Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2012 suffering from the poor architecture of the last two e-magazines which I read and posted journals of, where navigation was extremely poor, opening up the latest Fantasy and Science Fiction issue is a pleasure. Right away I'm taken to 'Sections and Articles' where I can see a table of sections and stories in each section. I can see how many words are in each story, I get information about each author, and navigating around is not a pain.

The word tally for this issue is just over 74,000 words. That's a slim to middle sized novel. It's a good value for the dollar. I don't recognize any of the authors. So, let's see if this issue is the equal of the last.

Small Towns, Felicity Shoulders

This story is charming. It's a bit like Tom Thumb in that it's about a little girl who grows to 20 centimetres in height at her tallest. Her mother dies, or is about to die, when she's sent off to her grandparents. Unfortunately, the grandparents have been gone for a long time, and there's no one to receive her.

Coincidentally, there's a man in the village who builds the village as it was prior to being destroyed in miniature. This is the correlation between story and title. When they come together, he's happy to provide her with a home. He builds miniature things for her. But, being all by herself, she is not happy.

In the end, she manages to escape him. His fears, and the fears of her mother, that the villagers would harm her from superstition turns out to be unfounded. However, I'm inclined to think that most people would treat such a person as Satanic or something and do harm to her.

In any case, Felicity Shoulders does a fine job weaving a charming tale.

The Secret of the City of Gold, Ron Goulart

This story is a mystery. Someone, or some people, have been getting themselves killed by jaguars. Out to solve the mystery is one detective Harry Challenge. He himself is attacked by a jaguar of supernatural form.

There has been an expedition to that legendary city of gold in the central American jungles which are legendary. Each of the members of that expedition are being killed by jaguars. A magician that Harry runs into is the first to suggest that they are were-jaguars. As it turns out, there is a magical necklace with pendant that gives its wearer the ability to metamorph into the jaguar.

This is fortunate for Harry, as he's able to get some silver bullets made which are capable of killing the magical beast. He solves the mystery, wounds the murderer so that he might be tried for the murder, and apprehends his co-conspirator.

I have recently watched a number of TV movies called Agatha Christie's Poirot. It's not often I'm all that fond of mysteries. However, those TV movies are so well made, and in such a 60s-70s sort of classic TV style, that I couldn't help but love the series. I don't know how the books themselves measure up. Well, all that is just to say that I didn't feel that the story had developed itself all that well. Towards the end, however, the fat lady sings. I suppose that's meant for some kind of dry humour. Also, when the detective is held up at gun-point by the opera singer who wants the journal which contains the information relevant to the city of gold, he drops it. This distracts her attention, and he strikes her. Classic move that one is. I suppose that's supposed to be funny, too. Is it too dry for me to laugh I wonder.

Umbrella Men, John G. McDaid

In the world, there is a mystical umbrella--actually, there are two of them. One of them brings about evil, while the other, good. The umbrella and its caretakers happen to be in possession of the good one. It's the same one that prevented riots in New York City. It also helped expose Nixon for wiretapping. This is due to the effect of the umbrella.

The umbrella has an intelligence: a quiet intelligence that you can't rush. You just wait for it. The grandfather is dying. It's time for the family to pass it on to the world's next instigator of peace. That person happens to be Palestinian. It seems to suggest that in order for peace in the middle east to germinate, that it needs to be a Palestinian authority who instigates it. I find that questionable.

Alien Land, K. D. Wentworth

This story combines the period of the housing crisis with alien colonization. Aliens from an unknown place in the galaxy have come to earth looking to settle down. Though they have great technology, they have the ability to cross a massive gulf of space, they do not choose to use it to replace the human race. Instead, they decide to take the foreclosed homes which are under the ownership of banks and are uninhabited.

When these aliens redecorate a house, they do so with style. The ceilings aren't just painted, but rather there is a skyscape view, presumably the view they'd had from the planet from which they'd come. They become friends with a group of their neighbours. One particular alien, to be named Gus, decides to visit his neighbours and actually becomes friends with them. They explain that they're looking for a home, and want to be welcomed. They don't want to be hostile. Over time, they expose their psychic abilities (they share memories), their ability to dematerialize and materialize themselves, objects, and other people, using thought.

Eventually, they are rounded up, and they allow themselves to be rounded up, by the military. The housewives, having lost their friend, decide to try and find them and to help them. It occurs to them that they only need gold, silver, and platinum in order to be accepted into the neighbourhoods. They materialize these metals in great quantities, and it's suggested that this will be enough to win the hearts of the bankers and all those others who value material wealth.

The story is entertaining and well written, if not a bit shallow. But, it's been awhile since I've been staggered by something profound. Maybe after I've read this magazine, it'll be time for me to pick up something more substantial.

Mindbender, Albert E. Cowdrey

In Russia, there were numerous scientific inquiries into the possibility of psychic ability. In the world created by Cowdrey, there was some success. In particular, one man had the ability to read Vladimir Putin's mind. Cowdrey doesn't explicitly name the president, but he certainly described him. He did name Obama.

In any case, the mind reader reports what he reads from the Russian presidents mind. When the Russian president manages to discover what it is that the spy has written, he wants to kill him. Of course, being a mind reader, Milo (the mind reader) escapes to the US in return for protection.

While in the US, he manages to get quite a bit of protection. Not only did this come from the FBI, but more surprisingly, from the town in which he is put. He lives in a hick town in a double wide trailer park. Everyone knows the name of everyone's dog and cat in that town. So, when strangers start poking around who in reality are there to assassinate Milo, they know about it. They catch them. They then kill them.

Ultimately, a particularly good assassin arises. He also has telepathic powers. However, these powers are hypnotic or something like that. He is able to tell people, using telepathic powers, what to do and who to kill. He very nearly manages to get his target, but ultimately fails.

His love interest ends up being more dangerous to Milo than the assassins, as she's the one who nearly kills him with his own gun. The relationship is a good comical relief to the story. She's got six kids, very nearly all of which come from different fathers. Nonetheless, he takes on them all. Even after she tries to kill him, he isn't ready to give up on her.

It's a somewhat funny and enjoyable story.

The Color Least Used by Nature, Ted Kosmatka

This story is set on an island called Hiwiloa. The closest I came to a hit on that name was 'Hawaiiloa.' I don't know if that's a coincidence. The whole story I simply felt was basically set in the Hawaiian islands. This was because of the description of the islands.

The main character, Kuwa'i, is a man who begins life at the end of an era: the isolated island is no longer isolated. People have come to the island from abroad. Throughout his life, this trend continues.

The title of the story is kind of funny, and the premise as well. In the story, Kuwa'i's father says that the gods made the ocean blue because that was the only colour left from the gods' palette. Of course, I think there's more blue spent on nature's canvas than any other colour: It's the colour of the sea and the water, and also of the sky above which stretches on forever. But, blue is a rare colour in terms of things on land.

In any case, Kuwa'i's character is that of a talented ship builder. His life is filled with love and loss. He is not really a thinking man. His emotions rule him. His anger eats him up when his child dies. He kills the man who assaults the woman he loves. The reason for the assault on his love interest is for cuckolding him. The child that was borne from one of those relationships will be the very man who will later kill Kuwa'i.

In the end, his son from a different woman, decides to do what he could not: leave the island with his love interest. He steals the greatest boat that Kuwa'i had ever built. However, this was going to be done by the man known as the 'administrator,' in any event. It is not explicit, but I believe it is implied that Kuwa'i is happy when he catches the last glimpse of his son and his son's love interest escaping into the horizon with his boat. This satisfaction seems to comfort him as he's being murdered for allowing his son to escape with the boat that the administrator had wanted.

The story was well told. It reminded me of a book by Chinua Achebe called "Things Fall Apart." Not that the setting or anything like that has much similarity. But rather that one character of a somewhat wild character is brought through the metamorphosis of the world in which he lives.

Maxwell's Demon, Ken Liu

Racism, prejudice, have been dirty words for a long time. Though, these days, it seems to be less dirty to me. I see them both all the time. Maybe it's because I'm in a relatively xenophobic culture. I was raised in Canada, which claims to be tolerant of other cultures. However, over-and-over I see evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it is worse in other countries. Certainly, the times I've shown an image of a black person in a classroom only to hear the Korean children call out how ugly the person is, or, in their words, 'Ewwwe!' They openly teach children to hate Japanese people by disguising it in history. In Canadian schools, they do a similar thing using Nazi Germany.

