Advent Calendar 2016 – Day 22

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 2

Reviews by Peter Tennant

FOR WE ARE MANY

Edited by Nick Mamatas and a paying market, Clarkesworld Magazine began life as an adjunct to the book dealership of the same name, and continues on as a separate entity. Its kept to a monthly schedule since inception in October 2006, along the way publishing the likes of Ian Watson, Elizabeth Bear and Jeff Vandermeer, with stories up to 4k in length. The layout is very basic, no frills, with two stories per issue and one column of text in the centre of the screen. Its a format the publishers seem comfortable with and have maintained since #1.

The current issue contains stories by Paul G. Tremblay and Jetse De Vries. Tremblay’s There’s No Light Between Floors is the tale of two survivors of a never named disaster, buried in the ruins of a collapsed building. Its beautifully written, with some telling phrases and lovely imagery, such as that of a skyscraper stretching between worlds and coming unmoored, and conjures up a doom laden atmosphere with echoes of September 11, or any of the other meaningless atrocities that seem to be part and parcel of the human condition. De Vries’ Qubit Conflicts is a Hard SF offering, and had a curious effect on me, in that at the sentence level whole stretches of the story could just as easily have been written in a foreign language, but regardless of that the overarching structure of the story made perfect sense. It concerns the development and evolution of artificial intelligence, eventually ending in an intellectual cul de sac, reminiscent of the ending of Tiptree classic Ill be waiting for you when the swimming pool is empty.

Subterranean Online appears to be a promotional tool of go getting indie outfit Subterranean Press (near as I can tell theyre not open to submissions, instead presenting work from authors published by Subterranean). The Spring 2007 issue offers a wealth of fiction, with writers of the stature of Joe R. Lansdale, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross and Jay Lake contributing. Big names aside, not much thought seems to have gone into presentation of the material, with text pushed over to one side and nearly disappearing off the edge of the screen, the remainder just white space after youve scrolled down past the ToC. And a lot of the fiction is in the form of serials (novels or novellas by Lansdale, Stross, Caitlin R. Kiernan etc).

Of the stories I did read, Jude Confronts Global Warming by Joe Hill is a piece of flash fiction with some good characterisation and build-up, but fizzling out in an ending where the point is to provide a comeuppance for the self-satisfied protagonist regardless of how left field. A Plain Tale from Our Hills is Bruce Sterling on auto-pilot, a common or garden piece about the wife outsmarting the mistress, albeit its never clear why either of them want the loser who prompts this rivalry, the plot dolled up in its science fictional best but all window dressing, albeit it does rally somewhat with a powerful ending. Saving the best to last, John Scalzis Pluto Tells All is a delicious tongue in cheek send up of celebrity gossip rags, with everybodys favourite ex-planet giving his side of events (apparently it was all the fault of his agent). This one should put a smile on everybodys face, except Phil Collins.

Theres also quite a bit of non-fiction available; several articles, including columns by Elizabeth Bear and Mike Resnick, plus a healthy smattering of reviews. The only thing I looked at was Norman Partridges opinion piece on the merits of various awards systems, a familiar bone of contention in genre circles, and Partridge speaks a lot of sense, so obviously will end up reviled by all sides. Lastly, a bit of innovation Mary Robinette Kowals reading of Kage Bakers novel Rude Mechanicals. I only sampled this, but it sounds interesting and MRK has a voice I could listen to for hours.

Hub Magazine started life as a print-zine with a quarterly publishing schedule, but after two issues migrated to the web and lives on as a weekly publication of 15 pages, available to download at no charge in several formats (my choice of poison is to have it delivered to my Inbox as a PDF). For the first three issues the format was one long(ish) piece of fiction, plus a handful of reviews in various media (and gratifyingly the book reviews are not restricted to titles from Orbit, who are helping to finance Hub ). The fiction contributors for the first three issues were Eric Brown, Ian Whates and Alasdair Stuart.

With the issue under consideration, #6, editors Lee Harris and Alasdair Stuart have played with the formula a bit, in that the magazine now has more non-fiction, with an article on the origins of Doctor Who and a comparative piece on the young pretenders to SFX‘s crown, DeathRay and SciFi Now (the conclusion is that the market leader will see off these upstarts), along with the usual reviews. Its a trade off though, and for fiction we are on reduced rations, with only Career Change, a slice of flash fiction by John H. Stevens, the story of a dissatisfied rat racers encounter with a tramp, that I found predictable and very slight.

Production wise, Hub is pretty much your bog standard PDF document, with text that fills the screen nicely at 93% and one column of print to the page. By way of illustration there are book and DVD covers, stills from films and TV shows, plus one solitary illustration to the Stevens story. Its an unimaginative mix, but delivers the goods in a painless manner.

The Lightning Journal is another publication available as a PDF that can be downloaded for free, and at 46 pages its somewhat more substantial than Hub , albeit over the long haul that weekly schedule will tell. More effort has been put into the production as well, with coloured borders to each page and a colour cover, the striking image of lightning hitting a rocket on the launch pad by Dana Blankenhorn, but no illustrations to the stories, though we do get photographs to go along with the two non-fiction pieces, a report on the recent World Horror Convention in Toronto by Dan Naden and an interview with author Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc (who also provides a story). Actually, and no sarcasm intended, the best visuals in this magazine are the three pages of adverts at the end.

