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Issue 4 – Spring 2003

 

FICTION

POETRY

NONFICTION

 

 

POETRY

HUMAN DNA by John Rubinshuman DNA

found on beta auriga–

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UNDERWATER by Christina Sng

We’d moved under the sea.

With the dispersion of the ozone layer,

The rising tides, and the lack of funding

For the space-rehabilitation program,

All we had was undersea-faring technology

Out of the twenty-second century.

Of course, we couldn’t all go.

Those left behind plunged underwater

In desperation, their skins charred

And bloated when they drowned

And became fish food.

That was where it began, the survivors said,

In resigned retrospection.

Marine life near the surface

Died from excessive UV exposure.

Soon only the deep sea creatures endured,

Leaving us, residing just beside them,

Their only prey. We never realized

How large they were this deep under.

They were too fast, too well-camouflaged

For our mechanical probes to detect.

Now I’ve finished saving our logs

On various mediums.

It is hopeful that someday,

Surface survivors, perhaps from

The coldlands, may find them and

Decode them, carry on our human heritage.

The pounding of our habitat continues.

An eye immensely larger than my porthole

Peers at me from a distance away.

I shut it quickly.

It is only a matter of time

Before they open this can.

And when they do, let’s see

If they will be fast enough to catch us

Before we implode.

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COMPOUND EYE by John Rubins

compound eye trained on

Seurat–evolved ant wonders,

just what is the point?

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SF 101 by Jonathan Brandt

The book’s a cookbook

They were on earth all along

You’re a replicant

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RESTORATION by Christina Sng

Two centuries later

The cloth doll endures,

Tattered and thin,

Her stuffing purging itself

From her rotten skin

But she continues to dig

With her pared-down hands

Into the grave of

Her former mistress who’d

Breathed life into her

Since she was a child.

A skull appears, white

In the moonlight, half-buried

In the dirt. The cloth doll

Unearths the sunken face

And grasps it gently,

Embracing it with

The stumps of its arms.

As she breathes into

The ancient face of

Her beloved mistress,

Flesh begins to form

And knot with blood and muscle.

The cloth doll breathes,

Expelling all of her living breath

In slow, controlled doses.

In an hour the body is restored,

And the cloth doll’s mistress rises,

Clasping her angel in her arms.

She frowns at the arm stumps

And at the failing tapestry woven

More than two centuries ago

But she will fix it as she always has.

She kisses the unmoving doll,

Strokes its worn pate for

A tender moment, and then

Takes her first step

Into the new world.

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REVIEWS

ATTIC SPACE

Robert R. McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird

by Bill Braun

The editor and creator of this fine magazine, John Klima, has, in past issues of Electric Velocipede, referred to me as being an avid collector of rare books. Although my collection has become increasingly larger throughout the recent years, I’m not sure how it may compare in size and variety to those who may have an over abundance of money (unlike myself). Collecting books started out as a mild interest. It has since grown to become more of a hobby and passion. I must admit, however, that the books that I have come to love and enjoy the most particularly center on the four specific genres: Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery. Some may think that I do this to cash in on their profit in years to come. Sure, the thought has occasionally crossed my mind. But the truth is, I do this for the love of the written imagination. I also do it for the enjoyment that is received from simply looking for particular authors or titles. I like to think of this as the thrill of the hunt.

Of all the authors I have been searching for in years past, the one that has eluded me the most would have to be Robert R. McCammon. It’s not that his resume is anything short of spectacular. Between the years 1978 and 1992, Mr. McCammon has published more than 13 full-length novels and numerous short stories. But it seems to have ended there. 1992 saw the release of his last hardcover title, Gone South. Since then…nothing. Therefore, it goes without saying that my overall interest in locating and obtaining as many of the McCammon titles available has become somewhat of a personal quest of mine. Sure, I could pick up the multitude of paperbacks that grace just about every shelf in ever bookstore. What I seek are the more difficult to find hard covers. Now I know that your thinking, why not just hop on the internet, do a Robert R. McCammon search, and get what I’m looking for? That’s always an option. But as I have said before, it’s the thrill of the hunt

This isn’t to say that my search for these books is just to display them on shelves, collecting dust. I am searching high and low for as many of these books that I can get my hands on because I am also a huge fan of what Robert McCammon has been able to accomplish in the 15 or so years that he was a prominent figure in the publishing business. He has, without question, become one of my all time favorites. Like so few authors out there today, picking up a title by Robert McCammon is always a sure thing. I have never, not wanted to finish a book that he has written and, more importantly, I have never, not wanted to re-read a book that I have already read. Does that make sense? I’m sure you get the general idea. Robert R. McCammon is a fantastic author.

