Aberrant Dreams, #6, Winter 2006

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"The Melancholy Aihai" by Gerald W. Page                    
"The Final Circle" by Justin Stanchfield       
"Apple Red" by Josh Rountree
"The Son that Pain Made" by Eugie Foster 
"The Solipsist" by Eric Marin
"Without Omens" by Rob Shelsky
"A New Day, A New Eve" by R. G. Larsen
The lead story in issue #6 of Aberrant Dreams is Gerald W. Page‘s "The Melancholy Aihai," the futuristic, Lovecraftian tale of a crew stranded in deep space after their ship’s drive explodes. When they drift by an alien vessel, the crew explore it and find it empty. But one thing it does have is breathable air and plenty of water, so the crew decides to move in. The ship starts flying on its own, making strange maneuvers as it leaves their derelict ship behind. With the help of an enigmatic alien member of their crew, referred to only as the Aihai, they decipher strange mathematical scribblings in a large room in the lower levels of the ship—scribblings which point to a door. The captain, haunted by strange dreams of a darkling figure telling him to find the door and get out, and knowing that they are quickly running out of food, does just that, finds the door. But what is waiting for him on the other side may be more deadly than starvation.

What starts out as a dark-edged, pulpy space adventure turns into a Lovecraftian pastiche, something I didn’t see coming but welcomed once I saw it. This is Lovecraft’s future where The Great Old Ones colonized the solar system and were driven back, of Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu and Vulthoom, of doorways out of time and space. Page is an old pro and knows what he’s doing. I was only familiar with his work with the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, so I’m glad I had the chance to read a piece of his fiction.

In "The Final Circle," Justin Stanchfield takes us on-board an alien vessel as a group of humans seek to learn the art of telepathy from a race of Zen-like aliens called the Seeders. Eikes is a down-on-his-luck karate instructor, hoping to cash in on the secret to be learned from the Seeders. But he, along with the few remaining students who weren’t eliminated from the group, learn that the "gift" of telepathy has a dark consequence.

This is a good story. Stanchfield comes up with a novel concept and does an expert job executing it. I couldn’t help thinking that ordinary human beings wouldn’t be allowed to simply walk up to an alien spacecraft and sign up for alien martial arts lessons, but there is some powerful stuff here.

Fairy tale flash fiction must be turning into its own sub-genre these days. In "Apple Red," Josh Rountree takes us into the woods as a prince seeks to kiss the fair maiden and awaken her from centuries of slumber. The fact that she is completely naked makes no never-mind to our forthright hero, and as he leans in for the awakening smooch, an ugly dwarf knifes him in the back. I guess Grumpy really is grumpy. I couldn’t figure out what was going on here. Is the fair maiden prince bait? What could have been a funny riff on the fairy tale is just a cute, confusing little writerly afterthought. Well, at least it’s short.

"The Son That Pain Made" is Eugie Foster‘s darkly fantastic take on the origins of the vampire. A Muse has been captured for her inspiration. Manacled by cold iron and repeatedly raped, she takes her own inspiration into herself and sires a child of darkness to punish her captors. But that child follows its own devices, and the Muse curses it to forever walk in darkness, as well as all the other things vampires are famous for: can’t come in uninvited, etc. This is a wonderful story, the other standout of the issue, along with Page’s Aihai. Foster is meant for great things.

Edmond Hamilton wrote an intriguing story called "Exile," in which a group of pulp science fiction writers are sitting around a bar discussing their ideas, when one of them starts talking about how a world he envisioned in his mind actually sprang into being. And not only that, but he projected himself there. After his bizarre tale is finished, one of the other writers asks him how he got back, to which he replied, "I never left."

"The Solipsist" by Eric Marin is along that same vein. The lone survivor of a deep space mining accident is being examined by a psychiatrist who diagnoses him as being a solipsist, a person who believes that everyone and everything around him is a product of his own mind. And then everything goes dark.  This story would have been clever forty years ago, but it’s not so much today. If you like flash, it’s a nice enough tale and well written.

"Without Omens" almost makes me want to learn Latin. Almost. Rob Shelsky takes us aboard a deep space exploratory vessel with a three-person crew sent to discover why the denizens of several different solar systems destroyed their entire planets with antimatter. Does the discovery of antimatter activate a suicide gene? Is God wiping the slate clean of dangerous organisms? We don’t know for sure, but the story carries a profound sense of foreboding.

There’s some heavy-handed writing and a character who quotes darkly relevant phrases in Latin entirely too much, but the message of the tale comes across clear as a bell. Shelsky seems to tell, not show, but he knows how to endow his stories with great feeling.

"A New Day, A New Eve" by R. G. Larsen is the tale of a factory worker abducted by fog-shrouded aliens. These aliens are trying to clone a new Adam and Eve. There’s some nice description here, but this story isn’t the highlight of the issue. Alien abduction is just a little too Weekly World News for me. At least Larsen’s take on it doesn’t include skinny grey aliens with almond-shaped eyes, which is a plus.

Aberrant Dreams is one of those few small press magazines that looks good, has a nice website with good production values, and is a training ground for the next generation of genre storytellers. James says check it out.