OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
LACKINGTON’S magazine – issue #21, Spring 2020.
Publisher: Lackington Press, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Ranylt Richildis
Cover Art: P. Emersen Williams
Interior Art: P. Emersen Williams
Note: “Cocktails” is the theme of this issue. I used to binge drink. Now I don’t drink any alcoholic beverage. Still, I fancy I have enough experience with booze to relate to these stories.
A Selection of Drinks from the courts of the Five Silver Moons and the Seven Red Stars
– by Mari Ness.
A listing of fourteen drink recipes along with the consequences of imbibing them.
Some of the ingredients sound yummy, such as rum, cream, pineapple juice, honey, and so on. Others, like seven drops of the blood of the artist, or a dash of uncertainty, strike me as difficult to obtain. No doubt the services of a truly professional bartender are required.
Once I realized this was, in essence, a drink list, I was a bit dubious where it would lead. Above all, where would the element of drama come in? In what way could this be a story?
Believe it or not, by the time I finished reading it I was reminded of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. (Arrgh, I read that as a teenager more than half a century ago. Time be fleeting.) Not that this is Rabelaisian in any way (well, maybe slightly). That book was full of lists for the sheer exuberance of lists (there is such a thing). A selection of Drinks fits in this category. Or, at least, reminds me how much fun lists can be.
The secret in this case lies in the tacked-on bits of context provided. These bizarre concoctions are consumed by both mortals and immortals at the two courts, with results varying from the lyrical to the tragic. There is no plot or story arc as such, but there are powerful hints of dramatic tales of fantasy, almost as if this is a list imbedded in a poetic saga or novel revolving around the two more-than-human courts. Hence the Gargantua connection, to my mind. Certainly one could weave an entire novel from this list.
Not what I anticipated when I began reading it. Very surprised by my own reaction by the time I finished. Has a sprightful impact, something ethereal. The overall effect is both charming and delightful. Struck me as highly original, a teasing glimpse of the fantasy setting imagined by the author. Very satisfying prose poetry. Left me smiling.
A Galactic History of the Asmodean Fire Hoof – by Alexandra Seidel
The ultimate cocktail is created by disenchanted cultists seeking an elixir to celebrate returning to a rational life and it ultimately achieves the status of a religious icon accompanying mankind to the stars.
Written from the point of view of a scholar in the far future, this is an amusing take of the sort of academic reconstruction that often accompanies a thesis on the origin of epic poetry and the like. The description of the origin-party alone is quite amusing, as it seems to be a typical modern house party gone wild through internet-invite reaching far too many people, but here ransacked for religious and sociological interpretation and speculation which have absolutely no relation to what originally transpired. How much of modern anthropology and history is similarly flawed? No one knows, or ever will know, till someone invents a time machine and we can go back and observe the reality of the day.
The story then goes on to become something of an epic in itself, tracing the permutations and evolutions of the dogma surrounding the cocktail over multiple generations. Something similar might be a study of the worship of Dionysus in its original catastrophic impact on Republican Rome and its subsequent popularity in the imperial period as imitating Greek civilization became an important factor on being properly Roman, only to be condemned when Christianity became the official religion. People reinterpret dogma as society evolves. This story points this out to comic effect.
That the drink is called the Asmodean Fire Hoof reinforces its everchanging role among its adherents. I was totally clueless and had to look up Asmodeus on Wikipedia. Possibly of Persian Zoroastrianism origin, Asmodeus is found in both the Apocryphal Book of Tobit and the Talmud. At times a fun-loving fellow, at other periods he was considered “the worst of demons.” I particularly like the legend he was tricked into helping build the Temple of Solomon. A Jack-of-all-trades, it seems, who could be whatever his followers wanted him to be. So a very suitable name for a cocktail symbolizing whatever its imbibers of a given era wanted it to represent.
