Advent Calendar 2016 – Day 21

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.

More specifically, back in the twilight days of the WoW site we decided to extend our review coverage to include websites, and the result was the bi-monthly Web Whisperin’ column, that included a detailed review of one website and more general comments on some others. Because of their size, I’ll split these columns between The One and The Many.

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.

WEB WHISPERIN’ May 2007 – Part 1

Reviews by Peter Tennant

This is the first in a proposed series of bi-monthly review columns taking a look at what the world of electronic media has to offer the dedicated fiction hound. The format is simple. Well be examining one electronic publication in detail, and then doing a round-up of however many others we feel like.

THERE IS ONLY ONE

Future Fire first popped its head over the parapet in January 2005 and has been delivering solid, if irregular, packages of fiction ever since. The site has close links to Whispers of Wickedness, with FF co-editor Djibril a moderator on our Forums, and well shortly be co-hosting a Convention in London.

The site publishes Speculative Fiction, Cyberpunk and Dark Fantasy, and there is no limit on word length, other than the usual qualifier that anything in the upper word ranges will need to be outstanding to merit inclusion.

As regards formatting, the ToC is the hub of the magazine, with links to individual pages for each slice of content. Stories etc are published with one column to the page and the occasional illustration to break up the text, and a (burgundy, burnt umber, buggered if I know what colour it is?) border on the left side of the screen, with links at the top. This format is accessible and user friendly, though scrolling down can become tiresome with some of the longer pieces.

The current Issue 2007.08 has a selection of book and magazine reviews (in the past FF has featured various articles, opinion pieces, interviews and film reviews, so in context this issue is below par as regards non-fiction content) of varying degrees of competency, plus a provocative editorial on the theme of why we write/publish that ties in with a discussion here on Whispers Forums.

There are three pieces of fiction, with a combined length of 26k, though I cant be bothered to do the math for individual word counts.

Pianissimo by Alan Frackleton is the kind of story that would once have been tarred with the brush of slipstream, a brand name that seems slightly pass now. There is a fantasy or outr element to the story, but it plays second fiddle to a mainstream narrative of loss and alienation. The opening sentence Two days after I learnt that Rachel was dead, Dave Rose offered me the job as well as being one of those hooks readers are supposed to get snared on, sets out the two complementary strands of the story. Protagonist Danny, informed of the death of the woman he once loved, replays in his memory details of their relationship, and how it poisoned his friendship with Craig, the man Rachel loved and was to marry, the repercussions of one night of stolen passion. And contiguous with that, he takes on the job offered by the slightly shady Rose, which involves minding an abandoned house. Every so often Danny has to admit visitors and show them into an upstairs room, empty except for a piano. He hears various noises from behind the door, but can only surmise what is taking place. And, of course, Danny’s guesswork is spot on, leading to a meeting with Craig, and the hope that both of them will be able to put the ghosts of the past behind them. This is a beautifully written piece of work, one with a keen understanding of the character of Danny informing every paragraph, and rendered all the more effective for having the main plot device left ambiguous. It deals with themes of loss and hope for reconciliation, but always with a light touch and never sinking into the excesses of sentimentality such things often invite. Ten thumbnail illustrations by Cecile Matthey punctuate the text and capture perfectly its prevailing mood.

In an oblique, off the wall kind of way, Terry Grimwood’s Coffin Road struck me as a zombie story but without any zombies. The characters within its lines seem every bit as deserving of the living dead epithet as any shambling revenant from the oeuvre of Romero. The backdrop to the story is a virulent flu epidemic, and with the elderly vaccinated it is the young who must bear the brunt as society collapses and the old clich about having to bury your children is brought home with a vengeance. When so much else has been stripped away from them, the dignity of a decent burial is all that remains to the people of Grimwoods world. Old Doug sets out to bury his daughter Lisa, aided by grandson Jason, a trek of dire necessity that has about it all the travails of some great quest undertaken in a hostile land, as they must contend with corpse gatherers, grave stealers and their own failing flesh, Doug nurturing a ruthless streak. Grimwoods future is bleak and he misses no opportunity to make it more so, albeit I thought the final, bitter twist was an obvious step too far, bringing this terrible landscape populated by the dead and the dying to macabre life, and with futility at the heart of it all. The inspiration for this story, we are informed in a footnote, was the 1918 influenza pandemic in South Africa, but with yet more health scares on the news daily and the smoke from foot and mouth bonfires still lingering in our memory it all seems painfully contemporary. Theres an evocative illustration by J E MacMillan to accompany the text.

The Blood of Castalsara by William J. Piovano is the longest story here and the least successful. A fantasy set in the war torn province of some cod-medieval empire, it is told in the first person from the perspective of Innislan, a royal messenger who has become disillusioned and abandoned his calling. He falls in with the troubadour Gilnay and, after overcoming his inclination to kill the musician for his awful singing, the two of them agree to help a beautiful noblewoman save her friends from death at the hands of the ruling prince. This has about it the feel of being a chapter from some longer work. As a self-contained piece it raises more questions than it answers, such as the reason for Gilnay’s presence (his purpose seems to be simply to provide comic relief and give Innislan something to fret needlessly about) or the wealth of back story Piovano gifts us with. From a plot perspective it seems slightly flimsy, with the princes actions put down to madness at first and then explained as a way to keep the prison population down (on that score, wouldnt not arresting people without reason work just as well?), while the beautiful but petulant woman who persuades the men to do the right thing is pure clich. On the plus side, Innislans agonising about his behaviour in the past (he is a not entirely sympathetic character and this is handled well) adds an extra frisson, while the blighted landscape of Castalsara is well realised, its natural beauty and wealth twisted to degenerate ends by the work of men. Djibril provides an illustration that, for me anyway, brings to mind a fusion of Zorro and Ghost Rider.

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