OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
LACKINGTON’S magazine – issue #25, Spring 2022.
Publisher: Lackington Press, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Ranylt Richildis
Cover Art: Paula Arwen Owen
Interior Art: P. Emerson Williams, Carrion House A.K.A. Luke Spooner, Kat Weaver, Michelle MX, and Richard Wagner,
Lastword – by Ranylt Richildis
Yes, sadly, “lastword” rather than “foreword.” After 25 issues, 124 writers and 25 artists, Lackington’s will be no more. It has always been perceived, by me at least, as the most literary-minded speculative fiction magazine in Canada, always full of surprises dependent on innovative technique, concepts, and imagination. There has never been anything formulaic about this magazine. “Writers Unleashed” would have been an accurate alternative title, methinks. A bastion of originality with very high standards. So, now the pressure is on. Will this last issue meet the expectations raised by Lackington’s reputation?
Before Hand Meant Hand – by Nathan Alling Long
What we were before we began to drown in definitions.
A bold attempt to convey how our ancestors thought before we developed our mania for classifying and defining and controlling the world we live in. For example, water was just water, and not associated with “bacteria or amoeba or ciliate.” Well, true enough, in terms of modern knowledge, but I’m betting, through practical experience, that cavemen were aware that running water is generally safer to drink than still, stagnant water.
I believe Nathan is attempting to demonstrate how “cavemen” may have relied on feelings and instincts rather than self-conscious introspection to live through life however the long or short of it. Proto-humans maybe. But the cave-painters who knew the use of fire were identical to moderns, in the case of Cro-Magnons, or similar, in the case of Neanderthals (recently discovered to have had artistic practices) and probably already were into naming things and employing sympathetic magic to manipulate the world around them. In other words, as much control-freaks as we tend to be.
Still, going back further in time, our distant ancestors may have approximated what Nathan describes. There is, perhaps, a tinge of Rousseau and “the noble savage” underlying the vision, but at some point we must have risen ever-so-slightly above pure instinct via a semblance of logical, coherent thinking and this vision may indicate what that may have been like. One thing it shows for sure; the overloaded complexity of modern situation-awareness is not at all necessary for survival. There is much we can do without and still survive as a species. Rather hopeful, that.
Eat the World – by R.K. Duncan
Hunters prey on gatherers, but they forgot about the god-masks.
The hunters wear masks too, bending the spirit of certain powerful animals to their will and purpose. The gods embodied in the gatherer’s masks are weaker, useful for encouraging the rain or making plants grow, but not up to defeating hunter gods. But, buried in the back of the mask cave, an outlier mask introduced to the tribe years earlier and shunned, hidden from sight, as too strange and dangerous to contemplate. Perhaps now is the time to wear it?
Many a warrior has gone into battle with talismans and amulets to ward off the weapons of the enemy. The Zulu, the followers of the Mahdi, and the Boxer rebels are three relatively modern examples that spring to mind. But what if a god-mask, designed to transform the wearer into the god depicted, actually functions as advertised? Can a god be defeated, or even worse, what price victory?
To write a story illustrating the belief system of our ancestors is one thing. But to suggest that their beliefs were valid is quite another. If this kind of magic was once very real, then, considering some of the evil cretins running nations today, it’s a good thing we no longer possess such magic. This story gives a vivid impression of what it might be like to wear such a mask. I, for one, would not volunteer to do it.
The Ercildoun Account – by Steve Toase
To be a human conducting an archaeological dig in the land of Faery is no easy task.
These Fey are not the Disney version. They’re not interested in history or even logic. They act on whim. It amuses them to prevent the dead from dying so that they live their torment and suffering forever. Even more annoying, they live in the moment and forget their victims the second they turn to something or someone else.
Of course the human world has negotiated solemn and complex treaties with Fairey. Trouble is this has given the Faery court a new hobby, namely tricking visiting humans into transgressing the treaty so that they can freely punish the transgressors in novel ways. Archaeologists in particular need their wits about them at all times, even when asleep. The Fey are amused by the human’s “pointless task” and love to trip them up.
The originality of this story is wonderful. And to a degree, a metaphor for the pointless make-work activity of much modern diplomacy. I am certain all professional diplomats will identify with the protagonist. But what I particularly like about this story is the blending of the “reality” of both worlds as the basis for communication and cooperation. Works about as well as it does in our own world.
