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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993
Electric Velocipede

Electric Velocipede #19, Fall 2009

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“The Lost Technique of Blackmail” by Mark Teppo
“Frayed” by Jonathan Brandt
“Darkest Amber” by Erin Hoffman
“Life at the Edge of Nowhere” by Kjell Williams
“The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall” by Ken Scholes
“A Mouse Ran Up the Clock” by A.C. Wise
“Nightlight” by Celia Marsh
“De Orso Meo Ad Veneficum” by L Michael Markham

Reviewed by Nathan Goldman

Electric Velocipede hovers at a cross-section of the short fiction market – clearly “speculative,” too formula-defiant to be traditional “genre,” too alienating to be “literary,” drifting in and out of “experimental.” I’d rather not cage it with a term. Electric Velocipede offers genre fiction for literary adherents and literary fiction for genre fans. The stories in this issue showcase impressive diversity and taste and style. They intrigue and illuminate, proving, as one quarter-page ad declares, “SHORT FICTION IS NOT DEAD.”

Mark Teppo’s “The Lost Technique of Blackmail” is a risky place to start. A minor cyberpunk epic, the story exploits the tolerance fans of that genre have for rapid-fire release of confusing lingo. The first paragraphs teem with non-words, and though familiarity eases the diction to the point of coherence by the story’s middle, the reader is left with a suspicion that he doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. Buried underneath the perplexing jargon, there’s a story worth reading, more notable for its witty and relatable characters than its simple crime investigation template. For cyberpunk fans, this is a gem; for others, it may not be worth the effort to get through it.

In “Frayed,” Jonathan Brandt tells the kind of tale that would have been without a market even fifty years ago. This SF story about reanimation is also, startlingly, about teleporting sheep. The comedic undertone marks it as unique: it’s occasionally endearing (just try not to smile as the sheep’s “Baaaa” disrupts a tense scene), but ultimately alienating. Whatever there is of a story – something about guilds and the reanimation of an assassin – is lost in the shuffle of strangeness, comedy, and drama. But the style is distinct, and not in a wholly unpleasant way; keep an eye out for Brandt’s work.

“Darkest Amber” by Erin Hoffman takes us back to cyberpunk. We consider the relationship of Kali, the protagonist, to JH, her sentient vehicle. The plot is relatively throwaway, but the characters are not. Written into flesh with deft skill, Kali and JH recall Ender and Jane from Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, a poignant human-and-machine pair. “Darkest Amber” overcomes its humdrum plot with smooth, silky prose, attentiveness to detail, and a fascinating examination of identity through its compelling characters.

Kjell Williams’ “Life at the Edge of Nowhere” is the issue’s first and only hint at more traditional SF: a Twilight Zone-esque premise, conflict driven by corporate greed, and a reflective, rebellious leading man. Wlliams’ immersion into his own world is clear, and I applaud his refusal to spell out the expository information in tired blocks of prose or stilted dialogue, but a lack of clues gives the reader only a tentative understanding of the story’s background. The result: the climax, which should be powerful, falls flat, and from that point, there’s no way the story can recover.

“The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall” by Ken Scholes is short, sweet, and masterful. It grips the reader form the first line and holds him to the last. The language, free of frilly adornments, still twists and turns, utterly original and fraught with pleasant surprises. The story – a brief telling of the life of Focus Jones, nicknamed Slinky Boy – flows effortlessly, like a children’s tale for all ages. It’s a joy to encounter.

A.C. Wise’s “A Mouse Ran Up the Clock” is part dystopian alternative history, part Jewish folklore. It follows Simon Shulewitz, an inventor and slave in a post-Hitler empire, as he is commanded to apply his tinkering with clockwork mice to the creation of governmental animal spies and, eventually, something more sinister. The prose is fresh and crisp. Simon’s accomplice, Itzak Chaim Bielski, is everything the Dr. Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s novel should have been – raw with temptation, passionate but struggling with shame and doubt – a spot-on, evocative portrayal of the oft-caricatured mad scientist. Wise tells what could be a ho-hum SF story in a way that transcends genre, allowing it to become a distinct, human exploration of passion, fear, doubt, and kindness.

