This is a themed issue of ‘On Spec’ and the theme is… Apocalypse! Themed issues and anthologies are often interesting because it’s fun to see the varied approaches taken by different writers from the same starting point. Old-time SF magazines used to have certain professional contributors write a story based around the painting on the cover because covers were printed months in advance. Given themes have the same effect of making the writers focus.
The fun starts with the Fall 2012 Apocalypse Contest Winner, ‘All Them Pretty Babies’ by Camille Alexa. It’s written in a sort of child-like language that the protagonist, Esmè, speaks, though as it’s third person narration, it’s not actually her voice, unless she speaks in the third person like Caesar. Esmè is an older child, looked after by her New Mama when her Old Mama threw her out. In this post-Apocalyptic tale, babies are left on the mountain to die by the city dwellers but are rescued by New Mama. The theme is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A nice enough story and the narrative technique is clever.
‘Destroyer’ by Daniel LeMoal has an intriguing concept, projectors. These are people who, unable to dream themselves, can project dreams into the minds of other people. Most clients want sex and violence but Mister Zimmer likes nature and cuddly animals. That’s because he’s a contract killer and gets enough violence in real life. Now he is tasked with escorting a very powerful projector, stuffed into the boot of a car, out to the desert for disposal. It’s a menace. This is an excellent SF/horror story of psychic powers and reminded me of such fun films as ‘The Fury’ and ‘Scanners’. I hope LeMoal gets lucky and Hollywood goes for it.
I enjoyed ‘Frats And Cheers’ by Karl Johanson because the writer is mocking a modern media phenomenon I don’t like. Dave is watching telly and Janine switches over to the news, according to which Uzbekistan is hoarding Molybdenum 78. Apparently it is vital for power plants, computers and other technical gear, so withholding it is practically an act of war. Some say, however, that there is no such substance. The US Congress is about to vote on war with Uzbekistan. Dave is not interested in world affairs and wants to watch ‘Fratboys And Cheerleaders’. Johanson may be mocking a certain US news channel in this short-short but I fear he’s wasting his time. Most of its viewers don’t read much. Moreover, it is pure fiction to have Congress declare war, which it hasn’t done since 1941. Such dull formalities are unnecessary with a good gung-ho president.
‘Hog-Killing Weather’ by Timothy Gerwing is a very matter-of-fact description of Judgement Day in the diner, Jenny’s. A plot summary would spoil it but it had a dream-like, detached, almost poetic madness that was thoroughly enjoyable. A good example of that ‘singleness of emotional impact’ which a short story can deliver so well and a novel cannot. A novel is a long campaign while an effective short story is like a good, hard slap. The metaphor is Stephen King’s, to give credit where it’s due. I think he’d like this story.
‘The Walker Of The Shifting Borderland’ also starts in a coffee shop but Douglas Smith delivers a very different sort of tale. The Walker is there to meet Henka, the lady he loves. They are not your average couple. The Walker can phase in and out of time and keeps re-visiting this particular moment trying to avert catastrophe. The coffee shop is the last structure in the universe. A cosmic story of gods which seems to be inspired by the works of Michael Moorcock and I think he would not be ashamed of it.
‘Knights Exemplar’ by Al Onia is a historical fantasy with a wild west setting, I think. Either that or it takes place in a pretty backward present day town. Some strangers ride in, disturbing the local sheriff. The first, a man named Crawford, looks like a gunslinger but he causes no trouble, just stays in a local stable waiting for his friends to arrive. There has been a lot of rain lately and the worst floods anyone can remember. An odd tale, but I enjoyed it. I like the settings, language and themes of westerns and the character of the sheriff was well done.
Airships take people who don’t want to live anymore to Terminal, a small town located on the ‘Mesa At The Edge Of The World’, I presume. Our heroine is Helen Raven, a sort of tour guide who shows the ‘guests’ around Terminal before they trans-ship to another airship which will take them into the vortex. No one comes back alive from the vortex. Leslie Brown delivers an interesting, readable story with a strong protagonist who has an interesting life changing experience. Jolly good stuff.
Possibly the best ‘story’ in this issue of On Spec is ‘Timeline’ by Kevin Cockle. It’s certainly the most chilling. ‘Timeline’ runs in boxes throughout the magazine and is a ‘factual’ summary of economic history from 1936 to 2112. The end result is not a cheerful prospect unless you are either mad or very, very dedicated to increased productivity as the main measure of human accomplishment.
As well as the fun fiction above, there are various editorials on apocalyptic fiction, interviews with the contest winner and the cover artist and a nice tribute to the late Ray Bradbury. All in all another worthy contribution to the genre from the folks at the Copper Pig Writer’s Society.
(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 130 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)
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