Designated Vol 1 Issue 2, the current issue is billed as a relaunch, with a new team of Lincoln Crisler and A J Brown taking on the editorial chores. Fiction is pitched in the 1-3k range and they’ve selected four pieces for our enjoyment, of which I sampled two. Cicadas by Nickolas Cook is a competent but uninspiring piece. Set in what comes over as Depression era America, though no time or place is given, its the tale of a child murderer who descends on the area every thirteen years with the cicadas. There’s a good atmosphere to the piece and some solid characterisation, especially child protagonist Willa who is just coming into womanhood and curious about so many things that shouldnt concern her, but for all of that its a familiar scenario and Cook brings nothing new to the table. A Town Called Night by former LJ editor Mark E Deloy is not as well written, with its fair share of grammatical errors and infelicities, but does provide more substantial entertainment. Its a romp of a Western story with a possibly supernatural twist, as gunfighter Gentry takes on acid spitting monsters that have plagued a town, and held my attention all the way, despite prose shortcomings, only to end just when the story got interesting. I suspect well be hearing more of Gentry in a future issue.

A couple of websites now where I have stories currently appearing. I probably shouldnt do these, but if I dont then those sites wont get mentioned, which isnt fair on anyone. Well take it as read then that my stories are the best pieces on the sites and say no more about them

F&SF magazine Worlds of Wonder is published online with a quarterly schedule and, according to editor Sharon Partington, is a labour of love. Design-wise theres not much to be said. The Yahoo Geocities ads are an annoyance, but easily disposed of. Less satisfactory, there seems to be no way (at least for your technologically challenged reviewer) to link directly to the stories. The layout for content consists of a take it or leave it sun and moon frieze, with the text laid out in the middle of the page, yellow font on a navy blue background, everything very clear and precise, for ease of use, and easy on the eye as well.

The current issue, Spring 2007, comes with an illustration by George Grie, a moody and evocative painting of a ship about to tip over the edge of a waterfall. This issue contains a book review, movie review, article for writers, a couple of poems, the latest instalments of three ongoing series and four short stories.

I looked at a couple of the stories. Metal Bones & Paper Skin by Christopher Death is set in the year 2200, or thereabouts, and tells the story of little Jimmy Nelson, a remarkable child, and how his desire for a brother is granted, along the way revealing something about the nature of Jimmy himself. The best that can be said about this is that its well written, but nothing much to it, the kind of story that holds the attention while you read but wont stay in the memory more than five minutes after. More substantial is The Rainmakers by Kate Smith, a writer whose work will be familiar to readers of Whispers. This steps out in Relic Hunter/Indiana Jones territory, with Zac and Holly H posing as security professionals at a museum so as to get their hands on an artefact required by a client, and of course there are complications. In all honesty not a lot happens and the ending is somewhat inconclusive, but Smith writes so well, with a lovely turn of phrase, larger than life characterisation and tongue in cheek humour that complaining is rather like asking the point of ice cream instead of simply enjoying the taste.

Lastly we have Sein und Werden, which like Whispers comes in both online and print format, with exclusive content to each, though SuW online presents its content in the form of themed issues whereas Whispers simply posts new material as and when it becomes available.

The current issue is #12, which makes SuW the veteran of this electronic miscellany and that shows in the production. Editor Rachel Kendall has been at the game longer and developed a keener appreciation of the potential of online presentation. Flicking through the pages of this publication its obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the production and layout, with efforts to make it as interesting for the visual aspects as the written content. There are subtle differences from page to page white text on black background and vice versa, pages with several items and those that have only one, some unadorned and others with borders and yet despite all the variety a guiding intelligence is at work, so that the separate parts complement the whole perfectly. In another difference, the illustration here seems to be of equal importance to the text, presented as stand alone work and not simply as an adjunct to the prose, with especially strong pieces from Spyros Heniadis, John Brewer, Talulah Belle Lautrec-Nunes and Rachel Kendall herself.

In terms of content, we get illustration, reviews, poetry and snippets of prose. With a philosophy that name drops Expressionism, Existentialism and Surrealism, the emphasis is on the experimental and unabashedly cutting edge, which wont be to every taste. The common bond between most of these writers is that they appear to be intoxicated with words, beguiled by language and its possibilities. And, as anyone who has ever dealt with a happy drunk can probably tell you, while intoxication can be entertaining and give rise to wonderful flights of fancy, it doesnt always make sense to those not in a similar state of inebriation, which is sometimes the case here. But the work is all short and you can dip into and out of the magazine at leisure, taking what you wish from its pages, a colourful or provocative sentence, an image that burns its way into the consciousness. And when things do come together the results can be highly rewarding, as with Ralph Robert Moores wonderful celebration of the choreographed excesses of Pornography and Martial Arts Movies or the wry and ironic Conceiving by the possibly pseudonymous Ada Mantine. And be sure to take the time to check out Re-Birthing, a sinister and amusing slice of animation by Jeff Lowe (story by Marc Lowe), which is another fine example of SuW getting to grips with the possibilities of technology in ways that seem to have mostly eluded these other publications.

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