JUPITER VII: ELARA

Reviewed by Steven Pirie

It struck me as a no nonsense production. It's black and white (though the cover artwork is detailed); it has no editorial; it has little in the way of author information; it's joined together by a single staple. And in a way it felt somewhat refreshing, as if here was a publication confident in itself that it didn't need whistles and bells. Here was a magazine that was simply and unashamedly fiction.

And it's an odd blend of fiction. There are rambling savants, newly sprung from the horrors of the Great Asian War of 2009 (one for the diary, perhaps?--'2009, hide under bed') bent on changing the universe (literally); there's a wandering omnipotent cruelly trapped and condemned to... no, I won't spoil that. There's that grinning bastard who hangs around the shopping centre--there's one everywhere if you really look--the one that surely knows something, only when written of in Jupiter, you can bet your boots he actually does, and woe betide those that don't see... no, I won't spoil that either. There's a futuristic Pinocchio story, and a tale of bird-like folk that's really rather weird but a wonderful read.

And if that's not enough, there's poetry too. I can't say I've ever understood poetry--I could never quite untangle my iambic pentameters--so I can't really say how competently it's written, other than it all reads well to my untrained eye and provides a welcomed breather between the fiction. I extend my apologies to Jupiter's poets on that score.

There are five stories of varying length, interspersed by said poems.

I must say, that while I always tend to leap with enthusiasm into the first story of a magazine, I felt Jupiter's opening story--The Man Who Became the Centre of the Universe by Guy Hasson– to be overly long. While its premise is imaginative, the events that unfold would seem so fantastic that the author has the need to provide almost constant explanation, and we get lots of 'talking heads' stuff in question and answer sessions, until it felt that the story was being spoon fed to me and I found myself glazing over. Given that this story takes up nearly half the issue, this could be seen as a problem. In my humble opinion, I think it's a shame the author didn't shorten the story and focus the theme, because as I say the premise is a strong one--that the entire universe, no less, may be changed, or created anew, with the protagonists' lives altered to edit out the bad bits--and is certainly the stuff of adventurous science fiction. Either that or lengthen it considerably, just so all that's going on could be arrived at more subtly via the story rather than through lots of exposition and explanation. A gamble, I felt, by Ian Redman to open with this story, and one that doesn't, in my view, quite pay off.

It worried me that the second story--The Exile of the Soul by Michael A Kay--also began in a somewhat obscure fashion. But I must say the tale strengthened as it progressed, and by the end I was fully involved. It has a twist ending, one that I didn't see coming, yet one that is logical given what's gone before. I can't really say any more than that without giving the game away.

Evergrin by John Phillips, story number three, has a nice feel to it. It's a futuristic cult story--a control of the masses affair, where our protagonist brushes with the 'free thinkers' in a story of unintended bluff and double cross. I don't think I'm spoiling the ending by revealing that for once all that's true and good does not necessarily triumph.

In story four, Russell Chambers' Clockwerks, an 'inventor' creates his own offspring. I thought this was an enjoyable read despite not really finding whose story it actually was. Daniel, the inventor, has made a son, Robert. Daniel is clearly disappointed with Robert, but the story doesn't really deal with this emotively from either's point of view. Daniel battles to give life to a mechanical daughter, with whom he is obviously pleased. Robert seems almost as impassive towards this sister as he is to his father's rejection. Daniel suffers a demise before the girl 'awakes', and that demise would seem to be circumstantial rather than brought about as some resolution to the story. I realise we're talking machines, here, but as a reader I'm looking for stuff to matter to the protagonists. Despite this, the tale does have that 'something', and was well worth the read. Sometimes, even if there may be potential flaws, a good read is a good read.

In Skyward by David McGillveray, the final story, Ian Redman has saved the best until last. It's the most character driven of the tales in this issue, and so possibly the easiest to be drawn into. We're on a moon where once hybrid, winged humans soared in the gales. But the gales are diminishing and the moon is dying, and all but one of the 'humans' have gone. Now Tarrick, clearly something of a misfit before, is alone with his thoughts and memories of what it was to be human, and of his lost love Marianne. There's some delightful writing in this piece, with something of a poignant ending, and I felt this tale had a depth that the other stories strived for but didn't quite manage. It's a tale of loves lost, that touches on what it is to be human and so destructive of our environment, with a little 'outsiderism' thrown in for luck.

If I've seen flaws in Jupiter's stories, my guess is I've done so more as a writer than a reader. It's hard to remove the writerly hat and read for pleasure these days--the wife hates me for critiquing the shopping list, and I have been known to be pedantic with the gas bill--but were I able to detach from the writer, I'm sure I'd not find a lot wrong with Jupiter.

I think if you like your fiction open and linear--'honest' is possibly a good word in that I don't feel Jupiter is striving to be contentious, and, Skyward apart, perhaps, is not trying to be metaphorical in hidden meanings and whatnot--with a leaning toward science fiction rather than fantasy, then Jupiter should be on your shopping list.

At issue 7 and still going strong, long may it continue to boldly go.

Jupiter edited by Ian Redman, 23 College Green, Yeovil, Somerset, BA21 4JR, UK. A5, 56pp, £2.50 or £9/4.

Website: - www.jupitersf.co.uk


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