Crossed Genres: Year One
Edited by Bart R. Leib & K. T. Holt
“The Time of Tales” by C. L. Rossman
“Back to the Beginning” by Marilou Goodwin
“A Crazy Kind of Love” by Jeremy Zimmerman
“The Near-Sighted Sentinel” by Adam King
“Condiment Wars” by Jill Afzelius
“Red Dust” by Amanda Lord
“Deacon Carter’s Last Dime” by Nathan Crowder
“The Strangler Fig” by Jennifer D. Munro
“The Bat and the Blitz” by Erika Tracy
“The Good Old-Fashioned Kind of Water” by Camille Alexa
“The Drain” by M. Palmer
“Cold” by Melissa S. Green
Reviewed by KJ Hannah Greenberg
Cross genre fiction, unlike other sorts of tales, is narrative that aims to succeed, simultaneously, in two or more distinct classes of literature. While there is a deluge of free and often worthwhile speculative fiction available on the Web, sometimes it behooves folk to buy a book or two. In the case of this first volume of Crossed Genres, the anthology’s ten dollar cost is easily justified.
This compilation, which consists of stories culled from the webzine’s site, is, in the least, entertaining, and at its best, provocative. Each month (from the debut issue in December of 2008) provided a different theme, said theme to be crossed with some aspect of science fiction or fantasy. Within Crossed Genres’ covers, fantasy and science fiction mix it up with romance, with crime, with horror and with additional literary foci. The resulting assortment of tales is as weird and wonderful as is chocolate mole liberally spiced with chili peppers or as is a dried beef-based dessert. Simply, the samples offered here will be different from most of the other ones encountered by the majority of readers and if for no other reason are desirable.
Issue One: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Consider, for instance, “The Time of Tales,” by C. L. Rossman, a story in which a young, gentle hunter, en route home from an interstellar hunt, elects to dawdle at the lodge of a somewhat infamous storyteller. Beneficent to a talon, this youth’s goal fulfillment needs push him beyond income and adventure to acts of loving kindness. By this tale’s end, this young man has left his hostess not only the requisite payment of meat and hides, but also a bonus of fancy technology with which she can record hunt narratives.
It doesn’t matter that the two main characters are of an alien species or that one of them navigates the stars while the other writes about such journeys. “The Time of Tales,” remains a story about relationships and about the small, significant ways in which persons can show each other consideration. Similarly, it doesn’t matter that C.L. Rossman primarily composes speculative fiction. Given her careful sensibilities, I envision her work appearing in many mainstream venues, too.
Issue Two: Dystopian
Unlike “The Time of Tales,” a story in which characters enjoy the luxury of avocations, of travel and of rest, “Back to the Beginning,” by Marilou Goodwin, depicts a dismal reality in which hours and breath, alike, are precious commodities. In Goodwin’s fiction, a war spanning generations has cost the population their literal social structures as well as the figurative rudiments of their civility. In this dark tale, former warriors hide in decrepit buildings in order to be able to kill each other for bits of flesh or artificial body pieces. Some persons negotiate facsimiles of friendship. Others find solace in gang membership. Most, though, survive in solitude in a realm where an array of cannibalistic behaviors fuel crimes worse than murder.
Goodwin paints her dystopia in vivid language. I can palpate the yards of intestines one character sifts through to ferret out micro devices. I can smell the sewer through which two others wade to install electronic guards, which they hope will temporarily protect their home coalition. I can hear the sudden pulling of viscera from almost-corpses not yet dead.
Whereas I wouldn’t recommend this sort of read after a full meal, I would highly praise it to anyone wanting an undulating ride through horrors. Goodwin does nothing to cleanse immoral behaviors, but she does make them interesting.
Issue Three: Romance
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to regard each person we encounter as potentially homicidal nor do we have to be wary of the toxins in our amours’ tentacles or of our lovers’ tendency to drain away our life forces. The main character in “A Crazy Kind of Love,” by Jeremy Zimmerman, however, does have to be concerned with these latter variables. This man has to decide whether he wants to sacrifice himself to assume a position as a gra’al’s speaker/consort. Whereas he has spent years working in xeneology and views his potential new position as unrivaled, his dear ones, of human vintage, are less excited about his desire to merger with an alien.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I will offer that the imagery in this tale is so wonderful that the settings sometimes transported me away from the main character’s conflict. The scenes in this story, like Impressionist art, consist of ordinary subjects displayed in mesmerizingly vacillating light. Whereas I usually care most about plot and about character development, these descriptions were so robust that I would gladly read additional pages of Zimmerman’s work just to reimmerse myself in his language.
