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Talebones #28
Full Unit Hookup #5

Talebones #28
Full Unit Hookup #5
TaleBones
Talebones is the quarterly in-house magazine of Fairwood Press, featuring dark science fiction and dark fantasy from established and up-and-coming writers. It is fiction with a dark slant, stories and poems with punch -- sometimes experimental or psychological, sometimes laced with black humour.

TaleBones Website

Conical Hats Press
From their web site:
"Guidelines for Full Unit Hookup Fiction: Science fiction, dark/urban fantasy, magic realism, slipstream, humor, and mainstream stories between 500 and 5,000 words. Because of space limitations, stories longer than 5,000 words will be a hard sell to Full Unit Hookup, but PLEASE nothing over 10,000 words. No horror, high fantasy, or S&S stories. There are markets for all of these, but unfortunately, this magazine isn't one of them. Please submit only one story at a time and wait for a response before submitting another. If you have a collection of related stories, each less than 1000 words long, you may submit them as a single manuscript. Reprints are acceptable (please specify when and where in cover letter,) but the Full Unit Hookup editor will give priority to new works of fiction. No simultaneous submissions."

Conical Hats Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

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Let us go then, you and I, into the pages of two quite different small press magazines that recently fluttered onto my desk. Talebones is a perfect-bound, digest-sized journal with a color cover (by recent Hugo-winner Frank Wu) and impressive interior illustrations. Full Unit Hookup is a saddle-stapled, apparently photocopied labor of love and desktop publishing. Both contain worthwhile fiction and poetry.

The greatest joy of reading small press magazines is discovering odd and/or beautiful and/or enchanting and/or marvelously uncategorizable writing, the kind of writing that makes you catch your breath, that sends shivers through your spine and timbres. In the twenty-eighth Talebones, this joy is at its height with Sandra McDonald's fine story "Bluebeard by the Sea"; the fifth issue of Full Unit Hookup brings shivering bits of "ah ha!" with the breadth of the poetry presented and, especially, with "Hurricane Sandrine", a thoughtful and enigmatic tale by Daniel Braum.

Before we sing the praises of those two stories, let's consider the other words and other pages of the two magazines before us. First: poetry. This issue of Talebones contains five poems, short lyrics all, some in traditional forms and some in verse aspiring to be free. Nothing painfully awful, but nothing remarkable, either. Full Unit Hookup is exactly the opposite -- there are at least two flaccid bits of filler labeled as poetry, but also fine poems by G.O. Clark and Sonya Taaffe.

The non-fiction in Talebones is a bit more substantial than that of Full Unit Hookup. Talebones offers numerous very short reviews of books, a chatty note from the editors, a couple of letters, and, most significantly, a solid interview with novelist Kay Kenyon, conducted by Ken Rand. Full Unit Hookup offers reviews by Lucy A. Snyder of the films Murder by Decree and The Company of Wolves and a bit of harmless fluff by editor Mark Rudolf.

Aside from the two stories we'll soon discuss, the fiction in both magazines is generally competent and easy enough to read, but also often feels as if it has missed some good opportunities, letting our readerly breaths escape when they should have been caught. Jay Lake has a good story in Full Unit Hookup, a tale of bones that become a skeleton that becomes an angel and haunts a neat-freak who could be Norman Bates's cousin in the land of mother-loving psychos. It's a well-written story, but, like so much half-hearted horror fiction, is content to be superficial, a morbid joke embellished with narrative. Bruce Holland Rodgers and Greg Beatty provide shorter jokes-as-stories; amusing in the minute it takes to read them, more interesting than the average advertisement in a subway car, but nothing to interrupt your life for. Aynjel Kaye's "Mockingbird Girl" starts extremely well -- she is a writer to watch -- but ends predictably, with the gentle oddness and careful tone of the first few pages metamorphosing into a saccharine paean to ethereal avian romance. A venue such as Full Unit Hookup provides a good opportunity for talented writers like Kaye to begin to find an audience as they continue sharpening their skills.