To sum up. An amusing take oh humanity’s habit of forcing itself on religious dogma and myth according to the fad-mood of the day. Thus religion and myth evolve. Thus we evolve. A sense of humour makes it easier to swallow. (Some kind of pun, I guess. Cocktail = moral lesson = swallow. Get it? Nah. Reaching too far for it. I do that a lot. Particularly back in the day when I often had too much to drink.)
Here’s a better summation. A fun story.
Barley Wine and Potable Myths – by Marie Vibbert
Being a cook on a bare-bones space station lends few possibilities for moonshine. Potatoes and onion render a serviceable aquavit, but not quite paradise. But along comes a ship in need of repairs which offers Dill from its hydroponic herb garden. A legend is born.
The woman who created the legend returns to the space station in her old age and discovers she has been forgotten but her concoction become myth central to the very survival of the stations inhabitants. Almost like Jesus showing up at the second coming only to hear everyone saying “Who?” yet living according to the beatitudes. What would be his reaction, I wonder?
Can’t say too much without giving away the story. I think it’s significance is that it reminds the reader that when we explore the Solar System and then the stars we will take all manner of cultural gifts/baggage with us. It won’t just be generation ships full of Spock/Carl Sagan clones relying entirely on clear-headed rationality. Every religion, every superstition, every belief system will accompany humanity no matter where we go.
What this story points out is that the result may, on occasion, be both charming and hopeful.
When the Hawkweed Blooms – by Randall Hayes
A man is doing his level best to look after his baby daughter. When the star-ship Captain Great-Grandmother arrives and offers to breast-feed the baby, things get weird.
The cocktail in this case is the myriad chemicals produced by the human body and found in the environment around us. The man is a living compendium of such knowledge, seemingly updated second by second as he interprets the chemical signatures behind every emotion and, above all, involving everything that enters the baby’s mouth. I can’t quite make up my mind if he is simply relying on his vast knowledge of the subject, or on some sort of augmented sensory input keeping him informed moment by moment. Certainly the technology of the day makes either possible.
On the one hand, this obsession with a chemical-oriented interpretation of life strikes me as rather crank-like, a form of unhealthy mentality, perhaps inevitable in a future age. A bit creepy, for my taste. And some of the issues raised are rather cold, rather mechanical in their emotional implications.
On the other hand, the story does suggest that loving parental care will evolve with changing society and technology yet remain sound and humanely human. Fundamentally an optimistic vision of the future. Elements of humour add to this impression.
I guess the basic underlying concept of this story is that parenthood will remain as difficult and as rewarding as always. More than that, this is a fascinating glimpse of the implications of current trends and developments as manifest in the not-too-distant future. This is an example of what good speculative fiction is all about.
Tempus Vernum – by Michelle Jäger
A thirty-eight-year-old woman is having great difficulty becoming pregnant. A cocktail of drugs may be her last hope.
Tempus Vernum is Latin for springtime, or seasonal change, or new beginnings. One reference I looked at stated that in modern medical usage it is sometimes used to refer to the stream of consciousness. I don’t know about that, but all of the meanings listed are appropriate to the story.
I suspect that many women will identify with the emotions and reactions of the would be mother at the beginning of the story. Technique after technique is tried, with a drug cocktail being the final effort modern medicine can provide. Then, in extremis, the woman accepts an untested drug cocktail offered under-the-counter by a consulting specialist. This produces results. Unexpected results.
What begins as a modern medical tale with the potential to become a depressing horror story suddenly shifts gears into the realm of… I don’t know … urban fantasy realism? I detect an element of recent discoveries in biology combined with a kind of Gaia-like wishful thinking or impassioned desire based on modern myth that offers a solution to the conundrum of humanity’s future should the basic concept prove true and achievable. Alas, I fear it is utopian fantasy well beyond the limit of practical reality, but nevertheless a pleasing concept that makes for an entertaining story.
