THE LITERARY BONE #1

Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

What a beautiful artefact this is. A3 size, tantalising cover art by the editor and the compiler, Lawrence R. Dagstine and Christine Sta.Maria, fattened with 170 pages, most of them covered with a clear, pleasant-to-read font and a varied and fascinating line-up of 26 yarns. And enthusiasm. It's there in the editorial, and soaked into every page. This one, it says, is going to run and run.

So, does the content live up to first impressions?

26 stories is a lot of fiction and inevitably there are highs and lows. The highs are in the majority and include Donna Taylor Burgess's The Vampire Hunter's Tale, an atmospheric short set in October, that most wistful and shadowed of all months. Another (surprisingly given its much-used setting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) is Awakening by Tala Bar.

One of the first masterworks I came across was Ken Goldman's God's Patience Aboard, a biographical account of a man who can never escape his perceived obligation to his possessive and eventually ill mother. This piece is convincing and taut, the main character, by turns affecting and frustrating. Trust Me? by Gayla Chaney is, initially, enigmatic and intriguing, then menacing and finally cataclysmic, a cleverly constructed romp - without being self-consciously so.

Stephen Redwood's A Helping Hand is a further delight. Dark, disreputable and downright funny, it dares to say what many of us cannot even own up to feeling about those who purport to be less fortunate than ourselves.

There are several vignette-length pieces in the journal, including a pair by Brendan Cornell; Jerusalem (a Metrophilia) and Kiev (a Metrophilia). Both of these, deliciously dark and each gifted with a shocking ending that avoids the contrived twist-in-the-tale device. One of the longer stories, a strange-shop-in-town tale called A Lack of Signs by John Everson, had a similarly unnerving, yet oddly moving climax.

For me, the science fiction elements are the weakest. Having said that, the opener, Thriskia's Life Bank by D J Burnham is a solid, imaginative slab of sf, written in a lively, amiable style and full of interesting ideas on the nature of life and time and Victor Giannini's The Dangers of Smoking is brief, witty and entertaining. Sadly C J Carter-Stephenson's Destination Earth was a disappointing, if well-paced tale about a space trouble-shooter investigating a drifting spaceship. Cathy Strasser's fantasy, The Song of the Sword was competent and well written, yet, ultimately, unsatisfying. The other low point for me was The Boots by Scott Lyerly, which was a somewhat ordinary cursed-artefact tale.

My favourite? Christopher Hivner's deeply moving The White Ocean, in which a man takes refuge with his personal dreads in his house as a seemingly endless snow storm sweeps across, and eventually chokes, the entire world.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through The Literary Bone. The independent press is heavily genre-orientated so it is always a pleasure to find a journal that welcomes and publishes mainstream work as well as the usual horror, fantasy and science fiction. The varied content makes the trip unpredictable, frequently demanding and always exciting.

The verdict? Rush out now, buy Issue 1 of The Literary Bone and lose yourself in this big, friendly and refreshing publication. It's good and it's going to get better. I can feel it in my...well, in my bones

The Literary Bone, edited and compiled by Lawrence R. Dagstine and Christine Sta.Maria. A3, 170pp, $9.99 ex P&P ($2.06 as PDF download). Available from lulu.com

Website: - http://www.myspace.com/theliterarybone


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