Issue Four: Crime
“The Near-Sighted Sentinel,” by Adam King, unlike “A Crazy Kind of Love,” is not a word painting but is a fairly clean snapshot of an aged superhero. These frames of fiction show readers an urban crime fighter who not only chases “bad guys,” but who also struggles with an addiction to daring do. Both the main character’s wife and young daughter urge him to release his habit. Only in a later part of the story, though, following an especially gruesome act, does the hero get sobered. Specifically, although the man of superior ability stymies the bandit, he is unable to rectify the mauling of the villain’s young victim.
Although readers are left to wonder whether or not the main character will ever permanently kick his habit of rescuing, they will be satisfied that this guardian seems as though he will remain a man of emotional vulnerability. Adam King does a good job of presenting the epitome of human feelings and as such is an author well worth Googling.
Issue Five: Humor
Jill Afzelius is worth looking up, too. In her “Condiment Wars,” Ketchup and Mustard campaign against the mania of Jalapeno, as inspired by both the pouty smile of Salsa and the kidnapping of Relish and Bread. Although almost foiled by conflicted Dill, the defender condiments pull readers on a delicious romp through kitchen battles. More exactly, they protect the sanctity of the dinner plate special.
In this sometimes wild, always film noir-styled story, Salt, Pepper, Toothpicks, and Wooden Spoons play small roles. This narrative, which flows smoother than melted butter on a griddle, presents an array of tasty moments from Mustard’s anxiety-ridden outbursts to Salsa’s explicit lasciviousness. To wit, I yearn to read more about Ketchup, “condiment of champions” and hope that Afzelius will offer up a collection of tales about him soon.
Issue Six: Western
In “Red Dust,” too, readers are treated to flavorsome anthropomorphism. In this story, by Amanda Lord, however it is not perishable pickles that become animated but sophisticated scientific equipment. A cautionary tale, “Red Dust” reminds readers that we ought not merely program our artificial intelligence devices and then abandon them to their tasks. Rather, we ought to check up on them once in a while.
The main character in “Red Dust” is a machine capable of problem solving and of delving into abstractions. Its mentations range from focused theology to broader existentialism. This mechanism, given the span of time it has to mull over its thoughts, grows dubious about its portion. When, later in the tale, the machine’s companion contraptions uncover a piece of calculating equipment from an earlier era, the main character becomes more than uncertain.
Like iconic Hal, of 2001, the main character takes readers on an internal exploration more interesting and consequential than any space voyage.
Issue Seven: Urban
There are times when getting a grasp on physics is more exciting than is any amount of psychodrama. In “Deacon Carter’s Last Dime,” by Nathan Crowder, for example, being able to negotiate the distance between Earth and the moon is vitally important.
This story supplies readers with an amiable underdog graced with a “can do” attitude. Disgruntled engineer, Deacon Carter, buys scrap and space from a boyhood friend in order to build a spaceship. While his junkyard buddy sips alcohol and enjoys the company of questionable women, Deacon literally hammers together a dream. Deacon’s self-gratification tolerates both delay and sharing. The man’s mother and daughter join him in soldering his ambition, as do others of his dear ones. Only Jimmy-the-Junker chooses not to participate in building, and, ultimately, in boarding Deacon’s space-worthy vessel. Only Jimmy elects a chemically-fueled fantasy over an actual trip to the moon.
Delightful to a word, Crowder’s tale asks, aloud, whether we ought to settle for illusions or to reach, instead, for higher good. I hope we can emulate his rocketman if ever we have to answer.
Issue Eight: Anthropomorphism
Drugs and alcohol are not the only means by which people lose themselves. Some individuals give themselves away, temporarily, to the raptures of love. Other people yield their identities more regularly to the demands of their intimates. A small percent of folk, such as the main character in “The Strangler Fig,” by Jennifer D. Munro, allow themselves to be literally and permanently consumed by their paramours, i.e. to “to die, mummified in the arms of [their tender] strangler[s].”
“The Strangler Fig’s” main character heedfully yields his life. He intends for the object of his obsession, a beautiful and mysterious singer, to sustain her simulated youth and to birth the next generation of her sort of parasitic beings on the basis of the necessary nutrients with which he, a member of the paparazzi, is willingly parting. Arguably, the intimacy with which the main character beholds his stunning entertainer, via his camera lens, and via his subsequent psychosis-driven montage of that woman’s naked bits and pieces, suggests that gifting his life to the object of his worship is not a sacrifice but is a natural extension of his devotion. It’s a pity that he failed to realize that he would retain sentience even after he has been sucked dry.
In sum, “The Strangler Fig” is a well developed horror story with a long reach. Images from this tale will envelop other mental pictures for some time to come.
