“The Rat Catcher” by M. J. Austwick
“Monochrome for Two” by Dirk Flinthart
“Flashes in the Trees I: Change Takes Root” by Eric Marin
“The Monster at Baggage Carousel #3” by Matthew Bey
“Elena’s Seclusion” by Lydia Fazio Theys
“Flashes in the Trees II: the Rescue” by Eric Marin
“Dressing Down” by Paul E. Martens
“Beans and Marbles” by Floris M. Kleijne
“Space Aliens Brought Back Elvis” by Ben Cook
“In the Sweet Pie and Pie” by Ross Raith
“Flashes in the Trees III: Alho and the Sampo” by Eric Marin
“The Ins and Outs of Intergalactic Diplomacy” by Suzanne Palmer
“Thomas Malthus and the Beanstalk” by Malcolm Aslett
And with that, on to the review!
Mr. Oswald Fenman, the city’s catcher of rats, has run into a spot of trouble with the local constabulary. Whether this spot of trouble has anything to do with his wife being a less than an excellent chef is something you’ll discover in “The Rat Catcher.” The first story of this issue is the world’s introduction to the writing talents of one M. J. Austwick. Happily, both the issue and the author are off to a wonderful start. It’s well paced, funny, and—at two pages—exactly the right length. Congratulations, Mr. Austwick, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.
From the light comedic opening, issue 20 of ASIM plunges us into the depths of dystopian darkness in Dirk Flinthart’s “Monochrome for Two.” In a future Australia where life has become a neverending monochrome, monotone, office-cubical nightmare, if you are caught complaining, you and all evidence of your having existed are Deleted. In such an Australia, love is a risky thing, especially when the woman you love is colorful.
If, in this description of “Monochrome for Two,” you detect strong shades of George Orwell’s 1984, I would have to agree with you (I would also suggest some influence by the Harlan Ellison story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” but I could be off on that). “Monochrome for Two” does have the advantage of being a vastly shorter work than 1984, which in any subgenre as depressing as dystopian fiction is something to be encouraged. Of course, 1984 has the advantage of being one of the greatest works of fiction ever written in the English language, but, while “Monochrome” doesn’t make it to that level, it’s still a well paced, well written, evocative work, and well worth your time.
“Flashes in the Trees I: Change Takes Root” by Eric Marin is the first in a series of short shorts scattered through this issue on the subject of “What if trees were sentient?” In this one, the trees get tired of being mistreated by humanity and decide to move. It’s a cute little bit, and serves as a nice palette cleanser after the heaviness of “Monochrome for Two.”
I’m going to make a wild stab in the dark here, but I’m going to guess that author Matthew Bey has had at least one relationship in his life end painfully. OK, yes, that’s a bit like guessing that he has a nose, but I’ll take my stabs one step further and suggest that at least one of them occurred before he wrote “The Monster at Baggage Carousel #3.” Now, why would I guess that? Enh, call it a hunch. It certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the hero of “The Monster at Baggage Carousel #3” returns from vacation to find his girlfriend has become a hideous, man-eating monster. Well, OK, maybe it does, but whether or not it’s autobiographical, Michael Bey’s story of a man willing to risk being his girlfriend’s dinner just to save their relationship is a charming, delightful, and perhaps a bit cathartic read.
The issue continues with “Elena’s Seclusion” by Lydia Fazio Theys. It’s the story of an agoraphobic ghost and her widower’s attempt to bring her, and himself, peace. Well, perhaps ghost isn’t the proper term, but “agoraphobic dead-but-still-walking-yet-not-a-zombie-nor-a-vampire woman” just doesn’t have the same cachet. To be honest, I found this story a little disturbing. Of course, were I to explain why I found it disturbing, I’d give far too much away. That said, it wasn’t any horrible supernatural event that did it to me, but more the fact that I found a character to be more sympathetic than I was really comfortable with him being. Since that, it seems to me, is the whole point of the piece, I have to give it a definite thumbs up, before I scurry off to the next story in the hopes that it’s something nice and comfortingly fluffy.
And, sure enough, with “Flashes in the Trees II: the Rescue” by Eric Marin, the issue delivers. Keeping with the theme of sentient trees, this time we focus on a Texas land developer and a crumbling footbridge. Soothed by a nice and comforting tree hug, I’m ready once more to face what comes next.
