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Scheherazade: the Magazine of Fantasy, Science Fiction & Gothic Romance, issue 28

(£3.50, 41 pages, paperback magazine, published 2005.)

Review by Nick Jackson

cover scanRemember 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 lovely details.

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 it.

'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 piece.

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 same.

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?

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