A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

Albedo One #25

Posted on July 11, 2002

The longest running Irish magazine of speculative fiction, Albedo One is in its tenth year of publication, but only on its twenty-fifth issue. Not exactly prolific then, but while other publishers strain to adhere to self-imposed deadlines, Albedo One embraces a publishing schedule dictated by its gradual accumulation of quality material - material that mixes first time writers with established professionals, and that demands an audience. Three European Science Fiction Society Awards suggest a winning approach.

This current issue, though slightly uneven, continues the Albedo One standard of well-crafted, oddly cosy science fiction and horror short stories.
Opening proceedings is Elvis Is Dead, a likeable piece of sci-fi tinged with hard-boiled detective work and throw-away humour. Elvis clones are dropping like flies and underworld kingpin Elvis Stradivarius turns to investigator Lamar for assistance; his only lead: the popular recreational drug Tetra Isopropyl Ketamine, aka 'the kid'. Not economically written, the fact that the story seems to lack a defining draft adds to its charm. A delusional and dissociative closing paragraph - which focuses theme - suggests a damn fine tale has been told, but in truth this one is no more than agreeably diverting.
One Last Look At A Half-Moon offers a thoroughly sound grasp of storytelling and entertaining read, and succeeded in engaging this reader. In the virtual office, gridlock meets broadband, and multi-tasking as applied to a single brain driving a subs-bench of virtual bodies is already in operation and resulting in improved financial performance for one particular company. The Tax Department smell a virtual rat...
The Olivia Reunion Party continues the multiplicity thread, but from a more profoundly emotional source. However, only in retrospect is it an affecting tale - with one's perceptions upended due to twist ending, only then does the story actually read other than one of bickering sisters, albeit with cryptic undertones. Still, a fine idea (which I won't reveal), though resembling less a genre short story than an under-developed stage play.
Finally, The Barber is a flawless piece of horror prose, well crafted and technically impressive, which tells of a young man's descent into madness via the old tools-of-the-trade route. A sound piece of writing, but pretty routine, sterile stuff, really.

Also on offer this issue: a lively interview with sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson, a comic strip, and eleven pages of in-depth book reviews. And the whole shebang comes neatly designed, pristinely printed in black and white A4 format, and comprises 48 type-packed pages. An accumulation well worth burying your head in, methinks!

48 A4 pages, £3 – available from www.albedo1.com