Reviews for Fantasy Magazine, December 2015: Queers Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue, by John Joseph Adams, Catherynne M. Valente, Christopher Barzak, Ekaterina Sedia, Kai Ashante Wilson, Austin Bunn, Carlea Holl-Jensen, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ellen Kushner, Shweta Narayan, Richard Bowes, Nicola Griffith
This issue gets a 4 star rating in all, although the average rating would come down to 3.25 stars. I still enjoyed the experience of reading it, and I liked my favourite stories enough to up the rating. My thoughts on all the individual stories below.
"The Lily and the Horn", by Catherynne M. Valente: 5 stars
The preparations for an irregular, poisonous feast, told in gorgeous prose. My favourite from the whole issue. Valente's writing style, the descriptions, and the world just had me enchanted.
"Kaiju Maximus", by Kai Ashante Wilson: 3.5 stars.
A hero travels with her family to confront a Kaiju. This story doesn't focus on LGBTQ+ characters, instead it flips regular gender role expectations with a female hero and a male caretaker. I enjoyed the main story, but had to read the Author Spotlight to understand the meaning of the diversions from the main storyline.
"The Lady's Maid", by Carlea Holl-Jensen: 3.5 stars
A maid serves a lady with many changeable heads. When I read it I didn't know if the author had accidentally swiped visuals and scenes from Return to Oz or if it was intentional, until the very end. If I had read the Author Spotlight beforehand, I would've known that it was very much intentional, and that the story started life as a retelling. Then I would've probably enjoyed it much better from the start (not being confused by the parallels), and that would've affected my rating! I added 0.5 stars to my initial rating to reflect this.
This story could've well been in the horror issue, there were two very viscerally disturbing scenes. I tried to read while eating, which was a big mistake! It was impossible to swallow anything while reading those.
"The Duchess and the Ghost", by Richard Bowes: 3 stars
A young gay boy is haunted by the ghosts of his past in 60s Greenwich Village. Quite light on the fantasy elements, but the writing style is flowing and easy to read. I originally gave this 4 stars when I read it, but ultimately it hasn't stuck in my head like some of the other stories.
"The Padishah Begum's Reflections" by Shweta Narayan: 3 stars
A mechanical female ruler in India meets with a French delegate. Took me a couple of false starts to finish, this is quite complex with stories within stories. I enjoyed the world!
"Down the Path of the Sun", by Nicola Griffith: 2 stars
A story about a small family (two sisters and their mother) surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. While the writing was good, I'm sad to say that I didn't really get why this was the story. It felt more like one scene from a brutal, post-apocalyptic novel. Again, more was explained in the Author Spotlight, and I understand the story's personal meaning to her, but I didn't get all that from reading it (since I don't share her experiences). Might work better and be more hard-hitting for other readers. Also, this was Nicola Griffith's first ever short story.
"Ledge" by Austin Bunn, 2 stars
A ship travels to the edge of the world. More of a metaphorical, literary story about death and longing. Not my cup of tea.
"The Sea Troll's Daughter" by Caitlín R. Kiernan: 4 stars
The hero of this story is a drunkard, boasting swordswoman who kills a troll that plagues a village, and then stays to wait for her reward while the village leaders hum and haw. This "hero kills a troll story" doesn't take the expected paths or follow the familiar story beats of revenge, which was quite refreshing.
"All the Birds in the Sky" by Charlie Jane Anders
I liked the writing style, but I have heard mixed things about this book, so I'm not sure if I'll be picking it up.
The non-fiction was more or less interesting, but there was no stand-out for me. "Retrofuturism and Agendered Fashion: What Will We Wear?" by Ekaterina Sedia was interesting. I admit to skim-reading the Hal Duncan interview, since I haven't read any of his books, and the interview topic wasn't that interesting to me personally.
There were also some interesting artists in the Artists' Gallery, whose names I wrote down.