CLUBHOUSE: Review: Stellar Evolutions, an anthology edited by Rhea E. Rose

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

STELLAR EVOLUTIONS: The Best of the First Fifteen Issues of Polar Borealis Magazine

Published October, 2020, by  RainWood Press, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada.

Publisher and Editor: Rhea E. Rose

Cover Art: by Michael Dean Jackson

A prominent critic warned me not to write this review. He said it would be “bad optics,” that it would be viewed as “incestuous” and “self-indulgent.”

Hey, isn’t that what writing is all about? Before I put out Polar Borealis (technically a semi-professional magazine inasmuch as I pay my contributors) I spent decades publishing a line of SF fanzines with titles like Space Cadet and The Fanactical Fanactivist. The eternal quest for egoboo (ego boost) is then and now a living tradition in SF fanzine fandom.

Heck, I identify with Canada’s first known fanzine editor, Nils Helmer Frome, who, hunched over a typewriter pounding out the first issue of his Supramundane Stories in fall of 1936, apparently thought he was the only SF&F fan in the Vancouver Lower Mainland region. (He must have been pretty good at writing letters, too,  since he talked H.P. Lovecraft into contributing an article for his second issue!) For me, like Nils,  publishing any sort of magazine is fundamentally a solitary and selfish act done for the sheer joy of it.

So imagine my excitement when Rhea E. Rose, a well-known poet and short story author, came to me with the idea of helping me promote beginning Canadian writers, perhaps in some sort of editorial capacity. All I did was suggest putting together an anthology of items from the first 15 issues of Polar Borealis. The rights having reverted to the contributors, it was Rhea who contacted them, contracted them, and paid them. Any money earned from sales of the book goes to recoup her expenses and, if there is any income beyond that, goes towards her next book project under her RainWood Press imprint. I receive not so much as a single penny (which would be difficult anyway, as we no longer use pennies in Canada). I’m involved and rewarded simply by the thrill of seeing it done.

Essentially, all I get out of this is the egoboo of seeing works I originally selected for publication being reprinted by someone else. I could not have put together this anthology myself. Since I liked all of these stories and poems enough to publish them in the first place, no way could I have winnowed them further to the 23 stories and 21 poems Rhea selected. She had her own criteria which, I suspect, at its simplest meant choosing the pieces she particularly enjoyed. Just as Polar Borealis reflects my tastes, Stellar Evolutions reflects hers. I hope you find the result intriguing.

In the space remaining I am just going to present brief capsule comments as to why I first chose the stories Rhea also selected. The poems are well worth reading too, I hasten to add, but many are relatively short and would be difficult to comment on without giving away too much.

Cover – by Michael Dean Jackson

I confess I really like the cover. Michael has done several covers for Polar Borealis Magazine, so it’s a joy to see his work grace this anthology. Rhea approached Mike and worked with him to produce a cover piece reflecting the eclectic mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and horror material Polar Borealis publishes.

You see a female astronaut looking up at spiral galaxy suggestive of Ying/Yang symbolism. That she is in a position to do so, presumably standing on some alien world beyond our Solar System, suggests a scene set in a very far future indeed. That her skin is purple, and her features represent an indeterminate ethnicity, possibly a combination of all Earthly ethnicities, is also redolent of the far future. She may very well be what the human race will eventually become as we journey among the stars. A science-fictional image.

The pigment-free pupils of her eyes and Medusa-like hair suggest a hint of horror, but really represent the mutational element of our evolution in the centuries to come.

As for the fantasy aspect, the shimmering Aurora filling the alien sky beneath the spiral galaxy combined with the stylized Canadian flag markings on the astronaut’s spacesuit well represent that genre. Is she in awe because she has a sense of homecoming? A feeling of communion with distant Earth and a Canadian civilization thousands of years old? I think we can all agree this fits within the realm of fantasy. A hopeful, optimistic concept methinks. Could it be a culturally-diverse Canada will ultimately unite the human race and explore the stars? Hey, we could do a lot worse.

