Pulp Literature Magazine #23
Published by Pulp Literature Press, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, summer of 2019.
Publisher: Jennifer Landels, Managing Editor: Melanie Anastasiou, Acquisitions Editor: Jessica Fabrizius, Story Editor: Daniel Cowper, Poetry Editor: Emily Osborne, Poetry Editor: Amanda Bidnall.
Cover art: “Greetings” by Akem
Note: the three poems Examination of a Freckle by Casey Reiland, Asturias by Alison Braid, Waltz for my Brother by Raluca Balasa, and a feature interview with Kelly Robson are not reviewed. All are good and worth reading.
Good for Grapes – by Kelly Robson
Simon returns to a winery in the Okanagan region of British Columbia in search of the money the owner owes him. He expects trouble, given that the old man ran him off with a shotgun. Now Simon is up against someone even tougher, Marina, the old man’s daughter.
A very slight Sf element drives this story. At least, it would have been SF in the past. Now it’s part of contemporary reality. Simon appears to consider BC wines the worst of the worst, which is odd, because many consider the best of BC wines equal to or superior to the best of California wines. Yet this story provides detailed information as to why a winery in B.C. is bound to fail, producing a mediocre product at best. But then, this is Simon’s viewpoint, and he’s rather prejudiced because of his previous dealings with the old man who had refused to act on sound advice. Simon is an expert on viticulture and has no patience with amateurs. The story, focused on Simon, is an excellent character study, and an intriguing essay on the urge to fail vs. the urge to succeed, but I find it a tad too literary mainstream for my taste. Contains good writing, quite good writing in fact, but I’m afraid conflict over the proper way to cultivate grapes, or even the larger issue of how to run a business, does not engage me. I did find some of the concepts to do with futility and failure rather striking, though.
What the Wind Brings – by Matthew Hughes
The Spanish Galleon La Virgen is barely sailing in listless winds off the west coast of South America. Captain Mendoza can see a storm is in the offing and orders two longboats out to tow the ship away from the coast. They will need sea room when the storm hits.
This is actually the opening portion of the second chapter of Matthew Hughes historical fiction novel about to be published by Pulp Literature later this month. I will be reviewing the novel in its entirety and so won’t say much here.
The excerpt is selected to intrigue the reader and inspire them to buy the novel. What is on display is Hughes’ trademark attention to complex and telling detail which really brings the setting to life, in this case revealing how bloody awful conditions were for people and animals aboard a 16th century galleon even in calm weather. I can well believe it because I went aboard both a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s The Golden Hind and a traditional Chinese Junk at Expo 86 and was staggered by how dark, hot and stuffy conditions were below decks. A galleon at sea crowded with animals, crew, passengers, and human cargo (slaves) is spectacularly worse, as Hughes makes clear. His description is utterly convincing. You definitely feel you are aboard.
As I understand it the novel depicts the rise of an independent black nation seeking not only to revolt against the Spanish but to replace them. There were an incredible number of such revolts in South America, many of them successful and long lasting, often involving the indigenous peoples as well, and their effects, in terms of isolated ethnic communities with fantastic histories, still felt today. I haven’t read the book yet, but my impression is that the revolt in question is a well researched composite of all such revolts (little known in North America) as seen from multiple perspectives. Having recently read an article on several of the more spectacular slave rebellions in South America, I am quite excited at the prospect of reading this novel as the subject is fresh and alien to my historical situational-awareness. Can’t wait to read it.
Stella Ryman and the Locked Room Mystery – by Mel Anastasiou
Eighty-two-year-old Stella has two mysteries to solve at her retirement home. How can one of the bedrooms be locked when none of the bedrooms are equipped with locks, and why does the new caretaker whose name is Riley seem both familiar and ominous?
The first installment of the 11th tale in the Fairmount Manor mystery series, all featuring Stella Ryman as the “detective.” She is in fact a retired school teacher who resents being treated like a child even though life has come full circle and she is very nearly a child in her needs and limitations. Like many who feel imprisoned in care homes, she rejoices in “naughty” rebellion against the rules, especially if intellectual stimulation is involved. That she has a ghostly enabler is icing on the cake.
People fear retirement homes just as they fear boredom and a sense of futile helplessness. Gung-ho “cheer up!” activity sessions are equally dreaded. Still, as long as some critical faculty remains it is possible to rise above the soap opera limbo of care home life and be purposeful and independent again, if only briefly. Where this story shines is its depiction, not so much of the details of routine, but of the daily thought processes and reflections which enable elderly women to retain their individuality under depressing circumstances. It’s a very perceptive story in more ways than one, offering not just progress toward the resolution of the conundrum, but also lessons on how to cope with the inevitable consequences of aging. Overall, a charming fantasy centred on a observant “old biddy” who is both quietly cynical and quietly bemused in nature. She’s not Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade, but nevertheless quite enthralling to keep company with. A fun read.
