Sunday, March 02, 2003

The Third Alternative, Issue 33

This issue kicks off with a story called "With Acknowledgements to Sun Tzu," written by Brian Hodge, who's become something of a regular here. (Meaning that this is the third time I've reviewed one of his stories, not that he's actually visited here. For all I know, no one may be visiting here at all.) This time he's telling the story of a handful of war photographers in a city in Northern Afghanistan, recording the destruction wrought by America and the Northern Alliance. The picture here is powerfully bleak, and yet, as Hodge's protagonist confesses, there is beauty in the destruction as well. Beauty, but little hope. "[I]t frightens me sometimes," the protagonist reflects, "that if something like Nazi Germany could happen once, it could happen again, somewhere . . . I let a thing like that slip, though, and people usually just scoff. What are you worried about? You live in the only superpower left. I don't find that nearly as comforting as they intend it to be." This is a wonderful (and terrible) story.

Brian Aldiss is interviewed in this issue, and has a short story, "Commander Calex Killed, Fire and Fury at Edge of World, Scones Perfect." It's an odd piece about taking tea at the end of the world. A comment on Western warfare, perhaps? I'm not sure. Interesting, but I can't say it's stayed with me.

My friend Lynda E. Rucker has a story in this issue, her third in TTA, and it's a doozy. "The Chance Walker" is set in Prague, where a young American named Kathleen has broken things off with her boyfriend and moved into a flat in the old city. She has a job teaching English, but takes on another student, Renata, who appears at her door with an old edition of Gray's Anatomy and asks Kathleen to help her pronounce the English medical terms. Kathleen is drifting, fading, but she doesn't know what to do about it, and she doesn't want any help. The feelings of disconnect and solitude are powerfully rendered in this story, and it carries such overall impact that it stayed with me for days.

"Leon is Dead" by Simon Avery follows a man who possesses a talent he calls "The Tabula Rasa," which seems to act upon people when they first meet him--they see something in him which isn't necessarily there. When he runs into his old girlfriend Miriam shortly after his marriage fails, he discovers that a man named Leon shared this gift, and that the cult which was devoted to him is floundering in the wake of their spiritual leader's death. What becomes clear is that he's being manipulated into succeeding Leon, and that the end of his marriage and meeting Miriam may not have been coincidental at all. There's a wonderful oddness to this story, but I must admit some frustration at not really understanding "Tabula Rasa" as it's used in the story. Avery is an excellent writer, though; in this case the deficiency may be with the reader.

"Fleeing Sanctuary" by John Aegard is about a forgotten community, and the intriguing way in which a widower attempts to deal with the grief which has put so much distance between himself and his son. The mechanics of the plot become rather, well, mechanical at times, but there is a lot to like here, as in the end the intent of the protagonist becomes clear, and we are left to wonder if he can succeed.

The final story in this issue is Sarah Singleton's "Crow Man," a story about jealousy and refusal to accept death. Julian and Marie's marriage fell apart after their daughter died, and Julian wants her back. Laurie is an old friend of both, and she's been asked to check on Julian, who's cloistered himself in an old farmhouse. What's nice about this story is how the victim is not just a victim--it's her own baser instincts which get her into trouble. I also like that not a lot of effort is put into explaining the unexplainable--what Julian is up to is better hinted at than diagrammed and expostulated. Creepy.

Christopher Fowler's film column appears in this issue, as well as an essay by Mike Sutton on the films of Brian De Palma, and John Paul Catton's new regular column on Japan. Also Allen Ashley's "The Dodo Has Landed," and the regular review columns (which include a brief interview with Graham Joyce for his new novel "The Facts of Life").


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