GUD, Issue 0

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“Sundown” by Debbie Moorhouse
“Painsharing” by John Walters
Image“A Yellow Sun with a Purple Crayon” by Michelle Garren Flye

“A Problem with the Law” by Neil Davies
“Songs of the Dead” by Sarah Singleton and Chris Butler

“One in Ten Thousand” by Athena Workman
“4 Short Parables Revolving Around the Theme of Travel” by A.B. Goelman

“The Doctrine of the Arbitrariness of the Sign” by Shweta Narayan
“The Infinite Monkeys Protocol” by Lavie Tidhar

“Moments of Brilliance” by Jason Stoddard
“Cutting A Figure” by Charlie Anders
“The Eternal’s Last Request” by Joshua Babcock
“Where Water Fails” by Rusty Barnes
“Longs to Run” by David Bulley
“Pepé in Critical Condition” by Tomi Shaw
“Sown Seeds” by Errid Farland
“She Dreams in Colors, She Dreams in Hope” by F. John Sharp
“Chicken” by John Mantooth
“The Tale that Launched a Thousand Ships” by Janrae Frank

Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine
is a new source of speculative fiction which also offers information, poetry, and art. The inaugural issue gets off to an excellent start with healthy doses of both flash and short fiction in a smattering of styles.

“Sundown” by Debbie Moorhouse is a dirty little tale set in London sometime in the future where citizens breathe through regulators, horde plants, and anything—or anyone—can be bought or sold for the right price. Jack Conner is an opportunist and finder of missing persons. His inability to help others when they truly need it prompts him to lavish care and affection well past the point when it’s needed. Is it better late than never? That question is up to the reader to answer. Delve into Moorhouse’s grimy world and spend some time getting to know Jack and some of the other “Sundown” denizens.

Painsharing” by John Walters is about the end of the Earth, literally. When the time nears, twenty-four representatives from the numerous colonies meet to decide what the planet’s ultimate fate will be. They finally embark on a plan to visit every single person to live on Earth since records were kept in order to show them love, agreeing to meet at a certain point in the future. How that love is expressed varies with each individual, but in every situation, there is a common variable. To tell more would give too much away. Do read Water’s story; it flows smoothly and is shaped around an inspiring concept.

“A Yellow Sun with a Purple Crayon” by Michelle Garren Flye is an evocative piece of flash fiction that puts a new twist on trying to catch the moon and the stars for someone you love.

“A Problem with the Law” by Neil Davies is a pleasant bit of fluff about hiding, a judge, his wife, and bags of sugar. It reminds me of a story a seven- or eight-year-old might tell. Read and take pleasure in it at your own risk.

“Songs of the Dead” by Sarah Singleton and Chris Butler imagines a brief period in the youth of nineteenth century poet William Blake and explores his relationship with a brother and sister who lead far from typical lives. The brother, Jack, is a well-off doctor who ministers to patients with mental disorders. The sister, Eliza, barely older than Will, is one of his unfortunate charges and the subject of some of his darker experiments.  In Eliza he finds a kindred spirit, and in Jack he finds a way to potentially fund an apprenticeship.

In reality, as in the story, Blake claimed to have had visions, the earliest of which is described: a tree filled with singing angels "bespangling every bough like stars." The terrifying visions Eliza has and Jack’s empathy for her drive the plot. I won’t go into the dark goings on that happen in “Songs of the Dead.” What I will say is the story isn’t whimsical in any way. It’s almost like a slice of life that takes an unexpected turn. The characters are well thought out and have enough verve to keep the story interesting. Definitely check out “Songs of the Dead.”

The unnamed narrator in “One in Ten Thousand” by Athena Workman wants her father to die. The death has been approved; syringes of poison have been issued. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Her father is one of the “one in ten thousand” that the drug has no effect on. Set in some distant and vaguely hellish existence, this story works if the reader can connect to the protagonist. Initially, it may be a hard sell, but as the story goes on, one can’t help but be moved by her plight. While I can’t say I enjoyed the story exactly, it is quite well written.

“4 Short Parables Revolving Around the Theme of Travel” by A.B. Goelman are just that. Parable one, “Frequent Flier,” deals with a superhero who doesn’t like the price he must pay for his power, so he sets out to change things. Parable two, “Tourists,” is about three aliens who decide to vacation on earth. Parable three, “The Unabridged Tragedy of the Scorpion and the Frog,” puts a modern spin on an old tried and true fable. Last but not least, parable four is all about “Interstellar Travel” and how it slowly leads to Earth’s demise. All of the stories have just the right touch of humor and can be enjoyed separately or in concert.

“The Doctrine of the Arbitrariness of the Sign” by Shweta Narayan explores the difference in the world of an adult and the world of a child. For a child like Andrew, anything is possible as long as you believe it. Unfortunately for him, his older sister, Tess, can’t stop thinking about what she’s witnessed. Narayan does a fine job of describing the annoyance that is a little brother (or sister) and the sometimes patronizing behavior of adults faced with a child’s whimsy. “The Doctrine of the Arbitrariness of the Sign” makes for excellent reading.

