CLUBHOUSE: Review: Neo-opsis Magazine issue #32
OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
Neo-opsis Magazine – Issue #32, July 2021
Published out of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Editor: Karl Johanson. Assistant Editor and Art Director: Stephanie Johanson.
Cover: Tie Dye Nebula by Karl & Stephanie Johanson
Thoughts on essential rules of writing and the dreaded Tom Swiftlys.
As an editor and publisher I can readily identify with anyone reading from the slush pile. I’m a bit unusual in that I read every story from beginning to end, no matter how bad it might be. I want to be sure my impression of the story is justified. Naturally I’m looking for any violations of the rules of writing, as they can make the reading experience quite painful, knocking the reader out of the story.
Then again, as Karl takes pains to point out, rigid adherence to accepted norms can put constraints on originality and limit the potential impact of the story. In short, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Sometimes it’s what you gotta do to get your point across, or at least to keep the reader awake. Don’t be dull. Innovate!
Tom Swiftlys, one of myriad violations (Said Bookisms, Pushbutton Words, White Room Syndrome, Roget’s Disease, Squid on the Mantlepiece, Shaggy God Story, etc., etc.), are normally to be avoided. They are unnecessary adverbial props that interrupt the flow with inappropriate humour (unless that’s the effect you want). The classic example is “We’d better hurry,” Tom said swiftly.
Karl fills an entire page with Tom Swiftlys he composed on a Star Trek theme. Delightful stuff. My favourites include:
“You’re going to need this inoculation,” Dr. McCoy injected.
“There’s something wrong with the transporter,” Kirk said beside himself.
If you choose to break the rules, have fun doing so and ensure the reader shares in the fun. But if you’re doing it because you think you can get away with it without the reader noticing, beware. The reader is every bit as intelligent as you are. Possibly more so. Keep that in mind.
The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still– by Craig Bowlsby
A young kid during the Cuban Missile Crisis takes UFOs for granted. Obviously a commie plot. Because he sees them all the time he takes them far more seriously than silly old nuclear weapons. Turns out he has his priorities spot on.
This is a charming, wonderful story. Part of the attraction for an ex-Vancouverite like me is that Craig captures the ambience of being a young science fiction movie fan in Vancouver back in the early 1960s. I moved there in the mid 1960s, and I’m not sure if I ever knew about the Shaughnessy Bush, but it’s precisely the sort of location I would have made use of as a young teenager. And the glory days of multiple movie theatres on Granville street, each with beautiful neon light signage. Beautiful to me, anyway. An exercise in nostalgia.
The title derives from the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, which features in the story as a revival showing that inspires the main character’s sense of wonder to new heights, appropriate to what he discovers when he wanders the Shaughnessy Bush zone alone after seeing the movie. The alien presence is lowkey, nothing of Earth-shattering significance, not to humanity, not to the aliens, not even to the kid, except temporarily. But like any naughty kid, he did something he shouldn’t have. He’s a bit worried about that.
There are uncountable clichés associated with flying saucer stories, so many having been published since the original 1947 sightings (what Kenneth Arnold saw when flying past Mount Rainier, remember?). Craig manages a nicely original take that stands out from the same old, same old. Makes it positively refreshing to read. Breathes new life into an old-fashioned-style story. Renders it vivid. I like this a great deal. Reminded me of my youthful sense of wonder.
The Forgotten City– by Kate Kelly
On a planet beneath twin suns a guide conducts a tour of ancient ruins which had crumbled long before his race evolved. Pity the latest flock of tourists were the usual idiot humans.
Enigmatic ruins on alien planets have long been one of my principle sources of sense of wonder. Helped develop my interest in archaeology here on Earth, I do believe. The architectural remnants of dead civilizations fascinate me.
Again, clichés abound in the genre. But this story is different. Usually such tales involve archaeologists, or explorers, or people on a quest who stumble across the ruins. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a story from a native tour guide’s point of view before. Cool concept.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of tour guides. Not since standing, awestricken, in the main rotunda of Nero’s Golden House back in 1970 while listening to the guide describe the circular hall with the innovative concrete dome as the bedroom where Nero made love to Cleopatra. That the Emperor was a necrophiliac was certainly news to me.