In WWII, Canada and the US put thousands of Asians in concentration camps. We stole their worldly possessions, and put them in prisons for being Asians. It wasn't just the Japanese, with whom we were at war, who were sent to prisons for being Japanese. But there were also the Chinese. For a little history: if not for the Chinese, Canada would not exist at all. Building the railroad coast-to-coast was necessary for confederation. It was a contract between provinces and the federal government. If there had been no railroad, there would have been no Canada. Building the railroad through British Columbia was extremely dangerous. Indeed, there is an expression that says that there is one dead Chinaman for every kilometer of railroad through BC. Their hard work brought the country together. And, how did Canada repay that sacrifice? They were put into concentration camps, despite the fact that China was also at war with Japan.

Well, this story starts off with a Japanese family in an American concentration camp. An intelligent girl is threatened by one of the keepers that if she does not help them as a spy in Japan, her family would be treated like traitors to the country. She accepts her mission after some coercion in order to protect her family. While she is in Japan, she discovers that she has a spiritual link to Okinawa. She can commune with the spirits. The Japanese scientist in charge of the research in Okinawa tells her that she needs to have those spirits separate cold atoms from hot ones. In essence, creating an engine that requires no energy.

She does what she is told, and reports her situation to the Americans. However, towards the end, as Japan is losing the battle in Okinawa, she manages to escape to the American military. However, they mistaking her for a Japanese citizen, shoot her.

This story brings some attention to the horrors of war, the terrible way in which Asians were treated in America. These are good things. The story is well told and enjoyable.

Scrap Dragon, Naomi Kritzer

This story is like a bedtime story told by a parent to a child off the top of her head. The child interrupts at certain parts to object to something--ie., dragons are not all bad. or, the princess can't die., or the princess shouldn't have to marry the rescuer. In essence, it's a modified princess and dragon story made politically correct.

I am not particularly fond of this story. It was not all that well told. At best, it might be seen as a critical look into the princess/dragon story. But, it's neither entertaining nor all that academic (which is what I expect from a critical look into literature.)

In the Trenches, Michael Alexander

This is the second story set in a world war. The second was set in WWII, this one is in WWI.

The perspective is from that of a Nazi German soldier. He is not a bad guy. He's a soldier, much like any soldier on the front line. It is going very badly for him. He's out of food. He hasn't had a rest in years. He cannot remember the last time he had bathed. Soon, the war will be lost entirely.

His position in the trenches is about to be compromised. They are being bombarded. When they are hit, he tries to kill a rat. Apparently he hates rats. They come out from everywhere and bite everything when that happens. In trying to hit one, he actually hits a kobold. The kobold actually saves the narrator and brings him face-to-face with a French enemy. However, instead of killing his enemy, they quickly become friends deep within the kobold tunnels. The Frenchman, however, is dying.

They share some food, have a conversation, then the Frenchman dies. The narrator is offered the ability to become a kobold, and immortal, but he does not like the idea. So, he returns to the surface. There, he sees his old friend, grinning at him, but he does not realize that his friend is dead.

This story explores the aspect of war where the people, most of them at least, who are responsible for the war, are not in the trenches fighting. Those who are fighting are more likely to be friends than enemies. I don't know how true that is. The people of Germany were pretty enthusiastic about their war. I'm sure that there were many on both sides who would see just their bloodlust. But, one never knows. In the world of fantasy and kobolds, perhaps it's not so simple.

Canto MCML, Lewis Shiner

I'm not really sure what this story is doing in this magazine. It seems like nothing more than an ex-girlfriend sending strange messages to a current girlfriend. The boyfriend talks to the ex-girlfriend and gets her to move on. If there's something more to it than that, then please let me know.

I really don't know what it's doing in this issue. It just doesn't seem like either fantasy or science fiction.


This issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction is good. But, it's not as good as the last one. There were no novellas in this. Just a number of novelettes and short stories. Some of the stories were good, but I think they should have had a novella in it. After suffering from several magazines which were terrible to navigate in, I really appreciate what they've done with this magazine. Perhaps in the world of paper magazines, such things are not so important. But in a digital rag, it's really important. The bad ones really make you appreciate the good ones.
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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bards and Sages Quarterly, October 2011 is another magazine or collection of short stories which I found on In this collection are 17 short stories. Now, when I downloaded it, the title of the quarterly kind of led me to believe that this would be a magazine filled with stories of magic and witch craft. A quick browse amongst Google's search results reveals that this magazine is after 'speculative fiction.'

Courtesy of, which is, thankfully, back up and running, speculative fiction is "an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion, and virtual arts." Apparently this is information gleaned from Margaret Atwood. So, that is quite a variety of different genres mixed into one.

This magazine suffers from the same formatting problem as Beat to a Pulp: Hard Boiled. You cannot tab quickly between the stories. This is something that I find, over-and-over, is just enough to render a mediocre-good bit of reading entirely unpleasant enough to navigate through that one wishes he or she had never purchased it in the first place, regardless of the quality of the stories within.

Having dipped my toe, so to speak, into the magazine, I can honestly say that this is neither Kansas nor Oz nor any other fantastical place. There be zombies! "Zombie prostitutes give the worst blowjobs..." greets me on the third 'page' of my ebook. No, this is definitely not in the neighbourhood of the great and esteemed J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. This is somewhere entirely different.

Breakfast, Ben Godby

This first story, my toe dipping so to speak, is basically the zombie story inside of a hospital told from the perspective of a zombie. Reminds me of my own zombie tale. It's an attempt at dark humour. The zombie who is telling the tale doesn't realize he's a zombie.

He's locked up inside of a hospital with his friend. One remarks that the other looks terrible. The other agrees and says that the narrator looks awful. They try to escape the hospital, but it's been barred up. The narrator believes it's to save them from zombies that are trying to get in from the outside, but in reality they're being kept inside.

Although we had a small clue that the narrator was a zombie, it becomes confirmed when they begin to dine on the remains of the dead in that room.

A soldier and a nurse run into them. While the soldier is able to rekill the narrator's friend, the narrator himself manages to kill and consume the brains of the soldier while the nurse runs off screaming.

The Moon and Her Mother, Douglas T. Vale

This very short tale, a single paragraph in fact, reminds me of the type of story that might belong in a classic fairy tale collection like from the brothers Grimm. It's just a story where the moon becomes personified. The moon constantly changes, and despite the requests of the moon to her mother to make for her a dress, the mother simply cannot since the moon keeps changing sizes so much.

Gingerbread Delirium, Julia K. Patt

This story carries on where "Hansel and Gretel" leaves off. Where the witch was about to eat the children, but the children escape, they do not escape with all of their wits and souls.

The sister becomes a baker. There are many customers. But, these customers are children who are loud and obnoxious. After a short while, she simply wants to eat them. Her brother, on the other hand, cannot eat any more. He grows thin, he loses his hair. Finally, his sister puts him into a cage and bakes a cake for him. She yells at him to eat, and he complains, "You sound just like her." In essence, she has become the witch.

The Eyes of Illiat, Shawn White

I went searching around for the significance of the name Illiat, but I could not find much other than mention of a village in France of the same name.

The setting is a tavern, perhaps several centuries ago. In one corner, a teenaged boy named Garann sweeps and cleans, in the other and sitting at a table, a wealthy poet named Andore. Andore is depressed. There is a girl whom he loves, adores, and worships. However, when trying to pen a poem as a testament to the girl, Illiat, he fails. Thus, he is getting himself drunk on expensive wine.

Misery loves company, but the other patrons of the pub have all given him space as if he'd suffered from leprosy. The only one interested in him is Garann. Drinking together, the poet tells voices the muse to his depression.

Wilber and Samantha, Geoffrey C. Porter

Two murderers met in a bar. Samantha had just finished killing her very large husband and is enlisting the help of a man who is also in the habit of killing his wives. Thus, they are like the black widow and black widower together.

She's just murdered her husband. She needs help cutting him up into pieces to get rid of him. Of course, it's a little silly, since tracking down a serial killer, or a pair of them, who only kills spouses would have to be easy to do even for the RCMP. However, that doesn't happen. Of course, she does mention the fact that maybe he chose his name. She wonders why he didn't choose a better name than Wilber. Perhaps that means he's gone by many names, as has she.

In any case, Wilber helps her cut up the body into disposable pieces.

There does seem to be quite a variety of stories in Bards and Sages Quarterly. So far I have seen horror and fantasy/fairy tales. This one reminded me of the noir fiction I read just recently in Beat to a Pulp Fiction: Hard Boiled. The detailed gore and care-free murder seemed to fit that profile.

