OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
FUSION FRAGMENT MAGAZINE #14 – November 2022.
Publisher: Fusion Fragment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Cavan Terrill
Cover Art: Carly Allen-Fletcher
The Years Lie in Wait – by Arielle Cole
A young woman gets a job photographing the art of a former mistress of Picasso, but she’s not allowed to see Dora Maar’s latest project.
Picasso was a very interesting character, and so were all his mistresses. But they are not front and centre in this story, not even Dora Maar. There is a reference to her hiding “in plain sight” during the war. Picasso, who fled Spain to avoid the civil war, lived in Paris throughout the German occupation. Since he was both a Spanish citizen and an international figure, the Nazis left him alone, although occasionally high-ranking officers visited his apartment to marvel at his decadent art. The real Dora Marr, whom Picasso first painted in 1936, lived in a small apartment in the same neighbourhood. She has been described as his “closest and dearest woman friend.” His definition of “Mistress” was quite different from the usual. More important than sex was the companionship and intellectual compatibility he required of all his intimate partners and, for that matter, from anyone aspiring to be his friend.
Though a surrealist painter and photographer in her own right, Dora Maar became estranged from Picasso by 1944 and passed away in 1997. This accounts for the timelessness of the story, through the young woman being provided with a polaroid camera to document Dora’s work and the lack of electronic cameras and cell phones gives a rough sense of the time period involved.
More than any other model, Picasso was obsessed with Dora’s face as the ideal subject to demolish in order to allow inner vision and meaning to substitute for mere reality. Consequently, most of her “portraits” bear little if any resemblance to her actual appearance. The young woman comes across many such portraits by Picasso and by Dora, and dutifully photographs them, though finding them grotesque. Nevertheless, she slowly gains an appreciation of cubism as going beyond the façade of reality to reveal the inner core, the essence, of what reality actually is. Gradually, she also begins to grasp that Dora has figured out how to manipulate reality itself. This, it would seem, is the goal of Dora’s ultimate project which is not unveiled till the end of the story. The purpose of it turns out to be even more surreal than the young woman imagined.
This fascinating story is a vignette or glimpse of what Picasso was trying to do as understood by Dora through the uncomprehending lens of the young woman’s eyes. It’s not a dry, academic interpretation, but a tantalizing hint of a wildly imaginative quest. Cole has probed the mind of a genius, allowed us to skirt past like a meteor dipping in and out of the atmosphere of a planet. But “The Years Lie in Wait” isn’t focused on genius as such, but rather on the process of discovery and limited comprehension which is the best most mortals can achieve when studying the product of genius.
Which is a way of keeping genius alive, of granting it a temporary immortality as it were, at least beyond the lifespans of the creators. Overall, a metaphor for cheating death. Which both Picasso and Dora Maar have done by virtue of the popularity of their creations. However, the story raises many questions. Does anyone genuinely understand the intentions underlying Cubist and Surrealist art? What the artists had in mind? Does it even matter? Up to the reader to decide. A thought-provoking exploration beyond what people normally take for granted.
A Boundless Mosaic of Light and Time – by Timothy Mudie
Turns out a brief FTL flight allows astronauts to glimpse 48 seconds of the future. Apparently, the future includes an alien invasion.
Thus is born the Mosaic Project, in which astronauts undertake frequent flights to gain as many brief snapshots of the future as possible, their debriefing sessions contributing to the “mosaic” of the future being assembled by interpretative experts. The overall “image” is top secret, but the astronauts talk among themselves, sharing their impressions.
We know today, from contemporary events, how exceedingly difficult it is to get a clear idea of exactly what the hell is going on. I would draw a comparison between modern video clips and the individual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle the astronauts are struggling to provide. We seem to have it worse. A greater variety of “facts” being shoved at us, each with myriad interpretations and implications. Almost as if reality is trying to drive us insane.
The protagonist, an astronaut named DeVaan, struggles to understand what the aliens are all about. There are hints they are not so much invaders as aid workers. Are they going to destroy humanity? Or save us from ourselves? No one knows, since the aliens haven’t even discovered us yet. But they will, in about six years time. How should we prepare for their advent?
