“Full Unit Hookup,” edited by Mark Rudolph (who also did the cover art) and Donna Fugate is subtitled “A Magazine of Exceptional Literature.” Personally, I cringe whenever I read the word, “literature.” The child in me wants to cry out, “But I don’t want literature! I want stories!” But I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and review this magazine issue anyway. The poetry and nonfiction articles were humorous and thoughtful. The cover art reminded me of a Rorschach Inkblot test (And no, I’m not telling you what I saw) which left me curious about what sort of psychological environment I had entered.
I just met my future wife on the cover of this issue. Now, if only she were real…
Oh well, adolescent dreaming over. Time to get serious:
In “Robin of the Green” by A.C. Wise, Sir Guy is about to wed Marion. Unfortunately, she and Robin, Guy’s fey friend, fall in love. What at first appears to be a typical love triangle instead becomes a story about the strained friendship between the two heroes and the power of true love. Well worth a read.
“Pavel Petrovich” by Daniel Hood is about a Russian wilderness man sent to a labor camp. He possesses a superstitious belief that tattoos are magic that can change you, make you less human. But is it just superstition? Definitely not your typical prison story. Hood brings life to the character of Pavel, and shows the animal nature in Man.
“Undine” by Catherine Krahe is about two young women. One had her life stolen by a water spirit, and the other had her Olympic dreams taken from her by an auto accident. It is a moving, character-based story that will leave you with conflicting emotions. Krahe’s writing style is fluid, almost poetic, and she manages to shift POV without leaving the reader confused.
In “Sister of the Hedge” by Jim C. Hines, Talia, fleeing from her past, finds refuge at the Church of the Iron Cross, a convent surrounded by the Accursed Hedge that is believed to have been created by evil faeries or the Devil. But can it be possible that the hedge was actually a gift from God? Hines explores the nature of faith, and the ability of dogma to cloud intelligence, in a character-driven fantasy of mystery and internal exploration. His writing is clear and flows smoothly, and his tale is the most enjoyable one so far in this issue.
“A Better Place” by Josh Rountree is the shortest story in this issue. A stranger arrives in a sandstorm and offers to take John Clayton and his friend, Russ, to a heavenly utopia. Russ goes and John stays, but which of the two is truly at a “better” place? A thoughtful tale with a message about life in general, “A Better Place” is worth taking the 10-15 minutes of your time to read.
“Schwarze Madonna and the Sandlewood Knight” by Ruth Nestvold and Jay Lake is a tale of love, loss, and justice. A farmer falls in love with the Black Madonna who is killed before his eyes by the Rose Knight. With an oath to avenge her death, he takes up her sword, names himself Robert the Brown, and begins his quest to hunt down her killer. As he pursues his oath, he attracts a motley group of ghosts, fey, farm boys, and wounded soldiers who call him the Sandalwood Knight. Like the fairy tales of old, this story delivers a powerful moral message about love, chivalry, and understanding the difference between justice and revenge. I couldn’t put this one down until I reached the end, so make sure you eat (or anything else you may need to do) before you start.
“Ice” by Patrice E. Sarath is a contemporary fantasy tale. A permanent winter has settled over a distant city, and only a few of the occupants that fled have returned. Delacour is a hockey player who recently injured his shoulder. After encountering a strange woman named Giselle, his best friend, Albrecht, dies of a heart attack. Delacour is then invited to a ballet in which Giselle is performing. And that’s when things start to get really strange. The story has a solid plot, good characterization, and a somewhat surprising twist. But the beginning dragged a bit. At least the ending didn’t leave me cold.
The Hubble telescope picture of the Eagle Nebula on the cover promises you a sense of agelessness, or timelessness, which appears to be the reoccurring theme in issues of Aeon. The first issue starts off with a column by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, one that all artists seeking to go professional should read. I also like that this ebook uses “100% recycled electrons.” Now to the seven little cosmic gems inside:
“A Mythic Fear of the Sea” by Jay Lake is a coming-of-age story set in what could possibly be described as a future post-technological Dark Age. Ozzie, on his twelfth birthday, is taken by Daddy to meet “Grandaddy.” After reviewing some of Lake’s other stories, I’ve learned to never try to figure out ahead of time what’s going on, and to simply trust that he’ll let you know when you need to. In this story I once again find that trust rewarded. His description of the landscape in the form of “Granddaddy’s” body and clothing is but some of the ways he allows you to peer into the religious/social mindset of Ozzie and the other townsfolk. The plot is well-constructed and leads to a logical conclusion.
