OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
Pulp Literature Magazine #35 Summer 2022
Published by Pulp Literature Press, Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Summer 2022.
Managing Editor: Jennifer Landels, Senior Editor: Melanie Anastasiou, Acquisitions Editor: Genevieve Wynand, Poetry Editors: Daniel Cowper & Emily Osborne, Assistant Editors: Brooklyn Hook, Veronika Kos, & Melisa Gruger.
Cover art: Collector – by Akem
A Collection of Secrets – by Rhea Rose
What did you get when you ordered Sea Monkeys from the back of a comic book long, long ago?
The pathetic, truthful answer is Brine Shrimp eggs. They hatched. They lived. They died. A hundred dollar’s worth of disappointment for every $1.25 order.
Evidently Sea Monkeys have been on Rhea’s mind since her youth. She’s written a story about them and their relationship with a young, troubled girl who sent away for them. Spoiler alert: They’re not brine shrimp.
This story is sad, tragic, and yet quite charming. I’m very pleased Rhea wrote this. Now quality fiction concerning Sea Monkeys has been ticked off on my bucket list. Really a remarkable story.
Feature Interview – Pulp Literature interviews Rhea Rose
Rhea reveals she ordered Sea Monkeys as a kid but they never arrived. No wonder they had preyed on her mind all her life. Of course she had to write about them!
In her capacity as both a well-known poet and Editor of Polar Starlight (the speculative poetry zine I publish), she has much advice to offer that is both enthusiastically encouraging and profoundly practical. I can envision many a young poet “tinkering” with poetry reading her words and suddenly becoming determined and inspired to get on with it. She definitely makes poetry composition sound exciting and worthwhile. Don’t hesitate. It’s good to be a poet.
The interview offers valuable insights into creativity and the joy that goes with it.
Gwannyn’s Song – by JM Landels
What if you don’t want to be married to a wealthy noble?
This story was written to fill out the back story of a character in a novel but as an exercise in the perils of true love it is a stand alone and a fascinating character study. It features a fairy-tale-like setting, a magic mirror, and buckets and buckets of frustrated passion. It falls within the theme of “be careful what you wish for.” And yet is very modern and relevant to any lover whose choice of partner is thwarted by their status in life, by the opinion of everyone who cares for them, and by the fates themselves. In sum, it speaks to all who have experienced forbidden love. Sad, but hopeful too.
To Qi Hong: Love Lost & Found – (Poem) by Yuan Changming
Title is accurately and precisely descriptive.
The imagery adds nuances. Makes one crave love and regret love at one and the same time. Short but powerful poem.
The Two Oh Four Six – by Dustin Moon
An illegal Gay bar in a city where Gay bars are legal.
In other words, a complex situation which encapsulates the dilemma of being Gay. No matter how open or repressive the social environment, there’s always an element of hesitant pretence. The same afflicts Heterosexuals. The sexual rat race is never 100% honest or sincere, if only because life in general isn’t like that either.
In this particular instance the characters are older, one of them having dubbed the clientele “the society of ancient queers,” and bitchy, self-deprecating chitchat seems to be the accepted standard of conversation. The SF elements of global warming, rising oceans, ongoing pandemic and societal breakdown are mere background. Which made me wonder what the point of the story is.
Turns out the characters don’t feel out of place in society at large. They long ago created and crafted their individual roles. What is problematic for them is the new generation of Gays who don’t seem quite real. The older generation is beginning to feel lost and irrelevant. Abandoned, even.
So, here we have a detailed generational study involving Gays which mirrors what is happening in contemporary society as a whole. It raises questions about everyone’s eventual fate as society transforms faster than a person ages. A conundrum as seen from a specific minority perspective, but with a universal application that provides food for thought for anyone pondering their future. This, I believe, is exactly what good science fiction is supposed to do. Well done. Subtle, but effective.
Shadow Work – by Soramimi Hanarejima
What if people can swap shadows?
An amazing premise. But what are the implications? To the literal-minded… none. Your shadow would just look different. That’s all.
But Hanarejima unleashes a number of intriguing possibilities. For one, each shadow comes burdened with the psychological detritus of the original owner, potentially quite a nightmare. Why would anyone want to take on somebody else’s problems? How do you resolve them? And, more ominously, what does your newfound shadow think of your attempts to reform it? Just to name a few of the problems revealed.
I interpret this as a superbly original take on the endlessly complex task of relating to a significant other, albeit on a magical, surreal plane that is somehow very practical and relevant. A delightful story. Insightful.
