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Rabid Transit: Menagerie
edited by Christopher Barzak, Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl
Velocity Press, 92 pages

Rabid Transit: Menagerie
Christopher Barzak, Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl
Christopher Barzak's stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies such as Nerve, Trampoline, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Pindeldyboz and Strange Horizons among many others. He's written one novel and is at work on a second, set in Japan, where he is currently living in a suburb of Tokyo, teaching English.

Alan DeNiro's short story collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, is forthcoming from Small Beer Press in mid-2006. His stories have appeared in Fence, Polyphony, Trampoline, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere.

Kristin Livdahl's fiction has appeared in Flytrap, Say..., and elsewhere. She is starting a nonprofit to provide computers and support to low-income families.

Velocity Press/Rabid Transit
Christopher Barzak's Blog
ISFDB Bibliography: Christopher Barzak
ISFDB Bibliography: Alan DeNiro
ISFDB Bibliography: Kristin Livdahl

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

This book is the fourth in the Rabid Transit series of anthologies. I'd not encountered the other three, so I wasn't sure what to expect; but the cover blurb promised that the stories in Menagerie "show different ways to break out of the conventions of the shopworn story." I was interested to see what the authors had come up with. Vandana Singh gets the volume underway with "The Sign in the Window." Chandrakant Sinha is a lecturer in love with a colleague. However, she is of a higher caste and her parents would never allow the two to marry. In his despair, Chandra becomes obsessed with watching a neighbouring house where, every night, he sees the silhouetted occupant attempt to hang himself, only to change his mind at the last minute. Chandra finds this inspiring -- but things are not as they seem. "The Sign in the Window," with its quiet twist, is a very fine and effective story, and an excellent start for Menagerie.

Matthew Cheney's "Fragments" is presented as a series of extracts from three documents which tell of Pete, a writer whose advances are rejected by his former muse, Felicia; and who then writes "a story that has no connection to the external world" in response, in the hope of finding "[a] muse within the words themselves." At least, that's one possible interpretation. There is another one, which turns the tale on its head; though I'm afraid it didn't quite convince me. I can't explain why properly without giving the game away, but I felt that the three sections didn't have equal weight; which, I appreciate, is rather vague, so my advice is to read the story and decide for yourself, because "Fragments" is an intriguing concoction regardless. Cheney's prose is somewhat brittle and distant; but the diary in particular is effective, conveying Pete's frustration and despair in a striking, abstract way.

Now on to what, for me, is the best story in the book -- "Terminós" by Dean Francis Alfar. Mr. Henares is a merchant of time: if you have any unwanted memories, or time to spare, or futures you'd rather not experience, he'll take them off your hands. Miguel Lopez Vicente is a writer who has run out of ideas. On his 32nd birthday, he visits Mr. Henares, saying, "I have come to trade away all my days." We then follow Miguel back through his life, as he tries to find a suitable ending. Alfar's writing is very beautiful, lending the story an authenticity that draws the reader in. A wonderful tale.

James Allison's story, "Pick, I am, I am", has two first-person narratives, printed in two columns. Both are (apparently) told by the same character, the (unnamed) owner of a car showroom with the power to drain the vitality from those around him. One thread revolves around a "farewell dinner party" for his brother Patrick (who has a degenerative brain disease and has recently moved into a hospice); the other fills in more about the man's earlier life. There's some good writing here -- I found the likening of earthquakes to Godzilla (whom the protagonist was fascinated by as a child) particularly effective -- but I was left with an irritating feeling of having missed something, without being quite sure what.

According to the blurb, some of the stories in Menagerie "are flat-out gonzo weird from the first sentence". One such story is "The Sky Green Box" by Rudi Dornemann, which begins: "When she finally got through the door, Moonhead Lunes knew her heart was gone: she could see fragments of broken candy-box still melting into the shag." This tale is full of arresting ideas and images, like giant stone slabs inscribed with strange symbols floating in the sky; or butterflies being transformed into mints and coins with a single nano-charged sneeze. I should have found it marvelous, but in the end, it left me cold. Perhaps it was just too weird for me.

The book closes with Eric Rickstad's contribution, "Ballerina Ballerina." To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of it. Our narrator is Stan, who lives with Sal and Bailey and is looking for a job. At the age of seven, he saw his father accidentally run over a woman with his Buick. Or maybe Stan imagined the whole thing. Rickstad's fractured narrative does not give up its secrets easily; I've read through it several times and only now do I think that I've figured out what's going on. Maybe it's just that "Ballerina Ballerina" takes a bit of work, and I'm not going to criticize Rickstad for that!

Out of the six stories in Menagerie, I have reservations about four, which may suggest that I wouldn't recommend the anthology. But I am happy to do so, for several reasons. For one thing, many of my negative reactions stemmed from those four tales' not being to my taste in some way, which is no reason to condemn a story outright. Besides, there is something to recommend about each of the stories here; and "The Sign in the Window" and "Terminós" are so good that it's worth s pending six dollars on Menagerie just to read those two; and -- who knows? -- you may well enjoy more.

Copyright © 2006 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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