Thursday, 30 April 2020

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #66 is now out!

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Welcome to Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #66, edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood.

This long-delayed issue features stories by Walt Brunston, Drew Tapley, Amber Velez, Mae Ashley, Charles Wilkinson, Teika Marija Smits, Matthew Amundsen and Elaine Vilar Madruga (as translated by Toshiya Kamei). Jessy Randall interviews Lorinda J. Taylor about the process of inventing fictional languages, and Stephen Theaker interviews rising star Tim Major. Jacob Edwards, Rafe McGregor, Douglas J. Ogurek and Stephen Theaker supply the reviews, while John Greenwood provides the cover art.

Howard Phillips returns to our pages with an editorial, where he lists the 2019 writings of his that he hopes you will consider for awards recognition this year.

At the moment the issue is just available as a free download. We will add links to the Kindle and paperback versions as they go live on Amazon, which for obvious reasons will take a little bit longer than usual.



Here are the tremendous contributors to this issue.

Amber Velez has been published in Carnegiea Literary Magazine and won a Young Authors award at the 2019 Tucson Festival of Books. She originally wrote to us from Spain, where she was alternately schlepping through hostels or working on farms, on a gap year before she went to MIT. Her story in this issue is called "Eresh Ashore".

Charles Wilkinson contributes "Evening at the Aubergine Café" to this issue. His publications include The Pain Tree and Other Stories (London Magazine Editions, 2000), A Twist in the Eye (Egaeus Press, 2016) and Splendid in Ash (Egaeus Press, 2018). A full-length collection of his poetry came out from Eyewear in 2019 and Eibonvale Press will publish his chapbook of weird stories, The January Estate, in 2020. His stories have appeared in Best Short Stories 1990 (Heinemann), Best English Short Stories 2 (W.W. Norton, USA), Best British Short Stories 2015 (Salt), Confingo, London Magazine and in genre magazines/anthologies such as Black Static, The Dark Lane Anthology, Supernatural Tales, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Phantom Drift, Bourbon Penn, Shadows & Tall Trees, Nightscript and Best Weird Fiction 2015 (Undertow Books). He lives in Wales. More information can be found at www.charleswilkinsonauthor.com, his website.

Douglas J. Ogurek is the pseudonym for a writer living somewhere on Earth. Though banned on Mars, his fiction appears in more than fifty Earth publications. Douglas’s website can be found at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com and his Twitter account is at www.twitter.com/unsplatter. To this issue he supplies reviews of Joker, Jumanji: The Next Level and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

Drew Tapley’s work has appeared in all three of our Unsplatterpunk! specials, and also in the Chiron Review, Popshot Magazine and others. His story in this issue is "Space Cutlery". One of our favourite things: something utterly ridiculous played absolutely straight.

Elaine Vilar Madruga is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, born in Havana, Cuba in 1989. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies around the globe. She has authored more than thirty books, including Culto de acoplamiento (2015), Sakura (2016), Fragmentos de la tierra rota (2017), El Hambre y la Bestia (2018), and Los años del silencio (2019). Translations of her short stories have appeared in venues such as The Bitter Oleander, The Café Irreal, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Mithila Review. Her story in this issue is "A Star Is Born", translated by the prolific Toshiya Kamei.

Howard Phillips contributes this issue's editorial, "For Your Consideration". He is a frequent contributor to Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and also to its predecessor fanzine in the nineties, New Words. His novels include His Nerves Extruded, The Doom That Came to Sea Base Delta and The Day the Moon Wept Blood. Sequels We Slept Through the Apocalypse and A Dim Star Is Born remain sadly unfinished.

Jacob Edwards reviews "Terminator: Dark Fate" for us this time. He also writes 42-word reviews for Derelict Space Sheep. His website is at www.jacobedwards.id.au, his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JacobEdwardsWriter, and his Twitter account is at www.twitter.com/ToastyVogon.

