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 #33

Posted on Oct 1, 2007

With the ripples from the splash caused by last issue's impact still lapping at my brain, the still waters of Albedo One #33 signal a return to – if not more settled, then less startling – genre fiction, well-crafted and likeable, but a little stagnant all the same despite a cluster of suicide-touched tales. Only Simon Kewin's affecting, chilling post-9/11 science fiction Live From The Continuing Explosion offers depth enough for drowning.

Live deliberates on the strategic rationale of a suicide bombing viewed in cosmic slow-mo by the whole planet as a self-contained time-dilation seals off the explosion in a hundred metre diameter sphere, dictating that the still-occurring atrocity continue to relentlessly unfold with excruciating clarity, never allowing it be confined to history. Indubitably designed as a condemnation, the story's complexity inadvertently tips proceedings in favour of suicide bombing with-media-savvy, its apotheosis of the bomber-as-artist better suited to extremist instructional booklets on the al-Qaeda method of martyrdom than to War On Terror propaganda. Still, thought-provoking stuff.

Also on offer is standard-issue, suspenseful dark fantasy and intimate science fiction: in Michael Mathews' A Trail Of Stars Swirling a drowned daughter returns home reanimated to self-deluded parents; in Andrew McKenna's Barrelhouse a street urchin is ruthlessly conditioned by a malignant cult; in Matthew Sanborn Smith's Marissa Marissa the organic separation of conjoined twins signals mankind's next evolutionary step; and in Anil Menon's A Sky Full Of Constants the possibility of tweaking fundamental constants causes a philosophical disagreement with the universe which impacts the lives of two Indian physicists.

Surprisingly, humour dominates the remaining fiction, which is hit-and-miss fare but with a sensible brevity: in Blonde On Blonde, by Geoffrey Maloney, a taxidermied Jayne Mansfield really should have stuffed opposing candidate Marilyn Monroe in the presidential contest; Oisin In Templeogue, by Ed Wood, is a superficial up-dating of a popular story from Irish mythology, retold to the beat of a night on the rip; The Genie, by S.K. Twyford, sees a well-endowed goblin leave a trail of misfortune for a reluctant wisher; and – you won't believe it – Ticket To India, by Aongus Murtagh, is One Foot In The Grave set in an ageist society with compulsory euthanasia.

The business of writing/publishing is discussed both in the Severian column and in purposeful interiews with Geoff Ryman – author of Was and Air – and Sam Miller – author of On The Brinks and The Redemption Factory. Famous Monsters provides exceedingly readable reviews of speculative fiction, and the mixed-mediums iconography of Mario Sanchez Nevado haunts the cover.

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