“Little Sacrifices” by Meg Kingston
“Talent Search” by Sarah L. Edwards
“Transcendence Express” by Jetse de Vries
“The Long View” by Mark Torrender
“Eight Excerpts from a Secret Interdimensional War” by David Viner
“ROH!” by Douglas E. Wright
“Juju” by Lee Moan
“TLP” by Vaughan Stanger
I’d heard good things about Hub with its first issue bursting out of the gate, so admittedly I was disappointed greatly by the opening story in issue #2, “In the Rivermen’s Lair” by Barry J. House. The story is set in an asylum and dives into clichés in its first paragraph: “The hospital was as silent as a forgotten mausoleum, except for the occasional, muffled shriek emanating from the cork-lined cells at its heart.”
The main character is the new director, Dr. Thomas Hawtrey, who’s been on the job for three days when he’s confronted by the sudden appearance in his office of a fellow named Jeremiah Plympton. Plympton, whom Hawtrey assumes is a patient, comes to warn him about a great danger posed by the Rivermen, hideous alien creatures that have designs on enslaving the Earth. The information is imparted in 1930’s pulp-style dialogue with Hawtrey growing increasingly unbelieving but willing to listen for the patient’s own good, before Plympton mysteriously disappears. The story, overall, is the weakest in the issue, with everything in the tale just as it seems.
“Little Sacrifices” by Meg Kingston kicks the story quality up a couple of notches. This story is set after harsh laws have been enacted in Britain to counter every kind of “domestic pollution,” even light and noise. Regulators installed in your home force you to conserve; noise pollution will bring a swift visit from the police. Mrs. Kendall, the narrator, and her neighbor and one-time friend, Graeme, are two opposites in this post-polluted country: Mrs. Kendall misses some things terribly such as Christmas light displays, but appreciates the return of stars and birds; Graeme reacts to the restrictions by flaunting them, even though he’d never been an “offender” before.
Admittedly I thought Graeme’s fate didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but overall I still appreciated this story. If anything, I thought it’s only real weakness was that Kingston didn’t dive quite deeply enough into the world she’d created.
“Talent Search” by Sarah L. Edwards is the first of two contenders for the issue’s strongest story, both for plot and characterization. Rose Delaney is searching for “Talented” children to send back to her own world (or version thereof), which needs their skills desperately. She has some instruments she can use to determine whether or not a child is Talented (although she lost some of what she was sent along with in a transporting goof), but the way she really notices Talent is through music. Rose is a musician herself and knows that somehow music and Talent are linked—and can all but feel children’s skill by listening to singing or playing the way a virtuoso can hear the multitudes of interactive layers in a classical piece. Rose is drawn as a believable, sympathetic character who loves what she is doing even while having qualms about it—including being well aware that she is doing it to spare herself a harder life. Also well done is the child virtuoso she identifies, Doris, who insists on following Rose to wherever the older woman will lead her.
The second of the two contenders for strongest story is Jetse de Vries’s “Transcendence Express.” Liona Jansen is a dedicated young teacher who is trying to bring education and technology to poor children in Zambia after following her lover there. Without the resources to bring computers and a functioning network to the children, Liona instead lets each of the children grow biological computers—much her own design—as projects that quickly become the children’s learning tools. Not long after that, the computers equal and then surpass anything that the narrator, Liona’s lover and the volunteer she followed to Africa, has ever seen before. The ramifications of this action are intriguing, realistic, and admittedly not a little cathartic, as the children end their isolation with these new computers and decide to use them to help bring about better lives and living conditions for themselves and their families.
“The Long View” by Mark Torrender reads more like a vignette than an out-and-out story, but is nice nonetheless. The last thing Amanda remembers is stepping out in front of vehicle she didn’t see, and then being in a void facing a handsome fellow she assumes is the angel Gabriel. There isn’t much new and there aren’t any surprises in this flash piece, but it can get you thinking if you let it.
“Eight Excerpts from a Secret Interdimensional War” by David Viner is, as the title says, eight compact pieces of a larger story, all tied together one way or another and laid out in what I presume is chronological order. Each piece is a little darker, a little grittier than the one before it, with each event carrying a little more weight and building towards something much more massive. I’ll warn you that the war does not end by the story’s end, but we do learn the price of achieving a victory in an understated slam by the time we get to the final piece.
“ROH!” by Douglas E. Wright was my second disappointment of the issue. The elements of a finely-crafted horror story are in place; I was interested in the possibilities of Ginger Butler, an old hippie—and a psycho as far as the local residents are concerned—and the possible conflicts that could arise when he encountered a couple of potheads named Pancho and Slip who become convinced that Ginger is hiding something…maybe a decent crop of marijuana. Unfortunately, what follows is a lot of dialogue between the hippie and the potheads that doesn’t seem to contribute much to the story, and an eventual conclusion where, once again, we discover that things are just what they seem. While “ROH!” wasn’t as formulaic as “In the Rivermen’s Lair,” the predictability after such a promising start made for a bigger letdown.
Lee Moan’s “Juju” has a familiar set-up: character is interested in acquiring dark magic to use for his own ends and finally gets something in his hands that he should have left alone. In this case, the magic is Jamaican “Juju” in the form of three pieces of meat—human meat—which each have the power to kill when you swallow them individually and say the victim’s name. Nathan, the man who buys the meat after a demonstration, decides after the first success—which he could argue was done for the good—to let the power of instant and untraceable death go to his head when he decides to take out a rival. What follows is “blowback” (as governments and spies call it) in the form of a betrayal revealed and a turnabout that is not necessarily a surprise after being heavily foreshadowed, but nicely done nevertheless.
The final piece, “TLP” by Vaughan Stanger, is about the last two astronauts who walked on the moon: the Commander, who has become a televangelist after claiming he found God on the moon, and the Astronaut, who was finally convinced of his own impending death by what he considers a perpetual sign that may or may not have been sent by a God whom the Astronaut isn’t sure he can believe in. The Commander won’t reveal to the public just how he found God on the moon, but his conviction has changed his life; the Astronaut still struggles with belief even as he comes towards his own end, but has agreed to come speak on television with the Commander out of regard and respect for his old companion.
The story works well at its flash or almost-flash length; the Astronaut’s introspection doesn’t feel rushed, but the story doesn’t weigh itself down with too much verbiage. In fact, that brevity serves to accent the short amount of time the Astronaut is sure he has left, giving an extra edge to the indecision over his belief. Some readers may feel like the ending line is a bit corny, but otherwise “TLP” packed a lot into a small package.