Advent Calendar 2016 – Day 10

Another one of the reviews I did for the old Whispers of Wickedness website, all of which are currently archived on The Future Fire website.

NB: I haven’t bothered to include any links, as it’s a) too time consuming and b) many of the sites referenced are now dead and/or missing, but if you want to check something out then visit The Future Fire archive where the links, if still live, are in place.

JUPITER IX: SINOPE

Reviewed by Peter Tennant

Ian Redman’s editorial kicks off his third year of publication with a well deserved pat on the back. Magazines in the Small Press are somewhat ephemeral, either fading away before they’ve reached anything like their full potential or adopting an arbitrary policy with regard to publishing schedules, and in such a climate Jupiter‘s reliability is a pleasing exception to the rule. Full credit to Redman for showing he can deliver the goods on time, but what of the goods themselves?

The magazine is A5 and side stapled, slightly rough and ready compared to some of the other publications seen here at WoW review, a utilitarian product rather than a thing of beauty in itself, but against that has to be set the low price, and on such a basis the magazine’s production values are more than adequate. Talented artist Jesse Speak provides a cover that is eye catching, though it suffers slightly from the monochrome reproduction, while interiorly we get a series of zoological monstrosities that reminded me of nothing so much as the bubble gum cards of my youth, which would probably be worth a fortune now if I’d saved them.

The aforesaid monstrosities illustrate the opening story, Primitive Hunt, Day One by Monte Davis, in which a man tries to bond with both his son and his own father through the medium of a hunting expedition on another world. The story doesn’t really go anywhere – they land, they tool up, they provide wampum for the friendly natives, they shoot up the scenery, and then they go back to base and think good thoughts about themselves–but it’s a fun trip, laden with incidental invention courtesy of a wealth of alien flora and fauna, convincing characterisation and details of weaponry etc that add verisimilitude. Imagine, if you will, the poor man’s Wilbur Smith writing SF. In short, while nobody is going to get too excited about this or add it to their list of all time SF greats, it’s pleasant enough and doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is a nice entrée to whet the appetite for more substantial fare.

David Price’s Silhouette is not quite as lush, but has more meat to it. The aliens land and alter humanity, so that all we see when we look at each other are silhouettes. The story follows the personal odyssey of a never named protagonist, an amateur artist of some talent, who learns the great purpose behind what has been done. The pace is measured, with fine characterisation and emotional resonances, the whole benefiting from the restrained and almost matter of fact mode of telling. Price is a writer who is not afraid to tackle issues in his fiction, to give us stories that have a moral without lapsing into the self-mocking irony of many of his peers, and that’s the case here, with the silhouettes providing a compelling metaphor for racism. The point is well made and as painfully relevant as today’s newspaper headlines, though perhaps in the end the story wears its heart on its sleeve a little too obviously to succeed completely, stopping just short of preaching.

I love the title Stranded in Crudland, but am not so sure about the story itself. Chances are Tom Sykes’ tale will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever suffered the curse of cold calling and similar practices the modern business world has developed to sell us stuff in lieu of making products people actually want to buy. There are some marvellous moments of satire, as time travel is thrown in the mix and lackadaisical employees try to put right a great mistake, the invention of a machine that will do everything for its owner, turning much of the human race into unproductive drones. It’s reminiscent of Sladek, but not as sharp and lacking in focus, so that at times I found my attention drifting, and those moments of satire, fine as some of them are, never actually coalesce into anything greater than the sum of their parts. In the end though, I enjoyed the story more than not, regardless of a nagging doubt that the full potential of this off the wall premise had not been exploited. For those who prefer stand-up to sitcom.

At twelve pages, Just an Illusion by Edward Rodosek is the longest story and also the least satisfying. Plotwise it’s the old chestnut about a man captured by hostile aliens who have to unearth his secrets, and so ensnare the guy in a phantom reality to persuade him to give up the goods, which I think has been used at least once in every Star Trek series dating back to the time when James T. Kirk first stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. To be fair, Rodosek does inject a little novelty, by making the human subject’s status as a twin a pivotal element of the plot, but it’s not enough. The story’s shortcomings are exacerbated by a dull and occasionally tortuous prose style, curious word choices and needless repetition (perhaps a deliberate ploy to emphasise the protagonist’s confusion, but if so misjudged), and with plenty of typos to compound the problem. ‘The door swings on its inaudibly and smoothly’ and ‘after your warning we’d hidden themselves in one of’ are just a couple of examples, and to cite more would be cruel. Given the quality of the proofreading in the rest of the magazine, the shortcomings of this story become even more inexplicable.

Having collided with its iceberg, Jupiter now offers up a lifeboat in the form of Vitamin X by Allen Ashley and Andrew Hook, which is the slickest story here. In the future celebrity is induced and enhanced by a chemical compound, the eponymous Vitamin X. There are two plot strands; in one a crazed fan stalks superstar Kacey Pinhole (think Kylie, but with an even more attractive posterior) and in the other reality TV adopts the Big Brother formula to determine the crew of a space ship to the stars, the two strands eventually overlapping in a ploy carefully calculated to up the ratings. Warhol’s contention that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame, elevated to the status of an inalienable human right, echoes in the paragraphs of this story as surely as it does in the vacuous minds of reality TV wannabes. The writing is assured, with nary a word out of place or misjudged, and the world depicted is a hideous distortion, but not impossible extrapolation, of our own media saturated reality, while the satire is scalpel sharp and mostly on target, even if I personally feel a little more appreciation and respect for a Minogue look alike is in order. Something to read in the cultural wasteland between issues of Hello magazine. It’s a great note on which to end and should send most readers off with a spring in their step.

To add ballast, we have a couple of poems by J. P. V. Stewart and a book review by Redman himself.

Overall, while the quality may be somewhat uneven, Jupiter remains a magazine that’s worth the price of admission, and all but the pickiest of readers should find something within its pages to entertain.

Jupiter edited by Ian Redman, A5, 56pp, £2.50 or £9/4.

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