With this being said, you can only imagine the thoughts that screamed through my head when, during the summer of 2002 I began hearing rumors that Robert McCammon was preparing to release a new title. To say that I was mildly interested is an obvious understatement. Then again, they were just rumors at the time and I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. He had been out of the writing arena for nearly 10 years by that time. But then rumor became fact, a publishing date was scheduled and word was out. Robert R. McCammon was releasing Speaks the Nightbird, a mammoth 700+ page novel.

I must admit that although I have tremendous respect for the craft of Robert McCammon, I did have my fair share of reservations concerning the quality of this new release. With the confirmation of this new title came the understanding that this was a book that the author had actually written nearly eight years ago and was just now seeing the light of the publishing day. Uncontrollable thoughts began to formulate as the anticipation mounted. When things sit around for that length of time they can either age gracefully, like a fine bottle of wine, or they can stink the place up like a moldy piece of cheese. Fortunately, the analogy of aged wine is more appropriate for Speaks the Nightbird. From the very first page, grand hopes for a McCammon comeback began to formulate. But would these hopes come to fruition or does the author have other intentions?

Before I even begin to speculate the possible future of Robert McCammon and his relationship with the publishing industry, I feel that it is more appropriate that I tempt and tantalize with a brief review of what I believe to be one of the greatest accomplishments in Robert R. McCammon’s career. In a January 23, 2002 interview conducted by Hunter Goatley, that can be seen on the Robert McCammon websitewww.robertrmccammon.com, the author himself enlightens his audience with a brief summary of his latest work:

It’s about a witch trial in the year 1699 in the Carolina Colony, and

it involves a magistrate who has come to try the case, and his assistant,

a young man who is beginning to question the whole witch-trial process,

and is also beginning to question if there are really witches or not. I

wanted it to be more of a realistic book than one with, per se, a horror

payoff at the end…the book is about this young man who’s beginning

to question the whole process of the witchcraft trials, and he’s also

beginning to question whether this woman who has been accused of being

a witch, and of murdering her husband and putting a curse on this fledgling

town, is actually a witch, and that someone hasn’t engineered the picture

to make her appear to be a witch.

In a nutshell, Speaks the Nightbird is a novel that centers on a witch trial. But, at the same time, the story is about so much more. This becomes evident in the manner and authenticity by which Robert McCammon presents to his readers a 1699 Carolina Colony. I can only imagine the weeks and months he must have spent researching not only that time period, but everything that goes along with it. In particular, I was fascinated from the very first page the depth that he was able to give both his main characters, as well as the characters that the reader just receives a glimpse of, during this grand adventure. This was masterfully done by the obvious attention to detail that Robert McCammon supplied in the use of dialogue. There is no question that he was able to nail down perfectly the language that was used during this tumultuous period in history. It’s rare to come across a book that the reader absolutely feels he is witness to the events that unfold before him. Although I am no expert on the dialect that may have been used during this time in our nations history, the feel was right and it made for a wonderful addition to an already intriguing story.

Above and beyond Mr. McCammon’s obvious time spent researching the language of this period was his knowledge of the mentality that made up a semi-large group of people struggling to survive in the once untamed land that is now a much more peaceful and sedate south. Without wanting to give away too much of the actual story line, lets just say that this would have been one period of time that you wouldn’t want to become ill. The means in which Robert McCammon presents to his reader what was, I’m sure, at one time the modus operandus of the medical practitioner was both intriguing and horrifying at the same time. It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come in the medical field. When you completeSpeaks the Nightbird you begin to view you family doctor in a whole new appreciative light. Thank God for the invention of Penicillin.

