Sybil’s Garage #7

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Sybil’s Garage #7

Edited by Matthew Kressel

“By Some Illusion” by Kathryn E. Baker
“Suicide Club” by Amy Sisson
“The Noise” by Richard Larson
“A History of Worms” by Amelia Shackelford
“Thinking Woman’s Crop of Fools” by Tom Crosshill
“The Unbeing of Once-Leela” by Swapna Kishore
“How the Future Got Better” by Eric Schaller
“The Telescope” by Megan Kurshige
“Under the Leaves” by A. C. Wise
“The Ferryman’s Toll” by Sam Ferree
“The Tale of the Six Monkeys’ Tails” by Hal Duncan
“The Poincaré Sutra” by Anil Menon
“Kid Despair in Love” by M. K. Hobson
“My Father’s Eyes” by E. C. Myers
“An Orange Tree Framed Your Body” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“The Watcher Thorn” by Cheryl Barkauskas
“Other Things” by Terence Kuch
“The Dead Boy’s Last Poem” by Kelly Barnhill

Reviewed by Jo-Anne Odell

“By Some Illusion” by Kathryn E. Baker details a woman’s visual impressions of color, light, and common objects, as she sees for the first time.  As she adjusts to her new world, she learns to let go of her crutches.

It’s well-written, but I’m not artistic enough to be drawn in by imagery and character alone.  If you are, you’ll likely enjoy this one.

“Suicide Club” by Amy Sisson is the story of a war veteran who buys into an illegal, organized sport of great popularity, the suicide club.  Those who are selected, enjoy the good life, and great notoriety, as they place their lives on the line.  The desire for suicide is genuine, but so is their desire to make a statement to the government about their treatment and prospects.  

An interesting idea, and a decent tale, though a bit of a slow start.

“The Noise” by Richard Larson is one of the more compelling stories in this collection.  It’s the tale of a gay man’s descent into paranoia, detailed through his obsession with all things zombie.  Larson does a good job of supporting his protagonist through his abortive attempts to connect with those few others in his life he relates to, as he spirals toward disaster.

I found “A History of Worms” by Amelia Shackelford to be rather fractured.  The protagonist is Della, who knows Irene, who lost her mother the last time the circus came to town.  Della’s father finds a microscopic creature, a dragon, and one that grows rapidly and kills, but does so silently and invisibly.    

Again, I suspect this is one where my artistic sensibilities aren’t quite up to the job.  I found I had to really work hard to try to make sense of it.  

“Thinking Woman’s Crop of Fools” by Tom Crosshill presents the idea of a family forced by poverty and circumstance to become a kind of organic computer, providing their brains to produce MIP’s, in a bid to avert suffering a fate they considered even worse.  The existence of every member in their family is critical, and it all falls apart when one is killed, forcing the matriarch to make some difficult decisions.

“The Unbeing of Once-Leela” by Swapna Kishore is another impression-based tale.   Once-Leela ruminates over her trials and tribulations in dealing with her now deceased mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, and she discusses the nature of being with other-onces.  It strikes me as an exploration of existentialism.

“How the Future Got Better” by Eric Schaller is the story of a family watching their own future, about five minutes worth, on television.  It touches on the relationship between cause and effect, and which becomes which, when one can see the future.  

“The Telescope” by Megan Kurshige, explores the idea of a man, a dancer, caught by a strange disease that turns limbs, in his case part of his leg, to glass.  It details his impressions as he deals with the malady and its effect on his life.

I really enjoyed “Under the Leaves” by A. C. Wise.  It’s the first story in this collection that, when I started to read, I felt compelled to keep reading.  

A young man, recently recovered from a serious illness, finds himself dealing with his dead grandmother.  Though she died, she didn’t leave.  Not only is her ghost very attached to the idea of sticking around, she delights in hiding under piles of leaves, jumping out to scare the neighbors.

His own mother is emotionally distant, as unwilling to deal with the ghost as she was with her son’s illness.  It leaves the young man caught in the middle, trying to come to terms with his emotional estrangement from his family, the fractured sensibilities of his grandmother’s ghost, and the daunting prospect of dealing with his own future.

This tale tackles some pretty difficult ground, the emotional recovery of a survivor, and it does so with clarity and an original approach.  It manages to be both entertaining and to get its point across, and in a way that’s never heavy-handed or preachy.  My hat is off to A. C. Wise.

“The Ferryman’s Toll” by Sam Ferree meanders, like the slow and lazy river the ferryman crosses.  It’s implied the ferryman is Charon, crossing the river Styx, though he claims not to have a name, nor to be the only one who’s done the job.  In the first segment, he’s very busy, as the world empties out, after the apocalypse.  He carries a young man, Janusz, to an unnamed city, the shadow of all cities, neither heaven nor hell, and not Purgatory, either.  There, the young man can wait, and think, and play chess with the ferryman.

After the ferryman drops off a seamstress, he picks up a businessman going back, the other way.  He turns out to be a former ferryman, going back for one last look at the world, before it was gone.  

