Interzone

The latest in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines

Founded in 1982, Interzone is a British science fiction and fantasy magazine published six times a year.

What they say about themselves:The magazine is regularly shortlisted for prestigious awards, and is a winner of the Hugo and British Fantasy Awards. Many of its stories have also won awards and/or reprints in various Year’s Best anthologies... Interzone has helped launch the careers of many important science fiction and fantasy authors, and continues to publish some of the world’s best known writers... We’re still discovering more than our fair share of exciting new talents and publishing some of the brightest new stars aroundThere’s still so much more to Interzone though, and even though it’s been around for years now, it’s still breaking new ground, and still causing controversy.

Issue reviewed: #287 (May – June 2020)

Genre: Science fiction and fantasy

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Night-Town of Mars,” by Tim Lee. A London boy in the 1960s with deep ambivalence about the oncoming conformity of adult life visits his eccentric uncle in the English country. When the boy learns his uncle’s home is to be demolished to make room for a leisure complex, he travels to a parallel universe (since the world has two moons, the boy assumes it’s on Mars) to rescuse his uncle’s home. Part “Alice in Wonderland,” part “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and a lot of fun.

Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. The science fiction stories were heavy on the science, but each tale was engaging. 

Profanometer: Dammit. Most of the language in the stories was closer to PG than R.

Day 100

Instead of commemorating a milestone date for this journal, today’s entry will be quite mundane.

The grocery store where I’ve been working is now running almost exactly as it had before the COVID-19 lockdowns occurred. The only items currently unavailable are sanitizing wipes and antibacterial soaps; customers are still limited to one package of toilet paper and paper towels, but their shelves are no longer bare. Flour and yeast have also returned, as well as soups. Personal service returned to the meat counter last week. The salad and soup bars aren’t back yet, but if these esoteric services had disappeared before the lockdowns began I don’t know if I’d have noticed.

I started working there over some misguided sense of civic responsibility — people gotta eat, and I wanna do my part to make sure everyone gets the food they need. What it really did was give me something to do, a way to cope with my growing anxiety. And a month into the job, I found I actually enjoyed working there a couple days a week.

At some point I’ll step away from this job and most likely marvel that I chose to stroll up and down grocery store aisles with a barcode scanner for eight hours a day at an hourly wage of nine dollars and thirty-five cents. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the routine.

***

I believe I haven’t mentioned yet how the lockdowns have affected my other part-time obligations.

I had been tutoring two half-days each week at the Writing Center for a local community college, which was on spring break when the lockdowns began. After an extended week of break, the college resumed with online classes only, and a week after that the Writing Center came back as an email service. Spring semester ended at the start of May, and the summer session is again entirely online; I’m working one half-day each week in the Writing Center for June and July. The college’s plans for the fall semester have yet to be announced.

I was also working on a technical writing assignment at the start of the lockdown. That project finish in early April, and with many of my firm’s potential clients choosing to put off non-essential work there hasn’t been any projects for me. Fortunately our firm has just signed a new client, and tomorrow will be the kick-off meeting for our first project for them.

I know I’ve written a great deal about my short stories. I’ve built some good momentum with my fiction, and plan to keep going.

At some point I’ll run out of time for all my obligations, and when that time comes I’ll have to stop working at the grocery store. I won’t regret leaving, but will definitely appreciate the time I’ve spent there.

I really should write about how my wife’s occupations have changed over the past few months, but I’ll save that for a future post.

***

With most businesses and recreational facilities back in business, the most glaring remaining absence in our national lives has been entertainment. Sporting events, concerts, movie theaters — we’re looking at a summer with none of those activities.

Although I don’t blog much about this topic, I am an avid fan of the four major American sports leagues: basketball, ice hockey, baseball, and the sport we call football. It appears basketball and hockey will complete their suspended seasons next month, perhaps playing their games in arenas without fans. Baseball never started, and while there’s talk now of an abbreviated season I’ll be pleasantely surprised if it happens. Football will likely attempt to conduct its regular season, although a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall could change those plans.

I do miss turning a ballgame on, but I’ve been pleased to discover how little I actually miss that experience. I also don’t long to go to the movie theater, as subscriptions to a few premium cable channels and streaming services have satisfied my cinematic appetite. I went to maybe two concerts a year, so I’m not feeling much loss there.

Religious services (which cynical atheists may claim is just another form of entertainment) have also changed over the past few months, but that’s another topic for a later post.

***

This turned out to be a far lengthier and detailed post than I’d expected. I surprised myself, which is a pretty good experience to have when you hit a milestone date.

