Scheherazade: the Magazine of Fantasy, Science
Fiction & Gothic Romance, issue 28
(£3.50, 41 pages, paperback magazine, published 2005.)
those 'lucky bags' you used to be able to buy - where you never quite
knew what sweets you were going to get? 'Jamboree bags' we used to call
them, which dates me, I suppose, to a particular decade. This magazine
is very much like that - a miscellany of SF/fantasy pieces. Dip into
it and you are constantly surprised and often delighted by what you
come across. The editors haven't gone for a consistent look or house
style in their selection of stories and artwork, but the stories are
all told with verve and energy and the artwork has a similar gutsy impact.
I think it's the lurid pink and blue cover illustration that reminds
me of those lucky bags, it certainly grabs your attention!
The first story in the collection, 'At Cliché's Bar' is an imaginative
piece by Larry Matthews about an interstellar bar encounter which goes
nowhere in an entertaining way. Like some of the other pieces here,
it's a bit too short to be engrossing and a bit too long to be enigmatic,
but I liked it anyway. 'Agent of God' by Karen Traviss, also very short,
is a hilarious spoof of the movie-of-the-book genre. Andy Oldfield's
'The Lord's Work' is too brief to be more than a bitter-sweet morsel,
but I did like the minutely described natural world and the sense of
mystery it evokes. 'Sons of the Earth' by Vaughan Stanger, although
barely filling a page, succeeds in creating some real characters and
is intriguing and poignant despite its brevity.
Of the longer stories, some are clearly character-driven, whilst others
are more plot-driven and pay great attention to imaginative detail as
in Trevor Denyer's story 'Landfall' which cuts between a fantasy quest
and an encounter between two lovers. He creates a convincing scenario
for the fabulous creatures - the last of their kind, in search of a
mate - and simultaneously cocks a snoop at the clichés of conventional
love-making. Lyn McConchie's story of sharp practices and a dodgy dealer
getting his comeuppance on a distant planet is enjoyable and has some
Of the more character-driven pieces, my favourite is 'Cool Tiled Floors'
by David Murphy. A geophysicist is dragged from his bed in the middle
of the night and taken for interrogation. Has he been carrying out dangerous
research, will he be tortured by the thuggish authorities? It's a suspenseful
tale which delves deep into the character's battered psyche. I loved
'Daddy's home' by Nigel Brown is one of those stories which seems to
be heading for a conventional denouement only to veer off on a more
unusual and interesting trajectory. The 'daddy' of the title is a rather
unsympathetic character but his suffering is depicted with grim conviction.
'Laura's Knot' by Neal Asher is a very subtly revealed account of a
woman's mental breakdown: a delicately phrased and beautifully unravelling
Simon Morden's 'The Mission' tackles the themes of prejudice and faith
with an unusual degree of skill and confidence and succeeds in making
me care about the characters' fates. The fantasy setting is excellent,
though the characters could be modern soldiers involved in any of the
current global conflicts - the author shows us that the dilemmas are
The magazine ends with Martin Taulbut's 'The Pagans' which I might
have liked better if the plot hadn't been a wee bit hackneyed but there
was an endearingly imperfect and bungling android narrator whose wry
take on reality made it all worthwhile, even the slightly limp ending.
The least of these stories deliver something novel and entertaining.
The best just sparkle with the kind of off-beat innovation which the
independent press is so good at nurturing. The one thing they all share
is the fact that they are written with great flair. All this - and an
interview with science fiction luminary, Brian Stableford. What more
could one wish for?