"The Line I Walk" by M.J. Murphy "
"Wonderfreaks" by Jan Wildt
"Lot 12A: Feast of the Dead Manuscript" by Barth Anderson
"The Restoration Man" by Jon-Michael Emory
"The Star in the Stone" by Zohar A. Goodman
This is the second issue of New Genre, a small press outlet based in Massachusetts. The magazine has maintained its very high production values — still ranking it high in the roster of genre publications. New Genre covers both horror and science fiction, with a different editor for each. Like the first issue, this issue features brief essays from both of them, Adam Golaski and Jeff Paris. This second issue fulfills and extends the promise of the first issue as a strong small press market. I for one wish them very well. Read it and you will too.
In their first issue, the editors announced the Louise Laffin Competition, a memorial recognition of excellence in fiction. M.J. Murphy's "The Line I Walk" is the 2000 winner. This story is hard to discuss in a review, as it unfolds structurally like a raveling origami. Mike, following his ex-girlfriend to Mexico as she travels with her new flame, finds himself lost in a world of buses, trains and upland campesinos. Murphy's command of the realities of small towns in northern Mexico matches my own experiences there, adding a depth and richness to the story. His search, and its outcomes, are the ever-changing focus of this finely spiraling tale.
Jan Wildt's second appearance in New Genre is "Wonderfreaks." This story reads much like an information age AIDS parable — a mysterious mental illness spreading among a young intellectual elite, with Seattle as the vector. Not as opaque as Wildt's last outing, "Wonderfreaks" is still a challenging read. Wildt chose an unconventional typography for dialog that effectively abstracts the reader from the action, even when the action is front and center. In this story of isolation, breakdown and surrender, that abstraction services the basic theme. There is myth at the heart of every world, and the mythic threads here are strong — in the end, this is an Orphean story, for all its pop culture sensibility and love-in-the-time-of-plague tropes.
"Lot 12A: Feast of the Dead Manuscript" is a documentary story — it is told through various documents associated with an auction lot. This includes both the auction catalog itself as well as translations of the texts offered for sale. Barth Anderson's core story is about the war-maiden/chefs of Procyon Prima's pre-Contact history, layered with the stories of a rebel archaeologist, an invading fleet, and of course, the auction itself. In a sense, I was reminded of Milorad Pavich's excellent Dictionary of the Khazars, where a contemporary murder mystery unfolds in the entries of an anthropological reference text regarding a semi-mythical event in Medieval history. The structure of the story is necessarily isolating, providing the reader with no surrogate within the narrative, but the interesting convolutions of the text more than earn back the reader's trust.
The next story is from Jon-Michael Emory, "The Restoration Man." This story smacks of vintage Bradbury, mixed with a contemporary suburban sensibility. It falls on the border between science fiction and horror, having an ostensibly sfnal McGuffin driving the story, but a profoundly horrific sensibility. At the same time, the suburban sensibility emerges in the almost Archie-and-Veronica attitudes and perspectives of Theodore Felton, the narrator. (Although he's more Reggie-and-Veronica, truth be told.) The plot of the story concerns the loss of Theodore's daughter Kara, and his attempts to bring her back into his life with the help of Garibaldi, the Restoration Man. The whos, whys and whats keep changing all the way to the end in a most satisfying manner. No rails here.
I struggled the most with "The Star in the Stone" by Zohar A. Goodman. It had much the same flavor as Alan Dean Foster's Dark Star, and many of the same problems — among other things, it can be difficult for the reader to identify with a pathologically undermotivated and dissociative crew. Another hang-fire for me was the rubber science in the story — it was a little too rubber, six dimensional light and so forth. This piece is essentially a fantasy, but told in the tropes and protocols of a Silver Age space exploration story.
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon with his family and their books. He has one of those nebulous New Economy jobs that doubtless qualifies him to review speculative fiction. Jay attempts on a regular basis to commit fiction himself with Wordos, the Eugene Professional Writers' Workshop, and recently made his first professional sale to The Bones of the World anthology. He can be reached at email@example.com.