Wolf, Dog, Sun – by Christian Walter
Wolf’s job is to eat the Sun. Dog’s job is to protect the sun. Things get ugly when they meet in a bar.
Pure mythology, and I’m assuming entirely fictional and entirely original (mythology not my strong point). This appears to fall into the category of religion wherein the gods are more human than humans, more reprehensible in fact, yet are simply doing their job so the universe can be reborn yet again and the cycle of life can be renewed, albeit at the expense of everyone in the previous universe. Except for the immortal gods of course, who can perhaps be forgiven for becoming a trifle jaded what with the constant repetition and all. No wonder they’re so irritable.
The Thieving Pot – by Lena Mahmoud
Yama has a simple wish. Though single, she would like a daughter. Her cooking pot becomes sentient. Yama names it Tunjur. Yama is very poor. To remedy this, Tunjur decides to go off to the market place, the Suq, by herself. No mean feat considering a ceramic cooking pot has no legs.
The tradition of inanimate objects becoming animate is very old. For instance, think of the Greek God Hephaestus with the mobile tripods he created which scurried about in obedience to his instructions. In this story the object in question means well but is not quite the useful daughter she intends to be. The pot is a device representing a tendency to individuality which the villagers find interesting but assume is subversive and possibly ungodly and evil in nature. The relationships the pot develops with the villagers reveal all the flaws inherent in a narrow, closed society where personal slights and confrontations are exaggerated by tightly repressed competition and one-upmanship. In a sense, a society where everyone is expected to keep a lid on all their desires is not the best environment for a being who literally raises her lid when begging for goodies to be inserted. An intriguing fairy tale. Well done. The character of the pot is totally convincing.
On the Sixth Day – by Deborah L Davitt
Liqui and Phillipe were in hazmat suits when the virus infected the others working with them in the underground lab complex. Somehow the pair need to communicate with those on the surface and warn them. The fate of the world depends on their actions.
Reminiscent of The Andromeda Strain but the particular conundrum of this hard science horror strikes me as more intriguing than the central problem in Crichton’s novel. The story is very short, so I won’t comment further, except to say that I enjoyed it.
Black Market – by Susan Pieters
At midnight in East Vancouver a biker buys a particularly expensive drug from a dealer.
An extremely short story, it’s really a vignette. The biker gets more than he anticipated. The last time I was driven down Hastings in East Van I thought the gates of hell had opened up. Drug addicts and drunks were swarming like ants, crowding the sidewalks and the alleys. It used to be bad, I had no idea in the years since I last visited it had become this bad despite decades of social worker effort, various reforms, safe needle houses, and so forth. Just looking out the car window for ten minutes convinced me there is no solution and never will be. The entire city will be like that someday. Consequently this story resonates with me as a powerful metaphor for an evil that already exists and is growing in leaps and bounds. It’s an effective piece of horror fantasy which unfortunately encapsulates contemporary reality perfectly. Intense.
Biophilia – by Margot Spronk
Casey was born after the Vancouver Lower Mainland region was knocked out by earthquakes and tsunamis and then overwhelmed by a surge of unnaturally luxuriant forest. He lives atop Burnaby Mountain in the ruins of Simon Fraser University with about 700 other people, only a few of them children like himself. Everything grows large and matures rapidly these days. At 4 years of age he’s already 6 foot eight tall and 265 pounds in weight. The world seems to be changing.
This story was the first runner-up for the 2018 Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller’s Award. It is rather good, refreshing in its originality and optimism.
In perhaps the majority of post-apocalypse fiction there is a tension between those who focus on maintaining the habits of the past and those who seek to adapt to changing circumstances. Given how rapidly the environment is changing in this story the matter would appear to be of some urgency. I’m doubtful the gigantism could exist on such a scale in the real world since it is largely the realm of rare, occasional mutations, but it makes for an interesting premise and an even more interesting conflict. Certainly adds to the concept that life is a perpetual struggle for survival. Cope or die seems to be the secret of life. Normally we are cocooned by steady jobs and decent living standards, but strip that away and life becomes sharper, edgier, and more fragile. I think, within a set-up like this story I’d be like Casey’s Dad, locked in his lab pursuing pointless research projects to take his mind off what was happening outside. But then, I always was a city boy. Don’t think I could cope in this situation.
White Rabbit – by Deepthi Atukorala
Shani is a young girl with her family at a book fair, eager to acquire the latest Ladybirds book. She spots Siriya, a distant relative who used to live with them. Suddenly Shani’s parents insist the family turn about and go home. She doesn’t know why. She is very disappointed.
