|The 3rd Alternative, Issue #23|
|A review by Rich Horton
I'm quite fond of features in magazines, in general, and The 3rd Alternative has several regular ones. There is a fairly extensive book review section, which also covers films. Articles about the cinema are common (this issue includes a piece about TV dramatist Dennis Potter, creator of The Singing Detective). Peter Crowther and Allen Ashley contribute columns, and there is generally an interview in each issue (in this issue, it is with Peter Straub).
Still, the core of any fiction magazine is, oddly enough, the fiction. The six stories included in issue 23 are generally fine work, though none quite rose above "fine" for me. (There is also a serial comic strip about the space station Mir.) M. John Harrison's "GIFCO," also in his excellent new collection Travel Arrangements, opens the magazine. It's about a man and his wife coping with the death of their daughter and with odd happenings in their neighbourhood. The present day narrative is interleaved with flashbacks to the vacation in Morocco at which they first met, and the strange peddler called Allo Johnnie they saw there. It's an evocative and original story -- not my favourite Harrison story, but any Harrison is worth reading.
Graham Joyce's "Xenos Beach" is an atmospheric story about a man, despondent over his recent breakup with his wife, who visits an obscure beach on a Greek isle. The locals seem afraid of the place: the priest warns him away, but he stays anyway, despite the abandoned tents on the beach. Then he meets an unusual family, with a very seductive daughter... Really this is familiar stuff in general outline, though it is done particularly well here and Joyce's resolution is a bit different, and well-pointed.
Another story which seemed broadly familiar to me was Mark Morris' "Copying Cannibals." This is told in a flashback, as a thirtyish man remembers a horrible day from his youth, when his older brother, whom he idolized, did something terrible. Morris reveals the outlines of the two boy characters with further flashbacks, then takes us through the events of the dreadful day, as vodka and an article about the habits of cannibals combine balefully. The eventual occurrence is not really a surprise (though some suspense is maintained) and the present-day resolution just struck me as trite. But again, the story is well told, and vivid. I can say that it literally made me want to vomit at one point (I made the mistake of reading it over lunch).
Two stories take on the beginnings of relationships. "The Arcana of Maps," by Jessica Reisman, features a shy man and a shy woman, who frequent the library at the same time, and slowly come together. The woman is troubled by her odd neighbour and by some disturbing dead birds which keep showing up on her doorstep. The eventual fantastical element seemed gratuitous to me, and I must confess to "not getting it." I did think the two main characters were sweetly and well portrayed, though. "Green to Blue" by Brian Howell involves another newly divorced man, who comes to rent rooms from a family. Once again, amidst events and symbols that I didn't fully understand, such as an old picture resembling both the mother and the daughter of the family, a relationship blossoms between the divorced man and the estranged mother. While still feeling a sense of "what's the point," I was intrigued by the characters. That theme again: fine characters, fine writing, disconnected plot, obscure theme.
Finally, Charles Saplak's "Something About a Sunday Night" is a very brief piece, taking on the Borgesian notion of a man encountering himself: in this case, three younger versions of himself. It's a minor story, but Saplak does effectively hint at the idea that our life choices may be disappointments in one sense, but that we still may not wish to change.
Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.
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