Jessy Randall interviews Lorinda J. Taylor in this issue. Her essay on the language of the Battlestar Galactica reboot appeared in the February 2018 issue of Theaker’s. Her poems, stories and other things have appeared in Asimov’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, McSweeney’s and Strange Horizons. She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is http://bit.ly/JessyRandall.

John Greenwood is the co-editor of TQF and provides the cover art for this issue.

Mae Ashley is a former resident of seven states scattered around the U.S. and currently lives in Washington, D.C. Her fiction has appeared in The Charleston Anvil and her earlier work appeared in the types of journals that feature Greek symbols and diagrams. Her story in this issue is "A Grandmother Paradox".

Matthew Amundsen's story in this issue is "Swallowing the Sun". When not writing, he is a sound engineer in Minneapolis, where he lives with his daughter. Since his previous story was published in TQF64, another appeared in Metaphorosis. Other stories have appeared in Cemetery Moon, Jersey Devil Press, Millennium SF&F and Starsong.

Rafe McGregor lectures at Edge Hill University. He is the author of two monographs, two novels, six collections of short fiction, and two hundred articles, essays, and reviews. His most recent work of fiction is The Adventures of Roderick Langham, a collection of occult detective stories. In this issue he reviews three Lone Wolf books, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and season four of The Man in the High Castle.

Stephen Theaker is the co-editor of TQF and shares his home with three slightly smaller Theakers. In this issue he reviews four audiobooks, seventeen books, ten comics, one album and four television programmes. His reviews, interviews and articles have also appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Prism, Dark Horizons and the BFS Journal.

Teika Marija Smits writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in Mslexia, Reckoning, Shoreline of Infinity and Best of British Science Fiction 2018. She is the founder and manager of the small press Mother’s Milk Books, and in spare moments she likes to create art. Website: https://marijasmits.wordpress.com. Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarijaSmits. Her story in this issue is the satirical "The Red Choos".

Walt Brunston’s adaptation of the classic television story, Space University Trent: Hyperparasite, is now available on Kindle. To this issue he contributes the latest instalment of The Two Husbands: "The Emperor of Pseudo City".



As ever, all back issues of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction are available for free download.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya | review by Stephen Theaker

This book (Mandel Vilar Press pb, 256pp, $16.95) begins with a warning: there are two ways of reading it, and both are a bad idea. The diligent reader who consumes each page in its usual order is on a road to chaos, which isn’t very appealing, so this reviewer took the second option: following the directions of the contents page. That takes us first to all the police interviews, then the personal journal of the unnamed, self-professed and supposed zombie at its centre, then the scientific explanations for his condition, and finally a series of field notes. This adds a degree of choose-your-own-adventure interactivity to the book, letting the reader shuffle through its pages like an investigator or a judge looking for evidence.

We learn that our zombie woke from his grave some years ago and availed himself of the washtub, clothes and money left at his grave in readiness. His parents were wealthy, and left him all of their assets, the only stipulation being that to enjoy them he must pretend to be alive. Other zombies can recognise him, which is not always welcome, but he finds it quite easy to fool humans, as long as they are kept at a certain distance, something he finds increasingly hard to do during the episodes described in the book.

He is the executive vice president of a company’s research and development division, in charge of twenty-eight chemists who work in five laboratories. Dissatisfied with working from an office on the executive floor, he chooses to work instead in Laboratory 5. He doesn’t know precisely why he chose that one — the glass windows? the free space? — but readers may come to their own conclusions as he writes about its other occupants and their physical attributes.

The hem of Mathilde Álvarez’s shirt rides up to reveal “steely abdominals and a pristine, flat belly button”. Patricia Julia Càceres wears a short skirt, revealing her leg, “a perfectly smooth, sculpted column”. Doctor Isadore Bellamy’s lab coat falls open, showing a floral-print dress that only just manages to contain “the flawless bulk of her jet-black breasts”, while “the muscles of her slender thighs stood out against her black skin each time she shifted her weight”.