“Blood and Verse” by John Meaney hooks you at the start with a 5-line verse. Andrei v’Danshin KaDonnel is a Blood Poet, a poet/assassin who turns death into a beautiful verse. His first commissioned work is to assassinate Queen Rhiannon of Quinvère. Only two things stand in his way: a mysterious “magician” and Shera, an officer of the Royal Guard who he’s in love with. I often dislike stories written in present tense or which “wax poetic,” but this is one of those rare instances in which such styles actually work for the story. And the poetic form only shows where it’s needed. Meaney details an alien world surrounded by two rings of tiny artificial suns, where rainfall has been constant for ten thousand years. You can tell he put much thought into the physics behind this world and its inhabitant’s technology (for science buffs, think Type I civilization living on a planet formerly inhabited by a Type II civilization). This story has everything SF and Fantasy enthusiasts love, including a whopper of an ending. It tends to get pretty cerebral at parts, so readers who prefer straight action/adventure “space operas” might find some of it a little dull. But for hopeless romantics, it’s to die for (no pun intended, of course).
“The Russian Winter” by Holly Wade Matter gives you a day in the life of two gods, Auburn and Balboa, in modern times. Auburn is a serious, hard-working artist while Balboa is a mean-spirited lazy slob. Then enter the poor hapless mortals who end up caught between the two gods’ lovers quarrel. This time-twisting tale left me confused, wondering what the whole point of it was. It reminded me of the movie, Groundhog Day, but without the humor. There is an emotional essence to it, leaving you feeling sorry for Bobbi and her family. The whole “lather-rinse-repeat” effect may have been necessary for the plot, but I think it was overdone. It could be the story has some sort of meaning to it, and I just couldn’t see it. So give the story a try. Maybe you’ll get something I didn’t.
“Lieutenant Rhino loves his F-18” is how “Emerald City Blues” by Stephen R. Boyett begins. Boyett takes you back to Oz where the inhabitants await the return of Dorothy. But it’s not the Oz you remember. This zany satire is full of humor while also acting as an allegory to the negative effects of Pop Culture (his description of the Once-Cowardly Lion made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my seat). On top of that, it also leaves a sobering message about the futility of nuclear warfare. While reading this story, you’ll start off laughing but end up numb.
Sirtot and Utit watches the death of the universe as it’s pulled into a singularity in “Little House on the Accretion Disk” by Gordon Gross. Utit leaves to find out where the universe has gone, leaving Sirtot alone to contemplate whether or not he should join her. It’s a cosmic love story that gives a mythic take on the physics of the universe. The story reminded me of the opening chapter of Tolkien’s Silmarillion except in reverse. Creative and visually imaginative, this one will stay in your head for a while.
In “Talk of Mandrakes” by Gene Wolfe, Earth has become a polluted wasteland where the people are ruled by a Totalitarian State. Deep space expeditions have discovered life on other planets. John Michael Peak, Ph. D. meets with xbiologist Doctor Selim, knowing that such a meeting will make his career. Selim introduces a plant-like alien species with mandrake-like qualities that he refers to as a dryad. The story keeps your interest, giving all the descriptions and explanations you need without any of it getting in the way. Then Wolfe smacks you upside the head with a plot twist that happens so fast you don’t see it coming, yet leaves a logical outcome. Wolfe stirs biology, extraterrestrials, ecology, politics, gender, and sex into a stew destined to make you want to read more.
“Silver Land” by Lori Ann White takes you to the Old West. Jeb Stearns, a Civil War vet haunted by the ghosts of his past, has lost his wife, Hannah. After burying her, he wakes up to find a strange woman, caked in dirt, sleeping in his camp. He discovers that she has amnesia and seeks the “Silver Land,” the name only Hannah called the fields along the Owyhee River. The strange woman’s identity gets revealed little by little as the story progresses, slowly reaching a crescendo that quickens in pace, then surprises you in a fitting way. She captures the essence of the West well with her descriptions. White’s story about death and letting go touches you and holds on.
In “The Man Who Swallowed Mirrors” by Jay Lake and Scott William Carter, Morrie Pincalvo has lost his job and his wife. He sees winning on A New You, an I-Vid contest show for Most Unique Person (i.e. those who’ve radically modified their bodies through cosmetics and genetics), as his last chance to make something of his life. Unlike the other “Modi-Bodies,” he has an edge: his digestive system is a glass-processing reactor. He meets his match with Sandra Kinconnor, a woman in a “cat-suit” that is actually her real skin, fur and all. This suspenseful and humorous story has a plot twist that leaves you shocked and laughing. It takes the whole concept of “Reality TV” to the extreme and exposes it for the absurd idiocy that it is, and its negative effect on popular culture. Read it and learn.