“Nightlight” by Celia Marsh shifts the issue to modern fantasy. This story is set in a world where ghosts abound and everyone knows it; some are just more sensitive to their presence than others. The protagonist, Adrian, discovers a young girl’s ghost in a park and embarks on a mission to find and inform her family and, ultimately, lay her to rest. Marsh portrays ghosts believably: they are whispering human imprints attached to objects, rather than translucent floating poltergeists. The story is simple and heartfelt – a good place to start for fans of mainstream fiction looking to branch out into the more speculative, or vice versa.

The issue’s last piece of fiction is “De Orso Meo Ad Veneficum,” which appears to be an excerpt from L. Michael Marcham’s novel, Lightbreaker. It’s more a rambling essay on the ignorance of modern man than a story, and as a result it’s hard to maintain interest. Furthermore, the story, which is revealed to be a magician’s manifesto, frequently contradicts itself, uncertain whether to extol or condemn man’s half-hearted search for magic in the mundane. It’s intriguing, but out of place. In context, I would be happy to give it another chance.

Whatever your opinion of the individual stories, there is no denying that this issue of Electric Velocipede presents an eclectic variety of unique stories. A glimpse at the frontier of speculative short fiction, the issue is an exciting testament to the fact that there are new voices in the genre with something to say.

Publisher: Night Shade Books (Fall 2009)
http://www.electricvelocipede.com/
Price: $7.00
Paperback: 100 pages
ISSN: 1949-2030

 

Electric Velocipede 17/18, Spring 2009

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“Sun’s East, Moon’s West” by Merrie Haskell
“Enmity” by K. Tempest Bradford
“The Sandbox” by Richard Larson
“The Leaf Gatherer” by Damon Kaswell
“Dear Annabehls” by Mercurio D. Rivera
“Life’s Rich Demand” by Trent Walters
“An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love” by Jay Lake
“Setting My Spider Free” by Caroline M. Yoachim
“All the Blue in the Mirror” by Darin Bradley
“The Paper People” by Chris Cox
“The Fourth Horseman” by Yoon Ha Lee
“The Bear Dresser’s Secret” by Richard Bowes
“The Truth in Violet” by M. E. Parker
“Grandfather Paradox” by Katherine Mankiller
“The Death of Sugar Daddy” by Toiya Kristen Finley
“The Column That Held Up the Sky” by Matthew Wanniski
“In the Gingerbread House” by Barbara Krasnoff
“Jointed” by Loreen Heneghan
“The Improbable Legend of Quick Johnny” by Chris Roberson
“The Spaces between Things” by Matthew Kressel

[Editor’s note:  This double issue is reviewed by three reviewers, each taking a number of stories. The first seven stories are reviewed by Daniel Woods; the next nine are reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk; and the final four are reviewed by Kathleen M. Kemmerer.]

“Sun's East, Moon's West” by Merrie Haskell
“Enmity” by K. Tempest Bradford
“The Sandbox” by Richard Larson
“The Leaf Gatherer” by Damon Kaswell
“Dear Annabehls” by Mercurio D. Rivera
“Life's Rich Demand” by Trent Walters
“An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love” by Jay Lake

Reviewed by Daniel Woods

“Sun's East, Moon's West” by Merrie Haskell

Merrie Haskell's story, “Sun's East, Moon's West” tells the tale of Lissa the Harlot, dragon-slayer turned concubine. Spurned by her husband after an unfortunate incident involving the family donkey, a half-starved Lissa wanders the forest looking for food. When she accidentally shoots down a sparrow and angers the goddesses, she must barter her own life to save the bird's, and so agrees to be the wife of a passing bear-god.

This was an intriguing, but utterly confusing piece. There is a dream-like unreality to it that stretches the imagination as it slips from one fantastic scene to the next. I got the sense that everything was meant to be deeply metaphorical, but the meanings were lost on me.

Lissa herself is not a particularly engaging character, which was a little disappointing given the first-person narrative, but you can't help but feel for her as the story progresses. The poor girl gets put through the wringer. That said, I did have to raise an eyebrow when she was surprised to find that being wife to a bear included certain "night duties." I think it goes without saying that theirs is an odd sexual relationship.

Despite my difficulties, I was hooked by the end. It takes a little while to get used to Lissa's awkward viewpoint, and to the weirdness of her world. But once you do, it's a bright, vibrant adventure that leads to a satisfying conclusion. However, it's a world chock-full of nonsensical magic, so for those of you who enjoy exploring the nitty-gritty, don't expect to be enthralled. All I will say is, with a little imagination, I think anyone could give this piece a try.

