Neo-opsis #9

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"Lumen Essence" by Hayden Trenholm
"Cingulate Gyrus" by Carlos Hernandez
"The Kedari Virus" by Karl El-Koura
"Aces and Eights" by Matthew S. Rotundo
"N0S 4A2" by Legion McRae

"Lumen Essence" by Hayden Trenholm is the first bit of short fiction offered by issue nine of the Canadian science fiction magazine Neo-Opsis. In this story, Captain Willie Lumen has been charged with entertaining Marissa Ianno, the precocious teenage daughter of a wealthy and powerful man. She’s a handful. He’s an old-fashioned space captain of high moral ground. Personalities clash.

Trenholm has teleported the smug and bored attitude of the 21st century teenager into "Lumen Essence," or, at least, a highly exaggerated version. Marissa taunts the older man, insults him, and even makes a pitiful sexual pass. To his credit, Captain Lumen holds his tongue, and libido, in check.

Then things get interesting.

Marissa pulls a teenage stunt and finds herself stranded outside the ship. Captain Lumen attempts a daring space rescue that brings the captain and Marissa closer than they ever could have imagined.

This was a fast-paced and moderately entertaining story. The first half is filled with clichés and stereotypes, but Trenholm cranks up the storytelling in a solidly written escalation, climax, and conclusion.

"Cingulate Gyrus" by Carlos Hernandez describes a "tunnel of love" trip taken by John and Cindy. Except, this tunnel of love has a science fiction twist. Using advanced PET and MRI imaging, the tunnel will supposedly measure how much you love the person you’re taking the ride with. This makes John nervous, and we’re treated to our own ride into John’s worries and fears about his true feelings for Cindy.

Hernandez write this in an interesting, almost stream-of-consciousness style that reads quick, but ultimately, left me flipping through the pages to see how much of the story was left. The examination of John and Cindy’s relationship, meant to hold the interest of the reader in light of the style choice, didn’t work for me.

While not a complete bust of a story overall, as there are moments of cleverness and humor, I found "Cingulate Gyrus" to be a slight disappointment.

"The Kedari Virus" by Karl El-Koura is a story of love, perceived duty, and serendipity. The backdrop of the story is interesting. An enemy alien race, never seen by human eyes, is infecting the galaxy with a virus that essentially turns the infected into zombie-soldiers for their cause. Humanity is locked in a war that it’s quickly losing.

El-Koura builds an interesting premise, only to have his plot let him down.

We meet the protagonist, Lieutenant Brackle, as he’s searching for his wife among the casualties and dead of the latest battle against the aliens. He finds out she has been abducted in the line of duty. In a most unbelievable series of dialogue, the Lieutenant convinces the Captain to allow him to return to the site of battle and search for his wife. Not to save her, but to kill her, so that she doesn’t turn into a zombie-soldier for the enemy.

Brackle and another soldier detailed to accompany him on the search do more than find Brackel’s wife. They discover something that might turn the tide in the battle against the Kedari forces.

Weak dialogue aside, the plot has too many fortunate coincidences. I sense a moral in this story, that doing the honorable thing will pay off in spades, but this was my least favorite of the five works of fiction in the issue.

From spades to "Aces and Eights" by Matthew S. Rotundo, a well-written and sad story about coming to terms with the loss of a best friend. The scene is a poker game, the first among a group of five friends since the death of John.

Things are coasting along at the poker table, in a fair portrayal of how these manly card nights go. Testosterone, beer, and music flow freely. Then one of the friends decides to call a "phantom" game. Each of the five players are dealt their hands and a sixth is dealt that plays against the others until one of the five players wins a hand.

The sixth hand happens to be dealt where John used to sit when he joined his friends. And the phantom hand wins the first go-around with Aces and Eights, the infamous "dead man’s hand."

The phantom hand keeps winning, deal after deal. The friends face their emotions in a real and heart-wrenching manner. I really enjoyed this slightly unusual and melancholy story.

"N0S 4A2" by Legion McRae rounds out the issue. A somewhat jolting, lighthearted read after an emotionally draining piece, it nonetheless works.

Legion McRae, who must have one of the coolest genre bylines in the business, partakes in some heavy wordplay throughout this short work. Dale has a conspiracy theory about his Canadian government. He believes they’re hiding something in the postal zip code of N0S 4A2. So he and a friend go investigate.

I like that McRae gets right into telling his story. There’s no extraneous buildup or character building that would have diluted the effectiveness of his playful prose and plot. Dale figures out the location and goes to postal area N0S 4A2 and finds more than he bargains for. "N0S 4A2" leaves a good taste in the reader’s mouth as he/she finishes the issue.