Postscripts: issue 5 (autumn 2005)
(PS Publishing, £6, 144 pages, paperback magazine, published
autumn 2005. Also available in hardback, and by subscription.)
best fiction magazines can be relied on to include, if not bad
stories then stories that just don't work for you, stories you don't
get (although you can be pretty sure that there is, in fact, something
to get). This is their nature, because the best fiction magazines can
also be relied on to include stories you really do get, stories
that dare to be different.
With its fifth issue, Postscripts continues to publish stories
I don't get, but more importantly it's publishing some fine, fine work.
It subtitles itself "The A to Z of Fantastic Fiction", which while a
little misleading if taken at face value -- while much of the fiction
is fantastical, that's not really a requirement in Postscripts
-- it's quite appropriate when you apply the more prosaic meaning of
"fantastic": there have been some fantastic stories in this publication's
first five issues, and I'm sure there's more to come.
Setting a heartening tone of optimism to this issue, Ramsey Campbell's
guest editorial raises Stephen King's argument that short fiction is
even closer to extinction than poetry only to knock it back again, arguing
that short fiction has always been threatened, just as it always
rises again. While we might bemoan dwindling readerships for the magazines
and closing markets, you only have to look at the annual February overview
in Locus, or the overviews from the various Year's Bests
to get a feel for just how much short fiction is out there. It's more
than just a case of counting stories, though: Campbell concludes with
an annotated reading list of (mostly) horror authors with story collections
out, illustrating both the breadth and the high quality of current short
fiction. The other non-fiction in this issue consists of an interview
with China Miéville, perhaps most interesting when he talks about
the quest to write the perfect political novel, and most amusing as
he insists on not talking about the New Weird, at length.
Three of the seven stories in this issue didn't really do it for me,
to varying extents. Matthew Rossi is one of the more fascinating newer
writers, his contribution labelled here as fiction but really occupying
some nebulous territory between fiction and non -- a kind of speculative
non-fiction, or fictive essay -- with a steadily expanding extrapolation
of central American culture and history couched in terms of a non-fiction
account but taking us somewhere else entirely. There is something
to get here, but I didn't.
Juliet E McKenna's high-spirited robbery jape, "Win Some, Lose Some",
prequels her first novel, Thief's Gamble, but while she's no
off-the-peg commercial fantasist it's not really a field that holds
much interest for me -- perhaps more my fault, or the genre-machine's
fault, than McKenna's. And Stephen Baxter, usually one of my favourite
short story writers, provides a moving story that is, unfortunately,
too over-burdened with backfill and explanation for me: Baxter is capable
of bigger thinking than most in current SF, but I prefer his work when
it's in closer with his characters than this.
The four remaining stories were each striking, and in quite different
ways. Chris Roberson's "Gold Mountain" is part of his Celestial Empire
series, neatly inverting history so that here we have Americans, or
Vinlanders as they're called here, migrating to China to work on constructing
the Gold Mountain, which leads to the Bridge to Heaven -- an elevator
to geosynchronous orbit. Rather slow to get going, it becomes a cleverly-constructed
story of loss and the prices people pay to pursue all the small goals
that combine into grand human achievement.
In another tale of suffering, Lawrence Person's "Starving Africans"
tells of a brutally severe near-future with a group of journalists trapped
in yet another African war. Person manages to tread the precarious path
between polemic (whilst still making powerful observations) and the
danger of using tragedy as a colourful backdrop for adventure (whilst
still providing a gripping tale). A skilful and passionate story.
Zoran Zivkovic continues his story-suite Four Stories Till the End
with "The Hospital Room", in which a man receives a series of unexpected
visitors, each with a story to tell, or rather, two: each had an unusual
previous career; each has dreamed of the narrator -- a similar dream,
one of a trap closing, horizons drawing in, and only an enigmatic, possible
escape route. It's a story of transcendence, a rite of passage, an intricate
puzzle, the structure and execution of which neatly reflect its contents
as the story closes in on the narrator...
The opening story in this issue is Joe Hill's "Bobby Conroy Comes Back
from the Dead", in which old flames meet, made up as zombies on the
set of Dawn of the Dead. This is poignant, and burning with nostalgia
for a long-lost stage of life that is over all-too quickly. It is, also,
at one point at least, powerfully, embarrasingly, funny. Superb!
So, another fine issue of a magazine that doesn't expect me to think
every story is at least okay. Long may it continue in this vein.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: