Only four stories this time (there used to be six in every issue, but they seem to be getting longer):
Fata Morgana by Ray Cluley, illustrated by Richard Wagner. In a drowned world in which people live in the top floors of city buildings in a rigidly stratified, horizontally layered society, a boy living a grim poverty-stricken existence dreams of travelling to the mythical city above the sea - built on sand.
Fearful Symmetry by Tyler Keevil, illustrated by Mark Pexton. In a grim future in which some nuclear catastrophe has presumably taken place, an environmentalist travels to Siberia to examine the evidence for a possibly mutant tiger which has been killing people. Should it be protected or shot?
God of the Gaps by Carole Johnstone, illustrated by David Gentry. A woman takes a young boy to a funfair, and finds herself in a UFO exhibition with a nasty twist. A horror story with a thin wrapping of SF. The ending can be seen coming from a long way off, which doesn't make it any more enjoyable…
The Complex by E. J. Swift. A long-term prisoner on a harsh colony world reaches the end of her sentence and views with increasing anxiety her imminent transfer back to a ruined Earth.
I have to say that I found this collection intensely depressing. This issue should have carried a health warning: "Special Dystopia Issue - readers may suffer acute misery from reading this magazine". There is a place for the occasional story like these - definitely not more than one per issue - but to have all of them set in downbeat, pessimistic futures is too much. Yes, we need some fiction to warn about the kind of future we might be drifting haphazardly towards and SF is better placed than any to do that, but people also read SF and fantasy to enjoy a period of escapism from this world and its troubles. Surely there are some lighter, optimistic and more entertaining stories worth publishing to provide some contrast?
Fortunately, the substantial book and film reviews sections are as interesting and informative as ever. I noted a couple of books to add to my list (I hadn't caught up with the fact that Richard Morgan is now writing fantasy) plus a couple of films - and also some to avoid!