"The Self-Healing Sky" by Howard V. Hendrix
"Vocabulary Items" by Bruce Holland Rogers
"A Voice for the Goddess of Mercy" by Pat MacEwen
"Eyes the Color of Earth as Seen From Above" by P.R.A. Stillman
"The Buddha Lectures on Cosmology" by Dana William Paxson
"Kingdom Come, Kingdom Go" by Lorelei Shannon
"Dali, at Age 26, Believing Himself to be Heavyweight Champion of the World" by Gary W. Shockley
The second issue of the new PDF ‘zine, Aeon, centers on themes of spirituality and divinity, religion and reverence, old gods and new. And it tosses in a solid dash of humor to keep things light.
Howard V. Hendrix‘s "The Self-Healing Sky" leads off this issue. It is a short tale about evolution, succession, and inevitability. Told in a narrative second person point of view, it documents a grueling pilgrimage up the steep slope of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome by the inventor of "self-aware, self-healing, self-replicating machines," the you being addressed in this tale. The running dialogue is between this self/you and the machines that he/we create that replace humans in their niche of dominance. In dwelling upon the nature of fate and causality, the reader learns that this particular expedition is one of a sequence replayed again and again as the narrator(s) examine the formative epiphany of this event shaped by grueling physical effort, both purging and punishing. Thoughts coalesce and fragment that dwell upon the nature of god, divinity, and the nature of the universe. "The Self-Healing Sky" is a thoughtful story that takes a darker, sobering look at the attitude of increased reliance upon technology that humanity has taken. I’m not a fan of second person. As such, I found that "The Self-Healing Sky" tread a thin line between reflective and pretentious, but in the end, the immersive quality of the trek up Yosemite’s monument made up for any ungainliness experienced by the author’s choice in point of view.
"Vocabulary Items" by Bruce Holland Rogers is a flash piece presented in an unusual format. Beginning the work is a directive familiar to anyone experienced with standardized tests: "Choose the appropriate word to complete the following sentences." But what follows each of four vocabulary questions is a fantastic little vignette that illustrates and frames the correct answer, which, unless the reader’s thought processes are very different from what the college admissions people are going for, is an exercise in the unexpected. The trick is to try and guess which word the author is going for before the vignette ends and the "correct" answer is revealed. As an interactive story exercise, it’s a vast improvement over the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in my youth. While there’s nothing particularly dense or intellectual to this flash ditty, I giggled out loud at the scenarios presented. And, if given the choice between dwelling upon weighty meaning and tittering to myself at my computer, comedic fiction wins out every time.
The novelette of this issue, "Eyes the Color of Earth as Seen From Above" by P.R.A. Stillman has, as its focal character, God. Yes, God with a capital "G," although his wife, Edna, calls him "Joe." Set in 1929 after the end of WWI but before the election which would set Herbert Hoover as America’s 31st president (the date being an understated but inspired pivot upon which a subplot aspect revolves—I won’t give it away, but it made me grin when I "got it"), God flies a small plane, Peaches, on a mail route, and looks forward to his wife’s fresh grits and gravy when his daily postal chores are fulfilled. Despite the tongue-in-cheek setting (God’s full name is "Joe Dios"), it’s an introspective story that touches upon the foibles of the father-son relationship. There is a gap between God and his son, pyro-talented Luke—a chasm of time and misunderstanding and grief. The shared loss of Jesse, Luke’s younger brother, still stands stark between them. Luke is ambitious, craving his father’s love, but he’s flawed by a selfish, glory-seeking nature. As an amusing accent, Luke’s infernal/divine nature is cleverly highlighted at various points in the story, my favorite being when his hair is blown by the wind so that it forms "two small peaks, one on either side of his forehead." Both touching and whimsical by turns, this story is a blend of humor and thoughtfulness that manages a fresh look at Christian mythos. The outcome of this tale has repercussions both micro, set within the framework of the drama of father and son, and macro, incorporating world-impacting consequences coming out of the familial strife. The inevitable theology aspects are, while not subtle, not ham fisted either—we’ll call it "gently delivered subtext"—making this fanciful tale an enjoyable jaunt and my favorite in this issue of Aeon.
Dana William Paxson‘s "The Buddha Lectures on Cosmology" is somewhat more heavy-handed in its treatment of theological themes than its predecessor, which is ironic, considering that it is a flash-length piece. The entirety of the tale unfolds in an Advanced Physics classroom with the divine Buddha as a guest speaker, expounding upon the nature of the universe. The existential subject matter is a bit dense for those of us without a background in Philosophy and/or Physics, but the general brevity of it saves it from becoming a chore to read. While the vagaries of Stokes’s Theorem were explored, I found myself wondering how the professor managed to book the Buddha as a lecturer (a question never answered, but still fun to contemplate). Nevertheless, the story ends up being weighty, despite the blithe setting and tone, without much payoff.
"Kingdom Come, Kingdom Go" by Lorelei Shannon is a reprint, originally appearing in the author’s collection, Vermifuge, and Other Toxic Cocktails. As such, it has instilled in me an urge to seek out the collection on the chance that the rest of its contents contain similarly delightful and grisly works. This story begins with the dismay of Earl and Effie when Sunday’s newspaper reveals the violent death of Jerry Sparkle, Elvis impersonator extraordinaire. Earl and Effie are the proprietors of the Elvis Is Our King Boutique, and Jerry was their very favorite modern-day manifestation of The King. But soon they discover that he’s not the only imitation Elvis to come to a ghastly end. Elvis after Elvis is being assassinated, and not only that, but they’re being scalped. The killer relieves them of their bouffant wigs in a Graceland version of counting coup. Is it a conspiracy or something ancient and dark? In the course of her humorous spotlight on the cult worship that surrounds Elvis’s memory, Shannon delivers such gems as "I was stopped short like a pole-axed puma" and "she was on him like a duck on a June bug." And she still manages to make a chilling and perceptive comment on the nature of gods and religion. A delightful tale redolent with humor and dripping with blood. Long live The King!
The ponderously titled "Dali, at Age 26, Believing Himself to be Heavyweight Champion of the World" by Gary W. Shockley wraps up this issue. As the name might bring you to suspect, it orbits around Salvador Dali in a pugilistic match, with Miro and Picasso as coaches and cheering squad. Dali’s foe changes shape, manifesting as quasi symbolic elements of his own sketches and paintings, representing Dali’s personal battle with his art, his madness, and the socio-political discord in the surrealistic art movement of the time. Between rounds, Rene Crevel joins them to provide explanatory exposition, and soon other artists of the era make an appearance—writers and poets as well as painters—Soupault, Reverdy, Desnos, Char. And so begins a dizzying jaunt through a surreal (literally) landscape as the reader joins these artists as they vie on a field of symbols and symbolism, on the quest to unite Dali with his muse, Gala. The fieldtrip Shockley takes the reader on, tramping through famous surreal paintings and scenarios (Marcel Duchamp’s famous "Nude Descending a Staircase" most prominently) is reminiscent of the 1998 Robin William’s movie, What Dreams May Come. The featured artwork is lush and tactile, coming to multi-dimensional life, as much a character in this tale as any of the named artists. A bizarre fusion of airy and reflective, "Dali, at Age 26, Believing Himself to be Heavyweight Champion of the World" is a fitting end to this second Aeon offering.
Aeon stands poised to be a strong, fresh face in the speculative fiction arena. I look forward to following its progress. If it can continue to publish such worthwhile offerings, I fervently hope it becomes a mainstay in the industry.