CLUBHOUSE: Review: Pulp Literature Magazine #25, Winter 2020

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OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

Pulp Literature Magazine #25

Published by Pulp Literature Press, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, winter of 2020.

Publisher: Jennifer Landels, Managing Editor: Melanie Anastasiou, Acquisitions Editor: Jessica Fabrizius, Story Editor: Genevieve Wynand, Poetry Editors: Emily Osborne and Amanda Bidnall.

Cover art: On Thin Ice by Ann-Marie Brown.

Wrap Party – by AM Dellamonica

Premise:  

A Crime Noir play The Cutting Room has completed its run at a Community Theatre next door to an abandoned hospital overrun with drug addicts. The play is about a former actress from the theatre who was found dead in the arms of a statue of Saint Nicholas at the hospital. A crime unsolved. Most of the theatre staff have gone home. The actors remain, and they’re very, very drunk.

Review:  

I really enjoyed this story. Actors going into hysterics over imagined slights? Clumsily coming on to each other? Vomiting outside? Laughing at each other’s allegedly witty jokes? Interpreting a real emergency as a comic quest? Behaving as if they were enacting their entire repertoire? Exaggerating drama for the sake of drama? My kind of wrap party.

Once you’ve read the story you may well conclude it is a tad tabloidy and nowhere near the essential sanity and dignity of an actor’s private life. Wrong! While I majored in Creative Writing in my four years at the University of B.C. I also studied theatre in order to gain a greater understanding of character motivation. I had the good luck to be in several major productions at U.B.C.’s Freddy Wood Theatre playing roles like Tiresias the Blind Seer in a revamped version of The Bacchae by Euripides, and a member of the Sanhedrin in a radically revised interpretation of the final days of Jesus. U.B.C. has, or at least had back in the late 1970s, a tradition of allowing wrap parties to be held in the Faculty Club, which boasts a very fine bar. Going home from one such party I was pulled over by a police car, and I was walking! “You’re drunk, fella!” I’d staggered about two miles and was only a block away from my apartment. Fortunately, they let me crawl the rest of the way, my being so close and all.

Point is there is nothing exaggerated about this story. I’ve been to wrap parties just like it, or darn near. Granted, an unusual and unexpected problem, possibly of a criminal nature, presents itself, but the way the actors respond is perfectly credible in my eyes, and quite amusing. Truth is, no matter how reprehensible or bizarre the characters which actors portray on stage can be, the actors themselves are often larger than the life of any character, especially if they’ve had a bit to drink. Possibly the result of an actor’s skill and imagination being unleashed when alcohol assaults their limited inhibitions.

I found this an entertaining and rather delightful story, even though normally I no longer tolerate drunks. I recognise true-to-life veracity when I see it, and based on my own experience, yeah, this is real, but the way it is described is a lot of fun to read. I like it. There is more depth to it than I have indicated, plus a Noir tone overlay, but I’ll leave you to discover how all that adds to the story.

Feature Interview – Pulp Literature interviews AM Dellamonica

Review:  

Alex reveals she has a fair amount of experience in both Community and Professional Theatre and makes reference to the “drinking sub-culture” found within. She also explores the rewards of teaching writing. A most interesting interview. I have the feeling she could regale an audience for hours with all that she knows.

The Extra: Frankie Ray Rolls into Tinseltown – by Mel Anastasiou

Premise:  

Frankie and Connie finally arrive in Hollywood, having been driven most of the way by Monument Studios Moghul King Samson. Even before they find a place to stay they interact with Samson, his son, his first wife who is now a famous gossip columnist, his major star, and a couple of even shadier characters.

