Sunday, November 2, 2014

Still On Your Newsstand, For Now

The summer 2014 issue of Space and Time is now available at one of our local newsstands. But it may not be much longer, because this independently owned bookstore is about to close its doors.  This is where I have been accustomed to purchasing the quarterly issues over the years.  The magazine’s editor has often commented on the struggles of brick-and-mortar book and magazine stores, a depressing but perhaps inevitable outcome of the success of digital media. 

Future opportunities for small press publications probably lie with online subscriptions, but for now, I am going to shift to having the magazine delivered to my door.  I need to ensure reliable delivery of this venerable publication.  Readers of The R’lyeh Tribune are encouraged to consider subscribing to Space and Time, a wonderful source of high quality horror, science fiction, and fantasy from emerging talent in the field.

Issue #121 leads strongly with Charles E. Gannon’s “A Cyberkeet’s Story”, which deftly upends the familiar science fiction trope of thinking machines that try to understand and perhaps emulate human thought and emotion. The narrator, a thoughtful “Simu-Tone RepetiWhistler” wryly observes its human owner’s struggles to adapt to a world where artificial intelligence is increasingly pervasive.  The tone is alternately ironic, sadly philosophical, and ultimately chilling.   Along the way, the story explores the nature of intelligence, identity, individuality, and human purpose.

The following story, “Lost in Natalie”, by Mercurio O. Rivera and E.C. Myers, also has human individuality as its theme, but takes place in a completely different venue.  In the near future, a new technology allows its users to temporarily exchange bodies with one another at clandestine “meatswaps”.  As with nearly every subversively new technology, its initial use is not so much for increased efficiency or general edification as sexual gratification.  Predictably, feelings and a desire for a deeper connection—that is, love—complicate matters.  The authors use the story’s premise to investigate the nature of human sexuality, relationships, and even immortality.  This one is also technically ambitious and impressive: the authors manage to effect several name, body and gender changes among the characters without losing the reader.

The magazine shifts more to fantasy and horror after these two stories.  Fans of early 20th Century horror and fantasy will see in Derek Muk’s character of Albert Taylor a reincarnation of such famous psychic detectives as Carnacki, Gerald Canevin and John Silence, among others.  Muk updates this subgenre of ghost stories by combining elements of TV shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters with crime fiction—Muk’s “The Haunted Goldmine” is also a ‘who-done-it’.  In town for a conference on ghosts and related phenomena, the occult expert Albert Taylor is approached by an amusement park security guard who has had a spectral encounter inside one of the carnival rides.  Alan Beck’s illustration for the story is too unsettling to look at for long.

Barbara Krasnoff’s “Under the Bay Court Tree” introduces the mysterious Mrs. Delaney, who may be much more than the local neighborhood watch captain.  The narrator has moved into a claustrophobic cluster of old homes called Bay Court, where the neighbors seem unusually deferential to the imperious old woman.  An oddly shaped tree occupies the center of the little neighborhood, and on its branches lingers a strangely vigilant mockingbird.  Krasnoff’s use of mundane detail and everyday conversation to gradually reveal a darker reality may remind some readers of Shirley Jackson’s style.  “Under the Bay Court Tree” reads like the opening chapter of a much larger work—one wonders what will happen next on that block.

Space and Time nearly always includes a story inspired by what some call H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  David Hollingsworth’s “Only the Bones Remain” is a horror-action tale set in Japan at the time of the Samurai.  Senshu Odala Vosh must transcend his feelings of personal loss, guilt and regret to rescue a kidnapped orphan girl from a vile cult that worships the Old Ones.  The warrior Vosh is a more thoughtful, less barbarous version of Conan, but just as adept with a sword.  “Only the Bones Remain” is an interesting translation of a mythos tale from its typically Western Anglo-Saxon perspective to a completely different cultural milieu.

Finally, J.A. Bradley’s “What Adam Said” is the shortest story in the issue, but also the most intense.  On the eve of a catastrophic storm, a police dispatcher must juggle emergency calls with a real emergency call from her husband.  The raging storm outside surely mirrors her emotional state, but disaster may yet be averted.  However, it will require a single horrific act, and her husband cannot do it—perhaps she can.  Both literally and conceptually, this is a very dark, apocalyptic tale, and its impact is strengthened by a tight, economic prose style.

Issue #121 of Space and Time also contains an interesting discussion of the work of Stirling Silliphant, the screenwriter who worked on Village of the Damned (1960) and Charly (1968), an interview with author Jody Lyn Nye, and reviews of recent poetry and short story anthologies.  Another impressive issue and well worth a look.

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