Bata Scoir, Kathy L. Brown

A long time ago, Ireland spoke more Irish than English. That was a long time ago, I believe. Well, this story is written in the time before that metamorphosis into an Anglophonic island. It goes into the classroom within that nation and a particular classroom.

Master Enoch, as he's called, uses the old stick to turn his rowdy students into complacent and obedient students. The tale takes us to one particular day when a particularly strange girl happens to join the class. She speaks the old Gaelic. She's got slightly blue skin. The other students are very careful with her, and give her a wide berth. The teacher is not superstitious. However, this is his undoing.

As he tries to walk to his home, he is swallowed up by a very thick fog which entirely obscures the road ahead. He calls out for some kind of guidance, but only hears the clacking of sticks. He follows that sound, but it leads him to the edge of a cliff, and then past the edge where we are to assume he falls to his death. I suppose he didn't have a walking stick.

The occult and fairy tale seem to be emerging as common themes within Bards and Sages Quarterly.

A Thanksgiving Tale, Spencer Koelle

This story is another exploration into the mythology of folklore and brings it to life in a sort of modern way. It is modern because the title is 'Thanksgiving.' Tammy Knocker, the protagonist, is a miner. She's in a cobalt mine with a guy named Timothy when there's a partial collapse of the mine. As a result, Timothy is nearly killed, but also in grave danger of dying.

Tammy herself is rescued by a supernatural creature which saves her and guides her out of her predicament. At the end, she swears that she will sacrifice more wine in thanks for the help. I can't help but think that such miracles are decried by the theists. That it's a snake rather than an angel is merely a matter of expectation in the illusion caused by the traumatic experience.

One Man's Famine, Douglas J Lane

This story follows along the line of 'post apocalyptic' genre mentioned in the definition provided by Wikipedia. The world has virtually come to an end. There is no real explanation. In fact, the people who no longer live in the world for the most part have mysteriously vanished. It is mysterious until the end of the piece when one man clubs another for his meat. Cannibalism is the only way for men to feed themselves.

There is no mention of whether there was a war or plague or any other such thing. It does seem to implicate that cannibalism is a fad that takes hold of the population, but in a quiet secretive way so that it was not evident to the character whose limited third person narrative we follow.

Games Gods Play, Devyani Borade 

This is a kind of cute mythology behind the creation of the universe, the battle between good and evil, and various other elements which make up existence as we know it on earth.

The author tries to use some of the King James English, but is not consistent, and she makes a few mistakes. Perhaps the editor isn't particularly familiar with the grammar of this particular epoch. It detracts mildly from the tale.

This "Genesis" is a somewhat entertaining mixture of pagan and Christian motifs. The entire story is about the moon, it turns out. It is an explanation for solar and lunar eclipses. Fairy tales invented to explain natural phenomena can be quite interesting.

Dessert, Ellis Bergstresser

It's not entirely clear what kind of world this story is set in. Bergstresser only exposes the reader to a sliver of it.

There are two classes revealed: the many poor who live in the terrible heat of a desert, and the other which has its creature comfort.

Where on one side, the tables are full of extravagant dishes, infinite bottles of champagne, fans and gentle mist of water meant to lower the temperature contrast with the growing slums. The elite of this group discuss how to rid themselves of the poor. One suggestion is made that a war could be arranged with a neighbour, and that in this way they could have many of the poor killed.

In the ghetto, close enough to be within earshot of the conversations, is Mai. She is a servant. She had lost her son. When she had found this out, as she was in the presence of the aristocrats, she let out a sound which angered her superiors. She promises to apologize to them. Fortunately for her, the ice cream which she made was popular, and it's believed that her apology will be accepted.

You don't need the story to be set in some science fiction or post apocalyptic or semi-post-apocalyptic setting. There are places around the world where just such a scene could possibly exist: contrast wealth with poor. Those who have everything with those who have nothing.

Utter Fail, Billy Wong

A woman or girl is interested in a magical medic. To get his attention, she pretends that a small wound is a large wound. A consequence of this is that Ike, the magical medic, can only cast this spell every so often. So, when an elder comes in who is really dying, he cannot help.

Perhaps there's supposed to be a lesson here: don't fake a great hurt to get the attention of a magical medic because he can only cast so many spells at a time.

Quick Fix, Gitte Christensen

This story's characters are some kind of hyper advanced culture. They have landed on a rocky planet with too much gravitation for their ships to escape. To escape the gravity, the cadet in training is told to figure out a way to escape. Their bodies are like vaporous gases. Time is almost irrelevant to them. When they watch the life cycles of animals and plants, their growth and destruction happens within moments. The cadet comes up with the idea of using gases to cool down the planet to allow them to escape. He comes up with the idea of cooling the planet down so that it's more like home. This will allow the ship's environmental controls to conserve energy so that they might lift off the planet.

The idea to work will require a few hundred thousand years. But this idea is said to be 'a swift and elegant solution.' The consequence is that many inhabitants of the planet will die. 'many of the native solids will cease to metabolize...'

The normal method for taking off of a rocky planet is to 'blow it up and ride the shock waves back into space.' The sensitivity to substantial creatures is derided. Of course, this is pseudo earth history: a story created to explain the ice age.

We'll All Be in the Arms of Our True Loves Before Long, A.J. Sweeney

This story is written in the form of a diary that is found. The diary speaks about a woman who appears to a doctor. He goes in search of her and finds her frozen. Gone madly in love with her, he does what he can to bring her back to life. He even tries to infuse his own blood into her body, but this fails. All he does is die trying to give her his blood.

When his colleague goes to his house, he discovers a room that was prepared for the woman as though she would have been revived.

There is one thing that kind of detracts from this story. It's told in first person. Many beginning writers have a problem with using 'I' too much throughout their first person stories. This story suffers from that. For every sentence, there seems to be an average of one 'I'. I am surprised that such a story wouldn't have been revised until that problem was taken care of.

Tintinnabulation, Jacob Edwards

This story seems to be a modern reinvention of the Perseus and Andromeda. But the main character is named Percy. Andromeda is never named, and is referred to only as Cassiopeia's daughter. She is chained to a rock, awaiting a monster in the sea. Unfortunately, the sea is polluted by nuclear toxic waste. Percy does have a cheetah, however, whom he instructs certain instructions.

He fails to rescue the girl. So, recalling the instructions, 'Let no sea monster have its way with the girl.' He therefore instructs his cat to kill and eat the girl.

Hence, it is a fusion between the modern problem of pollution as well as the mythology of certain characters in Ancient Greece.

Discrete, Kyle H. Patrick

Dr. Chambers is going to get a divorce. His wife is going to leave him between the time he went to work and the time he goes back home. He's seen it coming, his wife's leaving. He just didn't know the hour. He discloses his sadness to his AI, an artificially intelligent secretary.

While he is at his house discovering that his wife had finally left him, he is called back to the office. His AI has caught a bug, they think. She declares that numbers are not infinite, and that she has found where they end. For this reason, her program is purged.

The AI is afraid, thinking about death perhaps. She asks if the doctor believes in God. Perhaps suggesting that she knows her death is near and hopeful that she will be preserved by an afterlife.

The story ends in, "Love. Is. Forever." This, perhaps, is supposed to contrast with the idea that numbers are infinite, but then maybe they're not and she was right. Of course, she's in a network of AIs trying to solve for prime numbers. So, if she came to this conclusion and she was functioning properly, then the other AIs ought to come to the same conclusion. If however she was malfunctioning, and perhaps feeling emotions, then that's something different. If in feeling emotions it is considered a malfunction, perhaps we might read something else into it. That is to say, is emotion and feeling a malfunction?

For a Price, Sandra M. Odell

It appears that someone has died. The man who inherits the family fortune takes the family fortune to auction. What's for sale isn't a piece of art or music, an object or a property, but a thought. An intellectual property of sorts, but not like a copyright or a patent. It's a thought.

At one point it's referred to as "Uncle Emitri's creative soul..." The niece who seems to have really loved her uncle tries to save the valued creative thoughts of her uncle. It is unknown at the end whether the auctioneer will accept her bid (which is lower than the highest) or leave it to the higher bid.

It's an interesting play on the idea of intellectual property.