Long story short, the Fey are best left alone. As every Icelander knows.
The Surface of Water – by Alexandra Munck
A man uninterested in dragons confronts a ghost from the past.
Or to put it another way, dreams of helping a long-extinct dragon solve a riddle and, indeed, the meaning of life. What I find especially appealing is that dragons are not only portrayed as the first species of life to develop intelligence and civilization on Earth, they are the first to leave a written record chiselled on the walls of the tombs of their Queens. In fact a book the man has inherited is a scholarly discussion of surviving Draconic literature, a marvellous concept in itself, and of great aid to him as he attempts to resolve the dragon’s quest.
He’s a bit of a wet blanket, but he figures since it his dream, probably triggered by glancing through the book, he might as well go through with it. The dragon isn’t grateful, but finds him useful. Up to the reader to decide what is or isn’t real, but above all, to enjoy the concepts of Draconic life and culture postulated in the story. Adds depth to the legend I’d say. We catch glimpses of a complex society rather than just another image of a mythological icon. The story is sedate and contemplative in keeping with the dignity of dragonhood, but delightfully imaginative all the same.
An Atlas of Wandering Bones – by Kaitlin Tremblay
Human bones from a single individual were scattered through time and location long before life evolved on Earth.
The bones are fossils to an extent, in that damaged bone has been replaced by gold. Even more intriguing, the bones are indestructible. No wonder they are the stuff of legend.
And metaphor. The bones are believed to be sentient and self-aware. Sometimes they shift location of their own accord. Some believe they “live” in fear. That sounds human. Yet the bones are apparently immortal. Which raises a question. What hunts immortals?
The story, rather poetic in its use of language, takes the form of capsule descriptions of certain individual bones. Only the few that have been listed in legend. Certainly not the full compliment of 206 bones found in the human adult.
So, what to make of this? Each bone is given a distinct personality, and I tend to suspect the skeleton as a whole represents all the myriad individuals born on our world. And as for the mysterious “hunter” threatening the “immortal” bones, I assume that is the Grim Reaper who comes to us all no matter how much we take life for granted.
On the other hand, I can’t make out the significance of the “gold” fossilization process, unless it is our tendency to glorify and mythologize our ancestors. Beats me. That’s the core attraction and fun of this story; trying to figure out what it means. Again, strikes me as yet another original concept in the pages of this issue.
In the Stillness of Bone and Sea – by KT Bryski
Dad works in the Royal Ontario Museum. In summer time, school being out and the kids not interested in camp, he insists his two daughters spend week-days at the museum while he works. One becomes obsessed with the skeleton of the Mosasaur dangling from the ceiling.
Evidently the kids are special-needs children and the father feels compelled to have them close at all times. But the truth is it is a form of neglect. One daughter in particular, Rachael, is bored out of her skull and into self-hurt. But the other, Megan, treats the Mosasaur as an imaginary friend. It treats her the same way. Worse, she adopts it as a role model. This has consequences.
A poignant story, perhaps referencing modern parental habits being somewhat inadequate. Then again, every child essentially faces the task of growing up by themselves no matter how much attention their parents devote to them. We are each isolated in our own skulls, methinks.
What this story does is capture, in a unique fashion, how the power of imagination enables children to rationalize and cope with ever increasing and evolving demands and expectations from parents and other authority figures as kids age. Not for nothing is imagination considered a refuge, particularly for the young. I think this story illustrates that well. Besides, I can identify with Megan. I, too, even now, would be eager to have a Mosasaur as a friend and confidant.
Something Monstrous Lives in the Oceans – by Alexandra Seidel
On the colony world of Valenga, humans avoid the oceans. Big things live in the oceans.
The colonists have problems. Problems even bigger than the things that live in the oceans, problems more worrying and terrifying than mere monsters. No wonder the woman protagonist, who’s scientific knowledge is of no use to the colonists, finds the mystery of the monsters a pleasant diversion. She’d like to know more about them. She’s very curious. It never occurs to her they are as curious about her as she is of them.
