OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
Pulp Literature Magazine #26
Published by Pulp Literature Press, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Spring 2020.
Publisher: Jennifer Landels, Managing Editor: Melanie Anastasiou, Senior Editor: Jessica Fabrizius, Editor: Genevieve Wynand, Acquisitions Editor: Daniel Cowper, Poetry Editors: Emily Osborne and Amanda Bidnall.
Cover art: Queen of Swords by Tais Teng.
The Bicolour Spiral – by Matthew Hughes
Life is extinct on Erythreot, its surface scoured by periodic glaciations brought about by a unstable sun. No trace of its ancient alien civilization remains, except for grave goods found in deeply buried tombs. The rarest of these goods are large “pearls” created by some long forgotten creature. Collectors pay vast sums for them. Luntz Kundlemaz is lured to Erythreot with an illegal opportunity to add to his collection. He arrives in his space yacht with his niece Purindath. Luntz is mysteriously murdered. Purindath is blamed. Investigator Kaslo takes up her case.
An old-fashioned mystery in a science fiction setting. Greed and corruption are universal through both space and time. That’s a given. The murder of a wealthy man is a common trigger for many a mystery. This one has a “drawing room” feel to it. One scene takes place at an event in a ballroom. Another in a private home office. A comfortable mystery that seems very traditional. Is the science fiction setting necessary? Isn’t it just a rich people’s thirst for expensive trinkets? Could have been set in any time period?
No. Not really. The intricacies of the several cultures involved are unique to the centuries ahead. And the sophistication of the investigation depends not only on imagination and perception, but also on technology which has yet to be invented. What we have here is an entertaining and seamless blend of futurism and human chicanery that makes for an intriguing and satisfying tale. Matthew offers more proof that genre-combination stories can work as well as single genre stories, especially when written by someone as talented as he. I don’t read many mysteries but I can say I definitely liked this one. I was fascinated throughout.
Feature Interview – Pulp Literature interviews Matthew Hughes
A short interview but contains much of interest, particularly from a writer’s point of view. Includes an outstanding piece of advice that struck me like an epiphany, something incredibly simple yet so powerful and necessary that it deserves to go to the top of the list of advice for anyone writing a novel. Involves instant recognition of the vital truth of the matter along the lines of “Of course! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” No, sorry, not going to tell you what it is. Read the interview to see it for yourself. It alone is worth the price of the issue.
I will mention one amusing comment. I chuckled when he said he gets into the mood to write mystery fiction by imagining Humphry Bogart’s voice for the narrator. Makes me wonder. What would an appropriate imaginary voice be when writing horror? … Anyway, a very good interview. Not at all dull. Quite fun in fact.
Absent are the constellations my father plucked from the sky – by Sarah Summerson
A reminiscence of her father.
The title (I say with slight exaggeration) is almost as long as the poem. Nevertheless, room for some vivid imagery. I particularly like her definition of “Obedience.” Some poets would use mere words, as if contributing to a dictionary. Sarah incorporates sound and sight. A poet’s poet.
The Extra: Frankie Ray at the Gates of Monument Studios – by Mel Anastasiou
Frankie and Connie, two girls from Vancouver who’d driven to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune, find a place to stay and, miraculously, get hired as extras at Monument studios.
It’s the early 1930s, what with Hollywood overrun with desperate Okies. But then everyone in Hollywood is desperate. And everyone in Hollywood is a “character.” There are so many eccentric characters in this tale (which rings true since most people are “characters” in their own right—not all though, some are dull as dish water) that, on reading this, it suddenly occurs to me that actors, especially extras, tone down their eccentricities in front of a camera. In real life many an actor is weirder than the characters they portray. This is one of the underlying themes that make Frankie and Connie’s quest so absorbing and fun to read.
In a sense, everyone in Hollywood is addicted to being an actor every waking moment, always performing, always objectively observing people’s reaction to their performance. Even when people cut loose during a spontaneous party (as happens in this chapter) it is as if cameras are present and all participants are constantly and self-consciously judging themselves and each other. No wonder actors are notoriously insecure and unstable! They never stop acting.
That is the beauty of The Extra. It brings out the essential madness of the Hollywood phenomenon., puts it on display. It truly is the land of make believe 24/7, which explains why everyone armours themselves with layers of cynicism and yet, and yet, not sufficiently enough to avoid being caught up in the ecstasy of performance, even off camera.
I’ve heard it said that actors “live for the stage” because real life sucks. There has always been, in the public’s mind, the tabloid assumption that actors can’t cope with reality. In this episode Frankie and Connie are just beginning to cope with their dreams coming true, and an unwelcome intrusion of a particularly harsh piece of reality is frantically ignored “because the show must go on.” Or to put it another way, Frankie and Connie refuse to let go of their rising star. There’s a strong hint, however, that both will come crashing back to the real world in the next issue.