What comes next is a fun little meditation on raspberry vinaigrette and the human condition in the form of a story by Paul E. Martens titled “Dressing Down.” Jim thought it was a bit odd that the bottle seemed to hold an infinite supply of salad dressing, but he didn’t really consider that it might be a religious experience until the cookout. Terribly amusing, “Dressing Down” is well worth the read, if for no other reason than the mental images it provides.
Amusing. Yes, amusing is the world I’d use to describe the next story of the issue: Floris M. Kleijne’s “Beans and Marbles.” Now, why do I find the slow descent into madness of one of the two waking members of a long range colony ship amusing? Well, it’s all in how matter-of-fact and reasonable the tone is in comparison to what is really going on. Now, admittedly, it’s a rather dark thing to be amused by, but I’ve acknowledged many a time that my sense of humor has long since transcended dark and is hovering somewhere in the middle of inky. Still, I think it would be worth a read even for those whose senses of humor haven’t descended quite as far as mine.
“Space Aliens Brought Back Elvis” is Ben Cook’s sequel to the story “Hitler’s Ghost Possessed My Cat” from issue 14 of ASIM. Yes, Lisa and Bernie Stanton are back to save the world from yet another Them masterminded headline from the checkout lane tabloids. The same self-aware bizarreness that made the previous story so fun is back, and the prose and characters feel, if anything, a bit tighter, a bit more solid, and better polished (not that the previous story felt loose, insubstantial, or rough). If there is any weakness, it’s that the character you spend the most time with, the narrator, is the least likable of the protagonists, but the superlative oddness of the rest of the characters more than makes up for it. For my fellow fans of the odd and flat out strange, I highly recommend “Space Aliens Brought Back Elvis” whether or not you’ve read the previous story. Of course, if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of ASIM 14 too.
I want to start my review of the next story by letting you know that I liked it. OK, keep that in mind as you read the next paragraph.
“In the Sweet Pie and Pie” by Ross Raith is the second story by a first time author in this issue. In it, a robot hires a comedian. Once you know that, you know how the story is going to go. There are going to be wacky hyjinks centering around the robot not understanding how humor works, and we are going to be left with a message about what it means to be human. “In the Sweet Pie and Pie” follows to form.
So, after all that, why do I like this story? Well, it’s all in the delivery. It sets you up with the robot delving deep into a pit of annoying adolescent angst, and then right when you just want to slap it, the comedian does it for you with the message. Were it any more satisfying, you’d need to have a cigarette afterward. This why the story is ultimately a success, and why I look forward to reading many more of Ross Raith’s stories in the future.
In the third and final installment of Eric Marin’s shorts “Flashes in the Trees III: Alho and the Sampo,” the last Finn shaman searches for his stolen tree. This one feels more like an ancient legend than the previous ones, something to explain why a tree is growing in an unusual spot, why the tribe won’t cut a certain tree down even in the dead of winter and they’ve run out of firewood, or perhaps the dangers of liking your tree a bit too much. Taken with the other two stories, perhaps it’s meant to be an explanation for why the trees can move. This would track with part two seeming to have come before part one, suggesting we are moving backward in time. Of course, they could just be three independent stories about sentient trees. Still, whether it’s connected to the other two or not, it’s a nice bookend to the series.
Polar bears! I’ve always been a fan of polar bears. Granted, this is the sort of fandom that occurs at a discrete distance, say 1000 miles or so seems safe, but it is enough to make me well disposed toward their use in a story. And so, first time author Suzanne Palmer’s story of a polar bear’s rather odd meal difficulties starts off with at least tentative thumbs up. It’s light tone, witty dialog, and amusing twist make it a definite thumbs up, and a great omen for the author’s future.
Then there was “Thomas Malthus and the Beanstalk” by Malcolm Aslett. This story has the feeling, to me, of having been born in an alcohol or drug-filled burst of creativity at a college party heavily populated by philosophy students. This is, by no means, a bad thing, as some of the funniest men of our time (most of Monty Python, Douglas Adams, and Steve Martin to name a few) were once philosophy students, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had occasionally been drunken or high philosophy students. Does “Thomas Malthus” rise to the level of these luminaries of modern comedy? Well… it has its moments. There are a few belly laughs and several quotable lines (my favorite being “…[he] wanted to be called something masculine, like Varg the Destroyer”). Overall, though, it felt like it was trying just a little too hard to be witty.
And with that, I bring my review of this issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine to a close. Once again, the men and women of the Andromeda Spaceways Co-operative have given us a fantastic issue, and I look forward to many more.