Reviewed by Charles Payseur
Farrago’s Wainscot is a strange name for a publication, but that fits given it is a market for the “literary weird.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but if I’m to judge by the stories in the publication’s first issue after a five-year-long hiatus, I’d say it means stories full of odd ideas and non-linear formats. Each story is a bit difficult to figure out at times, relying on the twisting of language and convention, and while it takes some getting used to, I’d say it succeeds at the very least in finding a unique voice and distinct character in the large field of speculative publications. And on top of four stories, there are also four poems, which complement the fiction admirably. It’s definitely worth checking out.
A young man named CF flees across multiple parallel dimensions seeking other versions of himself in Toiya Kristen Finley‘s “Everybody Has a Twin Except for Me.” Haunted by the events of his life, by his failure to stand up to two relatives that seem intent on killing him and his failure to try and help his ex-girlfriend, CF runs and keeps running, wondering when the two men chasing him will finally catch up and kill him. He jumps from dimension to dimension, but in every one the twins of his enemies still chase him. And it makes him wonder what has happened to his twins, which he cannot find, if they don’t exist or if they, too, are running, all of them searching for each other and failing. It’s surreal and I struggled a bit to piece together what really happened, but the idea of a man searching for himself, for the resolve to stand, is one that resonated throughout and made the story interesting.
Forrest Aguirre takes a much different approach to his story “Sinfonia 22,” which is told as a series of disparate quotations from sources surrounding the death of composer Allesandro Livetti. The composer and the sources that the work pulls from might be entirely fictional, but the method makes the situation, the strange mystery of this man’s murder, seem real, seem plausible and intriguing. With each new piece of the puzzle the story grows more interesting, and though this story also doesn’t offer up much in the way of a linear story, it creates a sense of combing through history trying to find out what really happened. As an experiment in form and style, it makes for a fun read.
“Of Homes Gone” by Jason Heller follows an Ell, an Enforcer of the Lack of Laws, as they travel out into a city that cannot exist inside buildings. Probably the strangest of the stories in the issue, the setting is one where no one lives inside because of a belief that the buildings themselves are dangerous, might eat someone foolish enough to venture in. The Lack of Laws, a contradiction really, is to try and prevent people from going back in, to keep everything lawless and free. The Ell, though, chases down a rumor that someone has gone back inside, and what they find at the end of the trail is rather indescribable. The story is filled with some great ideas and lines, but I have to admit to being at a bit of a loss about how it ends. It’s definitely weird, but it wasn’t quite to my tastes.
Rounding out the fiction is Richard Bowes‘ Big Arena story “Time is a Twisting Snake,” in which an aging media icon wrestles with his age and decides to try a new procedure to transport his mind into a younger body. A younger body that belonged to someone else. That belongs to someone else. It’s not something he does lightly, as it obviously disturbs him when he first learns of the procedure, but slowly he is seduced into wanting it, into wanting to live on, to never grow out of style. Only after he goes through with it does he realize the full implications of what he has done. And despite loving the way his new body moves and feels, there is a lingering fear that he’s actually done something terribly, terribly wrong. It’s a great story, with a complex main character looking at his age and wondering what if. And it’s a great commentary on how far people might go to live forever, and what that might mean to everyone else, especially the young people whose bodies the old are starting to crave.
Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at Perihelion Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @ClowderofTwo