Electric Velocipede, #5, Fall 2003

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"Nature's Way" by James A Hartley
"Waiting for an Angel" by Mike Lewis
"Songstress" by Jason Erik Lundberg
"The Chicken" by J. R. Cain
"The Curious Inventions of Mr. H" by Paul DiFilippo
"Three Bean Salad" by Christopher Meyer
"The Moonless, the Midnight Eye and the Season of the Last Gate" by Rudi Dornemann
"Formidolosus: Part Two" by Gene Lass
"The God Behind the Glass" by Richard Larson
"Virgil 2.0" by Jason J. Stevenson
"Whispers" by Michael Kanaly
"JohnCalvin" by Rick Klaw
"The Unrelenting Machine of Asynchronous Time Verifies Its Own Obsolescence" by Trent Walters "Nature's Way," by James A Hartley, takes us to an unknown world only partially colonized and, therefore, still filled with open spaces, wildlife only partially understood, and trophies. Luke is a hunting guide. Janus Margate is his client from hell.

"Nature's Way" is a story of comeuppance: the reader expects Janus Margate to "get his" in the end, and he does. I guessed the conclusion long before I arrived there, but my desire to see the form in which Janus would be punished kept me going.

The narrative stretched my "willing suspension of disbelief" more than I usually like. The story depends upon Janus having an allergic reaction while Luke does nothing about the health of his client for several days. I had great difficulty with a wrap up that required Janus to be more embarrassed than vindictive.

Overall, "Nature's Way" takes an established pattern and adds successfully adds a new and unusual twist to keep it fresh.

Outside of my usual scope: I don't normally read SF poetry. When I do, it's not usually for me. But I loved Marie Kazalia's "I Made Love With a Multiple Personality."

Mike Lewis' "Waiting for an Angel" brings us back home again to planet Earth. What if you died, but the Angel never came to collect your soul? Johnny is a not-too bright broom pusher in a warehouse. He falls asleep one evening and wakes up dead.

Being dead doesn't seem to affect Johnny's personality or work habits. He gets to watch more T. V. and he saves on grocery bills. Johnny finally gets a chance to make a difference when an industrial accident in the warehouse leads to a fire and the beautiful Sharon is trapped.

Johnny was a sympathetic character and I wish being dead had made more of a difference in his life. Johnny-dead doesn't do anything that Johnny-alive couldn't have done, except that Johnny-alive would have been a hero. Johnny-dead doesn't get to be a hero: he doesn't feel pain or fear. It's not even clear how he feels after rescuing his boss and Miss Sharon. And I would have liked Johnny to have a chance to be a hero.

The writing was strong with a nice flow, and the story held my interest through to the end.

Now board the chariot to the capital of Allegory in the realm of Technical Fantasy for Jason Erik Lundberg's "Songstress." The Songstress was wronged by a lover who stole her money then left her. Now she will sing in honor of him and his newest conquest. Ah, but in a world in which a performer can literally sing her heart out, what will she sing of?

This short vignette brings the moment just before the Singer's performance into stark relief. The story intends to shock the reader with both the idea of and the physical details relating to the removal of the Singer's heart. It succeeds rather well. It also approaches the reconciliation of the Singer to her lost love. Here "Songstress" was less successful for me, largely because there has been a careful emotional remove between the reader and the Singer through out the story. It was had for me to find an emotional resonance in the last paragraph.

"The Chicken" by J. R. Cain brings us back to an Earth that is more recognizable, at least on the outside. Caleb has a bit of a problem. The chicken in the fridge–butchered and roasted–is talking to him. It gets worse when the chicken moves out of the fridge and into the couch as if it were a regular roommate, reprimanding Caleb about the dirty fridge and suggesting Caleb get back together with his ex. Desperate, Caleb secures the assistance of a bum. Tom who solves Caleb's problems by eating the chicken, even as the chicken plaintively bemoans Caleb's betrayal.

I would not be a core reader for this kind of story. I had difficulty distinguishing between potential madness and madcap which diminished my enjoyment. Ultimately I didn't find the ending–Tom solves Caleb's problem by eating the chicken–rewarding, largely because it was something that Caleb could have done for himself.

On to the same place, Earth, about to become both a whole lot more strange and exciting in "The Curious Inventions of Mr. H," by Paul DiFilippo. Starting back in 7000 B.C. and traveling forward to the present, the Hypmogoogoopizin man–time traveler and adventurer extraordinaire–enchants the ladies, deludes the fools, and wreaks havoc on the time stream to make life more interesting.

Almost a parable for the science fiction field to day–"if it's status quo, break it"–Mr. DiFilippo's google-eyed wonder is here to mess with your head, steal your bread, and leave you to shimmy to a new beat.

Highly recommended.

