Realms of Fantasy by Douglas Cohen

(2011-08-27)

Realms of Fantasy, August 2011 - Edited by Douglas Cohen

Reviewed by Joey O'Donnell

Realms of Fantasy began publication in 1994.  The magazine has changed publishers a number of times over the years and is currently published by Damnation Books.  RoF is a full-sized, full-color magazine with full-page art accompanying every short story (and that's a lot of full).  RoF balances its fiction with a healthy range of review and other commentary on the fantasy genre.  This is the second magazine added to our collection of periodical short fiction reviews.

This issue contains 5 short stories, an article on female fantasy artists, a Folkroots column on monsters, and a full complement of reviews of fiction (epic fantasy, urban fantasy, YA fantasy), games (PnP and electronic), graphic novels, and movies.

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The "Artists Gallery" feature this month, by Mia Nutick, is entitled "Women in Fantasy:  The Images, the Artists".  The article's introduction makes the very true yet often-unspoken case that there's a great deal of room in fantasy art for images other than the stereotypical Urban Fantasy Babe and "the impossibly large-breasted Woman Warrior in the chainmail bikini."  The article goes on to explore in brief the history of fantasy art and women's roles as both subject and creator.  Unfortunately and unjustly, aside from Kinuko Craft, many of the names mentioned in the article are not those many fantasy fans will be familiar with, which is a shame.  The small sampling of really fantastic art contained in the article shows a much different side to fantasy art than what graces the covers of most commercial fiction.  There are a number of links listed where interested readers can see more art by the women discussed in the article.  This piece alone is worth the price of admission to this particular issue.

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In Theodora Goss's Folkroots column this month she focuses on "A Brief History of Monsters".  Goss explores the idea of monsters from myth through the modern-day, from the external to the internal.  She begins with the function of monsters in the mythological teachings of the ancients and then explains how our views changed as humans developed science and came to understand that things previously understood as monstrous were part of the natural world.  The closing section of her article she brings the reader forward to current times when the monstrous is more a psychological concept than a physical one, where the true monsters are very often those seemingly-normal people who prey on those around them and where people watch this play out on a weekly basis on television.  Included in the Folkroots columns are selected bibliographies for those interested in further pursuing a given subject.

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The first bit of fiction in this issue, Richard Bowes's "The Progress of Solstice and Chance", gives us a brief biography on the goddess Solstice and her friend Chance.  Solstice is the daughter of the Queen of Winter and the King of Summer.  The story explores some of the family conflict between Solstice's parents and the budding relationship between Solstice and Chance.  In the end we find that the gods' lives are lived on a grand scale over many millennia. 

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Isabella's Garden" by Naiomi Kritzer is an extremely short but terribly cute story about a very young girl named Isabella who has a magical green thumb.  Given an appropriate "seed", Isabella can grow anything she wants.  Kritzer nails the magic that little kids see in the world, where anything is possible.  Plant a quarter, grow a money tree.  Plant a jelly bean, grow a jelly bean bush.  From very early on in the story, Isabelle expresses an interest in wanting to plant a sister.  With enough kid-belief, anything is possible.  Though it's not ground-breaking and it doesn't push any envelopes, this is a wonderfully magical story of kidness.  Also worth mentioning is the lovely cover art by one of the artists mentioned in the earlier article on female artists, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.  RECOMMENDED!

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What happens when there's a time anomaly in the backyard that acts up during blizzards?  Kate Reidel explores that very question in Collateral Damage.  Martha is a matronly figure in her family.  As the story begins, the one of Martha's acquaintances disappears in a Halloween blizzard.  At the same time her sister, who disappeared nearly half a century before, reappears as a teenage girl.  Over the course of the story, Martha has to deal with her sister's temporal dislocation, face bitterness she's been feeling toward her husband (who has secrets of his own) for years, and decide what she wants do with the rest of her life.  Overall, this story is a pleasant if slightly average exploration of one woman's life and how it was affected by events beyond anyone's control. 

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W.R. Thompson's "Snake in the Grass" has a little bit of everything - A deal with  the devil, a love story, supernovas, a remade garden of Eden, neighborhood revitalization, Pepto-Bismol to cure people-inspired indigestion.  In the opening moments of this story our protagonist, Mr. Larabee, is dealing with the death of his father and in his misery sells his soul to Satan for a lifetime of happiness.  As with most deals with the Devil, there are loopholes aplenty in store for Mr. Larabee. In exchange, though, Mr. Larabee meets the love of his life, becomes a developer, and has the opportunity to begin a new world order by helping Satan reconcile his differences with his own father, God.  In the end, though, when presented with the temptation of the apple from the tree, does he bite?  This is another really fun story of one man's struggle against powers that are larger than him.  RECOMMENDED.

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The final short story of the issue, Alan Smale's "Leap of Faith” brings us an other-dimensional retelling of the fall of Sodom, or in this case Shadom.  The main character, Levi, seems to be some sort of engineer or construction worker doing God's work in helping to shape the world.  While his exact role is never made clear, the impacts of his work are:  He leaves his family for months at a time, and when he comes back he has difficulty adjusting back to normal life.  This story picks up just as he's returning from one of his times away from home when he's approached by a pair of "angels", bluish fellows who seem to know that the town is in trouble.  In fact, they're there to save Levi and his family because they're the only good people in Shadom and God has further work for them.  The family drama here and the way it fits into the Biblical story is interesting.  There are some turns of phrase that feel very out of place in the setting until one realizes that this may not be a world quite like our own.  This was an engaging, enjoyable story on which to close the issue's fiction section.  RECOMMENDED

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On the whole, this issue was both enjoyable and informative.  The non-fiction dealt very well with areas of art and history that the genre doesn't engage with enough on a commercial level.  While two of the short fiction pieces weren't for me, the other three more than made up for them.   More information on Realms of Fantasy can be found at:  http://www.rofmag.com/

Review copyright Joey O'Donnell 2011

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