As the world ends, so, too, does the city.  All the people in it clear out, heading for paradise.  The ferryman takes his friend Janusz over, the last of them, and he returns to his city, one last time.

“The Tale of the Six Monkeys’ Tails” by Hal Duncan is a likeable folk tale.  It tells of six monkey brothers, each striving against the others to prove he was the best.  Their raucousness forced the fire goddess to deal with them, and she granted each one a wish in exchange for his tail.  One monkey became the first of the jotnar, another was turned into a kobald, the third an afrit, followed by an aelven, a human, and a naga, the respective founders of their species.  Each gained great strength and specialization, but in the end, one won out over the others.  I can’t say which one, of course.  I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending.

“The Poincaré Sutra” by Anil Menon delighted me, at least for the first few pages.  It’s written in a disjointed, but wickedly pointed and decidedly amusing fashion, the ramblings of an intelligent sixteen-year-old girl, a Coptic Christian and an Eygptian, dealing with her own sexual nature and her repression under the weight of societal norms, religious strife, violence, and of expectations, her own, and those of others.  

The tale has power and presence.  I’m of the opinion that, had the tidbits, comments and asides been mixed in with more traditional prose, I’d have found this story irresistible.  With nothing but those elements, I found it still interesting, but more difficult to process.  

“Kid Despair in Love” by M. K. Hobson is a testosterone-laden duel between two CEO’s and their respective corporations, people who behave more like mafiosos or gang leaders than like business folk.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps M. K. Hobson has simply stripped away the layers of geniality to display the true nature of the beast.  That’s the name of one of the characters, the Beast.  As the two giants of industry attack one another, traitors and anarchists wait in the wings, plotting for their turn to enjoy the spoils of power.

I’ll admit, this story confounded me.  As I read it, and re-read it, I suspected I was missing something.  It gave me that feeling, like being at the back of a crowded room, blinking as everyone else laughs, when I didn’t get the joke.  Although I can’t say I found the tale funny–I’m not even sure it was meant to be so–that nagging suspicion remains.  You’ll have to judge for yourself.

In “My Father’s Eyes” by E. C. Myers, Ambrose has discovered his lost father, alive, but a devol, more animal than man.  His father was taken by a degenerative disease, Hollander’s, with some of the attributes of Alzheimer’s disease.  It turns people into little more than beasts.  Ambrose learns that his father willingly entered a reservation when he realized he had the disease, and he lives there still.  Though Ambrose had himself tested, and he knew it wasn’t in his future, he chose to visit, becoming one of them, experiencing life as his father now sees it.  

I thought this a well-written story.  It reveals its plot right up front, which I appreciate, and it’s a good length, not carrying things too far.

“An Orange Tree Framed Your Body” by Alex Dally MacFarlane is the tale of a would-be assassin, following in his father’s footsteps, trying to bring down the elite he was born into.  At least, I believe the protagonist is a man.  I’m not all that certain.  

For him, all this thoughts, of his city, his choices, his family, are framed in his memories of oranges and orange trees.  When he’s freed, he wonders if the city can grow into something better.  

This is another of those stories that is more artistic than plot-based, depending on description to evoke image and mood.  The prose is clear, though, and there is a plot wrapped through it.  I didn’t find it to be a tale I really enjoyed, though.  I thought the protagonist too passive, and the ending too vague.

“The Watcher Thorn” by Cheryl Barkauskas is the creepy but compelling tale of Dinah, determined to defend her small cottage and her garden of rather unusual, sentient plants from Walter, who repeatedly visits, asking her to move.  Though they were childhood friends, she doesn’t trust him, and she has no intention of accepting his help, or his offer to move her to another homestead.  It’s only after Walter’s death that Dinah learns the truth, both about Walter, and about the plants in her garden.  

I enjoyed this story.  It was another one I felt no inclination to set aside until I was finished.

“Other Things” by Terence Kuch tells of a child in a world where words can truly wound.  He grows up, falls in love, gets married, becomes governor, kills his wife with words, becomes president, forgets why he ever loved her.  

It’s an interesting idea and the story is mercifully short, but it reads like a bad synopsis.  This one, I think, should have gone back to the drawing board.

“The Dead Boy’s Last Poem” by Kelly Barnhill is another one of those where I have trouble saying, ‘this is about’.  The word ‘about’ implies a plot, and this story just has a series of events.  A girl loves a boy, a poet.  He dies and leaves her his poems.  For a while, they’re sufficient to sustain her, but she moves on.  When she does, she invites her friends over and burns all the poems.  
It’s amusing and well-done, for what it is.  Kelly Barnhill does an excellent job of anthropomorphizing the stacks of paper, of creating the imagery of the soul of the dead poet within the pages.  

Though this is the first Sybil’s Garage I’ve read, overall, I was pleasantly surprised.  There are some excellent stories contained in this volume.

Sybil’s Garage #7 (July 2010)
Edited by Matthew Kressel
Senses Five Press, Tpb, 194 pp., $12