The Town Drunk, March 2008

Similar to last month’s issue, the March 2008 issue for The Town Drunk is one for two yet again. 

“The Importance of Portents” by Jason E. Thummel tells the story of a local soothsayer named Zoltar and the up-and-coming mechanical competitor that threatens to ruin his readings forever. When his clients begin cancelling more frequently, Zoltar really grows agitated that such a contraption could read peoples’ fortunes better than he. Forced to turn to unsavory actions, the soothsayer will soon learn that not everyone’s future can be so easily predicted.

You know, I’m going to consider a story beyond successful if it actually makes me laugh out loud. And this one did, right here:

Zoltar crumpled the paper and set it aflame with an igniting spell. So, they wanted to play hardball, did they? Well, he would just go to Cheapside and show them how hard his balls could be.

With prose almost gleefully enjoying itself more than the reader can, “The Importance of Portents” is a fun adventure. The ending happened appropriately enough, despite the sudden POV switch that made it seem half-heartedly pieced together. I’m sure there could’ve been another way to write it to better portray Zoltar’s outcome while sticking in his mindset.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

“Lampreyhead Meets the Vampire Slaughterers” by Tim W. Burke sounds like the title to a lost episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Luckily, it isn’t. A hell-spawned and somewhat awkwardly-produced hero by the name of Lampreyhead enters a club in downtown Montreal for the sole purpose of slaughtering vampire slaughterers. You know, before they get him. Things quickly get out of hand, and our hapless hero finds himself surrounded by every genre cliche in the book: werewolves, fallen kings, vampires, smoky demons, and so on.

The story is heavy on being, hmm, light. There’s no a lot of emotion to the piece, and the dialogue and characters came off as rather slapsticky. It’s not that the story fails completely–there’s a nice moment of humor when a waitress delivers a nice slab of raw hamburger meat to a you-know-what–but for the most part the plot never slowed down to take itself seriously. And where there’s humor, there needs to be a balance of other weights. Also, the cast got too big way too fast, and I found myself trying to figure out everybody else first before I even gave one ounce of affection toward our slow-to-the-jump protagonist. Oh well.

Rating: 6 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, St. Patrick’s Day special

“Lucky Clover”

“Lucky Clover” by Barbara A. Barnett; Artwork (C) 2008, R.W. Ware

Looks like we get a bonus story from Flash Fiction Online in March thanks to that lovable patron saint of Ireland. From the story’s title alone, one might have a suspicion of what’s to come, but the events themselves that unfold are rather surprising in both tone and content…

“Lucky Clover” by Barbara A. Barnett opens up to a, I assume, long-going battle between leprechauns and fairies. And poor clover-wielding Seamus is right in the middle of it. Sure, all the other leprechauns inherited great items of power and family history such as swords and rings to use to their fullest. All he has is his worries and four-leaf clover. Still, he knows there’s magic within the green plant, and it’s not the kind us oh-so-stupid humans believe in.

Well, I liked it, but I had a problem understanding Seamus’s doubt that his comrades would look down on him for using such an unheroic item like a four-leaf clover to do battle with the fairies. I mean, hey, it got the job done right. Other than that, applause must be given to Barnett for crafting a very short piece of flash fiction (meaning it isn’t yet another 999 word story that just barely makes the requirements) that has a world to it and a character to root for. The actual action of fairies swooping down on little tiny luckmen reminded me of the Eoin Colfer books where mystical creatures run amuck unknown to the world. Regardless, it’s a fun piece that succeeds in telling a succinct story of a battle (sort of) well won.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Flash Fiction Online, #4 March 2008

Back again, with another issue of Flash Fiction Online. No PDFs offered this time around, but that’s not a problem. The HTML versions work just as nicely. As usual, FFO is a nice e-zine. The flash fiction always makes for quick reading, and the layout and other stylistic decisions never get in the way. I do hope this ship keeps on sailing for many a months…

“Just Before Recess” by James Van Pelt is the story of a 3rd grade student and the sun he keeps hidden in his desk. How it came to be, how it yearns to fed, how it can be stopped altogether–these are questions Parker cannot answer. Unfortunately, his teacher, Mr. Earl, investigates the situation a little too closely.