Review:

I’ve been waiting for this. In previous chapters of this serialization I’ve been rather taken by these two dream-girls and their impulsive quest for fame and fortune in Tinseltown and now that they have finally arrived I’m not disappointed. It’s one depressing life-lesson after another but with each a brand new opportunity opens up. They’re like pinballs in a particularly glitzy pinball game. Nevertheless there’s a logical progression to their path (I dare not say descent; not at this early stage). The various characters they are meeting are not in the way of arbitrary introductions designed to cram in as many characters as possible early in the plot (a flaw found in many a novel), but a tight-knit “family” of inter-connected characters whose introductions follow in a logical sequence that builds suspense as to what will eventually be at stake. Makes me eager to read more.

I’m also enjoying the details of the setting and Frankie and Connie’s reactions to aspects of Hollywood they hadn’t anticipated. The sheer number of oil derricks, for instance, some of them standing in the middle of a highway. Ubiquitous Orange groves, some of them flourishing in downtown Hollywood. (If I remember correctly, Boris Karloff invested some of his early earnings in such, and made a tidy profit when they began to be ripped out and replaced with buildings.) In other words, Mel has done her research into the period, but has the good sense not to smother the plot with her notes. Instead she adds a touch of the unusual or the unexpected here and there sufficient to bring Hollywood of the past vividly to life. Methinks it was a lot more pleasant back then than it is now.

(I remember a Cops episode where they arrested a drunken Oscar-winning old-timer who’d been driving around Hollywood threatening people with a pistol because he couldn’t forgive the current generation for “ruining” Hollywood.)

Point is the setting is solid, the characters credible and interesting, some of them great fun, the ambience and tone suitable to the period, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely an entertaining story.

Dream Hypnosis – (poem) by Matthew Walsh

Premise:  

Dream images useful for combating life.

Review:  

Or to put it another way, concepts conjured in dreams make for useful roleplaying when seeking shelter from life’s threats. Maybe. I’m probably way off base in my interpretation. At the very least, the imagery is thought-provoking. Serious, somewhat surreal poem.

A Parable of Things that Crawl and Fly – by Graham Robert Scott and Wallace Cleaves

Premise:

Helen is an elderly Native American scholar researching the history of her nearly extinct Tongva tribe. Alas, memories are fading from the minds of the elders, and now her son presents her with a new problem.

Review:  

The Tongva are the indigenous tribe of the Los Angeles basin, today so small in numbers they aren’t even recognised as a tribe by the Federal government. In this story radical measures attempt to preserve and perhaps revive their culture, but probably to no avail. Written by two University professors, this story suggests that average Americans face a similar fate. Call it an exploration of the loneliness of the non-tribe pretending to be a tribe, or a revelation that culture is fractal. Fortunately, the Tongva creation myth hints at a solution. A thought-provoking tale, sad or optimistic depending on the reader’s concept of reality, and an example of the importance of myth in coping with life.

Hands – by Rebecca Ruth Gold

Premise:  

She first saw his hands in Tehran, then got to know them better outside that country.

Review:

Iran is a country where public behavior is less than libertine. Amazing that a simple hand gesture, seemingly in support of traditional custom, can be viewed as criminal. Mere hands, expressive by nature, if not kept strictly under control, may betray emotion. Thus desire, even in its most private forms, is difficult to convey. It had not previously occurred to me how subtly authoritarian belief systems can impose compliance. Before one fears the state, one must first fear oneself. It is like living among emotional mimes painfully aware why they are condemned to be mute. All this revealed by attention and focus on a small detail of physical life. A remarkable story. Very short but with great impact. George Orwell would love it.

A Tree Slowly Rots – (poem) by David Troupes

Premise:  

The title says it all.

Review:  

Ah, but what is the tree in your life? The form of it? The shape of it? And how do you revive it? Perhaps you need to look closer.

Buddha in a Bottle – by Susan Pieters

Premise:  

She found a genie in a bottle on a Vancouver beach. Actually, the genie found her. Since they both know what typically happens when three wishes are granted, their relationship is frozen in a perpetual stalemate. Awkward.

