The cover to this one is by Sanjulian, and depicts a vampire.
A rundown of this issue's nonfiction is as follows:
In adult books, Gahan Wilson reviews Resume with Monsters by William Brown Spencer, The Prestige by Christopher Priest (man, do I love this movie),and Bereavements by Richard Lortz; in the movie/TV column, Dan Perez reviews the ABC television miniseries based on Stephen King's The Shining; in the Folkroots column, Terri Windling writes about the story of Cinderella; in the artist gallery, Terry Brooks writes about the art of Keith Parkinson; and in the games column, Mark Sumner reviews the PC game, Quake, White Wolf's role-playing manual, Mage: the Ascension, and a tarot deck designed to accompany the aforementioned item.
On to the fiction ...
First of all, I need to mention something about the contributors overall. Prior to this issue, the most authors we've had in a particular issue who had previously contributed stories to the magazine was two. In this issue, there are four authors who have previously contributed fiction to the magazine. It should be noted that one of them, Charles de Lint, had only previously contributed a reprint, whereas the other three authors had contributed original fiction. Regardless, this strikes me as an important step in the magazine's evolution, as it demonstrated how Shawna was building a sizable lineup of regular contributors, writers the magazine's readers will recognize from earlier issues.
The first story in the issue is "Scapegoat." The author is Susan J. Kroupa, and while Susan would go on to publish other stories with Realms, in this particular issue she is the lone author who hasn't contributed a previous story to the magazine. This particular story dealt with rainmaking and sacrifices, drawing heavily on Native American mythology in the process. It also marked the first story in the magazine that featured a Native American protagonist. Art to this one was provided by David Beck, which marks his fourth illustration in the magazine.
Next up was an urban fantasy tale, "Shining Nowhere But in the Dark," by the aforementioned Charles de Lint. And as I said, while Charles had contributed fiction to the magazine before, this marked his first original piece within Realms' pages. This was an interesting and thoughtful piece , dealing with the links between life, death, and dreaming, and what happens when a woman who never dreams tries to keep it this way. Art to this one was provided by Mary O'Keefe Young, which marks her seventh illustration in the magazine.
Next up was "Nairich" by William F. Wu, and it marks his second appearance in the magazine. This piece is set in 1906 San Francisco , right around the time of the Great Quake. It's a very atmospheric piece, and it informs the readers about some of the darker practices during this time, all in the interests of making $$$. Somehow I guessed the ending to this one. Growing up, I mostly read novels and it became a habit of mine to figure out the endings to books. Eventually, I got so good at it that I was guessing endings hundreds of pages in advance, and lots of stuff along the way. For me, one of the major indicators of a good book was if I didn't see the plot twists coming. With short fiction though, it's a different bag of worms. Sure, I figure out some of the endings, but short fiction relies on a lot of literary tricks I'm not nearly as used to reading about. Also, with a magazine like Realms, where we generally don't publish anything longer than 10,000 words, a story is often over in the blink of an eye. You don't have time to chew on a story as you're reading it like you do with a novel. You read, you blink, and it's over. It's more like swallowing stuff whole. So sometimes, before I can figure out where a story might be going, it's done. This particular story wasn't terribly long, and the ending was one that should have surprised me, I think, but somehow, halfway through it, I said to myself "She must be [blank]." And she was. So maybe all this short fiction reading is making me better at figuring out the endings to shorter works, or maybe I got lucky. Either way, I'll give myself a tip o' the literary cap for figuring it out! Art to this one was provided by Web Bryant, which marks his sixth illustration in the magazine.
The fourth story was "The Beautiful Wassilissa" by Don Webb, and it marks his second appearance in the magazine, the first where he wrote the story himself. This was a dark fairy tale, a mixture of Cinderella components and Russian folklore. Despite its brevity, I found it rather engrossing because of its macabre presentation. Art to this one was provided by Annie Lunsford, which marks her third illustration in the magazine.
The last story was "Hot Death on Wheels" by Geoffrey A. Landis, and it marked his second appearance in the magazine. This was an enjoyable piece about a hot-rodder who never loses ...and then one day he must drag-race with Death. It was the voice that sold me on this one, because it was particularly strong. One interesting thing about this story though was the personality of the narrator. He slanders entire groups of people as he tells the tale, using terms such as "fags" and "coons" (being as this piece seems to be set in the 1950s, the insult of "coons" was a little more common then, I think). Now this is the sort of thing where people could take offense. Easily. But I have friends that are gay, and friends that are black, and I wasn't offended by the author's language. Why? Because I didn't believe these were the author's opinions, but the narrator's. There is a definite difference. With stories that deal with racism or other prejudices, ignorant/slanderous language is often used to help illuminate the themes of a given piece. But this piece wasn't about racism, and the terms were used in a very casual manner. So in a case such as this it falls to the author to get it across that these are the narrator's views, not his, and to do this without interrupting the flow of the story. And I do believe he pulled it off, all through the voice of the narrator. Shawna must have thought so too, or she never would have published this. Also, given when this piece was supposed to take place, the language could arguably be viewed as a sign of the times. Art to this one was provided by Mike Wright, which marks his third illustration in the magazine.
So that wraps up this issue. And my favorite story? "Shining Nowhere But in the Dark" by Charles de Lint. And my favorite artwork? David Beck's illustration to "Scapegoat" by Susan J. Kroupa. Next time I'll polish off the 1996 publishing year when I discuss the December 1996 issue. Until then ..