“Enmity” by K. Tempest Bradford

There is one paragraph in this piece that I think demonstrates the reading experience rather well:

"Who am I? Eurydice, wife of Orpheus. Eurydice, daughter of Danus, wife of Pryas. Eurydice, daughter of Adrastus, woman of Troy. Eurydice, daughter of Lacadaemon, wife of Acrissus, mother of Danae. Eurydice, wife of Creon, mother of Haemon. Eurydice, daughter of, wife of, mother of, daughter of, wife of, mother of . . ."

K. Tempest Bradford's “Enmity” is a cerebral exploration of the creation story, spanning ancient Greek mythology, Christianity, and probably some other sources I haven't picked up on too. It opens on Eurydice, wife of Orpheus (the greatest of all poets and musicians), running from "the serpent."

Now, my knowledge of classical civilisation is limited at best, so it took a great deal of Wikipedia research even vaguely to understand what was going on here. Poor Eurydice goes from creator of the world, to Adam's Eve and back again. She dies, lives, creates and destroys, all with little idea of who or what she really is, and by the end of it all I felt just as mixed up as Eurydice herself. In that sense, Bradford did well to carry me through the narrative as well as she did, but there is no real plot to speak of. I think the 'point' of this piece is to portray the eternal, cyclical relationship between good and evil, and to demonstrate how it transcends theology.

That, or it is simply an author playing with the classics. Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

I cannot decide if it is well written or not; certainly, I object to the line "Rape is a metaphor. And it also is not." But, the complex structure suggests a precise intent and a great deal of thought behind this piece. It is not an easy read, and unless you happen to like Greek mythology, you probably won't enjoy it. Indeed, "enjoy" is probably the wrong word altogether. But, speaking for myself, I did enjoy the complexity of the narrative, and I found the synthesis of so many different stories very stimulating to follow. If for nothing else, I suggest you read this story to pique your academic curiosity.

“The Sandbox” by Richard Larson

Claire is a fiction writer. She creates mysteries for her shape-shifting sleuth, Claudette, to solve, and by all accounts does it rather well. Trouble is, since the unexplained disappearance of her husband, Claire's mysteries have all dried up. As she loses control of her latest story, unable to find another mystery for her character to solve, the line between fantasy and reality becomes alarmingly blurred.

“The Sandbox” is a relatively short piece of SF. In truth, I did not find it all that engaging. It is more the exploration of a premise than a story – I would tell you what that premise is, except doing so would ruin the reading for you. The one thing I will say is that the closing sentence is really very pleasing, but the piece as a whole has a slightly "pointless" feel to it. The characters are all odd and one-dimensional, and there is little in the way of theme or plot. I am also confused by the choice of title: unless I am missing something fairly pivotal, it holds little relevance. In short, “The Sandbox” kept me occupied for ten minutes, but it is not something I expect to remember in the days and weeks to come.

“The Leaf Gatherer” by Damon Kaswell

Damon Kaswell's “The Leaf Gatherer” is the story of Kyle Burton, a boy who befriends a homeless stranger against the warnings of his sister, Amanda. The man is making a collage of leaves that never die, so only the perfect leaves will do; Kyle discovers he has a talent for this strange art. But, with the ever-present promise that 'he always repays his debts' hanging over his head, Kyle will soon come to realise that the leaf gatherer is not as harmless as he seems.

This is a good story that hooks you right from the start, so I won't reveal any more of the plot lest I spoil it. This piece is the first in the collection with a more traditional narrative, which made for a refreshing change of pace, and it kept me interested all the way to the end. It actually spans a good portion of Kyle's life, and Kaswell handles the considerable jumps in time very adroitly – never is it jarring or disjointed. The quiet menace of the leaf gatherer is nicely sustained throughout, too, punctuated by Amanda's increasing fear of him. Indeed, my only criticisms are minor ones, in that the second half nearly started to drag, and I would have liked a tiny bit more explanation about who or what the leaf gatherer was.

I will not labour the point: “The Leaf Gatherer” is a solid piece of fantasy. Well written, descriptive and believable, I was instantly drawn into Kaswell's world, and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

“Dear Annabehls” by Mercurio D. Rivera

I was pleasantly surprised by this piece. Written as a string of agony-aunt columns, Mercurio D. Rivera's “Dear Annabehls” portrays a world going slowly mad. The nice thing about it is that the opening is fairly banal, but just as your eyes are about to glaze over, Rivera shocks you with the premise like a bucket of icy water. It is timed just right for maximum effect, and from that moment I was hooked, so I daren't reveal any of the plot in case I spoil it.