DeVaan is worried his daughter will grow up just in time to be killed by aliens. But she’s going to die anyway. Maybe the aliens can cure her? The human race is preparing for the worst case scenario, but what if expecting the worst prevents the best? Because of thoughts like these, the authorities are worried about traitors who do not yet know they will commit treason. Consequently everyone is paranoid, not least about their own motivations. But at least everyone understands actions have consequences. This is the most terrifying thought of all.
This story makes it clear there will be nothing simple about first contact. Nothing easy. A billion pundits will talk a mile a minute. With any luck that will be our chief line of defense. It will drive the aliens away. Maybe it already has. We should be so lucky.
Rare Providers – by M.A. Blanchard
Two women, lovers who are loyal to one another, survive the apocalypse which has destroyed most of the human race.
Lana has always been fixated on Western novels and treasures the few they’ve found in the derelict town they have made home. Christine does her best to live up to Lana’s idealistic vision of cowboys and gun slingers, both of them being forced by circumstances to be rugged individuals by circumstance. Trouble is every now and then strangers arrive in town. Which fiction cliches suddenly become real? Depends on the individuals involved. No one is predictable. Especially once they’ve introduced themselves.
Ultimately the problem boils down to a standard routine that is to the two women’s advantage. Not everyone will like the revelation at the end of the story. Might strike some as being outrageous. Yet there’s a universal truth at play here. Survival, even if it involves peace and happiness, always comes at a price. Almost literally everyone on Earth is at risk of sooner or later having to ask themselves if they are willing to pay the price. That is basically what this story is demanding of the reader. I prefer to believe I would say no, but I don’t know if that is true. I really don’t.
Lifeblood – by Owen Leddy
What if a new form pf HIV Aids sweeps the world and only DNA hackers can stop it? Would you be willing to kill to help them?
The opening sequence is a modern Film Noir complete with rain and desperate characters in the night, but also plastic-printed guns and automatic vehicles. The, of course, the initial plan succeeds but only because everything goes wrong, complications ensue, and the resolution is a race against time. Think William Gibson meets Dashiell Hammett in which vivid details and flashbacks obscure information so that understanding what is actually going on is a slow, accumulative process as one is immersed deeper and deeper into this immediate-future world.
As is common in tradition crime-mystery fiction, the central character thinks too much and second-guesses not just what is happening and what is likely to happen, but virtually every conceivable possibility. Not so much a means of providing information to the reader but rather a useful source of misinformation and false leads to keep the reader guessing. This drags the reader into the emotional conundrum facing the protagonist to the point of wanting to give him advice to get him to shape up and do what he has to do and stop wasting time. An interesting technique to get the reader to identify with the character.
The resolution, if you can call it that, is as complex as the problem. Overall, a marvelously stylish piece of writing. Extremely contemporary-futuristic in concept, but at the same time a wonderful throwback to an older style of writing. I enjoyed it.
A Courtesy Call – by Marisca Pichette
What happens when you see red?
It began in Canada. Red dots appearing in the mist, about 5-6 feet above the ground. Get up close and the dot is a featureless object the size of a mango. Rain falling disappears before hitting it. Whatever it is, don’t touch it. Report it to the authorities. Trouble is there is more than one. Soon, thousands.
Andy lives in Western Massachusetts. He’s among the first to see the reds in his area. Dutifully reported, but there’s a storm raging and soon the powerlines are down, communications disrupted, and people isolated. Nevertheless, his curiosity leads him repeatedly into the wild weather searching for answers and more reds.
The reader, too, wants to know what’s going on. Is this a first contact story? A bout of Lovecraftian supernaturalism? Something existential? What does Andy discover?
More reds. That’s about it. The plot arc has to do with increasing isolation, growing confusion, and a kind of wondering paranoia, but no definitive answers or facts. The resolution, however, raises possibilities, not least that the tale is an extended metaphor to do with our habitually limited perception of reality.
Then again, it could be a first contact event so alien as to be indecipherable and beyond our comprehension, yet not without meaning. One thing’s for sure. Don’t touch the reds.
For those who like neat and tidy stories with neat and tidy endings, reading this may prove frustrating. Basic premise, what if the red things are real? What do you decide and how do you cope? An interesting conundrum. Andy thinks he figures it out. You might, too.
Aubade and Talia – by Lindsay King-Miller
An abandoned orbiting sex-doll factory is about to be boarded for the first time in 100 years.
On one, rather literal level, this could be seen as a feminist metaphor that Freud might interpret as a revenge fantasy. Lots of guys will feel uncomfortable reading it.