Talebones provides us with eight stories this time around, an amount the editors note is atypically large. The variety of the stories -- variety of tone, subject matter, and style -- is admirable. Editors are seldom willing to let so many different sorts of fiction mingle between the covers of one issue of a magazine, but it creates a worthwhile effect: though only a few stories will seem effective to any one reader, the magazine is enjoyable to read cover-to-cover simply for the surprise of seeing what the next page has to offer. Nonetheless, many of the stories and poems in issue twenty-eight touch on similar themes of death and transcendance.

Paul Melko's "Ten Sigmas" explores what happens when an omniscient consciousness begins to have its parallel universes whittled down from an infinite amount to a handful; Devon Monk writes about the afterlife of a suicide in "Fishing the Edge of the World"; "The Ethics of Nonlinearity" by Steven Mohan, Jr. is a traditional bit of anthropological science fiction involving a priest in a secular universe and a planet facing a plague; David J. Schwartz's "The King of Memphis" brings Egyptian gods to Graceland; Jeffrey Turner writes about "The Gods at Rest" in Rwanda and elsewhere; and, in "To Crown a Sand Castle Just Right," T.J. Berg explores the hopes of a mother whose son is dying of cancer. The final story of the issue, "Where is the Line" by David D. Levine, is not about death, but it's certainly about transcendance -- the transcendance offered by a really great massage.

"Bluebeard by the Sea" is by far the best of the death and transcendance stories, however, because it is the most successfully imaginative. The pacing is excellent -- Sandra McDonald knows exactly what length a scene needs to be to create the sort of emotional effects she seeks, and she succeeds at making us care about the fate of a wooden sculpture of Bluebeard's face stuck on the front of a funhouse at a seaside resort in the 40s. (No small accomplishment, that!) The face one day discovers it has a mind, and it wants to know what the world is like, but it's stuck to the front of the funhouse. The story suffers from an unfortunate sentimentality in its middle, with a young boy running away from an abusive father, a choice of character that is far too familiar and easy, but the beginning and end of the story are masterful. Take the first two paragraphs, where McDonald displays a sharp sense of what rhythm and diction can accomplish:

Bluebeard longs for the sea. The great glittering blueness fills his vision but remains tantalizingly out of reach beyond the boulevard, the seawall and the stretch of sand that swells and recedes with the tide. He cannot turn his gaze from it. He cannot reach it with his hand. He imagines that the sea tastes like salt, sand, melted sunshine, rainbow colors, and lush underwater plants. If he could stretch his tongue and dip it into the water, he would be a happy man and not so restless with his imprisonment.

"You're not a man," the sea gull tells him. "You're not imprisoned."

The first paragraph creates an intriguing scene with languorous sentences alternating with short, matter-of-fact statements of action. The second paragraph changes everything from the tone and rhythm to our perception of the character we have just built in our minds. That is good writing!

"Hurricane Sandrine" offers plenty of examples of good writing, too, though nothing quite as obviously skillful as the opening of "Bluebeard by the Sea." The strength of Daniel Braum's writing is the strength that comes from patience, from a writer trusting his audience with a steady, slow pace that allows details to accumulate in the mind so that the story becomes consistently more vivid until it reaches a conclusion that is profound in its subtlety and restraint. This is a story that carves its own shadows, that delves into its own depths. Summary does it no justice, because it is not a story about events so much as it is about the after-effects of events, the nouns that get left behind in the wake of verbs. There is a man, a drowned wife, a hurricane, a gypsy, an island, a threat, a lost brother, a child who may be the wind. These elements transcend plot and hover together in the hum of prose, allowing the reader one of the supreme pleasures of fiction: to connect the dots and discover a symphony of imagination.

Copyright © 2004 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal, Failbetter.com, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal, Failbetter.com, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.


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