Lone Star Stories, Issue No. 8, April 1, 2005

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"The Heirs of Cenpa" by Sandra McDonald
"Cicada" by M. Thomas
"Manuscript Found Written in the Paw Prints of a Stoat" by Samantha Henderson

In the quantum foam of semi-pro publishing, zines appear and disappear with dizzying speed, and the fiction they publish is often best forgotten. It is therefore always nice to find a magazine that not only publishes regularly and to schedule, but which also produces high-quality fiction every issue. Lone Star Stories is one of those few that have resisted the uncertainty principle and managed to keep going. Now on issue 8, Lone Star Stories has been publishing every two months since the beginning of 2004, and has attracted some of the best new writers around.

Opening this issue, Sandra McDonald‘s "The Heirs of Cenpa" is a disturbing and disturbingly-engrossing portrait of a man who kidnaps (or rescues) young boys, believing them to be heirs to a magical, idyllic kingdom called Cenpa. In the past, he has been locked away for his activities, but now he is free and he believes he has found another heir.

This is a story that steps close to the edge of where fiction may really go, in its depiction of a maybe-pedophile. Like the movie The Woodsman, it presents a character for whom we can have no sympathy with a depth and complexity that eschews tabloid simplicities. And if the steps of the story do lead right to the edge of the cliff, they never cross it, for Sandra McDonald is a fine dancer.

In a world where the media would divide all into black and white, angels and demons, McDonald reaches a much more human and humane, and ultimately enlightening, depiction. Because Vince, her protagonist, does not think that he is doing wrong. He understands that the parents will suffer when he abducts their child, and he regrets it, but he thinks he is returning the child to his true home.

Even at the end, like Vince himself with his tortured doubts, we never quite know if Vince is a self-deluded pedophile or whether he is a hero. Thus McDonald uses fantasy to enlighten us to the workings of a confused and dangerous mind in a way that could not be done in another genre. "The Heirs of Cenpa" is a bold and effective tale.

M. Thomas uses magic in a quite different way, as an instrument of redemption for her trapped housewife, in her neat little piece of magical realism, "Cicada." For twenty two years, her protagonist has been stuck in an abusive marriage with her husband, Jonathon. Although the physical violence of their early relationship is past, the threat of it is evident in his every gesture, and the emotional abuse remains. The protagonist has learned to accept it. Until the cicadas swarm.

There is nothing particularly surprising in "Cicada." This type of metamorphosis story is fairly commonplace. But Thomas handles it exceptionally well. Her touch is light, and in the space of only a couple of pages, she draws believable characters and a sympathetic narrator, and spins a down-to-earth magic into gold. "Cicada," while not outstanding, is certainly worth the few minutes it will take you to read and enjoy it.

"Manuscript Found Written in the Paw Prints of a Stoat" boasts both the longest title and the greatest word count in this issue of Lone Star Stories. The Smallest Daughter of the House of Diamond of Endless City sets out on a journey to find a husband, armed with the sigils of the Angels of Dawn, Dusk, Waterfowl and Secret Things carved into the skin of her arms. Samantha Henderson sends Smallest Daughter on a quest through a strange, magical kingdom before delivering her to modern-day New York.

The story is told in the style of an old fairy tale—not the whitewashed, Disney-fied version, but the crueler, darker tales of the Brothers Grimm. This kingdom is a place of hurt and danger. As in the fairy tales that influence "Manuscript…", the incidents that occur are at best only loosely linked and the story has a somewhat episodic feel. While the story shows the kind of imagination one would expect to see in a story by, say, Benjamin Rosenbaum, its structure means that it does not always maintain narrative drive. Nonetheless, the story is always quirky and creative. Only at the end does it really lose its way, and the ending does not really satisfy nor tie up the disparate elements.

Henderson creates a wonderful texture with words and names, and "Manuscript…" is a sensory treat. As a complete story, however, it lacks the tightness that would elevate it beyond that.

All three stories in this issue of Lone Star Stories fit under the wider definition of fantasy, although they are of distinctly different forms and styles. The best of the stories is Sandra McDonald’s ambiguous and brilliant "The Heirs of Cenpa." Lone Star Stories has once again delivered a strong selection. As I said in previous review of the magazine, it is a shame that the design of the website is rather unappealing, but you should not let that deter you from investigating the contents.