"All Our Heroes Are Bastards" by Jay Lake
"The Butterflies of Memory" by Ian Watson
"Cure" by Christopher Kenworthy
"The Nature of Stone" by Alexander Glass
"Zoster Searches" by Glen Dennis
TTA's issue 35 starts with a dark, politically charged, ambitious piece of work by Jay Lake called "All Our Heroes Are Bastards." If you believe that John Ashcroft is just the sort of right wing politician who would welcome-even hasten–the apocalypse, then this story will give you a chill. The government is in the hands of the Christian right. Mr. Ashcroft is president and the dead ("Drybacks") have inexplicably risen, reentered society and are vying for power. Instead of trying to control or contain Drybacks, the United States, under Ashcroft's guidance, has embraced them as harbingers of a second coming. Unfortunately, the dead have their own agenda. Lake challenges the Christian view of angles, morality and death in this interesting, complex story and asks the reader to consider for a moment if the messiah of such an age might not be an incestuous Latino slut.
TTA provides a bit of lighter fare in its next offering, "The Butterflies of Memory" by Ian Watson. Telephones or "fones" are smart. People have implants that allow fones to respond instantly and intimately to thoughts. Fones flutter in the air on iridescent wings and personalize themselves to you like pets. The story opens with the protagonist Tom visiting a psychiatrist because he's received correspondence from a friend reminiscing about events of which Tom has no memory. During the session the psychiatrist confides that she's had a similar experience. She's recently separated from her husband (whom she doesn't remember well) because of an affair she doesn't remember having. Fairly quickly they come to believe it's the fones that are interfering with their memories, redistributing them according to some strange "logic of connection." The writing is a tad stiff and the characters flat, but the story had some interesting things to say about how people integrate recovered or false memories, have a tendency toward conspiracy theories and are quite literally being taken over by their phones.
Christopher Kenworthy's "Cure" takes its protagonist, Karen, to Singapore in search of a cure for "shedding"–the ability to transfer emotions onto others. This is a beautifully written story that is weirdly flawed. The reader is told that shedding is an illness; however, Kenworthy presents shedding as a talent or gift much like psychic ability. Audiences take up shed emotions as a sort of recreational drug, and it's implied that this is addictive but the converse is never implied. On the contrary, the shedder enjoys celebrity status and is well paid. This is an illness? At times I felt as if shedding was being used as a metaphor for writing. At other times as a vehicle to ask what's real: how can you trust your feelings if they can be influenced by everything from blood sugar and hormones to someone else's words? Unfortunately, this story also inspired questions that Kenworthy probably didn't intend like, why has this protagonist gone all the way to Singapore for a drug that he implies is readily available to small time criminals on the street at home? Or, how can unrequited love turned vicious be a "cure" for an innate ability?
"The Nature of Stone" by Alexander Glass was absolutely stunning. A homeless girl in an alley accidentally witnesses a crime. In a fit of rage, the crime's perpetrator repeatedly smashes the girl's face against a brick wall. Accidentally and inexplicably, the facial scars from that experience replicate a configuration of power that corresponds to the nature of stone: a mere glimpse of her face will turn you to statuary. The story opens with the girl having become the mysterious, veiled, Mrs. Shaw who makes nightly visits to a surgeon whom she believes is rebuilding her face. Actually, he's accentuating its power…. Glass fills his story with intense visual detail and gorgeous language. It's fascinating, deftly handled and logically consistent. I urge you to track down this issue of TTA just to read this fine piece of work.
In "Zoster Searches" by Glen Dennis, mythology and technology have reached a nexus and the gods are cashing in. Apparently Hermes (god of commerce, invention, cunning and thievery) left a bit of code tucked into our genome eons ago. "Zoster Searches," a company under the umbrella of Morpheus (the god of dreams) Enterprises, has found a way to selectively activate this DNA using a designer herpes zoster virus. Novel receptor proteins are formed at synapses in the brain allowing manipulation of a person's memory and outlook. Zoster Searches is on the cutting edge of society's transition to the mind as a network interface, a step that allows corporations (controlled by Morpheus) to advertise during REM sleep. Talk about pop-ups! The story is told from Albert's point-of-view, a lovesick sod suffering from a shingles outbreak and pining for his Alice (a former socialist) who has recently dumped him for an investment banker. This was a very complicated story that asked a lot of the reader both in terms of prior knowledge (biology, mythology, philosophy, British slang) and in terms of style. Frequently, information was revealed in ways that (I felt) maximized the amount of effort required by the reader to connect dots. I loved it, but it's not going to be for everyone.
Besides the afore mentioned fiction, there was a spiffy interview with John Connolly, some impressive, edgy artwork, insight on Japan, book and cinema reviews, and an essay by China Mieville entitled, "Long Live The New Weird." All in all, a nice issue of The Third Alternative.