Electric Velocipede, Spring 2005

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“Ghost Dance” by Daniel Braum
“Horny in the Underworld” by Charles Coleman Finlay
“A Cheap and Frugal Fashion” by Heather Martin
“Endings” by Catherine Dybiec Holm
“Dinner Shift” by Jonathan Brandt
“Sunvolt” by Frank Byrns
“Mad Dog & Dusk” by Carole Carmen
“Serpent’s Tooth” by Liz Williams
Assorted poems by Christina Sng
“Attic Space” by Bill Braun
I’m actually choosing between some permanent assignments in writing this review, so as readers you get the benefit of seeing my decision-making process.  So here’s my decision: for a magazine of odd-genre stories (editor John Klima cites Mievielle and Lovecraft, among others, as writers he likes potential contributors to keep in mind) it’s okay.  Less than spectacular, but definitely all right, seeing that contributors aren’t paid, except in copies.  Though by the by, I have to disagree with Klima’s opinion on unicorns, and for evidentiary support I’ll refer him to “The Fraud” by Esther Friesner in the March 2005 issue of Asimov’s

Sadly, EV’s authors don’t come anywhere near the masters—except for Christina Sng’s poetry.  Sng’s stuff gave me chills.  But the other stuff was somewhat lackluster. 

“Ghost Dance” by Daniel Braum, for example, was weird and interesting—but not as weird or interesting as some of the other stories in this issue, not cool enough to be the headliner.  It had nice images—a revolution lead by a possibly reincarnated Crazy Horse, spurred on by droves of teenagers dancing the Ghost Dance. 

Threaded through this story was the question of how much hold governmental edicts, patriotism, and revolutionary ideals have on the people working with them, as Erin-the-heroine commits a possibly-repulsive act of violence on a cuffed suspect.  I say "possibly" because I feel the motives of the federal agents to be unclear in this story, and wished they were not.

“A Cheap and Frugal Fashion” by Heather Martin kind of makes up for it, though.  Ew.  Ew.  You’ll never look at a noodle the same way again.

And I’d annex forever that “Attic Space,” which I felt was rambling and didn’t come to the point until long after Bill Braun bored me to tears.

“Horny in the Underworld” took a mildly disturbing idea of science—that dying beasts basically rape each other to try and ensure propagation of the species, and took it to its logical science-fiction conclusion.  If you’re into far-out stuff, this story by Charles Coleman Finlay would be my pick of the issue for you, though it wasn’t really to my taste, as there was no character growth that I could see.  Same deal with “Dinner Shift” by Jonathan Brandt—I think they were killing each other.  Maybe.  Not sure why.  It used some nasty word-pictures and suggestions to fill in the place of honest character introspection.

“Endings” by Catherine Dybiec Holm was all right enough that it gets its own paragraph.  We’ve got a heroine (?) with psychic gifts that she doesn’t really want, who is very annoyed by the solicitors who keep trying to get her to take classes to control said gifts.  Despite the fact that she’s grown up around such people.  She finally gives in and finds out that one of the most vexing psychics (“HEEYAA!  The world’s gonna end!”) is in fact is surrounded by dark spirits.

This isn’t enough tension before this conclusion for it to really be a satisfying twist at the end.  But the characters were realistic, gritty, and good enough for government work, and Holm gets points from me for that, as well as a creative and effective opening.  It just seemed to me like there should be more plotting to go along with it, to show us what these human characters can really do.  But in 3000 words (the limit potential contributors are told to aim for) maybe not.

“Mad Dog & Dusk” by Carole Carmen was more of an alternate history story, though, as a Jack-the-Ripper vignette, let’s say it was not exactly plowing virgin soil.  But it’s gritty, and it’s sort of horror, and now there’s a dog!  The dog is extremely important in the end, but not in the beginning—instead we read pointless pandering about Dusk and the city, the kind in stories written by teenagers—ie: This town is very scary.  Be scared.  It’s super-scary.  I mean it.  Then the plot becomes apparent, and then our dark hero saves the day, with his dog, and it’s on to the next adventure.  I get the feeling Mieville was what Carmen was aiming for here, but sorry, no dice.

“Sunvolt” by Frank Byrns was cute, especially as I’d just rented The Incredibles from Blockbuster.  I’d have liked more character insight, the working man’s struggle to support his family kind of thing, which I feel really makes horror.  I mean, it’s only what I’ve been screaming about this whole review, right?  And like the other stories in this issue, the twist at the end is not so twisty.  Maybe that’s because I don’t think little girls are fundamentally scary—though Christina Sng apparently does, as evidenced by “Pest Removal Service.”  So I’m trying to classify these stories, and as odd, interesting stories, they score.  As creepy horror, they lose their heads.

So we come to “Serpent’s Tooth” by Liz Williams, which definitely did the alien thing.  Actually, re-reading it, I’m going to say it is creepy, yes, and a good close to the issue.  The whole anthropologist main character is close to my heart, and though little girls don’t scare me, other behavioral problems exhibited by nestlings can do the trick just fine.  Plus, I liked the attention given to the alien character’s physiology—lizards shed, and it is a part of their lives and therefore character.  Good stuff—Williams is also able to toy with the reader’s perceptions of the different characters quite effectively in this story, which upped the weirdness quotient, as well as the horror for me.