A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-
HERE & NOW #2
Edited by Jenny and Helen Barber
This magazine, while not exactly a triumph of design, is a neat and utilitarian package, with decent layout and not too many typos, though it does give in to the current vogue in the independent press for spelling lightning with an ‘e’ between the two syllables, especially noticeable in the title of the story by Tony Richards.
We’re off to a good start with ‘The Only Constant’ by Justin Thorne, which begins very low key, with a film fan forgetting some minor detail of his favourite Arnie flick, but as the story unfolds the whole of consensus reali9ty is undermined and our hero ends up in another realm entirely. The idea is perhaps not the freshest out of the starting blocks, but Thorne’s writing is assured and he develops the story with a sound feel for the material, winningly focusing on the little things and building from there instead of launching into a full frontal attack on reality from the off. ‘The House’, one of two pieces by Ian Hunter and the shortest thing here, is about a man in a charnel house, a moody little thing that does its job and then is gone, no messing around. More familiar territory with ‘The Girl in the Green Car’ by Martin Owton, the tale of the hapless Roger who buys a car with a personality only to have it fall in love with him and become very antsy about his secretary. This rather innocuous story falls between two stools, on the one hand not out and out funny enough to cash in on its comedic potential and on the other lacking the conviction that would have brought the incipient madness and technological menace of this situation bubbling over. Tony C. Smith’s ‘The Daffodil Train’ is well written and deftly evokes a world gone by, if indeed it ever existed at all except in our imperfect memories of the past, but wallows too much in sentimentality for my liking, ending with the cliched death of the protagonist. John Grant’s story ‘The Golden Age’ is much more upbeat, harking back to the pulp SF of yesteryear, a romp of a story that opens with one of the genre’s most striking images, a spacecraft atop its column of fire coming in to land on an unknown planet, and goes on from there to pit the craft’s crew against an otherworldly menace that challenges their intelligence in a story that delights the reader with its casual wit, the playfulness of a writer who knows the form inside out and has his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek.
Jay Lyte’s novelty piece ‘The Easter Operation’ contains the hypothesis that reality is just too damned sad, and so we alter it by rewriting history, hence unsink The Titanic. It is, of course, impossible to take this story seriously, and equally impossible to keep a wry grin off your chops while reading its poker faced account of what is to be done. Hunter’s second story ‘The Only Ones That Matter’ is presented in the form of a long poem, a curiously effective device, and purports to give a true account of the awful fate of the Bishop of Terni, known to us today as St Valentine. I can’t vouch for its historical veracity but this is a moving piece, one that celebrates the power of love to triumph over all. ‘The Trendelenberg Concerto’, a first story by John Llewellyn Probert, is possibly the highlight of the issue, giving us a musician every bit as mad as Lovecraft’s Erich Zann. The story develops at a credible pace, one that makes the train of fantastic events seem entirely plausible, with moments of mystery and gore complementing each other, and the tone of voice with its hint of madness barely held in check is put over well. A very impressive debut and hopefully not the last we’ll see of Probert. ‘Lightning Dogs’ by Tony Richards is also a supernatural based piece, but rather ordinary in comparison, once again airing the old plot about spectral hounds who pursue those who see them to an untimely end, though our hero manages to turn the tables somewhat. This is an entertaining enough story, well written and with solid characterisation, but no one should come to it expecting any surprises. And finally there’s ‘Unplugged’ by Mike Gullen, about Tristan who is ditched by the heartless Jane but finds an unusual way to rekindle her interest. There’s a slightly manic feel to this that keeps you reading to see what the author will throw your way next. Ultimately though, while it entertains, the story is slightly too long to justify the blackly comedic but weak ending.
For Here & Now after an unpromising start things are looking up, and it will be interesting to see what editors Jenny and Helen Barber do with the magazine.