It’s a fun piece of fiction, light-hearted and not, and the descriptions rang all too familiar for me. I can, for the life of me, remember sitting at those uncomfortable desks, keeping our books and pencils and note paper inside, as well as anything neat or gross found outside during recess. Those were the small things that you kept hidden, kept pushed back in the corner. Is a small sun more absurd than anything else? No, and it is this pulsing ball of light that keeps the story interesting even if its parturition goes unresolved. Very enjoyable, as well as innocently charming.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

The narrative structure in “Downstream From Divorce: A Drama in Three Acts” by Glenn Lewis Gillette is something I think, or I’d like to think, Harlan Ellison would appreciate. It is a story of divorce told in three disassembled acts, mostly being of talking heads. Facts are revealed, questions are asked, and hearts are broken. It’s emotional and layered, but hard to absorb. I by no means hated it, but found myself hating the fact that I could not connect with it like I think a number of other readers could.

Rating: 7.5 anonymous stars out of 10

In “The Desert Cold” by David Tallerman, our nameless narrator tells us about the difference between the desert during the day and the desert during the night. Oddly enough, it is not the heat that can kill you, but the cold. Yet so long as one has water and a good guide they can survive the trek, and our talkative chap has both those items. Yet he is still afraid, and the reason why only becomes clear at the last sentence of the story.

There’s some lovely descriptions in the piece, which really help bring out the scenery. Since we can’t get to know our leading man, we must instead know our leading land. They say that Mother Nature is a bitch, and if that is so then the desert is her quietly creepy nephew lying in wait to steal some poor fool’s life. Not surprising, it’s a bleak tale, and does not shy away from the unhappy ending. I’d have liked for more though, and even though the protagonist admits that he is no philosopher it would’ve been nice for a bit more introspection on the why and how of his chilly findings.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

Another solid issue for FFO, even if it only had one entry of flash fiction that I’d consider speculative. The other two were a bit more literary, still just as rewarding.

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Clarkesworld #17, February 2008

Clarkesworld#17

“Captain’s Lament” by Stephen Graham Jones tells the life story of Quincy Mueller, known mostly to his marine buddies as Muley. When he was a younger man, a devastating accident placed him in the hospital for weeks upon weeks. It is, for a man of the sea, a living hell to be so landlocked, and as the nurses and doctors prod him endlessly with questions and queries he takes to his imagination and sails the roaring ocean day in and day out. If only, he wishes. That is until the day a nurse named Margaret enters his immobile life, with plans already in motion…

It is the story of a broken man returning home, of desire and longing, of never asking for something and still getting it in the end. Jones has crafted a tearjerker, a real piece of work here that reminds me of my father and the smell of ocean water in the evening and ghost stories told in dark living rooms. It’s also a mildly disturbing tale, with a calm look at revenge and justice, if those are exactly the things that Margaret sought from her less-than-better boyfriend Billy. In essence, it can be viewed as a how-to in an urban legend’s backhistory. That’s not how I saw it though, or choose to see it. The story is of a man defying it all to go home, and what he has to do to get there is what makes “Captain’s Lament” so rewarding, so enriching, and so heartbreaking.

Rating: 9 anonymous stars out of 10

“The Human Moments” by Alexander Lumans is a collection of recordings detailing information and the happenings of dead bodies since the flu pandemic wiped most of the population clean away. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the piece. Bits and pieces of story unfold slowly, with the focus being placed more strongly on events like drinking hot cocoa rather than examining the skin of yet-another dead woman. These would be the human moments that the title points out. And this is what Ansgar revels in, breathing deep in the underground lab, but life quickly changes when he receives a telegram stating his position is to be overtaken by a robot, cutting out the human error.

It’s a very futuristic account, asking many a great question. For example: Who else waits for technology to take their place? Do birds? I liked the attention to details, the way Ansgar studies everything he sees, sees it just a bit bigger than others might, and really makes things happen despite his limitations. There’s an overwhelming air of paranoia here, and I like that. It made for uncomfortable reading, unsafe, but the ending came swiftly about and it was more than satisfying.

