I’m still quite new to the small-press magazine scene, but one thing that as obvious from the outset is the differing characters of each publication. Electric Velocipede is no exception – if issue 11 is anything to go by, it veers between introspective and playful, with a tendency to detour through darkness. Almost all of the work contained could be placed in multiple genres; on numbers alone, fantasy and horror seem to dominate, but there are a few shining science fictional pieces in the selection too.
(I’ll leave aside any detailed examination of the poetry – although I write poetry myself, I don’t feel confident enough in my limited experience as a reader of poems to be able to dissect other people’s work with any real insight. I will mention the fact that Catherynne M. Valente’s The Inkmaker’s Wife is the sort of writing that stirs a reaction both intellectual and emotional – a very sensual and lyrical work indeed.)
So, to the stories. A few of these, while perfectly competent, are nothing much to get excited over. Sometimes I Get Lost by Steve Rasnic Tem and Marly Youmans‘ The Geode are real world stories with a fantasy twist: the former is intriguingly open to interpretation but ultimately a bit too surreal to satisfy, while the latter doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or say anything – though that could be partially attributed to the perspective of a male reader who isn’t a parent. Mary Turzillo‘s A Punctuated Romance is a quick humour piece based around puns on punctuations; it’s clever and slightly satirical, but not the most original of ideas, and it seems to overstay its welcome.
Liz Williams‘ Tiger, Tiger tells the story of a fading Victorian actress who decides that a tiger’s tail would be not just a flashy fashion accessory, but a great PR move as well. Of course, the deal she is offered comes with more than just the tail attached to it … it’s beautifully written, with an authentic feel to the language, but curiously unfulfilling. Perhaps the conceit was too big for the story, or the story too long for the conceit.
Avoiding a similar trap, Nine Billion and Counting by John B. Rosenman is a little fable that takes obsessive-compulsive behaviour through to a slightly surreal worst-case conclusion. Likewise, Nicole Kimberling‘s Sweetness and Light takes a child’s-eye view of religion and comes up with a magic-realist vignette that charms without becoming cloying. Continuing the spiritual theme, Jennifer Pelland‘s Last Bus is a trip through the afterlife, conjuring an sense of mystery and wonder that redeems the happily-ever-after ending.
Both Bar Golem by Sonya Taafe and Milk and Apples by Catherynne Valente have more than a faint whiff of the poetic about them, deploying rich language to great advantage. Valente’s piece is dark and macabre, a hallucinatory myth that feels half-remembered and half-dreamed; it’s not the sort of thing I’d normally go out of my way to read, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. Bar Golem, written in a similar fever-dream atmosphere, is a new take on the first-person lament of the teenage girl who loves the wrong man – in this case a clay automaton. For such a short piece it’s very moving, with a poignancy rarely encountered in genre fiction.
Scott William Carter‘s How to Get Rid of Your Monster takes a stylistic risk by coming in the form of a series of supposed Usenet bulletin board postings. Fortunately it backs up the novelty with good story-telling. The format lulls the reader into a false sense of security, but it becomes increasingly obvious as the narrative progresses that this is the inner revenge fantasy of a cuckolded husband spilling over into his concious reality. A very economical story, with a hanging ending ambiguous enough to leave the reader some space for speculation.
Tobias Buckell‘s The Duel is one of the longer stories in the magazine. It follows Toad, a young man who works in a futuristic museum where dioramas from history are literally brought to life. Toad becomes very emotionally involved with a simulation that features characters from the early history of the United States, and absorbs ideas and attitudes that are out-dated and misplaced in the relaxed and libertarian time he comes from. These anachronistic attitudes lead to conflict with those he is closest to – a conflict he seeks to resolve in an equally old fashioned way. The trouble is that Toad isn’t an easy character to like – even from a current perspective he seems foolish and narcissistic, and the reader may find themselves wanting to reach into the story and tell him to quit complaining. However, the central conceit of the story (the museum itself) is laden with possibilities and the historical details are vivid and well-researched. The setting seems underexploited – perhaps there will be more stories to come from the Living History Museum. [Disclosure: Tobias Buckell is a co-blogger at Futurismic.]
Edd Vick’s Moon Does Run has the overtly Caribbean setting that one might have expected from Buckell’s piece. It’s a curious mix of magic realism and near-future science fiction, wherein an robotic customs administrator is driven out of its artificial mind by a rapid succession of regime (and software) changes. The robot’s grip on reality decays utterly, to the point where it practically destroys itself to hide in a solipsistic dream-state. There’s a bundle of subtle symbolism running through Vick’s narrative, painted by a gentle hand – it must have been tempting to make the cautionary metaphor more obvious, but the depths are cunningly concealed by the foreground details. An enjoyable story on a number of levels.
Finally, Quitting Dreams is a collaboration between Matthew Cheney and Jeffrey Ford. It’s a hallucinatory post-apocalypse drama set in the US after a catastrophic collapse of society. A man called Trager goes in search of Paul Cleary, with the intent to kill him – he’s been living Cleary’s dreams for years, after being hooked on their essence while he was a volunteer in the clean-up forces. The story backtracks into Trager’s vagrant addict lifestyle, wandering aimlessly through a country gone mad that mirrors the landscape of his own mind. He spends some time with a woman who supplies him the dream-drug in exchange for him reporting the content of the dreams to her, and he eventually draws closer to understanding not just where the dreams come from, but how and why he ended up being given them in the first place.
Quitting Dreams is a deeply complex story; its haunting elements are brought to the fore by the vivid dream images spliced in between sections of Trager’s narrative. These dreams are never explicitly explained, but simply offered ‘as is’, like snapshots into Trager’s mind. This creates a mystery for the reader – are the dreams relevant? what do they mean in the context of the story? – which increases the impact of the entire work. Repeated re-reads will probably reveal more nuance – this is a story that really compels contemplation and analysis, at the same time as it defies easy categorisation.
A diverse selection of work, presented in an attractive chapbook-esque format with clean and simple layouts that lets the writing speak for itself. I’m looking forward to the next issue’s arrival already! Why not go and subscribe yourself?