Space & Time, #99, Spring 2005

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"Black Rosita’s Man" by Andersen Prunty
"Mrs. Gillingham’s Constitutional" by Sandra McDonald
"The Witches of Cairn" by Sharon Bailly
"The Strong Will Survive" by Jon Everson
"Mortacheck" by Pete D. Manison
"The Lizard" by Uncle River
"The Musk of November" by Corinne De Winter
"The Emperor of the Ancient Word" by Darrell Schweitzer
"Going Away" by John Rosenman
"A Gorilla in Vietnam" by Hugh Cook
Issue #99 of Space and Time starts off strongly with Andersen Prunty’s "Black Rosita’s Man," a horror tale about a man’s search for a legendary, immortal blues musician. Nathan East has come to the Downtrod Inn in Sawmill, Ohio to hear Alistair Doos play, and to learn the secret of where he goes every night after each set. The answer will terrify him and trap him in a land of the dead.

I’m a big fan of blues music, and many horror stories have been centered around this music genre, no doubt because of the famous legend about Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil at a crossroads. Prunty takes a different tack here, no crossroads or devils here. Just a strange mixture of backwoods legends and a little zombie lore. While the beginning started off strongly, the middle seemed a bit muddled, as the story delves into the life of Alistair Doos (we get to know him better than the main character, Nathan East), but the story draws to a satisfying, if a bit ambiguous, conclusion.

In "Mrs. Gillingham’s Constitutional," Sandra McDonald takes us into the life of an elderly woman who casts a spell to turn back time. But things go awry when she substitutes carpet deodorizer for chalk in drawing her protective circle, and cinnamon-scented Christmas votives in place of the more witch-friendly tapered white candles. She thinks nothing has happened, and takes her dog for a walk through the old neighborhood. The old woman walks into town and realizes that her spell did work: she is now a young woman, her dog a puppy, and the town is brand new. She sees her future husband and his friend, and her purpose in casting the spell becomes clear: she wants a second chance at a different kind of life, with the man she almost married. McDonald’s prose is beautiful, and she is adept at describing the changes Mrs. Gillingham’s neighborhood has gone through over the years. The main character is very sympathetic, and the story comes to satisfying conclusion.

"The Witches of Cairn" by Sharon Bailly is a nice fantasy story in which a pregnant witch has escaped from the city of Cairn, where her kind has been slaughtered by a bloodthirsty prince. She gives birth in an inn, and makes the innkeeper promise to raise her as his own. The girl grows up and eventually marries the duke who slaughtered her ancestors, and makes a deal with him to make him king. I’m not a big fan of high fantasy, but this had a nice fairy tale quality with just the right undertone of darkness about it.

Jon Everson’s "The Strong Will Survive" is a deceptive little ditty that looks like a horror story but ends up being science fiction. In this tale, a group of people meet in an abandoned subway tunnel to pay their last respects to a man lying in a glass-covered coffin. Told in the first person, the story follows the man who has arranged this bizarre funeral as he tells in flashbacks how all the people came to be there. His wife has just died, and he finds a doctor’s card among her things. He tracks the doctor down to a decrepit office park, where the physician, Dr. Chavis, reveals that he was performing genetic research to create a race of immortals, and that the main character is his son. Not only that, but he has many offspring, and if they mate with someone who isn’t one of the doc’s special children, they cause their partners to die. His children will never get sick, and are marked by the same facial mole. When the doctor dies, our main character arranges this "funeral" and sends out letters to Chavis’ other "childen" letting them know what happened so they can come and weep, or blame, or mourn the cause of all their suffering, for they have all lost lovers too.

This is a wonderfully done story that deftly weaves elements of horror with science fiction. The writing is top-notch, and will hold up to successive re-readings. Everson is a good writer, and I hope to see more of his work in the future.

"Mortacheck" by Pete D. Manison is an intriguing science fiction tale about a collective organism disguised as a human being on its way to Earth for some sinister purpose. The only problem is that the ending was left out of the magazine. The alien is on some kind of airline-type spaceship, and when the Mortacheck sign comes on, every passenger is killed with electric shocks and then brought back to life in order to check for alien imposters. The disguise works, allowing our alien collective to come back from the bright shiny light it sees when it/they die, and it gets in a space elevator to Earth with a human woman. This is where the story is cut short. I don’t know what happened here. There are two big boxes on the next two pages containing poems that could have been put somewhere else. I don’t know how the story wasn’t completed or if Space and Time intends to publish the rest of it next issue, but what started out great was ruined by silly technical difficulties.

