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ResAliens Issue 4

November 8, 2010 10 comments

Well, here’s a novelty. I haven’t looked at a magazine for years (what with books being so fascinating and all). And this is one of these micro-press efforts that struggles valiantly to survive, needing every possible encouragement to get from one issue to the next. Having been in the small press game, I’m always prepared to give support to deserving causes. The name above the door is ResAliens guest-edited by John Ottinger III. This is Issue 4.

So, here we’ve got two burning issues of the day.

Given the micro-press world can’t afford to pay the cents-per-word demanded by the serious pros, the task of the editor is to find stories good enough from the ranks of the up-and-coming. Having sat in the position of resident critic to a new writers’ website, I know how great the struggle to persuade people they haven’t got what it takes. Only every now and again do you come across someone who not only has interesting ideas, but can capture them in readable prose and is prepared to accept editorial guidance. So, when you put up your shingle as a new magazine, how many of the stories offered make the grade?

Second, even if the stories are good enough, the economics of the small publishing business are always hand-to-mouth. In hard copy, these magazines are selling for $8 plus shipping. The alternative is to buy a download from Lulu for $2. For whichever sum, you get 60 pages or so of fiction. Not allowing for sales tax which varies from state to state, the price for a new mass market paperback anthology or collection is likely to be between $6.99 and $8.99, so with more words, the paperback is potentially better value for money.

We start off with “Fishing the Moons of Jupiter” by Jason Rizos. This is flirting with the old idea of capturing aliens to either solve a problem on Earth or as a drug for our entertainment. In this case, it’s a rock-eating worm that can help produce geothermal energy and so reduce the risk of global warming. Curious that, even in this future time, we still have oil — not over the Peak — and the Earth is apparently not too badly damaged by climate change — just goes to show that warming must be a myth. Anyway, my real objection to this story is the random approach to fishing for these “life-saving” worms. No-one in their right minds is going to spend this amount of money to send men that far without investing a few extra dollars in some systems for underground imaging. Real fishermen today use sonar*. This group of hunters could use technology based on temperature differentials since the worms give off heat, or identify oxygen molecules on the surface or, as with current mining and construction works, use ground-penetrating radar systems to map the tunnels and other voids. While the main body of the story is quite effective once the tunnel has been located, the ending is really strange as we are left uncertain whether this is real or a delusion induced by the head injury to our POV character. Shame really. With a little more thought, this could have been really good.

“Overgrown” by Stoney M. Setzer is decidedly clunky. The opening desperately gives us exposition in a few words of conversation, closely followed by infodumps on Carla and Brady’s living arrangements. Anyway, here we remember The Day of the Triffids and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes as a magic fertiliser made from meteor dust gets plants moving. This is not to say that derivative stories can never be any good. But rather that, if you are recycling the plots of classic novels and B-movies, you’d better do it well. Sadly, this is not done well.

“Immortals” by Leah Darrow adds a twist to immortality in that a woman dies if she has a child. This is an idea with great potential and, to some extent, it’s realised. There’s good technique on display in suggesting how society has developed rather than resorting to mere exposition — I particularly like the security guards for the cheese. But when we get to the nub of the plot, it pulls its punches. Emotionally, we are invited to see a woman’s desire for a child as unselfish. It may well have become socially unacceptable to die in this way — in a world where people may live for a thousand and more years, only those depressed by the endless passing of the years might choose to die — but her desire to live on through her child is left without a real context. We are told there’s a “tiny island state” where the Traditionalists live. Friends’ initial joy turns to what? How does the rest of society react? Would her pregnancy lead to her being ostracised and invited to join the Traditionalists? What discriminations might the child face when growing up surrounded by adults embarrassed by what he represents? What is the significance of this forty year period — is this a Logan’s Run cut-off when suicide is demanded? There are so many questions left unanswered. Nevertheless, this is a brave effort.

We then end with a good run. “End of Eden” by Shane Collins is better written and creates a not-unlikely scenario in a post-apocalyptic world. It would have been improved if it had explained what caused the problem and where most of the people had gone. Starting off in medias res never works well for me. “Salieri: An Untold Story of Griffin and Kemp” by Marina Julia Neary is dedicated to H. G. Wells and is in a league of its own. Although it adapts the terminology of British life for US readers and is not really Wellsian in style, it’s a nicely judged story which elegantly captures the stifling quality of Victorian academic and professional life as one generation is groomed to succeed the next. “The King of Infinite Space” by Jason Reynolds is also a well-executed story, overcoming its lack of originality with real wit and style. While “Testament” by Michael C. Lea dabbles in a future academic research facility where the death of one in a delightfully confused love triangle may signal the end of contact with a world on the cusp of a major event that will resonate through its history and culture.

So there you have it. Looking at the scores on the doors we have four hits, two brave shots, and one clear miss. Not bad for a micro-press magazine. There’s many a magazine or short anthology produced in the professional publishing world that would be grateful for such a record.

Now here’s the rub. This is a set of stories that could have been genuinely excellent, but circumstances have conspired to leave things in this somewhat unsatisfactory state. Allowing for everyone’s taste being different, I can say the whole represents an interesting read but, for me, it’s not worth the money in hard copy (unless you think it’s going to be a collectible). At $2 in download form, however, this is a good buy. You know you should. We should all support up-and-coming micro-press magazines. One day, thanks to our support, they may become great.

*My heartfelt thanks to Jason Rizos for pointing out my error — see the comments below.

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