The prose itself is organised into sets of question and answer, each set with its own number. Every Q&A has a little story to tell, and at the same time reveals something about the state of the world. We follow the vast changes in society through little snapshots of the lives of the people, which is very satisfying to read. Annabehl herself contributes to the tension of the piece. As her advice and opinions become ever more psychotic, you feel compelled to read on by a kind of morbid curiosity about what she will say next.

The crux of this piece is the value of life, set against an SF backdrop. There isn't anything new or ground-breaking in the basic idea, but the prose is well written, and the Q&A construction makes “Dear Annabehls” something a little different. Indeed, I think the story works better this way than it would have done as traditional narrative: don't mistake the format for a gimmick. At the very least, “Dear Annabehls” is a thought-provoking glimpse into the multiverse, and it is well worth a read.

“Life's Rich Demand” by Trent Walters

Following the life of disillusioned reporter Robin Chin, “Life's Rich Demand” is a scathing look at politics and modern day society. Every story element, from the cancerous bowels of her pet cat Callie to the "fourth-grade-level sentences" Robin is so sick of writing, all is saturated with metaphorical observations about the nature of life.

I will be blunt: I did not care for this piece. The first half is very overwritten; I found the opening contrived and pretentious, and the structure of the narrative is jarring to read. I think it was meant to resemble a series of news reports, as some sort of heavy-handed allegory for the state of Robin's life, and by connection, society at large. The line between character and author is often lost, and Walters' own views often take over from Robin's thoughts.

That said, the prose does become more well constructed, and the themes less garbled, as you pass the halfway point. Walters seems to "find his footing" somehow, and juggles the complicated array of ideas more effectively. There is an extended metaphor running throughout the narrative, whereby the characters' relationship with food represents their lives and levels of corruption. As Walters puts it, "Eat the wrong thing and you too could be threaded with worms." Unfortunately, this idea smacks heavily of Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, in which food and the self are similarly linked together.

I could discuss this piece at much greater length, but I'm not sure it would benefit anyone. Arguably there is artistic merit here, and I daresay the food metaphor is – though not entirely original – well handled. But there is nothing I hate more than a philosophising rant disguised as a story, and in my opinion, “Life's Rich Demand” falls squarely into that category.

“An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love” by Jay Lake

Jay Lake's piece is, if nothing else, thought-provoking. Told from that familiar viewpoint of old-drunk-sits-in-a-bar-selling-sea-stories-for-beer, the protagonist recounts a slightly disturbing tale of love from his youth. It opens with the line "Ain't no mistress harsher than the sea," which though engaging, is a tiny bit misleading. This is, for want of a better phrase, a piece of "gay fiction," and I warn you now that the sex is both frequent and explicit; though it is not outright pornography, this story is not for the squeamish.

I have to say, I was hooked by it, though I am not sure if "enjoyed" is the right word. This is only a short piece by comparison, nothing too hard-going, but the narrative is quite compelling. The reader assumes the role of "person across the table," occasionally being instructed to provide the old pirate with beer or medicine, and the story unfolds like a conversation. You can deduce your own contribution by the narrator's replies. It is essentially a first-person narrative, written as a kind of dramatic monologue, and as such you feel like you "know" the protagonist by the end, which is always a sign of good writing.

Without revealing too much of the plot, it is the content that makes this piece a little questionable. I was left trying to decide whether the old pirate was a rapist that I should despise, or a poor man still haunted by young love that I should feel sorry for. Perhaps this was the author's intention. The lack of quotation marks, the dismal reality of the plot and the open conclusion gives it all the hallmarks of a modernist piece. So, maybe we're meant to feel unsatisfied at the end – it certainly kept me thinking long after I stopped reading.

I recommend you read this story. It is not long, but it is the most powerful of the pieces I have reviewed. You know you've read a good story when it keeps your mind buzzing long after you've read the final lines, and “An Elderly Pirate Recalls the Death of Love” is still stuck in my head.

