"Drought" by Eliot Fintushel
"Annabelle's Alphabet" by Tim Pratt
"Delivery" by Mark Rich
"The Crystal Ladies' Ball" by Beth Adele Long
"The Ustek Cloudy" by Gay Partington Terry
"I Remember Marta" by Leslie What
"A is for Apple" by Amy Beth Forbes
"Simply Living" by Margaret Muirhead
Somebody should have warned me. Or I should have realized. I've read Stranger Things Happen; I should have known what to expect from a magazine edited by Kelly Link. Strangeness. Whimsy. A total disregard for convention. A complete lack of respect for the critic, dammit! Now I know. My lexicon has expanded to include "kellylink" as a noun, a verb, and an adjective. "Kellylink (v): to create, conceive or assemble some product with whimsy, droll humor, inhuman inspiration and a complete lack of regard for the sensibilities of ordinary Joes and Janes. (Adj) Bizarre, humorous, surreal, wildly imaginative and unclassifiable. (Noun) Any product that has been kellylinked.'"
But as one of the few, the proud, the TANGENT reviewers it is my "job" (I'm still waiting for that first paycheck that Dave swears is in the mail) to review the contents of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet no.9, not the spirit. I'll try; but just to give you an idea of what I'm up against, I offer this little excerpt from the colophon (normally the most dull part of any magazine, except perhaps for the staples): "For an audio version of this zine, find a friend with a good reading voice, or send us a largish check and we'll send it on tape."
And shortly after the colophon follows Eliot Fintushel's story "Drought," sort of magical realism in a Zen mold. Will Fontaine ran a monastery until the day when everybody's meditation became visible to everybody else. Will had the bad fortune to have a head full of nasty thoughts at the time — and his wife's angelic visions draw away all of his students. Bitter, Will dries up–literally, causing a drought that affects the entire region, while Will struggles with the consequences of his thoughts made solid. It's a good parable that functions well as Zen metaphor and entertaining story.
"Annabelle's Alphabet," by Tim Pratt, has me torn. Written with the pseudo-Ballardian — or perhaps Edward Gorey-esque conceit of passages following from words beginning with sequential letters of the alphabet, it tells the story of young Annabelle and her parents. There's a secret about Annabelle which becomes plain by the letter J. I have the impression that Pratt had no real intention of holding this "secret" until a dramatic last-minute denouement, but the problem of delivering it to us so soon is that the subsequent progress of the story is very predictable. Should the fact that Annabelle is a found faerie child be held back until later in the story? I think the only way to have accomplished that would have been to have written the story with a "straight" style. There's where I'm torn. Having a story about a faerie child told in this alphabet-soup manner is entertaining and thoughtful. But the story could have been more effective as a story if told differently. I go round in circles, but I suspect that to Tim Pratt writing a story that leaves a critic unable to decide whether to call it good or not would be just as satisfying as writing a story that the critic declares good without hesitation.
Mark Rich's "Delivery," though one annoyingly (3-and-a-half columns) long paragraph, is a little more simple for me to deal with. It takes the form of a letter written by some being banished to Earth — where we clothe ourselves, a fact which horrifies and intrigues the alien philosopher. This story raises many interesting points about clothing and our notions of the body, but I found the conclusion too large a leap in reasoning.
"The Crystal Ladies' Ball" by Beth Adele Long is an enigmatic and very short tale of a mysterious and imperfect observer spying on a gathering of perfection. The vivid imagery succeeds in manipulating the emotions, but the lack of context or conclusion to the story still left me somewhat disappointed.
Margaret Muirhead's "It Doesn't Get More Simple," cunningly listed in the contents as nonfiction under the title "Simply Living," is tremendous fun. The magazine "Simple Living" has mistakenly sent a subscription to a house-cat. The results are chronicled in letters to the magazine. As a cat-lover I'm not certain whether to feel offended or not, but I loved the story anyway.
Gay Partington Terry tells the story of a legendary marble in "The Ustek Cloudy." It's an X-Files-like subject written up in an academic style, but nevertheless the story transported me briefly back to my own marble-rolling and collecting childhood.
"I Remember Marta," by Leslie What, reminded me strangely of Harlan Ellison's classic "All the Birds Come Home to Roost." The story, about a work-place womanizer who forgets every sexual encounter, is negligible. But the moral content must have been handled pretty strongly to make me recall Ellison.
"A is For Apple: an Easy Reader" by Amy Beth Forbes is as difficult to pin down as the entirety of the journal. It reads like poetry, makes no sense at all, but frightens and moves me in inexplicable ways. It seems a fitting way to close the magazine, then. For the most part, the stories were enjoyable. Sometimes they left me feeling a bit let-down, sometimes dizzy. But at all times the care and whimsy with which they were put together (and connected by nonsense advertisements, false errata and other stray fancies) kept me beyond amused. Whatever the merits or short-comings of the stories contained within this "occasional outburst," it is worth buying, or subscribing to. The whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts.