OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
Pulp Literature Magazine #32
Published by Pulp Literature Press, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Autumn 2021.
Managing Editor: Jennifer Landels, Senior Editor: Melanie Anastasiou, Acquisitions Editor: Genevieve Wynand, Poetry Editors: Daniel Cowper & Emily Osborne, Assistant Editors: Samantha Olson, Brooklyn Hook, Veronika Kos, & Melisa Gruger.
Cover art: The Pianist Who Serenaded the Mermaids with Chopin’s Nocturne in E Minor – by Tais Tang.
Crossroads – by Dan MacIsaac
Back in the day dockers and loggers led hard, rough lives. Who knew they were prone to petty, vindictive jealousy?
Pulp literature, speaking in terms of the pulp era, covered every genre from Romance Westerns to Zeppelin Adventure to hard-boiled knuckle-dragging thuggery. This story is an example of the latter. Contains a certain amount of fisticuffs. It seems well-researched, not so much in the overall ambience as in the point of view and attitudes of a bygone era. But what makes it stand out is the underlying tone of psychological horror. Gossip can be the practical equivalent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers when it turns a whole town against you. Inevitability lends power to a story. This one will stick in your mind.
Incidentally, I resisted the advent of New Wave science fiction for decades because I preferred nifty concepts to character studies. I feel deeply the unfair sufferings of victims who are victims through no fault of their own. I’d rather read about the mystery of Martian ruins. Which is my convoluted way of saying that this story, superficially old-fashioned, is as moving and powerful as any New Wave work, and is in fact an example of such.
Feature Interview – Pulp Literature interviews Dan MacIsaac
Dan is both a poet and a lawyer. He compares the two professions in a most intriguing way. Also, he mentions he grew up in Nanaimo where I now live. So, a story dealing with loggers and dockworkers resonates with me. They were the reason for the city in its early days, along with coal miners. Definitely a crude, working class town to begin with. I don’t believe in ghosts, but the Nanaimo versions (according to local lore) are an exceedingly tough bunch. Figures.
Ghost Walking – by Mel Anastasiou
Jenny and Joey were young lovers in their early twenties. He died in her arms. She thought a ferry trip to Bowen Island to visit her cousin would keep away the ghosts. Bad idea.
Funny thing, I lived in the Vancouver region for about 47 years and only once took the ferry to Bowen Island, so this story brings me up to date with what that Island community is like now. And since I’ve lived in Nanaimo for three years, I’ve only once taken the 20 minute ferry ride to Gabriola island. Seems I’m not an adventuresome type. Puts me in mind of Malcolm Lowry’s October Ferry to Gabriola Island. Read that about forty years ago. If I were a proper critic I’d compare it to this story. But all I remember is that the main character was unable to open his bottle of gin while on the ferry. I also remember that Malcolm Lowry was once discovered dead drunk somewhere on Bowen Island, threatening to kill anyone who came near him, but I am unable to tie this all together into any sort of coherent comment about Ghost Walking. My erratic memory somewhat useless. This has been a genuine pointless digression, but a good example of the kind of thing which springs to my mind while reading.
Ah, yes, Ghost Walking. An appropriate title. Jenny constantly sees men who remind her of Joey, who might even be Joey. And women with extraordinary, non-mortal habits. Not to mention visions nobody else can see, or can they? It’s as if Jenny is half-in, half-out of the spirit world herself. Jenny is a particularly self-conscious sort of person, highly self-aware, and part of her struggle with her grief is her ongoing attempt to come up with a formula or rationale that will enable her to cleanly separate the spiritual from the mundane and allow her to ground herself on reality. I liken it to a psychiatrist going insane but using their training and experience to retain some smatter of self-control. Quite the conundrum.
This is the first part of something being serialized, possibly a novel. Will Jenny continue to experience supernatural visions? Will she be haunted? Will she enter into the spirit world? Will her powers of rationalization prove useful? Questions to be answered in future issues.
Just Another Date on the Highway Out of Town – by Zandra Renwick
Sometimes a foursome date-night is less than romantic, especially when the pizza is more intelligent than you are.
