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Electric Velocipede #6

Electric Velocipede #6
Electric Velocipede
Electric Velocipede is available by subscription ($10US -- USA, $15US -- Canada, $20US -- elsewhere) or by single issue ($3US -- USA, $4.50US -- Canada, $6US -- elsewhere). Send you order to and make money orders/cheques payable to:
John Klima
c/o Electric Velocipede
PO Box 663
Franklin Park, NJ 08823

Electric Velocipede

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

There are now at least a handful of small-press periodicals worth reading regularly, and the sixth issue of Electric Velocipede, published and edited by John Klima, proves that this title certainly belongs on that list. The eleven stories and three poems in this issue offer a wide variety of subjects and styles -- everything from fairly traditional fantasy to bizarre science fiction to pieces that wend their way between a number of different genre boundaries. A few of these works are likely to be some of the best stories of the year.

John Klima has done a fine job of arranging the stories and poems in this issue, because most of them offer subtle echoes of what comes before and after them, echoes of tone and theme and style. For instance, many of the stories have elements of horror, starting with the light and jokey horror of Liz Williams's tale, "Indicating the Awakening of Persons Buried Alive," moving to the darker humor of "Sundrew" by Neil Ayres, then the mixed tones in Edd Vick's science fictional horror story "Choice Cuts" and further onward. Infections fill these stories, characters suffer hungry desires, love and death entwine. There are stylistic correlations, too: multiple stories told from a monster's point of view, or a point of view we don't expect (Ariadne corrects the myths about her [or does she?] in a story by Stepan Chapman, while William Shunn's "Why I Think I'll Be Staying Home Tonight" is a monologue directly addressed to the reader). Some of the stories are slight, but all are worth the time it takes to read them.

Some, though, are worth more than that. "Choice Cuts," for instance, is a compelling tale of an overpopulated future where childbirth has been replaced by the ability of minds to transfer bodies. The story ambitiously tackles a number of different ideas at once, and though it may feel at times like satire, it seems to me that rather than satirizing anything, Vick is simply following his premises to their conclusions. Some of the ideas suffer inevitable neglect or lack of development, because Vick doesn't let anything get in the way of the (at times predictable) plot, a choice that makes the story enjoyable to read, but unsatisfying on the whole.

"Morris, His Self" by Michael Simanoff is a perplexing story, but beautifully so. The eponymous Morris is a man who loves cheese and sardines, and his love carries him off on an adventure, though the actual nature of that adventure is not completely clear at the end of the story. Some readers will find the story bewildering, its pace too slow, its characters' motives too unclear, but to me "Morris, His Self" represents exactly what the small presses present so well: stories that can't be pigeonholed, that don't fit traditional expectations of "what a story should do", and that instead open up new possibilities. When written with care and intelligence, such stories teach us how to appreciate them, and I found a second reading of "Morris, His Self" far more rewarding than the first reading had been. Unless all you want is immediate and undemanding diversion from the pains of life, a story that reads better when reread is a story that deserves respect.

There is even better writing within this issue of Electric Velocipede, however, and it is by Alan DeNiro, who is quickly proving himself to be one of the most original and surprising short story writers within the SF field. His "A Keeper" is undoubtably science fiction, but it is gonzo science fiction. Nearly every paragraph offers an off-kilter detail, an unpredictable turn of phrase, or a strange setting, but all of it is grounded in some sort of extrapolation, so that while the story feels perfectly surreal, it's really no more surreal than a story by Bruce Sterling or Rudy Rucker.

As Edd Vick did with "Choice Cuts", DeNiro fills his story with ideas, themes, and possibilities, but "A Keeper" is a better piece of work because its elements are balanced perfectly. The first page overwhelms the reader with odd details, and then the details begin to cohere, to build off of each other. A simple quest plot quickly takes over, but the plot is a useful tool, something to move characters from place to place, rather than the entire reason for the story to exist or the primary pleasure it offers.

Consider the following dialogue, from a scene in the story where the narrator is talking with a doctor:

"Left untreated, you will probably feel mild irritation, the[n] dementia, until you die. It's a virus --"

"I thought you said this was a curse. And besides, there are no such things as curses."

He gives that patient, patient I'm-a-doctor smile. "Well, our new manuals have a new ergonomics towards disease disclosure for doctors -- I mean, shamens. We are urged to prescribe the most superstitious names and causes possible. It's supposed to quell tension."

From these three short paragraphs, an entire world opens up to us. Taken on their own, they are a good model of efficient imagining, but when added to other moments in the story, these paragraphs resonate beyond their own little corner of the tale. The first actual bit of dialogue in the story is one character saying, "Stop trying to mix the humanities and the sciences" (as if "the humanities" are soft and superstitious, "the sciences" rational). The ending of the story suggests the tyrannical government that has ruined the narrator's life has gained and maintained power by separating art and science, elevating superstition, and providing satisfaction through the basest entertainments (including, and especially, sex). Amnesia is a running theme: the amnesia that results from indifference, repetition, and spectacle.

"A Keeper" is far more fun to read than I have made it appear, but I think it is important to demonstrate that because a story is written in a light tone and filled with weird moments, it is not necessarily lacking in substance. And because a magazine is published on a shoe-string budget and has a tiny circulation, it is not necessarily incapable of offering a batch of work of considerably high quality, a quality that even the best-financed and best-distributed magazines struggle to provide.

Copyright © 2004 Matthew Cheney

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

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