At any rate, a complex and visually-striking cover. Thank you, M.D. Jackson. Wonderful art piece. I am very fond of it.

Foreword – by Rhea Rose

Comment:  

Rhea goes into quite a bit of detail about the task of putting together the anthology being an exploration of discovery for her. More than a simple editing project, it led to much personal insight into the state of Canadian genre fiction from the perspective of little-known and lesser-known writers, reminding her of her own beginnings. The more she dove deep into the pool of available stories and poems, shuffling and reshuffling them to suit her theme and purpose, the more excited she became. I don’t find this at all surprising. I, too, am in a state of excitement when editing and publishing Polar Borealis. It all has to do with the originality and creativity of the writers involved. Their enthusiasm and dreams are infectious. Always fun to be in at the beginning of things. May their careers prosper. Promoting them and “getting them out there” is the name of the game. That’s what I do “for kicks” (to use an obsolete expression). So happy Rhea joined in. Good to know editing Stellar Evolutions wasn’t a burden for her, but a pleasure. That’s the way it should be.

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Starfighter – (poem) by Lynne Sargent

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The Auction – by Mark Braidwood

Premise:  

A grim tale of a woman being stalked simultaneously by a serial killer and a market analyst.

Review:  

Struck me as an important story indicating how the increasing lack of privacy dovetails with the danger women experience in their daily lives. Society actively pushing women into the role of victims-in-waiting, so to speak. Reminds us feminism as vital and necessary as ever.

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In a Small Earthbound Room – (poem) by J.J. Steinfeld

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Target Market  – by Jonathan Sean Lyster

Premise:

What if the most popular books in the future are those written by Artificial Intelligence?

Review:

Given how trendy and faddy popular tastes are, I couldn’t resist a story about A.I. being better at producing abysmally low-culture products than humans. With such interesting implications.

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Fire and Ice – (poem) by Melanie Marttila

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Till All the Seas Go Dry – by J.Y.T. Kennedy

Premise:

An apocalypse has driven the human race to live underground.

Review:  

This love story in a setting redolent of Jules Verne and other 19th century authors felt authentically old-fashioned to the point of stirring my sense of wonder. As if an old manuscript had been found in a drawer. Had to print it.

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Wings of Wax  – (poem) by Lisa Timpf

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This is for Mrs. Zaberewsky – by Casey June Wolf

Premise:  

As a young girl, Wikta had many dreams. So frustrating to become middle-aged and as distant as ever from her ambitions. And now she’s abducted by aliens. What good is destiny if fate catches up to you first?

Review:

I’ve never bought into the modern abduction mythology. I’m a science fiction fan. But even though I don’t care much for the “cult” of UFOlogy, I like a nifty story when I see one.

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Astronomy – (poem) by Kirsten Emmott

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Humanity – by Monica Sagle

Premise:

A love story complicated by the presence of alien overlords.

Review:  

The path of true love features many obstacles thrown up by advancing technology and the resulting changes in expected behaviour. Even more problematic are the regulations of aliens. Why can’t life and love be simple?

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Law of Love – (poem) by Catherine Girczyc

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Frenemy – by K.M. McKenzie

Premise:

Virtual Reality can be more real than you think, especially when plugged in with people you don’t like.

Review:  

A fantasy extrapolation from current technology makes for an intriguing story.

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New Day – (poem) by Catherine Girczyc

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Symbiotes – by Jeremy A. Cook

Premise:

Two nature lovers search for whopping cranes in their natural habitat.

Review:  

Odd how people tend to underestimate the complexity of mother nature.  Sometimes she has lessons to teach.

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Dismembered – (poem) by Andrea Schlecht

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Route 66 – by Lawrence Van Hoof

Premise:

An alien stranded on Earth seeks a safe place to hatch its brood.

Review:  

Dang annoying how paranoid humans are. Makes things way more difficult than they need to be.

