"Put Up Your Hands" by Terry Bisson
"Forward" by Doranna Durgin
"The Padre, the Rabbi, and the Devil His Own Self" by Melanie Fletcher
"Real North" by Jay Lake
"Port Custodial Blues" by Vera Nazarian
“Captive Girl" by Jennifer Pelland
"Tonino and the Incubus" by Peg Robinson
Helix #2 delivers a diverse range of stories: some satirical, some poetic, and most memorable in one way or another.
Terry Bisson’s “Put Up Your Hands,” featuring an interview between radio commentator Maria Striver and hip-hop sensation Bling Bling Fling, is little more than a diatribe against hip-hop and rap music. Bisson’s sweeping condemnation of low-brow rap may be well deserved, but if he feels so strongly about the topic, he should have written an op-ed piece. “Put Up Your Hands” fails as science fiction, speculative fiction, or as any form of written entertainment.
Augie, the stubbornly illiterate hero of Doranna Durgin’s “Forward,” is a frustrated janitor who has bucked tradition and the law to travel forward into the future. By doing so, he hopes to prove himself to his mother and to the world.
“Forward” turns on its ending, and indeed, the whole story is constructed so as to make the punch line possible. Yes, it made me laugh, but I also felt like I had just witnessed the operation of a clever mechanism, a wind-up toy, rather than a living, breathing story.
Melanie Fletcher’s “The Padre, the Rabbi, and the Devil His Own Self,” a story of demonic possession and earthly revenge, goes for the easy laughs. Deliverance-style yokels, a wisecracking rabbi, and a crooked faith healer: no character strays far from his stereotype. If you’re looking for something edgy, surprising, or challenging, this isn’t your story. Nevertheless, the tale moves quickly, providing lots of grins and a few outright belly laughs. It works well as light entertainment.
In contrast, Jay Lake’s “Real North” challenges the reader on many levels. Several vignettes, told in a variety of voices and styles, present an exotic geography. The vignettes vary in effectiveness—I was particularly moved by the first “true story” and the third—but they are all oddly evocative, like a poem that barely escapes explication. I was reminded of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth, and also of Jorge Luis Borges’ earlier short stories. Honestly, I don’t pretend to understand “Real North,” but I enjoyed reading it just the same.
Teal Wade, the first-person protagonist of Vera Nazarian’s delightful “Port Custodial Blues,” is a Cleanser: a member of a religious sect that believes janitorial work is sacred. Teal cleans the waste facilities at a spaceport which caters to a variety of curious species. Much of the enjoyment derives from Nazarian’s creativity with regard to these species’ bathroom habits, but she gives us a plot-driven story, too. A chip containing sensitive information is missing, and the authorities suspect it’s hiding in the digestive tract of one (or more) of the spaceport’s denizens. Thanks to his unusual occupation, Teal becomes a primary player in the mystery, in more ways than one.
“Port Custodial Blues” is funny and smart. The setting makes the story; the mystery is little more than window dressing, and the ending, while conclusive, left me wanting more.
Jennifer Pelland’s “Captive Girl” is a mesmerizing, compelling love story. Ten years ago, Alice was orphaned when her colony was attacked, possibly by extraterrestrials. She and two other young girls volunteered themselves to be horribly modified into cyborgs capable of scanning their planet’s surroundings for threats. Now, nineteen-year-old Alice has two things that keep her going: her commitment to her job, and her caretaker, Marika, whom Alice loves. But what will happen to her if she loses both?
It’s a provocative and disturbing story, one which explores questions about a child’s rights to her own body, the nature and necessity of sacrifice, and the demands of love. Is Marika and Alice’s relationship sick, sweet, or something in between? Pelland provides no easy answers, but she has given us much to think about. “Captive Girl” is certainly this issue’s most memorable story.
Peg Robinson’s richly detailed “Tonino and the Incubus” is an unusual fantasy about a gigolo, Tonino, whose aged clients are stalked and killed by an incubus assuming Tonino’s form. Early on, Tonino clashes with resident Archcleric Prieta Safina, “of the Order of Renunciation, who give themselves over to prayer and asceticism that they may better pursue that most mysterious and paradoxical of gods, the Hidden One, who passes unheralded and unrecognized, working wonders that cannot be spoken of in forms that surprise even the other gods.” Safina believes Tonino bears responsibility for the deaths, and would see him burn for it. Tonino, however, hopes to catch the incubus and banish him from his city.
Robinson tells her story with the sensuousness the subject matter demands, achieving a lushness suggestive of stories from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. I suspect many readers will pick this story as their favorite from Helix #2.