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issues 3 (Spring '05) & 4 (Summer '05)

(PS Publishing, £6, 144 pages, paperback magazine, published spring and summer 2005.)

Review by Keith Brooke

cover scanCatch-up time, as issue number 4 of Postscripts arrived before I'd even started number 3. This is fast turning into a must-read item. Few mere humans can possibly keep up with all the short fiction being published in decent venues these days, so it's great to find a magazine that publishes such a diversity of genre and style in every issue, to such a high standard. In these two issues the stories range from the weird and slipstream (or must we call it 'interstitial' now?) to Golden-Age-tinged science fiction, stopping off at horror, high fantasy, alternate history and many other points along the way.

The non-fiction is excellent, too. It's good to see interviews not only by fiction authors, but by authors with a real depth of knowledge of their subject: we get questions full of insight both into the life of the writer but also their motivations and recurring interests. In these two issues, Jayme Lynn Blaschke interviews Lois McMaster Bujold and Graham Andrews tackles Richard S Prather, and both make fascinating reading.

But good as it is, the non-fiction only makes up a small part of each issue of Postscripts, and I doubt many people will buy it on the strength of the interviews. It's the stories that matter, and it's good to report that the magazine has maintained the high standard set in the first issue (I didn't see number 2, which might of course have been a real turkey, so I couldn't comment).

There isn't a duff story in either of these issues, which is surprising, as usually there would be something I wouldn't really like, particularly in a magazine so determinedly eclectic. Number 3 edges it for me, though, by having two real stand-out stories. Richard Bowes' "Circle Dance" uses a trick employed by a couple of other stories in this selection: the telling of another story -- or stories -- within the main story, commenting on and counterpointing the framing story. Bowes pulls this trick off to near-perfection, setting the story of two brothers -- their ups, their downs, their near-death experiences, their relationships -- against a parallel worlds tale being written by one of the brothers, the whole thing approaching the deep, deep hole left in a person's life when a loved one departs from two quite different perspectives. Moving and quite, quite beautiful.

Joe Hill's "Best New Horror" is a superbly-constructed tale about a horror editor, again employing a story-within-the-story to drag the reader in -- this time a story whose author the editor is trying to track down. Like watching a disaster unfold, this story has an inevitable arc the reader just knows it must follow, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.

The other stories in Postscripts 3 all have a lot to offer. Chaz Brenchley's "Dragon King Plays Songs of Love" marks his first venture in fiction set in Taiwan (of which there will be more), and it's a very effective story of love and gods and expediency and rain. Gene Wolfe comes up with an ingenious story taking the concept of plate tectonics to an extreme, although it's a shame he didn't do a little more with the idea. Stephen Volk's "Curious Green Colours Sleep Furiously" is an intriguing attempt at absurdist hard-boiled SF. There's some brilliant wordplay, but the cleverness and wit didn't quite hold me for the length of the story. David Herter's "black and green and gold" is a rich and creepy tale set in -- and under -- Prague. Jack Dann's "Dreaming with the Angels" is another of his alternate James Dean stories (see also his recent novel The Rebel: an imagined life of James Dean and "Dharma Bums" in Postscripts 4), a classy piece of writing that sweeps you along and moves you and makes you long for the alternate to be even more alternate, with room for a different, happy, ending. And Garry Kilworth's "Murders in the White Garden" is a fun supernatural murder mystery before the issue closes with the aforementioned Joe Hill chiller.

cover scanPostscripts 4 approaches the same high standard as its predecessor, although without quite the peaks. My favourite stories here were the two openers Alastair Reynolds' "Zima Blue" and Eric Brown's "Life Beyond...".

"Zima Blue" uses extreme art, sometimes on a planetary scale, to explore, well, the meaning of life, when sometimes it's the simple things that matter more than anything. "Life Beyond..." tells the story of an old man fighting the system for custody of his granddaughter, with a UFO thrown in for good measure, in an elegiac and ultimately very warm tribute to the rural-domestic tales of Clifford D Simak. There's a sense of inevitability in this story, as we can spot the likely outcome of the old man's dilemma, but the author subtly turns things around so that that is not the real climax of the tale -- there's another layer, an emotional twist.

The remaining five stories in the fourth issue of Postscripts all have a lot to offer, in their own, varied ways. Lawrence Person's "Master Lao and the Flying Horror" is a charmingly entertaining kung fu demon romp, while Barry Malzberg and Paul di Filippo revisit early Malzberg territory in a story that twists from apparent high-tech SF to a wild and fantastical tale of deep mysteries and secrets. Adam Roberts' "And Future King..." is a funny satire on Arthurian romance and politics; Jack Dann serves up another of his alternate James Dean stories in the engaging and compelling "Dharma Bums"; and Zoran Zvkovic's "The Cell" rounds the issue off with typically cool, measured and witty prose that draws readers in only to do strange things to their heads.

Postscripts is the one fiction magazine I try to keep up with these days. I'm looking forward to the next one.

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