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Haunted – (poem) by Selena Martens

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Ninth Life – by Lisa Voisin

Premise:

Humanity is hit by a pandemic which prevents sleep. People are slowly going insane. Meanwhile, cats sleep round the clock and are dying off. Is there a connection?

Review:  

Written and published before Covid 19 emerged, this story has much to say about mankind’s endless capacity for denial, and what happens when reality finally hits home.

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Ghost Planet – (poem) by Lisa Timpf

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October 1954 – by Elizabeth Buchan-Kimmerly

Premise:

Historically, the tail-end of a hurricane struck Toronto in 1954. In this story a First-Nation family living in the city attempts to cope with the consequences of the storm.

Review:  

I interpret this as a metaphor for the difficulties of an ethnic-minority family attempting to fit into a less-than-welcoming society whose spiritual values are frustratingly different. Amazing how stubborn elders can be. Rather haunting.

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Devoured – (poem) by J.Y.T. Kennedy

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Organic Life – by Dean Wirth

Premise:

A murderer from England seeks anonymity in an American seacoast town.

Review:  

A Lovecraftian tale to do with cursed inhabitants who like to absorb visitors one way or another. Imagine The Shadow Over Innsmouth combined with The Thing. It’s that creepy.

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The Devil’s Riddle – (poem) by Taral Wayne & Walt Wentz

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Thermodemonics – by Robert Dawson

Premise:

Kevin wants to improve his marks at University, so he conjures up a demon to help him.

Review:  

Normally editors avoid demon-casting tales because they are seldom original in concept. This one is, delightfully so.

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Special Delivery – (poem) by Douglas Shimizu

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This Round’s on Me – by Chris Campeau

Premise:

Norman lets local girl Sigrid treat him to rounds of beer in an Estonian pub. The clientele turn out to be unique.

Review:  

This story was, to my mind, a homage to the 1950’s E.C. horror comics such as Tales From the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear. Naturally, I chose to publish it. I like to reflect all eras of genre writing in Polar Borealis.

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Moontrace– (poem) by Mary E. Choo

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The All Day Slingers – by Michael Donoghue

Premise:

Live virtual podcasting earns big bucks in the near future, especially when covering organized crime as it happens.

Review:  

What I like about this is the social satire depicting an America where Trump and Evangelicalism  have triumphed to the point of altering the very nature of crime. As happened during prohibition, what is legal in Canada is illegal in the States. An amusing extrapolation of current trends and current technology.

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Lovecraft’s Legacy – (poem) by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff

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Wall of Eyes – by William Lewis

Premise:

A university student boarding with his friend David is a bit disconcerted by a painting in the apartment. Features far too many eyes, in his opinion.

Review:  

Another Lovecraftian tale. My taste in horror is primarily focused on fiction inspired by his legacy. I’m a sucker for a good Lovecraftian pastiche.

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Grit – (poem) by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff

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Jabber – by Steve Fahnestalk

Premise:

A young teenage boy discovers a visiting alien spacecraft before anyone else does.

Review:  

Every boy has problems relating to family authority and demands. First contact with aliens doesn’t ease the burden, to put it mildly. I was very much reminded of the 1950s E.C. science fiction comics like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. No wonder I said “Yes!” on first reading.

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Spinner of Singularities – (poem) by Matt Moore

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Meet the Teacher Night – by Michelle F. Goddard

Premise:

Jill seems to have figured out how to get her classmates in grade school to stop bullying her. Mr. Sneedley, her teacher, investigates.

Review:  

As someone who was occasionally bullied in school this story resonates with me. I could have done with a trick like this up my sleeve. A bit of fiction that will mean something to many because of their own life experience.

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Cost Benefit Analysis  – by Ben Nein

Premise:

What would married life for robots be like?

Review:  

Would it depend on programming? On logic? Or something unexpected?

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Hate Doesn’t Always Come Easy – by Karl Johanson

Premise:

Zombies are bad enough. But when your spouse turns rancid?

Review:

Sometimes doing what you have to do is darn difficult. How seriously are marriage vows meant to be anyway? A horror story for those prone to fear and doubt.