Ah, uhm. Normally I like pizza. But this story does for pizza parlours what Jaws did for fun days at the beach. Over the top in a grand guignol tradition applied to science fiction horror. Even worse, it explores the psychology of sharing a date with someone you previously dumped. Is dating normally this bleak? Why, yes, sometimes. Not normally this horrific, though. Quite a change of pace from the previous stories. It is tongue in cheek, but the question is … who does the tongue belong to? Food for thought there. I found it amusing. Others may be creeped out. It IS excessive. Meant to be. That kind of story, and done well. Reader beware.
Come Back Around – by Sarina Bosco
A deer starts talking to a hunter while he’s gutting it.
If you believe in reincarnation, and you believe people sometimes come back as animals, then the premise of the story makes perfect sense. Ah, but the deer is dead, you say, so how can it talk? Ah, but if the premise includes the idea that the soul never dies, then being able to carry on a conversation while “in between” makes sense too.
A quiet tale, low key, though the details of dismembering a deer carcass are graphic, but nevertheless it has the dreamy, surreal timelessness of classic myth. The problem for the hunter is not the act of killing the deer, for it doesn’t object, but what it remembers. Guilt is not the problem, but foreboding. An eerie tale.
Solstice – by Melissa Nelson
A family isolated in the woods welcome winter guests who stumble across their stoop.
A very short story dealing with the theme of isolation. In my opinion a subtle horror piece which can be interpreted a number of ways. Personally, I’d argue it is better to be isolated in a big city than a dank, dark forest, especially in winter. Offers far greater scope for going crazy. That be an advantage. But that’s just me. This story triggers many thoughts. Makes you think.
The Canadian Invasion – by David Perlmutter
What if the world famous Beevers rock group John Lemon, Paul McAdam, George Hairston and Rango Stark had been born in Canada?
Definitely an alternative history. Does it work? The experience of each “Beever” is described more or less accurately, but in Canadian terms. Nothing exaggerated or unrealistic about it; as an account of a highly successful group which eventually breaks up it rings true, the Canadian aspects being plausible. An added fascination is the glimpse of the North American music industry back in the1960s. Alternate history, yes, but equally authentic, or so it strikes me. The ending is different in tone, being a bit of whimsy, yet given the premise it, too, seems perfectly valid and just the right touch to conclude with. A lot of thought and care went into this story. Not at all farcical, the “what if?” approach is presented soberly and seriously, with the Canadian ambience being the clincher which renders the premise acceptable. Well done.
Cold Blessing – by Kelsey Hutton
Surely a nun blessing a child is a worthy goal?
That a father drags his daughter through a blizzard to the nun’s door suggests a need more urgent than average. That the nun angrily denies entrance is even more disturbing. Nothing is what it seems. Can a blessing be a curse? One might as well ask if having a child can be a curse. The answer to both questions is a firm maybe. It all depends. I’m reminded of the saying “Destiny is what you are meant for unless fate catches up with you first.” Even a nun may have regrets. Even a nun is not necessarily a saint. Perhaps the ultimate question we all face turns out to be “is it possible to compromise with evil?” This is a horror story. It will leave you feeling pity for all the characters. Remarkable.
Attempted Murder – by Leslie Wibberley
What if your phobia about crows is thoroughly justified?
Naturally I flash back to Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. It was based on an actual incident in a small town. Sometimes birds of a feather do flock together with malignant intent. This story is essentially a vignette focused on a single assault. What makes it interesting are the rationalizations employed by the harassed woman throughout. Yes, to a certain degree she echoes her daughter’s insistence it’s all in her imagination, but the bulk of her thinking emphasises the “reality” of the threat the birds are plotting, thus amplifying her fears and making things worse. A psychological study of what not to do. Then again, thinking good thoughts while bleeding from dozens of wounds while being pecked to death is not exactly useful. How do you cope with the impossible? Even if you don’t accept the premise, the description of the event is terrifying. Definitely a horror story.
I happen to be fatally allergic to bird dander, especially from chickens, and have come close to death twice, so tend to keep my distance. But I find birds rather delightful, they being mini-dinosaurs and all, and wish them no harm. I’m not one of those who view them as flying vermin. Still, I confess this story creeped me out. I admit that I often wonder, when passing under all those beady eyes staring at me from a large roost, whatever are those little bird brains thinking of me? What are they contemplating? Fragile mammals want to know.
My Name is Philomena – by Robin Malcolm
A young girl doesn’t know her name. Everyone treats her as if she doesn’t deserve one.
