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redsine 8

edited by Trent Jamieson and Garry Nurrish

(Prime Books, 144 pages, $6.00, paperback; May 2002.)

[Ed: warning - this review contains spoilers...]

Where to start with a review cover scanof redsine 8? It's not good enough to merit a rave, not bad enough to be given a raspberry; it's just sort of ... there.

This collection of short (some extremely short) stories is going to seem very familiar to anyone who reads much in what I might call the "fantastic horror" genre: that mix of horror, science fiction and dark magic that is truly the stuff of nightmares. Except that these nightmares are not scary, not original, not even terribly interesting; mostly they're extremely predictable. You've read them all before, though by different authors and with different titles. Few of the stories have even a spark of originality, and one of them was written in such an irritating style it took me a while to realize it was the only one in the collection to offer something different.

Briefly, then, here are the 14 entries:

"Elecktra Dreams" is about a young man whose mother tells him that his father "is a dry ancient creature, a little thing that has been kept hidden away ... " After her death, the boy takes up with the Elecktra of the title, who, it turns out, also knew (I use the word advisedly) his father. The boy has been thinking that his mother exaggerated about his father being hidden away. If I tell you that Elecktra keeps a shoebox hidden in her closet, can you guess what's in it? So could I, long before the supposed surprise ending. And so it goes.

"Trapdoor" concerns a man whose wife died in a traffic accident when he was driving the car. His guilt is overwhelming, but that's just the start. It turns out that he has many intersecting levels of reality in his house, and it comes to him, long after it occurs to the reader, that on one of these planes his wife is still alive. He starts out to find it, saying that out there there must be a reality "where she lived and I died." The logical inconsistency here is stupefying: why would he assume that she'd enjoy being a widow any more than he's enjoyed being a widower? But off he goes, presumably to bring her back to life with his death. Maybe next time around she'll get someone with a brain.

"The Faceless Man" alternates between present and past, and we learn that the "faceless man" that's haunting the hero isn't really there, but is instead his own creation. It's the personification of his memories of his distant, disapproving father, whose influence is so baleful that it drives the man first to an illicit affair, then to murder, and finally to the loony bin. But even there he's not free, because the specter takes up residence in a corner of his room. Well, okay, but how many times have you read this before?

The fourth story ... on second thoughts, let's not go any further with this. There are the usual possession-by-evil-spirits stories; the man/machine hybrid that goes wrong; the murderer trapped by his own guilt; the revenge-long-delayed story; and the obligatory story that can't make up its mind whether it's a comedy or a tragedy and so winds up being an uneasy mix of both that doesn't quite work.

Instead of describing the washouts any further, let me tell you about the three stories that were truly a departure from the usual fare. Not necessarily good, mind you, but certainly a departure.

The first is "Within Twilight" by Chris McMahon, and is an ambitious attempt to explore the problems of cloning, memory transfer and the loss of childhood all at the same time. There also seems to be some sort of mythology thrown in, what with chariots and the like, but the story is that of Peter Jones, 39, who refuses a "data dump" from his father, rebels against the system, and finally succeeds in becoming an individual. He retains memories of his father, a few flickers from his grandfather, and some even further back, in a sort of Trill-like progression from one incarnation to the next. The story is a bit confused, but it has a certain flair that sets it apart from the rest.

"Wake When Some Vile Thing Is Near" by Michael Kauffmann and Mark McLaughlin rates another look because of its downright strangeness. It's disgusting and harrowing and funny; I can't say I liked it, but I was curious to see what happened. Its main conceit is quite clever, and will appeal to anyone who's ever sat and stared at a blank page, praying for inspiration: the Devil exists and his worship is world-wide; his acolytes gather to worship in his temples, which are cleverly disguised as bookshops!

Into one of these weird shops comes Strother Lindstrom, who's there to sign copies of his new book. He runs into an assortment of extremely off-putting folk who all have rather odd hair. Luxuriant hair. Too much hair. Lindstrom himself is bald, and he finds himself jealous not only of the thick head of hair that graces a fellow author, but of that author's success.

Long story short. Lindstrom signs with the other fellow's agent and begins -- along with his fellow worshippers -- to eat hair. (This is the disgusting part, if you think about it.) His own bald pate sprouts rich thick hair until he has the head of hair he's always dreamed about, but -- and here's the point -- he can't stop. He keeps eating and eating and eating, until he finally turns into a gigantic hairball, something that might perhaps be spit up by the world's largest cat. As his fingers unravel and his mind disintegrates, his final thought is Oh, no! I'm getting split ends!, which you have to admit is pretty good. But I'm not sure you have to wade through the whole story to get the punch line. Nor does it make sense that eating hair would cause him to turn into a snarled mass badly in need of conditioner. I suppose it's a case of too much of a good thing.

Still, the story does have a great deal more imagination than most in the collection, and it's worth a look for that.

The last story is the one that I found irritating, until I realized that the over-the-top writing was really covering up some pretty neat stuff. It's short and very funny, the woeful tale of two malfunctioning androids with some pretty gross bathroom habits. Here's the first paragraph:

The two old coots started having the dry heaves as soon as they got WhizBanged out of hyperspace; they were craving alcohol like a gut-shot dog when the scout ship landed. The little verdant plush moon loomed in a pink peach silhouette of a sky from a bustin-out-all-over pregnant mother planet. A gas planet but no sunshine, just a kind of expectant glow that filled the sky with peach like a tequila sunrise.

It only gets better, and is the one story in the bunch that's worth your time and attention. If you really love this kind of stuff, and don't expect much, then redsine 8 is okay; but if you're looking for originality or excitement then you need to look further.

Review by Karla Von Huben.

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