Although Speaks the Nightbird is one of Robert McCammon’s most ambitious novels to date I couldn’t help but wonder, while tackling this monster of a story, why certain passages, and/or characters, were not, in the end, edited out from the whole. Especially after realizing that the original length of Speaks the Nightbird was more along the lines of 900+ pages. Now, I don’t make the claim to be in the business of editing but I’ve read enough stories to understand what enhances a story and what detracts from it. At times, throughout the novel, I got the feeling that Robert McCammon felt compelled to include as much of his research into this novel as he was able to uncover. It was almost as if he was attempting to justify the length of this story by making it as authentic as possible. Sure, research and authenticity are import when tackling a project of this size, but I had to continually remind myself that, in the end, this was a fiction based story; Historical, but fiction nonetheless.

Again, without giving up too much of the plot’s twists and turns, lets just say that I was particularly disturbed with a rather lengthy elaboration into the demented actions of a blacksmith who held his horse stock with just a bit too much regard. I was reminded of a phase in a movie that, for the life of me cannot recall the title, where the main character made the claim that “you can love your animals…you just can’t loooove your animals.” I’m sure you being the well-read individuals that you are can understand what I am speaking about. Now don’t get me wrong. I love shock appeal in a good story just as much, if not more, than the next reader. But this particular portion of the book just felt out of place. It felt forced. It felt like Robert McCammon was trying to show the world that he, in fact, researched this novel. That’s great. And I love the fact that he did. But what it boils down to, is, was it really necessary?

Please, don’t let this tiny, infinitesimal detail detract you from being entertained by what I feel is probably one of the best books to be published in 2002. If you’re new to the works of Robert R. McCammon, I’m sure you’ll love it. If you’ve been a fan of Robert R. McCammon as long as I’ve been, you’ll love it that much more. It’s an obvious break from some of Mr. McCammon’s other titles, but that’s not always a bad thing. Some of you may be wondering how it ultimately holds up to some of his other, more popular releases. Unfortunately, I have neither the time, nor the space allotted in this issue to go into any deep, meaningful examinations of the complete works of Robert McCammon. I would, however, like to say that although Robert McCammon has been previously singled out and classified as a “horror” author, I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, books like 1978′s Baal and 1981′s They Thirst did primarily concentrate on the horror aspect of story telling. But I don’t feel the same could be entirely said for 1987′s Swan Song, 1988′s Stinger or 1989′s The Wolf’s Hour. These titles dealt with religious notions, science fiction and historical fiction respectively. Basically, what it comes down to, and again, this is really my own take on the works of Robert McCammon, is that Robert McCammon is not an author that can be classified on the whole. His books have to be taken one at a time, digested, reflected upon and then decided what it most resembles. I hate to make comparisons but, in the case of Robert McCammon, I feel that it is necessary. His craft, his imagination and his variety truly remind me of another wonderful author by the name of Dan Simmons. Of course, if you have ever read a book by both of these author’s you understand that their writing styles and preferences are not the same. What you may realize is that their diversity of the written imagination may dissuade you from lumping either one of their complete bibliographies into a particular category on the whole. And that, ladies and gentleman, is what I believe truly makes for a unique and generally creative author. Each title that is published tests your overall faith in that author’s abilities to create something new and unique, while at the same time propels you to seek out everything else that they have ever worked on.

So, with this latest release of Robert McCammon what, you may be asking yourself, does the future hold for us? Unfortunately, if I could say to you with any amount of certainty that Robert McCammon is back, and back for good, I would probably quit my job, solicit the Sci-Fi channel for my own television show and walk off into the sunset a rich man. In other words…I don’t really know. What I can tell you, is, that from everything that I’ve read, any additional new releases from the man himself is highly questionable at best. I can’t place my finger on it but I get the distinct feeling that all the years Robert McCammon has had to deal with big business New York publishers may have left an extremely bad taste in his mouth. I don’t know. Maybe it was his rejection of a multi-million dollar offer to publish Speaks the Nightbird in order to reserve the right to have control over his creativity. That’s right. Did I forget to mention that Speaks the Nightbird was published by River City Publishing, a small Montgomery-based publishing house. Basically, I could care less who published this latest book. I’m still relieved that it was finally done. Kudos to you River City Publishing for giving Robert McCammon the much needed and much deserved respect he has been looking for.

