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 #29

Posted on November 19, 2004

Often the published short story will read like a between-books workout for writers intent on maintaining a style, or as means of urging creative juices to again flow. Usually the flimsiness is hidden beneath a polished formula, which lulls the reader into reluctant appreciation. During its 10-plus years of publication, the speculative fiction of anthology Albedo One has at times prompted just such appreciation in me. However, this most recent square-bound issue with full-colour cover is a particularly sound addition to its award-winning back-catalogue.

Seven short stories feature. There's Sara Berniker's elusively allegorical A Boy Needs A Dog and DJ Cockburn's erotically charged Summer Holidays - both well crafted tales which share umbilical-tied boy protagonists who idealise absent fathers and are desperate for a semblance of control in their oppressed lives. In the comical Classroom Dynamics by D. Harlan Wilson, Professor Beebody is not a big fan of killing his students (even those with 'mongoloid intellects'), but with Dean Dinglewigger favouring a minor killing spree over the Robin Williams approach to teaching, Beebody has little option but to up his murder rate. If Battle Royale-like fantasy-for-teachers is not your thing, there's metaphysics in the cosmic surrealism of Russell Miles' clever Red-shift Days; there's dense, wordy, flourish-fluent prose in the impressively realised Code 46-like future of Martin Taulbut's Hide And Seek With Angels; and there's spicy adventure conjured in Dev Agarwal's evocative City Of Palaces as an Englishman on-the-run from the Thugee Cult must depart a Calcutta desperate to throw-off the shackles of British colonialism. Splendidly wrapping things up is Davin Ireland's Dirt, a Tales Of The Unexpected told with disarming verve, which echoes the Fortean-inspired opening to PT Anderson's Magnolia and mixes suspense and humour to thoroughly entertaining, gleefully evil effect.

Also on offer is sublime cover art by Matthew Hansel, a world affairs talk with Alan Dean Foster, a brief brush with history via Norman Spinrad, a letters column, reviews and amusing, philosophical comment in the form of the Severian sermon. A money-off coupon for kitchen sinks may well feature next issue, but meanwhile, if you're flatulently full with the fluffer shorts of pedestrian writers going through the motions, a dose of Albedo One #29 is the perfect antidote.

62 A4 pages, £5.95 / €4.95 - available from www.albedo1.com