OR: Albedo One #24

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #4:-


The latest issue of ‘Ireland’s Magazine of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror’ comes with an appealing black and white cover by Mark Lupo, Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ revamped as an aquapark designed by Roger Dean. Inside we get a layout that’s businesslike rather than imaginative, with the occasional book cover reproduction to complement the text. There’s an exhaustive and rewarding interview with writer Simon Clarke, a substantial book review column and in ‘Echoes From the Phantom Zone’ regular columnist Severian tries to make sense of the events of September 11th.

There are five stories, with a slight bias towards longer work and science fiction, though the other genres are represented. ‘Another Thing Coming’ by Nigel Quinlan gets the proceedings off to a promising start, providing a novel twist on standard fantasy blockbuster fare, with one of those epic battles involving orcs, dragons, heroes and sundry other oddities spilling over into the real world, and the story told from the viewpoint of an opinionated cleaner at the hospital where all the casualties end up (think MASH meets LotR). It’s a lively piece, with plenty of slapstick and dialogue brimming over with attitude, though Quinlan can’t quite maintain the momentum to the end and in retrospect the lack of a cohesive structure becomes obvious. The shortest story in the magazine, ‘The Man Who Fell to His Death’ by James Michael White is effectively written, with some strong imagery, but ultimately nothing more than a mood piece on the theme of suicide.

Lauren Halkon and James Viscosi each offer snapshots of dystopia in the moment when the walls come tumbling down. Halkon’s ‘Subs’ is perhaps the more subtle, with its picture of a Logan’s Run style community ruled over by a computer and emphasis on the emotions of the protagonist, whose personal crisis of realisation brings about her society’s downfall, and yet for all that things happen just a tad too fast to be convincing, as if what we are seeing is only the synopsis of a much longer piece. Plot driven, ‘The Fold’ by Viscosi is more substantial, taking 1984 as its template, with a man coming to question things he’s always taken for granted and slowly drawn into an act of rebellion. The idea of a society existing within a fold of reality is well done, with excellent characterisation throughout and a narrative that holds the reader’s attention from first word to last, while the irony of the ending is effective.

Lastly there’s ‘Becoming Jim’ by Mike O’Driscoll, the longest and best story. It depicts in compelling detail a near future in which the world is populated by hermaphroditic clones, while a dying mankind lives on in the margins of society. The clones can only feel emotions second-hand from human beings and by assuming the identities of past movie stars. Complete with its own terminology, this is a story that takes some getting into, but more than adequately rewards the reader’s efforts with an intriguing future milieu in a tale that’s packed with ideas and characters who fully engage our emotions. One of O’Driscoll’s best.

‘Things Change’ reads the cover blurb. Well Albedo One still provides a diet of entertaining and thought provoking speculative fiction. That hasn’t changed.

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