The Island – by M Denise Beaton
A tourist island restricted to women only is not immune to the thoughts of men.
Beaton lives on the West Coast of British Columbia. Though not stated, it is obvious to me the idyllic tourist island is one of the local Gulf Islands. This becomes important and relevant later in the story.
At first the emphasis, with subtle touches of humour, is on the gestation of the project and what the public thinks about it. This turns out to be a bit of a red herring. The clientele of the resort are barely mentioned. Instead, there’s a Zola-like focus on the limitations and restrictions faced by staff forced by their contracts to slavishly cater to their “guests” as if the workers were mere furniture and not human beings equal to the paying customers. I wondered where this was going. But it sets up the “punch” of the story rather well.
A certain modern and quite genuine horror unique to the West Coast takes centre stage. This promptly improves the status of the protagonist, but at a price. Then she figures out what to do about it, which makes for a satisfying twist ending.
Throughout reading the story I was concerned there were disparate elements introduced one after another without seeming to be connected, but by the end everything falls smoothly together and the story becomes all of piece. In other words, the author knew exactly what she was doing, distracting us with minor incongruities such that the ultimate revelation hits with enhanced impact. Well done and well designed. It is striking that this maturely-crafted story is Beaton’s first published fiction. All I can say is… I’m impressed!
5 Ways of Shutting Up – (Poem) by Dawn McDonald
Five situations that put an end to words.
Each is radically different in technique and emotion. Each produces a different response in the reader. They don’t fit together at all, being unequal in significance. This is intentional, I believe. The poet, in remarkably few words, is shamelessly manipulating the mind and feelings of the reader. Diabolically clever, that.
Floaters – by Kevin Sandefur
What if people in a coma defy gravity?
Well, not everyone in a coma, just forty-seven of them, sufficient to fill one ward. Naturally it would be a world-wide news sensation, and not just doctors would be keen on finding out what caused the phenomena and how it worked. But if nothing could be found? It was merely what these coma victims did? How long before everyone would lose interest?
The story is from the point of view of one of the two night-shift nurses caring for the victims. There are some nice touches, like the simple method they utilise for preventing bed sores. And their speculation on what caused the outbreak is amusing. But it’s their pressing need to come up with a solution that is most touching.
I’m hard pressed to assign a deeper meaning to the story. Something to do with how inexplicable reality can be and the perils of belief when attempting to cope. There’s a tragic element which may not be necessarily tragic, might even be a form of triumph. Overall, I find this fantasy rather charming. It has a dream-like quality which appeals to me. I like it.
Audrey and the Crow – by Cadence Mandybura
A girl who finds talking to people difficult does better with a murder of crows.
In fact, Audry learns the language of crows. For the first time in a long time, she is happy, but all good summer experience ends with the season. Real life intrudes.
The nature of Audry’s handicap includes stuttering and possibly a touch of autism. I think the point of the story is that being different can be a burden in terms of “normal” relations, yet offers new perspectives and situational awareness most people never experience. In this case, a strong empathy for the mindset of crows and what passes as normal for them. Granted, it’s all in Audrey’s mind, but aren’t we all imprisoned in our skulls? Nevertheless, her perceptions have a different focus than most. Most people would never attempt to learn crow-speak, let alone take it for granted.
In a way, this story points out that “different” people are just like us. They, too, experience the joys and pains of growing up, but just possibly, in a manner we might envy if only we knew about it. We should never disparage the basis of someone else’s happiness, even if we don’t understand it. Let them be. We should be so lucky. In that sense, this story is both sad and uplifting, even inspiring. It celebrates imagination.
Death and Laughter – by Kaile Shilling
What it’s like attending your mother’s death.
My mother died in my arms in an emergency ward crowded with distraught, suffering people. Needless to say, this story roils my emotions, even though it’s about a woman passing at home surrounded by family, but the reality of it speaks to me in ways that remain abstract to most people until the inevitable occurs. Most of us tend to outlive our parents.
This is a vignette focused on the social dynamics involving a family facing the unthinkable. There’s a great deal of subtlety in the nuances explained, not just in the emotions at play but in the “procedure” as it unfolds. An eye-opener for the uninitiated. Nothing too graphic, but involving matters you might not anticipate. Death can be quite complex.
And yet, quite simple as well. I can’t find the exact quote, but in his essays Michel De Montaigne (1535-1592), one of my favourite philosophers, said something along the lines of “You don’t have to worry about death. No need to prepare for it. Mother nature will take care of it effortlessly.” And that I have always found reassuring.