I think there could be an argument for a subscription to this magazine. There are some interesting ideas which are written about. The lengths of the stories are all very short. It does not have the same value for the buck that either Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine or Fantasy and Science Fiction has. I think if there was a subscription option for 99 cents per issue or $5 per year with better formatting, I'd probably subscribe. I think it's a bit expensive per collection, but it's not that bad. It is 17 short stories. Some of them are only a page or so long. None of them are novelettes or novellas. I couldn't say how many words there are in the entire magazine. There's no information. It's also bare of information about the authors.

Another thing to mention is that there are several portions intermittent three times throughout the quarterly with book synopses. I don't think these synopses are very useful in determining whether these sections are good for determining whether or not I'd want to purchase the books listed. They don't give a review. No one has read them. They're more like ads. On the plus side, several of them lead to inexpensive ebooks. This is something that I believe the veteran magazines (SFF or Asimov) ought to do. The information is simply lacking that would make one be tempted by those books.

So, to sum-up, I don't think this magazine is a great buy. They need to revamp the layout. Also, would have been nice to see the artwork which I suspect is in the paper bound version. There's a lot of room for improvement before it's worth $2.99 per issue.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beat to a Pulp, October 2011 found this one available freely on Amazon, thanks to the site The cover has a woman in a skirt with a brown bag over her head. She's tied to a chair. Well, that got my attention quickly enough. It's one of those short story magazines that I have taken to in the last six months or so. The allure of the erotic cover as well as the promise of alternative fiction, something not quite in the norm, hides a major problem: regardless of the quality of material in the magazine itself, formatting for the Kindle is terrible. There is no formatting at all. If there is a table of contents, I haven't seen it. It certainly cannot be navigated to by selecting 'menu'. Individual stories cannot be tabbed to, as they were not formatted properly. For this reason and this reason alone, I wouldn't pay a nickle for it. The fiction inside could be really great. But great food served on a garbage can lid isn't very appealing unless you're a tom cat.

That said, having read the first story, "The Tachibana Hustle" before writing this introduction to the magazine, I can honestly say that the fiction does deliver an alternative experience to what I'm used to reading. I don't know if good fiction will rescue this magazine from the sphincter of my opinion of it as a product. But, surely it's easier to find someone who can format a magazine well than it is to find someone who can write an interesting story.

The Tachibana Hustle, Garnett Elliott

There's not much information--at least not much easily found in the top 100 search results on Google--about Garnett Elliott. At the end of the story, there's the mention that he's got stories on the verge of being published in Hitchcock Magazine as well as several other publications that I haven't heard of. Though, I'm definitely not suggesting that I'm an expert on what's available in the world today.

Essentially, we're taken into the underground world of Japan. Pachinko has suddenly been replaced by a new game, and one of the crime bosses who owns a pachinko outlet is trying to get his hands on it. He sends his thugs out to try and get his business back. Unfortunately for him, most of his thugs have left him. His remaining, loyal thugs get the tar beat out of them the first time round. The second time, they go off to try to steal a truck full of the games. However, they fail at that. In the end, the run a restaurant, the three of them together. It's a sort of comical ending to the dark tale.

I like the fact that this story is something of a deviation from what I usually read. Or is it really? I think maybe I want to like it. I want to find something different and like it. That might be making me give this story a slightly better review than it deserves.

A Small Thing at the Devil's Punchbowl, Kent Gowran

Kent Gowran has his own blog here at At the top of the Google search there are also other references to his stories online by other bloggers.

This story is written in first person. I'm not sure if this is a personal mission or a professional mission. The story is basically about a man hunt. On the trail to apprehend a murderer, the protagonist, Ray Perkins, meets some people who know his target, Jeb Romweber. The lady, Amber Karch, he meets ends up being a serious fling/love interest. She's the one who leads him to his target. When Jeb is discovered, it's at a freak show circus as a shrunken head inside of a bird cage. They decide to hit the road with the skull to deliver it to Jeb's mother.

I am not sure what I expected from this magazine. This story isn't bad. I guess it's good. But I didn't get a lot out of it.

Obstruction, Glenn Gray

The scene is set in a morgue where an autopsy is being performed. The deceased is a drug runner who had ingested heroin. Unfortunately for him, one of the capsules ruptured. As a consequence, the man overdoses. The author takes some time to describe the setting, and in particular he pays special attention to the dissection of the cadaver.

While he's doing so, they get a visitor. The visitors want the heroin. They're packing guns. The assistant tries several times to subdue the raiders, but gets knocked around a few times for his efforts. In the end, though, he manages to kill one of the intruders.

The doctor's assistant is Hispanic. As a result, his dialogue is the stereotypical example of a Mexican with a modest command of the English language. Furthermore, he sounds a bit stupid. He's thinking more about sex and salsa dancing than he is about the job at hand. I find this treatment of this character to be indicitive of a racist attitude towards Hispanic people.

For some reason, the assistant is determined to stop the guys from stealing their heroin. Why he's willing to risk his life for it is never answered. The doctor is cooler, more composed. He waits for his opportunity rather than blindly launching himself at the gun wielding heister.

The stereotypes definitely detract from the story.

The Death Fantastique, John Hornor Jacobs
John Hornor has a nice little webpage:

This story has sex and violence. Some sex and a lot of violence. It starts with sex. The main character, Efram, is having sex with a hooker when we meet him. She's got a tattoo that says 'le morte fantastique.' I guess that's where he got the title from. But why he wrote death in English but fantastic in French I cannot quite figure out. In any case, she's going to cause a lot of trouble for him. She asks him why he's there and he says that he's got some stolen goods rather than the brick of cocain which he actually has. Either way, perhaps not the brightest thing to do: confess to having stolen property.

When they go out, she sees her pimp while he's drinking. She tells the pimp everything. She beats her up a bit. When she goes back to the motel to seduce Efram. While he's asleep, she lets in her pimp, who then hits him so hard that he destroys his eye in the socket. But, the violence doesn't end there. As Jay-Jay, the pimp, is taking Efram out to kill him, Efram turns the tables and kills Jay-Jay. When he returns to his room, he finds Melissa, the hooker, overdosed on the floor from all the cocain she snorted.

So, I am beginning to piece together the type of story which this type of magazine hosts: it's always violent, and thus far, more often than not, that violence is related to drugs. "The Tachibana Hustle" is not like that, but the others all have drugs in their plotlines.

Ric with No K, Patricia Abbott

There are many Patricia Abbotts within the first ten search results on Google. Just one seems to pertain to the author. She's got a page on Crime Space.

OK, so, straight out, I have to say that this story had nothing to do with drugs. There was a mention of sex, but not really.

This story has its main character as a young girl, 15 years old, in foster care. Why is she in foster care? Her mother is in the hospital because the house (trailer?) burnt down. Why did it burn down? Presumably it was a murder: her boyfriend did it. Ric, said to be 25 when they met, hooks up with her. It's unknown her age when they ultimately met.

Jessie gets her hands on about $10k and decides to invest it in Ric's venture, which presumably falls flat and was the motive for burning down the home. He ends up getting sentenced. I'm not sure if it's for having sex with a minor or for burning down and nearly killing her mother Jessie. Leaving it up in the air is not a bad tactic, as it does make the reader wonder at the end of the text.

Black-Eyed Susan, Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck seems to have seeral credits to his name, including a 1st place Bullet Award, whatever that is. The writer has his own webpage, pluckyoutoo. On the splash page is some older gent holding a gun up while sitting behind the wheel of what's got to be a 30 or 40 year old car.

"What do ya tell a woman with two black eyes?...Nothin'! You done told her twice already!" That's how this story opens. The main character is a bartender. He's new to the area. He's posing as a bartender. There's one particular customer he's after, and after he gets that customer he introduces him to Katie, who sports two black eyes, given to her by the guy who told the joke. She's holding a shovel, and beats him across the head with it. Then he's presumably buried alive. So, the joke's on Jed, "What do you say to a woman with two black eyes? When she's my kin, you beg her to shoot, so you don't get buried alive."

OK, that one had nothing to do with drugs. But, this other theme does seem to raise its head often enough: the revenge theme. Yes, and it's violent. There's a bit of sex in it. Well, the unfulfilled promise of sex at least. There is a dark bit of humour to this one. I kind of like it. I did laugh... a dark and evil laugh.

The Blooming of Lester, Brad Green

Brad Green has an 'about' webpage which is just a splash, but here it is:

I'm not really sure what I got here. This is a tale of revenge. There's the one act of revenge that fails. The second doesn't. One brother tire iron's the other in the head, the other harvests organs for profit.

