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The 3rd Alternative #38

The 3rd Alternative #38
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 Matthew Cheney

The summer issue of The 3rd Alternative contains a variety of non-fiction, six short stories, and some excellent artwork and design. It's all by and about men, so the casual observer might be excused for thinking this issue aspires to be a British version of Maxim, particularly given how so many of the male characters in the stories yearn to be loved, but this is more than a magazine for the lost, lonely, and lustful. The mix of non-fiction is vastly more interesting than any I've seen in other SF magazines, and the fiction is competent and sometimes far more than that.

Of the fiction, the highlight is "Pictures on a Cafe Wall" by Damian Kilby, a complex and textured story about an artist who gets inspiration by traveling to a world only he has access to (through a crack in the foundation of his studio), a medieval world of dragons and magic. The pace of the story is slow and reflective, but not, like some of the other stories in this issue, lugubrious, because Kilby's story manages to be about many things at once: imagination and reality, art and commerce, dreams, desire, myth, marriage, and mystery. It contains more than any short story should have to bear, but "Pictures on a Cafe Wall" doesn't feel overstuffed; Kilby's technique is light and allusive, multi-vocal, never insisting that we make connections between actions and images, simply suggesting connections may exist, awaiting an attentive reader.

The other stories in the issue suffer in comparison to Kilby's, because they often aim for similar effects, but do so more awkwardly or obviously. John Grant's "Has Anyone Here Seen Kristie?" is longer and simpler than "Pictures on a Cafe Wall," and though it might have benefited from pruning, it is nonetheless an affecting character study, like a Ray Bradbury story for mature audiences only. "Nails" by Jeremy Minton is a science fictional horror story in which Jurassic Park meets The Passion of the Christ. By carefully saving vital details until the end, Minton makes the story a gripping one to read.

The rest of the fiction (by Daniel Kaysen, Joel Lane, and Al Robertson) is less compelling, though not in the thumpingly awful way that the lesser work in even the most prominent SF magazines can be. "Golden," for example, is Al Robertson's first published story, and I know a few prominent writers who would be happy to be able to exchange it for their own first publication, because it is ambitious and handles familiar ideas well. Both "The Opposition" by Daniel Kaysen and "Facing the Wall" by Joel Lane are stories of cops and murderers, diverting enough to read, but hobbled by their narrative voices: in "The Opposition" a platitudinous third-person narration, in "Facing the Wall" an unconvincing hard-boiled first-person narrator who would not be out of place doing voice-overs for the old Dragnet TV show.

The artwork in this issue is beautiful and evocative, particularly Chris Nurse's photo-collages for "Golden." So much SF illustration is little more than Thomas Kinkade-style kitsch, and it's nice to see a magazine where the illustrators also deserve the label of artists.

The non-fiction includes book, comic, and film reviews, a brief guest editorial by Graham Joyce, a chatty column by Allen Ashley, commentary on life in Japan by John Paul Catton, and interviews with Jonathan Lethem, Russell Hoban, and Lindsay Clarke. The film column by Christopher Fowler is particularly fine, managing to be both wide-ranging and insightful, using the work of British playwright Joe Orton to show why, among other things, the new versions of Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are inferior to the originals. Of the interviews, Andrew Hedgecock's with Russell Hoban is superb, with Hedgecock showing an excellent knowledge of his subject's work and a fine ability to convey a sense of Hoban's personality and life, while at the same time getting out of the way and letting the writer speak.

2004 is the tenth anniversary of The 3rd Alternative, and it is clear from this issue why the magazine has survived when many others have not: an editorial vision that is eclectic and open to surprise, mixed with high production and design values. Now and then they even publish writing and artwork by women.

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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