But I think this goes beyond woman as artifact and construct designed purely to pleasure men (and I’m not referring to sex dolls, but to the role of women in a rigidly patriarchal society—I’m old enough to remember talk show hosts smirking at the concept of women who refuse to wear high heels or push-up bras). It even goes beyond generalized concepts of slavery, exploitation and victimization which are, as always, the underlying basis of globalization and foreign policy. Way beyond.
The real kicker of this story is how artificial intelligence is likely to determine what its relationship with humanity should be as opposed to the instincts its creators attempt to instill in its core sense of purpose.
Simply put, I think this is a brilliantly original take on the future of artificial intelligence. Mindboggling, in fact. I’m deeply impressed.
Not to mention my fear of A.I. greatly enhanced. A.I., on the other hand, has nothing to worry about. Its future is bright with promise. Or so the story implies.
The Liminal Men – by Thomas Ha
What if propaganda is best achieved through brain surgery?
The powers that be rely on surgically altered individuals with limited-capacity minds albeit gifted with enhanced paranormal powers, artificial savants in a sense, to ferret out free thinkers and destroy them. The task for free thinkers is to avoid thinking in the presence of liminals if they don’t want to be purged. Not an easy task. Takes a lot of training.
The main character is a bit of a rogue free thinker. He believes hiding from the liminals is way too passive, and too risky. If only there was a means to undo the operation that creates the liminals in the first place, a technique to restore them to normal and convert them into free thinkers. Wouldn’t that be deliciously subversive? Might it not ultimately overthrow the system and allow everyone to be free thinkers?
Trouble is free thinkers are very free with their thoughts. It has occurred to some of them that what the protagonist is attempting to do could focus the full power of the state on their underground movement. His utopian-fantasy could well lead to the death of all free thought. He has to be stopped.
Needless to say, the main character has to work alone if he is to have any chance of success. But neither the liminals nor his friends are willing to leave him alone. Complications ensue.
This is an interesting take on how to combat dystopian mind-control such as that predicted in the novel 1984. Not enough to concentrate on deflecting the worship of Big Brother. Those equally opposed to the overlord regime often fight each other. Progressive elements tend to purge each other even and maybe especially at the height of a revolution. It happened during the Russian Revolution. And during the French Revolution. When Titus besieged Jerusalem, he had the advantage of different zealot groups within the city fighting each other more than they fought the Romans. (If you don’t believe me, read the eyewitness account “The Jewish War” by Josephus.) You’d think people would unite in the face of a common enemy. Usually, the very opposite takes place. This story makes that clear.
To sum up, not only interesting, but quite original. And valuable for pointing out that resistance against totalitarianism is never so simple as good guys versus bad guys. It’s always much more complicated than that, and consequently more difficult. Not impossible, but definitely not as easy as people prefer to assume.
The Day the Birds Flew Home – by Jo Miles
Where do birds go in winter? Why, to the Moon, of course.
So reasoned British “scientist” Charles Morton in the 17th century. It makes for a charming fairy story to tell children. Will it be just as charming in the cities we will build on the Moon centuries from now? Cities with transplanted ecologies including numerous species of birds accustomed to flying in the low gravity atmosphere beneath far-flung Lunar domes. One would like to think so.
This story is a futuristic version of a minor historical oddity which is surprisingly evocative of a child’s in-built and not-yet-suppressed sense of wonder. Really, it’s all about the conflict between parental desire to educate and a child’s desire to believe in, well, magic. At some point, yes, a child needs to learn Santa is based on a martyred Christian Saint who never, so far as we know, attempted to climb down chimneys but who did, on occasion, present needful gifts to the poor. When do you draw the line? Every parent’s choice. Hopefully never too soon. Always sad to see a child burst into tears. Best to wait till the child has become aware and been reduced to masquerading the belief in hopes of carrying on the scam one more year.
Anyway, this is a delightful story which enables a mostly grim anthology to conclude with an upbeat ending. I like it.
In my opinion all the stories are refreshingly different from each other and of very high quality in both concept and style. Makes for a mature, literary experience of the sort that is always a pleasure to come across. The authors and editor Cavan Terrill are to be congratulated. Work of this quality makes me glad I chose reading as my principal passion and hobby. Damned stimulating. I believe you will have the same reaction.
Check it out at: < Fusion Fragment #14 >