“Setting My Spider Free” by Caroline M. Yoachim
“All the Blue in the Mirror” by Darin Bradley
“The Paper People” by Chris Cox
“The Fourth Horseman” by Yoon Ha Lee
“The Bear Dresser’s Secret” by Richard Bowes
“The Truth in Violet” by M. E. Parker
“Grandfather Paradox” by Katherine Mankiller
“The Death of Sugar Daddy” by Toiya Kristen Finley
“The Column That Held Up the Sky” by Matthew Wanniski

Reviewed by Steve Fahnestalk

“Setting My Spider Free” by Caroline M. Yoachim takes place in an unknown milieu, with an unknown protagonist. All we know of our storyteller is that she’s female, and has a live mother and a dead grandmother. Oh, yes, and that she lives in a single-room tower with a really big spider as her companion.

The spider, called Lilymiya, or “beautiful pain,” does what a spider does—spins webs—while our protagonist gathers them daily and sends them down the tower to her mother via a little spider (a “spiderling”). It’s a somewhat symbiotic relationship—our heroine gives Lilymiya her blood, Lilymiya gives her both venom and beautiful spun patterns.

It’s very well written (and applause to the writer for choosing a subject that a lot of writers would not, as many people are afraid of spiders, even fictional ones—this adds a certain amount of built-in tension to the story), and the story is, perhaps, an object lesson in letting go—setting her spider free, as in the title—but the unnamed setting, unfortunately, serves to distance the reader a little, making this a very “once-upon-a-time”-type story.

”All the Blue in the Mirror” by Darin Bradley concerns one Sera Thetch, who lives in a very religious, almost Puritan community encircled by a Wall. The people beyond the Wall are called “mirror-folk,” and are not afraid that reflections will steal their souls and infect others, as are the townspeople. Sera is a Vigiler, who will soon be Vesseled, and she’s just dying to know what color her eyes are. But that sort of curiosity (and vanity) could earn her punishment in the stocks, or worse. Her favorite color is blue, although the townsfolk are forbidden to wear any color but white (black, the non-color, is also favored).

Sera’s also jealous of Saphie, whose golden hair and burgeoning curves are beguiling Omas, who she secretly has a crush on. Saphie has also been Vesseled, and Sera’s younger sister Poppi knows all about Sera’s secret desires. Into this mix comes a mysterious stranger named Ibraim, who could secretly be one of the mirror-folk. Ibraim shows Sera a glimpse in a forbidden mirror and she discovers her eyes are blue.

Ibraim has blue eyes as well, but he’s not one of the Tree people; he won’t be Vesseled—sealed to The Tree, as a protection from the mirror-folk—and Sera can’t marry him. Besides, she doesn’t want to marry him, or be a spinster; she wants Omas. But even after Sera Vessels, Omas seems disinterested, hanging around with Saphie.

In the end, Sera finds that there’s more to life than life within the Wall, and she and Ibraim may be connected by more than their blue eyes. Although the ending didn’t really work for me, there’s enough meat in this story to make it satisfying.

“The Paper People” by Chris Cox is a strange little story about some people who have a booth at the back of the fairground (next to the fence around the graveyard) and who apparently can realize other people’s dreams in paper. Whatever you think of yourself or someone close to you can be sketched out by something like a polygraph (from the description), “stitched together,” and can walk and talk as if human.

So if you’re missing someone close to you, you can go to the paper people and have a somewhat flimsy substitute made for you, a “snapshot.” Or if you feel life has done badly by you, you can have a paper version made of your ideal (or less-than-ideal) self. This surreal story worked well for me. I didn’t quite understand the mechanism, but it was a well-told tale. (I could almost hear Rod Serling narrate the closing to this story, it was so quirky.)

“The Fourth Horseman” by Yoon Ha Lee really took me by surprise.  The Four Horsemen (you remember, the Apocalypse) are apparently named Jenny Hawk, Alice Song, Thomas Sand, and Donatien Wolf. None of these people are what you’ve heard or read.

First off, they’ve abandoned the horses; secondly, there is more than one Apocalypse. Maybe there are numerous Apocalypses, maybe there have always been one after another… or maybe not. Nothing in this story is what it seems. Or maybe we’re seeing the final Apocalypse.

It’s so phantasmagorical that it somehow reminds me of the best of Harlan Ellison—although it’s not written in Ellison’s style. When I read it I see, in my mind’s eye, one of the best kinds of graphic novels—beautifully drawn, all style as well as substance—flash and glitz tied together—but then I can’t tell you what I’ve read when I finish. This story told a tale, but I was so bedazzled by it, I’ll be darned if I can tell you what that tale was. Highly recommended.

