Electric Velocipede, #4, Spring 2003

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"The Ship" by Jay Caselberg
"Catch & Release" by Mark Rich
"Fat Nate's Master Plan" by Stepan Chapman
"The Rose Thief" by Beth Adele Long
"Maxwell's Letter," by Ezra Pines
"Paul and the Computer" by Kevin L. Donihe
"Dash for Cover" by Nina DeGraff
"Mrs. Janokowski Hits One Out of the Park" by William Shunn
"Trying to Fly" by Chuck Hogle "The Ship" by Jay Caselberg takes place on a space freight tug. Mankind has been alone in the universe until now. Joshua has discovered aliens. Or has he? His memory is foggy–there's something important he's supposed to remember but can't–and his partner is missing.

The suspense in Mr. Caselberg's work is rooted in mystery: the nature of the alien; the disappearance of Joshua's partner; the importance of Joshua's wedding ring. The clues are parceled out at just the right pace for a satisfying if horrific ending.

"Catch and Release," by Mark Rich, is for all of you hunting/fishing types out there. The normal "roles" are turned on their heads–humans are no longer the dominant species. Yes, this kind of story has been done before but it's well done here and the short length helps maximize the punch.

"Fat Nate's Master Plan" by Stepan Chapman is a cute little conceit. What if bugs–the world's dominant life form–were dirt bound in order to secure the planet without anyone knowing about it? Skinny Al the Silverfish and Fat Nate the Pill Bug run Chicago of the Devonian period. The two gangsters are inseparable, and as long as they support each other, unassailable. Until the day when they send each other to the hospital. There, Nate hatches his master plan.

Slight, "Master Plan" offers an unique and entertaining transposition of insect culture to Prohibition era Chicago.

Beth Adele Long takes us to the realm of mythic fantasy with "The Rose Thief." Rose Thieves love beauty and their right to possess it. When they find the rose tree, they strip it and destroy it in their obsession to consume. All except one thief, who waits, finds the last rose and places it within his heart. This is not the natural order for Rose Thieves or the roses they consume, and disaster is sure to follow.

The story seeks to bring about reconciliation between the devourer and the devoured, and succeeds within its own rights. I liked the story: I could have liked it more. The writing tends to devolve into vague emotionalism at critical points in the text, leaving me without a compass in otherwise skilled writing.

"Maxwell's Letter" by Ezra Pines is the affecting, melancholy tale of Maxwell, of suspicious sanity, who goes nowhere, does nothing except go to work, and eventually dies. Mr. Pines has a strong sense for detail as perceived through the eye of his his character.

In the end, my reaction has more to do with what this story is not than what this story is. I don't read speculative fiction to read about sad people who spend their entire lives within the confines of job and apartment. There is a taste of Kafka here. But even in Kafka–especially in Kafka–there is a tremendous struggle of the human spirit against overwhelming odds that I find missing from "Maxwell's Letter."

"Paul & the Computer" by Kevin L. Donihe brings us to a world of post-Matrix hopelessness. The productive part of Earth is gone, the minds of the last remnants downloaded into a computer sophisticated enough to provide large scale VR. But nothing the computer tries seems to provide a happy, rewarding existence for the majority of the virtual citizens. Finally, in frustration, the computer shuts itself down for a million years.

Part social commentary, "Paul" provides the chance to view the masses of humanity as "blind, stupid creatures." As social commentary, I didn't find "Paul" to be successful. It's far too easy to say "everything rots." It's true–so true it's meaningless. It would have been more successful to have picked one particular thing that rots.

As a personal rant it has a lot of sympathy from me. After all, there are a lot of aspects of modern culture that rot totally.

"Dash for Cover" by Nina DeGraff finds us in a pawn shop in 2017. Eddie pawns Dash, essentially a super PDA. When Gena enters the pawn shop, Dash decides she matches a number of Eddie's old girl friends. Dash convinces her to buy him out of pawn. Eddie plans to rescue Dash, the source of his information about playing the ponies for fun and profit. When Gena catches Eddie in the act of stealing Dash back, she makes other plans for him.

The low life characters are sympathetic and believable, struggling to rise above their circumstances with the kind of success you'd expect from someone who expects to play the ponies to a profit. A solid, enjoyable story.

"Mrs. Janokowski Hits One Out of the Park" by William Shunn. Mrs. Janokowski is a survivor of Auschwitz, but she earns the wrath of her fellow apartment dwellers when she informs on one of them, reporting the illicit harboring of a cat to the management. A lynch mob of fellow residents, including other Holocaust survivors, arrives to throw Mrs. Janokowski out the window. But Mrs. Janokowski triumphs by taking matters into her own hands.

I think we're supposed to see Mrs. Janokowski as triumphing over the lynch mob in the end. That part didn't succeed for me. But as an over-the-top send up of apartment culture in new York, "Mrs. Janokowski" has a lot of charm.

"Trying to Fly" by Chuck Hogle presents the dilemma of parents confronted by an unusually altered child in a post-holocaust setting where wild mutations are starting to appear.

First, a couple of technical issues. The writer of a science fiction story has to be careful about assumptions of what the reader knows or will understand. This story depends upon the reader understanding this infant with wings is the child of human parents, a crucial point that isn't precisely expressed until about a quarter of the way through. As an SF reader, I'm expected to believe a dozen implausible things before lunch: I can't automatically assume the main character is human, not even when their actions and attitudes seem familiar.

When you have the intolerant father crush the brittle wings in the second scene–the same evening–you have to explain how such fragile structures could possibly survive the rigors of childbirth in the first scene.

The story sinks the barb of its message effectively, then follows up with a surprise twist to jam the harpoon all the way through. Overall, this story of intolerance and its fatal result is effective, driving home the lesson that prejudice destroys more than the obvious victims.

Electric Velocipede offers an eclectic selection of works, some more fully realized than others. The production values are basic: the cover is cardstock, the pages probably photocopied. But low cost doesn't mean inferior. The layout is pleasant and generally easy on the eyes. For the large print crowd: if you can read F&SF, you can read this. Subscription is $10 for four issues. A single issue is $3. There's a lot of stories in these 60 pages, all for the price of a double latte.