This story was second runner-up for the 2018 Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller’s Award. I can see why. It is a very subtle horror story.
The White Rabbit, Shani’s favourite plush toy, is the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. You may take that as a clue that all is not what it seems and the basis of reality can suddenly shift when least expected. Assumptions about one’s family can often be as unreal as any other childhood fantasy. Sometimes this can be for the good. Sometimes not. At the end the reader understands more than Shani, I think. A thought-provoking story. Disturbing.
Wife Giver – by Josephine Greenland
A beautiful young woman can’t chose between seven suitors, so has sex with them all. This is not what the other members of her isolated hilltribe, set in their ways, consider decent behaviour. There are repercussions.
This was the winner of the 2019 Pulp Literature Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest. It comes across as a wildly surreal commentary on the predatory nature of men in their relationships with women, all the more forceful as it is a retelling of an ancient Thai legend which impacts virtually every culture on Earth today. The imagery is vivid and unforgettable, clear proof that mythology is not a spent force but something that can still be mined for fresh and original inspiration meaningful to contemporary readers. As such I believe this story is a role model for beginning and/or jaded writers. Need a new approach to writing? Wife Giver is a splendid and invigorating example of imagination harnessed to folklore. Well worth studying for its technique and method. A brilliant story. Admirable.
Inherited Love of Unexplainable Things – by Zoe Johnson
A vignette explaining a father’s influence on growing up transgender.
This is an entirely positive declaration of the value, indeed the inherent magic, of complete self-realization to the point of taking delight in one’s true nature. Call it an essay on the mystery of being. There’s not a hint of the prejudice and danger transgender people face in their daily lives. To them this is probably a breath of fresh air affirmation of their right to be themselves. For all others, a reminder that everyone is just as ordinarily human as anyone else regardless of their gender identity. Unfortunately, aspects of culture and religion reduce this to a utopian vision totally unacceptable to literally millions of people no matter what the law says. So, while taken at face value the message is positive, on a moment’s reflection it is clear that it is embedded within the tragedy of the ongoing backlash against the transgender struggle for recognition and acceptance. It’s not often one runs into a “feel good” story that makes one despair for the “humanity” of humanity but that is the effect this story has on me. Possibly what the author intended all along.
Wall Street at Night – by Lola Ridge and Chaille Stovall
A graphic story illustrating Wall Street at night in the 1920s.
The images by Stovall are as massively intimidating as Wall Street’s influence on the world. Spectacular and oppressive wherein human figures are small and insignificant.
What makes this particularly interesting is that the text is from a poem written by avant-garde, Marxist feminist Lola Ridge who lived 1873-1941. Apparently Stovall’s “thing” is to illustrate old literature in a modern way. I see this as innovative and creative to a remarkable degree. It is certainly an effective approach, judging from this example. I’m impressed.
Allaigna’s Song: Aria – by JM Landels
Fourteen-year-old Allaigna continues her quest to find her high-born father, yet at the same time continues to flee all contact with friends and family as a means of avoiding responsibility. She is dangerously confused and conflicted for someone who needs to hide from those who hunt her.
This is the final instalment of this serialized novel in Pulp Literature, but by no means the ending. For that you will need to buy the complete novel when it becomes available from Pulp Literature Press in September.
This is a YA novel presumably aimed at young girls willing to identify with a character like themselves yet able to handle assorted edge weapons with ease. Typical of teenagers in general, Allaigna is constantly prey to obsessive introspection centred on self-doubts and trust/paranoia issues. So, not a strong warrior-woman role model yet, but one in the process of maturing. Her future depends on a series of impossible choices, or at least choices whose consequences cannot be confidently predicted, so definitely a character teenage girls can relate to.
Personally, Allaigna’s problems are a bit low-key for me, as I’d prefer the occasional unexpected confrontation with monsters erupting out of the desert dunes or some such, but Landels is writing about a different sort of monster that all girls know well. My taste in fantasy adventure, more along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, is not relevant to the target readership, or so I suspect.
I do believe the introspection is handled well and would strike teenage girls as entirely credible, thus confirming the realism of the character in their minds. Probably the secret weapon of this novel is the subliminal message that it is entirely about the reader, or about a fantasy extension of same, which makes Allaigna easy to identify with. Doesn’t have quite the same effect on me, if only because I’m an elderly curmudgeon with not slightest clue what teenage girls are thinking about nowadays. Nevertheless, I think I’m correct when I state the book undoubtedly has tremendous appeal for its target readership.
As usual, this latest issue is a reflection of the magazine’s mandate to embrace all forms of Pulp Literature, not just SF&F, but with a higher, more literary quality of writing than in the days of yore. Fine writing throughout. You won’t be disappointed.
Check it out at: < Pulp Literature 23 >