Issue Nine: Alternate History
Seemingly less ambitious than the warped cameraman are the main characters of “The Bat and the Blitz,” by Erika Tracy. In this romp through a World War Two dogfight, readers find themselves cheering a witch, who repeatedly morphs into bat form in order to freefall upon enemy fighter planes. The spells, which she lobs at enemies, as she drops, cause their demise.
Her countrymen, meanwhile, flourish. Before the tale’s conclusion, the main character proposes marriage to the witch and discloses that his own ma, too, is of the magical sort. The story closes with the lovers lamenting that the queen’s army can not publically credit the magic users who save Britain.
I’d like to learn more about this story’s spell caster and her uncommon companion. I hope Erika Tracy writes a book about them and their brood.
Issue Ten: Child Fiction
Beyond magic users, there are other sorts of mutants about which to learn. In “The Good Old-Fashioned Kind of Water,” by Camille Alexa, for instance, there lives a grotesquely morphed lake fish that enjoys eating both canned green beans and the cans which house those delicacies. In this sad story, the bitter pain suffered by the main character, a little girl, when droplets of acid rain fall on her, is as tacit as is the sorry spectacle of the denuded forest surrounding her shelter. Grownups unthinkingly destroyed her world by foisting biochemical warfare upon it. Those adults and most of that world’s organic life have, afterward, died out.
The man character, her solace-seeking alcoholic of a brother and several younger friends and extended family members live off of a hoard of canned goods, which had been put aside before the war. Little by little, though, those tins of food are proving insufficient to sustain those young ones; the survivors are being poisoned by the chemically compromised compounds that leech from the sickened earth into the groundwater feeding their secure well. The death of one member of their small group catalyzes those kids into scripting their own version of the future. They summon the monstrous fish to shuttle them to the other side of their very toxic lake.
Whether or not that fish submerges those survivors in the pool’s deadly fluid or safely delivers them to the far shore is unmentioned. All that readers can glean with certainty is that the main character’s heroics are costly, creative, and desperate and that Camille Alexa ably depicts her characters’ pathos.
Issue Eleven: Horror
Deep emotions are likewise well drawn for readers in “The Drain,” by M. Palmer. In this disturbing story, a young child’s nightmare comes to life. The little girl in question loses her lone parent, wishes for that loved one’s reappearance and then has that wish granted via the reality of her mother showing up in decaying flesh.
Thereafter, no matter the degree and frequency of that girl’s travels into sexual addiction, into self-mutilation or into drugging and drinking, she fails to escape the misshapen image of her decomposing parent. By this tale’s end, when the main character literally inherits, from another relative, “the farm,” she has so little empathy left for herself or for others that she willingly passes off her gruesome experience by gifting a vulgar, minor character with the object that was her nightmare’s source.
Readers are left to contemplate whether the greater of this story’s horrors is the girl’s encounter with a festering mother, whether it is the girl’s life spent on the very wrong side of the tracks, or is the girl’s readiness to press her terrible experience on someone else. No matter the verdict, readers would do well to seek out others of M. Palmer’s hauntings.
Issue Twelve: LGBTQ
Less frightening, but equally alarming is “Cold,” by Melissa S. Green. This story, on the one hand, can be read as a general coming of age story. On the other hand, it can be read specifically as a tale about social groups and their outcasts. Simply, a young lady returns to the neighborhood from which her parents were exiled. Unlike her parents, she experiences a frosty homecoming. Whereas she has matured from her difficult experience, her childhood friends have remained frozen in a system valuing glitzy externalities over fortitude and loyalty. In the end, her best friend, who possibly was also a former lover, thaws a bit toward the main character. The two of them walk off the page toward warmer interpersonal climes.
I’m a little confused, though, as to why this story is labeled as a “LTGBQ/speculative” cross-genre fiction. The main character’s conflict over the relative importance of trying to fit in is not an experience limited to kids struggling with gender assignment, choice or identification. Most teenagers teeter at that juncture. Further, although Green gives readers a likable protagonist, she does so more through telling than showing. I would have enjoyed this tale more if the writer had been less blatant in her use of metaphor and more subtle in her decrying adolescent traumas.
Regardless, Melissa S. Green is good at her craft. I predict that within the next decade, we’ll be reading increasingly sophisticated works from her.
From lovers whose needs suck away others’ life forces to the foibles of superheroes past their prime, Crossed Genres makes a tasty break from ordinary speculative fiction. This twisted group of stories both inflames and amuses. At ten bucks a pop, it is hard not to recommend its purchase.
(Crossed Genres—Winter 2010)
Trade paperback, 128 pp., $10