Boulevard

The latest in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Boulevard is a literary journal published three times a year since 1984.

What they say about themselves:Boulevard’s mission is to publish the finest in contemporary fiction and poetry as well as definitive essays on the arts and culture, and to publish a diversity of writers who exhibit an original sensibility. It is our conviction that creative and critical work should be presented in a variegated yet coherent ensemble—as a boulevard, which contains in one place the best a community has to offer.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 35, Numbers 2 and 3 (Spring 2020)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Parole Hearing, California Institution for Women, Chino, CA,” by Joyce Carol Oates. A fictive appeal from Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel, the last surviving member of the Charles Manson cult still in prison. Half a century after their screaming knives raged into America, the cult’s legacy still haunts us.

Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. Each of the five stories was a first-person account where death played a significant role. They don’t compel you to find out what happens next, but seeing each narrator struggle to figure out the underlying meaning of the events that transpire makes for engaging reading.

Profanometer: Dammit. There was very little R-rated dialogue in the stories.

Window Dressing

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The wedding gown had been in the family for so many generations that nobody remembered for whom it was originally made. Despite only being used a few days each decade, the gown’s material had begun wearing.

As the fabric was sensitive to artificial light, any required work had to be done in daylight. For the latest repairs, it was hung from the top of a bay window. The ladder required for this operation was placed outside to prevent damaging the heirloom.

After the worker was finished, he descended the ladder, the gown hanging on the other side of the window.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 94

Today’s post is about getting relief from First-World Problems.

Last week, our maid service came to our home for the first time since early March. We re-learned how to use a vacuum cleaner and a toilet brush over the last three months so we weren’t living in squalor, but it was refreshing to see our floors and counters sparkle once again.

A few days after our house was cleaned, I had my first professional haircut since before the lockdowns. While my wife did a fine job back in April with a clipper and shears we dug out of the broom closet, neither of us wanted to test her new skill a second time. I left the salon that afternoon feeling as clean as our house had been after our maid service left.

Were these safe experiences? Masks were worn by every member of our cleaning crew, as well as all employees of the salon. The maids didn’t always keep six feet apart from each other, and not even the best hair stylist can work at a proper social distance. Wearing gloves would have been a safety concern at the salon, and while the maids kept their hands covered I’m not sure how much extra protection that provided. Both experiences felt safe to me, not 100% free from potential virus exposure but no more risky than a trip to the grocery store. Supporting two small local businesses was an added benefit.

Historically, pandemics have multiple spikes of infections, and health experts are warning a second wave of COVID-19 is almost certain. Paying to have our house clean and visiting a hair salon were conveniences we took for granted before this year, but we learned over the past three months that we could get along without them. If the lockdowns resume and we’re stuck at home again, we’ll try not to complain too much about facing our First-World Problems once more.

The Messenger

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

The twin-headed machine descended from space on a cloudless day. After passing the mesosphere it extended overhead sails, settling a mile above the city.

All communication attempts failed. As it was doing no harm, it was cautiously observed.

Its attack commenced the next day. Powerful EMPs disabled the city’s power grid, and the overhead sail which allowed it to glide along stratospheric winds proved remarkably impervious.

No one was hurt during the two-hour attack. When finished, the machine’s twin heads spoke.

“You believe you’re powerful, but you’re only dangerous to yourselves. Clean up your act before reaching for the stars.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest with a photo prompt and 100-word limit.

4 Star Stories

Every week this year, I’m posting a review of a literary journals or genre magazine.

An online magazine founded in 2011, 4 Star Stories is published quarterly.

What they say about themselves:Since 2008, or so, paid venues for publishing Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories have been becoming fewer. This trend bothered the creators of the Four Star Stories web site for two reasons. Fewer publishing opportunities made it difficult for talented writers to find paying venues where their stories could appear. Also, fewer publishing venues made it hard for readers who enjoy Science Fiction and Fantasy stories to find stories to read.

As long-time fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy, We felt that we had been lucky. We grew up when there were lots of opportunities to enjoy well-written and exciting Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. Stories that gave us hope for our futures and for the future of our world and humankind. Sure the protagonists in the stories dealt with all sorts of problems, but with skill, courage, the right knowledge, and a little luck they managed to win through in the end.

So we started talking about what we could do to solve the problems of both writers and readers while making the kind of stories that inspired us available for today’s readers.

We didn’t have the time, money, or expertise to do something big, like starting a new magazine. Also, creating a new print publishing empire was way beyond our means.

Still, we wanted to do something.

