“Aethra” by Michalis Manolios
“Lost Highway Travelers” by Judy Klass
“Pinocchio” by Jacob Garbe
“Demon” by Bruce McAllister
“Differences” by Eric Brown
“Blavatsky’s Knee” by Jan J. B. Kuipers
“A Room of Empty Frames” by Robin Maginn
“Nathan Swindle and the Citadel” by Fancisco Mejia
“Reflected Glory” by Peter C. Loftus
Reviewed by Sherry Decker
“Aethra” by Michalis Manolios is a futuristic murder mystery featuring several clones imprisoned by a famous artist known by one name, Aethra. Aethra is infamous for more than her art. In certain circles she has the reputation for attending orgies and involving her own clones in these sometimes brutal and masochistic parties against their will.
Out of all the bizarre lines in this story, this one rises above the others: In any case, at some point, a critic’s job demands that he becomes unpleasant.
The protagonist, a police Inspector, is allowed inside Aethra’s residence to interrogate her but his first dilemma is where to sit because the chairs and tables are all naked, imprisoned clones in awkward positions. Another clone is built into a wall: . . . the clone had a gold, Y-shaped stud in her mouth. The bottom part pierced her lower lip, went through the tip of her extended tongue and continued upwards forking under the nose so the prongs entered each nostril. The spherical tips prevented its removal.
The mystery itself becomes almost secondary to the perverse abuse of the clones. The far too obvious ‘surprise ending’ failed to surprise me.
“Lost Highway Travelers” was written by Judy Klass who truly knows the Nashville country-western music scene. She has done her research regarding the backgrounds of famous singers like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.
The protagonist in this tale wants to be a successful song writer. There are sad similarities between song writers and fiction writers, in that rejection becomes the norm: I wrote the song before I moved down here. People can hear it, if I use a word that’s too big or too Yankee, or a rhyme that’s too perfect. It’s getting so even I can hear it now.
Unfortunately, this story leans deep into the stereotyping of certain characters, as if only a white, rich, displaced northerner like Chad, the music publisher the protagonist goes to see, would reject his songs: . . . his walls decorated with gold and platinum records, framed, and a framed picture of him shaking hands with George W Bush. Uh oh. …and… Chad is a heavy-set guy in his thirties, white in a way that nobody in NYC is white – I mean, completely devoid of ethnicity and any kind of urban irony or grit.
I guess if there had been a photo of the Dixie Chicks on the wall instead of George W., the protagonist’s music would have been published and he would by now be rich and successful. Well, why didn’t he send his songs to a more liberal minded music publisher?
Clear writing − not so stylistic that it became a linguistic puzzle. I do, however, weary of the stereotyping of antagonists as always white, wealthy and conservative. Corruption swings both directions and it would be refreshing to read it that way sometimes. You know, realistic instead of always politically correct.
“Pinocchio” by Jacob Garbe took a page and a half before I realized the title was meant to be taken seriously. It’s the retelling of Pinocchio from a very different angle.
Opening lines: We weren’t clockworks. I want to make that perfectly clear, here in the beginning. We weren’t stoolies, we weren’t mechanicked.
The goal, it seems, is to escape the fictional town of Hardknock and jackrabbit through the city gate to freedom. No one has ever made it because the Clockman watches from his tower and he seems to know who is planning to run for it If you’re caught, you’re given one more chance, but you lose something important. A clock is inserted into your chest. I assume this means you’re a real boy now – and someday you will die.
Enjoyed this one, especially compared to the stylistic extravagances of most of the other tales in this issue. Interesting take on the original story, although a bit unsettling.
“Demon” by Bruce McAllister is almost entirely style. It involves a protagonist, an Angel who is very, very white, and thoughts about life and death and what God wants.
He will take her and turn her light to darkness, and at this turning he will feel fear, not the comfort of beauty, of His breath or words or gaze. He will fall into the darkness of this new angel, and as he does, feel her jaws tearing at his face. As they tear and he turns blind, as he did walking years ago, the darkness will not be here, but his own – in his hunger, his littleness – and it will be up to him.
If you enjoyed that paragraph, this story is for you.
The next three stories were the winners of a student writing competition. It was uplifting to read thoughts from young people in Ireland.
The overall winner: “Ways of Making Math More Interesting” by Lauren Mulvihill is a clever daydream-type story about numbers coming alive.
All around me, blue Numbers were screaming and running to and fro. They were ducking in front of and behind vertical number-lines, which were clustered together in large groups, and line the pathways of the barren landscape.
It’s easy to see how learning math in story form can help embed the boring rules of mathematics into one’s brain. Clever.
Winner, Senior Secondary Category: “Null World” by Aaron Elbel delivers a short piece full of expression, creativity and imagination. This writer might be headed for the professional weird genre someday, but not in such a stylistic way that it lacks plot.
