The Zombie Realms of Fantasy

I have been an on and off subscriber to Realms of Fantasy for years, often picking up a newsstand copy when I didn’t have a subscription. When I saw that Realms had been cancelled, I spread the news with tears in my eyes. Realms of Fantasy is an icon. It is one of the few long-standing pro markets for short fiction, and it’s one of the few markets that offer fantasy short stories in printed form.

I couldn’t quite let go of the dream, though, and hoped and wished for a good samaritan to come out of the woodwork and rescue Realms. Then what happened but Warren Lapine stepped up to the plate and took it on. I, for one, cheered, but at the same time, there’s always questions. Just what would change? Just how different will the new incarnation be? Will it retain the character that made me interested?

Well, having read what editor Shawna McCarthy characterizes as the Zombie Realms of Fantasy (August 2009–the first issue under new management), I can say without a doubt that Realms is alive and kicking. It’s certainly not resurrected with an arm torn off or an unquenchable desire for brains. This issue is so much like the last one I read, that I forgot until I got to the editorials on the very last page that Realms had even been buried six-feet under.

It’s funny, but I always think of Realms as a fiction magazine (you might have noticed that above). However, this issue, like all the others on my shelf, has more non-fiction content than fiction, a combination of essays, reviews, and the afore mentioned editorials all speaking to an audience of readers, movie goers, and gamers who come together in their love of fantasy.

The main article reads as a dissertation on the mystical aspects of music, and the social and political consequences that stemmed from this fact. It offered a glimpse into cultures ranging from Europe to the Middle East and China as well as more modern musical forms. Though a bit of a dense read, it was very informative and interesting.

The four short stories (one at flash length) varied among the possible subgenres, including one involving time travel cloaked in a magical framework and another set in modern day to balance the one in plague-ridden Europe and another in Medieval times. Though I rarely like all the stories in any particular issue of a magazine, I’d be hard-pressed to state a favorite.

Each of the four had a strength, whether it was Tanith Lee’s skilled conveyance of her character’s arrogance turned to desperation, Dennis Danvers’ exploration of the costs and consequences of power, the implications that expanded Bruce Holland Rogers’ flash well beyond its short word count, or the neat twist that ends Ian Creasey’s story. They were not without weakness, but none of the weaknesses overwhelmed the strengths, and in many were quite minor. I would have appreciated another pass through the copyeditor’s hands for Tanith Lee’s tale, but I did not notice a significant number of typos or editing errors in the other stories, or indeed, in any other material.

Those interested in Harry Potter would find much to capture their attention in the movie article. It explores the movie not so much, rather delving into the lives, motivations, and processes of the folks involved in bringing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to life on the movie screen. A combination of commentary and quotes, the text makes the people involved become three dimensional.

The game reviews, of both video and pen-and-paper offerings, provide clear details on the value of each. A couple of them go so far as to include an analysis that looks beyond the game itself, while the rest appear to contain just what the players of those specific games need to decide whether to purchase a particular supplement.

And finally, the bulk of the non-fiction content is book reviews, a category that contains fiction for adult readers, young adult novels, and graphic novels. The reviews are largely written by staff writers, and contain both pros and cons about the various pieces…or at least where the reviewer felt it necessary. The specifics, though, are presented in a compelling way, enough that I’ve added a couple of the books to my list, and would have added more if I didn’t have such a reading backlog.

Though there’s been a lot of uproar about the possibility of advertising in books (as if the ads for other novels in the back or the middle insert in romances is not advertising…), Realms proudly displays its advertisements interlaced with the content and just as targeted. This issue contains ads for books, games, conventions, and other objects of interest to the fantasy/gaming crowd. Only the actual insert (a packet of information cards) bothered me, and that because it was too heavy so tore the page when I tried to remove it. To give an idea of how useful the advertising is, I had somehow missed the announcement that one of my favorite authors was releasing a new book in one of her ongoing series, but the advertisement clued me in.

The magazine is also heavily illustrated with both photographs and full-color drawings that ranged from realism to abstract as they captured the mood of the stories and articles they supported. The article about artist Michael Hague was full of his artwork, some whimsical and others with a darker ambiance.

So, having gone through practically every possible aspect of Realms, I have to applaud the clear effort to keep continuity in content and quality. Leading short story magazines in SF/F have shifted into other hands before, but in this case, the editorial staff remains the same, along with (if this issue is any guide) the publication philosophy.

At a time when short story magazines are struggling, as shown by the recent closure of Jim Baen’s Universe, Warren Lapine’s move to step in is appreciated, as is the decision of Shawna McCarthy, Douglas Cohen, and the returning contributors to stick it out. I, for one, plan to put my money where my mouth is and restore my subscription. I look forward to seeing what interesting stories, articles, and other information will appear between the covers of the resurrected Realms of Fantasy.

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