The cover to this one is by Tim Hildebrandt. It features a warrior with a glowing sword, along with a flying dragon in the background.
A rundown of this issue's nonfiction is as follows:
In adult books, Gahan Wilson reviews The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon, Serial Killer Days by David Prill, and Jeanne Cavelos reviews Black Horse for the King by Anne McCaffrey, and Touch Wood, edited by Peter Crowther; in the movie/TV column, Dan Perez reviews Peter Jackson's The Frighteners; in the Folkroots column, Terri Windling discusses fairy tales in poetry; in the artist gallery, Harlan Ellison discusses the art of Barclay Shaw; and in the games column, Mark Sumner reviews Civilization II for the PC, the miniature game, Warhammer, and the video game, Resident Evil.
On to the fiction ...
There were a number of good stories in this issue, and also a couple of important firsts. So let's get right into it. The lead story was a magic realism piece by Peni R. Griffin called "Goldfish," with art provided by Jody Williams. This one resonated with me very powerfully, revolving around a premise that on the surface sounds extremely absurd: a man and a goldfish swap places. And no, this wasn't a comical piece. Far from it. It actually features some very deep characterizations, and at times the protagonist reminded me of Charlie from FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, one of my all-time favorite novels (I've yet to read the shorter version of this story). Just goes to show you that if you have a story worth telling, it really doesn't matter how absurd your premise is. It's also worth noting that was the first piece in Realms of Fantasy that featured a protagonist of Hispanic descent.
Next up was "Death Loves Me" by Tanith Lee, her third appearance in Realms, pulling her into a tie with Deborah Wheeler for most appearances in the magazine (to this point). Art to this one was provided by Todd Lockwood, which marks his third illustration in the magazine. This illustration was the winner of the 1997 Chesley Award for Interior Illustration, making this the first artwork in Realms to win an award. Getting back to the story, this particular piece takes place in ancient Greece, and considering the author, it's no surprise that it features a lush atmosphere and rich language. Overall the fantasy element here is slight, but it plays a pivotal role as Lee delves into the world of charioteers in a story of love, lust, betrayal, and deception.
The next story, "Remedy of the Bane" by Storm Constantine, also relies on a slight but essential fantasy element, and also relies on a whole lot of lust, deception, and evocative language. The characterizations here were perfect, and for beginning authors I'd point to this story as an excellent example of characters creating plot through their behaviors and actions, to such an extent that there was no other way this piece could have ended. I saw it coming, and was very satisfied when the author delivered. And then she took it a step further, surprising me and taking the story to another level in the last paragraph. I love it when that happens. Art to this one was provided by Carol Heyer, which marks her fifth illustration in the magazine.
Following this was a short-short by Pat York called "A Faerie's Tale." Art to this was provided by Laurie Harden, which marks her third illustration in the magazine. It's often hard to go into a lot of detail about short-shorts because, well, they're particularly short. Suffice it to say that the author spins a quick yarn about the lengths some fairies will go to protect that which is theirs.
The last story in this issue was "The Women Kahele Loved" by Julie Stevens. Art to this one was provided by Ken Graning, which marks his fifth illustration in the magazine. With this story, Stevens returns to her milieu of a Hawaii imbued with gods and magic, which she introduced to us with "Pacifica" in the February 1996 issue. As with "Pacifica" (a story I rather enjoyed), a big chunk of the story's charm comes from the author exploring this rather exotic milieu that is rarely seen in the pages of fantasy. She also wields a deft hand with the characterization, telling the story a chief's wife and his witch-lover working together to avenge his murder. And let's not look past an important first for the magazine because of this story, this being the lesbian relationship that develops between these women. Before this, the closest any story came to this territory was a tale by Tanith Lee back in the February 1995 issue called "The Story Told By Smoke: From the Journals of St. Strange." In that story, two female characters shared kisses and caresses, but before things might progress further things were cut tragically short. So "The Women Kahele Loved" represents the first story in the magazine to significantly explore homosexuality, and since both women had also shared a bed with Kahele (the aforementioned chief), one might also argue there is at least a passing exploration of bisexuality. Of course, Kahele is dead when these women get together, and the fact that these women end having sex with both sexes isn't something the author really focuses on. Still, it's worth mentioning.
So that wraps up this issue. And my favorite? Well, like I said, there are a lot good stories in this issue, but for me the runaway favorite is "Goldfish" by Peni R. Griffin. And my favorite artwork? Todd Lockwood's illustration to "Death Loves Me" by Tanith Lee. Next time I'll be examining the October 1996 issue. Until then ...