fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe first issue of Realms of Fantasy published by Damnation Books feels no different at all from issues published while it was owned by different publishers, and no wonder:  the editorial staff is the same. Shawna McCarthy continues to fulfill the role of fiction editor, as she has since the magazine was founded. That explains why the February 2011 issue contains such a fine offering of short stories. Douglas Cohen is still the editor, and that explains why there is such a fine selection of nonfiction, from Theodora Goss’s “The Femme Fatale at the Fin-de-Siecle,” a piece that would be at home in any academic journal, to Karen Haber’s art column about Dominic Harman (munificently illustrated), film reviews and book reviews. In fact, this seems like a much stronger issue than the last. I hope this bodes well for the continued good health of the magazine.

“The Swan Troika” by Richard Parks is a new take on the Russian fairy tale of the rusalka. Pyotr meets the rusalka while on his way to his Great Aunt Svetlana’s party in the middle of the winter. Because the rusalka is a creature of the water, and the river is frozen hard, it’s unusual to see such a wild-haired and emerald-eyed thing, but apparently she has simply tarried on the shore too long. Pyotr feels it is safe enough to gather her up and bring her along to the party. But Svetlana recognizes the being Pyotr has christened “Anya” all too well, and she is determined that Pyotr shall not become her victim. “The Swan Troika” is a lovely retelling of an old story with a new twist.

Desirina Boskovich’s “Thirteen Incantations” tells the story of a girlhood friendship bound up with perfume – specifically, with perfumes created by Ana Celina’s mother. Ana Celina confidently tells Elisabeth that her mother Neve is not just a parfumier, but a witch who makes her scents to bewitch and enrapture those who breathe them in. In fact, Ana Celina’s mother has prepared a special box of perfumes for her daughter to share with her friend. Through the perfumes, the girls learn the history of Neve’s romance with Ana Celina’s father. It strengthens their friendship, which threatens to blossom into something more; but adolescents fear and grow and change, and some things are too precious to be destroyed by coming into being. This is another story that has the feel of a fairy tale, and it’s beautifully written.

In “Magpie,” Mark Rigney’s Cath is the only one in her family to survive a flood. What is she to do now? A stranger coming along the road sees his opportunity, and snatches Cath up much as magpie seizes a bit of shiny treasure, just as Fagin chose his pickpockets in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. But there is a magic to his choosing. Whether, ultimately, Cath benefits from being his choice or not does not seem to be the issue; what is, is. And the cycle repeats, seemingly without end.

The narrator of “No Tale for Troubadours,” by Pauline J. Alama, is so practical, straightforward and sensible that she quite belies the normal notion of a warrior maiden. I greatly enjoyed this story of a maiden turned mother who is asked to return to her sword even as her children cling to her skirts. Her former companion, Isabeau, is now Sister Agony in the Garden, and she, too, is called upon to leave her calling and return to the field of battle. How these women accomplish their task despite age, fat and faith is wryly and wickedly told.

“The Time of His Life,” by Scott William Carter, reminded me powerfully of “The Most Important Thing in the World” by Steve Bein from the March Asimov’s. Instead of a suit left behind in a cab, though, the time-tampering mechanism in this story is a room in a new house Tim and his family have just moved into. Time simply doesn’t march on in this room; Tim can spend hours, days, weeks working on comic strips (his avocation, one he can rarely take time from his teaching career to indulge in) without missing his children’s bedtime. But the extra time is as addictive as a drug, and Tim finds himself grabbing for more and more of it, neglecting his wife, his children, his job. He even starts to sneak home in the middle of class periods to grab a day or two in his private sanctuary, and gets back before the bell rings. Tim has to decide what he wants: time or family. It’s a quandary we pretty much all find ourselves in every day of our adult lives, and we’d probably all like a room like Tim’s. But would we, too, find that time had become a drug?

With five strong stories and excellent reviews and features, Realms of Fantasy is thriving. If you’ve wondered whether the change in ownership means you should put off subscribing, wonder no more: this magazine is in fine fettle, and looks set to continue that way.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.