Theodora Goss – "The Rapid Advance of Sorrow"
Neil Williamson – "Messianic Con Brio"
Sarah Monette – "Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland"
John Rubins – "Ewe and Eye"
Christine Klingbiel – "Enemies and Neighbors"
Minsoo Kang – "Three Stories (Lady Faraway, The Well of Dreams, The Dilemma of the King and the Beggar)"
Benjamin Rosenbaum – "Fig"
Molly Gloss – "Eating Ashes"
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is an enigma, a surprise package that confounds the viewer with each occasional outburst. Or perhaps it is a phoenix, which remakes itself with each issue. The latest outburst from Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link is as different from previous collections as the stories within are from each other.
This eleventh issue of LCRW is so different, in fact, from the others I've seen that I have to wonder if it is a temporary aberration or a turning point. The cover is plain: drab, even. Typos mar the stories, and gone are the whimsical notes along the inner edges of pages. I don't know what to think. Is it the budget crisis? Or a new policy of stodginess?
I turn to the stories and Theodora Goss momentarily eases my worries. Her "The Rapid Advance of Sorrow" could hide, camouflaged by style and subject, within the gems of J. G. Ballard's Vermilion Sands. The story gracefully describes a bizarre aesthetic revolution in which the city and concept of "Sorrow" conquers the world in arctic stillness, with white flowers and post-modern language. The story is haunting, possessed of its own terrible beauty, and characterized by gorgeous prose and provocative thought. It is marred only, in my opinion, by the decision to write it as a letter, which makes the inclusion of certain paragraphs of "background" information paradoxical.
"Messianic Con Brio" by Neil Williamson chills in its own way. In this very atypical story of love sought and found through the personal ads, Martha places an ad with the help of a professional service that somehow expresses, through seeming gibberish, her actual essence. The response is immediate and soon grows into something possibly wondrous, possibly disastrous. The story is gleefully ambiguous and reads a bit like a late-night Twilight Zone episode.
Sarah Monette's "Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland" is another ambiguous tale about love, in which Philip Osbourne learns a disturbing secret about his wife Violet: that she was the lover of the Queen of Elfland when she was eighteen. The prose, dialog and settings give this story an Elizabethan feel, although no reference is actually made to the time of the story. I liked that. The ending is disturbing: Violet could have love with the Queen of Elfland or a normal life with her husband and son – but she finds both stultifying of her individuality. In a sense this story is a counterpoint to "Messianic Con Brio."
"Ewe and Eye," by John Rubins, is intentionally confusing. A simple post-crash survival story is rendered obtuse by being written in the journal of a creature from a world with no sense of the individual at all, where existence is predicated on being observed at all times. Two of these beings have survived the wreck of their spacecraft, and the struggle to adapt to their isolation – waged to different degrees of success by each – is as crucial and devastating as the simple struggle to survive. It's a fascinating premise, and Rubins shows a great deal of insight by describing these key cultural concepts as formative of the rudiments of survival. The problem with the story is simply that its theme outweighs its plot. I would much rather read a novel about these creatures and their ontology.
Christine Klingbiel's "Enemies and Neighbors" is a brief, frighteningly timely tale that could almost be set at any time, in any place there has been or is war. As such, it might not even be any form of speculative fiction, and I'm not certain whether or not it should be discussed on the virtual pages of Tangent. But genre considerations clearly do not bind Grant and Link, and so this sorrowful story of envy and deception finds a comfortable home here.
Minsoo Kang's "Three Stories" are whimsical allegories reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Stanislaw Lem. All three stories – "Lady Faraway," "The Well of Dreams," and "The Dilemma of the King and the Beggar" – are quirky, cleverly self-referential meditations on time, space and identity. A nameless city is marked by the apparition of a woman sitting on the walls, constantly yet invisibly moving away from any approach. A well with the power to grant dreams, not wishes, is tended by a man who cannot be sure if he is alive or dreaming his own existence. A king and a beggar change places repeatedly because each is haunted by dreams of being the other – but come the revolution, which of them should be executed?
"Fig," by Benjamin Rosenbaum, is a tiny fable about a cat that steals a fig from a little girl and is pursued by her Army of Little Men. A brief page is crammed with artifacts of the imagination like a red universe hidden in a coffee can and harpies who kill their husbands on their wedding nights. Even for a story about the imaginary lives of the young, there is too much invention and too little order.
Closing the magazine is "Eating Ashes," by Molly Gloss. Oddly, there's nothing mystical about this story, at all. It simply chronicles the actions of Josephine after her husband dies suddenly. We learn a lot about Josephine and her family as they gather and go through all the little rituals of life, and of reacting to death. But it's all very matter-of-fact, and is never moving.
This final story seems to sum up the tension in the current Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, from its rather dilapidated cover and production to the unusually odd – even, or particularly, by the standards of the world's wryest editorial duo – selection of stories. Where is Lady Churchill going? Is issue 11 a step towards the mainstream, or just another twist in the continuing development of an always-unpredictable magazine? Sometime in the next quarter, I hope to find out.