Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Redsine, Number Seven

Redsine is a quarterly speculative fiction magazine out of Australia, and it's quite good. This issue has thirteen stories, an interview with Elizabeth Hand and some book reviews. There is some art, but unfortunately this particular copy appears to have had some printing problems and some of the drawings are very murky and difficult to decipher. If that is the intention, then I must apologize for being obtuse.

Thirteen stories, nearly all worth reading. So, my impressions:

"Detectives and Cadavers" is a Jeff Vandermeer story about a city of humans besieged by mutants. It's not clear how the mutations came about, but it's not important. What's important is that this story drips with dread and menace, and that it will haunt you. Strong stuff.

"Louisa" by Kirstyn McDermott is a story more grounded in the world we know, which is what makes it so damned creepy. It starts out as a tale about child abuse and becomes something even more terrible. Very effective.

"What She Wanted" by Keith Brooke recounts a beach vacation which proves to be a turning point for both halves of the couple taking it. It might be a better story were certain things left murkier, but the ending is particularly unsettling.

"Bride Sniping" by Paul Hassing postulates a future Australia where a collapsing economy where guerilla photographers take unauthorized wedding pictures and then try to sell them. In the context of this dystopian tale, it makes perfect sense. What happens to the protagonist after his first attempt at this illegal activity gets him thrown into prison makes sense too, in a strange way. Very dark and entertaining.

Cat Sparks's "Fuchsia Spins by Moonlight" is a hypnotic story about a dance teacher who's reminiscent of Isadora Duncan, but who seems much older and is trying to get much further on. A young girl name Freya is among those ensnared by Miss Fuchsia's incantations of the archetypal and divine feminine, seeming to grasp at it as an antidote against her adolescence. What happens is far too interesting for me to spoil here, but it has to do with the strange dreams Freya's sister Tahlie has been having. Again, good stuff.

"Mesh of Veins" by Brendan Connell starts with a tattoo and goes to a place you'd never expect. Wild and chilling and surprising.

"The Silent People" by Stepan Chapman is a story about telepathy and child-rearing; how to encourage the one and how to not do the other. I'll say no more, but it's a worthwhile story.

"A Message to Medicare" by Nathan Burrage is about the power of the spoken word, but not like you think. Again, I hesitate to say more lest I destroy the fun.

Scott Thomas's "The Tale of Wolf Storm Hill" is a lovely story about men and wolves, with a languid, mythic feel. Beautiful.

Finally, Brian Stableford's "Nobody Else to Blame" is a satirical look at "nice" neighborhoods and "respectable" people, and it's probably the funniest story about suicide I've ever read, while still being sad.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Realms of Fantasy for December 2002

This was among the freebies I got at the World Fantasy Convention in October. There were some things I didn't keep from the big bag, but I held on to all the magazines for market research. I haven't read ROF in a few years, so this was a refresher for me. The fiction section is well put together--if short--with very nice art. Several other articles and reviews did little to add to the appeal, in my opinion, although a sidebar called "Nicola Griffith's Reading . . ." was a nice surprise. I'm not sure if it's a regular feature.

Patrick Samphire's "Dawn, by the Light of a Barrow Fire" begins awkwardly, but this story of an archaeologist who hasn't come to terms with a young son's death picks up with the discovery of a child's skull from hundreds of years past. The ending is a little neat, but satisfying.

"It Comes and Goes" is a reprint of a Robert Silverberg story originally published in Playboy in 1991. The mysterious house to which the title refers to is the perfect foil for the protagonist, whose alcoholism seems to make him its perfect victim. Not a terrifying story, but it raised some goosebumps, and the ending was suitably creepy.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

This was lent to me by Joe at work, who was a busboy until he recently quit. This is not the same Joe who has the dark spiky hair, nor the Joe with the glasses. His name is not, in fact, Joe, but he prefers to be called Joe. He was quite distressed that I hadn't read any Palahniuk (though I have seen the film version of Fight Club, and loved it), and said Survivor is the best one. Which may mean that I don't have to read any of the others now, I'm not sure. But I probably will, eventually.

Survivor begins with the protagonist alone on a plane that's going nowhere. He's not a pilot, and the plane is going to crash. You might think the title refers to his surviving the plane crash, but the truth is much more complicated. Firstly, this novel begins at the end, more or less. It opens with page 289 and counts down towards 0. Secondly, without giving too much away, Tender Branson is actually the last survivor of a religious cult/sect/splinter group whose members have all committed suicide, some with assistance. Except he's not, but telling any more would be unfair.

Turns out that the Creedish Church (aka the Creedish Death Cult) was really a supplier of well-trained domestic servants for people too rich to know how to act in public. Thus Tender Branson is full of useful household tips for the removal of blood, the serving of lobster, and the cultivation of artificial flowers so as to counterfeit actual gardening. It's only when it comes to living his life that he's utterly lost, and when the suicides in his church begin, he bounces from his case worker (from the government-sponsored Survivor Retention Program) to his agent to his brother (did I say he was the last survivor?) to his non-girlfriend Fertility Hollis, allowing each of them in turn to tell him what to do.

The satire here is fast and furious, and is reminiscent of George Saunders's work in Civilwarland in Bad Decline, for example. Tender Branson's outsider mentality is what makes him a perfect commentator on modern American life: it's also what attracts Fertility Hollis to him, despite the fact that he talked her brother into killing himself. (It's a long story.) Fertility, like her brother, has been gifted/cursed with prophetic dreams, which makes it possible for . . . well, some of you may want to read this book so I won't say more. Except that it's worth reading--it's funny, fast and biting, with a surreal tinge that works. Thanks for the loan, Joe.