So, lots of blood and gore, violence, and, revenge. No sex this time except for the mention of a thigh and an odd description of a breast.

The Janitor, Ron Earl Phillips

Ron Earl has his own website at

This time it's not a Ric without the K, but a Nic without the K. You'd almost believe that this story was written by the same guy. Or, maybe the publisher of this magazine just doesn't like that letter. In any case, this is the story of a special type of janitor: they clean up after gruesome murders and such. One of his employees has gone missing. In an effort to find out what had happened to that employee, he discovers that he has gone missing. 

By breaking into the neighbour's house and threatening violence, he manages to discover that some kind of crime boss has taken his employee by mistake. The boss had actually meant to capture the drug addict. Hoping to exchange the one for the other, he hauls him out to the boss's headquarters, where he discovers his employee has been released. He's then given a lot of cash by way of a apology for the mistake.

Vengeance on the 18th, David Cranmer

David Cranmer is the editor of this magazine's fanzine and he has his own website,

Truman, the name of the main charactedr in this story, believes his friend and wife are cheating on him. To avenge himself, he kills his friend brutally with a pick axe. Graphically, the murder weapon has 'dripping specks of brain.'

Unfortunately for Truman, the truth was that it was the wives who were having the affair, and not his best friend and wife. What's the moral of this story: Assumptions make asses of us all.

Again, lots of violence. A little bit of sex is there, too.

Second Round Dive, Benoit Lelievre

At the conclusion of most of these stories, there's a little blurb about the author with a website address. Even if it's an 'about me' page, it's better than nothing. Well, Benoit here doesn't have that much.

This story is about a boxer. He's not a great boxer. He's a professional and makes a living at it. He learns that he can make a living by diving when he's paid for it. But, one day, he is irritated by one of the fighters he's paid to dive for. As a consequence, he's beaten with bats until he can't walk any more. That's how the story ends.

Maybe this story is supposed to make people understand why a fighter dives in a boxing match: there are reasons, hungry mouths to feed, and that sort of thing. So, that one time he doesn't dive is what puts him in his wheel chair.

The Second Coming of Hashbrown, Kieran Shea

There's nothing much on the web directly related to Kieran Shea, and there's no mention of a personal webpage at the end of this story.

What do you get when a peace loving hippy gets 2-3 years in jail for smoking marijuana? A hardened criminal! Ok, well, that's not exactly what this story is about. Hashbrown, the name of the protagonist's friend, robs a store and gets caught. He goes to jail as a skinny kid, and comes out as a hardened criminal. In essence, it's that old story that gets recycled: prisons make hardened criminals out of men: it doesn't reform them in the right way. It doesn't turn them into responsible citizens. It turns them into desperate animals.

The story is told in first person. The main character, Rob, is a normal guy with a normal job. He's working hard to make something more of his life, he has a girlfriend. Then his buddy shows up at his door: all tattooed up as an Aryan. He says that he's moving off to Miami. But Rob knows that he's skipping out on bail. All the same, he leaves him alone in his apartment. He does have the foresight to take his gun with him so that 'Hash' won't find it. Returning home, he discovers that everything's been stolen and his apartment has been beaten up a bit.

Hash meets an end, though, as the police do find him and shoot him.

So, no drugs. Just violence. I think I can safely establish now that Beat to a Pulp's genre, noir they call it, is mostly about violence and very seedy characters. None of these characters so far are what we'd call heroes. They're not good people at all, and are often bad people who are just less bad than the people they kill. Or, maybe in one or two cases, they're just as bad. In this case, Rob is just an average guy. That's as close to a good character as I've met throughout all the stories in Beat to a Pulp.

.38 Special, Amy Grech

Amy's got a kind of weird webpage called

This is another one of those dark humoured stories. Two lovers, one married, the other a friend to the husband -- a scenario already visited in "Vengeance on the 18th," decide to play a little game. Actually, it's the girl who has the idea in the first place, to play a little Russian Roulette. Charlie wins, she loses. Her brains are blown to bits.

The husband discovers who the killer is. He knows all the details of the his wife's death. To get revenge, Brad captures Charlie and ties him to a chair in his sound proofed garage. There, he plays Russian Roulette. Again, Charlie wins. The story ends here, though I'm left to wonder what will happen to Charlie. A terrible way to die is from thirst.

So, the theme of a cheating spouse and revenge is revisited in this noir magazine.

Bull's-Eye View, Wayne D. Dundee

This story is told in first person from the perspective of a private investigator. In that small town is spotted a fairly famous hitman. He must be fairly famous to be recognized. One day, he and the hitman go fishing together after having been invited by the owner of the boat they used. While on the lake, a hitman tries to kill him.

As it turns out, he was made to kill a high ranking mob worker when in fact he thought he was killing some lady's husband for cheating on her. To avoid a mob war, the mob boss tells him to get out of town. However, that wasn't enough: he sent down hitmen to kill him by way of apology to the other gang. Ultimately they succeed.

Again, a bit of violence graphically described. Also, there's the theme of revenge.


Well, this was a free magazine with a lot of short stories which are in a genre which I've never exposed myself to. I love noir film. However, none of these stories seemed to come from the same genre as the movies I've seen. I think if I saw another selection of short fiction appear, I might pick it up. However, the formatting of the book is such a big turn off. There is virtually no shortcuts in navigating the volume and it is quite frustrating. This is especially true when I want to get around the volume to remind myself of character names, author details, or some other similar kind of information that is normally easy to get.

Just like Anais Nin's book, White Stains, which I read awhile back, the formatting is a huge detractor. For this reason and the fact that the stories were not good enough to overcome this fault, I don't recommend buying it. If, however, they updated the volume, added a navigable table of contents, broke the volume into bits which can be quickly tabbed to, then I'd say it's got some value of maybe a buck or two. If this is really your thing, then maybe you can overlook its faults.

If you love violence, revenge stories, and the like, this volume was written for you.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey is the second book that I've read of Zane Grey's. When I had finished his other book, The Last Trail, I had gone to to pick up a bit about Zane Grey. In the reading of the first paragraph, it mentioned that this book, Riders of the Purple Sage, was his first and perhaps his best book. The previous book disturbed me for its content, bothered me for its romantic interlude, its nearly perfect heroes and heroines, and most of all for the not too infrequent remarks about natives, and the plot which was quite cruel to them. However, what shone forth from that book was his ability to narrate a story with brilliant descriptions in setting. This book is available freely at

When I decided to read this story, I wanted to choose something that was quick and easy to digest. This was both. But also there's this other thing that heppened to me in the other book that has given me a lot of food for thought about what I could do to make a new tale from the perspective of the other side of the coin. ie., from the perspective of the natives, or even the outlaws. A story like that has a lot of promise, and it could be teased into either a western or even into a scifi story. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I've liked it. Being an amateur writer, this kind of thing really motivates me to pick another story and read it.

With all that said, I'd wager that now's the time to dig into the book itself. I'd already finished reading the story by the time I started to write my thoughts on it.

First off, the amount of bad-mouthing that was bothersome in The Last Trail is minimal here. Most often they're referred to in the same breath as animals, and at one point as child-like. He even writes that maybe this way of thinking and seeing the world, with eyes too naive and young and innocent to lie either to others or to one's own self. Also, there are no Native Americans in this tale. They only exist in comparisons. Several times one might consider it flattering. They're supposed to be remarkably stealthy, and so to be quiet like an Indian would be a positive comparison to make about how the hero is able to accomplish something.

Another mention here that's important to the story is that this is a tale about Mormons. It's not a flattering tale at all. It's quite simply a mixture of a bunch of bad rustlers and Mormons who are rustlers. It's a tale of jealous rage where a girl is captured from a village to be added to the collection of wives. So, there does seem to be quite a bit of tale directed against the reputation of Mormons. Now, I don't know truth from fiction in terms of how Mormons were in those days. Although I was one for a year or so, I was in a small city where Mormons are a minority. So, mostly they're decent folks who don't want to bother other people. But this is something I've noticed in religions: minorities are often like that. It's when folks are the majority that the abuse comes, regardless of which religion it is. Having never been in Utah I couldn't say for certain that this is the case for that cult as well, but my social theory has deep roots in a long list of histories of a variety of cultures through the centuries. Human nature is what it is and seems to care little for the rules both real and hidden in a variety of different cults.

