Postscripts: #19

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Enemy of the Good: A Postscripts Anthology #19

Edited by Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers

“Balfour and Meriwether in The Adventures of the Emperor’s Vengeance” by Daniel Abraham
“Bigger than the Beetles” by Andrew Hook
“The Cacto Skeleton” by David T. Wilbanks
“Enemy of the Good” by Matthew Hughes
“A Life Clichéd” by David N. Drake
“The Red King’s Sleep” by Marly Youmans
“Meeting Mr. Tony” by Tim Lees
“The World Breaks” by Scott Edelman
“The Portrayed Man” by Justin Cartaginese
“The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9” by Chris Beckett
“Famous People” by Ron Savage
“The Warlock and the Man of the Word” by M. K. Hobson

Reviewed by Maggie Jamison

Postscripts #19: Enemy of the Good is a full and heady collection of fantasy, science fiction, and horror short stories. Postscripts is released from PS Publishing as a quarterly (though, now biannual) hardcover anthology.

David Abraham begins the issue with his no-holds-barred romp through Victorian London, following the two title characters in their quest to save both the city and the world from an ancient, resurrected terror in “Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventures of the Emperor’s Vengeance.”

While this tale has so many elements to recommend it, there are some weaknesses. It is clear almost from the start that Abraham has a lot of plot to move through in a relatively short period, and the story suffers for the speed of the pacing. There was also very little doubt, at any point in the story, that the heroes would not triumph. Because of this, their struggles felt more like prose placeholders than driving elements of the story.

Still, fans of steampunk-style stories will adore the setting, the language, the clockwork, and—most of all—the monstrosity that Balfour and Meriwether find themselves fighting to conquer. The horror Abraham has created for his heroes to triumph over is delightful and could very easily be the villain of a novel-length work. And while there was no doubt of their success, the manner in which the two men defeat their enemy is amusing and clever.

“Bigger than the Beetles” by Andrew Hook is a quiet little story following Naoko and the strange growing frog toy she receives under odd circumstances. But as the toy grows larger and larger in its various-sized soaking pools, apprehensions grow as well.

Anyone who has loved Miyazaki’s Totoro will enjoy this sweet, magical story told through the eyes of a little girl with all the wisdom children often have. While some readers may find the ending somewhat anti-climactic, Hook’s tale is a gentle story, and I found the ending satisfying.

“The Cacto Skeleton” by Daniel T. Wilbanks is one of the horror elements of this issue, and begins when young Roger and his dog see a skeleton crawl out of their front yard and head into town. As the bodies pile up and the skeleton turns its empty sockets toward Roger, an Apache man named Big Jim gives Roger the insight he needs to save himself and the town. The story is tight and short, and the writing moves the story along at a pleasant pace, though it doesn’t particularly stand out in this collection.

“Enemy of the Good” by Matthew Hughes is the title story for this issue of Postscripts. In it, Hughes takes a long look at what constitutes perfection and at the many winding, twisting paths that can lead to despair in the pursuit of the ideal. Luff Imbry, a portly, wily thief, finds himself stranded in the desert mountains after his getaway vehicle malfunctions and crashes in a fiery heap. To his rescue comes Frater Czenzible, a member of the Eclectic Fraternity who calls this desert region his home. But the surrounding mountains contain more than hidden passages, spiritual pilgrims, and sharp-fanged wild beasts.

I must admit, I was disappointed by Hughes’ tale. Considering that it is the central story of this issue, and given the publication’s outstanding reputation, this story must have many recommending features, but I’m afraid they slipped past me.

While the cut-away scenes—in which Hughes breaks down in minute detail the origins of the secretive Idiosyncrat cult and its pursuit of the ideal inner self—are interesting, the story itself is lumbering and verbose. I tend to enjoy stories with a chatty narrative style, but for me, “Enemy of the Good” suffers from the overly dense prose which doesn’t provide additional depth or a sense of elegance for the extra words. As an example, the story begins by spending nearly four pages on Imbry’s crashing aircar, mentioning at least seven times that the aircar’s AI won’t stop talking about its previous owner’s sexual habits. The first mention was funny; the others, not so much. Unfortunately, even for the rest of the tale, the plot and characterizations are overwhelmed by the almost droning voice that explains too much. At no point did I slip into the story and forget that someone had painstakingly composed it.

In “A Life Clichéd” by David N. Drake, Harvey and his wife Deborah search for the perfect child to call their own, hoping that when they find him or her, the price tag won’t be too high. “A Life Clichéd” is a witty two-page gem that made me smile. It’s a nice contrast to some of the heavier stories in the issue.