Will Frankie and Connie become incorrigible cynics? Will they even survive? I can’t wait to find out. I’ve become quite addicted to this serialized quest of theirs. Normally I could care less about actors and tabloid gossip. But this fictionalized account of 1930s Hollywood with its convincing “behind the scenes” feeling and ambience is too “fly on the wall” for me to give up. I find it fascinating.
The Birthday Party – by Melisa Gregorio
Eight kids have been invited to Asley’s birthday party. She’s turning nine years old. She’s very popular, spoiled, and rather difficult.
Some kids are instinctively accepted as role models by their peers, either because of their accomplishments, or because they dare to flout convention. Ashley is a bit of both. But being a role model is not necessarily in itself an accomplishment. Especially when it’s an example of something not to do.
At one level this is a bittersweet account of a child’s birthday party. At a higher level, a metaphor for the consequences of the modern cult of irresponsibility. Sometimes the freedom to do what you want is not quite the “noble selfishness” that some people advocate. Sometimes it’s a damned stupid idea, albeit addictive. I think that’s the point of this story. Very relevant to these pandemic times.
Watershakers – by Christi Nogle
The water in the horse trough being full of mosquito larvae is a bit of a problem for a young girl. She doesn’t know what to do. Fortunately., mom takes care of it. Even better, the girl rescues one of the larvae and keeps it as a pet.
Remember the “Sea Monkey” ads in comic books? Just rip open the package and shake the powder into a pitcher of water? Endless fun watching the Sea Monkeys dance, till they die. The powder was innumerable brine-shrimp eggs that hatched on exposure to water. I never sent away for them so I don’t know if there were any feeding instructions. I doubt it.
This story reminded me of the Sea Monkeys, but it isn’t about brine shrimp, or mosquitos for that matter, but something else, something quite different. Starts off with a plausible, realistic situation but quickly slides into fantasy, albeit plausible fantasy if the reader accepts the premise. Is it a little girl’s dream come true? Or a potential horror story? Could go either way.
When I was a little kid I caught some tadpoles and put them in a jar. I thought they were wonderful. Could hardly wait to show mom and dad when they came home. Trouble is I screwed the lid on the jar to protect them. I didn’t know they required food. Worse, I didn’t know they required oxygen. When mom and dad came home I ran down to the basement to retrieve the jar. My amazing critters had turned to mush. I was heartbroken. Impossible for me to read a story about putting life in a jar without feeling sad. The girl in this story is older and wiser than I was. Her dreams have a chance.
An interesting fantasy which struck me as original and innovative. Different.
The Safest Place in a Trailer During a Tornado is the Bathtub – by Patti Jean Pangborn
A tornado strikes.
Fairly literal description of frozen glimpses of destruction as if viewed under a strobe light. Reflecting perhaps the kind of momentary, intense, observational snapshots captured in the memory of someone enduring the proverbial slow-motion situational-awareness of an unfolding disaster. I fell off a cliff once but I don’t remember anything slow-motion about it. Still, if the phenomenon exists, it would be something like this poem. Beautiful in the precision of its detail, though I wouldn’t think that if I were living through it. Or not living through it. Nasty things, tornados. And how many tornadoes, metaphorically speaking, do we experience in our lifetime? And to what effect? I believe the poem raises that question. Interpret it as you will.
Deep Water – by Mike Carson
Matthew Cahill has problems. His father is slowly dying in a care home, suffering so badly from dementia his son is unable to comfort him. And Matthew’s own son, fourteen years old, is increasingly drifting out from under his authority. He feels he is losing both, and doesn’t know where to turn for help. Miraculously, advanced technology offers him a chance to distance himself from some of his problems, but at a price.
This has elements of a horror story. Even the most straightforward non-dramatic account of life with dementia in a care home has the power to terrify people, because most have the imagination to picture themselves in that situation at some point in their future.
What makes this story particularly difficult for me to view objectively is my mother’s own decline from what she was to what she wasn’t. Every aspect of this story rings true to life. It brings back memories, emotions, and regrets. I am still so caught up in the emotional turmoil of what happened to her that I have yet to bother worrying about what’s going to happen to me. In fact I am determined not to worry.
That’s the message underlying this story, I think. Do the best you can and be satisfied with that. Help your loved ones, and when the time comes, let them help you. In a practical sense this is a cathartic story, it may relieve you of your worst irrational fears and give you some idea how to cope with this situation if it ever happens to you. Not what I would call an entertaining story (I’m too close to the subject) but a useful one. Definitely worth reading.
Life4Sale – by Michael Donaghue
Two adults are willing to swap lives, bodies and some memories (as per their Craigslist ads) but are cautious in their email exchange as they try to spot the hidden flaws in each other.