Chris Meyer's "Three Bean and Moon Salad" brings us a bit of fairy tale. Granted magical powers by eating three bean salad, the "I" of this tale first ventures far and wide, then gains the power to move things by force of will. Finally, the wax beans grant the power to see the future. Having witnessed a grim future, "I" switches the moon with the Earth, wondering if people will like living on the "happiest place in the universe"–the moon–more than they enjoyed living on the old Earth?

The literal side of me had trouble with a few of the details–lack of air and water on the old moon/new home for humanity–but this story isn't about the intellect. It aims for a more visceral appeal.

I never quite understood how a switch of planetary bodies was expected to improve an otherwise grim future. "I" decides to live out a wretched hermetic life on the "boring, moon shaped Earth," an attitude of self-absorption that I found distracting.

In general I enjoy works in which the relationship of humans to the universe and each other is explored. "Moon Salad" left me confused instead of enlightened. That said, Mr. Meyer mines a mythic territory both distinct and unusual that offers lots of promise for the future.

"The Moonless, the Midnight Eye and the Season of the Last Gate," by Rudi Dornemann is not your Grandmother's Earth. If you think you understand it, you must be confused. If you think it's familiar, you must be lost. This simple rendering of an afternoon flying a kite is nothing like the kite flying you remember.

Rudi Dornemann's lyric voice has the task of carrying this otherworldly tale of the fantastic, a charge which he carries out splendidly. This tale is like visiting someone else's dream, in which events and actions are continuously on the edge of making sense without ever arriving. Imagine H. P. Lovecraft without the Elder Gods.

A stunning tour de force that took me by surprise.

Gene Lass takes us to the realm of the vampire tale for "Formidolosus: Episode Two." This brief segment of what I believe to be a serialized story continues the sordid life of a blood sucker, his diet of rats, and his brief acquaintance with a skilled dominatrix who uses the stage name "Banana Meringue." The narrator gets off repeatedly and then Miss Meringue vanishes from his life.

There is a strong pornographic element, relying largely on claims that the sex was incredible for effect. I would not be a core reader for this story.

With Richard Larson's "The God Behind the Glass," we leave the world of prurience for that of religion. A bowl full of fish worship their young master as a god, since he provides that which is good and necessary: food. Their world is shaken up when god fails to show up for a couple of days, and is then replaced with a different god–god's mother. Even when their original god returns, their world is not, and can never be, quite restored.

The story is somewhat clever–Mr. Larson has worked out some parallels between fish and religious worship–but over all I didn't feel enlarged or enlightened.

Jason V. Stevenson gives us "Virgil 2.0." Zeber is a street thug and drug pusher who thinks he's been killed. The situation is a little more complex–he's been possessed by a half demon, half angel named Rei and subjected to a virtual reality experience in order to convince him to change his evil ways.

Zeber is both sympathetic and convincing in his ability to justify his way of life. A number of the details of how Rei operates have been thought through. I came away wit the sense this is a part of an greater story still under development that, while it still has some maturing to go, offers fruitful ground.

"Whispers," by Michael Kanaly, takes us to Mars in a near future dystopia. Organs are harvested from Mars from specially grown clones for the medical community back on Earth. Usually the drugs silence those bodies awaiting harvest, but from time to time there is a whisperer. Nash has been sent her for the crime of using non-bank organs to help the poor and needy. Not everyone hears the whispers. It's dogma that the whispers are just figments of the imagination. Nash has been slapped around enough by the system to know when to toe the party line. He believes that at least some of the Donors achieved enough sentience to be frightened.

The ending felt rushed to me. Mr. Kanaly set the table beautifully but the dishes were cleared away long before I was ready.

With Rick Klaw's "JohnCalvin," we once more toy with madness. In this vignette–it's not quite a story–Patrick is on the bus to a job that he doesn't really care for when he encounters JohnCalvin, a fellow rider on the bus. JohnCalvin is a transvestite who sees conspiracies in everything, hears voices from a teddy bear and is out to save souls. JohnCalvin is a quirky character, and Patrick easily wins my sympathy.

"The Unrelenting Machine of Asynchronous Time Verifies its Very Obsolescence," by Trent Waters, concludes this issue. George Herbert is everyman, or at least every misunderstood SF reader. Framed by excerpts from H. G. Wells The Time Machine, "Unrelenting" brings a strong "magical realism" feel to the life of a young reader of imaginative literature. For George nothing is quite as it seems. For his father, all those books are a waste of time.

The imagery is striking and the tension between the vivid imaginative life of George and the deadly life exemplified by his father and mother bring the story to a painful, heartfelt conclusion.

This issue of Electric Velocipede is a wide ranging, eclectic selection of works, some much more successful 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. You gotta get it. I don't think I've ever recommended back issues before, but the DiFilippo alone is worth the price of admission. If John still has back issues, I'd grab one. You can't go wrong.