In this book, I might say that the characters cleanly fit the stereotypes that were set in the first book I read. There are two main heroes. First, the seasoned warrior, Lassiter. He is a man who has killed in cold blood, or so goes the legend (but the reality is he's a killer in the name of both defence and revenge). He is an alpha male who drives fear into the hearts of men who vastly outnumber him. Only in the end are any encounters detailed, and even these are secondhand tales told by witnesses or even by the main character himself. We are never actually exposed to the actual incidents.

The second main hero, Venters, perhaps the main hero but not quite the equal of the former, is young when we first meet him. I say he might be the main hero because we do get to see into his actions first hand like witnesses rather than as hearsay. However, in terms of the weight of narration, my guess is that the first hero has gotten the most printed about him. Back to the second hero: he is a boy on the very verge of becoming a man. He is a Gentile (non-Mormon) and more than half the host of problems that will assault the heroes and those who rely on their care. Well, at this time he's naked without a weapon, and it's with ease that he is being brought out to be punished for getting himself involved with a Mormon though he's a Gentile. This punishment is interrupted by Lessiter. His reputation as a gunman and his cold cool and calm confidence is enough to scare off the antagonists. However, after fleeing into the wilderness and stumbling on the woman who will become his love interest, he becomes a tough and hardened man who seems to be just as tough as Lessiter. However, at one point he does become mad (as in blood lust crazy) and murders a bad man in cold blood.

The women are basically two. The main female character is incredibly beautiful. There is no one to compare her to. She's the alpha female, and her beauty, wealth, and stubborn adherence to her own will are the main ingredients which continue to feed the narrative throughout the book. She is soft natured, and unwilling to prejudice herself against Gentiles even though she herself is a Mormon. She also works until the very end to shelter the Mormons from the guns of Lessiter until she's finally come round to the idea that there's nothing to do but stop violence with violence. Nonetheless, the violence that Lessiter commits is no longer on a hair trigger. It takes an awful lot of instigation to make him come at their enemies, guns ablazing.

The second woman also fits the profile of the ideal woman, though younger. She's innocent: too innocent. She's profoundly beautiful. Little is written about her. For most of the book she is helpless and on the cusp of dying except for the careful attention of, ironically, the man who shot her, Venters. She's then kept out of the excitement until the final act of the book hidden away in an old Aztec dwelling. She is weak and strong at the same time. At one point she is described as being a horse rider without equal.

Again, in this novel, the scenes are gorgeously rendered. Zane's detailed pen somehow manages to paint a stirringly beautiful rendition of his settings while at the same time adding tension and or mood to the scene.

This book was a lot less offensive to me than the first one I read. However, if I was still a Mormon, perhaps the opposite would be true. I think I would find it highly offensive.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Last Trail, Zane Grey ago, I picked up my first western novel, West of the Tularosa by Louis L'Amour. It was a very charming series of short stories. I really enjoyed the quick action and skillful insertion of sparse details that somehow managed to really bring the tales alive. Having had such a positive experience with this book, I went hunting for other western novels. Zane Grey has a reputation for being a good western styled writer. His books are numerous and freely available at

The scene is set in Ohio on the wild frontier. Here in them there woods where Indians are hoss theives and a constant source of terror for the frontiermen alongside a few white men. The white men are cunning and intelligent, while the Indians prowl around like stealthy large cats ready to pounce at any moment on white folks to rape and steal.

The tale centers around two pivotal characters: Johnathan Zane and Helen, a surreally beautiful purple/blue eyed girl who is able to instantly stir up trouble amongst men who want to marry and do whatever else men like to do to attractive women. The bordermen, as they're called, are two 'giant' men who stand about 183cm/6' tall. Their names are Johnathan Zane and Wetzel. Fairly quickly after Helen's first meeting with Johnathan, she decides to make him hers. Though in her late teens, she finds this man in his 40s to be to her taste as the model of heroism and gentlemanly comportment.

The description of the general pioneers in this area is that they are very brave, heroic, and extremely tough – not to mention moral and Christian. They never give up and they generally win their way through any adversity or adversary. The setting is a gorgeously described primitive paradise. The ideal man is a farmer. It's the bordermen who fight to keep them safe, mostly from Indians: A borderman lived under the green tree-tops, and, therefore, all the nodding branches of sassafras and laurel, the grassy slopes and rocky cliffs, the stately ash trees, kingly oaks and dark, mystic pines, together with the creatures that dwelt among them, save his deadly red-skinned foes, he loved.

I can see a bit of Tarzan in the borderman that Zane describes. He's able to live amongst the natives, but not with them. He is a giant. He's an ideal man. I believe that Zane Grey, the author, predates Burroughs' Tarzan. However, perhaps when I have the Internet at home again I can look it up. Where in the Tarzan series, one has to endure the ocassional racist comment about the Africans in Burroughs' setting, one has to endure the racist comments on the Natives. But, where I was able to tolerate Tarzan's impression of the Africans in the books, the comments made by Jonathan are far worse. Never did Tarzan ever suggest that he wanted to exterminate the natives to the jungles of Africa in which he lived. Johnathan says to his friend, " a few more years there won't be any need for a borderman. When the Injuns are all gone where'll be our work?"

Earlier in the novel a man mentions that he wants to marry a girl, but before he does, he wants to have enough money for a bit of property. The Colonel—Johnathan's brother—offers to him a free 80 acre parcel of land. It's described in lovely detail. Such homesteads surely are rarer now. In any case, I can somehow imagine that this land might have meant something to the natives that lived there before them. Yet, without consulting them on the issue of whose land it is, he simply gives it to someone. In essence, stealing another 80 acre parcel of land and giving it to a couple to fight for.

Despite some of the kind words written about the women of the fort and its surroundings, women are weak and need to stay at home. They cannot walk about without getting lost. Helen finds herself lost outside the fort one day when fortune happens to have Johnathan on his way back to the fort. He sees her trail and follows it, curious about whose trail it was. When finding her, he admonishes her to stay in the fort. When she becomes petulant, he turns to pretend to walk off. When she realizes she's a helpless weak woman, she calls out to have her saviour bring her home.

There's a certain sadness I feel through the ultimate victory which Colonel Zane won with the help of the bordermen. Their ancestral home, the home of 'the savages,' "The beautiful Ohio valley had been wrested from the savages..." In essence, a kind of genocide of the beautiful valley to essentially steal the ancestral home of the natives is the ultimate victory of the white man.

To give the natives credit, in the book that is, they often are described as not fearing death. They meet their fates with admiration, not hatred or anything resembling cowardice. The outlaws were welcomed and assisted by the Natives. Had those in the fort also extended their hand out to the Natives, might not they have also found friendship and enabled cohabitation? Of course, it's impossible to know, but easy to speculate.

Wetzel, the chief Indian killer, muses that the beautiful forest in which he made his life will all become corn fields. One wonders if somehow he has a fleeting regret of the terrible work that he pursued to ethnically cleanse the land of its Native population in favour of those who would turn the land into nothing more than an endless expanse of corn.

While I don't like a lot of the politics that Zane Grey brings up: the racism and ethnic cleansing are in particular hard to swallow. His strength is in his generous descriptions of the beautiful forests and streams. He articulates these scenes extremely well. The romantic side of the tale leaves something wanting. However, that's something I am not a fan of. Building up a female character to the point of unbelievability—perfect beauty and character. The alpha female for the alpha male. I'm also not a fan of the perfect hero who has no real fault or vice. That kind of hero doesn't exist, and it never did. What that hero does is reprehensible in their butchering of the Natives.
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Asimov's Magazine - December 2011

OK, now that the confusion is behind me concerning the Kindle and how past issues work, I am going backwards a bit to read the December issue. The December issue of Asimov's Science includes one novella, three novelettes, and three short stories. There is also one essay by Robert Silverberg. I like these essays written by famous writers, and I do wish Asimov's would consider having a few more per magazine. How about three or four of them? In any case, all fiction in this edition add up to almost 59,000 words. That's a short novel, so it's a good value. One name jumps out at me: Pamela Sargent. I have seen her books around, but I've never actually picked one up to read. I don't know why, but I will be reading her novelette.

All About Emily, Connie Willis

While I've heard of Pamela Sargent, Connie Willis I have not. I can't say as I ever recall having seen her name on a novel anywhere. However, she is well recognized by the industry, having won dozens of prestigious short fiction awards. She has a good summary of them on She also has her own webpage which is basically a professional blog.

OK, so, this story is about a robot and an actress. The robot enters the actress's life and is pushed away. However, after awhile, Claire Havillard (the actress), in the twilight of her career, finds herself pulled into Emily's magnetic personality.

