Douglas Cohen (douglascohen) wrote,
Douglas Cohen
douglascohen

Realms of Fantasy: December 1996 (Issue 14)

Part fourteen in my ongoing retrospective as I read the fiction in the back issues of Realms of Fantasy and offer my thoughts, right up to the present.  This time around I'll be blabbing about the December 1996 issue.

The cover to this one is by Michael Whelan, which marks his fourth illustration in the magazine.  It depicts a sorcerer with an impressive dragon in the background.

Now, the masthead.  A quick perusal reveals that with this issue, Rebecca McCabe, the original master of slush at RoF, was promoted from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor.  When my own name first appeared in the RoF masthead, it was as Assistant Editor,  but Rebecca still earns my jealousy.  First, she was with the magazine much longer (for now), and was basically there from its inception, which is kind of cool.  Second, back when she was the editorial assistant/assistant editor there was a letters page, something I've been enjoying reading as I go through the back issues.  And in this particular issue, she actually got to answer one of the letters!  That lucky #$!%. :)  Barring a miraculous resurrection of the letters page, this is something I will never get to do.  Alas.

Moving on ...

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

In the adult books column, Gahan Wilson reviews The Panic Hand by Jonathan Carroll, Sheep by Simon Magnin, The Book of Hyperborea by Clark Ashton Smith, edited by Will Murray, and Jeanne Cavelos reviews Glenraven by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Holly Lisle, and The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory; in the Folkroots column, Terri Windling discusses deer maidens and selkies; in the movie/TV column, Dan Perez discusses thirteen dark fantasy films you should see but probably haven't; in the artist gallery, Linda D'Agostino Clinger discusses the art of Dean Morrissey; and in the games column, Mark Sumner reviews Daggerfall for the CD-ROM, and LucasArt's Afterlife, also for the CD-ROM.

On to the fiction ... 

The opening story was "Where's the Luck?" by William Nabors.  Art to this one was provided by Janet Aulisio, which marks her fourth illustration in the magazine.  This is a dark but entertaining tale about luck, the absence of it and creating it.  The fantastical element is rather ambiguous, but is presented in a satisfying fashion.

The second story was "The Secret of the Mummy's Brain" by William Eakin.  Art to this one was provided by David Martin, which marks his second illustration in the magazine.  This story marks the first mummy tale to appear in the magazine's pages, although it's far from the usual story about some shambling ancient pharaoh wrapped in white tape.  I really don't even know how to describe this one, except to say it's strangely engrossing.  And the length of some of the sentences could give William Faulkner a run for his money.  It should also be noted that this story is one in a series of tales that takes place in Redgunk, Mississippi, and this is the first time one of these tales appeared in RoF.

Next up was "Love Equals Four, Plus Six" by A.M. Dellamonica.  Art to this one was provided by John Berkey, which marks his second illustration in the magazine.  To me, this story had a slipsteam feel to it: part fantasy, past sf, part mainstream, as it explores love in terms both mathematical and transcendental.  Some might not consider this one fantasy (and a letter in one of the subsequent letter pages suggested as much), but I can see the argument that it is.  That said, recently I've noticed how much editors can influence the definitions of our genre.  Some pieces are no-brainers concerning their genre no matter how you break it down.  Everyone will agree that Conan and Lord of the Rings are of the fantasy brand.  I, Robot & Ender's Game are unquestionably science fiction.  But every so often a story comes along where it's not so clear as to what genre it falls in.  Often, it doesn't really matter.  Over the years I've come to appreciate George R. R. Martin's take on this stuff: he notes how his father just called all these kinds of stories--fantasy, science fiction, and horror--weird stuff.  And it is.  So long as you like it, cool.  That's what matters most.

BUT ...

When you get down to the slicing and dicing, there are certainly different types of weird stuff.  Readers of RoF expect fantasy stories.  If they read a horror story in Realms, it had best have a fantasy element.  If they read something "sciencey," it would be wise if it were of the science-fantasy brand of story.

EXCEPT ...

With Realms of Fantasy, Shawna determines what is fantasy.  Sure, I do it with the slush, but she makes the final call.  And with stories that aren't explicitly fantasy (like Conan or LOTR) sometimes this does come into play.  Shawna has published stories in the magazine I consider science fiction (Dellamonica's story isn't one of them).  Just last week I learned about a story she enjoyed but rejected as too science fictional for Realms of Fantasy.  I didn't feel this way at all.  I loved the story, believing it to be an excellent piece that expanded the definitions of both science-fantasy and fantasy as a whole.  But so it goes.  As long as Shawna makes the calls for the magazine's fiction, hers is the most important opinion as to what constitutes proper fantasy within our pages.  If pressed, I'd say her definition of fantasy is a little broader than my own.  OTOH, she did reject that piece I consider to be fantasy enough for RoF.  So you never know what might tickle a short story editor's opinion concerning acceptance or rejection of a particular piece when it comes to the underlying bones of its genre.

Moving on ...

Next up was "The Stover Cut" by Calvin Horne.  Art to this one was provided by Gary Lippincott, which marks his third illustration in the magazine.  This dark fantasy was a ghost story relying heavily on voice and milieu.  The  milieu was particularly engaging, introducing readers to the nitty-gritty of the struggling shipping industry through swamps and marshes during the Depression.  A well-researched and unusual milieu can do wonders for taking a story to the next level.

The fifth story was "Holding Pattern" by Jack McDevitt, his second story in RoF, with art provided by Lawrence Ronald.   This one also gets into a lot of nitty-gritty details, in this case with airplanes ...or should I say ghost-planes.

The last story was "Coyote Woman" by Margaret Ball, which marked her second story in RoF.  Art to this one was provided by David Beck, which marks his fifth illustration in the magazine.  This one was an interesting blend of feminism, male chauvinism, and Native America mythology, as it explores Navajo myths in some unusual ways that lead to a rather abrupt but powerful ending.

So that wraps up this issue and the publishing year for 1996.  And my favorite story for December 1996?  "Coyote Woman" by Margaret Ball.  And my favorite David Beck's illustration to this story.  Next time I'll kick off the 1997 publishing year by discussing the February 1997 issue.  Until then ...
Tags: rof retrospectives
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