Although I really feel like I’m being let down by one of my favorites, what can anyone really do about the situation. If Robert McCammon feels that he has said all he wants to say through the release of his prior novels; if he feels that the time has come to embrace the good life and share that with his family; I say, congratulations. The man has a right to do whatever makes him happy. All I can do is extend my most sincere gratitude for what he has given to his fans all these years. I am ultimately reminded of a rather pitiful experience that took place not that long ago. I happened to be scavenging amongst my local used bookstore (probably in search of a McCammon title) when I happened to overhear a conversation that took place between two young women. They both were frantically (and believe me when I say that I am not using this word lightly) searching for Stephen King titles. Now, I know for a fact that Stephen King is one author that no one should have any difficulty in obtaining. But what struck me the most about this conversation was when one woman, quite blatantly, said to the other: “I just can’t believe that Stephen King is going to retire. There’s got to be something here that I haven’t already read before. What, exactly, am I supposed to read now?” In all honesty, I wanted to smack this woman up along side her head, grab her by the ears and scream, “Give it a rest!” Don’t get me wrong. I love Stephen King. As do most people. But like Robert McCammon, if he decides to hang it up, so be it. Appreciate what you’ve been given and move on.

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THE NITWIT’S NITPICKS

KJ Bishop’s The Etched City

by John Klima

It is a rare occasion when a debut novel is this mature. The writing is on par with established authors like Jeffrey Ford and Tim Powers. From its opening pages, I was completely entranced by the world Bishop created for her characters Gwynn and Raule.

The two are both on the run from the same people, but the two are from complete opposites of the moral spectrum. Gwynn is a hired sword decadent on the level of Dorian Gray, while Raule is a physician who wants to believe in the rewards that come from helping others. Despite efforts to remain separated, their fates conspire to bring them in contact again and again.

Raule fights with her conscience (or lack of a conscience)about what she will do with her life to atone for her past. There is a feeling that Raule should feel guilty about what she’s done, but can’t bring herself to be. This is a point of contention between her and Gwynn who feels no such compunction. He feels there is nothing beyond this world so he better enjoy life. Raule takes work as a small church’s physician. Gwynn hires his sword out to a slave-lord, and earns money moving slaves, guns, and violence in equal measure.

The characters are not necessarily anyone you would invite over for tea, but they are more than interesting enough to compel the reader towards the end of their story. The book flows through the fantastical, the metaphysical, and the philosophical. This book will make you think. At its core the book makes it characters–and through them the reader–examine the relationship between faith and reason and whether they are compatible. The characters purport to know which side of the fence they are on (the side of reason or the side of faith) but events in the novel make their assertions less certain.

The novel’s primary focus is Gwynn. There are times when Raule appears so infrequently I nearly forgot that she was a character. It’s too bad that the author did not have more about the physician to put in the novel, as she is just as important to the story as Gwynn. And they are vitally important to each other. It seemed as though Gwynn knew when Raule had been missing too long in the story and he would lead the author to her. Gwynn’s story and the telling of it are so interesting, that I hadn’t noticed this fact until I reflected on the book after it was done.

Time and again I found myself staying up late because I couldn’t stop reading. Perfect for readers of Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, and China Mieville. This is the most stunning debut I’ve read since A Scattering Of Jades by Alexander Irvine. Bishop is a writer to watch. The book is available from Amazon or directly from the publisher, Prime Books, http://www.primebooks.net.

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Nemonymous 1 & 2

by John Klima

Nemonymous portends to be “a journal of parthenogenetic fiction and late labelling.” What does that mean? It means that the stories that appear in this annual mix of a magazine and an anthology have no bylines. Author identities are kept secret until the publication of the next edition of Nemonymous.