The reader can tell from his descriptions that these three scientists must be attractive, and from subsequent events we understand that the three of them are attracted to the vice president. On some level his actions must be influenced by this; what’s missing is any understanding on his part of the connections between all this, the weight of anything. As a zombie he lacks what a fellow sufferer, the oldest zombie around, describes as qualia, “the living being’s capacity to establish a connection between his experience of the world and the self”.

This idea is both the book’s weakness and its strength. On one hand, it gives us a central character who behaves like an android, and the scenes where sexy scientists try to seduce him feel cheesy, a bit Tasha Yar and Data. On the other hand, the idea is explored in more interesting and political ways elsewhere: the poor, deliberately infected to become easily biddable, exploitable and shippable workers; or the rich, going on murderous rampages once their conscience is gone. It all asks the question: is our emotional connection to the world all that makes our lives meaningful?

Our central character is trying to fix what is broken in himself, to come up with a cure: that’s why he has taken degrees in pharmacology and chemistry, why he is in this career. The extent of his success is demonstrated by a lengthy appreciation of the sensations invoked by moving his hand up Patricia Julia’s leg in a nightclub, which takes a couple of pages. There is some humour in that level of detail, and also in that, after she puts her tongue in his ear, he crosses his fingers, hoping that a centipede won’t slide into her mouth.

The translator, Jessica Ernst Powell, has previously worked on Borges, among others, and seems to have done a fine job here with a text that mixes mysticism, science, zombies and social commentary in a way that must have been challenging to translate. It’s not a book for every reader, and some may find themselves admiring it more as it moves away, if read in contents page order, from the comical zombie scientist and his saucy pals to the darker histories of the field journal, to children going to the wrong side of the river at night, and to Papa Vincent in the jail of the Tontons Macoutes. ***

This review originally appeared in Interzone #267.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

New York 2140 | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

One hundred and twenty years from now, New York City is quite different: 300-storey superstructures dwarf today’s high-rises, massive balloons hold up “skyvillages”, and most notably, water surrounds the city (a result of the “second pulse” during which sea levels throughout the world rose). Thus, those who don’t fly get around in watercraft. And yet, in many ways, New York (and the rest of the world) are much the same… particularly when it comes to the conniving, self-interested political and financial elite.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson is a leviathan of a novel woven together by fragments – it’s no coincidence that Moby Dick and its author repeatedly surface. The story offers an exhaustive look at the potential economic and environmental outcomes of humankind’s planetary exploitation. Its home base is the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (aka “the Met”), now surrounded by water and home to many people. Among the characters who weave in and out of the Met are a young financial whiz/playboy, the building’s overseer, the building’s head of maintenance, a beautiful young woman who flies around the world in a blimp while doing a reality show and helping animals, two homeless boys and an old man seeking treasure, and two “quants” (quantitative analysts) named Mutt and Jeff who’ve discovered some shady dealings among their organization’s leadership.

Not surprisingly, the most digestible parts of this novel are those written in scene. The reader gets a feel for what like is life in the new “super-Venice”. One highlight is the self-centred, though not entirely flawed 34-year-old hedge fund manager Franklin Garr pursuing women and navigating his speedy watercraft around the city. Another compelling scene involves the two boys, Roberto and Stefan, diving to find gold supposedly hidden beneath the Bronx. Then there is Amelia Black, the reality show star with a penchant for shedding her clothes, attempting to relocate an aurora of polar bears to Antarctica. Hint: things don’t go as planned.

However, long passages of exposition – the author even comments on this – are inserted throughout the book. During these lectures, some more stimulating than others, a narrator (portrayed in my audiobook version as a staunch New Yorker) reflects on the story, history, climate, politics and especially finances.

Robinson seems to be using the novel as a platform to introduce ideas about how to put power and financial freedom into ordinary people’s hands. Particularly interesting is what Robinson has to say about dealing with the next inevitable financial collapse… timely considering today’s coronavirus-driven unemployment concerns. Perhaps today’s political and financial leaders could learn something from Robinson, but they’d probably be bored.—Douglas J. Ogurek ***