"The Lizard," by Uncle River is a long, slow, plodding, meandering piece that doesn’t do a whole lot and never really goes anywhere. A Hispanic male is goofing off in a remote area, smoking a joint, and looking down into a canyon, when he sees a "giant" lizard, which is described as being about eight feet long. For some reason, I just wasn’t impressed with that description, as I believe gila monsters get about that long, though they don’t live in the states. Still, I was expecting a take on Godzilla-type lizard or the superimposed iguana from The Valley of Gwanji. This was merely a big iguana of some sort, though people, horses and sheep routinely go missing. But the story focuses on our joint-smoker, Hilario, various other townspeople, and a corrupt police deputy who suspects Hilario and a few others of growing pot in the canyon, sets up a bust, and frames Hilario for possession. No lizard, no big epiphanies, no anything. This story is boring, and only vaguely speculative. There’s some stuff at the end about an Indian curse on the land, but no reason why a larger than average lizard should be anywhere near this story. Do yourself a favor and skip over this one.

"The Musk of November" by Corrine De Winter is a beautifully written fantasy piece with just enough oomph to get the taste of "The Lizard" out of my mouth. This ambiguous tale is told in the form of some sort of love letter that could be composed by a witch to someone who perhaps has died, and she is causing him to come back. The genderizing is all my doing; it’s possible that the narrator can be male or female, which is one of the charms of this story. This is a great little short piece that works well in this magazine.

I was surprised to see an established pro in these pages, but I’m glad he’s here. Weird Tales editor Darrell Schweitzer’s "The Emperor of the Ancient Word" takes us around the world with two brothers traveling with their mysterious, magician grandfather. Amateur insect collectors, the two boys spot a strange moth outside their hotel window that they know shouldn’t exist. They follow it to a strange man wearing flowing purple robes and an incongruous top hat. He tells them he is the Emperor of the Ancient Word, and a carriage appears and takes the Emperor and our main character’s brother away.

The remaining brother grows up and inherits the dead grandfather’s fortune, using it to search for his brother’s whereabouts. He finds clues to the Empire of the Ancient work on gold coins stamped with the Emperor’s visage, and soon discovers the gateway to the lost empire’s realm, and his brother sitting on the throne as its emperor. What follows is the elder brother’s revelation about what this ancient empire is and his place in it.

This is a marvelously weird tale, from a master of the form. I like the concept of an ancient, forgotten empire that is still around, if you know how to look for it. The setting is nice, and we get a good idea of how a rich, tortured recluse would act. Very nicely done.

John Rosenman’s "Going Away" is an odd short-short about a husband who has tired of the way his wife treats him and decides to leave in a very bizarre fashion. As he lies in bed, the distance between him and his wife gets physically more distant, until she can see stars winking over his bed. The wife pleads with him, apologizing for the things she has said to him over the years, but to no avail.

This is a cool little story that reminds me of Ray Bradbury. The intrusion of fantasy into daily life was well-handled, as was the reasons for this couple’s ultimate separation: she disapproves of, among other things, his spending time writing stories, something we creative types have to contend with occasionally. This is a very clever story.

Hugh Cook’s "A Gorilla in Vietnam" is a wonderful alternate history story about a Vietnam torn apart by war between the Japanese and the French. Oh, and there are intelligent, talking gorillas. A gorilla named Greg has come to Vietnam with his female hypno-therapist in hopes of sparking his memory of a past life as a gorilla soldier. They tour the country and look at pictures, but nothing happens until he visits a city he is sure he remembers from his past life. But this city is nothing like the images in his head, and he discovers that he might be wrong about his past life. He also uncovers a sinister plot by the powerful guru who is bankrolling his trip.

I like stories that, in just a few pages, can put an entirely brand new universe into your head. Cook’s "Gorilla" does just that. The alternate history background is well thought out and deftly weaved into the narrative without stalling the story. And you don’t even mind that there are talking gorillas, except to say "Cool. Talking gorillas." This is an excellent concept, and Cook does some good things with it.

While disappointed by Uncle River’s "Lizard" and the technical issues with "Mortacheck," I find Space and Time to be a competent enough small press magazine. There was a printing error that became annoying—the crossbars on every ‘e’ was missing—but over all this is a nice-looking magazine with plenty of good stories to choose from. The illustrations to the stories were very nice as well, my favorite being Bob Conway’s drawing for "A Gorilla in Vietnam." If my local bookstore carried this magazine, I would certainly pick it up from time to time.