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 #34

Posted on April 28, 2008

Another cluster of speculative fiction courtesy of Ireland's answer to Interzone. Via the short fictions of global authors, though, Albedo One asks its own questions, and here confidently musters entertaining response.

The 2007 Aeon Award-winning Angelus, by Nina Allan, is a sophisticated, masterfully executed piece of writing with unobtrusive conceit and literary aspirations, which allows a character-driven narrative uncover the relationship between two men once caught in the orbit of the same woman. Absent love and longing also fuel Alice & Bob by Philip Raines and Harvey Welles: through a series of self-mythologizing correspondences, two lovers-with-a-twist describe civilisations in extremis as a cosmic kink continues to randomly transport people about the planet, upending forever the longevity of interpersonal relationships and imposing on already-transient lives a philosophy of futility.

In Nassau Hedron's Siren an unspoken complicity exists between the many incarnations of a female seductress and the malevolent male General; automatically fulfilling their roles – her love directs his homicides through ages of social unrest – an unexpected arrival offers readers the prospect of upheaval and conflict, but frustratingly delivers it off-page. Incarnation has further use, this time in The Supplanter by James Steimle, wherein a modest Skeleton Key-like tale presents a struggling family in need of shelter – cue the remote shack and spooky occupant. Equally slight is Rebecca S Pyne's tongue-in-cheek Boneless, in which a faithless wife gets her comeuppance via a mobile lump of hellish phlegm.

More tongue-in-cheekery is provided by William R Eakin in LOOB: Love Only Oily Bodies. Here, a fluctuating, flitting intent exuberantly skips through a satire that entertains with a self-discovery prompted by the arrival to Hicksville of the substance-fuelled hedonism of Ibiza. Music as hedonism and, ultimately, solace, is in part explored in Larry Taylor's Isle Of Beauty, wherein earth finds itself at a loose end when faced with apocalypse. And The White Knight by Devon Code agreeably displays a touch of The Book Of Illusions as, in a bid to confer meaning on his life, a twenty-second century scholar nurtures an obsession with the role of chess as a motif in the film Casablanca.

There are captivating reviews too, a striking cover by Jane Chen, and Bob Neilson interviews Raymond E Feist, author of Magician and The Riftwar Saga. All in all then, a rewarding-enough issue, with a depth fit for a delving.

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