Would a story dealing with a real world problem that turns out to be resolvable only through magic or myth be a sub-genre in its own right? Magic isn’t necessarily the right word in this case, however, as it may be an example of alternate biology that can exist only in a fantasy world. So, not quite magic realism, but something similar.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the shift from medical “reality” to fantasy, which may sound jarring, works quite well if the reader is able to accept the premise of the fantasy element for the sake of the story. I’m impressed that the mother resists the success of the ultimate cocktail, seeing it as the culminating failure of her quest, but slowly comes around to emotional acceptance if only because motherhood, no matter how defined, is a wonderful thing.
Could I be the father? I doubt it. I suspect I would fret and worry far too much if I had a normal child, let alone the being that is offered in this tale. But I would care. I would definitely care. And that, I think, is the point of this story.
Old Fashioned – by Steve Toase
Medford is after a recipe for a summoning of a demon, a very particular demon. This involves tracking down a variety of individuals, some of them afflicted with supernatural traits, who are reluctant to give up their piece of the puzzle. Booze helps loosen tongues. So do more drastic methods. But will it be worth it if he does acquire the knowledge he seeks? Will the day come when he can say “Good, now I can summon the demon.” Will that be a good day?
This story is rich in atmospheric description. The reader feels the creep in the creepiness. Naturally Medford gets what he wants, and then some, more than he anticipated. Equally as naturally the reader assumes this is to be expected. A successful summoning, in terms of a happy outcome, is rare. I say this in reference to fiction for I, given the sterile rationality of my personal belief system, would anticipate actual attempts always end in the nonappearance of an artificial concept like a demon. Nevertheless, I confess I would never attempt to summon a demon. You never know, maybe such exist, and I would be rather nonplussed to meet one. Tongue-tied, so to speak.
But don’t mind me. In this story, the demon in question most definitely exists and turns out not to match Medford’s conception of him. But, being a fool of a mortal, Medford attempts to bend him to will and purpose. He succeeds, sort of, but the ultimate result is not quite what he originally had in mind. Where the author succeeds is in tidying up the story quite neatly, so that the ending makes it all of a piece and quite satisfying from the reader’s perspective.
Up to this point the stories have all been rather hopeful and life-affirming. Not Old Fashioned. It’s rather gruesome but genuinely entertaining, a good horror story. Is there a moral to the story? Yes. Whatever you do, don’t summon a demon. It is always, always, always a bad idea. Every time. Please keep this in mind as you plough through the vicissitudes of life. Believe me, you don’t need the extra burden of a successful summoning. Don’t take my word for it. Read the story. You’ll see.
Whiskey and Bones – by A.Z. Louise
Long ago the family came from the big city where hidebehind monsters were numerous and fatal. They hoped for refuge in the mountains, but when the lumberjacks began to be eaten they took upon themselves the task of tracking and slaying the hidebehinds. Daddy is the last tracker to be active. So far he has refused to impart his knowledge to his eleven-year-old son. But now Daddy is worn out. So his son steals away with his dad’s gun to take his place, with the family whiskey as his only shield. But even that can’t protect him from learning Daddy’s most hidden secret.
A kind of hillbilly tale that very much puts me in mind of Manly Wade Wellman and his Silver John the Balladeer stories. Every bit as good, methinks. The ending took me totally by surprise, but strikes me as plausible, it being dependant on a realistic quirk of human nature liable to crop up in any father becoming rather bored with his job over the course of many decades. Yeah, I can see it happening. And yeah, I can see the son dismissing it as a useless, idiosyncratic hindrance to getting the job done properly. The story, weird as it is, is psychologically sound.
Though it’s a horror story, or at least a monster story, in the end it is rather optimistic. Life goes on. A job is a job. You do what you have to do. Even when you are eleven-years-old. This boy has a future before him. Unless the hidebehinds eat him. Life is like that. I enjoyed this story.
Every story in this issue is good. I derived a great deal of pleasure reading it. An excellent issue. Loads of fun.
By the way, each story is illustrated by the cover artist. William’s paintings add a rich, vividly textured swirling-canvas of colour to aid your imagination in envisioning in your mind’s eye what you are reading. Slightly surreal and impressionistic, and above all, quite striking.
Check it out at: < Lackington’s Magazine #21 >