“The Red King Sleeps” by Marly Youmans weaves a vivid fantasy dreamscape of romance, death, decay, and the dangerous power of the mind to create worlds. This story is not long, but Youmans makes every word count. The imagery she presents is as beautiful as it is eerie. It is not surprising that she mentions that this story was “written in the seizure of a dream.” This story will seize anyone with a taste for the dark and surreal.

Tim Lees’ contribution, “Meeting Mr. Tony,” is a playful jump into the inventive mind of the narrator’s eccentric Uncle Edward. From attempting to create a Tesla-esque perpetual motion machine to revealing his greatest scientific breakthrough of all, the narrator watches Uncle Edward’s flights of genius lead him to the best and the worst of what man can create.

“Meeting Mr. Tony” is a bizarre, Dahli-esque story, both entertaining and—in places—unnerving. The only issue I had with the tale was the occasional uncertainty about the narrator’s age, a lad who at one minute is playing with crayons and poking sticks into anthills, and at the next warns his uncle to “be careful of the carpet” in the den during one of his experiments. It’s a fun tale, however, and the narrative voice is otherwise very genuine.

“The World Breaks” by Scott Edelman, inspired by a statement made by Hemingway, is a collection of final-goodbye letters from a variety of people, centering around the small town of Travis after the world falls apart. Many of these letters are penetrating, with a clear and distinctive voice, though some bleed together. The tale does a solid job of exploring the way people cope with a catastrophic event so great that no one alive comes away unchanged. The ultimate climax felt a little unrealistic to me, but the sentiment well expressed.

Justin Cartaginese’s story, “The Portrayed Man,” brings us Joe Davis, a man stuck living in a rut, and the questionable result of his one and only attempt to change his life for the better. When the mysterious agency he contacts provides a surprising solution, Joe finds himself more confused than ever about his relevance in his own life.

“The Portrayed Man” is a quick read, well written, and Joe Davis is a very sympathetic and realistic character. The ending takes the story into a more eerie, but darkly imaginative, style reminiscent of L. Frank Baum. “The Portrayed Man” is both amusing and unnerving.  

In “The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9,” Chris Beckett gives us a thoughtful story following Clancy, a best-selling author and the narrator’s adventurous, untamable uncle. In this particular adventure, Clancy travels to the lonely planet of Isolus 9 in order to examine the native culture’s unusual religion in its context to romance. This particular subject is foremost on his mind due to his amorous relationship with his book editor, reportedly the only woman Clancy ever fell in love with despite his frequent frivolities with various partners. But instead of finding a quaint book subject as he had hoped, our hero encounters something far more paradigm-shaking.

Beckett’s story is light and cheerful with a chatty narrator and a cast of amusing characters. The ideas proposed in the story are worthy of continued thought long after reading.

“Famous People” by Ron Savage is a heart-breaking, intensely-realistic tale that captures the trials and tribulations of a  child star thrust into the limelight. Interspersed with diary entries from “Baby Becca,” a 1920s silver screen child star á la Shirley Temple, the story opens with the narrator at her sister’s gravesite. As a child, her sister Gwyneth’s ability to reach stardom in Hollywood was their mother’s sole fixation, and the tale explores how this affected both girls and the family as a whole.

This is a careful, deliberate story that resonates long after it’s been read. Each scene has the air of total possibility, and at times it’s surprising to remember that it’s a work of fiction. While the SF, horror, and fantasy element is very, very slim—if truly existent at all—“Famous People” is one of the strongest stories in this issue of Postscripts.  

“The Warlock and the Man of the Word” by M. K. Hobson is a Wild-West-Meets-“Midnight on Bald Mountain”-demons-style dark fantasy tale. When a young, strange prostitute—a new girl at the local whorehouse—shoots and kills one of the Mountain King’s demon sons, local warlock and Demon Agent Josiah Ash must join up with the western town’s hell-fire-and-brimstone pastor (and sheriff) to settle a feud between the town’s humans and the demon princes. But all is not as clear cut as good and evil, and Josiah finds himself facing an old challenge from his past that he’d once failed to overcome.

“The Warlock and the Man of the Word” is an old fashioned adventure story at its heart, complete with a quest, a king, and a damsel, though she may not be in as much distress as Josiah and Sheriff Furness initially believe. It’s a solid story, and though the climax felt almost too easily wrapped up, it left me satisfied and glad I’d had a chance to read it.

Publisher: PS Publishing (Summer 2009)
Price: $24.00
Paperback: ~186 pages
ISBN: 978-1-848630-20-8