"Dirk Moonfire and the Nefarious Space Women" by Jack Mangan
"Cultural Clashes in Cádiz" by Jetse de Vries
"Gypsies Stole My Tequila" by Adrienne Jones
The premise of J.D. Welles‘s story "The Girl in B33" has considerable promise: the ghost of a vaudevillian child performer haunts an off-Broadway theater, killing all who sit in seat B33. Is there anything Urbanlegends.com sleuth Nick Brown can do to put the girl’s spirit to rest?
Before long, the ghosts of Broadway are working shade-in-arm with the living. Their goal, in classic Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland tradition, is to put on a show. Welles strives to give us a chaotic romp, but the results are mixed. Interspersed among a few laugh-out-loud moments are long stretches where madcap chaos becomes confusion. Additional speaker attributions would have been a big help.
Nevertheless, "The Girl in B33" maintains a wild, energetic pace from beginning to end. Combine that pace with ingenue ghosts who make up for their lack of talent with their amorousness, ego-riddled producers and actors, and a basically likable protagonist, and you have a story many will find enjoyable. For me, however, too many jokes fell flat, and I found myself slogging through to the end.
But "Dirk Moonfire and the Nefarious Space Women" by Jack Mangan was, for me, a far more arduous slog. It clearly takes talent to jam a story full of almost every trite Golden Age science fiction trope, but Mangan has managed to do just that. That’s the whole point of the story, and in case the reader doesn’t get it, Mangan throws in a king-sized wink and nudge at the end to clue him in.
Earth’s top Atomic Scientist Lucilla Bloodsky has been kidnaped by Flying Saucers and spirited away to Planet X. The President knows this because “we tracked the Saucers’ deep space movements on our Space-o-scopes.” The President charges Dirk with the task of rescuing Miss Bloodsky, and before long, Dirk is riding his Rocket Ship (armed with a Spaceray Gun) along with “hotshot young cadet” Blink Buzzard and over-the-hill former Rocket Ship captain, Old Tug. Soon, Dirk must deal with beautiful warrior women, mind-control garters, Octopus-Men, and a sentient planetoid (“Slug”) named Chuck.
Sound like fun? Then you’ll enjoy this story. As for me, so-bad-they’re-painful science fiction flicks of the 1950s are funny only if the Mystery Science 3000 gang are on hand to make jokes. Otherwise, meh, not so funny. In addition, Mangan’s satire sometimes loses focus. He not only tries to skewer overused plot devices, but also attempts to wring humor from bad writing techniques. As any Bulwer-Lytton Contest fan will tell you, bad writing can be hilarious. Here, it merely had me scratching my head.
Jetse de Vries’s "Cultural Clashes in Cádiz" is an enjoyable time travel caper featuring a peace-loving fellow determined to change history. The time is 1247, the place, Cádiz. Leonard Yomin wants to broker a peace treaty between the Moorish King of Gharnata (Grenada), and Ferdinand III, Reconquista kind of Castile and Leon. Opposing him are two enforcers of the Causality Interference Policy, Krikksen and Watt. But this is a time travel story, so, naturally, there are older and younger versions of Yomin, Krikksen, and Watt stirring up the pot.
It’s a confusing tale at first, and a slow-starter, but it eventually settles into a thoroughly enjoyable rhythm. The story builds to a satisfying climax during Carnival, which in de Vries’s capable hands is perhaps as exciting and visually stimulating as the real thing.
The collection’s longest and most successful novella is Adrienne Jones’s "Gypsies Stole My Tequila." "Gypsies" has many laugh-out-loud moments, and I’m sure I’ve ruined the story for my wife by reading all of them to her. After I finished, I went online and bought a copy of Jones’s first novel. Yes, "Gypsies" is that good.
Joe Blood used to be front man for the punk band Blood Blister. Now he’s an aging punk rocker, a Johnny Rotten fallen on bad times, and he has a problem: a demon living in his calendar will kill him on his fortieth birthday if he doesn’t kill himself first. About twenty years ago, Joe and band mates Deke and Vincent, addled by drugs at the time, made a blood pact that they would jump off the cliff at Anchorage Point on Joe’s fortieth birthday—if they had become everything they despised.
With Joe’s birthday only weeks away, he doesn’t see much chance for escape. He works at a butcher shop where he has to dress in a cow suit, while Deke is a beer-bellied couch potato, and Vincent is a slacker made rich by successful investments in high tech stocks. Joe visits Deke and Vincent to warn them: we jump together, or the demon is coming for you.
Deke may be scum, but Vincent cares about Joe. Vince also has a problem. His son wants to be a rocker, but he and his other band mates have done little but eat potato chips and smoke pot for the last year, and have nary a song to their credit. And so Vince hits on a plan: Joe Blood will whip his son’s band into shape, saving himself in the process.
The satire is spot-on as Jones targets punk fashion, rocker stage antics, people’s attitudes towards the once-famous, teen angst, and much more. Her technique is damned near flawless, and her humor rarely misfires. Joe Blood is a sympathetic, even lovable character, so three-dimensional he pops off the page. Vince, Vince’s son Max, and Max’s friends are also well drawn characters. I rooted for Joe and his new band right up to the end. The conclusion is predictable, but the ride is pure entertainment.
Paperback: 212 pages