One of the glories of science fiction is imaginative portrayals of alien lifeforms. Sometimes they are stereotypical pulp-fiction sidekicks in the guise of common earth creatures made humanoid, but in modern times, frequently, they are genuinely off-worldly and alien in both nature and psychology. This is one of those occasions. It is a pleasure to share the woman’s gradual awakening as to what the “monsters” really are and actually want. An enjoyable, upbeat story.
Of course, with my luck, if I were a colonist on an alien planet I’d scrabble down to the beach to figure out what the giant alien critters were all about and wind up being gobbled up as a snack. Which is why I’d let someone else go first. But that’s just me.
The Scribe’s Lament – by Bindia Persaud
The city has fallen. What use is a refugee scribe?
This story takes place in the land of Sumer. It is the oldest civilization we know of, the first to build cities and make use of writing. Ancient Egypt was a near twin, developing almost at the same time. Similar, yet remarkably different. However, the role of the scribe was equally valued in both cultures. One of the few cushy jobs available.
“The Teaching of Khety” was composed in Egypt’s twelfth dynasty almost 4,000 years ago. It lists a series of professions and why they are bad career choices. Fishermen get eaten by Nile crocodiles, reed cutters are slaughtered by midges and sandflies, the fingers of a stoker are “putrid and smell of corpses,” and so on. But the epilogue claims “There is no job without a boss except for the scribe: he is the boss… no scribe is lacking in food or in good things from the royal estate.” In short, if you want a calm, dignified life full of perks and where no man raises his hand against you, be a scribe!
Both ancient Egyptians and ancient Sumerians would have regarded this account of a hapless, helpless scribe as something of a horror story. They’d be rooting for him as he struggles to find his “place” in an obscure village. Interestingly, they’d not be surprised at his attempts to teach a village woman to be a scribe. This isn’t some “woke” interpretation of Sumerian culture. Women were allowed to run businesses, own property, even work as scribes. This tradition carried on into Babylonian culture.
For instance, about 3,700 years ago a woman by the name of Amat-Mamu was one of eight female scribes in a gagum (or walled cloister) in the city of Sippur. They were all Naditu, a legal term for temple slaves who functioned as scribes, priestesses, and overseers running temple businesses. Slaves, but prestigious and holy slaves.
In other words, the concept of a woman scribe in Sumerian culture is entirely historical and legitimate. Furthermore, the concept of writing as a form of magic fits within Sumerian religious tradition. In a sense, the supernatural elements are well researched. This story is all of a piece and quite convincing as a reflection of ancient Sumerian beliefs. As someone fond of ancient civilizations I’m quite taken by this story. It has great appeal for me. It’s authenticity runs true. I really, really like this story.
Homage to Stone – by Thomas Canfield
A man seeks the grave of the founder of his people.
I am reminded of the writings of Robert E. Howard. Not that this is a Conan tale. Still, it involves a quest for the tomb of a mighty king, and the hope that it’s discovery will have meaning and purpose. Conan-like, too, is an act of fealty done in what strikes me as a disrespectful and even blasphemous manner. Would bring a chuckle to Howard’s lips were he still alive. He would recognise a kindred writer.
There is no battle here, simply the struggle of a long journey in a hostile, indifferent landscape. But once the mountains are reached, the kingdom of stone entered, the mood of the piece turns triumphant. The man, a delta farmer, pilgrim that he be, seems excited at the prospect of a transformative experience, or at least an epiphany of some kind.
Thing is, should he succeed, will that be of benefit to him? To his people? Is capturing the promise of a legend a glorious deed or the naive expression of a gullible fantasist? The story hints at consequences and repercussions. Glory seems like a fine thing, but like everything else in life, it is far more complex than what people prefer to believe. This story raises many questions. Up to the reader to interpret the ending and draw their own conclusions.
Yes! I can definitively declare the final issue upholds and magnifies the reputation of Lackington’s magazine. Every story is a pleasure and treat each in its own way. Ranylt Richildis has every right to be proud and content with what he accomplished over the course of this magazine and, indeed, right up to and including the final issue. Splendid work.
This is the only issue which came out this year. It is enough to qualify for a 2023 Aurora award nomination. I wouldn’t mind at all if it were to win. A sort of lifetime-of-the-magazine honour for the editor. Just putting the idea out there. Seems worthwhile to me.
Check it out at: < Lackington’s Magazine #25 >