What do you get when you have India and Pakistan on the brink of nuclear war, an old man mourning for his deceased wife, and an alien race sending a message to Earth? You get “Ceasefire” by John Walters. Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, all the big events are seen from the perspective of one man: in this case an old man named David. By the third page I wondered if the story was going anywhere, but then it picked up just as I was about to quit reading. I usually don’t care much for anti-war stories that give an “easy” answer to end all hostilities through technology (like that’ll ever happen), but this story left the pacifist in me dreaming wistfully. But the real meat of the story is in David and what happens to his family, and that is the part worth reading.
In the short-short “Aftermath” by Bruce Holland Rogers, an apocalypse is hinted at (with nothing to state its cause), but the focus of the story is on a married couple in their house. Justine is trying to stay cheery, acting as if nothing happened. Howard is miserable and doesn’t want to be alone. Hmm, I think I found the “literature,” but it’s still worthwhile.
In “The Revolution Will Be Fictionalized” by Ian Donnell Arbuckle, Gregori Egorov and Watta, his chimpanzee assistant, discover a means to artificially fabricate stories on a computer through the use of Pi. A touching story with a twist on the old “Frame Story” technique, it also left me wondering if such a thing is possible. The possibility left me a bit disturbed, for as stated in the story, there is “no such thing as creativity anymore, just discovery.” A near-future scenario that I hope never comes to pass.
“An Examination into the Chinese Made Roman Toga” by Ben Peek starts off by warning you to not trust what is written. While at home, Martin Grook disappears in front of his wife and reappears in the middle of the ocean, only to disappear again five minutes later and end up in London. As he continues to teleport all over the globe and eyewitnesses continue to encounter him, a global social movement is born. This humorous tale leaves you feeling sorry for Martin Grook and thinking about the nature of faith and religion in general. The story is experimentally laid out–the dialogue is not marked by quotation marks and Peek indulges in many of the things you’re told not to do when writing a story, yet he does it in a way that works. But don’t trust what I’ve written here: read the story.
There’s something about words in ancient Greek that gives you a feeling of timelessness and age, and since the word, Aeon, means “An immeasurable period of time,” I was curious whether this PDF issue of Aeon, edited by Marti McKenna and Bridget McKenna, could live up to the promise such a word brings with it. The cover features artwork by Alan M. Clark, titled “Cell Wall with Hormones,” that makes you feel like you’re looking at an alien landscape, a universe inside a universe.
So let’s see what’s in this universe:
After a non-fiction article and editorial (both of which are deserving of a read) the meat of the magazine begins with short story “Garuda Bird” by Tom Doyle. “Princess” Madhu gets visited in her bedroom by the god, Vishnu, who rides the Garuda Bird. Of course, Madhu is not a princess, only the daughter of the Prime Minister; “Vishnu” is just a lonely soldier named Vijay who seeks to declare his love for her in the form of a story, and the “Garuda Bird” is a trans-dimensional flying machine. Together, they weave for each other a grand epic tale reminiscent of the ancient myths combined with near-future technology, an amalgam of ancient and new.
Doyle brings a sense of humor to the story (“Come on, Vijay, this isn’t the Mahabharata. Get a move on.”) that adds to the enjoyment. While the story shifts back and forth between Madhu’s version and Vijay’s, Doyle handled the technique well enough to not make me grit my teeth, and the combination of the two makes the story all the more entertaining. A worthy read for both SF and fantasy enthusiasts.
In “You Will Go On” by Jay Lake, a man falls through an open ceiling inside God’s House to be found and befriended by the Hunt Group, a tribe of humans who live there. There are some points of humor in this touching story about a man determined to finish the work he began, and the plot twist at the end made me slap my forehead. This story will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve read it.
Earth is now inhabited by amphibious aliens in “Henry and the Martha” by Ken Rand, and the human race is no more—except for two who are the star attractions of an exhibit: Henry and Martha. Only Martha is now dead at the hands of an insane Henry. A-nan and E-gar, the two responsible for the care of the humans, must think of some way to fix the situation or be Disposed.
Rand displays a warped sense of humor in this SF tale, but a humor that leaves you pondering the meaning of human nature as well as the ways humans interact with what they consider lesser species. Those who find certain forms of humor distasteful may not enjoy this story, but demented minds like mine will get the punchline.
In “Wallamellon” by Nisi Shawl, four children find four watermelons that are not yet ripe. According to Mercy, the watermelons came from the Blue Lady. But who is this “Blue Lady”? Oneida, the heroine of the tale, may soon find out. Oneida is a smart, curious girl who understands the importance of responsibility and correct grammar, and it is these qualities that make her the perfect heroine to admire no matter your age. The story revolves around a basic truth that many of us tend to forget when we become adults: that magic and childhood are the same, and if you lose the ability see the world with childlike eyes, you lose the magic.