Strawberry Birdies, Pamela Sargent

This story is about time travellers who are trying to improve the future condition in which they find themselves. They have decided that one particular individual – actually a son and father – whose particular contributions to mankind lead to a series of mishaps and an unfortunate future.

This story seems to be the alignment of several older tropes as well as a newer. The potential future is described as hotter and wetter. This is indicitive of a warmer climate. The park which is contrasted, future and past, is described as lush and green in the past and dry and abandoned in the future.

Somehow, a father who fathers too many children cannot manage to raise all the children on a teacher's salary. As a consequence, he decides to join the military which will result in him inventing some kind of weapon which will cause that scenario to happen. OK, a nod to Terminator or Wells if you prefer. Quite frankly, I'm not sure why Terminators and their ilk can't just go for sterilization and need to go to such extreme measures to eliminate a thorn in the side of the future.

Somehow the benevolent time traveller is able to improve the condition of the future by removing a piece of the puzzle.

I found the story mildly entertaining, fairly well told, but not exciting or mind bending or anything particularly compelling.

Ephemera, Steve Rasnic Tem

The setting of this tale is post-Asian pandemic—three of them no less—which ought to appeal to many fears that western people have of Asia. The population has been positively decimated. Technology has remained on course, however.

The story revolves around three characters: First, Daniel is the father of Lex. He likes antiques. In his room, he has several paper based books carefully preserved. Books are no longer made. Some old record covers decorate the room while books are preserved by sitting inside plastic bags. Physical copies of things are perhaps considered a thing of the past, and digital editions are the norm. Second, Lex is Daniel's son. He is a refined edition of his father's generation. Where Daniel's generation started the move to digital and ultra cleanliness, Lex and his generation have largely taken it a step further. Despite this, both Lex and Daniel cling onto the past. Lex likes to draw, and doesn't want to discard those physical reminders. The third character, Ascher—really just a foil to the other two more modern characters—is a collector of rare materials. He is from another era and contrasts with the main characters. He lives in a house which is more of a pack rat's lair than anything else. It is dirty. Stacks of boxes and shelves overwhelm the house.

Daniel's pride and joy seems to be his virtual collection of library collections which are displayed on a wall. However, this fails to impress Ascher. He is more interested in things that have a physical property.

After awhile, well after Ascher finishes his visit, Daniel fails to find him in his shop in the mall. He therefore decides to track him down to his house which is somehow off the grid of the government thanks to a government agent who had designated the house as government property and essentially deleted it off the records so that he could be left in peace. However, Lex is so disturbed by the uncleanliness of the house that he puts in a complaint to the government, which then shuts the house down and sends Ascher to a home.

This story has an interesting play on the current issue now between digital books and physical books. It assumes that one day physical books will disappear and only the digital equivalents will exist. I have seen this debate before, and I don't believe in it at all. Publishing is clearly changing and growing to include the new formats while the physical formats are changing in ways to survive. I think this conversation that is a fairly hot topic in certain circles is articulated in an interesting way.

The List, Tim McDaniel

A man has a list of people and information that compromises them. He is hiding in a house, wondering when he'll be found and killed over it. Lots of men before him have tried and died to make use of that list.

Really, this story is a dark comedy. The one who comes for him is 'big red' who enters the house via the stove pipe. Big Red then shoots him in the head with a few words that somehow Kurt manages to hear despite having been plugged in the head with a slug, "Ho, ho, ho, asshole." Santa doesn't like it when he's on a list. Clearly it's quite ironic and darkly humourous.

The Countable, Ken Liu

This story is simply of a boy who murders an abusive step-father with a knife in the back as he's beating his mother. There's some math that is woven into the story and graphs displaying the ideas.

The story isn't particularly great. But, I do kind of like how Ken Liu managed to make me think of infinity in a slightly different way. I'm not sure if I'm following what he was trying to get across, I'm just speaking about my own thoughts. That is to say, in contemplating the infinite universe and the numbers that attempt to describe the universe, the difference between zero and one, and one and a million, and one and infinity, is all really the same. That is to say, there are an infinite number of points between 0 and 1, just as there are an infinite number of points between 1 and 1,000,000, or even one and infinity. Infinity times a million, or infinity times one million is infinity. One plus infinity is still infinity. Infinity really doesn't change. It's an interesting thought, but I'm not sure if that's exactly what Ken was saying.

The main character is one of those gifted/cursed people who has a talent for one thing, but cannot function outside of that talent. His talent is math. His curse is that he cannot function in society, and this is further exacerbated by the fact that his step-father is continuously abusing him.

I'm not certain how I feel about the blending of fiction with an essay on numbers. Well, why should I have a problem with it? It's OK, just not big on the story itself.

"Run," Bakri Says, Ferrett Steinmetz

One of the super powers I've often thought about that I picked up from playing games is the ability to save at a place, die, and then go back to the saved place to try again. Well, this story does just that. A young woman is required to rescue her brother who has invented a device that manages to do just that whenever she dies. She is able to remember everything between the point where she is restored and the point that she gets to as she dies.

Eventually, through trial and error, learning how to aim her gun better, etc., she is able to kill a sniper, two guards, infiltrate a prison, kill more guards, and kills her brother who invented the device which has allowed her to do all this. She kills him because she hates the device for forcing her to experience death so many times. She also doesn't want the government to get its hands on the device. Before killing her brother, she asks how she can stop the device from taking her to the restore point.

Essentially, dying thousands of times so that she can kill people to get her brother ends up turning her into a cold blooded killer whose only real concern is to escape the cycle. Of course, she could have done all that without killing everyone. For instance, if she'd shot herself after getting the secret of how to shut down the device, she only had to go back to her restore point one more time to disrupt the cycle. Then she could use it herself so that she would only end up killing her brother.

Final Thoughts

I think the highlight of this magazine is "Ephemera" simply because it's done a good job of putting into context current fears in publishing. I think it's done in a somewhat comical way--not being entirely too serious.

How to be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play, Barbara Baig

Three or four weeks ago, there were a number of free books on writing and publishing available for a short time. I am able to see these deals courtesy of iReaderIQ's RSS feed. It's a really great feed and I highly recommend adding it to your list. Barbara Baig, the author of the book, has a sturdy looking webpage over at The non-free version of the book is available now for $11.43 on Amazon.

The title intrigues me. Though I have a lot of experience in writing fiction and poetry, exploring whatever Barbara Baig has to say on the topic has intrigued me. It's got a solid five star average review rating on from ten reviewers.

The introduction is rather onerous. It does feel like this book is written for the person who has a fear of writing a sentence, or someone who has never done it before, or someone who is just really bad at it. I am not that person. However, the idea that she keeps peppering around the initial pages is that she has these exercises that can help build the skills of the prospective writer. She also writes that she's not going to try to teach the reader how to write a book or a genre, or how to sell that book. So, this is keeping me weakly tethered to the book despite the feeling that I am not the target audience.

Some things she points out are things that I believe: writing is a matter of development more than it is a matter of talent. If it was just talent, Stephen King would have come out of the womb holding a knife and a pen. He surely had to work on his talent (I really ought to bite the bullet and buy his book on writing).

However, over and over I'm brought over to the realization that she is trying to reach the people who don't write. I guess that's a good thing. Writing is an important aspect of reflection over of beliefs, thoughts, one's life, and an exercise in creativity.

Observe the World Around You

This is an interesting exercise I believe. Barbara Baig writes about how one ought to listen into conversations and write them down, look around places, and describe what you see, that sort of thing, as a means to 'collect' material that you can go over later. However, I think that's an interesting point. The exercise will help one learn how to fill out the interesting details which make a description of a scene more interesting. Describe their clothing, the way they talk, maybe body language that they use (my thought), etc. Living in Korea, most TV I get is in Korean (duh!). Sometimes it can be fun to make up funny dialogue for the actors or hosts or whatever they are.

Moving past random freewriting, she moves into focused free writing. This seems to be a good direction to go. Thus, moving the non-writer from not writing, to writing random (likely trash - even she calls the likely results 'junk'), she moves into something a bit more focused. However, when she goes into the benefits, she writes, "You can use it for anything: Writing a memo or a letter or an e-mail..." which suggests she is really *really* trying to talk to those who don't do these things already.  

However, I do get a few things here and there that I think are interesting to me, even as someone who has been an amateur writer for about 24 years.