Here the tour guide consciously avoids certain topics, not because it would shock the tourists but because it would bore them. They’re not interested in him or his race, they’re not even particularly interested in the ruins. All they want is the tour experience, with something new to see every day. Otherwise they’d feel cheated.
I was a bit taken back by the contemporary nature of the tourists in this far future age. The kid who’d rather be playing football, for instance. Or the sisters festooned with camera equipment and constantly duplicating each other’s shots. But then I clued in this is a technique employed to suggest the universality of human nature, in particular as applied to tourists, the better to justify the long-suffering and never-ending burden of the tour guide. Makes it real.
What I like best about this story is that the reason why the ancient city became ruined is fully revealed, and it throws the contemporary native knowledge of history completely overboard. Not to mention shattering their mythology and religious beliefs. This story has much to imply about the modern tendency to over-romanticise our own ancient history.
And, as a bonus, there’s a hint of alien sexuality involved, or is it alien perversion? Up to the reader to decide. Fun story, with elements of melancholy appropriate to vanished civilizations.
Weaponized Boredom– by Karl Johanson
Boredom is something easily achieved by a writer, both in their state of mind and in their writing. Who knew this talent could save millions of lives?
The story begins with the classic ultimate pest every writer runs into sooner or later, the guy who has this brilliant idea and is willing to go fifty/fifty with the writer who only has to flesh out the idea and merely do the actual writing. This is more than hypothetical for me. Having gotten to know quite a number of authors over the years I am occasionally plagued by starry-eyed conceptualists who want contact information so they can explain to this or that author the gist of the novel they have got to write. I always say something like “Well, actually, [famous author] hates my guts and I don’t dare communicate with him about you because that would spoil your chances forever.” Or something like that.
Anyway, the story goes on to explore the idea of a secret government department which hires incredibly boring writers to influence both public opinion worldwide but also specifically the ambitions of this or that homicidal dictator. A story perhaps inspired by the true life incident where John W. Campbell published in the March 1944 issue of Astounding Cleve Cartmill’s story Deadline in which atomic bomb secrets were hidden in plain sight. The FBI were worried the Nazis would take this to mean the Americans were working on an atomic bomb, but finally concluded that the Nazis would assume if that were true censors would certainly not allow such a story to be published, so that the fact that it was published was proof that the Americans were not working on an atomic bomb. An exercise in misinformation.
Karl takes the basic concept of subtle misinformation and runs with it. The result is quite delightful and highly amusing.
Other When– by Zandra Renwick
Turns out time travelers from the future appear for mere seconds, naked, shouting unintelligible warnings, till whisked back to when they came from. Except for the young girl who materialized on a busy highway and was struck by the car Elizabeth was driving. Said girl remained, in a coma, flickering back and forth between now and when.
Another original story skirting all the clichés. Elizabeth feels quite guilty, and visits the time traveler’s hospital room every day. The authorities allow her to do this in the hope the two will bond should the coma victim wake up. After all, everybody wants to know what it is the time travellers are attempting to communicate. Maybe Elizabeth is the key to unlock the mystery.
However, it’s quite possible the incident has driven Elizabeth insane, or near to it. She doesn’t obsess over the victim, but about the moment in time between seeing the time traveller and running over her. How long is a moment, any moment? Could she have reacted faster? Not plowed into her? Elizabeth measures everything now. How long to brew tea. How long to start her car. How many moments does each action consist of? How do you define a moment? What can be accomplished during a moment? On and on. She suffers from a hyper awareness of something normally insignificant. She clings to her obsession, hoping it will be her salvation.
When I think about it, Elizabeth’s reaction to the incident is entirely logical, at least from an emotional and psychological point of view. The question becomes, is it practical? Can any good come from it? Is it the key to a better understanding? To a useful revelation, or even a resolution? This the story explores in depth. Quite a fascinating conundrum, and one I’ve not seen before. Definitely original.
Sometimes I Miss Manhattan – by Gary K. Shepherd
Somewhere in Manhattan Saul and crazy Arnold are sitting in the sun room reminiscing about the good old days when they were young. And then the first earthquake hits. Except it isn’t an earthquake.