Now the Mind was all around her, ice sharp. Some people still called it a city although such a feeble term did it no justice. Its spires stretched far into the horizon and clawed at the sky, impossible constructions that were branched and fluted, or in some cases simply cut short only to reappear across a great divide as part of another building. Spines, swirls and strange protrusions scuttled across their surfaces . . .
Winner; Senior Primary Category: “The Glowopolis Rebellion” by Kathy Cronin is the shortest piece of the three winners and tells the most complete story if you appreciate a beginning, a middle, and an end. I suspect the author came up with the idea after a classroom discussion or project aimed at energy conservation and going green.
The dragons struck a bargain. In the land they had come from, the glow jungles just past the Moonlight Mountains, there grew a plant called the moon bean. It gave off the only light that was brighter than dragon-powered bulbs. If she found them, she could put them in the bulbs and lamps and use them as a light source instead of dragons. Bianca set out on her travels the next day, to find the wondrous plants.
Congratulations to the winners and all those young writers who entered the contest. Very well done. Persevere!
“Differences” by Eric Brown
This is the best writing and the best story in this issue. It’s short, intriguing, thought provoking and the ending eluded me until the end, like a surprise ending should.
“Differences” is a futuristic suspense/mystery involving a harsh society where criminals are euthanized for minor offenses, such as having a book in one’s possession. I strongly recommend this tale.
“Blavatsky’s Knee” by Jan J. B. Kuipers was translated from Dutch. The writing style is formal and supposedly told by a demon. The demon dares the reader to call him anything other than a storm. He can − only enter the hearts where Islam does not properly reign (and so) those of renegades and infidels, of strangers with their frayed heresy of chalices and holy crosses.
The demon tells a long, rambling story about a caravan of travelers crossing the Arab desert. The one woman in the group is referred to as Madame Blavatsky, Helena, or, the woman and is described as age twenty, full-lipped, as having a dark, calm, self-assured voice, and as conceited and authoritarian (obviously all sinful things). The men all seem to be loud, opinionated, bold and lecherous, but these are acceptable traits because they’re after all, men.
Among the travelers is a Man who never gives his name. Another traveler, Col. Olcott, desires Madame Blavatsky, as does the demon. When Col. Olcott takes offense at something the Man-who-never-gives-his-name says, there is a duel. One of the men dies, and the demon leaps into the soulless body, glad to have form for the first time, because now the woman can see him.
The story didn’t seem to have enough purpose for all the effort and trouble of translation.
“The Room of Empty Frames” by Robin Maginn is another mystery, this time about a missing artist. He vanished one day, leaving behind eleven paintings in his abandoned apartment and another room full of empty frames. There is quite a stir about eleven paintings that may or may not give clues as to what actually happened to the artist. It’s also argued that the paintings may or may not be ‘brilliant.’ Had the artist lived the paintings may have been considered unremarkable.
The discovery of the paintings is described several times as though seen through different eyes, but nothing pertinent changes in the retelling and it becomes redundant.
Speaking of mysteries, Francisco Mejia’s, “Nathan Swindle and the Citadel” is an enigma full of pretty descriptions, nonsensical places and ventures into the overly stylistic weird: Nathan Swindle pulled Serafina Maposa through Grögola the living city.
Serafina is dying and Nathan is trying to get her to Marvælen. They’re following someone named Citadel (who) bites chunks out of the world, leaves them exposed and half-eaten. Serafina seems to be some kind of plant.
Serafina’s cart tipped over as Nathan crashed into it. She spilled out in a chaos of deteriorating colors. Several of her fruits went off, drenching nearby facades with a dazzling slush. Flashing soil surrounded her. “Uh…uh…cracked glass head…I have that!” she lamented.
Another story written for the sake of style. It could have used some substance instead.
“Reflected Glory” by Peter C. Loftus is about a man named Weaver who has traveled to another world: The journey to the lowlands had been a reverse odyssey through the history of transport; first the Leviathan, a cruiser-class lightship, then the sub-light carrier to bring him into orbit around Hubris. From then, there had been the entry plane, then a six day train journey, and lastly twelve hours being blatted about on board the airship.
Upon his arrival, Weaver must take pills to keep his blood from thinning, to help him get oxygen in. He needs to take them for a few days, until his body gets used to the altitude. Weaver asks for a bottle of the pills, or a sheet of them, or the three-day supply, but is told “No, I’ll give you one whenever you need.”
Weaver is accustomed to second-rate treatment. In school he was always chosen last for every team, no matter the game. He seems to be an unstable, unhappy, fragile personality. He is exhausted by the time he reaches his destination and is shown to his quarters where … he rolled onto his mattress and as much fainted as fell asleep.
Weaver wakes at early dawn, depressed and crying. He must take mood stabilizers in order to function. He’s here to help Master Lucens translate his visions into sensoria. Weaver is a trained proxy, able to see and hear the inspiration of Master Lucens, the artist. But what if the assistant decides to usurp the master? And what are the consequences?
The actual ending remains for the reader to guess. I never sympathized with any character but at least the tale made sense.