A very complex and funny story (no wonder it’s the winner of this year’s Pulp Lit Raven Short Fiction contest) that puts me in mind of Robert Sheckley’s mindswap writings. Has the same lively, spritely sense of humour as it explores the unforeseen consequences of mindswap technology were it to become routine. The ending took me completely by surprise. It is unexpected, satisfying, and a suitable cap to the humour.
Dannemora Sewing Class – by MFC Feeley
Ralph, a male prison inmate, is sewing the seam of a dress worn by a woman named Angie.
From the title I gather that Ralph and Angie are in the Clinton Correctional Facility, the largest State prison in New York State, in the village of Dannemora. Ralph is teaching Angie how to sew? They seem to be both operating the sewing machine. Certainly their bodies are intertwined. I don’t know anything about sewing machines but this seems more than usually personal. The entire story an exercise in inuendo? It seems surreal to me. And I don’t “get” the ending, apart from it being a humorous take on a prison cliché.
I admit I don’t understand this story. I can’t tell if it is a “real” situation described in fantasy terms or a fantasy anchored in commonplace reality. I literally cannot fathom what it is Ralph and Angie are doing. I suspect I am being too literal minded. No doubt my ignorance in regard to sewing machines isn’t helping. The story may be crystal clear to everyone else but it is shooting right past my head without any comprehension on my part. Feel like a nitwit.
I ask myself, is there something wrong with the story? Probably not. After all, it was first runner up in the Raven contest. It is well written, with some telling description and a number of nice touches I find appealing. I just can’t figure out what it’s about. I’m guessing my ignorance prevents me from understanding context and as a result I’m missing the obvious. Very disconcerting. Oh well, I never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the planet.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this story is in fact a sophisticated metaphor dealing with repressed life and the eternal urge to escape be it from prison or from life-style limitations that cultural norms impose, but I’m not sure. If it is, it appears to offer a hint of hope that escape is always an option, with luck.
I figure I’ll feel better if I interpret this story as a prose poem. I often read poems I don’t understand. Heck, sometimes I even publish poems I don’t understand. With poetry, it’s up to the readers to come up with their individual interpretations based on how a poem personally resonates with them. I figure it is the same with this story.
Double Flush – (Graphic Art) by Rina Piccolo
A woman follows a man into a woman’s washroom. Not to worry, he’s a janitor briefly checking something out. As the woman enters a stall a woman already present in another stall asks “Hey, what’s a man doing in here?” as he leaves. Conversation ensues.
How odd. I’ve never heard men converse between stalls, except at bars and nightclubs when the men are drunk and less inhibited. I mean, manly men value their privacy. Striking up a conversation with a guy in another stall just isn’t done. Not that it’s taboo, exactly, but I can’t recall a single instance in my lifetime apart from drunks.
Point is I’m flabbergasted at the implication that women routinely talk to each other when sitting on the can. Is this true? I had no idea. I’m the type who likes to concentrate on one thing at a time. When engaged in this sort of routine activity I prefer not to be distracted. Always thought of this as being normal. Learn something new every day, I guess.
The gist of this comic art is about being trapped in an infuriatingly boring conversation you can’t get away from. Personally, I found it wryly amusing. Especially the frustration of being too polite to interrupt a spiritual message. Not common in men, I’d say. Most men have no problem whatsoever in interrupting anybody, usually by switching the topic. You may have noticed.
Says it is a true story. I believe it. Presented in a very simple graphic style, but with well executed visual angles and vivid facial expressions that add emotional emphasis to the dialogue. Very professional. First class.
The Shepherdess: Paris – by JM Landels
Shepherdess Toinette has entered Paris with her disreputable escort Henri. They take refuge in the house of Madame Laferie, Marquise de Ruffiac and Countess of Athlone. Rather surprising that she is on good terms with the ruffian Henri. Fortunately, Toinette is offered a job as a maid. Perhaps falling in with Henri was a good idea after all. Alas, previous misfortune arrives to plague them. Violence ensues.
Takes place in pre-revolutionary France where both wit and swordsmanship were key elements of survival. A nation of con artists to some degree, but one where it was vital to back up assumed image with deadly skill, especially when interacting with the upperclass as Toinette finds herself doing. All she wants is to sell them homemade facial cream. Avoiding sword thrusts, and lead balls exiting pistols, not quite what she had in mind. It seems Paris is riddled with tension and paranoia. Life is dangerous indeed.
Landels does a very good job evoking the reality of the period. Attention to detail based on obviously meticulous research brings the era strikingly to life. This particular chapter is sort of a French version of an “Upstairs, Downstairs” episode, but with greater threat and violence. The next chapter in this serialization promises to be even more interesting. Both the characters and the setting are equally fascinating. It’s shaping up to be an excellent historical novel. I can tell, because I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Incredible variety of fiction offered in this issue. Bound to be something to please you. And if you’re like me, a voracious reader with eclectic yet widespread tastes, you’ll read it from cover to cover and be well satisfied. Lots of good stuff.
Check it out at: < Pulp Literature issue #26 >