Reviewed by John Saxton

The 41st issue of this magazine--subtitled Transmissions from the Edge - is a rich seam of the dark and the illuminating alike.

The Fiction

SS by Nathan Ballingrud

This one runs on a number of levels. A vulnerable young man's relationship with his girlfriend and his even more bizarre relationship with his very strange mother (involving scalpels and rubbing alcohol!), are explored against the backdrop of neo-Nazism. This is a most worthwhile but not a comfortable read, as the author pulls no punches in his communication of the subject matter--very un-PC; and I applaud him for not holding back. If he had, the story's credibility would have suffered for it. Gritty, realistic and with a surprisingly moving ending, this was a strong, rewarding read.

A Drop of Ruby by Cody Goodfellow

A flawlessly written piece, this highly original concept could very easily have been dismissed as too far-fetched, if it hadn't been handled in such a masterful way. A hidden goddess is given the opportunity of engaging with the world in a startling new way.

Difficult to outline the story without giving too much of the intricately-plotted tale away; suffice to say, try taking the idea of vampirism--and turning it on its head, and you might be getting somewhere close.

Plasma chimes sounded in my arterial heavens, resounding down through capillary alleys and cardiac abysses. Torrents of divine incarnadine mingled with my own insensate blood, singing a hormonal lullaby that stilled all circulation. Wow!

In The Family by Scott Nicholson

This tale comes straight from the dark recesses of the Wadell Funeral Parlor. Centering around the huge sticking point in the relationship between a son and his mother, namely the 'Do we sell? Don't we sell? (The embalming business)' dilemma. The son is adamant that this should stay in the family: so much so, that when Mummy puts her foot down, he hatches a truly heinous revenge upon her. I loved this cross between the gothic tradition and the purely weird.

Going the Jerusalem Mile by Chaz Brenchley

A true parental nightmare is explored in this bleak, cheerless story. The basic premise is one of a wife who views her entire life as a failure, and the strange attraction of her husband to this trait. The Jerusalem Mile, a maze within the protected environment of a cathedral, is a source of pilgrimage for those who believe that enduring its journey will improve their lives in some way. The wife is desperate to save her ailing baby, and is prepared to risk the 'Mile' on the only night of the year that it is considered unsafe to do so. The resulting climax to the tale is a little telegraphed, but no less powerful for that. Chaz's 'no-holds-barred' narrative leaves the reader under no illusions as to the baby's fate.

The Return by Conrad Williams

The plot of this tale is not easy to follow, but it's worth sticking with it. We ride the rapids of a dark, cold stream of consciousness, looking through the eyes of a madman--whose poor memory causes him (and many others!) serious problems. The see-sawing plot all becomes clear and cohesive in the end, which is totally (in my view) unpredicted. It is worth noting that this tale is a sequel to Conrad's novel, Head Injuries.

The Sixteenth Man I Killed by Martin Simpson

Here we have a tale of hauntings and unheeded omens. Told in the first person, the narrative creates a deliciously dusky atmosphere. The 'hero' of the tale is a highly-successful assassin, who encounters the strangest 'hit' of his erstwhile career upon shooting his sixteenth victim. I found the end to this story rewarding and strangely moving--and, for what it's worth--this real page-turner contained the greatest moral tone of all the offerings in this issue. A really enjoyable read.

The Western Front by Patrick Samphire

The Western Front is a yarn of loss and triumph. The protection of a single rose, amidst the carnage and devastation of trench warfare, treason and madness, becomes more important than life itself, in the mind of one unfortunate officer. We are left, at the climax to this story, pondering whether or not miracle and magic have truly occurred; or whether the horror of war has finally fractured the narrator's mind beyond repair. Certainly, the slide into depression and paranoia are handled expertly, by Patrick, in the parallel texts of the officer's war diary and his letters home to his wife. Relentlessly, yet beautifully, told.

The Articles

In the non-fiction department there are offerings from Stephen Volk, who eloquently expounds upon the art of screenplay production, and the path from the writer's vision to the finished product: We [writers] are, after all, with all due modesty, God. Ahh, such perspicacity and far-sightedness!

John Paul Catton's regular column on Japanese culture and media focuses on some of the fundamental differences between Japanese and western societies' approaches to the young. Catton catches the reader off-guard with his thought-provoking comparisons and perceptive social commentary.

Allen Ashley is vitriolic in his dealing with the 'rather unsexy subject... [of] pensions'. I feel like patting this writer on the back and proclaiming 'Well said!'--as he sums up the dilemma that all pre-retirement age workers face. My advice, based on Allen's predictions for our old age, would be emigrate.

A comprehensive set of book reviews, brought together by Peter Tennant, is followed by an engrossing interview with Phil Rickman which analyses his approach to the writing process and the reasons why his books are so successful and well-received.

All-in-all this most attractively presented A4 glossy is a snip at the cover price of 'four quid', for the contents are clearly very intelligently selected. There were no weak-spots to speak of: the non-fiction was relevant and interesting, the fiction was high-quality and deep enough for the reader to get his teeth into, and the artwork was simply outstanding.

Highly recommended.

The Third Alternative, edited by Andy Cox and published by TTA Press, 5 Martins Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB, UK. A4, 68pp, £4/$7US or £21/$36US for 6 issues (for other countries see ordering details on website).

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