The second issue of Hub Magazine shows a marked improvement from the first, in terms of presentation – they’ve reigned in the images embedded in stories, which has made things a lot more readable. Some of the background images still make the text hard to follow, but there’s always a balance of compromise between impact and readability. What is plain is that they’re listening to their readers, which bodes well for the future.
Barry J. House kicks things off with In The Rivermen’s Lair, an Enlightenment-era ghost story about a young doctor who has just gained a research position at the infamous Bedlam hospital for the insane. Doctor Hawtrey receives an unexpected gentleman visitor in his office, who spins a tall yarn about the evil creatures that framed him as insane when he refused to assist in their plans for world domination. It’s not the most original story in the world, but the twist is neatly executed. Apart from the occasional slip out of the idiom, House captures the language and atmosphere of the time in a plausible fashion, and the pacing is consistent. One to retell over drinks at the gentleman’s club, perhaps.
Little Sacrifices is Meg Kingston‘s look at a near-future Britain where drastic measures have been introduced to reduce the consumption of energy. One of the narrator’s neighbours continues to defy the laws and strictures on using electric lights and playing loud music, despite repeated visits from the Overseers. It’s a compact piece of work, and for that the infodumping can be forgiven, but there’s a nagging loose thread in the narrative that could have been tied off more neatly. Little Sacrifices, as the name implies, has the tone of a morality story, but I’m left unsure of which character is supposed to be the hero. Perhaps this ambiguity is deliberate; the politics of energy consumption is far from being a clear-cut issue.
Sarah L. Edwards‘ Talent Search rescues itself from a slow wooden start with a handful of interesting ideas and tropes blended together. Rose Delaney is a scout, searching through the backward towns of America for children with ‘the Talent’. To assist her search she has some temporal hacking devices and a spray for tagging her targets for later collection. The talent in question is related to musical aptitude, and Rose herself has a degree of it. But Rose’s job is complicated by her own recruitment to the organisation she works for, and her understandable moral qualms about taking children away from their natural parents. Edwards hinges the narrative around the passion and love of music, which gives the story an emotional anchor that its complexity requires. There are a lot of themes and ideas introduced as the work progresses which could have been expanded upon without adding unnecessary flab, and the ending in particular is very hurried – but better to be left wanting more detail than less. Edwards has enough ideas to hand here that she could probably get a few more stories out of them without them wearing out their welcome; I’d be interested to see how she expands the world she has sketched out here.
Written by Interzone’s e-submissions co-editor, Jetse de Vries, Transcendence Express is a high-tech slice of speculative science fiction that follows the adventures of a Dutch computer scientist as she introduces organic quantum-powered laptops to the African village where she and her boyfriend are doing volunteer work. The technological speculation is well grounded in current research and theories, and the characterisation of Liona and her boyfriend is solid. There are a few moments where the language of the narration stumbles, but given that de Vries is writing in his second language the story flows very well indeed. My only complaint would be that there is a lack of opposition and conflict to Liona’s plans; circumstance and bad luck provide a few stumbling blocks, but the reader would have more sympathy with her if there were another character actively working to prevent her mission from succeeding. Nonetheless, it’s a brisk story of the almost-now that does something currently quite rare – it paints a picture of a plausibly brighter future, and we need more fiction that does that.
I’m not going to say much about Mark Torrender‘s very short The Long View, because its subject matter rubs me up the wrong way for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual writerly merits of the work. If you’re a fan of The Celestine Prophecy and Paolo Coelho, perhaps you’ll love it.
David Viner provides us Eight Excerpts From a Secret Inter-Dimensional War, a heady mix of science fiction and horror. As the title suggests, it’s a set of vignettes that show Viner’s grasp of atmospherics and tension, as well as his ability to drop in queasy moments of nastiness without dropping the thread of the narrative. There are a few strained moments where it seems Viner is trying to punch a little above his literary weight, but it’s good to see a writer stretch themselves a little, and the ideas that provide the scenery and theme of the pieces are the sign of a vigorous imagination at work – these could easily be sketches for a novella or full novel. Which highlights the only real disappointment, the last of the vignettes – it feels tacked on, like a board over a broken window. I get the feeling Viner had much more to say, but felt he’d be better off wrapping things up into a small package. In my opinion, that may have been his only mistake in an otherwise strong and individual piece of work.
ROH! By Douglas E. Wright is a kind of “Cheech and Chong go Southern Gothic” affair; a small-town horror yarn about an encounter between two young stoners and the town’s resident 60s burnout. It’s a golden rule of writing that less is considered to be more, but ROH! goes a little too far, with considerable gaps in the action and plot that take a fair bit of skipping back and re-reading to fill in. Perhaps this is meant to reflect the dazed and confused dope-haze of the protagonists, but it makes the story hard to follow, and lacking in that tension crescendo that horror writing hinges on. The story itself, however, is reminiscent of early Poppy Z. Brite – strong and slightly surreal stuff, and definitely an acquired taste, but certain to push the buttons of the gross-out crowd.
Lee Moan‘s JuJu is a suitably nasty little urban horror number, where a rich businessman gets his just desserts for committing murder using voodoo magic. The story is satisfyingly twisty with just the right moral kick. My only complaint here would be the slightly lumpy characterisation; in particular, the young thief who supplies the protagonist with the voodoo talismans uses language that doesn’t fit with his supposed street-wise background; I’ve not met many professional criminals, but I can’t imagine many of them finish their sentences with, “as it were.” But Moan knows a good narrative hook when he thinks of one, and a little polish on the dialogue will make them that much sharper.
TLP by Vaughan Stanger closes the magazine off with a whimper rather than a bang from my perspective, and for much the same reasons I didn’t like Torrender’s story earlier on. Stanger’s tale of the last two living moon-walk veterans has the sort of details that show he’s thought hard about his characters, but overall this seems to be another disguised advert for the merits of religious faith. It’s not as blunt as Torrender’s effort, and I’ll admit that in this case I may simply be bringing my own prejudices to the table and reading the piece in a way it’s not meant to be read – but I can’t shake off the feeling I’m being proselytised at. One can argue there is a place for faith in fiction, but it’s not something I come to genre work with the expectation of finding, and here it spoils my enjoyment of what otherwise might have been an intriguing sf character story.
There’s some worthwhile non-fiction in this issue too, including an essay on ‘The Problems of Matter Transmission’ by sf veteran Brian Stableford, an excerpt of an interview with Charles Stross (available in full on the revamped Hub Magazine website) and a piece about the strengths of the small press scene in genre fiction. I like the format very much – I understand the economic necessity of digest-format magazines, but I really don’t enjoy them as artefacts, and Hub’s distinctive size and shape sets it apart from the pack. I hope to see it carry on improving; the British scene could do with more native magazines, provided subscriber numbers can support them.
As always, if anyone can supply website details for any of the writers unlinked above, please put a note in the comments.
[Disclaimer: I am a book reviewer for Hub Magazine.]