“The Bear Dresser’s Secret” by Richard Bowes is another in this series of sui generis stories. Grismerelda is The Duchess’s maid—but when the Bear Dresser leaves the castle (after all, nobody tells a Bear Dresser what to do), she has to fill the void. But first, several courtiers try and fail, and even the Duchess herself discovers that bears are not hers to command.

Time is running short, there is only a month before the Great Fair and it would be unthinkable for the Duchess’s family not to enter the Animal Costume Competition (which they usually win)… And, after a number of false starts, Grismerelda discovers the Bear Dressers’ secret. Which makes for an amusing coda to an amusing story.

“The Truth in Violet” by M. E. Parker concerns both Violet Constence Whipple and the man who is building a machine to “extract the truth,” Albert Montague. Mr. Montague has lost his job and, instead of finding another one, has determined to build something that will make lie detectors obsolete, using just a 9-volt battery, a coil of copper wire, a blood-pressure cuff, and his laptop.

Albert lives across the street from Violet, and there’s a reason she doesn’t want lie detectors to be supplanted by a truth-extractor which can reach down into the bowels of a liar and rip out the truth—because on November 22, 1962, when John F. Kennedy was giving his Cuban Missile speech, a twelve-year-old Violet did something she doesn’t want uncovered. (No, you’re thinking of the day exactly one year later that JFK was shot and killed.)

But the IRS has come asking about Albert, and finally she is given a polygraph test by a man she thinks of as Johnny Hairplugs. The lead-up to the polygraph test, the answers she gives, and the final resolution of the story are as nice a piece of black humor as I’ve read in a while. I think maybe this story would have been a perfect fit for either Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, or Ellery Queen’s ditto. Well done indeed.

“Grandfather Paradox” by Katherine Mankiller maybe answers that question which has been asked a thousand times in SF: what happens if you go back in time and kill your grandfather? Do you cease to exist? Do you create multiple timelines? Or does everything somehow work out without destroying the universe (a speculation which has been made by more than one person)?

Ann O’Connell has been molested by her grandfather as a young adult; she grows up to be a programmer for Martin, a university professor whose researches into time are about to bear fruit. Martin has succeeded in transporting last year’s penny (a 2013) under the time capsule just before it was buried in 1914. Which gives Ann the idea of perhaps saving her younger self from making a terrible mistake, and at the same time, giving her own father a happy childhood.

What Ann does, and how she does it comprise the core of the story; I thought it was well thought out, except for the ending, which I found rather abrupt. But at the same time it’s hard to write anything new about the Grandfather Paradox, which has been covered by dozens of writers over the last fifty or sixty years. I enjoyed the writing, even though I’m not sure I can quite support the ending.

“The Death of Sugar Daddy” by Toiya Kristen Finley is a rarity in both SF and fantasy short fiction; that is, it’s a story about a young African-American girl who lives (apparently) in Nashville with her Momma and Grandmommy. SF and fantasy, especially in short fiction, have traditionally been the bailiwick of Caucasians; it’s hard to bring short fiction about non-whites to mind (except, perhaps for Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga stories), which makes this story especially welcome. Not just because it’s about an African-American, but because it’s so good.

I love fiction that informs me of places and people who aren’t part of my daily life, and Keisha’s milieu is so far from Vancouver, British Columbia in both space and culture that it might as well be on another planet. Eleven-year-old Keisha lives near Tennessee University in an area that is somewhat rundown, but not a slum, per se. There is a freeway nearby, and a runoff ditch that they call the river—but it’s the only home she knows and, while it may be somewhat shabbier than some parts of town, still the inhabitants seem to maintain an active social life.

At least there are a number of weddings and funerals—the former of which are the favorite haunt of the titular “Sugar Daddy” who, while apparently unemployed, always manages to bring a present for the bride and groom. But Sugar Daddy is missing, and Keisha may be getting impetigo—or maybe it’s just a mosquito bite on her wrist. Whatever the cause, it itches like crazy. But there are bigger problems afoot, like the part of the freeway that went missing one day. It didn’t fall down, it just somehow looked… erased. And there’s that door and window of the abandoned house that just hang there in the air, not connected to anything. And do more old people (like 40 and above) die in summer, Keisha asks her friends Marcus and Tey, who have no answer.

