway, next up we have "Thorns" by Martha Wells.  Art to this piece is by Todd Lockwood, and was nominated for the 1996 Chesley Award for Best Interior Illustration, making it the first RoF illustration to receive an award nomination.  As to the story, this was a reinvention of Sleeping Beauty, as a family protects Sleeping Beauty from being awoken by a prince because it would be cruel to bring into this modern world.  

Following this we have "Outside the Walls" by Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, with art provided by Mike Wright.  This is another reivented fairy tale, this for Little Red Riding Hood, wherein we witness  Red Riding Hood break all the literay rules to deliver her basket of goodies to grandma.

Then we have "Mending Maris" by Anne Young.  Art is provided by Mary O'Keefe Young, which marks her fourth illustration in the magazine.  Anne's story marked her first fiction publication.  I should mention here that other than my own slush survivors, I never know if someone is publishing with us for the first time or is a slush survivor unless it's mentioned in the bio page.  So I may miss mentioning someone's first publication as I continue doing these entries.  As to the story itself, I found myself debating as to whether it was science-fantasy or high fantasy.  Eventually I decided this was science-fantasy that changes back to high fantasy, and hence high fantasy at its heart.  In a nutshell, it deals with how a king and queen's reconciliation leads to the rejection of technology and a chance at a fresh start.

After this comes "Mother Moves In" by Deborah Wheeler, with art provided by Debbie Hughes.  This is that other surrealistic piece I was talking about, and it deals with a mother seeking to reconcile with her artistically tormented daughter before the mother dies.

Finally we have "The Purl of the Pacific" by Allan Dean Foster.  Art is provided by Web Bryant, his third illustration for the magazine.  This one is a Mad Amos Malone tale.  According to Foster's bio, Del Rey published a whole book of these tales, so if you like this one you may want to hunt down this collection.  Not sure how I'd classify this story, hence I'll call it unclassifiable.  As to what it's about, Mad Amos Malone and his spunky unicorn attempt foil an evil Native American sorcerer.

So that wraps up this issue.  And my favorite story this issue?  The surrealistic reprint, "Bread Crumbs & Stones" by Lisa Goldstein.  And my favorite original piece to this issue?  "Mother Moves In" by Deborah Wheeler.  Surrealism wins in a landslide!  And my favorite artwork?  Todd Lockwood's illustration to "Thorns."  Next time I'll offer my thoughts on issue 2 or 4, depending on when 2 arrives.  Until then ...            
Tags: rof retrospectives
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