Review:  

Genie in the bottle stories tend to be viewed as red flags by editors. They are perilously close to being shaggy-dog cliché’s right from the get-go, and it’s not often an original interpretation shows up in the slush pile. Susan’s version strikes me as highly original, possibly to the point of being the ultimate genie tale that puts the whole sub-genre to bed. It would be difficult to top this one. Bonus, it’s fun to read.

The Smell of Antiseptic – by Frances Rowat

Premise:  

Jerem Brand has been running away from her successful past for years. Once again she has exiled herself to an obscure colony planet to serve as physician to a small band of colonists whose youngest children are “old enough to have begun hating the settlement.” There is a lot to hate. Lack of resources. Harsh conditions. Dangerous local pests harbouring loathsome diseases. Ubiquitous and highly adaptable vermin from Earth spreading with mankind among the stars. And something worse.

Review:

This is a meaty, solid, old-fashioned science fiction piece sliding slightly into the horror genre. I quite like it. Stirred my sense of wonder. Oh, not because of the beauty or joys of Planet Schmid. Quite a horrible place, actually. Seems more like the perfect spot for a penal colony than an attempt to find a new home for humanity. What impressed me is how vividly the reality of living on such a dismal planet is conveyed. Reminds me I’m really not a frontier-minded sort. Rather live in the decadent stews of the home worlds, thank you very much. Better entertainment possibilities that beat throwing clots of mud at goats (the height of fun for children trapped on Schmid). Also, a useful reminder it is not possible to run away from your problems, no matter where you go. A work of science fiction grounded in psychological reality. Good show.

Bl–dstre+m – (poem) by Nicholas Alti

Premise:  

Where are the modern version of the miracles and visions of the past?

Review:  

I agree that it depends. On what? For you to decide and interpret on what. Make up your own mind. A short but intriguing poem.

Shotguns and Jinn – by Akem

Premise:  

In a sense, the whole world was paved over. In the last remaining desert magic was discovered and quickly exploited. This awoke the Jinn. “Aha,” thought mankind, “another resource to exploit!” The Jinn turned out to be more powerful. Now the Whirling Sands are left alone, guarded by Sheriffs whose job is not to keep the Jinn in, but to keep treasure seekers out. Only Post Riders may pass, brave individuals who return to the Jinn anonymous packages carrying stolen magic. Much to his surprise, Sheriff Mankur has caught a rare thief. His problems are only beginning.

Review:  

Even though the story is a fantasy, some readers may question why Western-style Pony-express characters and Sheriffs, all of them riding robot horses, are the only characters apart from the Jinn. I don’t. I accept the premise and associated internally-consistent logic. I just assume some kind of cultural pretence is behind the guardian set-up, or maybe an eccentricity on the part of the individual or group who fashioned the system. Doesn’t matter. They are all pieces of a puzzle, and the joy of the story comes from trying to solve the puzzle, from trying to figure out what’s really going on.

The story begins with a convincing description of the effects of extreme heat, then digresses to explore apathy sympathetically and in depth. Am struck by the concept of apathy as a necessary survival technique. This may sound boring, but it’s not. Makes one introspective. And helps emphasise the trapped-in-Limbo aspect of being a Sheriff. Then the story switches into the usual level of action one expects in a Western. In a way, the story reminds me of the classic 1952 movie High Noon. Anticipation builds to a dramatic climax, only here leading to a highly satisfactory resolution that took me by surprise. In fact the ending is so satisfying I am left both pleased and impressed.

I was the first editor to publish a short story by Akem, namely Wing Shop in issue #11 of Polar Borealis (Jul/Aug 2019). Can’t tell you how happy I am to discover a longer, rather mature work exhibiting what may well turn out to be her trademark style of unexpectedly-original fantasy concepts combined with psychological realism. Obviously her writing is as creative and innovative as her art. It is outré enough to be off-putting to the literal-minded, yet for that very reason of vast appeal to those who appreciate off-the-wall off-angle glimpses of strange realities solidly grounded in human nature. Akem is definitely a writer to watch.