This is a story about Seattle in the Gold Rush days. In a sense it’s about a girl who lives underground, beneath the notice of others, and barely scratches a living filling potholes with sawdust. There’s a fire, and the whole city goes underground, literally, in that the new one is built on top of the old. The remnants of the earlier Seattle are quite a tourist attraction these days, I believe.
Sometimes survival is only possible if you burrow beneath. This story is all about survival, and identity, the value of identity. Luck of the draw, though, that’s the main thing. The story could be titled A Girl and Her Dog. Needful friends can be found in the oddest places. All part of the luck of the draw. Sometimes wanting to survive helps you survive. Sometimes not. Trick is not to give up. This girl never does. Story makes the point that’s what it takes. Intriguing period piece. Unusual.
The Magpie Award for Poetry – by Frances Boyle, David Barrick, & Aldona Dziedziejko
Winner and two runner-ups in the annual Pulphouse Literature competition.
Winner: Another True Account of the Nature of Grit and How It May be Ascertained
– by Frances Boyle
In my mind a prose poem, one revealing the true story behind the movie True Grit in which John Wayne played Rusty Cogburn. Mattie Ross of the Choctaw nation should have been the focus, but that’s not Hollywood’s way of doing things. Some beautiful imagery.
First Runner-up: Recurrent Dream #79 – by David Barrick
Dreams often reflect subconscious sorrows. Too short to comment further.
Second Runner-up: Mammal Mouth (Linaria Vulgaris) – by Aldona Dziedziejko
Short, surreal poem implying interaction with nature harder than we think, maybe always fatal, because of us? Powerful imagery. Evocative.
Houses, Part II – by Matthew Nielsen
Graphic art depiction of the houses in the life of the artist.
Non-fiction account, the first half of which was published in the previous issue. Life not always easy, but unique in many respects, depicted in a pleasant, clear art style. A good way to do a memoir methinks. Saves a lot of descriptive verbiage, leaving the text balloons for essentials. I honestly don’t know how common autobiographical works are in the Graphic Novel industry today, but judging by this example, it has great potential. An art form in itself. One to be encouraged.
The Shepherdess: Intrigue – by JM Landels
In the court of France, some secrets are more dangerous than others, especially the one involving the King of England.
This is the first section of a serial which is part of a series. I think. At any rate I have met and reviewed the Shepherdess before, though I have missed a number of issues.
The level of research underlying the plot and characters is astounding. Makes the tale seem utterly authentic, like going back in time in an honest-to-god time machine. I particularly enjoyed a scene where it is explained to the shepherdess that the shallow conversation deployed at court is in fact a subtle yet detailed code defining the status of every one at court in relationship to each other. This put me in mind of similar conversations at court in Tolstoy’s War and Peace where every vapid cliche is loaded with significance and put down. Even commenting on a woman’s wig is a minefield capable of destroying a career. To think that every remark, no matter how stupid or obvious, must be weighed carefully before uttering is one of the burdens those in high society carry like an albatross around their necks. Cautious doesn’t even begin to describe it. More like paranoia. I suppose the modern equivalent is a politician tentatively offering a thirty-second sound bite to a news camera. Never know when it’s going to boomerang.
In short, the slice of live offered in various scenes is rather different from what most of us experience in these modern times and thus a fascinating glimpse of an alien set of priorities and concerns which died off long ago. Unless, it occurs to me, something similar still goes on in contemporary diplomatic soirees and cocktail parties in modern capital cities. I wouldn’t know. I don’t get invited to such.
Point is, the ongoing challenges faced by the shepherdess are fun to read. Whole different reality to explore.
The Pianist Who Serenaded the Mermaids with Chopin’s Nocturne in E minor – by Tais Tang
Risky thing pleasing mermaids.
A short-short, really a prose poem, explaining the meaning and circumstance of the cover. A complete story all the same. Something of a moral lesson, too.
Since Pulph Literature is based on the tradition of same, it encompasses many more genres than your average science fiction magazine. Nevertheless, everything within is well worth reading. The variety is always one of the strengths of the magazine. Their slogan is “Good books for the price of a beer.” Yep, and with no hangover or aftertaste to worry about, although you’ll find you’ll be thinking about some of the stories for a long while. Always quality writing. Always a good read.
Check it out at: < Pulp Literature #32 >