Full Unit Hookup, #6, Winter 2004

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"The Golden Ones Who Work Miracles" by John Walters
"Gold" by Bruce Holland Rogers
"Valentine" by Bruce Holland Rogers  
"Fame. Fortune. Adventure." by Jamie Rosen
"Cask Away" by John Trey  
"Canopy Crawlers" by Daniel Braum
"The Dwarf, the Elf, and the Aardvark" by Nigel Read
"Spirits of Sea and Sky" by Jennifer Rachel Baumer

ImageIssue #6 was my first experience with Full Unit Hookup and, overall, I enjoyed it.  FUHU seems to be going for fiction that is quirky and a bit experimental.  This issue gets right to the point, starting with fiction on page one, which I have to respect.  It also contained a few poems, a movie review, and a write up on Clarion.

The first story was "The Golden Ones Who Work Miracles" by John Walters.  I was predisposed to enjoy the piece.  I liked the feel of the title combined with the exotic setting of the Bombay slums.  It's the story of a young, disabled man, Rajiv, who gets what would seem to be his greatest wish.  However, things don't work out as expected.

The story isn't fully in the fantasy or science fiction genre.  The Golden Ones from the title could be supernatural or extraterrestrial in origin.  I liked that Walters isn't more specific.  The story isn't completely successful, though.  Rajiv is passive throughout.  In the beginning, it is a nice touch due to his physical condition.  In the end, after a miraculous physical transformation, he remains passive, and the lack left me disappointed.

The second and third stories, "Gold" and "Valentine," were flash pieces by Bruce Holland Rogers.  I should start out by saying that flash pieces are a hard sell for me.  I usually feel that there isn't enough space in flash fiction to really engage the reader.  Since "Gold" and "Valentine" are by the same author and were presented sequentially, I'm going to combine my review of them.

They illustrate what works, or doesn't work, in such a short form.  "Gold" is a talking head story.  One voice tells a parable about a woodcutter whose body is dropped at his funeral.  When his body hits the ground, it breaks open and gold nuggets fall out.  The second voice's only function is to ask questions that the first voice states are unimportant.  Even though the story is a parable, the lesson is unclear.

"Valentine" was the more successful of the two.  A man wants to gain a measure of atonement for past disinterest toward his ex-wife by giving a valentine to a stranger.  The stranger is meant to be a simple surrogate for the ex-wife.  She fulfills the role to a greater extent than the man had foreseen and confronts him with many questions one would expect the estranged ex-wife to ask.  It works.  It is the most important act of the man's life and he is changed by the encounter.  This type of transformation is missing from "Gold," which makes "Valentine" the superior piece.

"Fame. Fortune. Adventure." by Jamie Rosen felt like one of the old "choose your own adventure" novels my brother used to read when we were kids.  It is told in second person and present tense, which invites the reader to become the protagonist of the story.  It can be difficult to pull off this type of story, and I don't feel Rosen succeeds.  The protagonist is recruited into a party about to go on an adventure.  In spite of the fact that the story is told from my perspective, I was not in touch with the protagonist's emotions.  "I" felt flat and cold, and I was unable to get into the story.  The protagonist is extremely passive, which is emphasized by periodic rapes by the group's leader, Vash.  Members of the party begin to disappear, leaving the protagonist and Vash.  The ending plays out with the protagonist becoming more active, but in an emotionally distant fashion that made me suspect some sort of supernatural possession that is never explained.

"Cask Away" by John Trey is the story of a cabin boy who is accused of contaminating the captain's reserve cask of cognac.  He is lashed to the cask and thrown overboard in the Sargasso Sea.  The tone of the story wobbles between slightly humorous and dead serious, without ever being solidly either.  The narrative is interesting, however, there are a few issues that required clarification.  Armand, the cabin boy, is buffeted by waves even though the Sargasso is an unusually calm stretch of water.  He is also able to eat plankton which I assumed would be difficult to gather by a person lashed to a barrel.  These made it difficult to suspend my disbelief and lessened my enjoyment of the piece. 

"Canopy Crawlers" by Daniel Braum showed promise early on.  The canopy crawlers of the title are a military unit in South America who protect the rainforest from trees that "go bad."  They are named after mythical creatures, also said to protect the forest.  The writing is mostly smooth, with plenty of action and description.  I would have liked to have seen more explanation for the trees going bad.  It seems to be by magical means, and an enemy is mentioned, but there are few details.  I also wondered why the characters, with evidence of the existence of something magical or supernatural, are so skeptical of the mythical canopy crawlers.  The story's end is abrupt and I would have liked more closure.

Nigel Read was going for light comedy with "The Dwarf, the Elf, and the Aardvark."  It uses many of the tropes of the fantasy genre (a blond elf and an axe-wielding dwarf) along with a few from stories about writers, and a Dungeons and Dragons quest.  It doesn't quite achieve the level of comedy that would justify the use of so many stereotypes.  The end falls into indulgent wish fulfillment, which left me dissatisfied. 

The editors of FUHU were obviously saving the best for last.  "Spirits of Sea and Sky" by Jennifer Rachel Baumer starts slowly, but the payoff is definitely worth it.  Brenna Taylor is a breast cancer survivor who discovers a lump in her remaining breast.  Surprisingly, the story does not focus on the treatment of Brenna's cancer, but her reconstructive surgery.  Implants are pressed on her by her doctor, and to some extent, societal expectations of women.  When she comes out of surgery, Brenna discovers her surgeon has decided to pop in larger implants than they discussed.  When she questions the change, the doctor encourages her to get used to them.  This effectively evokes strong anger, putting me squarely on Brenna's side.  She struggles with confusion and embarrassment at the unwanted attention she receives.  The implants don't work out and Brenna goes through a transformation that allows her to escape the control of society and her doctors.  The speculative element in this piece is held until the very end, but it works to good effect.  Baumer has created a sympathetic heroine with a compelling story.