When I first heard about the concept, the only place I found that spoke about Nemonymous at all was its own website, which of course was full of people raving about the magazine. Following the style of the magazine itself, none of the quotes were attributed to anyone. For all I knew, they could have been written by the creator of Nemonymous. There was no pricing information on the website, nor a way to order online, just two e-mail addresses to write to for more information. A hotmail address, and a postmaster.co.uk address.

At this point I was convinced that this was some frustrated writer who had decided to write in a series of different styles and self-publish the outcome. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Time passed and eventually I found myself with the opportunity to review the first two editions of Nemonymous. Not sure what to expect, I waited excitedly for them to arrive.

Any concerns or questions you might have about Nemonymous disappear from the moment it arrives in your mailbox. They are extremely well made and strikingly designed. This is not something that was thrown together. It was made by someone who knows printed matter. Nemonymous is approximately the same dimensions as a typical trade paperback (except in length) but the editor chose to use the short edge as the spine, which makes a nice, neat package that is easy to hold onto and read. It may seem a small point, but just the fact that the creator of Nemonymous thought enough of what he was doing to make a product that rested comfortably in one hand, or your lap, means that the same care should be applied to the interior.

From the first story I was hooked. That’s not to say that I enjoyed every story, but I liked enough of them that I quickly read through Nemonymous 1. The sixteen tales that make up the first annual in this interesting series were filled with atmospheric prose and imaginative worlds. It felt to me that with the intention of being anonymous, the authors took full flight into their fancy and let their minds take them where they would. The stories read with a ferocious freedom that I didn’t typically see.

As I reflected on this first annual, perhaps it was me who read with freedom; spared knowing who wrote each story, I could read what was there instead of imposing some sort of expectation upon an author whose work I knew, or upon someone with the same name as I person I dislike, or even whether the author being male or female. I realized that there were external perceptions I brought to my reading without knowing it. I expect certain things from authors I know, expect different things from a male as opposed to a female author, occasionally get put off by someone who’s named similarly to someone I view with distaste.

Is this fair? Obviously not, but it’s human nature to pre-judge things. Part of how publishing works is setting up an expectation of a certain author for their audience and using that to market the next book or story from said author. What can you really do to avoid this? You publish a journal of anonymous stories, that’s what.

Not every story was one I enjoyed. But that’s ok. It’s rare to find an anthology or issue of a magazine wherein you like everything. But on the whole, it was good enough that I opened the second annual with great interest.

As I expected, the stories in the second annual were stronger. I believe by that time the word was getting out and authors were learning that Nemonymous was something with which to get involved. One of the stories in the second annual, “The Assistant to Dr. Jacob” is being reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, as well as the entire issue being on the Stoker Award ballot for Best Works Published 2002. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a product in which you don’t even know who made it.

There are stories in each annual that stuck with me. In the first one, “The Friends of Mike Santini,” “The Gravedigger,” “All for Nothing,” “Double Zero for Emptiness,” and “The Mansions on the Moon” were all well-written captivating stories. The second annual is harder to whittle down to a few stories because it is much stronger, but if I had to pick a few, I would include: “The Assistant to Dr. Jacob,” “The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada,” “Berenice’s Journal,” “Adult Books,” and “A Spot of Tea.”

Interestingly enough, my favorite story from the first annual, “All for Nothing,” was by the same author as the first story in the second annual, “Climbing the Tallest Tree in the World,” a story that I almost didn’t finish reading. There was an incident in the beginning of “Climbing the Tallest…” that threw me out of the story and I never got back into it despite the author having an entirely plausible explanation for it.

If I have any complaints, I feel that it is not particularly easy to get hold of Nemonymous. As I mentioned before, there is no way to buy online, nor is there any price/address information on the website. This forces you to contact the editor to get the product. This is not a bad thing, but I wonder how many are turned off by this. If you had to call a salesperson every time you ordered from Amazon, would you order from them? It would seem to me that the editor would go all out in his attempts at anonymonity and let people order without having to interact with another person.

Nemonymous is great in concept and wonderful in execution. My sympathy goes out to the editor on how to market this. It’s something that will build in popularity and quality as more people find out what a good thing it is. Contact nemonymous@hotmail.com for more info. Copies of Nemonymous are $10 apiece (shipping included from the UK!) and worth every penny.

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