Chizine, #33, July–September 2007

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"The Vine that Ate the South" by Bill Kte’pi
"The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement, and Then Take Questions" by David Nickle
"Waiting Period" by Sunil Sadanand
"Ladders" by David Sakmyster

In "The Vine that Ate the South" by Bill Kte’pi, Adamae is a good girl.  She lives with her father and his parents on the farm and later, just with her grandparents.  She grows up, goes to University, and meets the man of her dreams, a man who knows her better than herself.  Everything is perfect, she’s completely happy, and then she finds out exactly why her life is like it is—a piece of knowledge no one should take lightly.
Kte’pi, like Sunil Sadanand and David Nickle, has crafted a story that talking about in detail would ruin.  It’s a beautiful character piece, managing the near impossible feat of making a normal, likeable, everywoman feel exceptional and likeable, and at the same time has an air of menace that’s a genuine rarity.  There’s a sense of looking at the picture from a slightly off angle, and the reveal, when it comes, is as clever and considered as it is utterly chilling and at the same time, desperately normal.  A welcome new twist on an established idea, and an incredibly strong start to this issue of Chizine.

It’s a sad fact that tragedy has become mundane.  As I write this, England is coming to the end of a summer which has seen gang violence claim the lives of half a dozen teenagers and the heartbreak of the Madeline McCann missing child case, to say nothing of the hundreds of disappearances and accidents that go unreported.  But tragedy must be faced up to and accepted; life must go on.  Otherwise, as David Nickle’s extremely clever story, "The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement, and Then Take Questions," suggests, things will get even messier. 

Saying a huge amount in a very short space, Nickle’s story explores how the media handles tragedy, how people dwell on it when it happens, and most of all, what happens when that tragedy refuses to fade quietly into memory.  Dark, economic, and with a killer punch, this is a classic example of how to do flash fiction supremely well.  A story you’ll want to read again as soon as you’ve finished it to spot all the clues you may have missed.  For something that’s barely a page long, that’s quite an achievement.

To say anything about Sunil Sadanand’s story, "Waiting Period," would spoil the surprise.  I’m not being coy.  It’s a remarkably considered, character-driven story about Louis, an alcoholic struggling with his relationship with Lauren, his crystal meth-using daughter.  Sadanand has a keen ear for dialogue, and much of the story is told with it.  The reveal on the exact nature of Louis’s situation is subtly handled, and the characters he meets along the way, along with their pragmatically bleak outlook on life, provide a sense of European fantasy.  There’s a slightly rundown feel to it, with delayed tragedy and a highly unusual end result which is both deeply affecting and unexpected.  Unique, clever, and poignant.

In "Ladders" by David Sakmyster, Charles Lang is a Retriever.  In fact, Charles is the Retriever; he has a monopoly on it, having invented the job.  Charles’s job is simple.  All he has to do is go up the ladders and bring down the people who’ve strapped themselves to the top, alive or dead.  You see, the city Charles lives in is impossible to leave, and there are rumors that if you build your ramshackle ladder high enough, you might see a flash of green, the hint of a mountainside…

"Ladders" is reminiscent of the sort of urban fantasy that China Miéville is renown for and is the standout story in an issue packed with excellent fiction.  There’s something genuinely bleak about Charles’s plight and something oddly medieval about his job and his pragmatism towards it—both darkly amusing and oddly moving—all set in a mundane hell of the denizens’ own making.