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Sybil's Garage #7

Sybil's Garage #7
Sybil's Garage
Sybil's Garage publishes a wide variety of speculative fiction, including traditional science fiction, fantasy and horror as well as more atmospheric/slipstream stories. For issue no. 7 they sought to cast a wider net and encourage contributors to send both atmospheric/slipstream stories as well as those with traditionally strong plots and characters.

Stories should be no greater than 5000 words. While they may publish longer works, the greater the story is above this limit, the less likely they are to publish it. They prefer original work to reprints.

Sybil's Garage Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Seamus Sweeney

This is an anthology of pieces with suggested musical accompaniment. Oddly, as the reader will see, the writing tended to remind me of images from films; fragments, moments, individual scenes and shots rather than complete features. Music ostensibly permeates the collection; I found images more prominent. After reading any literature (broadly defined), what remains can be emotions, quotes, images, characters, plot twists, ideas -- anything from an infinite assemblage from the jumble sale of life. While the stories and poems in Sybil's Garage 7 include clever ideas, compelling characters, witty turns of phrase and some strong emotions, what remains is image.

The musical theme that also runs through the structure of the anthology reminds me of the links between literary anthologising and the whole process of compiling albums and mix tapes. One of the losses of the age of the download is the eclipse of the album structure. Once, a great album would have an arresting opening track, an appropriate closer for side 1 and opener for side 2, before a suitably climactic final song. A great album was the sum of its songs, and then some -- the relationship between each song and the next (and the song before), the overall mood and atmosphere of the music. Even the greatest albums tend to have one or two filler tracks, and this perhaps is an essential feature.

Great anthologies are like albums in this as in so many ways. The best anthologies are the sum of their parts, and more; dependent on the individual quality of contributions, of course, but also an experience beyond simply reading a collection of stories. My favourite anthologies -- Alberto Manguel's Flamingo Book of Fantastic Literature, Kingsley Amis' Oxford Book of Comic Verse and Faber Popular Reciter, and Helen Gardner's Penguin Classic The Metaphysical Poets (I am unsure what common thread runs through these) -- are as much experiences, ideal ways of spending an evening, as they are compilations of literature.

Sybil's Garage 7 marks a leap for the series from zine to book. Hoboken-founded, Sybil's Garage is now edited from Brooklyn. For those at a remove from New York, the literary scene of the city in general and Brooklyn in particular can seem off-puttingly cliquish and parochial -- but even though there are plenty of references in the acknowledgments to the East Village's KGB Bar, seeming epicentre of would-be bohemian literature in NYC, Sybil's Garage achieves a satisfyingly universal appeal, and an extremely high degree of literary quality. While I would not quite admit it to my personal pantheon of anthologies, it is pretty wonderful stuff -- beautifully produced, and never dull. The stories are a mix of slipstream, near-future, horror, comedy horror, mythic and pseudo-mythic -- eschewing anything as vulgar or misleading as a neat straightjacket of genre. For the readers of this site, it is as well to point out that there is nothing that really could be called hard sci-fi.

Each story comes with a suggested musical accompaniment. Regarding myself as I do as something of a fanatic about music, it was sobering to find that only a couple of pieces were familiar to me. Thus I tried reading the book with YouTube providing the musical background. Sometimes the music and writing dovetailed nicely; sometimes the connection seemed a little forced. However this introduced me to a wide range of artists and repertoire I wasn't at all familiar with.

E. C. Myers's "My Father's Eyes" deals with a son who discovers that his father's mysterious disappearance some years previously was due to Hollander's Disease, a form of dementia which reduces the individual to a state akin to the classic Neanderthal Man caricature. This was one of the most moving, and in an unforced way original, stories in the collection -- my joint favourite with M.K. Hobson's "Kid Despair in Love." This is a rollicking mock epic of corporate titans (literal corporate titans) slugging it out. Evoking both the heroic battles of The Iliad, and the scenes in Duplicity in which Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti's moguls literally battle it out in an airport, the story mixes the language of B-school with the syntax of mass destruction.

Other highlights include Eric Schaller's "How The Future Got Better" (available to read on the Senses Five website, set to the soundtrack of Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime," which was one of the more natural fits of music and story. Megan Kurashige's "The Telescope," which relentlessly reminded me of the films of the Brothers Quay, with its finely wrought sense of tragedy (often critics describe prose as "painterly" -- Kurashige, a dancer, writes with the vigour, precision and delicacy of the dance) leaves the reader with some of the most lasting and haunting images of any of the stories. Alex Dally MacFarlane's "An Orange Tree Framed Your Body" also haunts, with its unreal city ruled by a totalitarian emperor. This is a classic example of a story initially cryptic and allusive, which gradually draws the reader into its emotional world of despair, betrayal, and resistance. Sam Ferree's "The Ferryman's Toll" evokes an afterlife of uncertainty and torpor, reminiscent of the City of the Immortal's in Borges' "The Immortal."

The poems are of a high standard, and are consistently strongly-worked and compelling. Standouts include Sonya Taaffe's "Candle for the Tetragrammaton," Jacqueline West's "One October Night in Baltimore," and Adrienne J. Odasso's "The Hyacinth Girl," and Marcie Lynn Tentchoff's "Pathways Marked in Silver." West and Odasso invoke literary history, specifically the shades of Poe and Eliot. Tentchoff's is a neat meditation on paths taken and not taken, and for my money here the recommended music (Dory Previn's "Mystical Kings and Iguanas") matches the mood and theme of the piece most naturally.

Ironically, given my musings in the opening paragraph, the least impressive piece is a rather pointless and pedestrian essay on Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which I guess takes the filler role quite neatly. Otherwise this is a strong and readable anthology with much to recommend it.

Copyright © 2011 Seamus Sweeney

Seamus Sweeney is a freelance writer and medical graduate from Ireland. He has written stories and other pieces for the website and other publications. He is the winner of the 2010 Molly Keane Prize. He has also written academic articles as Seamus Mac Suibhne.

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