I don’t want to spoil your experience of this story (well-done urban fantasy is, in my opinion, somewhat rare), so I’ll just say that while it didn’t offer any real explanation for the fantastic happenings, it was so well written that you probably won’t, like me, mind. I really liked the characters, the setting and the mystery.

“The Column That Held Up the Sky” by Matthew Wanniski is a nicely-written short-short which tells about the column that held up the sky (“like Atlas’s cane”). Seems that back in the Garden (you know, Adam and Eve) the sky was too low—well, nothing’s perfect, you know—and the aforementioned couple kept bumping their heads, so someone unnamed engineered a solution. Amusing, especially the whole graffiti thing….

Not a single story I’ve read in this particular issue is like any other story I’ve ever read, as far as I can remember. Although I have only read the stories above, the quality is so uniformly high (and the stories so uniformly unique) that I would be astonished if the rest of the issue were different.

“In the Gingerbread House” by Barbara Krasnoff
“Jointed” by Loreen Heneghan
“The Improbable Legend of Quick Johnny” by Chris Roberson
“The Spaces between Things” by Matthew Kressel

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Kemmerer

The story “In the Gingerbread House” by Barbara Krasnoff is an urban fantasy set in Nazi Germany. A little girl taken backstage at the Berlin Opera is given a ”magic” paste jewel off the floor of the stage by her slightly older brother as a ruse to get her to stop crying. Unknown to those around her, however, the jewel talks to her and tells her the fate of each person she meets. This is at once a delightful whimsy and a fearful prospect in the tragic ends that these characters will suffer in the horrors of that period of world history. The story is a compelling and original triumph.

“Jointed” by Loreen Heneghan is a fantasy short about two people for whom the metaphor of “joined at the hip” is a literal brass hinge at the hip. Heneghan uses this device to explore the emotional state and longings of the narrator who is one half of that pair.

“The Improbable Legend of Quick Johnny” by Chris Roberson is a gothic short about a young boy’s imaginary companion who, after the boy’s death, carries out his revenge on the surviving family members who had tormented him during his life. It is narrated as legend from a distance that makes it much less chilling than it might otherwise be.

“The Spaces Between Things” by Matthew Kressel is a touching near future story about a war between East and West in which the East has somehow acquired the ability to send messages through time which appear as metaphors in the protagonist’s present. A series of flashbacks intersperse with the protagonist’s present dilemma, revealing his personal story of love, coming of age, and the invisible connections between people. He reflects on these bits of his past while deliberating whether to counter the successful enemy attack by launching a nuclear strike. This story is excellent if a little slow at times.

Electric Velocipede's website can be found here.

 

Electric Velocipede, Spring 2005

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“Ghost Dance” by Daniel Braum
“Horny in the Underworld” by Charles Coleman Finlay
“A Cheap and Frugal Fashion” by Heather Martin
“Endings” by Catherine Dybiec Holm
“Dinner Shift” by Jonathan Brandt
“Sunvolt” by Frank Byrns
“Mad Dog & Dusk” by Carole Carmen
“Serpent’s Tooth” by Liz Williams
Assorted poems by Christina Sng
“Attic Space” by Bill Braun
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Electric Velocipede, #5, Fall 2003

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"Nature's Way" by James A Hartley
"Waiting for an Angel" by Mike Lewis
"Songstress" by Jason Erik Lundberg
"The Chicken" by J. R. Cain
"The Curious Inventions of Mr. H" by Paul DiFilippo
"Three Bean Salad" by Christopher Meyer
"The Moonless, the Midnight Eye and the Season of the Last Gate" by Rudi Dornemann
"Formidolosus: Part Two" by Gene Lass
"The God Behind the Glass" by Richard Larson
"Virgil 2.0" by Jason J. Stevenson
"Whispers" by Michael Kanaly
"JohnCalvin" by Rick Klaw
"The Unrelenting Machine of Asynchronous Time Verifies Its Own Obsolescence" by Trent Walters
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Electric Velocipede, #4, Spring 2003

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"The Ship" by Jay Caselberg
"Catch & Release" by Mark Rich
"Fat Nate's Master Plan" by Stepan Chapman
"The Rose Thief" by Beth Adele Long
"Maxwell's Letter," by Ezra Pines
"Paul and the Computer" by Kevin L. Donihe
"Dash for Cover" by Nina DeGraff
"Mrs. Janokowski Hits One Out of the Park" by William Shunn
"Trying to Fly" by Chuck Hogle
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