Rating: 8 anonymous stars out of 10

This was definitely a better issue than the January 2008 one. I suspect, for me, it had to do with offering longer tales that were more speculative fiction than just dreamy fables or incomplete thoughts. Plus, it’s a great cover. Looking forward to the next one, especially now that I see it is headlining a Jay Lake tale…

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What’s coming up?

Well, and this all depends on the matter of me getting my reading done, but here’s what is coming up next:

  • Flash Fiction Online, March 2008
  • Clarkesworld #17, February 2008
  • Clarkesworld #18, March 2008
  • Um, more issues of Hub
  • Coyote Wild, February 2008

Yeah, now that it is March, y’know, I should probably finish up last month’s issues first. Now hush, you noisemakers. I’m off to read.

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The Town Drunk, February 2008

The Town Drunk is a webzine that bills itself as “publishing lighthearted and humorous short stories that contain elements of science fiction, fantasy, or the supernatural.” Usually, they are spot on with that claim. Except here they falter with one story, which I’d call science fiction but never lighthearted or humorous. Instead, words that come to mind are upsetting and this-made-me-uncomfortable. Exactly.

In “The Curse of the Friendly Forest” by Rod M. Santos, Sir Duncan is seeking the Bright Lady. When the trees are reluctant to help him, a trail of falling apples will eventually lead him to her home. There he hopes to find refuge from the Ebon Knight, a dastardly fellow that likes eating children covered in cranberry sauce. Only the Bright Lady may not be the saving grace Duncan was looking for…

This is Disney all disturbed. Or Monty Python freebasing. One of those. It’s also a fun, enjoyable story that is quick with the humor and satisfying with the plot. The Friendly Forest…is it rightfully named? It rings true of many fairy tale tropes, but Santos takes them for a fun ride, keeping the momentum going forward as Sir Duncan and the Ebon Knight battle for blood. I particularly liked the Bright Lady, a narcissistic lonely woman that gabs her heart out, regardless if anyone is listening. The better of the two stories in the February issue.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

“Gimpbomb Enters Room” by Matthew Beyis a chatroom transcript. In it, a character by the screenname of Gimpbomb is looking for girls to chat with, but only finds adbots. And not just any adbots. These are the Cylon versions of new-wave advertising. You won’t even know what hits you until…well, they start schlecking soda pop and brand names your way. This, the notion, is humorous. What spews out of Gimpbomb’s keyboard, however, is not. The story is rated “beware” for chatroom profanity levels and strong sexual innuendo. The twist at the end is nicely done, but for all that it still isn’t worth sludging through all the filth. Is this what a chatroom (do people still use them?) transcipt actually looks like? Possibly. Does it make for a good narrative device? Nope.

Rating: 4.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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Hub, #44

Whoops. I got a little behind on reading and reviewing here, but I’d like to think I’m back in action. Or something like that. Anyways, Hub continues to put out weekly issues and I continue to enjoy them. That’s a win-win situation, for those taking notes.

“Transcendence Express” by Jetse de Vries first appeared back in the dinosaur days of Hub‘s history. You know, when it was a print magazine for a few issues. Anyways, we’re in Zambia here, where education and the like is rather minimal. Or diminishing. A teacher by the name of Liona Jansen is trying to enhance the lives of the poorer children by bringing maths and science into their heads. Unfortunately, being where she is, instructional tools are hard to come by. Jansen instead allows her class of kids to grow their own computers, a task that will soon have very damaging outcomes.

It’s a very surreal piece, mixing gritty reality with the stark contrast of future endeavors and self-doubt. I enjoyed the way Vries jumped from scene to scene, especially towards the end of the story. Technology is both a blessing and a curse, and “Transcendence Express” really makes one think about where we are going as a culture, a society, a tech-wired force that seems unstoppable at times. There are no answers here, only ideas. But they are haunting ones, articulately accurate. Definitely worth a read, and I’m thankful that Hubhad the mind to reprint it online. It can also be listened to as a podcast, which I haven’t checked out yet, over at Escape Pod.

Rating: 8.5 anonymous stars out of 10

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