PANTECHNICON #5

Reviewed by Gareth D Jones

I came to Pantechnicon expecting the usual kind of webzine for a non-paying market--a few stories and maybe an editorial. What I discovered was a pleasant surprise. There are a couple of stories available to read on the actual web page, but the magazine itself is a colourful 82 page PDF, packed with illustrations, reviews, columns and articles along with the stories. Of course by the time I'd printed it out double-sided, 2 pages to a side in black and white it didn't look quite so good, but then that's the test of a decent magazine--does the fiction compare favourably with the presentation?

First on the menu is a piece of flash fiction from Caroline Callaghan. Strays is a post-apocalyptic tale that compares the fates of two groups of survivors. Although not an original concept, the thing that stands out is the self-justified brutality of the narrator that comes across as quite chilling. One slight irritation for me is the continual use of capitalisation for Important Words. The intent is to convey some significance to the phrases, as though this creates more of a back story. In a piece this short there's really no need to set up much of a back story though, so it just comes across like somebody emphasising their words with “quote marks” as they speak. The final sentence is very good though.

S. J. Hirons' story The Tales We'll Tell When Our World is Ending provides us with some very creepy alien invaders. Monk-like aliens appear all over the Earth and just stand there for quite some time, much like the Cybermen did last year in Dr Who. Then they start dismantling everything on the planet's surface and putting it into bottomless Mary Poppins bags. It's a great idea, and the man scavenging for food who rescues a strange woman and takes her to his flat initially creates some tension. This is interspersed with childhood memories that seem to have come from a fantasy novel, full of archaic phrases and enthusiastic descriptions. Some of this language creeps over into the main story, where it seems a little at odds with the setting and contrasts with more modern phrasing. I guess the title gives away the intention: our protagonist is living in a land of make believe to help him cope with the horrors of the present. Like the previous story there's one grammatical issue that began to grate eventually: the repeated use of hyphens to introduce interjections of--albeit important--explanation. I feel they should be used more sparingly. So altogether a quirky tale that presents an interesting vision of how we cope with the unthinkable. I think that's the most I've ever written about a single story.

Two Hands at Heartbreak House by Tom Pollock presents another interesting concept in the shape of a casino where the stakes are time rather than money. There are plenty of cameo characters in the background to provide added interest as a magician tricks his way in to the establishment to face an old enemy. The atmosphere and description come across well and the characters ageing and rejuvenating in the background make it an enjoyable story to read.

Rhonda Parrish gives us Sister Margaret, a prostitute-turned-nun who hires a vampire slayer to pay back an old enemy. The story is set in a dingy world populated by a wide variety of fantastical creatures, but the main characters are sadly rather familiar. I've mentioned in previous reviews that fantasy isn't really my area, so perhaps I'm not the best person to judge this. There was nothing wrong with the story particularly, but I wasn't too excited by it.

Altogether then, I was quite impressed by the breadth of material covered in the magazine and I'll be looking out for the next issue.


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