Fortean Bureau, #30, June 2005

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"Buddha’s Fall" by M. Thomas
"Sick Days" by Heather Shaw
"The Kingfisher and the Tungkuska Machine" by Bill Kte’pi
"Minx Mouse Monster" Jennifer de Guzman
“Buddha’s Fall” by M. Thomas is the story of what happens when your upstairs neighbor falls partway through the ceiling of your apartment.  Katherine goes upstairs to sit with her neighbor, Alan, and wait for the rescue team to arrive.  While looking out the window, she witnesses two children attempting to dig their way to China.

“Buddha’s Fall” is a bittersweet story about recognizing and renouncing a dead-end life.  Katherine is not satisfied by her job and finds herself increasingly alone.  Seeing Alan’s helplessness juxtaposed with the confidence of the children digging to China forces her to examine whether she has the power to change her life.

The story is well written with a cautiously uplifting message.  Katherine makes her choice and what happens next is left to the imagination.  It is an effective way of saying that it is the intention that matters, not the outcome.

“Sick Days” by Heather Shaw starts out as an email flirtation between co-workers at a paper recycling company.  Karen complains to Jose about the hypochondriac receptionist, Diane, who always seems to get sick with whatever bug Karen has.  As Jose and Karen’s romance grows, they hatch a plot to trick Diane into thinking Karen has contracted Ebola.

The story convincingly devolves from amusing to horrific over the course of a couple of emails.  At first, I was leery of the use of emails as the vehicle for an epistolary structure because of the tendency to use so much shorthand.  Shaw avoids this by making most of the correspondence using the characters’ work addresses, which requires a little more decorum even if the emails are personal.

I liked how the horror and humor elements balanced to place a nice spotlight on the story’s lesson.

The real star of this issue is “The Kingfish and the Tunguska Machine” by Bill Kte’pi.  It is an alternate history in which Huey P. Long, the flamboyant Louisiana Senator nicknamed "The Kingfish," is president, the Romanovs rule the American protectorate of Austria-Hungary, and the biggest threat is not the A-Bomb, but Nicola Tesla’s Tunguska Machine, as seen through the eyes of a low-level diplomat. 

Are you confused yet?  Don’t worry.  Even though it seems like Kte’pi throws everything and the kitchen sink into the story, it works just fine.  On a deeper level, the story examines the politics of empire building and the machinations of the powerful, with the moral that power corrupts.

It’s well written and a fantastic read.

The final story is “Minx Mouse Monster” by Jennifer de Guzman.  The Monster of the title is a philandering monster, the Mouse, his long-suffering girlfriend, and the Minx, one of his many conquests.  Minx’s time with Monster is short, and after she leaves him, she is intrigued by the Mouse and contrives a meeting.  Mouse works at the key-copying counter of a hardware store and Minx claims she needs a new key for her front door.

de Guzman does an excellent job assigning her characters labels, then bucking them.  Minx’s confidence crosses over to arrogance when she judges Mouse by her appearance but doesn’t blind her to the danger she steps into later.  Mouse is a plain girl that isn’t necessarily ennobled by her lack of beauty.  And neither one of them is stupid.

I really enjoyed “Minx Mouse Monster.” It contains just the right mixture of arrogance, anger, and smarts to elevate stereotypes to archetypes.  The lover’s triangle plays out in a way that is unexpected and compelling.  Definitely worth a look.