First a reminder: Remember The Twig! In Alamo City.
The rebirth of Realms of Fantasy has been the good-news story of the season for writers and readers of short-form fantasy. First the magazine was axed by its original publishers, Sovereign Media, and then was bought by long-time genre publisher Warren Lapine. The editorial staff is much the same — Shawna McCarthy remains editor, and Doug Cohen, formerly assistant editor, is nonfiction editor and art director.
Before I begin: I would like to issue a plea for Realms to hire a copy editor. The typos and clumsy design were really offputting. Tanith Lee’s story was the worst — it read as if it had been scanned and then OCR’d into Quark or Pagemaker. Please, Warren, have someone proofread before the next issue goes out. Your readers deserve better.
Tanith Lee led off with Our Lady of Scarlet, a medieval tale with a classic Weird Tales pulp flavor. Andelm is a young alchemist who must protect himself against the plague as well as a demon raised by frightened villagers who think she will help protect them from the epidemic. Andelm thinks he is a rational scientist, but he turns to religion to help him defeat the demon — it’s all he has left. It’s Tanith Lee, so the story is lush and rich, but I wished for a different story-telling method. At one point Lee brings us up to the door and shows the character what abomination is going on behind it, but the audience has to wait for the next scene to find out what’s happening. I don’t know — that struck me as needless, but maybe I’m just impatient.
Healing Benjamin by Dennis Danvers is about a man who brings his cat back to life. The cat becomes his constant companion through several relationships, until finally — well, you should read it. The story is well-written and the scene with the reanimated chicken was pretty amusing, but I wasn’t quite sure of the point and the story never came together.
Ian Creasey’s Digging for Paradise had some nice rising tension. A wizard brings a motley crew to dig deep into the earth for a magic stone that will give everyone great power. He promises to share and share alike, but can he be trusted? The protagonist isn’t so sure, and neither is the reader. The setup pulls the reader through the story — will he or won’t he cheat his crew? Unfortunately, the story bogs down in some anachronistic constitution writing, which just didn’t fit with the rest of the plot.
Bruce Holland Rogers finishes up with a one-page story, Well and Truly Broken. This is a take on the willies, the dangerous young creatures that haunt the ballet Giselle. Willies are young women who die before their wedding day and linger at the crossroads, taking revenge on any young men who come by. (Dancers refer to them as “dead virgins from hell.) In this story, these creatures are girls who break someone’s heart, so long as that heart is “well and truly broken.” It’s a lovely, sad little story.
One last note. Realms has been the subject of a dust-up in the blogosphere over its covers. Realms’ covers have been notorious for their chicks in chainmail. Writer and critic Bluejack has famously said that he used to fold back the cover whenever he read Realms on the bus, lest people wonder exactly what kind of fantasy he was reading. I used to have qualms about my mother reading one of my stories in Realms, the covers were that ridiculous.
Now this most recent cover has a large-breasted mermaid on it. To detractors, the art is more of the same — misogynistic and offensive. To me, the cover is inoffensive, but it’s also not very interesting. It lacks emotion and illustrative power and the background kind of looks like upholstery. A much better cover would have been the interior art for Rogers’ story. That is a beautiful piece of work that I would not mind owning.
But the point of the critics — will the covers continue in the same vein? — is valid. Realms has the opportunity to remake itself. I hope that it does, and prospers. But having said that, if the only way it can prosper is with chicks, chains, and mail on the cover, then go for it. I’d rather have a stupid cover than lose another short story market.