Death is death, but as this story makes clear, life goes on for everyone else. Something to keep in mind. Honour the dead. Celebrate the dead. But remember to live. That’s the message of this tale, and I concur.
Whispers in Between my Shoulder Blades – by Christine Breede
Do we always second guess everything? Even our second guesses?
This short-short is confusing, if only because it accurately reflects the tumult in most people’s minds as they contemplate their relations with others. This is the sort of thing which keeps people awake in bed till sunrise. A classic example of thinking too much. Does not lend itself to peace of mind. Some people drink or take drugs to deaden this pattern of thought. Usually described as “thinking out of control.” But, of course, everything is crafted by Breede to reveal the illogical logic of attempting to understand oneself and one’s goals. I am particularly fond of the line “how much freedom can I bear?”
Life is a conundrum as violent as a wildly spinning kaleidoscope screen. Catch glimpses of solutions if you dare. The story might seem meaningless to many, but it’s all about the quest for meaning. As such, highly interesting, and best of all, having read it, the average reader will probably conclude they’re not that messed up after all, compared to the point of view character. Definitely educational. And quite sophisticated. Merits several read-throughs to get the full picture of what can be unpacked. A compressed gem of a story. Thought-provoking.
The Play’s the Thing – (Graphic Art) by Allison Bannister
Four kids at home prepare to act out Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Nothing so dreary as trying to memorize the original play. These kids are out to rewrite the play and make it more exciting. Darned if some of their suggestions don’t make sense. In fact, I can see their ideas being incorporated in a screenplay that would make for an entertaining movie.
On the one hand, an amusing look at how kids might interpret “Shrew.” Then again, an intriguing look at what some would consider flaws in the original play. Did Shakespeare miss the bus? Always amusing to ask. Hey, he was a hack writer of genius always pressed to churn out a commercially viable product by a deadline. He did well, but maybe not so perfectly as some critics insist?
At any rate, I found this light and entertaining and loads of fun.
Pretty Lies: Hold On – (Chapters 12-20) by Mel Anastasiou
I quote the opening: “It’s the golden summer of 1974 on Bowen Island, BC. Inspired by the story of Orpheus and Euridice, Jenny Riley searches for re-entry into the ghost world to bring back her dead love, Joey. These attempts put her and others in mortal danger, and Jenny’s search is increasingly threatened by the ghost of Moira, who presses upon Jenny her own agenda for life after death.”
There’s more than one ghost involved and they’re a manipulative bunch. But they are, after all, the same people they always were, so their interaction with each other and mere mortals is more or less normal for the human condition, apart from the nuances introduced by their immortality (isn’t that what life after death is?) and their newfound superpowers, so to speak, of being able to flit about instantly and survive anything that would kill a mortal. Surprising how this complicates interaction with others. And how much of it they take for granted.
What strikes me is they don’t do what I would do if I found myself transformed into a ghost. They can move underwater without drowning. I’d explore the bottom of the ocean to satisfy my curiosity. Any nifty monsters I’ve never heard of? Or I’d wander the whole world like a disembodied voyeur eager to find out what’s really going on. In short, I wouldn’t hang around my usual haunts (pun intended).
In this novel the ghosts remain obsessed with the people they knew, as if death cannot sunder the emotional connections. Is this what haunting is all about? At any rate, it’s a fundamental aspect of the plot which serves the author well.
To put it another way, there’s a very complicated set of loves and regrets going on, and making use of ghost lovers adds to the multiplicity of motivations and goals in an intriguing manner. It expands expectations in terms of what’s likely to happen. Throwing ghosts into the mix prevents dance hall scenes or hospital waiting rooms from flirting with cliches. It renders even waiting for a ferry to arrive more riveting than normalcy usually dictates. Nothing is mundane. Everything is fraught with the unknown. Keeps readers on their toes.
One thing for sure. Anastasiou knows how to keep the reader turning the pages. I’m not normally keen on ghost stories (I don’t believe in ghosts) but these ghostly characters are addictive. They’re not the kind of ghost I would like to be, but they’re fascinating all the same, as complex as any character in a good mainstream novel.
At this point I am unable to predict what is going to happen. The imp in me suggests the final line might be something like “Because everybody was now dead they all lived happily ever after.” Hope that doesn’t turn out to be a spoiler.
Pulp Literature is known for the wide variety of its contents for a given issue. In the case of this particular issue, that goes double. Not something for everybody, but everything for everybody. A superb issue.
Check it out at: < Pulp Literature #35 >