Steve Redwood

Witters on about Electric Velocipede

I'm not a reviewer, but the only way I could win a smile from the mysterious veiled editor of Whispers of Wickedness was to agree to 'review' Electric Velocipede, since everyone else was naturally afraid to tackle such a weird-sounding magazine.

I immediately liked the look and feel of it (to put it technically, it's kind of rough to the touch and squarish) and after reading it, let me assure you it's brim-full of Good Stuff. I go further: Jolly Good Stuff.

It makes a very good opening with Liz Williams' Indicating the Awakening of Persons Buried Alive, in which we are presented with the invention implied by the title which would have deprived Poe of a couple of good stories. The idea of this invention (clue: flags and tubes), and the question of just who might be particularly interested in it (clue: rather pale ladies), is nicely put across, with a satisfying ending which reminds us that a poet is 'beyond the common morality'. There are a couple of unnecessary and distracting errors (mixing up the names of the two brothers, and an 'immanent' danger isn't quite the same as an 'imminent' one!). Also, a writer of Williams' calibre really shouldn't fall into the tired old 'I had surely been doubt I had merely glimpsed a friend stepping out from behind the tomb', etc. etc. after we've been presented with concrete details of this particular creature's movements, appearance, language, and even sniffs and snuffles! But this might have been an intentional take-off of the formula of the Victorian-Edwardian horror story, and in any case, would be a very minor cavil in a worthy opener with a neat and witty idea.

The next story is Sundrew by Neil Ayres, and we're still pretty close to the sod. An uncomplicated, linear, story of low life! I don't want to give spoilers, but here's a hint: 'Flies and ants no longer satiated me. My sticky tendrils desired some alternative source of nutrition...' And, a bit later, when the protagonist has moved up a bit in the world: 'It would take more than a foolhardy beetle to sustain me throughout the winter'. Although the ending is almost inevitable when your protagonist's appetite increases exponentially, the quiet detail that leads up to this ending is very well presented, almost documentary-style, and when it does come, it is with an excellent image and careful avoidance of the exhausted 'and then the screaming never stopped' variety.

Edd Vick is a generous person, not only with his 'd's, but with his ideas too, in Choice Cuts. A real plethora in three pages! Here's the start: 'Bring me the tenderloin, a Caesar salad, a glass of your house Chablis, and make me female. The Mediterranean pearl-diver, I think.' In this 22nd century earth society, people change bodies, and therefore sex, at will (it wasn't quite so easy in Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon!), and the old bodies serve as meat (which is why body changes take place in a restaurant!). Pregnancy is forbidden in order to keep the population stabilised at 12 billion. And precisely to this utopia comes a young couple from a space colony on Ceres, and the lady is pregnant! Whoops! Bad news! And as the person employed to put them in the picture hasn't yet mastered the skill of diplomacy... At the end we learn why the protagonist, a lady most of the time, wishes to become a large male with big hands: parents are strangely touchy about their babies. A most enjoyable romp. Oh, and the 'choice cuts' of the title? Well, have a guess.

Next up we have two reading experiences for the price of one. Daimonizomenosmonikos is the title of Brendan Connell's offering. The second reading experience is the actual story. And about time someone looked at the point of view of unclean spirits when they're being cast out! Connell takes his subject seriously, though. The style is experimental, with different 'voices' (the child and the memories of the demons in question, and what they've suffered in the past). There is a strange stylistic quirk of repetition which only partially worked for me ('They were smiling and happy and she kissed me, on the forehead Genevra kissed me', etc.). I had to read it twice to 'get' it (but I've been known to have problems with Enid Blyton!). Certainly an interesting and original offering, if not the kind of story that usually appeals to me.

Gary West gives us a poem, Mirrored (which is mirrored in the magazine, too). This is fine, using Alice's Looking Glass as a symbol for hiding (or at least being sheltered) from reality, and the horror that ensues when the mirror is broken. The 'mirrorings' within the poem are powerfully shown.

This is followed by a light, but pleasant enough, piece by Jodee Rubins called Bob's Witch. Bob meets up regularly with a female work colleague (the narrator) and tells her about his new neighbour, who he is convinced is a witch. It is one of those stories where the narrator is not coming completely clean (though the author is very careful to play no unfair tricks on the reader). An enjoyable read, not pretending to be anything more.

Tricky neighbours is also the theme of Jonathan Brandt's Girl Next Door, a story slightly shorter than Gimli! I liked it a lot.

In Ariadniad, Stepan Chapman recalls the story of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur, but gets terribly confused, possibly as a result of being in Electric Velocipede. The retelling of myths (and of fairy stories) is a fairly common practice, partly, I guess, because a lot of the hard work has already been done. This version is very readable, the story being told by Ariadne herself. What if the Minotaur isn't a cruel devourer of victims thrown into the Labyrinth? What if Ariadne's reasons for helping Theseus are not exactly because she's lusting after him? What if what has always been presented as a triumph (the slaying of the Minotaur) is in fact a tragedy? The story is intriguing and successful, but I think it would need more space to be truly moving. And the framing device (Ariadne is confessing to a snoring slave) is unnecessary: the slave has no other function. But, still, a thoughtful take on the myth.

