Full Unit Hookup #8 Summer 2006

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"The Lymphatic Rage of Females: A 22nd Century Power Source?" by M. K. Hobson
"Demon Possession Today & How To Be Free" by Jay Lake
"Catfish Face" by T. Bilgen
"And a Song Sprang Up" Toiya K. Finley
"The Dragon Ticket" John Walters
The first story is by M. K. Hobson, and the title alone should give you an idea of its style and content: "The Lymphatic Rage of Females: a 22nd Century Power Source? Presented by Paolo Dorfman (MIT), the 82nd Annual Emerging Resources Conference, Santa Clara University, June 18-22, 2054." At first glance, I thought a technical article had been mislabeled as fiction, but then I realized, "Ah, a humorous piece of fiction disguised as a scholarly dissertation from the future." Such works are often entertaining, but I found this one almost impossible to read with sections like:

Physiologically unable to process the damaging emotions that legislative restriction imposes, females have been exploding into flames at an alarming rate. Minor household fires resulting from the spontaneous ignition of individual female body parts (hands, 21.0%; feet, 14.8%; hair, 3.2%, other, 61%) have increased fourfold since 2049, from 92,029 recorded events to 122,906 recorded events in 2053. Extreme cases of all-consuming rage, resulting in total spontaneous combustion (with fatal outcomes in over 82% of cases) have increased even more alarmingly, from 25,319 recorded events in 2049 to 143,015 this past year.
What, aren’t we men allowed to spontaneously combust as well? Apparently not. I realize this is a spoof on social mores et al., and some of the images are quite funny, but I found my concentration flagging. Not all of it is as densely packed as the above excerpt, but there is much that my eye wanted to skim over. Readers can decide whether they would enjoy this or not. I’ve got a feeling there won’t be many fence straddlers. I’ve liked much of Hobson’s fiction in the past, but unfortunately, I can’t say I liked this one.

"Demon Possession Today & How To Be Free" is a flash piece by the prolific Jay Lake. Written in a combination of first person and second, the Demon of the title begins by telling us why demons today are different from demons of old. What follows is a little jaunt down demon lane. I’ve always been amazed by Jay’s ability to produce so much fine fiction. I remember reading that his goal was to write a short story a week, and he does that by not watching TV, all while still managing time for work, friends, and family. Who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if Jay wrote three of these little flash piece in that particular week when he wisely avoided American Idol

"Catfish Face" by T. Bilgen is a futuristic sports story told in folksy first person by a narrator who isn’t identified until the end. It recounts the story of Catfish Face, the greatest longwall player the sport has ever seen. Possibly the ugliest as well, hence his name. Face, as he’s called, is not much liked by his teammates at first, especially by his chief rival, Eddie Boore. Even when Face proves himself in the sport, Boore is out to get him and hires a prostitute to act as though she has a thing for Face. And when Boore tells Face that it was all a set up, Face attacks him, ending up in prison.

I found this an enjoyable enough tale, although it’s not without its flaws. I guess it doesn’t matter what this longwall sport is, but I never really grasped it. It’s played on a field, and there are terms like "he wintered every takeman on the course," which is enough to make it sound unique and authentic. But I found the ending somewhat lacking. While it gave me a warm feeling, I was expecting more drama. The strongest element of this tale is Catfish Face himself, who you never doubt as a character. I believed in him. He really was the greatest player the sport of longwall had ever known.

Reviewing a slipstream story is often difficult—at least for this reviewer—and Toiya K. Finley’s "And a Song Sprang up" is no exception. Maybe we should develop an empirical rating scale of how strange a given slipstream story makes one feel, but that’s a little silly, so I will try to convey something of the nature of this one. In Nashville, William and his sister, Meia, have noticed that an odd music is rising from the voices of those around them. Grandmomma has been humming too low for her soprano, Daddy’s developed a serenading baritone, and Mrs. Atwater at the beauty parlor, after giving a bizarre discourse on ecology, can be heard singing an odd tune. Eventually Meia has a dream where the rain is streaming down on her with the force of a waterfall, and when she awakens, she has discovered her song as well. But William hasn’t, and he feels at odds with the world.

That’s pretty much the plot without divulging the ending. The POV jumps around, and if you’re looking for a traditional narrative where a character is faced with a difficult problem and tries to overcome it, you won’t find it here. Yet, the imagery is vivid, and I could place myself within each disjointed scene well enough. I feel that surrealistic tales such as these require more than the usual degree of imagination on the reader’s part. Without an energetic plot to pull you along, you really have to take the visual clues on faith and experience them for what they are, hoping something can be culled from the experience. There is much grist for the imagination in this story, if one cares to put forth the effort. I do enjoy this type of fiction from time to time, but it usually leaves me craving more traditional narratives, which have conveyed tales effectively since humankind began telling stories long ago.  After all, there’s a reason they have remained popular.  Having familiar buttons pushed is probably at the heart of it, but tasting a small treat such as this odd tale is pleasant from time to time, and a reminder that fiction can still surprise.

"The Dragon Ticket" by John Walters is the longest story in FUHU #8, and though barely novelette length, it’s almost as long as the other four offerings combined. I found it to be the best story in the issue. 

The dying father of a young woman, Michelle, sends her to Nepal with an indestructible sheet of paper that has a dragon imprinted on it. There, an alien artifact gives her the power to heal, so when she returns to America, her talent proves quite useful when nuclear war breaks out. The artifact, about the size of a basketball, tells her that the healing power would only last for six months, but she is so caught up in ministering to the sick, she’s taken by surprise when the power is suddenly gone. Suffering from radiation sickness herself, she returns to see her father who is also dying, unable to heal him.

While this story isn’t as stylistically brilliant as "And A Song Sprang Up," nor the character of Michelle as well drawn as Catfish Face, the theme makes it the most satisfying of the group. Science fiction has typically been a literature which deals with big themesDune, Hyperion, The Man in the High Castle—and the weight of the narrative resonates well here. My only complaint is that for the first three quarters of the story, Michelle is something of a pawn of the power she’s been given, and it’s not until the end of the story that she finally has a problem that requires a choice on her part. Before she suddenly lost her power, Michelle was a little flat as a character. She didn’t end up that way, but this would have been stronger if she had leaped off the page from the beginning. But the ending was ultimately gratifying, so I’m willing to overlook that.