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 #32

Posted on March 14, 2007

Placed 8th in the 'best magazine' category at the last Hugo Awards, Albedo One's inexorable rise to the top gains momentum with this issue's expertly assembled and fluid mix of speculative fiction. As one premise ideal for comment on the human condition is directed elsewhere by a writer's particular focus, another story is imbued with this ambition. As one writer fries a father on the first mouthful of mains-wired cutlery, another conjures a utopian consciousness. Seven stories feature:

Unnatural, by John Hogan, is an evocative World War I morality play-with-a-twist. With British railway guns finding their range and infantry advancing, a mysterious runner is blasted from front to second line of German trenches, but suffers ill-effects only when flung into the graveyard of the village of Saint Martin du Sacre-Coeur – now re-sculpted by the weight of British ordinance. Even in these unnatural times, the runner's pleas for help from two German comrades seem out of the ordinary.

Blink, by Ruth Nestvold, is an amusing 'distraction'. Being a science fiction writer (social, no doubt), Tess is forced underground by the fundamentalist government of the New Republic of Texas. But the Resistance is weakening and Tess has writers block – without her reason for being, she is dying quietly before her partner's eyes. If she could only tap the love of her man, write the story of their struggle, then New York Times headline 'Science Fiction Writer Breaks Through Curtain Of Silence' could be hers.

Times Winged Chariot, by Nicola Caines, is affecting magic-realism. A mother believes that aliens (probably Orkan) have covertly altered her biology: she is growing younger. Her opportunity unimaginatively grasped, the years pass. So do mother and daughter: the latter toward old age, the former toward a childhood where even paedophiles have their uses for a libidinous kid. But where is this reversal to end? Is daughter to witness mother expire, a raw, red, pulsating lump, no more than the guilty leavings of an illicit abortion?

Katrina's Kostumes, by Stephen Owen, is Roald Dahl creepy but with a substance-lacking CGI-ness permeating its House Of Wax horrors. When an inebriated father loses his three year-old on a busy city street, it occurs to him that the boy has been lured into a costume shop by a mannequin clown in the store window. The ensuing search takes on nightmarish proportions as father is overwhelmed by the shifting display of costumes, which grows more menacing, more animated, the deeper he delves.

Homo Incognito, by Will Sand, is sterling science fiction with metaphysical bite. When a burnt-out journo makes some effort to revamp his nondescript life by investigating a revolutionary company rumoured to possess an extraterrestrial think-tank, he is seduced into non-action by the promise of a life full of possibilities, without limitations or consequence. However, first he must enter a physical state more confining than a nightmare. What's he to do, this man so unused as to be unknown?

Danny's Inferno, by Brian Stableford, reworks principles related to Heaven and Hell to enchanting, potentially corrupting consequence. A couple of eloquent primary school pals – one is dead, the other, our narrator, is living – share matter-of-fact conversation at this dead pal's funeral. The deceased explains: "In Hell, everyone is the age they were when they'd committed enough sins to be irredeemably damned." He's seven. And our narrator is wickedly philosophical about his own chances of eternal happiness.

Counting Tadpoles, by Uncle River, is a smart, incantational parable. A student discovers another green world on an ecological field study in Las Cruces. Aided by a polymathic hermit with irreverence for a government which conditions its citizenry to be docile, the student receives lessons in ecological degradation, the sacrifices required to become a sovereign individual, and demon wars in a wilderness haunted by an indigenous culture with its own maths. Is this student to be woken from his consumer lifestyle?

Also on offer behind Alexander Kruglov's fine cover art: in-depth book reviews by Andrew McKenna which are both lucid and intimate, letters of comment, and Dev Agarwal interviews a candid Christopher Priest, biographer of Olympian, Sally Gunnell – "80,000 words in a month. I had just spent three long unpaid years writing The Prestige and was desperate for some cash." A sound issue then, reliably measured to appeal to the palate of the discerning genre fan, and with a smack of earthly relevance that lends some satisfying weight.

64 A4 pages for £3.95 / €5.95 - available from www.albedo1.com