You can tell from the title that Manhattan is no more. The reason for this is not your typical apocalyptic disaster. Like most super catastrophes, there are long interludes of time between events. Human beings, by comparison, are ephemeral May Flies, living countless generations without any awareness of the disaster to come. But, as the luck of the draw would have it, some May Flies coexist with the brief moment in time when their habitat is annihilated. This makes for May Fly lives even shorter than usual.
The nature of the threat is simple and quite impossible (one hopes). But if you accept the premise, and go with it, then you share the experience as a sort of cinematic freeze frame, vicariously experiencing an ad hoc struggle for survival where a moment’s hesitation would be fatal. Sometimes you just have to hoof it as fast as you can. Sad to say, luck of the draw puts you in peril. It’s really only luck of the draw that enables you to escape. The desire to escape counts for nothing, unfortunately.
The catastrophe is outrageous, quite gutsy in a way. If you’re a literal-minded sort you’ll reject it. But if you are capable of accepting a fantasy premise, a bit of whimsy, you’ll enjoy this vignette. I did.
The Secrets Behind the Canvas – by Jeffery Scott Sims
Sterk Fontaine has acquired the most celebrated art of the age, a painting by the mad and sadly missing artist Terril Langley, who had sought to reveal the ultimate reality behind modern illusion. He has brought the canvas to Professor Anton Vorchek, celebrated devotee of the bizarre, to analyse and interpret the painting. No simple task.
To my mind, Karl and Stephanie saved the best for last, but then I’m an enthusiastic aficionado of H.P. Lovecraft and this story is excellently Lovecraftian. Oh, to be sure, the language is well-textured beyond modern requirements and takes some getting used to if you’ve never come across its like before. And if you have, at first it seems like a parody of Lovecraft’s style, one that Lovecraft would probably have appreciated and chuckled over.
However, soon the story takes on a life and reality of its own and becomes a thoroughly respectable Lovecraft pastiche. Indeed, some of the lines are probably more deft and to the point than any “The Elderly Gentleman” ever employed. Dare I say it? The story is possibly more coherent, indeed more of a story, than the mood pieces Lovecraft tended to write? Yet still retains the spirit and feel of the Lovecraftian style?
Certainly the ending, which is entirely dependant on the thoughtful measures undertaken by Theresa, Vorchek’s loyal but cynical assistant, is not something Lovecraft would ever have thought of. Women, let alone resourceful women, seldom enter into his tales.
Which is to say, this story is not merely a pastiche, but the best kind of pastiche, in which the traditional camp fire tale ambience is present, but upgraded with a contemporary situational awareness regarding the role of women characters.
The literature of H.P. Lovecraft is of overwhelming importance in the development of horror fantasy and science fiction literature. If you can cope with the style, his corpus is undeniably brilliant. Unfortunately, it is riven with hideous faults, such as, but not limited to, extreme racism. I love his writings, but recognise he was a deeply flawed man. How then, to justify his legacy?
The solution is simple. Write in his style, but open up the stories and novels in the best modern sense, let the heroic characters be people of colour, or women, or gay, or any other formerly marginalized type from the marvellous kaleidoscope of humanity. This expands the potential of Lovecraftian literature exponentially and ensures that it live forever, albeit as a positive influence rather than a retrograde negative one. I am aware this has already been done by a significant number of authors. This is how you rescue Lovecraftian literature from Lovecraftian prejudices, through creative subversion. I’m in favour of this.
This story is part of the modern approach to Lovecraftian writing. I approve.
The Last Two Pages – by Stephanie Ann Johanson
Isolated observations on books and media.
Stephanie tackles subjects as diverse as how to read books that disappoint you, why disaster movies aren’t as dumb as they seem, and how what appears to be rampant misogyny regarding the fate of women in films and TV shows may be in fact be something else all together. Plus the mixed feelings involved in selling your art knowing you will never see it again.
Assorted news re: awards, fandom, authors, space exploration, etc. And, as usual, a fascinating article on an aspect of the Periodic Table.
As always, a wide variety of fiction. This time I was blown away by the high level of originality demonstrated by the authors. Every story deserves your attention.
Now that the magazine has gone digital I’m not sure how often it will be published, but believe me, it’s well worth waiting for. Always a treat when the latest issue arrives. This edition particularly good.
Find this issue at < Neo-opsis #32 >