“Old Gods” by James Targett
“Connected” by Alasdair Stuart
“A Frailty of Moths” by James Cooper
“Angel Paper” by Ellen Phillips
“Holiday” by Liam Rands
“The Frog Pond” by James S. Dorr
“Adam’s Lawyer” by Martin Owton and Gaie Sebold
“Santa and Mr. Worm” by John B. Rosenman
“Wanting to Want” by Eugie Foster
The title and descriptions give away the characters in “Old Gods” by James Targett, although the secret of their identities isn’t particularly important to the plot. This is the story of Andy, a physics student tending an empty bar in York. When three strange patrons come in, Andy allows himself to be pulled into their discussion, resulting in them challenging him to a contest of three games. While it is clear that Andy must fall into their company for the story to work, there is no real internal logic to his accepting their challenge and, in the end, there is little of import to the story, aside from the study of the characters applying their narrativium, to use a Pratchettian term, to a milieu different from their traditional one. As a note, the first column of the story on page 23 repeats the first column of the story on page 22, but the complete text of Targett’s story is available for free on Hub’s website.
Alasdair Stuart provides the first short short in the magazine with “Connected.” This tale seems straightforward, as Lucy explains to her friend, the narrator, why the ringing of his cell phone makes her skittish. The story has an almost Poe-like ending, which brings it to a reasonably satisfying conclusion, yet at the same time, it leaves room where Stuart could have expanded the story much more to create a different kind of horror tale. As it is, Stuart leaves the reader with the intimation of dread rather than anything specific, and that, of course, is the most horrifying of all.
There is a class of story which has little direct relationship to any form of reality, and James Cooper provides such a tale with “A Frailty of Moths,” a paranoic’s view of a world filled with long queues with no actual goals at the end. Joe spends his life standing in a queue, alone among the mass of humanity stretching out in front and behind him, until a girl, Vina, breaks the taboo of talking to people in line and strikes up a conversation (and a cigarette) with him. Vina appears to know what conspiracies exist in the world around them and seems to believe that Joe is also in on the secrets. Joe, however, doesn’t fully grok what Vina is talking about, but is willing to listen to her as a way to kill the time, especially after he notices strange men in suits occasionally taking away fallen members of the queue nation.
“Angel Paper” is the first of two light pieces which present more an idea than a story. Ellen Phillips describes a woman and her son setting out “angel paper” to capture an angel. Once they capture an angel, however, they don’t quite know what to do with it. The two-page piece presents the idea, but even at two pages it is a little too long and conveys that there really is little point to the piece, in contrast to the following story which is similar in scope, but works better.
Liam Rands provides a light piece with “Holiday.” Focusing on a strange travel agency, it quickly becomes apparent that the trips it books are not simple getaways, but a means for demons to possess bodies of people. Rands has a clever idea and presents it in the briefest form. Not really a story, but more a vignette. However, given the basic premise, the work probably could not have been lengthened without weakening the joke.
James S. Dorr is responsible for the only “traditional” science fiction story, with space craft and alien planets, in “The Frog Pond.” The story is about a simple re-supply mission that goes horribly wrong. As Vincent Ramon looks around the planet and learns what has happened to the initial survey team, he realizes that basing impressions on analogs is not the safest course of action. This lesson is driven home to the reader, if not to Ramon, by the difference in his own attitudes and responses between the beginning of the story, when he is projecting the image he desires, and the end, when his real personality is allowed to appear. Dorr only gives the vaguest of hints about the universe he has created, but it is enough to indicate that there may be room for additional stories set in this world, either in the “Frog Pond” or other worlds. This story doesn’t rise (or fall) to the level of space opera, but there is a clear homage to the types of exploration stories written by James Schmitz and Murray Leinster.
John B. Rosenman contributes a Lovecraftian horror story with “Santa and Mr. Worm.” Rosenman focuses on a psychotic hit man who tailors his executions to the desires of his well-heeled clientele. While Rosenman provides the background for the murderer’s psychosis, notably a sexual encounter with a drunk Santa as a child, the main thrust of the story is his murder of Mr. Lovejoy at the behest of one of his business rivals. The story is chilling as the assassin’s cruelty, masked by his air of professionalism, is exposed. At the same time, the actual fantastic content almost undermines the horror of the human involved in the murder.
The final story in the premiere issue of Hub is by Eugie Foster, and it should be noted that Foster is the editor of Tangent. Her story, “Wanting to Want” opens with a look at the life of a crack whore, and a midget crack whore at that. Bitty is looking for Johns simply so she’ll have enough cash for her next heroin fix. She knows that she has a daughter, but also knows that the nine year old is far better off without her. More to the point, Bitty doesn’t have any regrets about her life, after all, its all about the next hit. Foster eventually gives Bitty the opportunity to change her life. It is at this point, when Bitty is introduced to the Magicman by an abusive John, that Foster’s pacing seems to weaken. Bitty’s decision is made a little too neatly and it would have been nice to see some additional focus on her life after she meets with the Magicman to see her come to her realization more gradually. However, “Wanting to Want” is the strongest story to appear in the debut issue of Hub, and its position in the magazine will leave the readers with a positive feeling towards the magazine.
While Tangent generally only reviews the stories in a magazine or webzine, since this is the first issue of Hub, I’m going to take a few moments to discuss the physical appearance of the magazine. Hub is printed on a high-gloss paper, which in general provides a nice reading contrast. Unfortunately, the designer has elected to try to be cute with his backgrounds, which, at best, detracts from the text and at worst makes it difficult to read. An instance of the latter appears on page 33, when three lines of text are separated from the remainder of the story by an image of a moth, and it isn’t entirely clear if they should be read before the second column or after it.
Similarly, busy backgrounds, such as the beer glass background on the opening page of Targett’s “Old Gods” or the black and green background for “The Frog Pond,” detract from the story, even if they don’t completely stop the reader by causing them to wonder where to go next. This is a problem Interzone had when it was first taken over by TTA, and it is to be hoped that the team publishing Hub gets over this cuteness quickly.