I never read any of Shawl’s work before, and during the first couple pages I was skeptic about whether or not she held the magic to keep my interest. Well, Ms. Shawl, you made this skeptic into a believer.
After a thought-provoking non-fiction article titled “Space Invaders” by Dr. Rob Furey comes “The Wrong End of the Stick” by Jeremy Minton. This story about the cause-and-effect of probability manipulation will leave you laughing long after you finish reading. Minton’s witty style hooks you from the start as the story opens with the protagonist held at gunpoint on his way to his apartment. In addition to the humor, the story also delivers an important message: that success comes less from “good” luck and more from the ability to turn bad luck around to your advantage.
“Angels of War” by Dev Agarwal, is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth following a war with the Salusa: a race created by humans and designed for high intelligence. This novelette of politics and espionage is full of action, suspense, and mystery. It suffers from too much description—way too many destroyed buildings described—and you have to read through two whole pages before anything even happens beyond the protagonist, Fenner, walking from one scene to the next. Once you endure those two pages, however, Agarwal repays your patience with a tale full of twists that leaves the reader guessing what will happen next. Overall, it’s worth a read if you have extra time on your hands.
In “Just Chutney” by E. Sedia, we get to see a brief moment of what Cain’s cursed life is like long after he murdered his brother. While I normally dislike stories where almost nothing happens, this one makes an exception, if only because the “action” is window dressing for the real, emotional, conflict beneath. Sedia explores the theme of regret and sorrow in a way that makes this story a worthy read. Now where’d I set my plate of lamb chops?
This issue of Lenox Avenue promises to be weird. The cover features artwork by Lawrence Northey that looks like something out of the movie Robots (and I highly recommend viewing his “Robots!” art gallery in this issue) and has an enlightening quote from John A. Wheeler. Adrienne Allman is Managing Editor of a talented but quirky team (Don’t believe me? Check out their About Us page). You can blame M. Thomas for the Mechanical Oddities theme in this issue, and as Wade White’s editorial says, “If your mind wasn’t warped before coming here, we trust it will be sufficiently so by the time you leave.”
But do they deliver on the weirdness they promise us? Let’s find out:
In “The Epistemology of Bread” by Lawrence M. Schoen, Crel is a four-slicer toaster, and she (yes, she) is “1600 watts feminine.” But appliances only define gender by language use. She has no sense of time, she only waits until there’s bread, and then she makes it into toast while gaining brief philosophical insights to the nature of the knowledge of bread before she burns it to death.
The story is written in a conversational style that felt a little patronizing after a while. Entertaining in its oddity, but its lack of a plot left me wondering why I should care about what a toaster thinks. However, others might be drawn to such a “slice-of-life” (pun intended) vignette.
“Matilda” by Jon Hansen is about a printer that always prided herself in getting the job done until one day she had a glitch. I found its theme of purpose and the confusion caused by faulty functions touching. The pacing was good, and the writing crisp and clear throughout most of it. Best of all, unlike the last story, this one had a plot—a story worth reading.
David Walton spins a humorous tale with “The Problem of Friction.” Mr. Middleton is frustrated over his wife’s ability to create card castles when he can’t even build a simple house of cards, so he invents the frictiophage: a nanomachine that eliminates friction. This “mad scientist” tale gives the typical warning against messing with the laws of nature, and does so in a way that will at least leave a smile on your face, if not rolling on the floor in a laughter-fest that threatens to burst your sides out. Not the most “original” story, but “originality” is often overestimated.
What do you get when a woman’s electric toothbrush, oven, toaster (what is it with toasters anyway?), and CD player are all haunted by her dead family members? You get a ghost story that makes your eyes cross over called “They’re not Dead until They Stop Talking” by Kate Harrad. And I mean cross over in that “oh my god this is whacked out hysterical” way. Done in first person, Harrad keeps the story flowing with a fast, easy pace. While conversations are hinted at, there is no actual dialogue between characters which detracts from the enjoyment of the story but not by much. Overall, a worthy read with a clever plot twist.
With a title you’d expect on the cover of a manga, “Dutch Boy Roller Coaster Blue 14-F5” by Jay Lake and Jenn Reese meets that expectation. Set in a Post-Rapture apocalyptic near-future, our protagonist works as a gun runner for angels. After an encounter with Christian Identity fanatics that results in the death of an angel, he takes shelter in an abandoned, half-destroyed motel. Then the phone in his room rings, and everything proceeds to get weirder in that manga-style way. The story suffered a little from “Flashback Syndrome” and too much gratuitous language that served no purpose other than to make the character appear “more realistic.” A pity since the story as a whole had great potential with its theme of individual choice.