We looked at what we did have. We had some knowledge of building web sites, some skill as editors, more courage than was reasonable, and some luck because we already knew some writers and artists. So, we came up with the idea of creating a website where we would publish four stories, four times a year.

TA-DA! The idea for 4 Star Stories was born.

Four Star Stories is a website created for people who write, edit, and read Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. And, in addition, it is a website for artists who create Science Fiction and Fantasy art.

Issue reviewed: Issue 21 (date unspecified)

Genre: Speculative fiction

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Little One and the Loom,” by J.G. Formato. A mute girl living in an orphanage is given the gift of a loom, which she uses to create her own gifts.

Clapperboard Rating: Three Klacks. The pace among the stories is consistently swift.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not an f-bomb or scatological reference in sight.

Day 85

No word on a vaccine and health officials continue to warn about a second wave of infections, but the COVID-19 lockdowns continue to be lifted. I’ve been revisiting some of the activities that were suspended over the past few months, while taking adequate precautions.

***

My fencing club has re-opened for group lessons three nights a week. Attendance has been very low so far, with most adults declining to rejoin at this time. After a couple weeks of target practice and drilling, we decided tonight to try bouting. During a typical bout, fencers stay at least six feet away from their opponent as they prepare to attack or defend, yet when the attack comes the combatants come very close and are typically breathing very heavily — not the best environment for stopping the potential spread of the coronavirus. Our club addressed this problem by having everyone wear our cloth COVID-19 masks under our metal masks. It was an interesting experiment, but one that didn’t work for me; after a few touches, I felt ready to pass out.

I can’t see a full return to bouting if fencers are required to wear additional breathing protection under their masks. And there won’t be any tournaments until this pandemic is fully under control. Fencing referees are at particular risk, as they must inspect both fencers’ equipment at the start of each bout, putting them within six feet of dozens of competitors at a tournament.

But even if we can’t stab each other for now, it feels good to work on our fencing skills.

***

On the way to the fencing club for this evening’s lesson, I stopped at my favorite comic book shop. Like most businesses, they’ve installed a clear plastic shield at the checkout counter, and the employees wear masks. I bought the latest issue of Black Panther as well as a storage box, and left with the satisfaction of renewing one of my treasured pastimes.

***

Another form of exercise became available last week when my Pilates studio reopened. Similar restrictions as the fencing club — limited capacity, mandatory mask wearing, some activities prohibited. But it remains an excellent venue for weight and flexibility training.

The community gym is opening this week, but as I’ve developed a decent workout routine at home I doubt I’ll return there any time soon.

***

The pandemic isn’t over, and even when it’s defeated there probably won’t be a return to life as we knew it in 2019. The world of the future might not look familiar, but it can be enjoyed nonetheless.

Edify Ficiton

The latest in my weekly reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Edify Fiction is an online magazine founded in 2017.

What they say about themselves: “The magazine offers positive and uplifting fiction content by new and established authors.  For our readers, it is all things good or true or romantic or beautiful or lovely.  For our writers, it is a place to publish fiction work that doesn’t have a home.  It is for writers who write ‘clean’ fiction and want their work to sit beside equally edifying fiction.  It offers a home for work that doesn’t promote the vulgar but promotes the uniquely positive.

The premise of Edify Fiction magazine is based on the following verse:

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
​whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –
think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 NIV
Edify Fiction inspires action, hope, excitement, faith and a number of positive attributes.  When you read or see something in our magazine and feel good, we and our writers have done our job.”

Issue reviewed: Volume 3, Issue 5 (Christmas 2019)

Genre: Spiritual Realism with some Speculative elements

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “13 AD,” by Tina Stanton. In the early years of the Common Era, a lonely girl in Bethlehem befriends a boy her age who she names Jayjay, who isn’t quite what he appears. It’s always interesting to read about a well-known character or historical figure from an entirely different perspective.

Clapperboard Rating: One Klack. Given the overtly spiritual orientation of the magazine, it’s hardly surprising that the stories feature very few page-turning elements.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Literary magazines don’t come much cleaner than this.

Attention to Detail

Calling Lynn a baker or cake decorator failed to identify her talent. One of her clients, for whom she’d created a cake resembling a wine bottle lying within a case (even the “sawdust” of white chocolate shavings was edible) called her a cake artist.

When her latest client asked for a cake celebrating the summer picnics he and his wife enjoyed, Lynn immediately thought of a picnic basket with sandwiches inside. The client was delighted.

I’m starting to feel addicted to Friday Fictioneers. There are worse problems.

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz