Mr. Strawn stepped off the sleek magnetic train and walked down the wooden boardwalk of the depot, boots clunking. He carried a canvas bag shaped around the thick book inside of it. It made him think of a snake that had misjudged its meal every time he picked it up. He tipped his large-brimmed hat at the ladies he passed, with a metal finger. His entire left hand was a replacement. The shine had worn off, but he didn’t mind. Shiny metal drew attention in the outposts. Attention invited questions. They weren’t questions he couldn’t answer, but he found that it was best to keep your own counsel.
He didn’t know if you called this place a town, but it was called Shiremire. Shiremire was the only place he could get to by train. All of the others were a costly two-day journey by airship. They would be more polished than Shiremire, but in Mr. Strawn’s experience, it was better to see the rough edges. And a place like this was bound to have a few. Only the most needy came this close to the factories.
Mr. Strawn entered the dim saloon from the main street. Horses were hitched to a post over a dirty, brown water trough out front. This small tank town wasn’t much more than the main street. The saloon was full of assembly-men and smelters of various position from the factories, an occasional sophisticate moving between cities that wants a glimpse of the raw life, and the special kind of people that places like this drew. Mr. Strawn carried a large pistol on his thigh. It was a tool of his job at the factories but he never took it off. The outposts could be even more dangerous than the factories or the camps. They were filled with hard men with money, anger, and boredom.
When I first met Neil, he was drinking Heineken at Jim’s party. Well dressed and very drunk gay men stood around a veritable garden of potted plants; they watched each other watching each other and tried to appear disinterested.
A small crowd of three or four gathered around Neil. I didn’t know him then, but wanted to, so I drifted over.
Neil’s eyes were glassy and bright and returned my (light-hearted) stare far more often than he peered into any others’ eyes. He had black hair twisted and tangled like one of those lucky trolls that were popular years before. Beer in hand, he leaned his lithe body forward, one knee on the cushions. He was ten years younger than anyone there.
He was telling a story; his voice surprised me—it was too gravelly to come out of that face. I’d come in late, and caught only the punchline: “So I took down the sign!” His laughter made the room smile.
Reviewed by Damien Smith
I’ve not previously had the pleasure of reading anything by Colin F. Barnes before, but I came across him recently on the wonderful medium that is Twitter. A brief conversation later and I decided to take the plunge on an unknown author and take a look at The Daedalus Code—a cyberpunk novella set in an all-too-believable future. I’ve since found out Barnes has another novella, a novel (very soon to be two novels) and a bunch of short stories under his belt. Not to spoil this review before it starts, but more of his work has suddenly made it to my ‘To Read’ list.
Charlie is determined to breathe easy. He wants to create a new life for himself, away from the daily struggles. Information is always the key to power and everything has its price. A great piece of dystopian science fiction. SY
Charlie Glassman has $3.82 left in his tank. As a result he walks the streets with the same precision as a laser cutting a diamond. On quiet nights you can hear the distant echoes of large-scale industrial pumps all the way from Port Credit extracting oxygen from Lake Ontario, churning, grinding, set along the waterfront like the overgrown placentae of some botched laboratory experiment.
Tenement apartments hugging the Green Zone show their true colors in the sober light of day. Moss and climbing ferns hide the cracked foundations and graffiti courtesy of resident syndicates. Charlie’s disposable Sanyo reads yellow for this district, advising citizens to express caution when venturing out in broad daylight. Still he carries a small arsenal: his taser, his collapsible baton. He finds guns crude even in these disparate times and never ventures past curfew.
The sky is its own membrane, a hazy orange, veined with smoke. Charlie wipes a thin layer of grime off a pane of bulletproof Lucite. In the windowed glare of a William Sonoma he checks his mask is firmly clamped over his face for the third time since leaving his apartment, halting momentarily, but not before being threatened by the turbaned shop-owner, a sawed-off shotgun in his hands followed by a string of Hindi obscenities. The bastard even has the gall to step out his storefront before pressure equalizes. Charlie is suddenly blasted with a wall of cool air—try explaining that one to the Federal Reserve come tax time.
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
In looking for another steampunk variant to review for this edition, I had the timely fortune of sharing a table with a writing friend, Ren Garcia, at this year’s Fandom Fest in Louisville, KY. I had purchased this book at the 2012 event and hadn’t read it yet (shame on me). While he shared with me all about the League of Elder series, I knew I had to jump in, and I’m happy that I did.
Sam keeps meaning to clean himself up and make a new start, but somewhere between the buff and the polish it all goes awry. There’s a wonderful subtlety in this supernatural short. SY
“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.”
—Elvis Presley, 1935 – 1977
The early sun glints off a silvered building. A cooling breeze soothes the streets, and Sam’s eyes flicker open. His body is warm and relaxed, oscillating between asleep and awake, and his mind is at peace with the day.
He turns his head to one side and sees his sleeping buddy tucked under thin grey blankets against the wall of the open verandah they had selected the night before.
Concrete lies under Sam’s thin sleeping bag and he keeps still, knowing the moment he moves, bones will push through the thin material and his comfort will disappear, bringing him firmly into contact with his current situation.
Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston
It can be hard to delve back into childhood; our youthful minds cannot always interpret events that have a significance and adult context. Artfully, Neil Gaiman has carefully fostered the voice of his inner child, crafting The Ocean at the End of the Lane into an adult fairy tale.
There is much that is not plain to the naked eye and Marcy is someone who can see past the every day into the shadows of the past. A clever and emotive short addressing the gritty underside of life we all suspect is there. SY
There are remnants of lives all over the house, drying out and growing mould like abandoned plates of half-consumed meals. They lie in wait under the surface of reality like landmines, like unexploded bombs. Waiting for the unwary, the ones who don’t watch their step, to explode them back into the world.
But Marcy isn’t one of the unwary, the clueless. She’s careful, she’s a bomb-disposal expert. She picks her way through the booby-traps of memories and the tripping hazards of lost opportunities with skill and delicate flair. She’s intangible, untouchable, an interloper in the territory of the dead. A ghost among ghosts.
The image pleases her. Ghosts have power, after all, even if they don’t know it.
Read the rest of this entry
Welcome to our 10th edition!
Looking back at our choices for this edition, it seems that there was a decidedly dark feel to our selections. So appropriate for the deliciously gritty cover from Luke Spooner of Carrion House. We think his work is phenomenal, and you should all have a look at his portfolio.
It is a great feeling when you know that you are presenting a wonderful variety of authors. Michelle Ann King wrote The Visiphorical Art, which was the inspiration for our wonderful cover art. The Shoe Shine is subtle and dark, in a gritty urban setting from Robert Datson. David Halpert’s science fiction short, That Blasts the Roots of Trees is My Destroyer, is a great look at segregation and how it all can go wrong. Sometimes beautiful can hide dangerous secrets, as depicted in Drunks by Michael C. Schutz-Ryan. Morgen Knight’s sweet dieselpunk story, Mr. Strawn and the Book, is a great story of companionship and shared dreams.
We have some great reviews as well. Mysti Parker reviews Ren Garcia’s Sygillis of Metatron, a dark science-fiction mystery. I review Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his latest adult novel with a child protagonist. Damien Smith treads new ground with Colin F. Barnes’ The Daedalus Code, a cyberpunk novella.
Meet Marcy Dillsmore, and her strange relationship with the Utah Penny. GDH
Enter Marcy Dillsmore.
Born Marcy Darby in the faceless year of 1951, the woman lived a mundane childhood, completed a mundane education, and, at eighteen, married a young man by the name of Franklin Maurice Dillsmore III, who, despite his grandiloquent title, was, also, quite mundane. Her defining moment was placing second in the ’69 Miss Georgia pageant. She should have won, would have—the white tramp who took the trophy had hips like a bent trashcan—but the night before, she’d developed a grade-A case of bad hair. Terrible hair, in fact, bride-of-Frankenstein bad. But the woman refused to let it bitter her, even as she settled into a mundane middle-age. Marcy couldn’t complain. She may have put on a few pounds—twenty-two and three-quarters, but who’s counting?—and developed a pie-shaped office-butt, but she was still beautiful, and Frank did a fine job of reinforcing that fact. Her chestnut eyes, unblemished skin, and selfsame hair combined into a comely, uniform complexion; when in the nude, Frank often commented that she resembled a human chocolate bar (always followed by double entendres involving “eating” and “melting”). Her two children, Kyle and Tia, also helped her steer clear of the funks so common to midlife. Between a supportive husband, two wonderful children, and the uncommon extension of her beauty, Marcy Dillsmore found life full and rewarding, if as mundane as the preceding seasons of her existence. Like a certain motorcycle thief who had lived and died far outside her experience, she felt she couldn’t lose.