Farthing, Issue 2, Spring 2006

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Image"The Old Man and the Sneakers" by Ruth Nestvold
"The Slug Planet Messiah" by Joe Murphy
"Panacea" by Steve Vance
"Back Again" by Paul E. Martens
"The Eyes Have It" by Laura J. Underwood
"Reassurance" by Michael Cregan
"The Ties That Bind" by Jackie Kessler
"Bell, Book, and—?" by Barbara Davies
"Armadillo" by Rob D. Rowntree
"Cod Philosophy" by Stephanie Campisi

is a digest-sized publication from across the pond that offers an even mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. In its editorial, Wendy Bradley discusses why so many magazines fail to make it past their first year, but if the quality of fiction in this issue is any indication, Farthing should have no problem whatsoever.

The quirky "The Old Man and the Sneakers" by Ruth Nestvold follows Mr. Jones, also known as "the old man," as his town succumbs to a strange event: dozens of sneakers washing up on the town’s Oregon coast. That’s not the worst of it, as it seems these sneakers are doing things to the people who wear them, causing them to dance in a way that makes Mr. Jones’s face grow red and his chest tight. It’s not until the sneakers take his granddaughter away that he finally decides to do something. But is it too late?

An off-the-wall idea magically brought to life through Nestvold’s vivid characters and peculiar scenes, "The Old Man and the Sneakers" is an apt opening to Farthing‘s second issue. Some readers might be put off by the ambiguity of the sneakers, but I felt that giving them a practical justification would have ruined the effect. The prose sparkles, and the image of three nuns singing sultrily is something I’ll never get out of my head. Well enjoyed and highly recommended.

"The Slug Planet Messiah" by Joe Murphy surprised me. On a strange slug planet, Richey awakes to discover that his girlfriend sold him and his body parts to the alien natives, the Igla. He has been reconstructed, sans stomach, by Mr. Ex who’d like him to steal said girlfriend’s heart, literally, since it used to belong to the doctor. Richey has little choice in the matter, and learns on the way that bigger events are unfolding, namely an apocalypse, due to his sudden reappearance.

At first I was put off by some of the crude humor Murphy used, but as Richey traveled on, I found myself immersed in an eccentric world filled with odd customs, rituals, and aliens. The pacing seemed a little forced, rushing our main character from one place to the next to meet the villain at just the right moment, but that’s the only fault I found in "The Slug Planet Messiah."

In "Panacea" by Steve Vance, bestselling author Ken Parker is preparing to publish his eighth Panacea novel. Each of his seven previous novels have contained some magical snippet of information that changed the world for the better—for example, curing all diseases affecting eyesight. Parker knows that he’s only the medium in the whole scheme of things, as these profound miracles have all been suggested to him by his longtime friend and mentor, Douglas. But exactly who or what is Douglas?

I was engrossed from the start: Vance’s portrayal of Parker’s double-sided feelings regarding fame and money are accomplished with quiet skill, making a couple of comparable references to pop culture along the way. As the exchange between Parker and Douglas escalates, the tension picks up. "Panacea" is one story where you’ll be sad to reach the end. Well recommended.

"Back Again" by Paul E. Martens retains all the wonderful aspects of The 4400 while churning out a light-heartened tale of aliens, politics, and a desire for fame. Roy Bloom, the very first person returned after being abducted by aliens, now works below the President of the United States at the Office of Returnee Assimilation. He was once famous, but with the aliens taking and returning more and more people, he’s faded from the public eye. While scheming up a plan to regain his popularity, Roy is visited by Milton, a man claiming that he is abducted and returned every hour.

Fun, and with just enough detail to keep it believable, "Back Again" is an enjoyable piece of science fiction that leaves itself open for more adventures. Applause must be given to Martens for instating a female president at a time of alien invasion. That’s a future I’m ready to see now, minus the aliens, of course.

Anna, while peeling potatoes for the Laird of Dunlorne’s stew, stumbles upon a talking potato with real eyes in "The Eyes Have It" by Laura J. Underwood. The potato demands to be taken to the local wizard so that it can be restored to its human self, and in return for her assistance, Anna—who would love nothing more than to be out of the kitchen—will be greatly rewarded. 

At first, I found the premise silly, but as it went on, I began to ask many of the same questions that Anna did. Unfortunately, the revelation at the end felt forced, stuck in for its surprise factor. It didn’t have the effect it would have if the story had been longer and Anna a deeper character.

"Reassurance" by Michael Cregan is a conversation about werewolves between a father and his son, Paul. This piece of flash had the potential to evoke a classic storytelling atmosphere, a father passing on a legendary tale to the next generation, but "Reassurance" was ruined by too many adverbs and stiff, unrealistic dialogue.

"The Ties That Bind" by Jackie Kessler is the story of Annalee, a witch who wants to break away from her body and fly. But the price of magic has its costs, and unfortunately she has a bit of a memory problem and her sister just arrived beseeching her to curse the woman her boyfriend cheated on her with. What’s a witch to do?

Though a bit predictable, Kessler’s writing is strong and filled with lush descriptions. The cult-bashing favorite—hexes and witchcraft—is downplayed, allowing Annalee to shine as a person rather than a stereotypical character. "The Ties That Bind" is an entertaining story from start to finish that should appeal to a wide range of readers.

In Barbara Davies‘s "Bell, Book, and—?", the Blue Room in a local hospice has recently shown signs of a pillow-throwing, lamp-shaking poltergeist. The hospice matron, Maureen, takes it upon herself to rid the room of the ghost. There’s a backlist of patients that need care, and a room cannot go to waste.

While well-written, I’m not exactly sure what the point of this story was. Is the reader supposed to find the final scene’s scientific method of dealing with spirits clever, or is the reader supposed to wonder about ghosts? Fans of campfire horror stories will enjoy this, but those yearning for something more out there may want to look elsewhere.

"Armadillo" by Rob D. Rowntree is a good old-fashioned alien romp set in the quiet countryside of Turtleneck City. Hank Bradley’s dog has run away, but that’s the least of his problems. The Beagle 2, an American spaceship, crashed on his property, and the government suits have come to reclaim it. Something strange is happening, Bradley’s wife is getting sicker by the hour, and their dog, Boomer, has yet to return.

Rowntree’s descriptions are chilly, especially the scene involving Hank and the shadowy armadillo, and never fail to hold your attention. The ending, while not the most endearing, works well—anything else and it would have grown tiresome. There’s a hint of H.G. Wells that creates a wonderful atmosphere in a short space.  
To call Stephanie Campisi‘s "Cod Philosophy" a bit fishy would be stating the obvious. This story presents a strange tableau involving Lucas and a fish that begs to be eaten. Readers must stretch their imagination to appreciate what this piece is trying to convey: everyone and everything has a reason to live, even if that something is being someone’s dinner. A fine way to end the issue, but fish lovers can just move along.