THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE 40
Reviewed by Liza Granville
This is a very impressive tenth anniversary issue. I had considered blathering on about why TTA had stayed the course when so many promising magazines had fallen by the wayside, but really one quick flick through this edition says it all. Superb art work throughout, starting with Vincent Chong's very apt cover design. I particularly like the work of Mike Bohatch--whose illustrations seem to grow out of the text rather than being superimposed upon them--and Ben Baldwin's, for much the same reason.
The layout is good, too. The text is easy to read. It matters.
On the whole, TTA40 contains an excellent selection of stories. The one that stood out for me, and still lingers, was Melanie Fazi's The Cajun Knot (trans. Brian Stableford). Nasty. Nasty. And highly recommended. It's confidently written, with superb descriptions and situations that really go to work on the subconscious, although--picky me - I found some of the devices used to fill in those gaps in the story that the narrator couldn't possibly know a little clumsy at times. The taste of Black Static, by Paul Meloy also lingers. I had difficulty getting into this story--took me a while to grasp what was going on here - but was really glad I stuck with it and have been drawn back to read it a couple of times since. My only (mild) criticism of this brilliant and very moving story is that I wonder if it isn't wrapped up too quickly at the end.
Steve Mohn's We Must An Anguish Pay is an interesting variant on the portal theme, the desire for passage through the vasting subtly echoed by Nick's incestuous desire for his sister. There are lots of clever parallels between the vasting and Blair's response to him. This is an intelligent, beautifully crafted story. Mohn is a master of both characterisation and dialogue: each member of his strange, deluded (or not?) cast has a distinct flavour.
Sugar Cream Pie, by Darren Speegle, has a great deal to recommend it. It's a great story, poignant in places, and full of wonderful imagery that draws the reader right into the text. There are some truly memorable phrases- the 'swarm of flashing knives', 'black bitter hell in a cup'. Clearly, Speegle isn't afraid to take risks and he is an accomplished storyteller, but sometimes, just sometimes, his actual writing is a bit wooden, a little awkward.
And now we come to Breaking Glass, by David J Schwartz. This is an impressive piece of writing. Schwartz weaves in his vital facts about the composition of glass without once being didactic and the story raises many questions about the nature of reality ('What we think of as reality is just something most of us agree on'), about what is laughingly called 'civilisation', and even about predetermination. However--and maybe it's me--beyond the narrator being a bit hacked off with the futility of his own, and most people's, existence there seems no real justification for destroying the city if he envisages another one ('new canyons of concrete and steel') rising to take its place. Maybe he doesn't need a justification. Having no utopian vision equals destruction for destruction's sake then?
Thirst by Vandana Singh, is a powerful retelling of an old story. Singh writes beautifully, drawing the reader right into the parched-earth, pre-monsoon heat and engaging the senses. The dust smells, the heat is palpable...it 'came in from the small window like the breath of a hungry animal'... the water beckons, Sunsheela responds to her instincts. This is a love story of sorts. Through it all the fragile little harsinger tree in the garden continues to survive 'on a daily cupful of water and her love', though it takes until the end of the story for Sunsheela to acknowledge who planted it.
I have to admit being surprised by Running On Two Legs, by Eugie Foster. This wasn't the type of story (or novelette as she calls it on her website) I expected to find in this publication. It's...well, sweet. Perhaps my prejudice is showing: I was never that fond of anthropomorphic tales, especially moralistic ones. Running On Two Legs is well written, well rounded, but somehow lacking in punch. It could almost fit into a woman's magazine.
Good interview with Brian Talbot. John Paul Catton's column on Japanese culture is well worth reading. And finally, the book reviews by Peter Tennant. These are, I think without exception, intelligent, precise and well informed. And--get this--appear to have been written by someone who has actually read the work.
The Third Alternative, edited by Andy Cox and published by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, UK. A4, 68pp, £3.95/$7US or £21/$36US for 6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).
Website: - www.ttapress.com
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