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The 3rd Alternative, Issue #33
The 3rd Alternative
The 3rd Alternative
The 3rd Alternative is published quarterly. This high-quality production contains cutting-edge speculative fiction, features and interviews. The 3rd Alternative has won several awards, including the prestigious British Fantasy Awards for "Best Magazine" and "Best Short Story" (Martin Simpson's "Dancing About Architecture," from TTA #11).

The 3rd Alternative Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

"Tolkien is no longer an influence on the innovators of the genre he invented. If we want to see the back of the old fart, let's not give him deathbed support by having an opinion about him. The worst thing we can do is set ourselves up in opposition. Cultural opposites depend upon one another. They prop one another up. Something Tolkien failed to understand that when Barad Dur falls, Gondor falls too. Let's not make the same mistake. Let's not be one thing or the other, Tolkienista or Next Waver. Let's be something new."
Oddly, this rant by M. John Harrison's "Guest Editorial" in Issue 33 of The 3rd Alternative is guilty of precisely what he wants everyone to stop doing -- it's just more bitching about the by-the-numbers fat fantasy factory as if it were actually Tolkien's evil plan for world book domination. Moreover, it's preaching to the choir, which is reading the magazine precisely because its contents strive towards being "something new."

While the The 3rd Alternative cover describes itself as "Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror," the lead story by Brain Hodge is actually none of these genres really, though its subject is certainly horrific and fantastical, and even somewhat science fictional; it is also quite realistic. "With Acknowledgments to Sun Tzu" portrays the reality of the war photojournalist, the itinerant observer of calamitous nationalistic conflicts, whose personal tragedy brings home the realization there is no impartial participation, that we are all complicit in humanity's horrors.

"When people find out what I do, and if we end up chatting long enough, I always know what's coming eventually. They can't help it. Sooner or later they won't be able to resist asking what's the worst thing I've seen... if Baghrada isn't necessarily the worst thing I ever saw, it's the place of the worst thing I ever learned."
"Immigrants" by Mary Soon Lee provides a metaphoric meditation on the exploitation of third world resources -- which in the information age means intellectual skills as well as raw materials -- in which disaster results not only for the exploited, but the unwitting exploiter. The protagonist is an INS officer in a near-future of highly protected borders trying to discover why a particularly promising immigration candidate from Thailand has declined U.S. citizenry. It turns out she has sold her valued technical skills to an off-world nationality.

Andrew Hegecock interviews New Waver Brian W. Aldiss, who isn't content to rest on his laurels and continues to try something new. Unfortunately, I couldn't make heads or tails out of the accompanying Aldiss tale, "Commander Calex Killed, Fire and Fury at the Edge of the World, Scones Perfect." While it displays the atmospheric absurdism of Richard Calder or Paul Di Filippo, whatever point the story was trying to make eluded me.

The remaining four stories share themes of loss and redemption, though the latter, unlike the fantasy that Harrison disdains, does not come without cost.

Lynda E. Rucker's "The Chance Walker" depicts a possibly disturbed American teacher of English in the Czech Republic who strangely isn't quite conversant in the native tongue, which makes it difficult for her to assimilate to daily routine and personal interactions. She has just broken up with her boyfriend and has taken refuge in a peculiar flat "located in what remains of the old town... Winter has lasted forever, frozen walkways and frigid air." She is visited by a girl named Renata who wants lessons in the proper pronunciations of scientific terms in Gray's Anatomy; the girl hopes this will improve her chances of attending an American medical school. Of course, just because we can pronounce the names of our afflictions does not mean we understand them, let alone prevent them.

In Simon Avery's "Leon is Dead," the aforementioned Leon is a cult leader whose website promises what cult leaders always promise in the way of personal salvation and release from pain. Except that Leon seems to have some actual power of irresistibility that goes beyond personal charisma. Something that Crews, the main character, could use following the death of his daughter and estrangement from his wife. Something that his ex-wife has a little to do with, and whose motivations aren't exactly charitable.

A marital tragedy of a different sort is featured in John Aegard's "Fleeing Sanctuary." In a variation of the Orpheus myth, a man seeks to restore his dead wife by sacrificing not only himself, but his son, in exchanging the comforts of some vaguely delineated other worldly realm called Sanctuary for the trials of "real life." A nice spin on an old morality tale.

The final variation offered up by Sarah Singleton is the considerably darker "Crow Man." Another father, another lost child, and an attempt to metaphysically resurrect said child and the disturbing effect it has upon the woman who incidentally participates in the creation of a prospective new soul of uncertain fate.

Some thought-provoking, haunting stuff. Nary an elf or an orc to he had. Harrison should be happy. As should any reader in search of "something new."

Copyright © 2002 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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