Afterlife – by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Premise:  

The day after her mother’s funeral, Bea is on an Air Canada flight stuck next to a bible-thumping undertaker. What is there to do but drink?

Review:  

This is the winner of the 2019 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize sponsored by Pulp Literature. It has comic overtones, but is more of a mini-lesson on the best way to cope, not just with grief, but with life’s ongoing irritants no matter how small. There is no definitive answer that allows you to live happily ever after. Life is a process. Coping with life is a process. And no matter how badly you muck things up, there’s always hope. Can’t say that I envy the main character, but this is fundamentally an optimistic story. Has a certain familiar ambience of “been there, done that” to it. Reassuring in a way.

Featherweight – by Chad V Broughman

Premise:  

What do you do when you’re a young boy in grade five and your Pa has already given up on you as a sissy? Especially when he drunkenly gives you a second chance by virtue of the boxing gloves he just bought for both of you to spar with each other? Drunks seldom pull their punches.

Review:  

This is the runner-up to the 2019 Hummingbird Flash Fiction contest. Quite a bit terrifying for me since I’ve never liked the idea of boxing. Maybe it comes from having been publicly defeated in less than twenty seconds by the City of Toronto High School wrestling champion. I was his first bout of the day and, sad to say, barely qualified as a warm-up session. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always had enough imagination to visualise my face being pounded into a bloody pulp. Or that my reflexes always sucked. Anyway, thoroughly identified with the poor kid in this story. I understand his reluctance. Always considered boxing a cult for sadists and masochists. Don’t see any reason to change my mind.

Ghost Room – (graphic art) by Allison Bannister

Premise:  

Leigh, a former (?) university student, chases after a ghost from her past. 

Review:  

A simply drawn comic that is actually quite complex in meaning. It all has to do with revisiting the directions one has taken in life and pondering the consequences of choices. The dead aren’t the only sort of ghosts afflicting our imagination.

Not as grim as it sounds. There is some quite humorous banter about what Shakespeare was really going on about. Seems he may have had trouble making up his mind, too.

Treason’s Fulcrum – by JM Landels

Premise:  

Lauraign and Urdaign are twin sisters in appearance, or near enough. Their magical abilities enable them to look identical and both seduce young Molod into thinking a single, spectacular beauty is giddy with desire for him. Thus one sups with him in his bedroom while the other searches his house. Trouble is, they’re not the only ones who routinely make use of magic.

Review:  

A stand-alone story, a prequel of sorts, to Landels’ trilogy Allaigna’s Song. It isn’t a game of D&D transferred to the printed page. In this fantasy setting magic is as real as any other act committed by mortals. There are consequences. And complications. Chose to walk a certain direction, or chose to turn invisible. Either action can produce unexpected results. Either action can upset your plans for the evening. In fact either action has the potential to ruin the rest of your life. Or not.

In other words this story exhibits a sophisticated treatment of magic putting it on par with all else that is shown as “real.” The magic is as genuine and as solid as any table or chair. The characters take it for granted. You, the reader, can take it for granted. All that matters is whether the magic accomplishes what it is supposed to or buggers things up considerably. Consequently, the magic is an extremely useful device for advancing the plot. All you have to do is accept that it exists. If you can’t, what are you doing reading fantasy?

In my opinion this story is a wonderful example of the proper use of magic in fiction. It’s not something slipped in simply to proclaim “This is fantasy!” but has both purpose and meaning relevant to the plot and to the characters. Beginning writers would be well advised to study this story and observe Landels’ technique. It’s a classic example of the right way to do it. Well worth emulating. Good role model.

CONCLUSION: 

As usual, a good variety of quality writing. Here’s the thing: some of the stories are short, but several are quite long. Not for nothing is the motto of Pulp Literature “Good books for the price of a beer.”

Check it out at:    < Pulp Literature 25 >

 

 

 

 

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