Read to Write

This is a common theme, it seems, amongst all the books about writing that I've run into thus far: read, read, read. They all seem to write about prospective writers who don't want to read. They just want to write. Of course, that's a common bit of nonsense. Where the advice differs is on what should be read. Barbara Beig rebels against literature and proposes that one should read just for pleasure. One should ignore the analytic tools given to literature students.

This is where I would rebel. I think great literature should be studied for what makes it great. I think a good writer does need to be more than just a reader for pleasure. I think a good writer needs to know how to dismantle a story to see how it works. I think keeping a reading journal helps me remember what I read as well as helps me get a little deeper into the reading of it than I might go if I were simply to read it and then put it down. She writes that reading what you like will allow you to 'unconsciously absorb a writer's style and techniques.' I do believe this might be true to an extent. However, I think doing it in this way will at best result in a superficial reading which might not have the best result one might hope for.

Barbara brings up Eliot's famous quip, "Amateurs borrow; professionals steal." But then she goes onto saying that stealing is plagiarism and should be avoided. I don't think people generally understand what this means exactly. It doesn't really mean that one ought to out and out rip off a text in its entirety or partly and present it as one's own work of art. I think what it means is that a great writer writes the best words and the best descriptions that are available. If one is going to come up with words from the mouth of a dictator character in a story, why not choose the words of a politician or judge? ie., There are reams of material from presidents and judges and other fascist type politicos that have said things that might be appropriate for a character in a story. That's what I believe is meant by that.

Where have our imaginations gone?

Well, according to Barbara Baig, it's gone down the tubes. The TV tube, the Internet tube, and glossy magazines. Well, I can't say as I follow her argument here. I remember reading a great book about Osamu Tezuka, one of the great pioneers of the 20th century famous for his Astroboy or Atomu character. He said that he watched a lot of movies: as many movies as he could. He would watch and rewatch them repeatedly. I don't know what the answer about imagination is, or even if there is one. More likely I suspect that it's a myth that people today have inferior imaginations to those in the past.

Also, going to the argument that folks are less literate than they were in the past. It's hard to say. On the one hand, the book and the story were the entertainment of olde. Want entertainment? Well, dad, or grandpa or ma will pick up a book and read it to the family. Or, read it yourself. Also, when one reads older story books, one can be astonished at how even children's books relied on its young readers to have impressive vocabularies.

So, what's happened to our imaginations? Well, I think for many of us, our imaginations have been carried on by the various mediums which others create. This, as a general truth. With the artists being the exceptions and the ones who liked to create their own worlds. Reading a book might require the reader to imagine the setting and characters. However, I don't feel comfortable with the idea that TV sucks out creative potential.

Barbara Baig spends a lot of time going over the reasons why many people find writing intimidating. Her first exercise is what she calls 'freewriting.' In essence, she says that it's a period of 10 minutes in which one is to write without inhibition. At the conclusion of these ten minutes she declares that you have just become a writer. I don't know if I agree with that optimism. It would be like saying that one is a doctor once one has proscribed a Tylenol. I do believe it takes a bit more than a few hundred random words to qualify one.

She makes a distinction between two types of writers: one-step, and, get-it-right-the-first-time (hyphens as she wrote them). She describes the latter process as figure out what you want to say, make an outline, write. As you write, write perfectly. But, what she says following is something that I agree with and something that I have taught as an essay writing skill: if you try to write perfectly, you are trying to use two parts of the brain at the same time: the creative and the critical. As she says, the critical side will step in and inhibit the output of the former.

Where I differ, at this point, on her point, is that I believe outlining and figuring out what you want to say are a part of the process. I use the brainstorming method or, as she calls it, 'free writing' to accomplish this. Then, after I am finished, I use the critical side to figure out what's wrong, what can be improved, until I'm reasonably satisfied. After this is done, I go back to the creative side and follow the outline. I don't have to worry about making mistakes about going in the wrong place or 'writing myself into a corner,' because the guide is already made. If I am inspired to go somewhere different in the middle of the text, that's just fine. However, I will first adjust the outline and improve upon it. Then, I will continue following the outline. This allows me to make sure that I am indeed on the right track.

December 26, 2011

As I progress through the Barbara Baig's book, I am also using one of her exercises spoken about for beginning writers: free writing. This is where one writes without consideration of anything other than to move the pencil (or in this case, the cursor on my netbook). I have now performed this exercise six times.

As she warns, most of this stuff will be junk. So far, I have to agree with her that it is all trash. However, I'm not ready to say that the exercise itself is trash. Perhaps its a good exercise simply to cast off the pressure of writing a good story and simply write with just the pressure to write. I have used this time to describe settings, feelings, and a few other things. I do have the feeling that this is a useful exercise.

This leads me to another point that she makes about the two kinds of writing: public writing and private writing. Here she makes an important point about typical writing teachers and her own unique method. Many teachers, she writes, tell students to write as if no one is going to read their work, and then allow people to read their work. This contradiction or lie does seem to be problematic. Baig stresses that this is a mistake, that it 'blurs the lines' and thus loses the distinction. I am thinking that this is a valuable point. While I have practised this, I have not really thought about it.

There are dark places in my imagination that I will not bring my wife, family, or friends to. I don't think these words would see the light of day if I blurred the lines that Baig pointed out.


I'm not really sure why she's so anti-academic. As she writes about how bad writing in school gets read and graded, vs in public it doesn't get read or graded (well, probably it does get a dismissive thought before being discarded). She writes that this is probably due to the academic training these writers receive. “... they are imitating the abysmally bad academic writing they have to read for their courses.)” I can't help but wonder if her academic experience was really so negative.

Getting in the Habit of Telling Stories

Baig suggests going to different sources to find stories and getting in the habit of telling them. So, eavesdrop into a conversation and write what's being said. It's not necessary, she notes, to keep a pad or listening device to the conversation. Simply write what you remember after the conversation has taken place, as well as anything else that might be relevant to the conversation.

Academic Writing

Barbara Baig actually spends quite a bit of time discussing academic writing, and the process in which she breaks down the number of tasks and then uses those tasks to create a paper. While I agree with a lot of those practices, and in large part followed many of those processes, and even found a few additional ideas that I might have used as a student to give it a try, she does leave out one of the most important aspects of writing for a teacher: the examination or test. The process she describes is for the research essay, not for the test or examination.

On Being a Writer

Barbara Baig makes an important point about how writing can and should be an activity for people who are interested in it. There are people who ski, but not necessarily professionally: many do it for a bit of fun. But then, she's talking about being a writer. I think she fails to see the distinction here. She says that you can be a writer without doing it professionally. But, would someone who likes to ski a few weekends over the winter call him or herself a skier, or someone who plays baseball on Saturdays a baseball player? No, they wouldn't. They would say, “I'm a teacher. My hobby is writing. Or, my hobby is skiing.” So, I don't think she has it straight here.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this book fails to accomplish what it states in the title: How to become a writer, for precisely the reason I just pointed out. She hasn't taught us how to be writers. She has taught us how to write. And, I'll venture to say that I have learned a number of things, have found her exercises interesting, and am actually practising one of them with plans to try some more of them. She has tons of solid advice. However, she fails to define what a writer is—or at least she fails to understand what a writer is. Perhaps a better title to this book would be “How to Become Someone who can Write,” or “How to Write.” Some title like this would surely be more accurate than on how to become a writer. I don't feel that I have discovered the road map to this destination. Several times she says that it's the journey to the destination that means the most, but for some of us who pick up this book hoping that it's a guide to the destination might be disappointed. However, it is an excellent book to assist many in the journey: from the beginning to around the middle. I've said this several times and I'm saying it again: this book has excellent exercises in it to promote the growth of skills required to become a writer. In fact, some of the ideas, such as the private vs. public writing space is an important distinction that I hadn't really articulated before either to myself or to students. I believe that there is a lot in this book that can help me become a better teacher as I try to tease words out of students.

Another weakness or aspect of improving writing skills which she does not seem to recognize is that skills themselves can be developed independently to improve the overall. That is to say, she often seems to ignore or put down the usefulness of learning how to spell things or how to correctly modify a verb to arrive at a grammatically correct sentence, or how to syntactically order a sentence properly. And, in fact, she has a good point about staging it into another part of the writing process. However, I think that it could be pointed out that grammar and spelling, choosing the correct words (or finding the best words), is something that can be developed using different exercises.

In conclusion, I believe there is a lot of value in this book. I do not believe, however, that it delivers on the premise of the title.
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