Formidolosus, by Gene P. Lass, is a mistake. It was just possible to regard it as an experimental stand-alone story, with indirection telling us the chap's an unwilling vampire, and some banana lady might be the reason. As such, it didn't particularly appeal. But, dubious, I checked the EV boards, and found out it's actually part three of something that began in issue one (yes, issue one, not four!). I read the other parts quickly, and it still didn't appeal that much, but that might be because I was coming to it backwards. But it does any writer a disservice to have a month or more between episodes. I assume there is some untold story behind why this happened, and besides, the story might take off in future episodes, so final judgement is withheld.

Alan DeNiro's A Keeper is the longest story in the issue. It also has the largest number of typos, but I have to forgive him (or the editor?) because it's such a corker of a tale. Enough material for a novella, maybe even a novel. What's it about? Well, a man catches a sexual disease and has to find the person who gave it to him. That's the simple version. However, the story also involves an extremely bright and sassy goldfish who asks to be flushed down the toilet with a sperm sample, a dictator so vain even his name is doubled (King Juan Juan), a time far in the future where everyone seems to have had to emigrate to Brazil, doctors who have to be called shamen (but American apple pie still exists), where ex-wives 'service' painters while they 'paint', a Queen, injected with titanium, who becomes a sex slave, and some circus people who seem to be leading the revolution. This is a clever, witty, ingenious, and ultimately grim tale.

From royalty and revolution to the deceptively quiet Michael Simanoff's Morris, His Self. Morris Fetterman is indeed fettered, not only by his own 'stereoscopically unattractive' appearance and his 'huge, eerie belly', and by his inability to move on after his mother's death ('he continued to sleep on a cot at the end of her empty bed'), but by his laziness in front of a moribund telly and his addiction to cheese. The writer cleverly introduces velocipedes into the story, but watching them is about as active as this man gets. Until, that is, he sees an advert for sardines: his stomach is a creature of exquisite imagination, and stirs Morris himself to go out to buy some. (Well, maybe...) This takes him downtown (maybe), to a dangerous world of taunting prostitutes and friendly gays, who insist on taking him to a beach house for the weekend. Poor Morris suffers throughout. The story is written with rich and vivid language, and Morris by the end is a sad, not a funny, figure. (Though, as in the first story, he does at one point manage to change his name...)

The Git, the Dog, the Fish and the Gray gave me problems. First, I don't know what a git is, unless, as in British English, it means a stupid fool. Secondly, I know Jay Lake to be a top class writer. So I've probably missed something. In this little fable, the git meets a dog who chases him off, a catfish who also quickly sends him on his way, and a Gray who offers to fit him with an implant to achieve happiness. These creatures all come to a bad end, while the little git has a stroke of luck. Neat. Only... I couldn't see that the meetings with the three creatures led inevitably to the conclusion, but had the impression that the conclusion was decided on beforehand, and the episodes made to 'fit' it. After all, two of the three creatures tried to help the little git. Still, as I said, I've probably missed something, and the final paragraph is a great one!

The last story is Why I Think I'll Be Staying Home Tonight by William Shunn. This is one of the most immediately accessible of the stories in the magazine, and indeed possibly the 'clues' come too thick and fast, especially the last one about the wineglasses. But, unlike some of the other stories, the writer doesn't set out to mystify the reader. The narrator, not exactly a woman's man, sees what turns out to be an alien woman in the park, and she's waiting to Go Home. I give away no secrets there. And she grants him a wish. He's always wished to 'make any woman fall in love with me just by looking at her...'. But is that his real wish? And does she grant him his real wish? A nice satisfying (but sad) story to round off with.

Well, there is a final poem, my friends, the aliens by Terrie Leigh Relf. I have an enormous problem with modern poetry, so I'm in no way qualified to judge this. (Well, I'm not qualified to judge the fiction, either, but I feel more comfortable with it.) Looking at the author's biography, I can see she clearly knows what poetry is, and I know I don't, and so I'm sure the lack of capitals in the title is supremely significant, and my impression that this is prose chopped up is completely false. (I've only just noticed that Girl Next Door is classed as poetry in the Contents... well, well, well, just goes to show...)

Finally, Bill Braun makes some heartfelt comments on Joe Lansdale and film 'remakeitis'. I've never read any Lansdale (horror!), so I don't know if he's as good as BB says, but I loved the enthusiasm. As for the lament over every new film being a remake, a TV spin-off, or a comic book hero--well, bang on! And insult added to injury is that these unoriginal and unnecessary and inevitably inferior films make money...

Well, not quite 'finally'... there's still the list of contributors' pages, and nice to see some humour creeping in there instead of the usual dull 'I've been published in X, Y, and Z'.

And there is in fact one extra love story right at the very end. A love story written by the editor himself, John Klima. Yes, it's there, I swear, bottom of p. 43.

All in all, a terrific magazine. I've nit-picked occasionally above, because on seeing the names of the contributors, I expected high-grade fiction, and so I've judged the stories accordingly. No pity. Some of my comments you probably won't agree with--but I do promise--hand on heart and hope to live to eat many a slug with Neil Ayres, many a baby with Edd Vick, many an adult with Gene Lass, and many a pound of cheese and sardines with Michael Simanoff!--that you will agree with my overall assessment: that going by this issue, Electric Velocipede is one of the strongest fiction magazines around.

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