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Hexam Heads – (poem) by Richard Stevenson

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Damned Cat – by Tonya Liburd

Premise:

Evelyn and John meet in a bar in Trinidad. Attraction is mutual and extreme. They go to his apartment. A wonderful apartment, but there’s that one door he doesn’t want her to open.

Review:  

Folklore and island custom blend with modern sensibility into an elegant but chilling horror tale. Bar pick-ups aren’t what they used to be. They can wind up as something more, much more. Sometimes it pays not to go out. But if she stays home, how can a woman meet her ideal man? Bit of a conundrum. Risks be mandatory?

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Homecoming – by Jon Gauthier

Premise:

Another space ship arrives at the colony.

Review:  

A short-short that tugs on the old homing instincts in violation of the saying “you can never go home again.”

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History Waits to be Written – (poem) by Lisa Timpf

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Propagation Speed – by Jonathan Creswell-Jones

Premise:

An all-male exploration mission stranded on a potential colony planet wonders how they can carry on the human race if everybody back on Earth is dead.

Review:  

Definitely a concept-driven story in the mode of the questioning dialogues Plato used to write. In this case both the problem and the solution are quite concrete and practical. The morality and ethics, however, are fuzzy enough to drive Socrates to distraction.

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For Leonard – (poem) by Lisa Timpf

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Wing Shop – by Akem

Premise:

What if you could chose, before you fling away your mortal coil, the wings you will wear in the afterlife? And what’s the point of having wings? To what purpose?

Review:  

A charming tale which I found very attractive and original in concept. All the more amazing  when you consider this is Akem’s first fiction sale.

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The Cosmos Chronicler – (poem) by Y.M. Pang

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After Words – by R. Graeme Cameron

Comment:  

It’s funny how time compresses events.  When I wrote my After Words end-of-book commentary I had already forgotten that I was the one who first suggested an anthology be produced and so, because of my faulty memory, I expressed how thrilled and delighted I was when she came up with the idea. To be accurate, I should say how excited I was when she accepted my proposal. But that’s fine-tuned pedantry which is unnecessary for the readers to know in order to enjoy the finished result. Without Rhea the anthology would never have come about. She wanted to do something. A project was discussed. Stellar Evolutions is the final achievement of her dedicated enthusiasm. That’s all that matters.

CONCLUSION:

This anthology has nothing to do with me, really. The whole point of the book is to promote and celebrate the contributors and their contributions. Rhea has accomplished this superbly well. I am very pleased.

Stellar Evolutions is now available for pre-order as a Kindle for $3.92 CA or $2.99 US. It will be delivered to your computer on October 31st.

Or you can order it as a 209 page paperback, 9 x 6 inches in size, available right now, for $16.99 CA or $12.95 US.

The bizarre thing is the kindle and book versions have separate sites on both Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. This is a construct of the complexities involved in setting up the appropriate site. All part of the learning curve for Rhea. All I can say is, I’m glad she’s the one figuring it out. I’m notorious for my lack of understanding re computer rigmarole and foofaraw. Better her than me, I do confess. I’d just screw things up.

Amazon has promised to combine kindle and book versions on a single site for both Canadian and American versions of Amazon sometime soon. In the meantime, here are the sites you can order from.

Note: Cheaper for Canadians to order from Amazon.ca, because then you don’t have to pay shipping costs from the States.

Canadians can order here:

Kindle version $3.92 CA at: < Kindle version via Amazon.ca >

Book Version $16.99 CA at: < Book version via Amazon.ca >

Americans can order here:

Kindle $2.99 US at: < Kindle version via Amazon.com >

Book $12.95 US at: < Book version via Amazon.com >

1 COMMENT

  1. I believe the word is “evangelism.” Good review; why should you not review it? First off, even though you suggested the anthology, you didn’t produce it or select the stories. Secondly, you have the opportunity to look at the stories you bought with a new, later perspective. Thirdly, your reviews are always well done!

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