The title of “The Infinite Monkeys Protocol” by Lavie Tidhar refers to the Infinite Monkey Theorem: “If you put an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters, eventually one will bash out the script for Hamlet.” The monkey in this case is a computer virus. The virus in question is named Sarita, after our protagonist who longed to have a virus named after her. Her wish is granted, but it takes a while before the virus is finally ready to take its chances “in the wild.” “The Infinite Monkeys Protocol” wasn’t a bad read by any means, but the plethora of computer speak bogged the story down. Read the story for Sarita, who is interesting to get to know.

Incidentally, the Infinite Monkey Theorem was first popularized in a work of short fiction, specifically “Inflexible Logic” by Russell Maloney, and referenced again in Douglas Adams‘s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Check those out if you’re dying to find out more.

“Moments of Brilliance” by Jason Stoddard is all about sensation: sight, sound, touch. The story takes place during a visit to the White House set in a totalitarian future. Written in a flowing stream of consciousness style, the sensations are experienced by an infant who is slowly starting to remember its purpose. Though fragmented at times, the language is provocative and the imagery borders on lush. Once I caught the flow of the story, I was captivated.
“Cutting a Figure” by Charlie Anders is all about using your assets to your best advantage. When the protagonist lets her father bully her into a breast job for her graduation present, her problems are only starting. Smart girl that she is, she figures out a way to turn things around. The level of absurdity in this story is just enough to keep it engaging and make you want to know where the author is going.

In “The Eternal’s Last Request” by Joshua Babcock, Sofi’s father, Kratos, has but one wish: to die. The only problem is, he’s immortal. When her once glorious father slides into drunkenness and wallowing self-pity, the devoted Sofi grows weary of him and is all too happy to find a way to grant his request. This is a first-rate piece of Sword and Sorcery. The characterization is particularly fine, especially that of Banish the Unsleeping. Babcock makes reference to any number of other adventures throughout “The Eternal’s Last Request” that might merit stories of their own; be on the lookout.

“Where Water Fails” by Rusty Barnes is about a middle-age couple facing a major dilemma. Maggie takes out her frustrations on frozen meat, pounding away until it’s almost unrecognizable. When her husband, Richard, asks her why, she indicates everything is his fault. Richard can’t understand why she’s so upset, and even when he finds the answer, he still says the wrong thing. Sometimes actions have to speak louder than words. Barnes shapes his characters—Richard is understandably clueless and Maggie understandably fierce—to where you can empathize with them. “Where Water Fails” is not speculative fiction, but it is a fine story.

In “Longs to Run” by David Bulley, the protagonist yearns to break out of his middleclass monotony and be free, like the Wolfman. Alas, he is from suburbia, and the best form danger can take is a moment of indiscretion that results in a secret to savor. The rambling monologue of this story is full of longing and bright language. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Pepé in Critical Condition” by Tomi Shaw starts out abstractly then slides slowly into a more tradition story structure. The unnamed protagonist characterizes the people he encounters by what cartoon character they would be, that is until it’s more interesting to figure out what kind of cookie they are. The story is quirky but not unappealing.

Trace’s wife, Emmy, makes him look after their elderly neighbor, Mr. Popperoy, in “Sown Seeds” by Errid Farland. Taking charge of a “wacky-old-man” has its challenges and its rewards; Mr. Popperoy is a handful. Unfortunately for Trace, it’s the challenges he should be watching out for. I hope to be the feminine version of Mr. Popperoy some day, living life to the fullest and going out with a bang. If that’s your aspiration, you’ll really get a kick out of reading “Sown Seeds.”

The “She” in “She Dreams in Colors, She Dreams in Hope” by F. John Sharp is Pasha,  a factory worker whose father and his compatriots once came close to toppling the government. His old companion, Goran, is one of her coworkers. Pasha spends her days slaving and her nights envisioning how life could be—dreams of hope to be shared with others. The questions is, are they beyond the point of even daring to dream?

Sharp draws a clear picture of a communist world on the verge and imbues his characters with strong personalities. Pasha is offbeat and sly while Goran is frustrated and full of bluster. The supporting characters add dimension. All in all, “She Dreams in Colors, She Dreams in Hope” is adroitly done.

“Chicken” by John Mantooth is told by a seventeen-year-old high school senior, Trent. He recounts a time in his life when he was a drunk and a liar. One of his lies eventually sparks an incident that haunts him for the rest of his life. None of the characters is particularly endearing, but that may be the point. “Chicken” captures the fragility of the young male ego and capitalizes on it in novel ways. It’s an agreeable way to spend some time.

The last work of fiction in this issue is “The Tale that Launched a Thousand Ships” by Janrae Frank. A little old man spins a story of a princess for three kings that will forever change the face of their world. It’s a tale of inspiration and wanting things we cannot have. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This was a fitting end piece.

The inaugural issue of GUD seems to have been carefully crafted, and all the offerings were appealing. Though tones and styles varied widely, they are all similarly offbeat, gelling into a cohesive whole. Kaolin Fire and his compatriots have added an excellent new addition to the world of speculative fiction.